A kind of gibbet made of pieces of wood placed transversely, whether crossing at right angles, one at the top of the other, T, or below the top, t, or diagonally, X. Death by the cross was a punishment of the meanest slaves, and was a mark of infamy, De 21:23; Ga 3:13. This punishment was so common among the Romans, that pains, afflictions, troubles, etc., were called "crosses." Our Savior says that his disciples must take up the cross and follow Him. Though the cross is the sign of ignominy and sufferings, yet it is the badge and glory of the Christian.
The common way of crucifying was by fastening the criminal with nails, one through each hand, and one through both his feet, or through each foot. Sometimes they were bound with cords, which, though it seems gentler, because it occasions less pain, was really more cruel, because the sufferer was hereby made to languish longer. Sometimes they used both nails and cords for fastenings; and when this was the case, there was no difficulty in lifting up the person, together with his cross, he being sufficiently supported by the cords; near the middle of the cross also there was a wooden projection, which partially supported the body of the sufferer. Before they nailed him to the cross, they generally scourged him with whips or leathern thongs, which was thought more severe and more infamous than scourging with cords. Slaves who had been guilty of great crimes were fastened to a gibbet or cross, and were thus led about the city, and beaten. Our Savior was loaded with his cross, and as he sunk under the burden, Simon the Cyrenian was constrained to bear it after him and with him, Mr 15:21.
After the person had been nailed to the cross, a stupefying draught was sometimes administered, in order to render him less sensible to pain, an alleviation which our Savior did not accept, Mt 27:34; Mr 15:23; though he seems afterwards to have taken a little of the common beverage of the soldiers. Sent by the Father to bear the heavy load of penal suffering for a lost race, he felt that he had no right to the palliatives resorted to in ordinary cases, and perfectly lawful except in his own. "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Joh 18:11. He drank it, and to the very dregs. The cross being erected under the burning sun, the wounds made by the scourge and the nails soon occasioned a general fever and an intolerable thirst. The blood, interrupted in its regular flow, accumulated in various parts of the body, and caused painful congestions. Every slight writhing of the sufferer increased his anguish, which found no relief but in final mortification and death. Those who were fastened upon the cross lived in that condition several days, and sometimes a week or more. Hence Pilate was amazed at our Savior's dying so soon, because naturally he must have lived longer, Mr 15:44. The legs of the two thieves were broken, to hasten their death, but their bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath say, De 21:23; Jos 8:29; but the crucified were usually left hanging, under the eye of guards, till their bodies fell to the ground, or were devoured by birds and beasts of prey.
in the New Testament the instrument of crucifixion, and hence used for the crucifixion of Christ itself (Eph 2:16; Heb 12:2; 1Co 1:17-18; Ga 5:11; 6:12,14; Php 3:18). The word is also used to denote any severe affliction or trial (Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mr 8:34; 10:21).
The forms in which the cross is represented are these:
1. The crux simplex (I), a "single piece without transom."
2. The crux decussata (X), or St. Andrew's cross.
3. The crux commissa (T), or St. Anthony's cross.
4. The crux immissa (t), or Latin cross, which was the kind of cross on which our Saviour died. Above our Lord's head, on the projecting beam, was placed the "title." (See Crucifixion.)
After the conversion, so-called, of Constantine the Great (B.C. 313), the cross first came into use as an emblem of Christianity. He pretended at a critical moment that he saw a flaming cross in the heavens bearing the inscription, "In hoc signo vinces", i.e., By this sign thou shalt conquer, and that on the following night Christ himself appeared and ordered him to take for his standard the sign of this cross. In this form a new standard, called the Labarum (Illustration: Labarum), was accordingly made, and borne by the Roman armies. It remained the standard of the Roman army till the downfall of the Western empire. It bore the embroidered monogram of Christ, i.e., the first two Greek letters of his name, X and P (chi and rho), with the Alpha and Omega. (See A.)
