The ‘Logic of Grace’ and the Burden of the Gospel

I really don’t know what it is, I’d have to say it’s Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit, but as of late I’ve once again had a real sense of the ‘lostness’ of people all around me; people for whom Jesus died, but people who for some inscrutable reason continue to reject the greatest and deepest love ever offered humankind. “Coincidentally” I just came across a quote from Maximus, it reads this way:

‘Damnation’ and ‘hell’ refer to those who are on the way to nonbeing and whose way of life has reduced them almost to nothingness. –Maximus

This reminded me of some exegesis I did once on I Corinthians 1:18 (for my Master’s thesis which was on I Corinthians 1:17-25). Here’s the passage:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In my exegesis I made it a point to underscore a similar thing that Maximus seems to be alerting us to about the condition of those ‘being destroyed’ or ‘perishing.’ Here’s what I offered up on the word πολλυμένοις , the word translated as ‘destroyed’ or ‘perishing’:

ἀπολλυμένοις is a present middle participle coming from the lexical root ἀπόλλυμι (I destroy). The participle is functioning as adjectival-substantive thus identifying a group of people who are destroyed, and are in the process of being destroyed. The participle, according to Kistemaker, “denotes that the process is durative and that the compound is perfective.” This means these kinds of people are characterized by a present and ongoing process.

Further clarification is brought by Daniel Wallace on the concern of how a substantive participle, such as ἀπολλυμένοις, while functioning as a noun, has not lost its verbal aspect. Note his comment,

… with reference to its verbal nature: Just because a participle is adjectival or substantival, this does not mean that its verbal aspect is entirely diminished. Most substantival participles still retain something of their aspect. A general rule of thumb is that the more particular (as opposed to generic) the referent, the more verbal aspect is still seen.

This point serves to bolster the reality of the state that characterizes these people’s lives. That status is one of dynamism and movement within and towards destruction.[1]

As I reread what I offered in my exegesis (there was more) of this passage, with particular focus on those “being destroyed” it is absolutely sobering; sobering in the ways that Maximus’s reflection is.

So while this is the case for “those being destroyed,” as they simply live into who they are as those who know nothing but destruction (something we all know about as those once part of the kingdom of darkness) there of course remains hope.

What’s interesting about Maximus’s reflection is that he pushes into the concept of ‘being,’ an important concept. This concept usually is emphasized in Eastern Christian approaches to salvation, while the West focuses more on the legal and forensic aspects of salvation. Since Maximus is an Eastern it makes sense then that he would press this idea of nonbeing and nothingness in regard to those who choose to remain outside of Christ (even though Christ has not chosen to remain outside of them). So as I was noting there is hope, even for those living in a state of destruction; they aren’t left to nonbeing and nothingness, even if that’s what they are choosing currently. T.F. Torrance makes this clear; here’s a favorite quote of mine of his that touches upon the very topic under consideration:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[2]

This poses problems for many in the Reformed and evangelical world, theologically; but not for me! What Torrance describes is the good news of Jesus Christ; it’s, as Torrance says elsewhere, the ‘logic of grace.’ Yes, for those of you who don’t know, Torrance is also, even as a Reformed Christian, very influenced by the Eastern way of thinking salvation (let me not give too much away here, this focus of ‘being’ in salvation can even be found in Calvin’s union with Christ theology, and in Luther’s marital mysticism soteriology).

No matter, I’m not as concerned with where the influence comes from, but instead with the veracity of what is being communicated. The logic of grace, the Gospel, provides hope for all of humanity all the way down; right where they need it. We are obviously a fractured people, we need more than our sins paid for, we need a recreation of our humanity; we need to be resurrected. That’s what Maximus knows, that’s what Torrance knows, that’s what the Apostle Paul knows (see Romans 6 — 8); we need a new heart, and orientation towards God where real life and real freedom are found.

I can’t help but think the Lord is reworking into me, once again, how urgent the Gospel is. When I look at people I see people for whom God in Christ pledged his very being so that they wouldn’t have to be catapulting towards nonbeing and nothingness. My burden is to share that reality with them; this is my great reward. Think about it, we are around broken people, as broken people ourselves, who the living God gave His very life; for whom God shed His blood (Acts 20:28). How can we not want to share that with people; how could we not want people to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13)?

