Does the Bible say that we should or shouldn’t cross ourselves?

Q. Is there anywhere in the Bible that says we should or shouldn’t cross ourselves? Or is there an example where someone may have crossed themselves? Or is there anything in the Bible that’s supports me crossing myself? By crossing ourselves, I mean the expression of the Holy Trinity, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Thanks for any help.

The Bible does not say that believers in Jesus should or should not cross themselves. The Bible does not depict anyone crossing himself or herself. However, the activity falls into a category that the Bible provides very clear teaching about.

I refer to activities in this category as “insignia.” They are things that we do to signify that we belong to God. Further examples would include wearing a cross on a necklace or pin, wearing a WWJD bracelet, refraining from certain activities on Sundays, abstaining from certain foods or drinks, or calling fellow believers “brother” and “sister.”

In the Old Testament, insignia were required. God told the Israelites, for example, to eat certain foods and not to eat other foods. This was a way of showing that they belonged to him. He said in Leviticus that they must “make a distinction between clean and unclean animals,” that is, between those they could eat and those they could not eat, because “I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”

Similarly God told the Israelites to observe the seventh day of the week as a day of rest on which they would do no work. He said in Exodus, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come.”

But the people of God in the New Testament are not a single nation that God has set apart from all the other nations as a model of how God wants people to live. The people of God are now a multinational community. There are still insignia in a sense: The character qualities that the Holy Spirit builds into the life of each believer are a sign that that believer is living as part of a community that belongs to God. Jesus said of love, the supreme character quality that underlies all the others, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

But the people of God now follow a wide variety of cultural practices, so insignia of the Old Testament type have become a matter of personal conviction. They are not required, and they are not forbidden. Rather, the principle is, as Paul wrote in the case of Sabbath observance, “Each person should be fully convinced in his or her own mind” that it is appropriate either to participate in the insignia activity or not to participate in it. The New Testament says the same thing about some other specific activities such as eating or not eating certain foods and drinking or not drinking wine. These specific teachings express the general principle I have described.

The same principle would apply to crossing oneself. If you are comfortable doing that as a non-verbal form of prayer (perhaps accompanying verbal prayers, spoken or silent) or as an act of worship (upon entering a sanctuary, for example) or as a way of identifying yourself as a follower of Jesus, then you are perfectly free to do so. But you are not required to do so. If you belong to a particular group of believers who have agreed among themselves to follow this practice, while it would still not be required biblically, you would probably want to follow the same practice yourself as a shared devotional expression with the believers with whom you are in closest fellowship.

Let me finish by sharing a story. I customarily bow my head and give thanks silently to God before a meal. One day when I was in college, I wanted to do this in the dining hall, but I also didn’t want to make things uncomfortable for anyone who might not understand what I was doing. So I waited until everyone else at the table was otherwise occupied. Then I briefly bowed my head, closed my eyes, and said grace. When I lifted my head and opened my eyes, the girl sitting across from me was looking right at me. She asked, “No … ?” and made the sign of crossing herself. “No,” I replied somewhat awkwardly, “I’m not …” and made the same sign myself. I learned from the experience that crossing oneself actually is something that most people understand and are comfortable with!

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: