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Is the cross really a Christian symbol?
Question: It seems like every Christian I know wears a necklace with a cross on it or has a cross-shaped bumper sticker on their car—so I’m surprised that you don’t use any cross imagery in your magazine. Why not?
Answer: While it is true that the cross has long been held as the quintessential icon of traditional Christianity, the symbol was in use long before Christianity, and with a very different meaning. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the cross or crucifix considered to be an object or symbol to be carried, worn, worshiped, or otherwise associated with those claiming to follow Christ. History and archaeology are also largely silent on this point, with many accounts concerning the cross and its use appearing only in apocryphal writings or historical sources written several centuries after Jesus’ death.
In fact, though most people assume that Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross with the t-shape we so commonly see today, the Bible contains no description of the actual wooden stake to which He was nailed. The word used in the Bible is stauros (cf. Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26; John 19:17), which simply meant an upright pole, a stake, or even a tree. The Romans used several variants of these to execute those they condemned.
Studying the history of the cross reveals that the symbol predated Christianity, and variants of it appear in pagan art and religion dating back to very ancient times. For example, the British Museum holds an Assyrian statue of King Shamshi-Adad V wearing a near-perfect Maltese cross. Greek gods like Diana and Bacchus have been depicted with crosses and Diana shares much in common with later medieval portrayals of the Virgin Mary.
Across the globe, from Latin America to Egypt and Asia, crosses in the form of the ancient Egyptian ankh, upright crucifixes, and even swastika-like symbols have been found, and one letter of the Semitic alphabet even appears as a cross, dating to about 1500 BC. Yet none of these are associated with the worship practiced by the earliest faithful Christians.
The first official “Christian” use of the cross may be dated as late as 312 AD, under the rule of Constantine, the pagan Emperor of Rome. Constantine claimed to have had a vision of some type of cross—likely the Chi Rho, which superimposed onto each other the first two letters of the Greek word Christos (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ). He claimed that the vision commanded him to place that symbol on his armies’ battle flags when they went out to conquer his enemies. In what seems to have been a politically motivated move to take control of the increasingly popular apostate “Christianity” in Rome at the time, Constantine used this symbol to associate himself with divinity and to make his version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire (“Cross, Crucify,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Even the Chi Rho cross, however, had ties to ancient pagan sources, and is found on coins issued by Egyptian ruler Ptolemy III Euergetes in the third century BC. There is no historical or archaeological evidence that the symbol was in use by professing Christians before the fourth century.
In Exodus 20:3–5, God specifically commands His people not to bow down before a carved image—a warning ignored by those who genuflect before a crucifix in their religious observance. This instruction is reemphasized in the New Testament, where the Apostle John exhorts Christians to “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
So, what should Christians do? We should acknowledge that no description is found in the Bible of the specific type of stauros or cross used in Christ’s crucifixion, and realize that Christ wants us to focus on the meaning of His sacrifice, what He is doing right now, and why He is doing it. The fact that the traditional cross came out of pagan religion should give us pause.
And the cross is not the only unchristian aspect of popular “Christianity.” To learn more about how mainstream religion has distorted and even abandoned many teachings of Christ and His Father, request a free copy of Satan’s Counterfeit Christianity or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.