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Petros Vassiliadis
Ass. Prof. of the University of Thessaloniki

ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ: Center of the Pauline Soteriology and Apostolic Ministry

Από: Επιστημονική Επετηρίδα Θεολογικής Σχολής, τ. 27, Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο, Θεσσαλονίκη 1982.

St.Ρaul is rightly considered as the father of the Christian doctrine of salvation. His numerous references to Jesus' death as an act of salvation has undoubtedly determined the basic soteriological concept of Christianity. However, it was not until the period of scholastic theology that the first attempt of a systematic exposition of this important Christian doctrine occurred. It was the time following the eventual split between Eastern and Western Christianity that Anselm of Canterbury put forward his well known "satisfaction theory". In his famous work Cur Deus Homo? he tried to show the necessity of Christ's incarnation and death on the cross for the salvation of mankind on the basis of a juridistic relationship between man and God. The divine Justice, he believed, because of the human disobedience demanded a satisfactio, which man alone was unable to fulfil; therefore, God himself took the penalty of crucifixion(1).

Anselm's theory, which had a catalytic effect on the development of the entire western theology and culture(2), in fact transferred the decisive point of salvation from incarnation - and the whole of divine economy -to the specific moment of Jesus' death on the cross. From then on soteriology shifted away from Christology and became gradually a separate chapter of the dogmatic theology. However, this was not the way the early undivided church used to consider soteriology. In the golden age of patristic theology the soteriological problem was interrelated to the christological one. The early fathers answered the question of salvation in close relation to -in fact as a consequence of - the Christian doctrine of the nature, essence and energies of the second person of the Holy Trinity.

It is widely held that Christian theology with its classical extra nos pro nobis soteriology has played a decisive role in the establishment of our western culture, which was in fact due to the passive role the Christian Church played in the socio-politico-economical developments. But the Christian dogma of salvation depends very much upon the soteriological
statements and the interpretative references to Jesus' death, which are found in the corpus paulinum, especially in St. Ρaul's great epistles. Today the discussion about the extra nos - pro nobis concept has been reopened with a trend to question its validity or at least its centrality in the theology of St. Ρaul(3). Α number of Ν.Τ. scholars have tried in recent years to analyse the origin of the theological significance of Jesus' death(4). In my recent book Cross and Salvation(5) Ι try to illustrate that there was nο unanimity among the first Christians in regard to the interpretation of Jesus' death on the cross. In fact, there was a considerable variety of attempts to give a theological interpretation to Jesus' death(6). Beside the so-called "soteriological interpretation", according to which the raison d'être of Jesus' death on the cross was the salvation of mankind, one can count at least another four crystallised interpretative attempts, with which the early Christian community was trying to grasp the mystery of crucifixion. These are:

(a) The «prophetic» interpretation, traces of which are found in the earliest Pauline epistle (1 Thes. 2, 15 ), the Acts (7, 52 ), the Marcan tradition (cf. Mk 12, 1-12 par) and the Q-Document. According to this interpretation Jesus' death was given no expiatory significance: it was rather seen as the true continuation of the persecution, sufferings and violent end of the O.T. prophets.

(b) The «dialectic» interpretation, found in the earliest and most traditional strata of Acts (2,23ff; 2,32ff; 3,15; 4,10; 5,30; 10, 39f ) and the Pauline literature (1 Thes 4,14; Rom 8,34; 14,9a; 2 Cor 13,4); according to this interpretation Jesus' death is dialectically contrasted [J. Roloff calls it Kontrastschema(7)] to the resurrection with the stress on the latter, thus making no soteriological hint to the cross.

(c) The «apocalyptic» (or «eschatological») interpretation to be found in the synoptic passion predictions. Here, too, Jesus' death is referred to as having no soteriological significance, but was an eschatological act in full agreement with the divine plan.

Finally (d) the «eucharistic» or «covenantal» interpretation. The earliest layers of the eucharistic tradition both in Paul and the Synoptic Gospels seem to point to other than the expiatory significance of Jesus' death. His blood has rather sealed the new covenant which God established with the Christian church.