[1] Robert Allen Grow, Christ Crucified, The Wisdom and Power of God: An Exegetical Analysis of I Corinthians 1:17-25 (Portland, OR: Multnomah Biblical Seminary [Unpublished Master’s Thesis], 2003), 41.

[2] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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My Masters Thesis, I Corinthians 1:17-25: Introduction

I am going to start, slowly posting my Masters Thesis (it’s just getting dusty). It was an exegetical thesis paper on I Corinthians 1:17-25 entitled: CHRIST CRUCIFIED, THE WISDOM AND POWER OF GOD: AN EXEGETICAL ANALYSIS OF I CORINTHIANS 1:17-25. I will index it as I go, and hopefully one day I will have it in full here on the blog in bloggy format. It ought to be interesting for you to see how I worked and thought prior to being exposed to Barth and Torrance. I must say that my exegesis somewhat resonates with the way that Torrance does his exegesis (when he does it in his writings). I mean a lot of my work is syntactical and lexically oriented; you’ll see. I am not claiming, of course, that it is at the level of TFT, but maybe in the same kind of orbit or style (even then). I don’t agree with some of my interpretive conclusions, but most of them I do; and I still agree with my conclusion and major premise about what Paul was doing in the first four chapters of I Corinthians. Anyway, here is the first installment; it will be totally arbitrary and ad hoc in regard to how much I post of it at one time. You will also get to see how my writing has matured since then 😉 … hopefully.

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CHRIST CRUCIFIED, THE WISDOM AND POWER OF GOD:
AN EXEGETICAL ANALYSIS OF I CORINTHIANS 1:17-25

A Thesis
Presented to the Faculty of
Multnomah Biblical Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts in Biblical Studies

by
Robert Allen Grow
May 2003

TABLE OF CONTENTS: THESIS
TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION ……….. 1
Purpose of the Study
Parameters of the Study
Methodology of the Study
Chapter

1. BACKGROUND AND OCCASION OF I CORINTHIANS………… 6
Background of the Epistle
Occasion of the Epistle
Alternative Perspectives
Summary

2. EXEGESIS OF I CORINTHIANS 1:18-25 …………… 27
Exegesis of 1:17 as a Transition
Exegesis of 1:18-21
Summary

Exegesis of 1:22-25

Summary

3. PRINCIPLES FROM I CORINTHIANS 1:18-25 …………. 88
Human Wisdom Never Grasps the Power of God
Godly Wisdom is Revealed in Weakness
Summary
CONCLUSION ……….. 92
APPENDIX …………. 96
BIBLIOGRAPHY ………… 101

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INTRODUCTION

Purpose of the Study

The proclamation of the cross of Christ is the central message in the New Testament scriptures, which provides the freedom and the knowledge necessary to have a relationship with the God of the Bible. Nevertheless, the centrality of this message seems to have become displaced from the teaching ministries of the American church. The displacement that has occurred seems to be resultant from the integration models that the church has embraced, such as secular marketing schemes, psychology, philosophy, multimedia presentations, etc. The use of these models has caused the displacement of the central message of the Church. The issue is not that these models are inherently evil, but that such methods of communicating and understanding God have been given primacy over the message of the cross. Consequently, the message of the cross has become secondary, and therefore the Church in America does not have a message based on the power of the cross. 1

The Apostle Paul addresses such issues in the first four chapters of the
first epistle to the Corinthians. The church at Corinth was experiencing
factionalism amongst its members, thus Paul confronts the underlying problem

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1. See as Guiness, Dining with the Devil The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993) , 9-91. This characterization of the American church is a generalization of the church. It is not intended to imply that there are no good churches in America. But it is to serve as illustrative of the general trajectory of the direction that many churches appear to be taking in the 21st century. And it is not the purpose of this study to prove this statement one way or the other.

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causing such schism at Corinth. In confronting the underlying problem, Paul
points out that the Corinthians had embraced a man-centered wisdom that
ultimately was causing the church to view the proclamation of the cross as
secondary, worse yet, as foolishness.

