The English word cross is used to translate the original Greek word, transliterated as stauros, which actually means post or stake. The literal meaning of the original New Testament word has led some to believe that Jesus Christ was actually crucified on a stake, not a cross. This would mean that His arms would have been fastened directly overhead, rather than outward as traditionally believed.
Although either could be right without in any way affecting the fact that Jesus Christ was crucified, a little study of history reveals the facts. To save the time and repetitive work that would result if done individually each time, the Romans (see Ancient Empires - Rome) often had the very heavy and cumbersome upright post/stake already in place, and it was the cross-section that is described as being
carried to the site with Jesus. Once there, our Savior was nailed to the
horizontal beam which was then lifted up and fastened to the upright stake,
thereby forming the cross - the symbol of our Savior's Sacrifice.
Types Of Crosses
There are 4 types of crosses that are known to have been used for crucifixions in the ancient world (apart from that used by, for example, the Assyrians, who impaled the victim on an upright post - something that we know did not happen to Jesus Christ):
- The "Latin Cross," or crux immissa, is the traditional cross that is most often portrayed in illustrations and in "crucifixes." It was generally assumed that because a sign was nailed to the post above Jesus (John 19:19), there must have been a section of upright post above the horizontal beam.
- The "St. Anthony's Cross," or crux commissa, was actually the most commonly-used cross used by the Romans for crucifixions. The upright post, which was notched at the top, was already in place. The executed man was tied or nailed to the cross-section, which was then simply lifted up and set into the notch at the top of the upright post. From an engineering point of view, as a reader pointed out to me (thank you Bruce), this was probably the most quickly and easily assembled - and also the strongest, because the weight of the condemned man was drawing down directly into the notch, where it couldn't go anywhere, unlike the traditional cross that had the cross section fastened to the side of the post, which could much more easily pull away. And, since the condemned man hung down below the level of the horizontal beam, there was still plenty of room for a sign to be nailed above his head.
- The "Greek Cross" had equal-length vertical and horizontal sections.
- The "Saint Andrew's Cross," or crux decussata, was shaped like the letter X, with the two bottom legs set into the ground.
Fact Finder: What did Jesus Christ figuratively say about the cross in each of our daily lives?