The almost unanimous preference in the later Ν.Τ. literature to the so-called «soteriological» interpretation does not reflect the plurality of the theological thinking of the first Christian generation. This fifth interpretative attempt of the early church can be surely traced back to the period before St. Paul's conversion (cf. 1 Cor.15, 3ff), which means that it was crystallised even during the first decade after the interpreted event. However, the lack of any reference in other prepauline strata of the early Christian tradition would suggest a limited usage in the early Christian community. On the other hand, the prophetic interpretation, traces of which are found in almost all layers of primitive Christianity (Q-community, Hellenistic community, marcan community, Pauline community), suggests that it was wide spread during this creative period. Nevertheless its complete absence from the later stages of the Ν.Τ. literature, as well as the establishment of the soteriological interpretation, point to a continuous development and re-interpretation of this most significant event of the divine economy in the early church. In my view, the predominant place the soteriological interpretation had in later Ν.Τ. literature is rather due to its Hellenistic background compared with the more of less Jewish background of all the other interpretations.

If we want to discover St. Paul's real contribution to the early Christian soteriology and grasp the true perspectives of his understanding of salvation, it is to the above sketched variety of interpretation of Jesus' death in the early church that we should turn our attention. It is worth noting that almost all pre-pauline interpretations of Jesus' death are hinted in the undisputed epistles of St. Paul. Our great apostle preserves, and to a certain extent accepts, all the traditional interpretations.
Not only does he refuse to reject some of the previous interpretations,
but as Ε. Käsemann rightly observes(8) he does not even show his preference to any of them, even to the soteriological one which no doubt seems to prevail in the corpus paulinum.

Α quick glance at the terminology used by St. Ρaul in his effort to clarify the special character of Jesus' death on the cross shows some slight change of the centre of gravity of the early Christian soteriology. There may be some objections as to the real meaning of the ransom terminology in Paul. One can even argue that it is not absolutely clear whether the sacrificial, the juridical, or the conciliatory terminology, with which the mystery of salvation is expressed in the pauline epistles, comes from St. Ρaul himself or expresses the faith of the first Christian community. What no one can deny is that the theological meaning attached to σταυρός and its cognates constitutes one of the most characteristic features of St. Paul's theology. The "word of the cross" has become for St. Paul
the decisive parameter that gave new perspective to the traditional understanding of Jesus' death, especially to the soteriological extra nos - pro nobis interpretation(9). This new perspective is determined by the significance (in the negative sense) which this capital punishment had in pre-christian time(10). It was St. Ρaul, who transformed
this most terrible; disgraced and humiliating symbol in contemporary roman society into the most significant (in the positive sense) element of the divine economy. In that sense is σταυρός the centre of the Pauline soteriology.

Ι will try in the short time of this communication to elucidate my thesis by examining the Pauline literature in the chronological order:

(a) In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul's earliest epistle, the variety of
the early Christian interpretation of Jesus' death is reflected in a clear way. It is quite significant that in this considerably short epistle at least three different references to Jesus' death can be discerned. The "prophetic" (v. 2,15), the "dialectic" (v. 4,14) and the "soteriological" interpretations (v. 5,10) are
occasionally used without any sign of preference from the author's side.
The conditions, which compelled St. Ρaul to write this gentle letter, did not create
the right presuppositions which would have demanded the unfolding of St. Paul's
theology of the cross(11). This happened only when later his various opponents
disputed his authority and the dogmatic basis of his Gospel.

(b) This was exactly the case with Galatians, in which the first clear signs of his theology of the cross began to show up. The term σταυρός acquires a theological significance, which characterises the quintessence of the Pauline gospel. It is for this reason that St. Paul boasts of nothing else but of "the cross of our Lord" (6,14). He had taken care that the Galatians "right before their eyes have a plain description of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross" (3,1). Το his opponents this was a scandal, especially in view of St. Paul's insistence that the gentiles were not obliged to keep the Mosaic Law (in this case circumcision). St. Paul accepted the scandal (cf. v. 5,11 "in that case the scandal of the cross has been removed") no matter whether this would entail persecution ("they are trying to force you to be circumcised only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (v. 6,12). It is worth noting that in the opening chapters of this epistle, namely before he enters his subject, St. Paul cites the prepauline soteriological interpretation (vv 1,4; 2,20f.). From that point onwards the cross of Christ becomes "measure
and criterion for the understanding of the entire divine economy"(12).