The purpose of this study is to show that the Apostle Paul believed that
the integration of man-centered wisdom with the Christian gospel, results in thedenuding of the power and wisdom found in the simple message of the cross.

Parameters of the Study

The content of the thesis fits nicely into three pericopes found within this
epistle: 1:18-25; 1:26-31; and 2:1-5. I Corinthians 1:26-31 and 2:1-5, deal
respectively with the recipients of the gospel and the results of the gospel.
These notions are valuable components within the larger context of I Corinthians,but it is not necessary to explicate these pericopes to provide the basis for understanding the above mentioned thesis. Neither is it necessary to explicate the broader section of which these pericopes are apart, chapters 1 – 4, nor is it necessary to explore the broadest context of the epistle, chapters 1 – 16, to substantiate the thesis mentioned above.

What is necessary to understand the aforementioned thesis is the
pericope found in 1:18-25, and the occasion of the epistle found in 1:10-16. It iswithin these paragraphs that Paul reveals his understanding of the relationshipbetween man-centered wisdom and God-centered wisdom. This passage is key because it provides the perspective and the content of Paul’s first response to the Corinthians, relative to the factionalism occurring at Corinth.

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Therefore this study will provide the necessary introductory context that
served as the occasion for the writing of the epistle. Likewise, this study will
provide in-depth lexical analysis of the key word σοΦια which functions as a
central notion within this pericope. Hence, obtaining adequate understanding of
this word will provide invaluable insight into opening up Paul’s diatribe to the
Corinthians.

Accordingly, exegesis will be provided for the key transition verse of 1:17.
This verse provides transition from the description of the problem at Corinth, to
Paul’s prescription (i.e. do not integrate man-centered wisdom with the gospel)
for how the Corinthians ought to deal with their problem. Understanding this
passage is essential, because it is here that the Apostle Paul introduces the
touchstone issues for the rest of the pericope (i.e. σοΦια λογου and Ò λογος ο του σταυρου).

Methodology of the Study

There is a voluminous amount of material related to the study of the
epistle of I Corinthians, thus it was necessary to limit this study to some key
resources. This study will interact with what has been determined to be key commentaries, journal articles, lexicons, and background information. The author of this paper will interact with such resources as the research warrants.

The methodological approach is to provide the proper background
information and occasion to understand the socio/cultural/historical context to

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chapter of this study. In order to accomplish this task, the author of this paper willinteract with the commentaries, lexicons, journal articles, and background
information deemed necessary to come to an adequate understanding. Also this
chapter will discuss alternate perspectives on this pericope. This will serve to
survey various understandings of this passage, and in the process provide the
framework from which this study will proceed.

In chapter two, this study will engage the body of the paper, exegesis of I Corinthians 1:17-25. It is here that this study will intimately interact with the
commentaries, Greek grammar, lexical analysis, on a verse by verse analysis.
The study will carefully interweave the relevant material and dialogue between
commentators and the author of this paper, in order to provide substantiation ofthe above mentioned thesis statement, “The Apostle Paul believed that the
integration of man-centered wisdom with the Christian gospel, results in the
denuding of the power and wisdom found in the simple message of the cross.”

Finally, chapter three provides a reflection on the previous study and
points out two major principles that have been produced via the research for thisstudy. The methodology offered here is different than that offered in the previous two chapters. Here the author of this paper will interact with total yielded results of this paper, and not intimately be involved in dialogue with the commentaries used to come to the principles offered in chapter three.

In conclusion, this study finishes with a summary-overview of the entire
paper. Here the finished product is revealed, highlighting the main points of the
study, which are linked with the thesis statement. The linkage provides evidence

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for the substantiation of the thesis put forth by this study. Likewise, the alternateperspectives, offered in chapter one, will be addressed. The study shows that the thesis of this paper is substantiated by the exegesis of I Corinthians 1:17-25. It also points out that many of the perspectives provided for this passage do not measure up to the exegesis.

In the last instance an appendix is offered, which will provide an in-depth
analysis of the key word σοΦια. The analysis provided helps give a fuller
understanding of how this word can potentially function, and thus brings added
depth to the comprehension of its usage within the pericope of I Corinthians 1:17-25.

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