July 1st, 2010
01:49 PM ET

Gospels don't say Jesus was crucified, scholar claims

Update July 2 8:04 a.m. After this article posted Gunnar Samuelsson got in touch to stress that his research focuses specifically on the narratives of Jesus's execution in the four Gospels, not on the entire New Testament, so "Gospels" has been substituted for "Bible" in the headline.

There have been plenty of attacks on Christianity over the years, but few claims have been more surprising than one advanced by an obscure Swedish scholar this spring.

The Gospels do not say Jesus was crucified, Gunnar Samuelsson says.

In fact, he argues, in the original Greek, the ancient texts reveal only that Jesus carried "some kind of torture or execution device" to a hill where "he was suspended" and died, says Samuelsson, who is an evangelical pastor as well as a New Testament scholar.

"When we say crucifixion, we think about Mel Gibson's 'Passion.' We think about a church, nails, the crown of thorns," he says, referring to Gibson's 2004 film, "The Passion of the Christ."

"We are loaded with pictures of this well-defined punishment called crucifixion - and that is the problem," he says.

Samuelsson bases his claim on studying 900 years' worth of ancient texts in the original languages - Hebrew, Latin and Greek, which is the language of the New Testament.

He spent three years reading for 12 hours a day, he says, and he noticed that the critical word normally translated as "crucify" doesn't necessarily mean that.

"He was handed over to be 'stauroun,'" Samuelsson says of Jesus, lapsing into Biblical Greek to make his point.

At the time the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing their Gospels, that word simply meant "suspended," the theologian argues.

"This word is used in a much wider sense than 'crucifixion,'" he says. "It refers to hanging, to suspending vines in a vineyard," or to any type of suspension.

"He was required to carry his 'stauros' to Calvary, and they 'stauroun' him. That is all. He carried some kind of torture or execution device to Calvary and he was suspended and he died," Samuelsson says.

Not everyone is convinced by his research. Garry Wills, the author of "What Jesus Meant," "What Paul Meant," and "What the Gospels Meant," dismisses it as "silliness."

"The verb is stauresthai from stauros, cross," Wills said.

Samuelsson wants to be very clear about what he is saying and what he is not saying.

Most importantly, he says, he is not claiming Jesus was not crucified - only that the Gospels do not say he was.

"I am a pastor, a conservative evangelical pastor, a Christian," he is at pains to point out. "I do believe that Jesus died the way we thought he died. He died on the cross."

But, he insists, it is tradition that tells Christians that, not the first four books of the New Testament.

"I tried to read the text as it is, to read the word of God as it stands in our texts," he says - what he calls "reading on the lines, not reading between the lines."

Samuelsson says he didn't set out to undermine one of the most basic tenets of Christianity.

He was working on a dissertation at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden when he noticed a problem with a major book about the history of crucifixion before Jesus.

What was normally thought to be the first description of a crucifixion - by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus - wasn't a crucifixion at all, but the suspension of a corpse, Samuelsson found by reading the original Greek.

The next example in the book about crucifixion wasn't a crucifixion either, but the impaling of a hand.

Samuelsson's doctoral advisor thought his student might be on to something.

"He recommended I scan all the texts, from Homer up to the first century - 900 years of crucifixion texts," Samuelsson recalled, calling it "a huge amount of work."

But, he says, "I love ancient texts. They just consume me." So he started reading.

He found very little evidence of crucifixion as a method of execution, though he did find corpses being suspended, people being hanged from trees, and more gruesome methods of execution such as impaling people by the belly or rectum.

The same Greek word was used to refer to all the different practices, he found.

That's what led him to doubt that the Gospels specify that Jesus was crucified.

At the time they were written, "there is no word in Greek, Latin, Aramaic or Hebrew that means crucifixion in the sense that we think of it," he says.

It's only after the death of Jesus - and because of the death of Jesus - that the Greek word "stauroun" comes specifically to mean executing a person on the cross, he argues.

He admits, of course, that the most likely reason early Christians though Jesus was crucified is that, in fact, he was.

But he says his research still has significant implications for historians, linguists and the Christian faithful.

For starters, "if my observations are correct, every book on the history of Jesus will need to be rewritten," as will the standard dictionaries of Biblical Greek, he says.

More profoundly, his research "ought to make Christians a bit more humble," he says.

"We fight against each other," he reflects, but "the theological stances that keep churches apart are founded on things that we find between the lines.

