Saturday, March 16, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(2) Wisdom of the Cross—Part 2

Outline: E1.2-Wisdom of the Cross (2)
Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2
Discussion Audio (1h17m)

Isaiah, Pericles, Paul…

I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;

I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.[1]

We examine 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2 once more; this time from the perspective of a Jewish audience and a Greek audience. We examine how Paul carefully utilizes rhetorical patterns from each audience and skillfully combines them into a single hymn of the cross. By literally (literally!) combining Hebrew and Greek thought, Paul illustrates how the church ought to be a community where diversity can come together in unity. Ethnic differences remain and are appreciated, but all are united around the cross of Christ.

… You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this… [2]

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [3]

Here are summary points (duplicated from the study outline):

  1. The cross is the center of Paul’s Christian theology. Not Jesus’ teachings or his ethics, but the cross. Jesus’ teachings and ethics are an outflow of the power demonstrated by the cross event.
  2. Paul responds to Jewish objections to the cross of Christ by appealing to Isaiah’s servant song: it is not a stumbling block; it is the greatest sign that could be given.
  3. Paul responds to Greek objections to the cross of Christ by structuring his words around an epitphios [funeral oratory] delivered by Pericles: it is wisdom, not foolishness, to those who believe.
  4. Paul affirms the use of well-crafted rhetoric and eloquence to deliver the gospel.
  5. Paul disavows that any human words or wisdom can add to the power of the cross.
  6. Paul warns against removing the cross from gospel proclamation, as that will remove the source of gospel power.
  7. Paul affirms that ethnic differences can (should) remain and be appreciated and celebrated, but that differences need not be cause for division.
  8. God sends, Paul came. God calls, and people believe. God is the agent of initiation. Human responsibility is to respond appropriately.

[1] Isaiah 50:5b-6 (ESV)

[2] Thucydides (c.460/455-c.399 BCE): Pericles' Funeral Oration from the Peloponnesian War (Book 2.34-46) at 

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (ESV)

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