Should the Cross Symbolize Your Christianity?

Why is the cross revered as a Christian emblem? Many answer, “It’s a symbol of Christ’s suffering and death.” What does the Bible say about religious symbols?

Why is there so much reverence paid to the cross in traditional Christianity? Did the cross become a religious symbol in New Testament times? Was the cross ever used as a religious emblem before Christianity? Answers to these questions might be a surprise to many in the Christian world.

The revered cross

When I was younger, I remember a group of us children were given the “opportunity” to make a special visit to a local church and see a relic proclaimed to be a splinter of the very cross on which Christ was crucified. Apparently it was doing a tour of the churches at that time.

It was in liquid and within a small glass bubble. We were asked to kneel before it at the altar and kiss this bubble as it passed in front of us. We had to hold this tiny speck in the highest regard because it was supposedly a small part of the cross on which Jesus died.

The symbol of the cross is displayed in churches (both Protestant and Catholic) around the world and in the homes of millions of people. It is worn as jewelry around the necks of millions of believers.

But does this reverence to the cross have a basis in the Bible? 

Revered graven images

The Bible is very specific about God’s view on physical images being used in worship. Notice what God commanded Israel before they entered the Promised Land: “And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things” (Deuteronomy 12:3-4, emphasis added).

This was based on the second of the 10 Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:4-5).

With the above scriptures in mind, why would we think that God would change His mind and allow the use of images in worshipping Him now? Jesus Christ Himself said that “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). The book of Hebrews states that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). To learn more about how God’s law has not been abolished, read the article “The Law of God.”

The origins of the cross

There is an old question that people sometimes ask: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” In a similar manner, let’s ask, “Which came first, the cross as a religious symbol or Christianity?”

History actually shows that the cross was in existence as a symbol long before the first century when Jesus Christ walked this earth. Notice this quote: “Centuries before the Christian era ancient crosses were in use as pagan emblems. They have been found carved in stone dating back to remote ages” (George Benson, The Cross: Its History and Symbolism, 2003, p. 16).

The cross was not used in Christianity until the reign of Emperor Constantine, three centuries after the New Testament was written. Notice this quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Under Constantine the cross became the acknowledged symbol of Christianity” (11th edition, vol. 7, p. 506).

We should also consider that Jesus Christ was killed using a very gruesome and painful method of execution: crucifixion. It was variously done on upright stakes, trees and crosses (of different shapes). We do not have historical proof that the method of crucifixion Christ suffered even used a traditional cross.

The Greek word in the Bible that is translated into the English word “cross” is stauros. This word simply means an upright stake or pole. Though it is possible this could have been a cross, if we take the word at face value, Jesus could have been crucified on an upright stake with His hands nailed to the pole above His head.

Is using a torture device that was designed to kill criminals with the maximum amount of pain really an appropriate symbol of our religion? If Jesus had been killed with another instrument of death, would that be the symbol of Christianity? Have we considered the morbidity of using a device of capital punishment as the symbol of our religion?

What should symbolize our Christianity?

Instead of using any image to symbolize your Christianity, consider that the greatest symbol of a true Christian, according to the Bible, is our conduct! The way we live our lives, how we treat others and how well we reflect the law of God in our lives on a daily basis should be the symbol of our beliefs. Jesus Christ taught His followers to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

To learn more about why wearing a cross is inappropriate for a Christian, read “Is It Okay to Wear a Cross? Why or Why Not?

About the Author

Eddie Johnson

Eddie and Sandra Johnson serve the membership in the Tonbridge, England, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He is an ordained elder.