Q. When and where did the cross originate? Should we use the cross as a symbol of religious worship or in dress?
A. Since the cross is a pagan symbol, believers should refrain from using it as a religious symbol or within fashion. The word “cross” comes from the Greek stauros. The Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words states, “stauros NT:4716 denotes, primarily, ‘an upright pale or stake.’ On such malefactors were nailed for execution. Both the noun and the verb stauroo, ‘to fasten to a stake or pale,’ are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed ‘cross.’ The shape of the latter 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 and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A. D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system 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.”
There are several important facts to note here.
- The Greek word for “cross” comes from stauros and likely refers to an upright stake and not to a cross. The word for cross in Greek is crux and is never used in the koine Greek of the New Testament. For this reason, the Messiah probably died on an upright stake and not on a cross as often displayed.
- The symbol of the cross is associated with the worship of Tammuz. According to scholarship, Tammuz was a Mesopotamian god of fertility and was symbolized by the sun. The Bible is quite clear that we are not to adopt paganism in any form.
- The cross gained acceptance, along with many other pagan items, as gentile influence gained dominance in the church. Many scholars verify that it was the policy of the church to amalgamate pagan ideas within the church. This was partly done to appease the growing gentile members along with a desire to move away from anything “Jewish.”
Below are a few additional references confirming the pagan nature of the cross:
“Ezekiel refers to the worship of this Babylonian deity in a vision of his apostate brethren who were enamored of this cult. The prophet saw the women weeping for this god at the North Gate of the Jerusalem Temple (Ezek 8:14). Tammuz was known by the Babylonians as Dumuzi, god of pasture and flocks, of subterranean water, and of vegetation. He was the husband-brother of Ishtar (Asherah, fertility goddess). Tammuz supposedly died every autumn when he departed to the underworld; from there he was recovered by the disconsolate Ishtar. His reappearance marked the bursting forth of life in the springtime. The fourth Babylonian month, July, was named in honor of Tammuz, which name was applied in later postbiblical times by Jews to their fourth month, June-July. Tammuz is equated with the Greek Adonis and the Egyptian Osiris…. Allusions to the worship of Tammuz cults seem to be referred to in Jer 22:18 and Amos 8:10. The worship of this god was widespread throughout the Fertile Crescent from Babylonia-Assyria to Palestine-Syria. The rites of Tammuz included a divine marriage of the king annually to the fertility goddess in the person of a temple priestess. Tammuz worship was especially notorious at Byblos (biblical Gebal) on the Mediterranean,” New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.
“In the Greek New Testament two words are used for ‘the cross’ on which the Lord was put to death.
- The word stauros; which denotes an upright pole or stake, to which the criminals were nailed for execution.
- The xulon, which generally denotes a piece of a dead log of wood, or timber, for fuel or for any other purpose. Is is not like dendron, which is used of a living, or green tree, as in Matthew 21:8; Revelation 7:1, 3; 8:7; 9:4, etc.
As this latter word xulon is used for the former stauros, it shows us that the meaning of each is exactly the same. The verb stauroõ means to drive stakes. Our English word “cross” is the translation of the Latin crux; but the Greek stauros no more means a crux than the word “stick” means a “crutch”. Homer uses the word stauros of an ordinary pole or stake, or a single piece of timber. And this is the meaning and usage of the word throughout the Greek classics. It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always of one piece alone. Hence the use of the word xulon in connection with the manner of our Lord’s death, and rendered “tree” in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29. Galatians 3:13. 1 Peter 2:24. This is preserved in our old English name rood, or rod….
The Catacombs in Rome bear the same testimony : ‘Christ’ is never represented there as ‘hanging on a cross’, and the cross itself is only portrayed in a veiled and hesitating manner. In the Egyptian churches the cross was a pagan symbol of life, borrowed by the Christians, and interpreted in the pagan manner,” Companion Bible, Appendix 162.
“From its simplicity of form, the cross has been used both as a religious symbol and as an ornament, from the dawn of man’s civilization. Various objects, dating from periods long anterior to the Christian era, have been found, marked with crosses of different designs, in almost every part of the old world. India, Syria, Persia and Egypt have all yielded numberless examples, while numerous instances, dating from the later Stone Age to Christian times, have been found in nearly every part of Europe. The use of the cross as a religious symbol in pre-Christian times, and among non-Christian peoples, may probably be regarded as almost universal, and in very many cases it was connected with some form of nature worship,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., pg. 506.