The instrument of a slave's death, associated with the ideas of pain, guilt, and ignominy. "The very name," writes Cicero (Pro Rab., 5), "ought to be excluded not merely from the body, but from the thought, eyes, and ears of Roman citizens." The Hebrew, having no term for it as not being a punishment in their nation, called it "warp and woof." Scourging generally preceded crucifixion: so Jesus (Mt 27:26; Mr 15:15; foretold in Isa 50:6; 53:5). Pilate had probably hoped the Jews would be content with this scourging, and still let Him escape crucifixion (Lu 23:22; Joh 19:1). Jesus bore His own cross toward Golgotha outside the city (Heb 13:12; so Stephen, Ac 7:58), but sinking exhausted probably He was relieved, and it was transferred to Simon of Cyrene; prefigured in Isaac carrying the wood (Ge 22:6; contrast Isa 9:6, "the government shall be upon His shoulder".)
Jesus' sacred and lacerated body was raised aloft, the hands nailed to the transverse beam, the feet separately nailed to the lower part of the upright beam so as to be a foot or two above the ground (others think the two feet were pierced by one and the same nail). Stupefying drink, vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh, was first offered to Him and refused (Mt 27:34), for He would meet suffering consciously. Near death, to fulfill Ps 69:21, He drank of the sour wine or vinegar kindly offered Him on a sponge. His death was hastened by rupture of the heart (See BLOOD; also Mr 15:23; compare Joh 19:28; Mt 27:48.)
The sour wine called posca was the common drink of the Roman soldiers. Pilate marveled at His speedy death, crucifixion often not terminating in death for days. The approach of the Passover sabbath, one of peculiar solemnity, led to his permitting the Jewish law to be carried out which forbids bodies to hang after sunset (De 21:22-23). His legs could not be broken, because the Passover type must be fulfilled (Ex 12:46). Constantine when converted abolished crucifixion. The agony consisted in:
(1) the unnatural position of the body, causing pain at the least motion;
(2) the nails being driven through the hands and feet, which are full of nerves and tendons, yet without a vital part being directly injured;
(3) the wounds so long exposed bringing on acute inflammation and gangrene;
(4) the distended parts causing more blood to flow through the arteries than can be carried back through the veins;
(5) the lingering anguish and burning thirst.
After Constantine's vision of the cross in the air and the inscription, "Under this standard thou shalt conquer," a new standard was adopted, the Labarum, with a pendent cross and embroidered monogram of Christ, the first two Greek letters of His name, and Alpha and Omega (Re 1:8). The Andrew's cross is shaped like an X, through Hippolytus says he was crucified upright. The Anthony cross (embroidered on his cope) was shaped as a T. The pagan Egyptians, Copts, Indians, and Persians, all have the same sacred emblem. Tradition, and the inscription over our Lord's head, make it likely that the form of His cross was +. The pole on which the brazen serpent was lifted by Moses was the type (Joh 3:14; Nu 21:8-9).
The fathers regarded its four limbs pointing above, below, and to both sides, as typifying" the height, depth, length, and breadth" of the love of Christ, extending salvation to all (Eph 3:18). The harmlessness of cruciform flowers is another suggested type in nature. Christ's cross transforms the curse into a blessing (Ga 3:13-14); the inscription was written with letters of black on a white gypsum ground. By a striking retribution in kind, the Jewish people, whose cry was "crucify Him," were crucified in such numbers by Titus "that there was not room enough for the crosses, nor crosses enough for their bodies" (Joseptius, B. J., 6:28). The piercing of Jesus' hands was foretold in Ps 22:16; Zec 12:10.
The story of "the invention of the cross," A.D. 326, is: Helena the empress, mother of Constantine, then nearly 80 years old, made a pilgrimage to the holy places, and there, by help of a Jew who understood her superstitious tastes, found three crosses, among which Christ's cross was recognized by its power of working miracles, at the suggestion of Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem. Bits of this real cross were distributed as relics throughout Christendom. To supply the enormous demand, they were alleged to have been miraculously multiplied! In the church of the Holy Jerusalem Cross at Rome, relics of the top of the cross with the inscription are annually exhibited to the people for veneration. The falsity of the whole story appears from the fact that the Jews' law required the cross to be burnt; Eusebius is silent as to the alleged discovery of it.
A symbol or emblem merely at first, it soon began to have the notion of spiritual and supernatural efficacy attached to it. In the 6th century the crucifix image was introduced, and worship (latria) to it was sanctioned by the Church of Rome. Figuratively, the cross and crucifixion are used for spiritually mortifying the flesh, in union spiritually by faith with Christ crucified, not self-imposed austerities (Mt 16:24; Php 3:18; Ga 6:14; Col 2:20-23). Our will and God's will are as two separate pieces of wood; so long as both lie side by side there is no cross; but put them across one another, then there is a cross. We must take up the cross Christ lays on us if we would be His disciples.
