Evolution of the Cross 1

Evolution of the Cross in Christianity Charles Severs Axia College of University of Phoenix Com/125 Amy Hennings July 1, 2007

Evolution of the Cross 2 Evolution of the Cross in Christianity Bible readers and Christians tell us without a doubt and without hesitation or a second thought that Jesus Christ died on a cross, which is considered to be a large beam sunk into the ground with a large cross beam attached. Billions alive today accept this cross as the mode of death of Jesus Christ and view it as a world renowned representation or symbol of the Christian faith (Sommers, 1996). Additionally the cross is one of the earliest Christian symbols and the one most widely used by Christians (Henderson, 2007). Did Jesus die on a cross as indicated by Christendom? What real evidence or testimony backs this claim up? Or does the testimony and evidence submitted point in another direction? How and when did Christendom begin using the cross as a symbol of its faith? A careful examination of the evidence may cause the humble reader to research these resources themselves. Early Eyewitnesses and Grammatical Evidence When we debate the Constitution or the constitutionality of a subject, the debate will include statements and opinions from politicians and judges and will rely heavily on what else is contained in the Constitution. The same goes for a debate on a certain medical practice or medication, The American Medical Association would be consulted as well as The Physician’s Desk Reference and any other credible sources of information as well as any authoritative testimony of knowledgeable individuals, and first hand eyewitnesses.The largest single reason that people will debate about what the Bible says and means is because they believe, or want to believe what the Bible says. When it comes to the simplest of queries however, people forget their original beliefs that they considered at one time, that the word of God to be inspired of God and beneficial for setting things straight (2nd Timothy, 3:16), and would rather seek the advice

Evolution of the Cross 3 and ‘testimony’ of people who were not even present at the execution of Jesus Christ, as opposed to credible, firsthand eyewitnesses who wrote about it. The original New Testament writers, in describing the event of Jesus’ death, chose words that were an honest reflection of the events as they unfolded. One particular point worthy of consideration is that had these first century eyewitnesses wanted to convey the object in question (the form or shape of the instrument on which Jesus died on) as a cross or resembling a cross they would have used other Greek words to do this, namely; the cross shaped Greek letter chi or as Parsons states, “some such term as Kata’ chiasmon, ‘like a chi’ made use of” (Parsons, 1896 p.5). How reliable were these first century writers and how trustworthy is their testimony many may ask. Did the Apostles intentionally lie and use the word stauros (meaning upright stake or pale and not cross) when they were writing, so that they could hide the “real” truth of the matter that Jesus died on a cross? On its own, does that reasoning carry the ring of truth? While not a religious debate, are not we discussing the testimony of men that were hand picked by Jesus Christ himself as sincere, honest, and capable men? W.E.Vine, who is considered an expert in his field, relates that the modern day translation of the word stauros should not be considered to stand for the two beamed cross found in Christendom, it is a mistranslation to justify the adoption of the cross at a later date. According to Vine, in his work, a Concise Dictionary of the Bible, the word originally used, stauros by the first century eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus originally meant an upright stake or pale, (not a cross) and for some time this was the common method of Roman punishment or execution that did change at some time to include the form of the cross (Vine, 1939 p.75). There does not exist one piece of evidence in the original Greek from the New Testament that even alludes to a two beamed cross or, that the word stauros could mean anything else but

Evolution of the Cross 4 stauros. Parsons continues, “it is not a little misleading upon the part of our teachers to translate the word stauros as ‘cross’…and to support that action by putting ‘cross’ into our lexicons as the meaning of stauros without carefully explaining…” (Parsons, 1896, p.6, 7). A website, Biblebell.org compares three different sources and their definitions as shown in figure one. (Figure one, definition of stauros from 3 sources from: http://www.biblebell.org/mbag/mailbagay.html#navigation) #1 - Strong's Exhaustive Concordance defines stauros as a stake or upright post.
Strong's 4716 stauros, stow-ros' a stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (specially), a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment) #2 - Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT defines stauros as an upright stake.

#3 - Vine's Expository Dictionary of the NT gives a very detailed definition of stauros.
Vine's Topics - stauros Denotes, primarily, "an upright pale or stake." On such malefactors were nailed for execution. Both the noun and the verb stauroo, "to fasten to a stake or pale," are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed "cross." The shape of the latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country & in adjacent lands, including Egypt.

