What the WT teaches. The WT’s own official web site states, “Jesus did not die on a cross. He died on a pole, or a stake. The Greek word translated "cross" in many Bibles meant just one piece of timber. The symbol of the cross comes from ancient false religions. The cross was not used or worshiped by the early Christians.” The WT shows, in their drawings of the crucifixion, that Christ died on a single pole with His hands above his head held by a single nail.
What is interesting is that until the late 1920’s, Watchtower publications referred to Christ’s death on a cross and showed drawings with Christ on a cross. (See the WT publication “Creation,” pg. 209 in early editions, pg. 265 in later editions.) However, now the WT teaches that Jesus died on a torture stake and not a cross.
What the Bible teaches. John 20:25, Thomas said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails. . .” indicating that there was not a single nail in Jesus’ hands (as the WT shows) but two or more nails as would be needed if a cross was used. For the WT drawings to be Biblically correct, they would need to show two or more nails in Jesus’ hands.
The WT is quick to point to the story of the Magi (wise men) who came to worship the newborn Jesus. They correctly point out that the Bible simply states ‘Magi’ or ‘wise men’ and does not specify a number (three Magi are usually shown because three gifts were given.) They like to tell people they meet in their door-to-door work that “Christendom” has lied to them in showing three Magi and that only the WT is correct in their understanding of the number of Magi. So in their publications they usually show just two Magi. But concerning Christ’s crucifixion, the WT ignores the fact that the Bible specifically says ‘nails.’ When the WT puts just one nail in Jesus’ hands, they are going against the clear teaching of the Bible.
Matt. 27:37 states, “Above His head they placed the written charge against Him.” If Jesus had been nailed to the WT torture stake, with his hands above his head, then the Matthew verse would have probably said, “above His hands they placed the written charge against Him.” But since Matthew said, “above his head,” it would be reasonable to assume that Jesus’ hands were elsewhere—possibly extended out as would be required for crucifixion on a cross.
John 19:17, “And he bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.” John states that Jesus was caring His own cross. Remember, Jesus had just been scourged and could not have possibly carried the massive beam shown in the WT drawings. But He could have carried a crosspiece that He would be nailed to and then lifted up to a beam that was permanently placed in the ground.
Part 2 will explore the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?”