Paul Performs Jesus’ Crucifixion

Paul refers to his original gospel preaching to the Galatians with quite striking language.  In fact, he doesn’t refer to his preaching or teaching.  Here’s what he says:

You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publically portrayed being crucified?

It’s not that they’ve clearly heard the gospel, or were taught it clearly.  While he makes reference to such teaching elsewhere in the letter, here Paul regards them as having “seen” a public portrayal of Jesus Christ being crucified.

To what is he referring?  I don’t imagine it’s the flannelgraph Sunday School lessons of my childhood.

William Congdon, “Crucifixion #2” (1960)

I think Paul is referring to his physical condition that brought about his initial visit to Galatia.

In Gal. 4:14, he notes that when he originally came to them, his physical condition “put them to the test,” probably indicating that he was a wreck in some way and for some reason.

This founding visit, in my opinion, comes just after Paul is stoned and left for dead in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20).  A group of men who have stoned someone and suppose that person to be dead have likely done a good job of breaking bones and perhaps even delivering serious blows to the head with large rocks.

As in other instances in Luke-Acts, Luke is indicating that Paul is killed, left for dead, and miraculously resuscitated—brought back to life after having died.  But that doesn’t mean he’s all cleaned up and put back together.

When Paul and his companions arrive at this community (or, these communities) for the founding visit, they probably do so in order to rest and help Paul recuperate.  He’s in a position of total weakness and physical trauma.  He’s in such bad shape (skull misshapen? bones sticking through the skin?) that he admits that his condition turned their stomachs and put their hospitality to the test.

Looking back, Paul frames his condition as a performance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Paul embodied Christ’s world-altering event, portraying in his condition, his bearing, and in his mode of ministry, the cross of Christ.

Paul’s original visit, then, was Paul improvising Jesus, specifically in his self-giving on the cross.  It was an adaptation—Paul playing a character in a new time and new place—that was a faithful re-telling and re-performing of the original.

And for Paul, the Galatians’ defection is all the more serious for having witnessed a public display of the crucifixion of the Son of God.

28 thoughts on “Paul Performs Jesus’ Crucifixion

    1. timgombis

      They’re both instances of Paul’s cruciform approach to ministry. I just wonder if it began with the Galatians episode and became a central feature of how he envisioned . . . , well, pretty much everything!

  1. Patrick

    Paul at Damascus was transformed apparently beyond what we can imagine. First time I’ve heard this angle and I agree with it. Paul’s ministry appears to have been a metaphorical( and sometimes literal) surrogate/repeat of Christ’s.

    The eyewitness martyrs played a huge role in the advancement of the Gospel, Paul’s role cannot be over stressed.

  2. frostspeaks

    Have you recently looked at BDAG to see how the Greek word προγροφω is used? It would be translated “playcarded publically” or “proclaimed publically.” I am not sure this word comes even close to how you have metaphorically translated it. It would have to do with Paul’s message. For further study you can see how Danial Wallace takes this verse in the NET Bible.

    Take care,


    1. timgombis

      Hey Chris,

      BDAG mentions that some prefer to translate the term as public proclamation, but doesn’t seem to endorse that meaning. The term has more to do with a public display rather than a public proclamation, which is my point in the post. Paul isn’t indicating the mode of his verbal proclamation here, but the manner of his entire physical presentation during that initial visit.

  3. Jacoba

    This is a profound observation. Thank you. It makes me look at the following verse in a new way: 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” If I was beaten up like that, would I travel to the next place to start a new work? What was the depth of Paul’s encounter with God that he was able to live like this? I want it; we need it.

    1. frostspeaks

      I have to admit, I really do like this post. Paul indeed was humbled and humiliated during his career and and arrived in Galatia in bad I also like that you locate Galatia accurately from Acts ( Southern Roman Galatia). There is 1 other word I word draw your attention to in the context: “hearing” in verse 2 and 5. When προγροφω, which means to write or utter beforehand, and used with hearing language it’s a public proclamation. Paul seems to be reminded them of a message they heard and received by faith, not his body the “saw.”

      1. timgombis

        Take a closer look at v. 1, Chris. Paul mentions the Galatians’ “eyes.” “Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly displayed being crucified” is a pretty literal translation.

        I don’t think I’m reading too much into it to say that Paul is getting at something visual here. Am I missing something?

        Indeed, in vv. 2-5, Paul does contrast “works of law” with “faithful hearing” (or, “the report of faith”), but in v. 1, it’s pretty clear that he’s working with visual language.

  4. frostspeaks

    In other words, Paul had “formerly proclaimed Christ as crucified” seems to be a better understanding of προγροφω. Paul is drawing attention to the clarity of his message they received by faith. This is all in contrast to a false message they are tempted to believe, namely a works gospel.

      1. frostspeaks

        Thank you for your response. There definitely is something going on here in 3:1 that warrants our attention. Sometimes eyes is used with reference to the spiritual eyes, or eyes of our heart in Pauline language which would be at synonymous with hearing. I promise to give this some further thought. Eyes would emphatically draw attention to Paul’s public proclamation (including apprearance as a neaten apostle). I do like your interpretation but I need to so some further research. Thank you.

        God bless,

      2. timgombis

        You’re right, Chris, that Paul at times does refer to “the eyes of your heart,” etc., but he’ll typically use that full expression.