Thayer's 4716 stauros stow-ros' an upright "stake", esp. a pointed one, used as such in fences or palisades

All considered, evidence shows that stauros only means upright pale or stake, excluding any chance of etymological errors, other ancient sources use stauros in the their material and openly use the word to mean stake or pale and not a two beamed cross. One would only have to examine Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, and works by Suidas (late 10th century), Eustachius (middle of the 16th century) and Hesychius of Alexandria (late 4th to the late 5th century) to cement firmly the meaning of the word stauros (Parsons, 1896 p. 4, 5) and to

Evolution of the Cross 5 disavow any misunderstanding or possible etymological mistakes on the part of the first century writers, especially when we consider that these first century writers had other words they could have used had they meant to convey the meaning of a cross. Even one of the earliest “Church Fathers”, Lucian of Samosata (125-180 a.d.) wrote that Jesus died on a skolops (Latin) which signified a single piece of wood, and not a cross (Parsons, 1896 p.5). So, when, where and how is the cross introduced into Christianity? Early Church Fathers and Constantine Interestingly, as we turn to the early “church fathers” writings to settle the account of the timeliness of when the use of the cross in Christianity can be identified we are left with some clues or evidence supporting such. In all of the pages of these early church fathers, “totaling over 10 thousand there is not one instance where it is mentioned that Jesus died on a cross” (Parsons, 1896). There is however some cases when the cross is discussed and we will consider two of them. These are more famous passages from history that we are often told proves as conclusive evidence the claim that Jesus died on a cross and that this identifies the timeline for such. Minucius Felix (circa 160-300 A.D.) writes, We assuredly see the sign of a cross naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with arms outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason or your own religion is formed with respect to it. At first we see references to the cross, and it makes at best good material for debate. No mention of Jesus is made in this limited statement and while this remark is always quoted as

Evolution of the Cross 6 proof of the cross’s use in Christianity, the rest of his statement is not, or rarely considered, Minucius Felix continues, “Crosses, moreover, we Christians neither venerate nor wish for (Italics added). You indeed who consecrate gods of wood venerate wooden crosses, perhaps as parts of your gods…” (Felix, as reported by Parsons, 1896 p.10).This presents several major considerations worthy of close scrutiny. This statement, perhaps as old as the third century not only denounces the cross as not being considered Christian but it also tells us (as does other evidence to follow) that the cross was not yet considered to be a Christian symbol to this date. Tertullian, (circa 155-230) another early “church father” authors another major reference that does discuss the cross and omits any link of the death of Jesus to the cross. His famous quote that is offered as proof or justifying the use of the cross in Christian worship, is, “In all the actions of daily life we trace upon the forehead the sign…” (Tertullian, as reported by Parsons, 1896 p.13, 14). Tertullian admits this to be related to a pagan act. Tertullian further states, “…if I remember rightly Mithras (A pagan Roman religion) there signs his soldiers upon their foreheads, celebrates the oblation of bread, introduces a representation of the resurrection, and places the crown beyond the sword.” Is this reference to a pagan act of worship to be considered absolute proof of and acceptance and justification of the cross into Christian worship? Both sides to the issue regarding the use of the cross in Christianity agree on several points, one being that cross usage from the Christian standpoint seems to have become most abundant around the middle or early part of the 4th century (Sommers, 1996 and Parsons, 1896 respectively). Constantine, (c.274-337) was an emperor and leader of the Roman Empire who, while recognized as a sun-god worshipper, is credited for permitting Christians freedom of religion and affording this freedom to them on about 312, or 313 a.d. and only after having seen a miraculous vision in the heavens (Collins, Price, 2003 p.32).

Evolution of the Cross 7 Constantine was an avid sun god worshiper and links are tied to forms of a cross in sun god worship and forms of the cross as it relates to history. While Constantine was trying to unite Christians and pagans, factors and ideas were considered from both parties in an effort to unite the peoples. Leo the Great (Pope between 440 and 461) mentions that in his day “faithful” Christians would stand on the steps of St. Peters Church and give obeisance and prayers to the sun. Herbermann and Grupp while writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia continue in this regard, …it is easy to understand that many of the emperors yielded to the delusion that they could unite all their subjects in the adoration of the one sun-god who combined in himself the father-god of the Christians and the much worshiped Mithras; thus the empire could be founded anew on unity of religion. Even Constantine, as will be shown farther on, for a time cherished this mistaken belief (Herbermann and Grupp, 1908). According to history, Constantine had a vision of Jesus Christ in the heavens, or only a cross (or a combination of initials resembling a cross) above the midday sun, he claimed his vision included a message from heaven that guaranteed him victory if he were to put the sign of Christ, (no, not yet a cross) on his shields and standards (Parsons, 1896 page 23). The words of the Bishop of Caesarea, who is reporting what he states that Constantine told him personally, He said that at mid-day when the sun was beginning to decline he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the Sun, bearing the inscription ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΝΑ; he himself, and his whole army also, being struck with amazement at

