It is well known that stauros originally meant stake or upright pole
but the Romans used more than one type of instrument for execution. It
is also well known that stauros is used primarily for stake in
classical Greek but the N.T. was written in Koine Greek. Those who use
argue for the classical Greek must also show if it was used to
describe crucifixions after 30 A.D. in Palestine. Many scholars
believe that by the first century the Romans employed the more well
known form of crucifixion.
"[Stauros] means properly a stake, and is the tr. [i.e., translation]
not merely of the Latin crux (cross), but of palus (stake) as well. As
used in NT, however, it refers evidently not to the simple stake used
for impaling, of which widespread punishment crucifixion was a
refinement, but to the more elaborate cross used by the Romans in the
time of Christ."
A Dictionary of Bible, Dealing With Its Language, Literature And
Contents, Including The Biblical Theology, 1898, Volume I, T. & T.
Clarke: Edinburgh, p. 528.
"The Greek word for cross, (stauros), properly signified a stake, an
upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or
which might be used in impaling (fencing in) a piece of ground. But a
modification was introduced as the dominion and usages of Rome
extended themselves through Greek-speaking countries. Even amongst the
Romans, the crux (from which the word cross is derived) appears to
have been originally an upright pole, and always remained the more
prominent part. But from the time that it began to be used as an
instrument of punishment, a traverse piece of wood was commonly added
... about the period of the Gospel Age, crucifixion was usually
accomplished by suspending the criminal on a cross piece of wood."
The Imperial Bible Dictionary", by P. Fairbairn, London, 1874, Vol 1 p225
There are several historical documents that show the Romans used a
cross for crucifixion in the first and second century.
"Consider our world and whether there would be any effective
administration or community if it were not for this form of the cross.
You can only cross the sea when you make use of a sail in the ship.
The earth is not plowed without it. This same shape of the cross is in
the tools that diggers and mechanics use to do their work. And the
human form differs from the animals in being erect with hands extended
and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called a
nose through which there is respiration for a living creature.
This too shows the form of cross."
Justin Martyr's First Apology, Chapter LV.-Symbols of the Cross.
"For the one beam is placed upright, from which the highest extremity
is raised up into a horn, [b]when the other beam is fitted on to
it[/b], and the ends appear on both sides as horns joined on to the
Justin's "Dialogue With Trypho", Chap XC in ANF, p. 245
Justin Martyr lived from approximately 100 to 165 AD.
"And because the cross in the T was to have grace, He saith also three
hundred. So He revealeth Jesus in the two letters, and in the
remaining one the cross."
J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, Editors, The Apostolic Fathers, ?The
Epistle of Barnabas? (9:8b), pg. 278
"The Spirit saith to the heart of Moses, that he should make a type of
the cross and of Him that was to suffer, that unless, saith he, they
shall set their hope on Him, war shall be waged against them for ever.
Moses therefore pileth arms one upon another in the midst of the
encounter, and standing on higher ground than any he stretched out his
hands, and so Israel was again victorious."
Ibid., (12:2) pp. 280-281
"The very form of the cross, too, has five extremities, two in length,
two in bredth, and one in the middle, on which [last] the person rests
who is fixed by the nails."
Irenaeus' "Against Heresies", Chap XXIV in ANF p. 395
In 197 AD Tertullian wrote:
"Every piece of timber which is fixed in the ground in an erect
position is a part of a cross, and indeed the greater portion of its
mass. But an entire cross is attributed to us, [b]with its transverse
beam[/b], of course, and its projecting seat." Tertullian in "Ad
Nationes" Chap XI in ANF, Vol III, p. 122
These writers lived in a period when crucifixions were still carried
out, and could see these executions firsthand. Both Justin and
Tertullian referred to cases where Christians were crucified (See ANF,
Vol I, p. 254; Vol III, p. 28).
In the first century B.C. Dionysius of Halicarnassus described the
practice of tying the patibulum across the victims back:
"A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his
slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be
led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all,
directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other
conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should
go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time
conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to
his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them
to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as
far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips."
(Roman Antiquities, 7.69.1-2)
Seneca lived from 4 B.C. - A.D. 65, was a Roman and wrote the following:
Cum refigere se crucibus conentur, in quas unusquisque vestrum clavos
suos ipse adigit, ad supplicium tamen acti stipitibus singulis
pendent; hi, qui in se ipsi animum advertunt, quot cupiditatibus tot
crucibus distrahuntur. At maledici et in alienam contumeliam venusti
sunt. Crederem illis hoc vacare, nisi quidam ex patibulo suo
spectatores conspuerent! "Though they strive to release themselves
from their crosses---those crosses to which each one of you nails
himself with his own hand--yet they, when brought to punishment hang
each one on a single stipes; but these others who bring upon
themselves their own punishment are stretched upon as many crosses as
they had desires. Yet they are slanderous and witty in heaping insult
on others. I might believe that they were free to do so, did not some
of them spit upon spectators from their own patibulum!" (De Vita
....alium in cruce membra distendere.... "another to have his limbs
stretched upon the crux" (De Ira, 1.2.2).