"We have put a lot of things in the Bible that weren't there in the beginning that keep us apart. We need to get down on our knees as Christians together and read the Bible."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (1,530 Responses)
  1. The Vikings is here. The Vikings is here. "obscure Swedish scholar"

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    January 6, 2014 at 10:06 pm |
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    July 25, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  4. sara

    I'm troubled by reading some of the posts from followers of Islam that say Jesus is not God or Jesus was never crucified. Islam will say these things without telling you that they believe Jesus is coming back to save them from the antichrist. One might ask how does that work? They don't believe in Jesus as messiah but, Jesus will be saving them from the antichrist. They believe in the same prophets who spoke of Jesus being messiah but they don't believe in Jesus as messiah. Ask them, they will tell you. They want you to study Islam but they put the book (bible) down before they even pick it up that tells them who Jesus really is. Yes Jesus is coming back but He will not save you if don't believe He is the only one powerful enough to do it....that is God... Why do you have so little faith?

    March 21, 2013 at 1:51 am |
    • ahmad

      One thing i am sure of is dat,peter was the only one present during d so called cricification(among d desciples)and peter said it ws on a tree not even a cross!!!(Acts 5:30)so i really wonder why christians blindly follow d sayings of mathew mark & others,despite d fact dat peter was d eye witness.reconsider your faith freinds

      May 3, 2013 at 11:11 am |
      • Sam Evana

        I have to say a few things I am part of the wels which believes in the bible if you didn't u have miss quoted the bible when Peter say in acts chapter 5 versus 20 he was talking to a group of people and when ppl did die from crucifixion the Romans used a tree to hang then up and peter wasn't there for the crucifixion the only ones there were Matthew mark Luke and John

        December 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Mohamed

      Sara – Muslims do believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He is referred to in the Qur'an as such.

      The only grievance we have with Christians is their definition of Messiah. Muslims and Jews accept the Messiah is a savior and leader. The word comes from the hebrew word māšīah meaning anointed. Anointed being the practice of putting oil on someone's head as part of a religious ceremony especially for kings.

      On the other hand Christians seem to read between the lines , similar to what the article describes, and attach a notion of divinity to the word "Messiah".

      November 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Abbie

      Just because some muslims told you this it does not mean it is everyones belief. Nor does it mean they even know their own faith they follow which is Islam nor does it indicate they even have a damn clue about what is really in the Quran. What Quran says vs, what Muslims think Quran says is two different things. Does the Quran say he is the Massiah? YES, Does the Quran say he will be returning on earth to rule the world and save everyone for 40 years? NO, Do many muslims believe that? Yes although it is no where in the Quran. Do I believe that? No. The only book for Islam is teh uran. 90%-95% of muslims also follow a man written book called Hadith and Sunnah which is utterly a fabrication and lies and fantacies. If you go to this site, it will tell you what the Quran says about Jesus and the Cross. It is actually very powerful information and there are several historians who talk about the end of Jesus's life on earth. http://quransmessage.com/articles/jesus%20crucifixion%20FM3.htm NOTE: Never believe anything anyone says to you until you verify it on your own.. ppl have to much fairytales in their heads.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
    • Abbie

      He died, if he was God, this would not be an issue or subject.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:57 pm |
  5. Isiaq

    Jesus was nt cruiceified in d qur'an ch 4 vs 157 – 159. And d stry of cruiceified contradit 2 eachother in d bible.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  6. Bilyamin

    Judah Iscariot a snake and betrayal among the 12 diciples of jesus who was hired for a 30 pieces of silver 2 was the one who has been crucified not jesus God turn everything from from jesus to judah as 2 save jesus from dat crucifixion the gospel of barnabas also tak about everything the christain should stand on there feet and seek 4 the knowledge of truth not following what your pastor has exprience on and pass it trough ur memory know dat u are a pastor of urself read the bible understand it read the qur'an and understand it. with GOD everything is possible. God is one and unique if wishes someting he only say to it 'BE and it is' in the book of john17:3 "and this is life eternal,that they might know thee,the only true GOD,and jesus christ whom thou has sent" this indicate jesus is not send to the world to die for our sins but sent to the jews as a servant and prophet from GOD tanx may GOD open your eyez 2 see the truth,your earz 2 hear the truth and your heart mind 2 feel and undestand the truth ameen need direct contact 08074101082

    July 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  7. Bilyamin

    The christains should all be aware of God is neither beget nor begotten and only God is our helper and saviour u cant commit sin and expect your father to pay for the cost this isnt fair every soul shall be judged according to its action and on one is far from entering the kingdom of God. U shall learnt and u shall discouver the truth and i pray u shal not fall among those that there heart,eyes,ears have been spiritual blocked thanks

