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Wednesday 12 July 2023

The Crucified Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8): A Pauline Image of God Incarnate

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, Paul writes:
Now wisdom is what we speak to the mature, wisdom not of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are perishing, but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age understood; for, had they understood it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. (author's translation)
My past interest in this text mainly concerned the term "the rulers of this age," the identity of whom (transcendent, human, or both) is disputed.1 However, as I was recently reading R. B. Jamieson's excellent article on the Christological implications of 1 Corinthians 15:28,2 I was struck by his observations about the paradoxical nature of this verse. It is one of the few places in the New Testament where Christ's divinity and Christ's crucifiability are juxtaposed, and in that respect, it is perhaps the biblical text that comes closest to speaking of God dying for us. As Jamieson puts it, 1 Corinthians 2:8 speaks of "a single agent, one 'who', who has a twofold manner of existence, two 'whats'. One 'what' warrants Christ’s identification as the one true God; the other renders him crucifiable."3

The crucifiability aspect is obvious enough, but no doubt some readers will take issue with the contention that this passage identifies Christ as the one true God. Jamieson is making this inference on the basis of the full picture of Christ that emerges from 1 Corinthians, such as Paul's partitioning of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4)—and partitioning of roles in creation—between the Father and Christ in 1 Corinthians 8:6, and his ascription of scriptural statements about the divine Lord to Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 10:26. However, the term "the Lord of glory" (τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης) in 1 Corinthians 2:8 deserves special attention.

This exact phrase occurs nowhere in the Septuagint; nor is it a translation of a phrase from the Hebrew Bible. However, if we ask the question, "What is a learned Jew like Paul likely to have meant by 'the Lord of glory'?" a conclusive answer emerges.

Firstly, two psalms refer to God as "the King of glory" (LXX, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῆς δόξης) and "the God of glory" (LXX, ὁ θεὸς τῆς δόξης), respectively, and both of these psalms also refer to God as "Lord" (κύριος). Of course, "Lord" (κύριος) and "King" (βασιλεύς) are similar in meaning, with both titles denoting one having dominion and rulership. The title "King of glory" occurs five times in Psalm 23:7-10 LXX (24:7-10 MT):

      7 Raise the gates, O rulers of yours! 
         And be raised up, O perpetual gates! 
         And the King of glory shall enter. 
      8 Who is this King of glory? 
         The Lord, strong and powerful, 
         the Lord, powerful in battle. 
      9 Raise the gates, O rulers of yours! 
         And be raised up, O perpetual gates! 
         And the King of glory shall enter. 
      10 Who is this King of glory? 
         The Lord of hosts, 
         he is the King of glory. (New English Translation of the Septuagint)

What makes Psalm 23(24) particularly relevant to Paul's phrase "the Lord of glory" in 1 Corinthians 2:8, however, is that Paul quotes Psalm 23:1 LXX ("the earth and its fullness are the Lord's") later in the letter, in 10:26, where he almost certainly understands this "Lord" to be Christ.4

Psalm 28:1-4 LXX reads,

      1 Bring to the Lord, O divine sons, 
         bring to the Lord glory and honor. 
      2 Bring to the Lord glory for his name; 
         do obeisance to the Lord in his holy court. 
      3 The Lord’s voice is over the waters; 
         the God of glory thundered, 
         the Lord, over many waters, 
      4 the Lord’s voice in strength, 
         the Lord’s voice in magnificence. (NETS)

The divine title "the Lord of glory" is commensurate with the language of both of these two psalms, even if the exact phrase does not occur. And, of course, the broader association of glory with God (including the phrase "the glory of the Lord") is ubiquitous in the Jewish Scriptures.

Besides this, the Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic text 1 Enoch—a composite text containing materials dating from several centuries B.C. to the first century A.D.—refers to God as "the Lord of glory" repeatedly, showing that the use of this phrase as a divine title was established and current among Paul's Jewish contemporaries. The translations below are from the Hermeneia translation of Nickelsburg and VanderKam.5 
Then I blessed the Lord of glory and said, 'Blessed is the judgment of righteousness and blessed are you, O Lord of majesty and righteousness, who are Lord of eternity.' (1 Enoch 22.14)

And he answered me and said, 'This high mountain that you saw, whose peak is like the throne of God, is the seat where the Great Holy One, the Lord of glory, the King of eternity, will sit, when he descends to visit the earth in goodness... Then I blessed the God of glory, the King of eternity, who has prepared such things for people (who are) righteous, and has created them and promised to give (them) to them. (1 Enoch 25.3, 7)

Here the godless will bless the Lord of glory, the King of eternity... Then I blessed the Lord of glory, and his glory I made known and praised magnificently. (1 Enoch 27.3, 5)

And when I saw, I blessed—and I shall always bless—the Lord of glory, who has wrought great and glorious wonders, to show his great deeds to his angels and to the spirits of human beings, so that they might see the work of his might and glorify the deeds of his hands and bless him forever. (1 Enoch 36.4)
The Codex Panopolitanus Greek manuscript of 1 Enoch has τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης—the exact phrase used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:8—in 22.14, 27.3, and 27.5.6

The above quotations are all from the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36). Two other distinct compositions within 1 Enoch refer to God as the Lord of glory—the Book of Parables (cf. 1 Enoch 40.3, 63.2) and the Dream Visions (cf. 1 Enoch 83.8)—while the Book of the Luminaries uses the phrase "the Lord of eternal glory" (1 Enoch 75.3) and "the great Lord, the king of glory" (1 Enoch 81.3).

