The death of Christ occupies a central position in Paul’s representation of the Gospel. According to Ladd, “the first thing to be said about the death of Christ it is the supreme revelation of the love of God.” Paul has some familiarity with and reminds his readers of the story of Jesus’ suffering and death; and he develops the importance of Christ’s passion in context related to all aspects of his apostolic message especially his soteriology and Christology, eschatology and ethics. The atoning death of Christ is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn us salvation. The New Testament provides a rich and joyous expression of the work of Christ through his death to atone for the sins of mankind. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Cor. 5:19); Christ “He gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph.5:2); He came to “Reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Why did Jesus have to die? Was it necessary for Him to die such a way as to cause the shedding of his own blood? Did the atoning death require the death of a divine? Did the atoning death occur entirely at Calvary or did it also include post resurrection activity by Jesus? These are some of the questions with which Paul dealt to a greater or lesser extent in his writings. This paper will seek to give insight to these questions as best as possible as presented by Paul in his letters.
THE CENTRALITY OF CHRIST’S DEATH
For Paul, the cross of Christ was critical for Christian’s reflection and life, especially as means by which God has provided for salvation and as the instrument and measure of new life in Christ. The subject of Christ’s death plays so important a role in the structure if Pauline’s thought that it merits a thorough study. The cross for Christian is not a symbol of defeat but of victory over death, sin and suffering. This creates a background for meaningful reflection on the cross. Jewish rejection and death of Jesus on the cross of Calvary are seen to be rebellion to God’s Plan but not the whole process of His rejection, death and resurrection has been predicted before its fulfillment as foretold in the scriptures. In the New Testament the cancellation of guilt is uniformly associated with Jesus and commonly with his death (Acts 13:38 cf.Luke1:77). As a rabbi, Paul understood the life and death of Jesus in the context of Israel, the Old Testament people of God who had been created and prepared for the purpose of bringing the messianic redeemer into the world. When we look at the context of sin in the New Testament, a different perspective emerges. “Paul does not define sin, but clearly he does not see it as primarily an offense against other people, for him sin is primarily an offense against God.” (Rom. 8:7; ICor.8:12) A further inspiration for Paul’s ongoing translation of the meaning of the cross was his own and the church’s life in Christ-life that was no stranger to weakness, opposition and suffering. The importance of the cross is thus for Paul grounded in his encounter with the risen Lord and in the demands of his apostolic ministry The Cross and Kerygma: How the centrality of the cross manifest for Paul, it is implied by the phrases he employs to explain the kerygma. Thus in 1Cor. 1:18 “the message of the Cross” is virtually a synonym for gospel, in 2Cor. 5:19 “the message of reconciliation” is used similarly in a context wherein salvific event is presented in the parallelism: “and he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who on their behalf died and was raised” (Phil.2:16). The Pattern of Christ: this refers to the level to which Paul to suggest the Cross of Christ as the basis of Christian faith and life. At Corinth, as at Colossae, Paul reflects on the meaning of the crucified Christ in large part so as to counter completing ideas. For the Colossians...
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