The cross in its literal sense is dealt with under Crucifixion, but there are certain spiritual uses of the word in the NT that call for separate consideration.
(1) It is a symbol of self-sacrifice.
The wooden structure to which criminals were nailed. Jesus died on a cross: hence it is an emblem of the crucifixion of Christ, so that we read of the 'death of the cross,' and the 'blood of his cross,' Php 2:8; Col 1:20; also the 'preaching of the cross.' 1Co 1:18. The cross of Christ makes nothing of man and sets aside all his pretensions: therefore to preach 'the cross ' arouses man's hatred and persecution. Ga 5:11; 6:12,14. 'The cross' is also a symbol of the shame and self-denial that lie in the believer's path. He is exhorted to take up his cross daily and follow the Lord. Lu 9:23.
As the emblem of a slave's death and a murderer's punishment, the cross was naturally looked upon with the profoundest horror. But after the celebrated vision of Constantine, he ordered his friends to make a cross of gold and gems, such as he had seen, and "the towering eagles resigned the flags unto the cross," and "the tree of cursing and shame" "sat upon the sceptres and was engraved and signed on the foreheads of kings." (Jer. Taylor, "Life of Christ," iii., xv. 1.) The new standards were called by the name Labarum, and may be seen on the coins of Constantine the Great and his nearer successors. The Latin cross on which our Lord suffered, was int he form of the letter T, and had an upright above the cross-bar, on which the "title" was placed. There was a projection from the central stem, on which the body of the sufferer rested. This was to prevent the weight of the body from tearing away the hands. Whether there was also a support to the feet (as we see in pictures) is doubtful. An inscription was generally placed above the criminal's head, briefly expressing his guilt, and generally was carried before him. It was covered with white gypsum, and the letter were black.
CROSS, an ancient instrument of capital punishment. The cross was the punishment inflicted by the Romans, on servants who had perpetrated crimes, on robbers, assassins, and rebels; among which last Jesus was reckoned, on the ground of his making himself King or Messiah, Lu 23:1-5,13-15. The words in which the sentence was given were, "Thou shalt go to the cross." The person who was subjected to this punishment was then deprived of all his clothes excepting something around the loins. In this state of nudity he was beaten, sometimes with rods, but more generally with whips. Such was the severity of this flagellation, that numbers died under it. Jesus was crowned with thorns, and made the subject of mockery; but insults of this kind were not among the ordinary attendants of crucifixion. They were owing, in this case, merely to the petulant spirit of the Roman soldiers, Mt 27:29; Mr 15:17; Joh 19:2,5. The criminal, having been beaten, was subjected to the farther suffering of being obliged to carry the cross himself to the place of punishment, which was commonly a hill, near the public way, and out of the city. The place of crucifixion at Jerusalem was a hill to the north-west of the city. The cross, ???????, a post, otherwise called the unpropitious or infamous tree, consisted of a piece of wood erected perpendicularly, and intersected by another at right angles near the top, so as to resemble the letter T. The crime for which the person suffered was inscribed on the transverse piece near the top of the perpendicular one.
There is no mention made in ancient writers of any thing on which the feet of the person crucified rested. Near the middle, however, of the perpendicular beam, there projected a piece of wood, on which he sat, and which answered as a support to the body, since the weight of the body might otherwise have torn away the hands from the nails driven through them. The cross, which was erected at the place of punishment, being there firmly fixed in the ground, rarely exceeded ten feet in height. The victim, perfectly naked, was elevated to the small projection in the middle: the hands were then bound by a rope round the transverse beam, and nailed through the palm.
