When Justice is Unjust: The Death of Jesus in First Corinthians

John Barclay on the Foolishness of the Cross to the Gentiles

Mockingbird / 6.8.20

New Testament scholar, John Barclay, on the foolishness of the cross to the Gentiles:

To hail Jesus the crucified as the Christ, the Son of God, was even more an outrage [than the death of Gavius]. If he was executed as a criminal by legitimate authorities, he was rightly degraded to the rank of human trash, and could not possibly be honored, still less associated with the divine. If he was properly to be honored as divine, then one of two conclusions had to be drawn. Either his death was the most monstrous miscarriage of justice … or the whole system of values that made crucifixion a symbol and enactment of abject worthlessness was itself completely worthless, mistaken to the core. Paul takes the latter course. He makes no attempt to exonerate the executioners of Jesus, nor to pass off his crucifixion as a temporary error in the otherwise sound practice of Roman justice […]

If the crucifixion of a Roman citizen is an outrage, for which Cicero wants Verres humiliated and exiled, the crucifixion of the Lord of glory by “the rulers of this age” is the clearest possible indication that this age understands nothing of the divine system of value. The crucifixion is not just a temporary aberration in an otherwise well-functioning system: it is the clearest possible proof that the norms which pass for ‘wisdom’ are completely unable to grasp what God is doing in the world. To read the crucifixion with the eyes of Paul is like reading the systems of justice in the old American South with the eyes of Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird): it is to expose a whole system of evaluation, a matrix of norms and judgments that prides itself on its advanced state of civilization, as blind, corrupt, and barbaric, utterly worthless in its judgment of worth.

Quoted from “Crucifixion as Wisdom: Exploring the Ideology of a Disreputable Movement” in The Wisdom and Foolishness of God: First Corinthians in Theological Exploration, (emphasis added).

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