        But language like “display before your eyes” indicates that something else is in view, especially since Paul has loads of expressions for “preached to you,” “proclaimed to you,” “announced in your hearing,” etc.

  5. frostspeaks

    Yes, they saw Paul’s public proclamation of Christ crucified and in verse two after hearing they believed. This is my current understanding of the verse. I like the background info you bring up and is important but I’m not sure Paul is saying he himself was Christ crucified for them to see. I think that might be stretching the language a bit too far. Who else would take your interpretation? Thanks.

    1. timgombis

      What I’m saying is that Paul’s presence among them was a depiction, a portrayal, a performance, or some kind of enactment of Christ’s crucifixion.

      I don’t think I’m stretching the language too far, especially since the language is, literally, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed being crucified.”

      To my mind, it’s stretching the language to turn that into Paul proclaiming the message to their hearing. If the text ends up saying something you didn’t expect, let it transform your thinking. Don’t tame it or try to shape it so that it fits your preconceptions of what it probably should say.

      1. frostspeaks

        Actually, a message proclaimed before someone’s eyes is common in Greek. Κατα οφθαλμος is used with a genative following. My friend pointed out several occurances of this in the lxx, Jeremiah 35:1, 5, 11 (chapter 28 in English versions). We have 3 examples of a message before eyes. Jeremiah 28:7 reads “speak in your hearing” and uses eyes and hearing interchangeably like Paul does in Gal. 3:1, 2, 5. You are wrong about BDAG. It says that οφθαλμος is used as “spiritual/ mental eyes or understanding.” Again, I really like your background info which is important to the book. But it restricts from what Paul is emphasizing. Specifically, 2 messages. The one he taught them and that of his opponents. The force of this passage is on what they believe, not Paul, but rather Paul’s message of the gospel.

      2. timgombis

        The question isn’t strictly about eyes, but whether Paul’s statement has to do with proclamation verbally (in which case “eyes” seems out of place), or whether he’s indicating some kind of display before them visually.

        The Jeremiah passage doesn’t seem to parallel Paul’s language in 3:1. Paul does indeed move on to speak of a message of faith or their faithful hearing in vv. 2 & 5, but in v. 1 he’s speaking about a public display “before their eyes.”

        Look again at the Pauline passages in BDAG. I only said that when Paul uses eyes in the spiritual sense, he uses some other expression, like “eyes of the heart,” which BDAG lists, too. So, if Paul meant a display before their spiritual eyes, we’d expect some kind of language like “eyes of the heart.” In that case, I’d just wonder what such a display would indicate.

        You’re right that the larger point of Galatians has to do with two opposing “gospels,” but Paul’s point in v. 1 is very specific, referring back to his initial visit and his mode among them. The cross plays a huge role in Galatians, which is why I think he indicates his cruciform presentation among them during that initial visit.

      3. frostspeaks

        Thanks for taking the time to disciss this with me today. I appreciate it. This predicate nominative construction with a passive verb is rare. “In keeping with whose eyes” is an idiom that introduces the metaphor according to Greek professor Dr. Tomlinson. He says prographo is used metaphorically and may even have double meaning. He said this word picks up on Paul’s stigmata and his preaching (5:11; 6:17). It has to do with words usually previously written, or words publically displayed or read but we cannot ignore your insight into this passage about Paul’s life and persecution he suffered on account of the gospel. Paul was very wise with his rhetoric and we skip over this stuff and miss it if we are not careful.

        Take care,


    2. timgombis

      Or, Chris, I’d say that this is how Paul theologically interprets his own presence among them because of his horrible condition. He theologically interprets other aspects of his life/ministry similarly–especially his imprisonment. He’s not just “in prison.” He’s a “prisoner of Christ,” and this is just as it ought to be (Eph. 3:1-14).

  6. Dave Black

    Agreed. I’ve often read Col 1:24 –

    “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”

    …and thought, “What could be lacking in Christ’s affliction?” I’ve often seen this verse as pertaining to Paul’s theology of his ministry and not that he thinks the cross necessitated something additional.

  7. frostspeaks

    Simply put the preaching and the persecution went hand in hand for Paul. So I do believe you are right. “….if I still preach circumsion, why am I still persecuted? …” ( Gal. 5:11).

  8. Tim Cole

    Hi Tim:

    This is a first time response. Saw the mention of Acts 14 and Paul’s and Jesus’ death as similiar. You probably are already aware that Luke–by way of massive use of recursion–depicts Paul’s life in Acts as patterned precisely after Jesus’ life depicted in Luke. Everything that Jesus does, Paul also does. All the eventsd are duplicated in precise detail both at the micro and macro level. I’m doing my diss. on this literary technique in Luke-Acts. Big question is: What is Luke’s purpose for these correspondences (keeping Luke 1:1-4 in view). Thanks, Tim

    1. timgombis

      Hey Tim, that sounds like a fun project! I’ve seen those correspondences before, but I haven’t considered whether there’s a parallel in Luke to Paul’s death/resuscitation.

    2. frostspeaks

      Tim Cole,

      Scott Cunningham wrote a great article on your diss. topic called “through many tribulations.” It traces the persecution theme in Luke-Acts. Very valuable if you don’t already have it.

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