The crucified Christ in 1 Corinthians (Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still’s insights and my reflections)  

I am reading 1 Corinthians at the moment. Yesterday I thought I might take a look at Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still’s Thinking Through Paul (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), expecting that they would provide me with a good overview of the letter. I was not disappointed, for I came across some succinct and insightful comments about 1 Corinthians.

Longnecker and Still think that the centre of the letter’s vision is “nothing but Christ crucified,” which I wholeheartedly concur.

A good passage to cite here would be 1 Cor 2:1–5.

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (NIV; emphasis added)

I do wonder how often preaching today is characterised by eloquent speech, human wisdom and power, rather than weakness, fear and trembling?

I do believe that well-prepared sermons and thoughtful biblical reflections are very important. But that’s very different from eloquent motivational talks that say little about the crucified Christ and primarily appeal to the emotion.

This is what Longnecker and Still say regarding the crucified Christ.

As Paul unpacks the phrase “Jesus Christ crucified,” he shows that it involves a radical redefinition of life and a sweeping reconfiguration of lifestyle. If “Jesus Christ crucified” is something of a slogan for Paul, it is a slogan that informs the repatterning of whole sectors of life—individual and collective, ethical and ecclesial . . . (Page 116; emphasis added)

These words from [1 Cor] 2:1–5 exemplify what Paul does throughout much of this letter. That is, he highlights a strand of the gospel that subverts the Corinthians’ cultural norms and expectations and applies it to their situation in ways that reorient them along the path of the gospel’s outworking. (Pages 116–7; emphasis added)

The cross is not only for our benefit. The grace of God through Christ also calls for a radical reorientation of every sphere of life.

Longnecker and Still continue to say,

At the heart of all this is what Paul calls “the message of the cross.” As he readily recognizes, that message is “foolishness” when analysed in reference to the quest for honor that enraptured the Corinthian ethos. Paul calls the Corinthians to look beyond that perception of foolishness in order that they might be empowered with “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18; also 2:4–5), enabling them to be reoriented to the story of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. (Page 117; emphasis added)

The challenge for us, then, is to abandon using our human wisdom to achieve the mission and purposes that God has given the church. Instead of asking how “successful” we are, and measure “success” in terms of the value system of the world, we should ask whether our message is “foolish” from the perspective of the world.

This does not mean that we don’t use wisdom or that we should abandon learning. Neither should we present the gospel in ways that are not thoughtful. But we should always be careful that we don’t deviate from the message of the crucified Christ and a (corporate and individual) life that embodies the cross, which will always appear to be foolish in the eyes of the world.

Longnecker and Still make the following comments regarding Paul’s own life.

The apostolic pattern of Paul’s ministry itself demonstrates that God’s wisdom runs against the grain of cultural constructed systems of honor. So Paul characterizes his ministry as, among other things, foolish, weak, and dishonorable by cultural standards (4:9–13), concluding that he has “become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world.” (Page 120)

Here is something that every Christian leader needs to take heed of. Our celebrity culture today is fertile ground to foster leadership patterns that seek honour and glory in front of the world. Personality cult in the Christian circle is all too common. Paul would have nothing to do with it.


The transformation of power through the cross (Richard Hays on 1 Corinthians)

I am reading Richard Hays’ commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Interpretation series (2011). It’s an excellent book. Hays lists the major theological themes of 1 Corinthians, and one of them is the following.

The transformation of power and status through the cross … Paul repeatedly argues that the gospel overturns the world’s notions of power and social standing. Those who acclaim a crucified Christ as Lord find that God has chosen what is “low and despised” in the world to “reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1:28–29). This has earth-shaking implications for the social structure of the community of Christ’s people; As the body of Christ, they are linked together—rich and poor, slave and free—in a network of mutual love and concern. Old status distinctions no longer count “in the Lord,” and all power relations must be reinterpreted in light of the cross. The Corinthians had some difficulty grasping this vision (e.g., 11:17–22, 27–34), but Paul insists that it is a necessary entailment of the gospel.

The resurrection: Christ defeating all dominion and its misinterpretation

I am studying the classic text on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. I just found some great quotes from Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s commentary (The First Letter to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010]).

Here is the particular text in 1 Corinthians.

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet’.Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24–28)

Ciampa and Rosner explain that the destruction of dominion implies the restoration of all of creation and its submission to the Father.

Verses 24–28 reflect the motif of a dominion gone astray and needing to be crushed so that the proper dominion might be restored. The general idea would have been familiar to anyone in the Roman Empire. Just as a Roman emperor would send out his leading general to put down seditious movements and rebellious vassal states and restore the emperor’s authority throughout the empire, God has sent Christ to subdue all rebellion and opposition, to destroy all the enemies of God’s kingdom, and to restore all of creation to its proper submission to the Father for his glory and the good of all creation. As Wright points out, this description of Christ’s role in reigning over all creation reminds us that Christ, “as the final Adam, the start of the renewed human race (compare Colossian 1.18b), is not only the model for the new type of humanity. He possesses the authority to bring it into being.” [N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 342.] (pp. 768–710)

Remarkably the words translated dominion and authority in 1 Corinthians 15:24 are found in the ancient Greek version of Daniel 7:14, “and to him was given the dominion and the honor and the kingship, and all peoples, tribes, languages shall be subject to him. His authority is an everlasting authority, which will not pass away” (NETS translation of Theodotion’s version). (p. 769)

Ciampa and Rosner then say that an anti-imperial ideology is at work.

Clearly, by all dominion, authority and power Paul means all the competing, corrupted and perverted dominions, authorities, and powers that have been unleased through Adam’s idolatrous perversion of the reign given him by God in Genesis 1. An anti-imperial ideology is clearly at work here, as in the texts from Daniel cited above … The dominions which seems to hold sway in the political, religious and spiritual realms would all be destroyed in the face of the glorious appearance of the fullness of God’s kingdom. This would also apply to the tendency in every human heart to assert one’s own ultimate autonomy as a kingdom of one. No rebellious dominion, authority, or power may be allowed to stand if true, peace, liberty, and righteousness are to reign. It is in this environment that God’s oppressed and marginalized people may finally experience the freedom, righteousness and peace for which they have hungered and thirsted. (p. 769)

Later, Ciampa and Rosner tell us how 1 Corinthians 15 can, sadly, be used to support violence and oppression.

Unfortunately, this portrayal of God’s role in the world has too often served to underwrite violent and oppressive rule on the part of those who see themselves as agents of God’s kingdom. While Christians may well have significant concerns about the ideological criticism of Scripture itself, they must always be prepared to engage in the ideological criticism of interpretations and applications of Scripture lest it continue to be used for evil in the guise of righteousness, oppressing the weak and powerless for the sake of the agendas of the powerful. The validity of this theology and expression of political power is wholly dependent upon the infinite wisdom and righteousness of the one who destroys all other opposing powers and imposes his own kingdom on the world. When such a project is carried out (even on a lesser scale) by powerful (but not infinitely wise or righteous) human leaders and governments, whether under the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, or even modern empires, it is done in the name of righteousness and peace and often with a claim to divine (or natural) mandate. But it always ends up reflecting a parody of the perfect kingdom of righteousness and peace that could be established only by the infinitely wise and righteous King known for his self-sacrificial love for all his creatures, especially the weak and powerless. It is a sad irony that texts such as this one which speak of the ultimate condemnation of all empires but God’s have nevertheless sometimes come to empower those who falsely perceive themselves to be following a divine model suited to their own ambitions. (pp. 770-771; emphasis added)