The assertion that the persons who suffered crucifixion were not in some instances fastened to the cross by nails through the hands and feet, but were merely bound to it by ropes, cannot be proved by the testimony of any ancient writer whatever. That the feet, as well as the hands, were fastened to the cross by means of nails, is expressly asserted in the play of Plautus, entitled "Mostellaria," compared with Tertullian against the Jews, and against Marcion. In regard to the nailing of the feet, it may be farthermore observed, that Gregory Nazianzen has asserted, that one nail only was driven through both of them; but Cyprian, (de passione,) who had been a personal witness to crucifixions, and is, consequently, in this case, the better authority, states, on the contrary, that two nails or spikes were driven, one through each foot. The crucified person remained suspended in this way till he died, and the corpse had become putrid. While he exhibited any signs of life, he was watched by a guard; but they left him when it appeared that he was dead. The corpse was not buried, except by express permission, which was sometimes granted by the emperor on his birth day, but only to a very few. An exception, however, to this general practice was made by the Romans in favour of the Jews, on account of De 21:22-23; and in Judea, accordingly, crucified persons were buried on the same day. When, therefore, there was not a prospect that they would die on the day of the crucifixion, the executioners hastened the extinction of life, by kindling a fire under the cross, so as to suffocate them with the smoke, or by letting loose wild beasts upon them, or by breaking their bones upon the cross with a mallet, as upon an anvil. The Jews, in the times of which we are speaking, namely, while they were under the jurisdiction of the Romans, were in the habit of giving the criminal, before the commencement of his sufferings, a medicated drink of wine and myrrh, Pr 31:6. The object of this was to produce intoxication, and thereby render the pains of the crucifixion less sensible to the sufferer. This beverage was refused by the Saviour for the obvious reason, that he chose to die with the faculties of his mind undisturbed and unclouded, Mt 27:34; Mr 15:23. It should be remarked, that this sort of drink, which was probably offered out of kindness, was different from the vinegar which was subsequently offered to the Saviour by the Roman soldiers. The latter was a mixture of vinegar and water, denominated posca, and was a common drink for the soldiers in the Roman army, Lu 23:36; Joh 19:29.
2. Crucifixion was not only the most ignominious, it was likewise the most cruel, mode of punishment: so very much so, that Cicero is justified in saying, in respect to crucifixion, "Ab oculis, auribusque et omni cogitatione hominum removendum esse." [That it ought neither to be seen, heard of, nor even thought of by men.] The sufferings endured by a person on whom this punishment is inflicted are narrated by George Gottlieb Richter, a German physician, in a "Dissertation on the Saviour's Crucifixion." The position of the body is unnatural, the arms being extended back, and almost immovable. In case of the least motion, an extremely painful sensation is experienced in the hands and feet, which are pierced with nails, and in the back, which is lacerated with stripes. The nails, being driven through the parts of the hands and feet which abound in nerves and tendons, create the most exquisite anguish. The exposure of so many wounds to the open air brings on an inflammation, which every moment increases the poignancy of the suffering. In those parts of the body which are distended or pressed, more blood flows through the arteries than can be carried back in the veins. The consequence is, that a greater quantity of blood finds its way from the aorta into the head and stomach, than would be carried there by a natural and undisturbed circulation. The blood vessels of the head become pressed and swollen, which of course causes pain, and a redness of the face. The circumstance of the blood being impelled in more than ordinary quantities into the stomach is an unfavourable one also, because it is that part of the system which not only admits of the blood being stationary, but is peculiarly exposed to mortification. The aorta, not being at liberty to empty, in the free and undisturbed way as formerly, the blood which it receives from the left ventricle of the heart, is unable to receive its usual quantity. The blood of the lungs, therefore, is unable to find a free circulation. This general obstruction extends its effects likewise to the right ventricle, and the consequence is, an internal excitement, and exertion, and anxiety, which are more intolerable than the anguish of death itself. All the large vessels about the heart, and all the veins and arteries in that part of the system, on account of the accumulation and pressure of blood, are the source of inexpressible misery. The degree of anguish is gradual in its increase; and the person crucified is able to live under it commonly till the third, and sometimes till the seventh, day. Pilate, therefore, being surprised at the speedy termination of the Saviour's life, inquired in respect to the truth of it of the centurion himself, who commanded the soldiers, Mr 15:44. In order to bring their life to a more speedy termination, so that they might be buried on the same day, the bones of the two thieves were broken with mallets, Joh 19:31-37; and in order to ascertain this point in respect to Jesus, namely, whether he was really dead, or whether he had merely fallen into a swoon, a soldier thrust his lance into his side; but no signs of life appeared, Joh 19:31-37.
3. Our Saviour says, that whosoever will be his disciple must take up his cross and follow him, Mt 16:24: by which is meant, that his disciples must be willing to suffer for him, in any way in which God, in the course of his providence,