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Paul and the Death of Jesus

The apostle Paul describes the crucifixion of Jesus as a stumbling block to Jewish thinkers and foolishness to Greek thinkers (1 Corinthians 1:23). Although there are images of the suffering righteous in the Psalms of lament, the suffering servant passages in deutero-Isaiah, and the martyrs who died for their steadfastness to Torah under the oppressive Syrian ruler Antiochus IV, it does not seem to be the case that anyone had linked these texts with the coming messianic deliverer(s) before the followers of Jesus. In order to articulate the significance of Jesus’ death, Paul draws on the language of his everyday world:

  • Political: the death of Jesus has reconciled humanity to God as if they were formerly enemy combatants and God has offered a peace treaty (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
  • Military: Jesus is victorious over evil spiritual powers on the cross (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8; Colossians 2:14-15)
  • Economic: Jesus’ death had redeemed us or paid the ransom price for our release from slavery (e.g. Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 5:7)
  • Judicial: Jesus takes our sentence so that we might be acquitted before the divine law court (e.g. Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:10-13; 2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • Religious: Jesus’ death is like a cultic sacrifice offered at the temple (e.g. Romans 3:24)
  • Exemplary: the ancients were familiar with the “noble death” where one dies for a family member, a nation, or a set of principles (Greek philosophy, Torah), but Jesus’ death stands out in dying for the undeserving (e.g. Romans 5:5-8)
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