    July 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
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    June 8, 2012 at 2:23 am |
  9. Ridwan

    According to many books written by scholars & other society concerning the death on the cross was ungenuine bcos there are so many contradiction,misconception,descripances & historical phalasis about his death.There4 the holy quran has clearly given the full description on the incidence.ALLAH (swt) says.And there saying that they kill the messiah Isa(jesus)the sun of maryam(mary)the prophet of Allah,they kill him not nor was he crucified but we make it appear so to them.And that is why there are so many contradiction in d bible concerning his dead.The bible says:His body shall not remain all night upon the tree,for he that is crucified/hanged is an accursed of GOD.Now a question to every christian who claim that jesus was crucified.Was Jesus an accursed person?capital NO,but a slave and prophet of ALLAH."(john17v3).Jesus begged God to save him from death and crucifixion,(hebrew5v7)says:jesus christ who in the day of his flesh,when he had offered up a prayer and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death and we heard in that he feared.many but few to mention.with these i believe that my reader would be sincere and ALLAH as the only God and Savior for jesus is not God nor savior(isiah42v8 & 43v11)thanks

    April 8, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  10. Coop

    This is an interesting topic. I look into this debate and
    right off the bat I found the problem. it is in use of the
    mistranslation the Greek word "stauros That was used in the topic. even
    Gunnar Samuelsson who researched for three years, as he claimed. it took me only a
    few hours with the help of the Lord Jesus to solve this debate. here's
    the problem. in the use of the word, out of his own mouth of research he
    stated that the Word means this, "stauros" to mean crucifix, when really the term just means a suspension device,
    which might have been anything such as a "pole or a tree trunk.". by
    looking at his own definition, a child could see the mistake. the answer
    is this, the, "stauros", as the defination states was a suspension device, that all, so the question now is what was suspended on it. the answer, the patibulum, or crossbeam. see the  mistake, the "patibulum was suspended by the "stauros", or suspension device, the "stauros" as the researcher states it is a suspension device.
    so the patibulum was suspended by the "stauros" device, which is a
    stake or pole. so by crossing the patibulum/crossbeam with the
    stake/stauros, you have the classic cross that is in art.
    you can see what I'm talking about at this web site

    The patibulum
    also you need to read about this type of Crucifixion at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion

    January 4, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  11. Dr Isaac ILEVBAOJE

    The very HEART of CHRISTIANITY is summarized in the three-fold events of the BIRTH, DEATH by CRUCIFIXION and RESURRECTION of JESUS CHRIST(SAVIOR and the REDEEMER of the WORLD).These were prophesied and came to fulfilment.There is the forth BIG event all TRUE christians are eagerly awaiting and signs happenly world-wide indicate it is about to occur.And this is the RAPTURE–the catching away of the SAINTS. Of the world, we have Master of Science(MSc) but of JESUS, we have Mocked,scourged and crucified((MSc). For clarity, read the Gospel Accordin to Saint Matthew Chapter number20 verse number19(Matt20:19).Can you remember that these are the DIRECT words of JESUS? Will you not believe them to the saving of your SOUL? Of CRUCFIXION hear what JESUS says in John12:32–And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. Will you not believe the pure words of JESUS to the saving of your SOUL? Let me conclude with what the HOLY SPIRIT penned down for through Apostle Paul in 1Cor1:18–For the preaching of the Crossis to them that perish FOOLISHNESS; but unto us which are SAVED it is the POWER of GOD

    November 7, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  12. Truth Seeker

    Also, people, what do you have blind faith in? Man made tradition or YAHWEH?? Think about that one!

    September 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  13. fatima

    plz visit http://www.answering-christianity.com

    September 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  14. Michael

    I would like to point out that Jehovahs Witnesses have recognized this for many decades. This truth about Jesus manner of execution is important to Christians! It's very clear that God does not want us to ever use an image in our worship to him. The problem with the use of the cross is it leads people to the snare of worshiping an image instead of God. The Jews recognized this and the first century Christians. This is something disgusting in Gods eyes.
    We need to separate ourselves from traditions of men and thing that are detestable to God and honor him in pure worship!!

