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Template:Italic title Stauros (σταυρός) is the Greek word, usually translated cross, that in the Bible is used in reference to the device on which Jesus was executed. The meaning of the word has changed over the centuries.



The word stauros comes from the verb ἵστημι (histēmi: "straighten up", stand"), which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *stā-,[] *stha,[] stao, "stem", "shoot" (the same root from which come the German Stern, or Stamm, the English "stand", the Spanish word estaca, the Italian stare, of similar meanings).[][]

Homeric and classical Greek

In Homeric and classical Greek, until the early 4th century BC, stauros meant an upright stake, pole,[][] or piece of paling, "on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling [fencing in] a piece of ground."[]

In the literature of that time it never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always one piece alone.[]

Koine Greek

In Koine Greek, the form of Greek used between about 300 BC and AD 300, the word σταυρός was already used to refer to a cross, as when Justin Martyr said the σταυρός of Christ was prefigured in the Jewish paschal lamb: "That lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross (σταυρός) which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross (σταυρός). For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb."[] The word σταυρός was used[] to refer to the instrument of execution by crucifixion, which at that time involved binding the victim with outstretched arms to a crossbeam, or nailing him firmly to it through the wrists; the crossbeam was then raised against an upright shaft and made fast to it about 3 metres from the ground, and the feet were tightly bound or nailed to the upright shaft.[]

In the writings of the Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), Plutarch and Lucian, the word stauros is generally translated as "cross",[] although the passages quoted from the former two do not contain any specifics about the form of the device.

In A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to The English and Greek New Testament (1877), hyperdispensationalist E. W. Bullinger, in contrast to other authorities, stated: "The "σταυρός" (stauros) was simply an upright pale or stake to which Romans nailed those who were thus said to be crucified, σταυρόω, merely means to drive stakes. It never means two pieces of wood joining at any angle. Even the Latin word crux means a mere stake. The initial letter Χ, (chi) of Χριστός, (Christ) was anciently used for His name, until it was displaced by the T, the initial letter of the Pagan God Tammuz, about the end of cent. iv."[] Bullinger's 1877 statement, written before the discovery of thousands of manuscripts in Koine Greek at Oxyrhyncus in Egypt revolutionised understanding of the language of the New Testament, conflicts with the documented fact that, long before the end of the fourth century, the Epistle of Barnabas, which was certainly earlier than 135,[] and may have been of the 1st century AD.,[] the time when the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus were written, likened the σταυρός to the letter T (the Greek letter tau, which had the numeric value of 300),[] and to the position assumed by Moses in Exodus 17:11-12.[] The shape of the σταυρός is likened to that of the letter T also in the final words of Trial in the Court of Vowels among the works of 2nd-century Lucian, and other 2nd-century witnesses to the fact that at that time the σταυρός was envisaged as being cross-shaped and not in the form of a simple pole are given in Dispute about Jesus' execution method.

Modern Greek

In modern Greek the word σταυρός means:

1. (a) "The combination of two beams crossing each other perpendicularly on which Christ was crucified and killed, and by synecdoche any object of that shape; (b) by synecdoche, the sign of the cross as a religious gesture
2. (a) a design consisting of two lines crossing perpendicularly and producing four right angles; (b) by synecdoche, a cross-shaped design with various arrangements of the arms
3. the ordeals one undergoes in life.[]

Stauros shapes

See also Dispute about Jesus' execution method
Justus Lipsius: De cruce, p. 47Image by Justus Lipsius of the crucifixion of Jesus
Justus Lipsius: De cruce, p. 47
Image by Justus Lipsius of the crucifixion of Jesus
Torture stake, a simple wooden torture stake. Image by Justus Lipsius.
Torture stake, a simple wooden torture stake. Image by Justus Lipsius.

A σταυρός (stauros) used either for torture or for execution could be of various shapes. Two are shown here. Others are also possible.

See also


  • 1. "Proto-Indo-European root *stā-". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  • 2. (Italian) "Stare". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  • 3. Pierre Chantraine (1996). "ἵστημι histēmi". Strong's Complete Dictionary of the Biblical Words. Nahville, Atlanta, London, Vancouver: Klincksiek. p. G2476.
  • 4. Pierre Chantraine (1968). "Σταυρός". Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. 4 (Ρ-Υ). Paris: Klincksiek. pp. 1044–1045.
  • 5. Liddell and Scott: σταυρός
  • 6. "The Cross and the Crucifixion" appendix, The Companion Bible (1922)
  • 7. The Imperial Bible-Dictionary, Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376.
  • 8. The Companion Bible. (1922) Appendix 162.
  • 9. Dialogue with Trypho, chapter XL. The Greek text is: Καὶ τὸ κελευσθὲν πρόβατον ἐκεῖνο ὀπτὸν ὅλον γίνεσθαι τοῦ πάθους τοῦ σταυροῦ δι' οὗ πάσχειν ἔμελλεν ὁ Χριστός, σύμβολον ἦν. Τὸ γὰρ ὀπτώμενον πρόβατον σχηματιζόμενον ὁμοίως τῷ σχήματι τοῦ σταυροῦ ὀπτᾶται· εἷς γὰρ ὄρθιος ὀβελίσκος διαπερονᾶται ἀπὸ τῶν κατωτάτω μερῶν μέχρι τῆς κεφαλῆς, καὶ εἷς πάλιν κατὰ τὸ μετάφρενον, ᾧ προσαρτῶνται καὶ αἱ χεῖρες τοῦ προβάτου (edition by W. Trollope, Cambridge 1846).
  • 10. For instance, in the gospels, written in the second half of the first century
  • 11. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Crucifixion (capital punishment)
  • 12. E. W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to The English and Greek New Testament. (1877), edition from 1895 pp, 818-819 194.
  • 13. For a discussion of the date of the work, see Information on Epistle of Barnabas and Andrew C. Clark, "Apostleship: Evidence from the New Testament and Early Christian Literature," Evangelical Review of Theology, 1989, Vol. 13, p. 380
  • 14. John Dominic Crossan, The Cross that Spoke (ISBN 9780062548436), p. 121
  • 15. Epistle of Barnabas, 9:7-8
  • 16. "The Spirit saith to the heart of Moses, that he should make a type of the cross (σταυρός) and of Him that was to suffer, that unless, saith He, they shall set their hope on Him, war shall be waged against them for ever. Moses therefore pileth arms one upon another in the midst of the encounter, and standing on higher ground than any he stretched out his hands, and so Israel was again victorious" (Epistle of Barnabas, 12:2-3).
  • 17. 1 ΕΚΚΛΗΣ. (α) το σύμπλεγμα δύο δοκών, που τἐμνονται κάθετα, πάνω στο οποίο σταυρώθηκε και θανατώθηκε ο Χριστός· συνέκδ. κάθε αντικείμενο τέτοιου σχήματος ... (β) (συνεκδ.) το σημείο του σταυρού ως λατρευτική κίνηση ... 2. (α) σχήμα που αποτελείται από δύο τεμνόμενες κάθετες γραμμές που σχηματίζουν τέσσερις ορθές γωνίες ... (β) (συνεκδ.) σταυροειδές σχήμα με διαφορετική κατά περίπτωση διάταξη των κεραιών του ... 3. (μτφ) τα βάσανα που υποφέρει κανείς στη ζωή του (Γεωργίου Δ. Μπαμπινιώτη Λεξικὀ για το Σχολείο και το Γραφείου (Κέντρο Λεξικολογίας Ε.Π.Ε., Αθήνα 2004 ISBN 960-86109-4)
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