Samuelsson, a theologian at the University of Gothenburg and author of a 400 page thesis on crucifixion in antiquity, told AOL News he doesn’t doubt that Jesus died on Calvary hill. But he argues that the New Testament is more ambiguous about the exact method of the Messiah’s execution than many Christians are aware.
“When the Gospels refer to the death of Jesus, they just say that he was forced to carry a ‘stauros’ out to Calvary,” he said. “Stauros’ is actually used to describe a lot of different poles and execution devices.”
The Companion Bible gets even more specific in its “Appendixes to The Companion Bible,” which is also online. Appendix 162 refers to “The word stauros; which denotes an upright pale or stake, to which criminals were nailed for execution. Our English word ‘cross’ is translated of the Latin crux, but the Greek stauros no more means a crux than the word ‘stick’ means a ‘crutch.’ It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always of one piece alone.”
It also names another Greek word, xulon or xy’lon, as the instrument of Jesus’ death, adding, “As this latter word xulon is used for the former stauros, it shows us that the meaning of each is exactly the same.”
Upon looking at these words translated at Acts 5:30 and Acts 10:39, both Bible accounts refer to Jesus as being “hanged on a tree.” Acts 13:29 says, “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree.” — KJV.
The Companion Bible further states, “There is nothing in the Greek of the New Testament even to imply two pieces of timber.” This view is made clear in Galatians 3:13 when Paul wrote, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” — KJV.
These words were quoted from Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, which states: “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” — KJV.
Even Peter, who was an eyewitness to these events, spoke of Jesus at 1Peter 2:24 “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” — KJV.
Question: Could Almighty God arrange for His only-begotten Son to be sacrificed in accordance with the Mosaic Law and on an instrument He had already foretold in advance — “a tree” — instead of on what we see displayed today?
Still, the fact that it may not have been two pieces of wood used in his execution has no bearing on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Swedish scholar said he isn’t sure exactly why the crucifix went on to become the dominant Christian motif.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words said the shape of the modern cross “had its origin in ancient Chaldea and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz, being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name in that country.”
The book also said “pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the ‘cross’ of Christ.”
The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits, “the cross is found in both pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures. The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument of the Lord’s Passion.”
It appears that for the first three centuries after the death of Christ, Christians did not use the cross in worship. It was promoted primarily by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century A.D.
While many theologians are reportedly complimenting Samuelsson for his unflinching research and integrity, some critics have claimed he wants to undermine Christianity. Samuelsson, who said he believes “the man who walked this earth was the Son of God and that he will return to judge the living and the dead,” calls such accusations “stupid.”
“I’m really just a boring, conservative pastor and I start everyday reading the New Testament,” he told AOL News in 2010. “But my suggestion is that we should read the text as it is, not as we think it is.”
While everyone has the right to believe whatever they like, most people want the truth regardless of how they arrive at it. Shouldn’t all people, great and small, including this courageous pastor, have the right to seek truth, know the truth and let that truth set them free?
The truth should bring us closer to God. Love for what is right allows us to change so we can please Him. Besides, God’s Word at 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” — KJV.
Could that include not using misleading images in worship? You decide. One thing is for sure, however. Faithful Christians do not want God to be cross with them.