Cross or Stake
6 Min Read Time

Did Jesus Die on a Cross or Stake?

Watchtower claims Jesus died on a stake. This is incorrect, as all the evidence points to Jesus’ death being on a cross.

For over 50 years, a cross appeared on The Watch Tower cover.

Watchtower taught that Jesus died on a cross, publishing images of Jesus on a cross.

“Jesus was crucified upon the cross” Life (1929) p.216

The Photo Drama of Creation, slide 65 (Watch Tower 1914)

Watchtower followers wore the cross, or cross and crown, as shown in Watchtower’s 2016 Documentary, The Kingdom 100 Years and Counting. This is because all evidence points to Jesus death being on a cross. 

Biblical References

John 20:25 indicates Jesus died on a cross, not a stake. Thomas is recorded as stating, “unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe”. The use of the plural term shows Jesus was crucified with two nails, one in each hand, not a single nail through the wrist as depicted in Watchtower images. 

Matthew 27:37 supports a cross when it says, “Above his head they had put the charge against him in writing: ‘THIS IS JESUS, KING OF THE JEWS’ . To be above Jesus head requires a crucifixion, as on a stake the inscription would have appeared above his hands.

Early Christians

Watchtower claims the cross was not prevalent until introduced by Constantine in the 4th century. 

“Not until the fourth century C.E. did the cross begin coming into noticeable use among professed Christians. The one primarily responsible for this development was Emperor Constantine… .” Awake! 1972 Nov 8 p. 27

Not only does the Awake! article provide no evidence to support this untrue assertion, in other editions they prove their own statement false when discussing that the early Church Fathers wrote about the cross. 

“But do not writers early in the Common Era claim that Jesus died on a cross? For example, Justin Martyr (114-167 C.E.) … himself believed that Jesus died on a cross. ” Awake! 1976 Nov 22 p.27


In 1856, R. Garrucci discovered a caricature of the crucified Jesus showing a man’s body with an ass’s head, on a cross. This graffiti is thought to date sometime between AD 161-235.

Tertullian wrote of a similar “picture with this inscription: ‘Onokoites, the god of the Christians’. The figure had the ears of an ass, one foot was cloven, and it was dressed in a toga and carrying a book.” (Apologeticus, 16.12-14).

The staurogram is an early pictograph of Jesus on the cross that dates back earlier than 200 A.D. It was used in Bible Manuscripts, such as the New Testament Bodmer papyrus in the Greek words for “cross” (stauros) and “crucify” (stauroō).

See “The Staurogram: Earliest Depiction of Jesus’ Crucifixion” by Larry Hurtado in the Biblical Archaeology Review 2013 March/April.

Medical evidence

The Romans preferred a cross over the stake because it extended the agony and time it would take for a victim to die. Death on a stake is rapid, caused by asphyxiation. Death on a cross is by hypovolemic shock, a prolonged process which can take hours or even days. (F.T. Zugibe, 1984 Death by Crucifixion, Canadian Society of Forensic Science 17(1):1-13.6) By staying alive for hours or days, the crucified person served as a warning example to others. The biblical record of the time it took for Jesus to die indicates a prolonged death on a cross.


The cross was being used by Romans prior to the time of Jesus. 

Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution … .” The JAMA – Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 255; Copyright 1986, American Medical Association 

Kaufmann Kohler shows this practice was used 100 years before the death of Jesus.

“This cruel way of carrying into effect the sentence of death was introduced into Palestine by the Romans.  Josephus brands the first crucifixion as an act of unusual cruelty (“Ant.” xiii. 14, § 2), and as illegal. … During the times of unrest which preceded the rise in open rebellion against Rome (about 30-66 B.C.)… . (January 10 2006) 

Watchtower Reasoning

It was not until the 1930’s that Rutherford started to say Jesus died on a stake. With a weight of evidence that Jesus died on a cross, how does Watchtower justify claiming he died on a stake? 


The main argument is a linguistic claim that the Greek terms stauros and xylon did not mean “cross” in the first century, and referred to a simple stake or tree. Their most cited support for this is Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1948).

Historical evidence shows stauros could linguistically mean either cross or stake in Jesus’ day, making Vine’s Expository Dictionary wrong, and hence invalidating Watchtower’s line of reasoning. 


Watchtower also uses the illogical argument that “true Christians” should not use a cross due to having pagan origins.

“The fact that the cross is of pagan origin only makes the matter worse. The veneration of the cross is not Christian.” Watchtower 1989 May 1 p.26

Since Jesus died on a cross, it is a matter of historical accuracy to refer to and use the cross. It bears no relevance that pagan people have made use of a cross. To highlight how illogical this argument is, a stake or pole is equally pagan, with the phallic Obelisk of the Egyptians and Romans and the Hindu Lingam carrying powerful sexual religious connotation. Death on a stake mimics the ancient Sumerian myth of Inanna, whose corpse was hung from a stake for three days and nights.

If a symbol should be rejected on the grounds of pagan roots, consider the Watchtower symbol.


Watchtower claims use of the cross constitutes idolatry.

“Moreover, the Bible strongly warns Christians to “flee from idolatry,” which would mean not using the cross in worship.” Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Use the Cross in Their Worship? (2013-09-09)

The opposite is true. “The Mandylion Mystery” (Dan Goddard The Australian Financial Review Dec. 21 2005) explains the reason we do not know what the face of Jesus looked like is because depictions of Jesus were never used as a measure to prevent idolatry. Early Christians identified themselves by the use of the cross or fish to prevent idolatry of Jesus. 

There is little difference between Christians using a cross as a form of identification and Jehovah’s Witnesses using and Watchtower images, except the cross is a reminder of Jesus’ ransom and the logo markets an organisation.


As Watchtower has few sources to back up their false teaching, it resorts to deceptive quoting to make it appear they have support. 

Reasoning from the Scriptures p.89 partially quotes The Imperial Bible-Dictionary to show stauros means a stake, leaving out the critical part “that about the period of the Gospel Age, crucifixion was usually accomplished by suspending the criminal on a cross piece of wood.”

Reasoning from the Scriptures p.89 also quotes The Non-Christian Cross, by John Denham Parsons for support, despite him being a member of the Society for Psychical Research, promoting information on psychics and the paranormal. 

In several Watchtower publications Lipsius is deceivingly quoted to imply that Jesus dies on a stake. 

“Roman Catholic scholar Justus Lipsius illustrated impalement on an upright stake in his book “De Cruce Liber Primus.”” (Watchtower 1980 Feb 15 p.30) 

What is not mentioned is Lipsius expressly wrote that Jesus died on a cross. He also made 16 woodcut illustrations, of which 9 depicted crucifixion.

“De Cruce Liber Primus” (Justus Lipsius, 1629).


Biblical passages, medical evidence, early Christian writings, history and archaeology all identify that Jesus died on a cross. Watchtower’s main argument is linguistic, but incorrect as the Greek word stauros has been shown to have been applied to a cross prior to the first century. 

The positioning of Jesus’ hands at death is only an issue because Jehovah’s Witnesses view the cross as identifying false Christians. 

“For centuries it [the cross] has been used by people in Christendom as part of their worship. Soon God will execute his judgments against all false religions.” Watchtower 1989 May 1 p.23

Not only is it wrong to say Jesus did not die on a cross, Paul showed Christians should proudly boast about Jesus death on the cross, as a constant reminder of the importance of the ransom to everlasting life.

Galatians 6:14 “Never may it occur that I should boast, except in the torture stake [cross] of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been impaled [crucified] to me and I to the world.”