Evolution of the Cross 8 this sight (Bishop of Caesarea, as reported by Parsons, 1896, page 13). Interestingly, the cross was not used immediately after this vision in the heavens, but at first was considered to be something else, which after a short while evolved into a cross. The Bishop of Caesarea’s testimony continues regarding the sun god worshipper and his army of sun god worshipers, …he (Constantine) had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies… two letters indicating the name of the Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected with the letter X (The Bishop of Caesarea as reported by Parsons, 1896 page 25). These same early witnesses call the use of the X and the P the Monogram of the Christ. The monogram is described above as some sort of P with the X on top of it or overlapping each other. Parsons, in his work The Non-Christian Cross, states, …their leader, (Constantine) who was anxious to obtain the support of the Christians, allowed a loop to be added to the top of the vertical spoke so that the Christians might be able to interpret the victorious symbol as or , or ; i.e., ΧΡ or ΧΡΙ, the

first two or three letters of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, Christos, Christ. (Parsons, 1896, page 18). This consideration shows two points. One, that a cross was not being used at this time because the cross was not yet being venerated as a Christian Symbol, and secondly that the use

Evolution of the Cross 9 of the X and P were being used from this point onward. Thus, the concept of The Monogram of Christ, as introduced by Constantine’s miraculous vision, evolved into the cross. Hassett, while writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia reiterates this point and adds, “The form (The X and the P) is of Christian origin; it came into use in the course of the fourth century, and represents a stage in the development of the monogram into the cross” [italics added] (Hassett, 1911). Vine also states that by “the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith” (Vine, 1939 p.75). He also acknowledged that, “pagans were received into the churches…and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols” (Vine, 1939 p.75). On the other hand some authors will claim that the absence of the cross as a symbol during the first few centuries is due to fear of persecution (Sommers, 1996). Sommers also mentions that perhaps the Christians considered the Hebrew (Old Testament) rule of idol worship as another reason for not coming out of the closet, so to speak with the veneration of the cross. This consideration may be persuasive if several major premises are true. The first one being that Jesus truly died on a cross, (unproven) and secondly that the first century and later Christians in reality wanted to venerate or use the cross from the very day that Jesus died on the supposed cross (unproven and very unlikely, please refer to the testimony of Minucius Felix and Lucian of Samosata, above). However, does this make sense? Would not the same Christians that Sommers mentions be aware that it was not only a Hebrew or Old Testament law regarding the use of idols, but a Christian (first century) teaching as well?(1 Corinthians, 10: 14). Additionally, the argument of supposed persecution is not tenable and neither is the idea that early Christians were trying to use the cross, as Clement of Alexandria notes in the late 3rd century, “Let our seals be either a dove, a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind… (Clement of

Evolution of the Cross 10 Alexandria, Paedagogus, III, xi as reported by Hassett in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909). Thus, acceptable Christian symbols were openly listed or admitted to, and the cross is omitted at this time as well. In short, we have reviewed only a small portion of the information available to us in regards the evolution of the cross’s use in Christianity and have had a chance to appraise some of the major considerations in deciding whether or not Jesus died on a cross,(which would prove when the cross began to be officially used from a Christian standpoint) and how the cross was ushered in to the Christian arena for use a worldwide icon, symbolizing the Christian faith by way of the accepted form of Christ’s death. The original meaning of the word stauros, as used by the first century writers and others through history, including Homer, reveals the meaning of the word to be an upright stake and not a cross. Examining the history of Constantine and the early church fathers reveals that the cross was not accepted until sometime during or after Constantine’s reign, and at any rate evolved from the Monogram of the Christ.The material available to us is exhaustive and complete in nature, and while many may claim that the truth is not important, a careful and honest examination of the available material reveals the exact history and evolution of the cross as it came into usage by Christendom.

Evolution of the Cross 11 References Collins, M., & Price, M. (2003). The Story of Christianity. New York: DK publishing, Inc. Hassett, M. (1911). Monogram of Christ. In Catholic Encyclopedia [Web]. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 26, 2007, from http://www.newadvent.orgcathen/10488a.htm Henderson, Charles (2007). The Symbols of Christianity: the Cross. Retrieved May 19, 2007, from GodWeb.org Web site: http://www.godweb.org/morecross.htm Herbermann, C., Grupp, G., Constantine the Great. (1908). In Catholic Encyclopedia [Web]. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 26, 2007, from http://www.newadvent.orgcathen/04295c.htm Parsons, Denham, J., (1896) The Non-Christian Cross. London. Retrieved May 5, 2007 from http://www.christianism.com/html/links.html Sommers, C. (Dec 1996) Crosses in history. Catholic Insight, 4, p12-13. Retrieved May 13, 2007, from InfoTracOneFile via Thomson Gale: http://find.galegroup.com/ips/infomark.do?&contentSet=IACDocuments&type=retrieve&tabID=T003&prodId=IPS&docId=A30205062&sour ce=gale&userGroupName=uphoenix&version=1.0 Vine, W. E. (1997, 1999). Vine’s concise Dictionary of the Bible. Cross, Crucify, 5, Pp.75-76. Published by Thomas Nelson publishing, Inc. Nashville.

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