In this final part on the cross I want to focus on the historical evidence that Jesus died on a cross and not on a stake.
The Reasoning book claims that the cross did not come to be used by Christians until far after Jesus death. The quote the New Catholic Encyclopedia as saying: “The representation of Christ’s redemptive death on Golgotha does not occur in the symbolic art of the first Christian centuries. The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument of the Lord’s Passion.”—(1967), Vol. IV, p. 486.
Were Christians "reluctant" to depict the instrument used in Jesus death? Archeology shows this statement to be false! According to http://www.leaderu.com/theology/burialcave.html: "The first century catacomb uncovered by archaeologist P. Bagatti on the Mount of Olives contains inscriptions clearly indicating its use, 'by the very first Christians in Jerusalem.' A 'head stone', found near the entrance to the first century catacomb, is inscribed with the sign of the cross." See the photo below:
What about other early Christians? Do we have any indication that they believed that Jesus died on a cross? Justin Martyr, who lived from 114 to 167CE believed that Jesus died on a cross. He said: "For the one beam is placed upright, from which the highest extremity is raised up into a horn, when the other beam is fitted on to it, and the ends appear on both sides as horns joined on to the one horn."
The epistle of Barnabas, while not in the accepted NT canon was written around 100CE. It says, ""…the cross was to express the grace [of our redemption]" Keep in mind that this was around the time that the apostle John wrote his letters.
With this in mind, can we believe that the Watchtower was being entirely honest in the November 8, 1972 Awake page27 when it says: "Not until the fourth century C.E. did the cross begin coming into noticeable use among professed Christians. The one primarily responsible for this development was Emperor Constantine, a sun worshiper who is said to have accepted Christianity years before submitting to baptism while on his deathbed."? The cross was used and respected far before the 4th century as can clearly be seen above.
As if we needed more proof, we have the many statements of Tertullian whose writings date from 190CE to about 220CE. He states the following: ""You hang Christians on crosses (crucibus) and stakes (stipitibus); what idol is there but is first moulded in clay, hung on a cross and stake (cruci et stipiti)? It is on a patibulum that the body of your god is first dedicated" (Apologeticus, 12.3).
"For this same letter TAU of the Greeks, which is our T, has the appearance of the cross (crucis)" (Apologeticus, 3.23.6)
"Every stake fixed in an upright position is a portion of the cross; we render our adoration, if you will have it so, to a god entire and complete. We have shown before that your deities are derived from shapes modelled from the cross. But you also worship victories, for in your trophies the cross is the heart of the trophy. The camp religion of the Romans is all through a worship of the standards, a setting the standards above all gods. Well, as those images decking out the standards are ornaments of crosses. All those hangings of your standards and banners are robes of crosses. I praise your zeal: you would not consecrate crosses unclothed and unadorned." (Apologeticus, 16)
So is it reasonable to conclude that the cross was not brought into use until the 4th century by a sun worshiper? This cannot be. The overwhelming proof is that Jesus died on a stake with a crossbeam. As we saw in the last post, Paul did not consider the cross to be something that should be shunned, but as a symbol of God's love for us.
The last question that must be asked is this: Why do Jehovah's Witnesses reject the idea of the cross as something foolish and wrong? What causes them to throw out the abundance of evidence that shows that Jesus died on a cross? The rejection of the cross did not happen until far along in the Watchtowers history. C.T. Russell respected the cross very much and it appeared on the Watchtower magazine for many years. Russell also celebrated Birthdays and Christmas. He recognized blood as a symbol of life and not more important than life itself. But Joseph Rutherford changed many things when he took over. In 1936 Rutherford got rid of the cross. The amount of changes that Rutherford brought in can probably most clearly be understood by the series of articles he wrote in 1925 about "Satans organization vs Gods organization" called "Birth of a Nation". Gods people were to stand out as different from Satans organization (which includes all other religions). He set in motion a massive change in doctrine that completely changed the organization.
In the Watchtower, July 1, 1938, pg 201, Rutherford claimed that Satan had tried to use the 5 man editorial committee to stop the publication of "Birth of a Nation". .The Editorial Committee was dissolved in 1931, after which Rutherford wrote every leading article in The Watch Tower until his death. The 1933 Watch Tower Society Yearbook observed that the demise of the Editorial Committee indicated "that the Lord himself is running his organization"
What is shocking is that many of the organizations most cherished doctrines that are held to in our day were the result of this man.
In conclusion, we all are responsible for our own beliefs and making sure that they are based on the Bible. When Judgment Day comes we may be asked, "Why did you believe this?" Will you be ready with an answer? Or will you have to claim that you made your decisions based on what imperfect men taught?