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Master Jesus was crucified on a tree, according to Apostle Peter.

Acts 5:30
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Acts 10:39
39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:

Acts 13:29
29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.

1 Peter 2:24
24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

On some accounts, He was crucified on the cross.

Matthew 27:40
40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Matthew 27:42
42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

Mark 15:30
30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross.

Mark 15:32
32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

Luke 23:26
26 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.

John 19:19
19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

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  • Not a bad question! +1. In my answer I make reference to the fact that this site isn't about finding Truth. For more, I'd recommend checking out the FAQ as well as these questions on the Meta site, which give some history and additional reasons for the reason this site's purpose is limited as it is: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/faq Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 13:21
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    not duplicate question but duplicate answers - to bad the original is in the context of Jehova Witness, we need an mainstream based question, maybe this can be it.--- christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/2109/…
    – Mike
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 15:22
  • 1
    Isn't it more of a translation problem? I know of at least one language where the same word is used for "tree" and for "wood". It that language, it does not raise such problems. Maybe we should ask someone who knows Hebrew and ancient Greek.
    – vsz
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 17:02
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    given that wood comes from a tree, and a cross is wooden, I'm not seeing the issue
    – warren
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 19:03

5 Answers 5

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First, understanding that this is not a site to learn about Truth, but rather to learn about Christianity - what the various teachings are from an academic perspective, the question "Which is true" is off-topic. However, we could take a couple of approaches that would be within the bounds of the site:

  • Answering what various denominations believe about the subject
  • From an apologetics approach, how do we resolve the apparent conflict?

I'm going to take the latter, and provide the answer the is probably the most commonly accepted.

Before we can address the potential discrepancy, it's important to clarify a couple of key concepts: Mainly what "Biblical inerrancy" means, and what guidelines are used for resolving alleged discrepancies.

First, the basic rules for resolving Biblical discrepancies are documented here: Rules behind resolving alleged Biblical discrepancies

Next, the doctrine of Plenary Inspiration of Scripture allows for authors to use their own literary style, including using allegory, and figures of speech while still allowing for Biblical inerrancy. This means that there can be verses within the Bible that are true on a general common-sense, easy to understand level, yet not technically true. Example: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" is a phrase that anyone can easily see is a figure of speech. Anyone can see that it simply means "I am very hungry", but realizes that the "I could eat a horse" is an exaggeration for effect.

The point of the above is that it's sometimes a mistake to be hyper-literal when interpreting individual passages of Scripture. Further, from the perspecrtive of inerrancy, the doctrine is not meant to defend the idea that everything in the Bible is to be taken literally, it teaches that the Bible is a reliable source of truth and doctrine. That said, doctrinally, whether Christ was hung on a tree or a cross isn't doctrinally significant.

One method for resolving this apparent conflict is based on the basic principle outlined above.

It's quite possible that the word "Cross" and "Tree" were used interchangeably, like "Cool", "Neat", and "Awesome" are used in modern slang. In our modern slang, those words have completely different meanings, techically, but in the way we use them, they can mean the exact same thing. Since a cross is made of wood, taken from a tree, it is not unreasonable to assume that either people called crosses "trees". It also be that they called anything that someone was crucified upon a cross, just because the Romans generally did use a cross of one sort or another.

However, all of that said, the historical evidence suggests that Jesus was probably hung on a cross as we'd normally think of it, since it was the normal method of execution at the time, and also based on internal Scriptural evidence. More here: http://www.gods-word-first.org/jesus-christ/jesus-crucifixion-stauros.html

A small snippet of the article, which shows a small bit of possible internal evidence:

The beam that Jesus was made to carry (John 19:17), and that Simon from Cyrene carried for him after Jesus collapsed in exhaustion (Luke 23:26), was most likely the crosspiece that was later affixed to an upright pole that was already in place.

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Some believe that Jesus was crucified on a single, upright stake (i.e., no crossbeam).

In John 20:25, it is written,

Therefore, the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I shall see the print of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."

The word "nails" is plural. Jesus had the print of nails in his hands. If Jesus were crucified on an upright stake in which both hands were affixed to the stake (see image below) with a singular nail, then we wouldn't see the word "nails" --- but "nail" --- to describe the print in Jesus' hands.

Depiction of Jesus Crucified on a Stake

As for the word "tree" --- which is equivalent to the Hebrew word עֵץ (etz), this Hebrew word was used for the "gallow" that Haman and his sons were hanged on in the Book of Esther (Est. 9:25), so it has a wide semantic range.

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    Doesn't etz simply mean "wood"? I remember the word from an article that discusses many different ways that "an etz" could be written on.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:21
  • @Mason Wheeler: I'd say so. It is so translated 107 of 328 occurrences in the A.V.
    – user900
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:29
  • +1. "wide semantic domain" is what I was trying to get at in my answer, but I'd have never thought of phrasing it like that. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 19:55
  • Actually, "semantic range" is probably a more accurate term. "Semantic domain" seems to have its own particular meaning in linguistics. Admittedly, I used the wrong term.
    – user900
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 20:53
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John 20:25 How many nails were used in Jesus' execution?

