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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Cross, Cross-Bearing

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CROSS, CROSS-BEARING.—For the historical aspects of the literal cross, see Crucifixion.

The English word ‘cross’ is from the Latin crux through the French croix, Old French and Middle English crois. But σταυρός (from ἵστημι) is not synonymous with crux, but was originally a wider term, and, like σκολοψ, meant a stake (Hom., Herod., Thuc., Xen.). In the NT, however (not present in LXX Septuagint), it is used only in the sense of crux.

This article deals only with the figurative uses of the term in the Gospels or in relation to the death of Christ on the cross as interpreted in the Acts and Epistles. For the archaeological and magical history of the sign of the cross outside as well as within the pale of Christianity, see Zöckler’s Das Kreuz Christi (1875 [English translation 1878]), Goblet d’Alviclla’s Migration of Symbols (1894), and his art. ‘Cross’ in Hastings’ forthcoming Dictionary of Religion and Ethics. The true mysticism in the cross of Christ as conceived by St. Paul comes properly before us.

1. The use of the word by Jesus in the sense of cross-bearing.—On three separate occasions Jesus spoke of cross-bearing as essential to discipleship. The first is in Matthew 10:38, when He sent out the Twelve on a special preaching tour at the close of the Galilaean ministry, just a little over a year before His death. Meyer, in loco, considers this passage proleptically misplaced by St. Matthew, and thinks it should come after Matthew 16:24. But there is no need of this supposition, for the figure of bearing one’s cross would be quite intelligible to Jews since the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, Alexander Jannaeus, and Varus. Josephus (BJ v. xi. 1) even says that Titus crucified so many that there were not places for the crosses, or crosses for the victims. The Jews themselves had not favoured crucifixion, save Alexander Jannaeus, the ‘Thracian’ in spirit. Broadus (on Matthew 16:24) rightly denies that this saying of Jesus about bearing one’s cross is an anachronism before His own crucifixion. He did bear His own cross (John 19:17), perhaps the crosspiece properly speaking; but so did the criminals usually who were crucified, for Plutarch says: ἕκαστος κακούργων ἐκφέρει τὸν αὑτοῦ σταυρόν (de Sera Num. Vind. 9). It is a general illustration that the disciples could have easily understood, though they were not yet able to see the evident prophetic allusion to Christ’s own literal experience. It is not without special point that Jesus thus expressed the fundamental principle of self-sacrifice under the image of the cross. He did not plainly say that He would be crucified till shortly before His death (Matthew 20:19), but Jesus Himself is conscious of the death on the cross which ‘He himself will be called upon to endure’ (Meyer on Matthew 16:24).

The second time that Christ spoke of cross-bearing was when He rebuked Peter for playing the part of Satan (Mark 8:34, Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23). On the first occasion the Master was giving directions to the disciples about their preaching, but here He addressed this vivid condition of discipleship ‘unto all’ (Luke 9:23) as a ‘deterrent in a high degree, suggesting a procession of furciferi headed by Jesus and consisting of His followers’ (Swete on Mark 8:34). Many of the followers of Judas and Simon in Galilee had been crucified (Josephus Ant. xvii. x. 10). St. Luke adds ‘daily,’ though the aorist term ἁράτω is used. The permanence of this cross-bearing is emphasized by the present tense of ‘follow’ (ἁκολουθείτω).

St. Luke alone gives the third use of the expression (Luke 14:27), and it is in Peraea, not long before the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In this instance βαστάζω, not αἴρω, is used, the only NT example of the figurative, as John 19:17 is the only NT instance of the literal, use of the verb with σταυρός (Plummer, Internat. Crit. Com. in loco).

