Did Jesus die on a stake or a cross?

by Matt Slick

One of the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses that is wrong, though not an attack on an essential doctrine of scripture, is their teaching that Jesus died on a stake instead of a cross (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp. 89-90).  It really doesn't matter which Jesus died on.  The issue is whether or not He shed His blood for our sins and rose from the dead.

In support of their position, the Jehovah's Witnesses accurately state that the Greek word used in many Bibles which is translated into "cross" is the Greek word "stauros" which means, "an upright stake, esp. a pointed one, a cross."1 If a stake were used instead of a cross, then Jesus' hands would have been placed above His head with a nail driven through His wrists.  Since the wrists would most likely overlap, only one nail would be needed through both wrists.  However, some Jehovah's Witnesses have maintained that Jesus' hands may have been placed one higher than another on the stake.  The reason they say this is because of John 20:25,

"The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Notice the use of the word nails (plural) in reference to hands (plural).  This is strong evidence that Jesus was crucified on a cross with outstretched hands - one nail in each hand which would explain the plural nails.  If Jesus was crucified on a stake then both hands would have been placed above his head and only one nail would have been needed to go through both hands.  Again, it says "...in his hands the print of the nails..."

Again, this is not an issue of essential doctrine, but I do believe the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that the Watchtower organization is incorrect in yet another matter.


Crucifixion inside the Bible

Jesus said
Matthew 20:18–19, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."

Paul said
1 Corinthians 1:23, "but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness."

Peter said
Acts 2:36, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”"  


Inside CARM

Islam and the Crucifixion of Jesus
Among its many differences with Christianity Islam denies the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Whether Muslims believe in a substitution theory (another person was crucified in Jesus' place), ascension theory (Jesus was rescued from the cross and ascended to heaven), or swoon theory (Jesus did not actually die while on the cross and survived the rigors of the crucifixion), each one of them clearly denies the death of Jesus by crucifixion.



"The crucifixion of Jesus combined Roman and Jewish elements. Although the Gospel writers stressed Jewish guilt for their own polemical purposes, they were careful to distinguish between the leaders and the common people. It was the leaders who initiated Jesus’ arrest (Mk 14:43) and his trial by the Sanhedrin (vv 53–64). Though Pilate seemed to vacillate and in the end surrendered weakly to the crowds by "washing his hands" of any guilt (Mt 27:24), Rome was clearly implicated in the Crucifixion. Since the Sanhedrin did not have the power to inflict capital punishment, Pilate’s decision was necessary before crucifixion could occur. Further, Romans actually carried out the execution." (Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale Reference Library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.)





  • 1. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.