(c) Α nearly similar consideration of the soteriological problem under the spectrum of the Pauline theology of the cross faintly appears in the tender and emotional epistle to the Philippians(13). Despite the uncertainty with regard to the opponents confronted in this epistle, the enigmatic reference to the "enemies of the cross" (3,18) underlines the stauric background of St. Paul's teaching. This is more clearly indicated by his addition to the christological hymn in v. 2,8: "θανάτου δε σταυρού".
Even more significant for the soteriological problem is the reference to the
"κοινωνίαν των παθημάτων αυτού" (3,10). The phrase "«συμμορφιζόμενος τω
θανάτω αυτού" (ibid), which follows, is in fact a hermeneutical remark
to the pro nobis traditional formula. According to St. John Chrysostom this passage
refers to the daily suffering of the apostle and of all believers and can be correctly
understood, only if it is placed next to such passages as Rom 6,5; 2 Cor 4,10; Col 1,24 etc.(14). Dying with Christ constitutes the central locus of the Pauline ethics(15), which consequently means that the Pauline soteriology cannot be equated with the extra nos belief, which is being developed in some
quarters of our Christian society.

(d) The epistles, in which St. Paul clearly and beyond any doubt develops his soteriology on the basis of the theology of the cross, are those to the Corinthians. It is worth noting that in those chapters which deal with ordinary questions of the Christian community in Corinth, all the references to Jesus' death are taken from the traditional interpretations
(e.g. from ch. 5 of 1 Cor onwards; cf. 5,7; 8,11; 11,24; 15,3 etc.).
But whenever the apostle attacks opposite fronts (e.g.1 Cor 1-4; 2 Cor 10-13)
he draws argument from his theology of the cross. In 1 Cor he preaches
"Χριστόν εσταυρωμένον" (1,23), thus propounding his teaching of "λόγος ο του σταυρού"
(1,18). Ιn 2 Cor he draws the consequences of his theology of the cross for his
apostolic ministry and the life of all Christians. Again, in 1 Cor he contrasts the salvific
significance of σταυρός not only to σοφία but to the theologia gloriae for his opponents, who were breaking up on the one hand the unity between cross and resurrection(16) and on the other the organic relationship between cross and baptism, thus transferring to the past (in the baptism) the event of salvation(17). Ιn 2 Cor with his famous Peristasenkataloge he contrasts the arrogant theology and behaviour of the pseudo-apostles with Christ's voluntary humiliation on the cross and the suffering of the real apostles(18).

(e) The epistle to the Romans is rightly considered as the climax and the ultimate (by a considerable number of scholars even the last) theological contribution of St. Paul; the epistle that summarises in a systematic way his entire theological thinking. It is quite justified, therefore, the astonishment caused by the absence of the theology of the cross, at least to the extent it was so emphatically presented in his previous epistles. After all, the references to Jesus' death are all given with the use of pre-pauline confessional formulae (cf. 3,25; 4,25; 5,6.8; 8,32.34; 14,9.45 etc.). If we add to that the systematic exposition in this epistle of St. Paul's teaching on justification by faith sola gratia, we understand why so many Ν.Τ. scholars consider justification and not the cross as the centre and criterion of the entire Pauline theology. However, there is a convincing explanation for the absence of the cross terminology in Romans in that the epistle was addressed to an unknown community. Therefore, the apostle had to use traditional interpretations of Jesus' death. Ιn addition, nowhere do we find in Romans hints of christological juxtapositions from an opposite front, something that would have forced the apostle to draw upon his theology of the cross. The fact, however, that the cross terminology is lacking in the epistle does not mean that the theology of the cross itself is not discernible. In ch. 6 (1-11) on the basis of his teaching on Christ as the second Adam St. Ρaul draws the consequences of his stauric theology ("ο παλαιός ημών άνθρωπος συνεσταυρώθη ... του μηκέτι δουλεύειν ημάς τη αμαρτία" 6,6).

To sum up: the particularity of the Pauline soteriology lies on his understanding of Jesus' death, more precisely on his re-consideration of the traditional interpretations. In other words, the apostle, while accepting the traditional pluralistic interpretation of this greatest event of the earthly ministry of our Lord, any time his opponents (of judaising enthusiastic, or libertine tendency) challenged his Gospel, he re-interpreted the significance
of Jesus' death on the basis of his theology of the cross with all the socio-political
consequences this humiliating symbol connoted in contemporary roman society.


1. - For a comprehensive analysis of this influential theory of Anselm and a critique of his main thesis see Η. Kessler, Die theologische Bedeutung des Todes Jesu. Eine traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung, Düsseldorf 1970. Cf. also J. Ratzinger, Einführung in das Christentum. Vorlesungen über das Apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis, München 1968; and Η. Küng, Christ sein, München (2)1974, pp. 411 ff.

2. - Cf. Α. Sabatier, The Doctrine of the Atonement, eng. transl. London 1904, p. 69.