2. The term ‘Crucified’ comes to be a favourite one with the name of Jesus. The angels at the empty tomb speak of ‘Jesus the Nazarene, the Crucified One’ (Ἰησοῦν ζητεῖτε τὸν Ναζαρηνὸν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, Mark 16:6, Matthew 28:5). St. Peter in his great address on the day of Pentecost charges the Jews with having crucified Jesus (Acts 2:36). He repeats the charge when brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:10). St. Peter elsewhere always (Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39; 1 Peter 2:24) speaks of Christ as hanging on a tree (ξύλον); but this non-classical use of ξύλον as equal to gibbet or cross (the stocks in Acts 16:24) is found in the LXX Septuagint as translation for Heb. עֵץ (Genesis 40:19 etc.). St. Paul so uses the term also in Acts 13:29 and Galatians 3:13 (quotation here from Deuteronomy 21:23). Each example in the NT is a quotation from the LXX Septuagint. But in the LXX Septuagint ξύλον does not refer to crucifixion, but rather to the prohibited nailing up of unburied bodies after the manner of the heathen nations (1 Samuel 31:10). But St. Paul speaks rather of ‘Christ crucified,’ more properly, ‘Christ as crucified’ (predicate), Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον (1 Corinthians 1:23), and once he sharply accents the idea by saying Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν καὶ τοῦτον ἑσταυρωμένον (1 Corinthians 2:2), in opposition to his Judaizing opponents. This was his method of openly setting forth (προεγράφη) Jesus as crucified (Galatians 3:1), like a public placard. The blindness of the enemies of Christ comes out in St. Paul’s use of the term with the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8), and yet He was crucified in weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). Revelation 11:8 merely identifies Jerusalem as the city where Jesus was crucified.

3. The cross as the epitome of the gospel.—The disciples naturally passed to this idea when they came to understand the meaning of the death of Christ. The cross that had seemed the destruction of their hopes (Luke 24:21) now became the symbol of the gospel of grace. ‘But we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23), says St. Paul, as opposed to Jewish spectacular apocalyptics and Greek philosophizing; and he preached nothing else, not simply at Corinth, for he had done so at Athens (Acts 17:31), and this was the settled purpose of his ministry (1 Corinthians 2:2). It was not the example of Jesus that St. Paul preached, but Jesus as the crucified Saviour, who, and not Paul, was crucified ‘in your behalf’ (1 Corinthians 1:13). It was, in fact, by His death on the cross that Jesus made the sacrifice for our sins, in our behalf, and in our stead. We are under (ὑπό) a curse (Galatians 3:10), and Christ became a curse (κατάρα) for (ὑπέρ) us, and so redeemed us from (ἐκ) or out from under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13). He became the curse, and came between us and the overhanging law of God.

This conception of the cross reappears in Colossians 1:20, where Jesus is said to have made peace and reconciliation with God possible according to the good pleasure of God ‘through the blood of his cross.’ The word ‘blood’ is probably used here to emphasize, against the early Docetic Gnostics, the reality of the human nature of Jesus. So in Colossians 2:14 by a vivid image the Law itself is represented as nailed to the cross with the body of Christ, and so taken out of the way and no longer binding on us as a means of salvation (cf. Romans 7:4). In Ephesians 2:16 the cross is presented as the basis for a double reconciliation, both with God and so with each other, ‘through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.’ So both Jew and Gentile have ‘access in one Spirit unto the Father,’ and the middle wall of partition is broken down. They form one body in Christ, the Church of all the elect of which Christ is head, one new man. ‘The word of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), then, is St. Paul’s message to men. It was to proclaim this truth that Christ sent him forth (1 Corinthians 1:17); and this he will do by holding fast to the great essential fact rather than by fine-spun theories (1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:5), lest the gospel be emptied of all real power (κενωθῇ).

