Does it matter whether Jesus died on a traditional cross or on an upright stake without a crossbeam (as the Watchtower teaches)? For Christians, this isn’t a salvation issue. But to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s salvation issue which sets them apart from pagan “Christendom.”
In Chapter 5 of “Bible Teach”, near paragraph 11 online (p. 52 in the paperback edition), there is a depiction of Christ impaled on a stake with no crossbeam, with a single nail through both wrists and with his hands over his head, not outstretched at his sides.
Paragraph 12 (p. 51) refers to Jesus dying on a “torture stake” and refers us to an appendix entitled “Why True Christians Do Not Use the Cross in Worship” (p. 204).
This provides a springboard for you to use my discussion of the cross from The Christian Freedom Approach, pp. 241-246, from my book, Getting Through to Jehovah’s Witnesses: Approaching Bible Discussions in Unexpected Ways. But should you?
This is one of those issues that it is probably best to skip unless the Witnesses insist on discussing it. It is better to go on to topics that are directly related to salvation.
If they do insist on discussing the cross, here’s how you can do it.
Page 205 of the appendix (the appendices don’t have numbered paragraphs) asserts that this is how Christ was executed, not on a cross.
Here, you can ask them about several scriptures I cite in the Christian Freedom Approach, pp. 242-243
- In John 20:25, Thomas referred to the “nails” (plural) in Jesus’ hands
- Matthew 27:37 says that Pilate’s inscription was placed above Jesus’ head (not above his hands as shown in the “Bible Teach” depiction)
- In John 21:18-19, Jesus told Peter that he (Peter) would die with his arms outstretched, indicating that Peter would die on a traditional cross. This shows that such death instruments were in use by Rome at that time
Page 205 of the appendix points out that Paul said that anyone who died on a tree was accursed and says, “Since such a means of execution made the person ‘a curse,’ it would not be proper for Christians to decorate their homes with images of Christ impaled.”
The Christian Freedom Approach (pp. 244-246) describes Paul’s attitude about the cross by citing several scriptures:
- He weeps because so many are “enemies of the cross”: Philippians 3:18-19
- He considers the cross as representing God’s power for salvation: 1 Corinthians 1:17-18
- He boasts in the cross, by which he has been crucified to the world and the world to him: Galatians 6:14
I summarize these in my book (p. 246) by suggesting that you say to the Witnesses, “Do you see from these scriptures why, to me, the cross is not a symbol of evil and defeat but of victory? Satan tried to use it to destroy the Messiah, but God turned it into the instrument on which Christ defeated Satan’s plan and purchased salvation. It is Christ’s victory and his sacrifice that Christians are testifying to when we identify ourselves using the symbol of the cross.”
The nature of Christ’s resurrection body
Returning to Chapter 5 itself (paragraph 13, p. 51) “Bible Teach” says that on the third day after Jesus’ died, “Jehovah raised him back to spirit life.”
Although this raises the issue of the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body, I suggest that you wait until Chapter 7 to discuss this. It’s there that “Bible Teach” discusses the subject in more detail.
Next week, we’ll discuss the power of sin that dwells within us.