That the phrase "the Lord of glory" is used in 1 Enoch in close association with references to God's kingship and the phrase "the God of glory" (1 Enoch 25.7) suggests that the title "the Lord of glory" is adapted from Psalms 24 and/or 29.

Thus, we have evidence that Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts called God "the Lord of glory," drawing on Psalm 24 and/or 29, and we have evidence that Paul understood Christ as the "Lord" of Psalm 24 (23 LXX). Thus, the most reasonable interpretation is that when Paul called Christ "the Lord of glory" in an apocalyptic context in 1 Corinthians 2:8, he meant to refer to Christ as the divine Lord of these psalms.

The juxtaposition of divine Lord and crucified one is Christologically significant, not only because of its inherent paradox, but also because it demonstrates that Paul understood Christ to have been the divine Lord prior to his resurrection and exaltation. This is important, because some interpreters of Pauline texts such as Philippians 2:5-11 assert that Jesus became "Lord" (in the sense of bearer of the divine Name and its prerogatives) only after his resurrection, as a reward from God for his faithfulness unto death. In light of 1 Corinthians 2:8, this reading of Paul's Christology is untenable: Christ was already the Lord of glory when he was crucified. "God highly exalted him and graciously granted him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9) does not refer to a quasi-divinisation of a hitherto non-divine Jesus, but to a reversal of the downward trajectory outlined in vv. 6-8. God publicly vindicates the man Jesus and orders the world to worship him as YHWH (Phil. 2:10-11 cp. Isaiah 45:22-23). Similar reasoning applies to Romans 1:3-4, which some might interpret to mean that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection, though we know from other Pauline texts that this was not Paul's view.7

In conclusion, in writing in 1 Corinthians 2:8 that the rulers of this age "crucified the Lord of glory," Paul expresses and brings together Christ's humanity and divinity in a bold and striking manner. The notion of the divine Lord dying, on a cross no less, is a paradox that Paul understood would be regarded as offensive or foolish to many in his day, as it is to many in ours.

  • 1 "Opinions differ on the precise identity of these rulers. Are these rulers the unseen demonic forces of this world, or simply the worldly rulers, who put Jesus to death? Is there a dual reference, both to earthly rulers and to the demonic forces that inspire them? Whatever the identity of the rulers, the outcome remains the same." (Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture [Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014], 88); "scholars are undecided as to whether he is referring to spiritual rulers or earthly rulers" (Adam G. White, Where is the Wise Man? Graeco-Roman Education as a Background to the Divisions in 1 Corinthians 1-4 [PhD Dissertation, Macquarie University, 2013], 153).
  • 2 R. B. Jamieson, "1 Corinthians 15.28 and the Grammar of Paul's Christology," New Testament Studies 66 (2020): 187-207.
  • 3 "1 Corinthians 15.28," 198.
  • 4 Jamieson writes, "This ‘Lord’ is the same Lord whom Paul warns the Corinthians not to provoke in 10.22, in language about YHWH borrowed from Deut 32.21. How might they provoke him? By partaking of the cup and table ‘of the Lord’, and also the cup and table of demons (10.21). Why are these two commensalities incommensurable? Because the Lord’s cup and table enact communal participation in the blood and body of Christ (10.16). The ‘Lord’ in view throughout is Christ. The Lord at whose table the Corinthians feast is the Lord who owns all things because he created all things (cf. 8.6). In 1 Cor 10.26, Paul identifies Christ as the Lord whom Ps 24.1 praises as possessor of all because he is the creator of all" (Jamieson, "1 Corinthians 15.28," 195-96).
  • 5 George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012).
  • 6 The Book of the Watchers was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but was translated into Greek in antiquity. At 25.3, this manuscript has ὁ μέγας κύριος, ὁ ἅγιος τῆς δόξης ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ αἰῶνος ("the Great Lord, the Holy One of Glory, the King of eternity"), and at 25.7, τὸν θεὸν τῆς δόξης, τὸν βασιλέα τοῦ αἰῶνος ("the God of glory, the King of eternity").
  • 7 E.g., "I live by faith in [or, the faithfulness of] the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20); "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law..." (Gal. 4:4). Matthew W. Bates writes concerning the theological implications of Romans 1:3-4, "the resurrection event was the occasion at which the Son of God, who was in fact already deemed the preexistent Son of God before the resurrection event, was appointed to a new office that was able to be described by the phrase Son-of-God-in-Power" ("A Christology of Incarnation and Enthronement: Romans 1:3-4 as Unified, Nonadoptionist, and Nonconciliatory," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 77 [2015]: 125-26.

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