John 20:25 speaks of Thomas' words "...'Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails [...] I will certainly not believe.'" Critiques of the suggestion that Jesus was impaled point to Thomas' indication that nails [plural] were used and say this implies that a total of two nails were used for Jesus' hands (thus indicating he was executed on a cross, not an upright stake).

Firstly, Jehovah's Witnesses have never said that two nails (plural) could not have been used for each hand. Possibly two were necessary to support the weight of a fully grown man. Nothing in scripture excludes the possibility of two nails in each hand on an upright stake**. So...

  • Two nails could have been used - hands side by side rather than on top of each other.
  • Two nails could have been used - hands on top of each other
  • Two nails could have been used - one at the wrist and the other into the palm of the hands

... or any other combination of two nails for each hand still allowing for the method of execution to be an upright stake.

Secondly, the pluralization of "nails" could also be referring to the total used (not necessarily the total used in each separate hand). Thomas asked to see "the print of the nails" or the wounds inflicted by the nails, since the absolute minimum number of nails used had to be two (one for the hands and one for the feet), that would be plural.

To illustrate: If someone told their doctor "I have tender spots in my knees and back" The patient could well have a single (one) spot of pain in one knee and another in his back. If so the pluralization of spots would be referring to the total number of spots in his body. Luke reports that Jesus showed Thomas "... his hands and his feet.]." (Luke 24:39), so the "nails" [plural] could be referring to those that went through his hands and his feet.

To Impale: The fastening of a victim either dead or alive to a stake, or pole.

Merriam's Dictionary defines it as: "to torture or kill by fixing on a sharp stake" [bold mine]

Greek

The Greek word translated by most Bibles as "crucify" is in fact "stauroo" from the root "stauros" which means (torture) stake; xylon: stake/log; Latin crux: upright stake

"stauroo cause-stand ...drive a stake into the ground, fasten on a stake, impale, now by popular usage, crucify, though there was no crosspiece."- - pp. 63, 64, Greek-English Keyword Concordance, Concordant Publishing Concern, 1983, 3rd printing of 6th edition of 1976. [bold mine]

Crucify

In contrast, Merriam's defines "crucify" as: "to put to death by nailing or binding the wrists or hands and feet to a cross"

Given the meaning of the Greek word used in scripture obviously impale is a more accurate and appropriate choice.

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I'm surprised no one has posted this take...

The claim I've encountered is that condemned prisoners typically carried only the horizontal beam of the "cross", and that the upright may have been a literal tree. This would make both "cross" and "tree" literally correct while still being consistent with Jesus carrying His "cross".

Of course, whether or not this is correct, it's fully plausible that "tree" was understood at the time as also being able to refer to a beam of wood, or perhaps a log. (Especially as we don't know how "finished" the upright would have been. Considering its purpose, I wouldn't be surprised if a raw log with the bark still attached was seen as desirable.)

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One should know that the English word cross is incorrect to answer the question. According to Oxford Languages, a cross means an upright post with a transverse bar, as used in antiquity for crucifixion. It is not the Greek meaning of the word stauros! Stauros means an upright stake or beam. It is a piece of wood that comes from a tree. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, The New Catholic Encyclopaedia, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, The Classic Greek Dictionary, Greek-English and English-Greek, The Companion Bible, Appendix 162

The problem is accepting things without checking out the source. Mainly, history is a lacking source in the USA. Historically, the Romans were some of the cruelest executioners.

Nineteenth-century Anglican theologian E. W. Bullinger's Companion Bible glossed stauros as "an upright pale or stake," interpreting crucifixion as "hung upon a stake ... stauros was not two pieces of wood at any angle."

The σταυρός (stauros) was simply an upright pale or stake to which Romans nailed those who were thus said to be crucified; σταυρόω merely means to drive stakes. It never means two pieces of wood joining at any angle. Even the Latin word crux means a mere stake. The initial letter Χ, (chi) of Χριστός, (Christ) was anciently used for His name until it was displaced by the T, the initial letter of the pagan god Tammuz, about the end of the cent. iv. — A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to The English and Greek New Testament, 1877

"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 of the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name in that country and adjacent lands, including Egypt.

By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D., the churches had either departed from or had travestied certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system, pagans were received into the churches apart from the regeneration of faith and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence, the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ." Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

Finally: The description of the actual symbol chosen by Emperor Constantine the next morning, as reported by Lactantius, is not very clear: it closely resembles a Tau-Rho or a staurogram (), a similar Christian symbol. On this very day, Constantine's army fought the forces of Maxentius and won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312) outside Rome.

An early visual representation of the connection between the Crucifixion of Jesus and his Resurrection, seen in the 4th-century sarcophagus of Domitilla in Rome, the use of a wreath around the Chi-Rho symbolizes the victory of the Resurrection over death. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Now, the answer is historically written. Now, the facts are given over false propaganda of the facts!

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