The Cross as Epistemological Revolution

I’m using Richard Hays’s brilliant commentary on 1 Corinthians this semester and am enjoying it immensely.  This is Hays on Paul’s opposition of corrupted human wisdom vs. the shameful cross of Christ.

God, however, has revealed in Christ another kind of wisdom that radically subverts the wisdom of this world: God has chosen to save the world through the cross, through the shameful and powerless death of the crucified Messiah.  If that shocking event is the revelation of the deepest truth about the character of God, then our whole way of seeing the world is turned upside down.  Everything has to be reevaluated in light of the cross.

Our familiarity with “the cross” as a theme of Christian preaching may tend to obscure the astonishing imaginative power of this passage.  Paul has taken the central event at the heart of the Christian story—the death of Jesus—and used it as the lens through which all human experience must be projected and thereby seen afresh.  The cross becomes the starting point for an epistemological revolution.  Thus, Paul provides the categories necessary for a fresh critical evaluation of divisions in the church and, more fundamentally, of our understanding of wisdom, power, and wealth.  For anyone who grasps the paradoxical logic of this text, the world can never look the same again (p. 27).

The cross is the key to understanding reality in God’s new eschatological age.  Consequently, to enter the symbolic world of the gospel is to undergo a conversion of the imagination, to see all values transformed by the foolish and weak death of Jesus on the cross (p. 31).

10 thoughts on “The Cross as Epistemological Revolution

  1. Laurence Angell

    I disagree. It is the resurrection that shows God’s love for his creation, not the cross. The resurrection destroyed death and completed God’s plan for Israel and for us. The cross was incidental to all of this.

    1. timgombis

      I cited Hays’s comments from 1 Corinthians 1-2, which are all about the cross and how it represents God’s way of doing things. As such, it stands in direct opposition to the world’s corrupted way of doing things–seeking power, prestige, pursuing self-advancement, etc. For Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1-2, the cross isn’t just a moment in Jesus’ journey to resurrection. It becomes a central symbol for rebuking human arrogance and pretension.

      The resurrection is also crucial–obviously!–but Paul doesn’t call upon it to rebuke the Corinthians in chapters 1-2. It does indeed come into play later in his argument, however, especially ch. 15.

  2. Andrew

    Is there a difference between ‘the cross becoming the starting point for an epistemological revolution‘ and ‘the cross becoming the starting point for an epistemological restoration‘?

    That quote almost makes it seem like the Cross was a formal cause for epistemic revolution, but it begs the question how this ‘revolution’ impacted believers ability to recognize the role the Cross played as formal, efficient, or final cause for the covenant.

    Revolution is interesting, but revolution in context knowing outcome is more interesting.

    1. timgombis

      In the abstract, perhaps yes. It’s just that in 1 Cor. 1-2, he only mentions the cross. And I think he does so because the cross is just such a powerfully shameful symbol, which is an offense to all sensibilities–Jewish, Greek, and Roman. It’s the cross that creates the scandal that undoes and dismantles all human pretensions. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus and they very definitely go together. So, I wouldn’t argue that they ought to be separate, but Paul just chooses in chs. 1-2 to focus on the cross.

  3. S Wu

    It seems clear that without death there is no resurrection, and without resurrection there is no hope.

    I am with you, Tim. Paul will get to the very important topic of resurrection in 1 Cor 15.

    I think we don’t truly understand God’s wisdom if you don’t fully grasp the meaning of the cross. That’s why we need to read 1 Cor 1-2 carefully.

    (By the way, the work of the Spirit in 1 Cor 1-2 is worth looking into, I believe.)

  4. Andrew Rillera

    I’m with you. Let’s remember that any talk of the resurrection has to keep in mind that it is precisely Christ *crucified* that was raised. The resurrection was a vindication of Jesus as the one who obediently embraced the way of the cross (see Phil 2:8; Rom 5:18-19).

    The resurrection wasn’t a way of finally abandoning and separating from the shame, weakness and foolishness of the cross; it was God’s way of eternally embracing the cross as His wisdom and power.

    So it’s not just that cross and resurrection are logically connected (i.e. “without death there is no resurrection” although that much is obvious). It’s that the resurrection is *the* confirmation/vindication that “the cross…represents God’s way of doing things.”

  5. Bobby Nemeth

    I used this in a sermon a few years ago as we were preaching through 1st Corinthians. I found it deeply moving and the congregation received it very well. It is good to know that this stuff is received not only in the pulpit but also in the academy.

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