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Apr 08 2013

Excruciating, word origin

The word excruciating has an interesting origin and background.  In English, excruciating is an adjective that means, “causing intense physical agony or anguish”.  What does not seem to be commonly known about the word are the details of its Latin origin and how it came into existence.


1560–70; < Latin excruciātus, past participle of excruciāre to torment, torture, equivalent to ex- ex-1 + cruciāre to torment, crucify (derivative of crux cross)  (excerpted from Dictionary.com)

In Latin, the word excruciating has two parts and three components.  The prefix “ex” strengthens a verb.  “Cruciare” means to torture or crucify.  In the center is “crux” which is Latin for cross.

The word excruciating came into existence and usage because the pain and agony of crucifixion was so intense that there was no prior word that would adequately express it. Therefore, a new word was needed in order to  express the agony of being crucified.

I will not go into the grisly and gory details of how crucifixion affects the human body.  There are many detailed accounts of that available if one desires to research it.  Suffice it to say that being crucified is an agonizing way to die by one of the cruelest methods ever conceived by man.

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago, and we were discussing how much Jesus must have suffered on the cross.  My friend made a comment that he believed that there are actually more painful ways to die than being crucified.  He mentioned that the Assyrians were a particularly brutal culture, often flaying or skinning their victims alive.

I did not know how to respond to what my friend had said at the time, but his comment lingered on my mind and heart.  I know that the magnitude of Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice on the cross was far greater than what any other man has had to endure. On the other hand, I could not deny that my friend could possibly be right about there being even more horrific methods of torture/execution.  In the history of this fallen world, there has been a great deal of energy and creativity poured into devising agonizing ways to torture and execute people.

In any case, I continued to dwell on the issue until I arrived at an understanding through the Bible and the Holy Spirit.  The understanding I arrived at is that the reason Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice was far greater than what any other man has suffered is because His suffering and sacrifice was on both physical and spiritual levels.

2Cor 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Close to His death, Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”.  According to the
Bible, He had become our collective sin, and His fellowship with God at that point was broken.  Note that Jesus addressed the Father as “my God”, and not as “my Father”.  Even though He was still fully God and fully man when nailed to the cross, I believe that it was in the fullness of His humanity, in the fullness of His human suffering, that Jesus cried out to God.

He was without God’s presence.  Even though He was completely innocent and sinless, He experienced the consequence of sin, which is separation from God.  Though His physical suffering was excruciating, the spiritual suffering He endured for our sake is beyond measure and there is still no word that can describe it.  Jesus did not bear the punishment that one man would bear if crucified.  He became our collective sin and He bore the collective punishment for all those who believe in Him.

Heb 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Rom 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,

Rom 8:39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Photo By Józef Kazimierz “Meaglin” Sokołowski (Own work) [FAL or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Tishrei

    A few years ago, I read a report by a Christian doctor who detailed what a body goes through in a crucifixion. To say it is physically excruciating is an understatement. Like you pointed out in your post, the physical agony was not the worse our Lord experienced. He cried out when the Father turned from Him and He had placed on Him our sins. Three years ago, I posted the agony He experienced in the garden before He was arrested.


    He knew, He just knew what He would be experiencing. He was praying not for the physical pain but because He knew that He would be taking on our sin so that we may live.

  2. Ed

    Thank you Tishrei.

    God saved me on a Sunday morning at church during a sermon on the crucifixion of Christ. The pastor went into clinical detail on the effects of crucifixion on the human body. I began to squirm and got very uncomfortable during the sermon, but I couldn’t figure out why since blood and gore don’t bother me much at all. In hindsight, the reason I became uncomfortable was because the Holy Spirit was convicting me of my sin and showing me how much Jesus had suffered so that I could live. His sacrifice and suffering became personal during that sermon.

    Interestingly, as regards Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is actually a medical condition where people can sweat drops of blood. It is called hematidrosis and can occur under extreme levels of stress. This is why I believe that while the word “excruciating” may be adequate to describe the agony of a person being crucified, there really is no word that can describe the suffering that Jesus endured for us.

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