Video istic cruces non unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis
fabricatas: capite quidam conversos in terram suspendere, alii per
obscena stipitem egerunt, alii brachia patibulo explicuerunt. "Yonder
I see crosses, not indeed of a single kind, but differently contrived
by different peoples; some hang their victims with head toward the
ground, some impale their private parts, others stretch out their arms
on a patibulum" (De Consolatione, 20.3).
Contempissimum putarem, si vivere vellet usque ad crucem....Est tanti
vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum.... Invenitur, qui
velit adactus ad illud infelix lignum, iam debilis, iam pravus et in
foedum scapularum ac pectoris tuber elisus, cui multae moriendi causae
etiam citra crucem fuerant, trahere animam tot tormenta tracturam? "I
should deem him most despicable had he wished to live up to the very
time of crucifixion....Is it worth while to weigh down upon one's own
wound, and hang impaled upon a patibulum?....Can any man be found
willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already
deformed, swelling with ugly tumours on chest and shoulders, and draw
the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? I think he would have
many excuses for dying even before mounting the crux!" (Epistle,
Cogita hoc loco carcerem et cruces et eculeos et uncum et adactum per
medium hominem, qui per os emergeret, stipitem. "Picture to yourself
under this head the prison, the crux, the rack, the hook, and the
stake which they drive straight through a man until it protrudes from
his throat" (Epistle, 14.5).
....sive extendendae per patibulum manus "....or his hands to be
extended on a patibulum" (Fragmenta, 124; cf. Lactantius, Divinis
There is also testimony about the form of the cross by early
non-Christian writers. The Greek writer Lukianos (c. 120-180 AD) wrote
that the letter T had received its "evil meaning" because of the "evil
instrument tyrants put up to hang people upon them. (Lukianos in
"Iudicium Vocalium 12", in Crucifixion by Martin Hengel, Fortress
Press, 1982, pp. 8,9)
Artemidorus lived in the 2nd century AD during the reigns of Hadrian
and the Antonines. In his five-volume work Oneirocritica (The
Interpretation of Dreams) he also compares the stauros to a ship:
"Being crucified is auspicious for all seafarers. For the stauros,
like a ship, is made of wood and nails, and the ship's mast resembles
Artemidorus, Oneirocritica, 2:53
We have evidence from the early Bible manuscripts themselves. The
manuscripts P66 and P75 are traditionally dated around AD 200, but may
be from as early as the last part of the first century. (See BIBLICA ,
Vol. 69:2, 1988; which dates the much related P46 this early, and
preliminary information from Professor George Howard by letter stated
P75 and P66 are "not far behind" in date.)
In P75 the word "stauros" is changed so the T and R together depict a
cross with a person on in three places where it occurs, and P66 put a
cross into the word "stauros."
In the 1940's Dr. Hermann Modder of Cologne, Germany carried out
scientific tests to determine the cause of Christ's death. The results
were recorded in the Bible as History by Werner Keller:
"In the case of a person suspended by his two hands the blood sinks
very quickly into the lower half of the body. After six to twelve
minutes blood pressure has dropped by 50% and the pulse rate has
doubled. Too little blood reaches the heart, and fainting ensues. This
leads to a speedy orthostatic collapse through insufficient blood
circulating to the brain and the heart. Death by crucifixion is
therefore [also] due to heart failure.
It is a well authenticated fact that victims of crucifixion did not
usually die for two days or even longer. On the vertical beam there
was often a small support attached called a "sedile" (seat) or a
"cornu" (horn). If the victim hanging there eased his misery from time
to time by supporting himself on this, the blood returned to the upper
half of his body and the faintness passed. When the torture of the
crucified man was finally to be brought to an end, the "crurifragium"
was proceeded with: his legs were broken below the knee with blows
from a club. That meant that he could no longer ease his weight on the
footrests and heart failure quickly followed."
The Bible as History, by Werner Keller. Pages 348-349
Then there's Matthew 27:37 - Above his head they placed the written
charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (NIV)
If Jesus had been crucified on a stake the natural way to state this
would have been "Above his hands they placed the written charge..."