4. The shame of the cross.—It was a real shame that Jesus underwent when He suffered on the cross as a common malefactor. The Jews considered as accursed one whose dead body merely was hung upon a gibbet, and St. Paul recognized this shame as belonging to Jesus (Galatians 3:13). Jesus not only foresaw the fact and the character of His death, but was fully aware of the shame of the cross. This death, called by Cicero ‘crudelissimum teterrimumque’ (in Verr. v. 64), had its side of glory to Jesus, who saw the joy in store at the end (ἀντί) of the race, and so consciously despised the shame (Hebrews 12:2). Here σταυρός is used without the article, as in Philippians 2:8, ‘in order to fix attention on the nature of the death’ (Westcott). It is in Philippians 2:8 that the cross is used to express ‘the very lowest point of Christ’s humiliation’ (Vincent). Jesus became obedient μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. It is the bottom rung in the ladder that led down from the throne of God. The cross was a real stumbling-block to the disciples themselves till they were convinced of the fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It remained to the unbelieving Jews an insuperable barrier. It was so when Jesus spoke of it before the event (John 12:32-34 ‘Who is this Son of man?’). St. Paul found that Christ crucified was to the sign-seeking Jews a stumbling-block (1 Corinthians 1:23). The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:13) urges Christians to go outside the camp of Judaism, as Jesus suffered outside the gate, when it was clear that the two ways must part, ‘bearing his reproach.’ The follower of Jesus must not be ashamed of the shame of the cross. Some of the Judaizers, indeed, were not willing to ‘be persecuted for the cross of Christ’ (Galatians 6:12), but St. Paul did not seek to escape ‘the stumbling-block of the cross’ (Galatians 5:11). Indeed, some carried their dislike of the cross to the point of enmity (Philippians 3:18). These men would endure neither persecution nor self-denial. But the philosophical Greeks took the matter more lightly, and considered the preaching of the cross to be foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23), though in truth the cross reveals the hitherto hidden wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:6 f.).

While the Christian is to share the shame of the cross, he is not to add to the suffering of Christ by crucifying Him afresh (ἀνασταυρόω, Hebrews 6:6).

5. The triumph of the cross over the flesh and the world.—In a mystic, yet real, sense the Christian is crucified with Christ on the cross: Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι, St. Paul said of himself (Galatians 2:20). It is ‘a real crucifixion of heart and will’ (Rendall). This spiritual crucifixion of the old man on the cross is the common experience of all genuine believers (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:6) who have died to sin and have entered into the new life in Christ as symbolized by baptism. In a word, the power of the world over St. Paul’s fleshly nature is broken by the cross of Christ. There is a double crucifixion between him and the world (Galatians 6:14). The world in its sinful aspects is dead to him and he to it. Hence not only is St. Paul not ashamed of the cross of Christ, as the Judaizers are who are seeking to enslave the Gentiles to the ceremonial law (Galatians 6:12), but he finds his only ground of glorying in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14). This sublime mysticism does not degenerate into magic and crucifixes. The true philosophy of the cross lies in the spiritual interpretation of man’s victorious conflict with sin, which is made possible by the shameful death of the Son of God on the cross as the supreme expression of the love of the Father for sinful men, and as the propitiatory sacrifice on the basis of which the repentant soul can find access to the Father. The ‘blood of the cross’ lies at the root of redemptive grace as set forth by Jesus (Matthew 26:28), by St. Peter (1 Peter 1:2), by St. Paul (Romans 3:24 f.), by the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:14), and by St. John (1 John 1:7).

Mention should be made of the ingenious theory of Prof. C. C. Everett in his Gospel of Paul, which denies the penal character of the death of Christ on the cross, and sees in this supreme event only the ceremonial defilement which Christians share who take Christ as Lord and who thus likewise become accursed (Galatians 3:13), and so have the power of the Law over them removed. But this theory misses the deeper aspects of the whole problem, by overstraining an incidental truth connected with the death of Christ on the cross. See the matter well disposed of by Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, p. 184 ff.

Literature.—Zöckler, Das Kreuz Christi (1875); Brandt, Die Evangelische Geschichte, etc. (1893); Fulda, Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung (1878); Lipsius, de Cruce (1595); Everett, The Gospel of Paul (1893); articles on ‘Cross’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, in Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , in Herzog’s PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] , and in the Encyc. Bibl.; Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek (1892); the Lives of Christ and Paul; the critical Commentaries; the Biblical Theologies.

A. T. Robertson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Cross, Cross-Bearing'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/cross-cross-bearing.html. 1906-1918.

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