3. - Cf. among others Ο. Knoch, "Zur Diskussion über die Heilsbedeutung des Todes Jesu", Theologisches Jahrbuch 1977/78, Leipzig 1978 pp. 250 ff. for the catholic world and Ρ. Viering, Der Kreuzestod Jesu. Interpretation eines theologisches Gutachtens, Gutersloh 1969 for the German-speaking protestant world.

4. - Apart from the above mentioned work of Η. Kessler (n.1) cf. Κ. Kertelge (ed.), Der Tod Jesu. Deutungen im Neuen Testament, Freiburg 1976; (G. Delling, Der Kreuzestod Jesu in der urchristlichen Verkündigung, Göttingen 1972; Μ. Hengel, The Atonement. The Origins of the Doctrine in the New Testament, Philadelphia 1981. F.-J. Ortkemper, Das Kreuz in der Verkündigung des Apostels Paulus dargestellt an den Texten der paulinischen Hauptbriefe, Stuttgart 1967; J. Roloff, "Anfänge der soteriologischen Deutung des Todes Jesu (Mk Χ. 45 und Lk ΧΧΙΙ. 27)", NTS 19 (1972) pp. 38-64. Also M.-L. Gubler, Die frühesten Deutungen des Todes Jesu. Eine motivgeschichtliche Darstellung auf Grund der neueren exegetische Forschung, Fribourg 1977.

5. - ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΣΩΤΗΡΙΑ. Το σωτηριολογικό υπόβαθρο της παύλειας διδασκαλίας του σταυρού υπό το πρίσμα της προ-παύλειας ερμηνείας του θανάτου του Ιησού, Τhessaloniki 1983.

6. - Ibid. pp. 47 ff.

7. - Art. cit. (n. 4) p. 39.

8. - "Die Heilsbedeutung des Todes Jesu nach Paulus", F. Viering (ed.), Zur Bedeutung des Todes Jesu. Exegetische Beiträge, Gütersloh 1967 pp. 11-34.

9. - According to Κ. Kertelge ("Das Verständnis des Todes Jesu bei Paulus", Der Tod Jesu, pp. 114-136) "die Rede vom Kreuz bzw. vom Gekreuzigten ist bei Paulus nicht eine blosse Variierung der traditionellen Aussage vom Sühnetod Jesu, sondern in bestimmter Weise ihre Radikalisierung" (p. 125).

10. - Οn this Ι refer to the classical treatment by Η. Fulda, Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, Breslau 1878 and J. Blinder, Der Prozess Jesu, Regensburg(4)1969; cf. also Μ. Hengel, "Mors turpissima crucis. Die Kreuzigung in der antiken Welt und die ''Torheit" des "Wortes vom Kreuz", Rechtfertigung. Fest. für Ε. Käsemann, Tübingen 1976 pp. 25-84.

11. - Η. Kessler's view that the theologia crucis is not central in St. Paul's thinking depends to some extent on the absence of the cross terminology in 1 Thessalonians.

12. - Β. Stoyannos, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΝΟΜΟΣ. Η χριστοκεντρική θεώρησις του Νόμου εις την προς Γαλάτας επιστολήν του αποστόλου Παύλου, Thessaloniki 1976, p. 123.

13. - Some scholars take Philippians as the end product of St. Paul. Ι assume that it was written during his Ephesian imprisonment, but this does not affect my argument.

14. - PG 62, 240.

15. - J. Karawidopoulos, Αποστόλου Παύλου επιστολές προς Εφεσίους, Φιλιππησίους, Κολοσσαείς, Φιλήμονα, Thessaloniki 1981, p. 348.

16. - Cf. U. Wilckens, "Kreuz und Weisheit", KuD 3 (1957) pp. 77-108; S. Agouridis, Πρώτη πρoς Κορινθίους, Thessaloniki 1983 p. 78.

17. - Cf. U. Wilckens, Weisheit und Torheit. Eine exegetisch-religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zu 1 Kor 1 und 2, Tübingen 1959 pp. 20f.

18. - 2 Cor 4, 5-12; 6, 4-10; 11, 23-33; 12, 5 ff. Cf. W. Schrage, "Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton. Die Peristasenkataloge als Merkmale paulinischer theologia crucis und Eschatologie", ΕvΤ 34 (1974) pp. 141-171; Ε. Güttgemanns, Der leidende Apostel und sein Herr, Göttingen 1966.

19. - Cf. Ε. Käsemann, "Die Heilsbedeutung...", pp. 11 ff.

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