    May 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Michael if you are a JH yu are the one that is disgusting.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Michael

      I can see that this struck a cord. But it recalls to mind what a wise friend once told me. He said "contempt prior to investigation, will leave a man in everlasting ignorance.".
      This statement struck a cord with me because we are all ignorant until we pick up the bible and study it closely and meditating on it ourselves. We cannot just grab onto tradition without understanding it leaves us in ignorance. Be like the Boreans who made sure to study something to prove that it was true. I wish no I'll will and harm to you and pray that all men regardless of origin will join in praising Jehovah and his son Jesus. He is a God of truth and expects us to worship him in truth. We all have obstacles to overcome when it comes to worship. If your searching for truth and you ask God for his holy spirit to guide you and put the time into personal study he will be found. May Jehovah bless you!

      May 5, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Truth Seeker

      Michael, I agree! Why not question the fact that not all the translations in the bible from the original greek scriptures is 100% accurate. People who have crosses and images of crosses to represent Jesus or God, are being lead astray and it is disgusting how the majority of christians insist on having it as a reminder of the cruzifiction or a reminder of God. People need to question these man made images because I also found out that the image of Jesus that everybody worships now, is not really what he looked like; in fact the face on the paintings is not Jesus it is a guy named Cesar Borgia. That was a shock to me and a huge disappointment, that alone made me question the entire religion of Christianity and Catholicism.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  15. Eisa

    Hello I was wondering if someone could possibly tell me of this religion christianity , as of right now I am writing research paper on christianity an Im not going to lie I dont beleive in it as i read and look at certain studies there are many untruthful findings. I believe the europeans stole the story of the chosen child and the resurection from the mother land Egypt along with destorying civilization there and leaving with all that the ancient ancestors practiced. Thats what i believe but im open for opinions..

    April 6, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Connection to Christ

      The beauty of God is that even though in his eyes we deserve death as a penalty for our sins against him, he loves us so much that he sent is only son (JESUS) to die in our place and pay the price for what we deserve so that we could be glorified and not have our sins held against us. The ONLY condition is that you have to believe and accept who Jesus is and what he has done. If you believe it with all your heart and confess it with your mouth to God you are saved and heaven is a done deal. You are changed from the inside at that moment and God sees you as he sees Jesus, outwardly you will still struggle with sin in life because we are still living in the human body, but that will change at death. God is patient and wants all to be saved, but time is running out. The signs of the end are all around us and in the news and on TV every day. We all have free will and God will not force you into what you don't want but there are consequences for our choices in eternity. The good news is God has provided the easiest way out of those consequences by believing in his son who he sent to die for us and who he raised from the dead so that we too may have everlasting life with him.
      That is Good News and the Will of God.
      Hope that helps

      April 23, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  16. Ahmed

    Jesus was never cruisified nor never died.

    February 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • reginasuzanne

      The Qur'an says that Jesus was a great prophet of God. It also says that Jesus didn't really die. But Jesus predicted his own death, so either he falsely prophecied his own death, which makes the Qur'an unreliable because it calls him a great prophet, or the Qur'an is unreliable because it falsely reports that Jesus did not die. Either way the Qur'an has a reliablity problem.

      Called the Islamic Catch-22. It's an Islamic problem thats been around awhile, and a problem that isn't going away for awhile.

      August 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Abbie

      Please DO NOT talk for Islam if you have no clue what you are talking about. Read and study the Quran not satanic Hadith and sunnah Books.

      Please go to this site and learn about the Quran. U need to study the whole thing over and over and over again until you get it. http://quransmessage.com/articles/jesus%20crucifixion%20FM3.htm

      January 6, 2014 at 9:51 pm |
  17. 444

    Richard Allen Greene exploits the limitation of words carrying multiple nuances to write a shock-value headline with the craftiness of a serpent.

    February 4, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  18. Jonny Devero

    Its about time the truth was revealed, good work & research

    November 25, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
  19. dayofwrath

    The message of the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed but it is God power to us who are being saved...
    Mr Samuelsson was spending his time for deception,so I invite him to read the book: the coin of the temple by Souheil Bayoud to know about the miracle which happened in Jerusalem in April 1,1994.There he will see the CRUCIFIED face to face.
    God bless you all

    October 27, 2010 at 2:23 am |
  20. jamal

    In Islam he wasnt cruciefied either and like many above have mentioned as well the true meaning of christs message from god has been destorted. Islam should be studied in detail as it reveals more truth and above all caries the beautiful traditions of Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them). Also the belief that bible has been altered with time throught its millions of translations reflects the need to study the only other unaltered scripture . i recomend going online on youtube and listen to lectures by Mr.Ahmed Deedat and search chritianity with his name.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
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