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 Vol. 4, No. 8 

August, 2002


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The Crucifix

By Louis Rushmore

Image A crucifix is a cross with a depiction of the crucified Christ upon it. The background of the crucifix, of course, relates to a horrific form of execution used anciently and the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on such a cross. However, the cross and crucifixion on a cross was anciently a dreaded way to die and one surrounded by great shame (Hebrews 12:2; 6:6). Neither the cross nor the crucifix were symbols employed by Christians in the first century. Not Christ, not the Holy Spirit, no apostle and no inspired writer ever sanctioned the use of either a cross or the crucifix as a symbol of Christianity. The cross and the crucifix are nowhere authorized in the Bible as a memorial or symbol of Christianity. Wearing a cross or a crucifix as jewelry by a first-century Christian would be equivalent to someone today wearing a guillotine on a chain around his neck or tiny electric chairs as dangling bangles on a bracelet.

Crucifixes according to Guericke, did not appear in churches till after the 7th century. Such images, probably, in the early days of the Church, would produce too crude and painful an effect on the Christian imagination, and to that of the more hopeful pagan they would be intolerable; not only because his feelings would recoil from the thought of the punishment of the cross, but from superstitious terror of associating the "unhappy tree" with a Divine Being.1

The cross was not a symbol associated with Christianity until the Roman Emperor Constantine in A.D. 312 reported seeing a cross in the sky along with instructions "In this sign conquer."2 Centuries later, the use of the cross was transformed into the portrayal of Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross. The first mention of the crucifix was in the sixth century per the Catholic Encyclopedia.3 The same source attributes the use of the cross and crucifix to paganism adopted by Egyptian Christians and transformed into a Christian symbol.4 "The sixth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 680) ordered that Christ should be represented with his proper human body rather than under the symbol of the paschal lamb, and in the following century crucifixes multiplied greatly throughout all Christendom."5

The crucifix, that is the sculptured or carved representation of our Saviour attached to the cross, is of much later date, and cannot be clearly traced beyond the middle of the sixth century. It is not mentioned by any writer of the Nicene and Chalcedonian age. One of the oldest known crucifixes, if not the very oldest, is found in a richly illuminated Syrian copy of the Gospels in Florence from the year 586. ... The first symbol of the crucifixion was the cross alone; then followed the cross and the lamb -- either the lamb with the cross on the head or shoulder, or the lamb fastened on the cross; then the figure of Christ in connection with the cross -- either Christ holding it in his right hand (on the sarcophagus of Probus, d. 395), or Christ with the cross in the background (in the church of St. Pudentiana, built 398); at last Christ nailed to the cross.6

The crucifix is merely one of many icons instituted by the Roman Catholic Church but that are not authorized by the Word of God -- the Bible. These icons, including the crucifix, fall under the prohibition against idolatrous images, which God has condemned in every age. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4). The ancient Jews were condemned for fashioning images from gold, silver, stone and wood (Psalms 115:4-7; 135:15-17; Deuteronomy 4:28). "Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 26:1). The Jews understood the prohibitions regarding making images to include not making images to represent even the true God. The episode with the veneration of the brazen serpent, which God had commanded to be fashioned (Numbers 21:8-9), illustrates the grave danger that religious images pose; Hezekiah destroyed the serpent of brass that Moses made (along with idols, images and places of idolatry) because Israel burnt incense to the brazen serpent (2 Kings 18:1-4).

Summarized, the crucifix is not a biblically bona fide symbol of Christianity. There is no Bible for it! There is no biblical principle that justifies its existence and competition with or displacement of the biblically authorized memorial of Christ. The sole memorial of Christ's choice is unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, which our Lord used in the institution of the Lord's Supper or communion (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20).

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The crucifix does not rest on solid ground.

1 John McClintock and James Strong, McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft, Inc.), 2000.

2 Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.), 1975, pp. 286-287.

3 Catholic Encyclopedia, VII, p. 667 as quoted by O.C. Lambert, Catholicism Against Itself, Vol. 1, abridged ed., (Winfield, AL: Fair Haven Publishers), 1963, p. 72.

4 Catholic Encyclopedia, IV, p. 517 as quoted by Lambert, p. 79.

5 McClintock and Strong.

6 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.

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