I was rereading this previous post about what Paul knew of Jesus’s life. And it occurred to me, I’d missed a significant feature of Paul’s writing. Paul consistently and insistently makes clear that Jesus was crucified.
We’re used to reading ‘cross’ and ‘crucifixion’ symbolically, as abstract ideas, and Paul uses it that way too. But would that have been its rhetorical impact on the early Jesus movement? I doubt it. It would have been as visceral as ‘lethal injection’ or ‘electric chair’, and as odd and gruesome too. But I also think that such a specific reference to the method of execution should be seen as biographical too. Jesus didn’t just die – he was electrocuted to death on an electric chair.
Put like that, it is harder to read as an abstract feature of a mythological Jesus. I find it very hard to read Paul as believing in an entirely celestial Jesus. It sounds biographical.
So I decided to put this change of words into the relevant NT verses (tr. based on NRSV):
1 Cor 1:17,18 — For Christ did not send me to baptise but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the Electric Chair of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the Electric Chair is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Cor 1:24 — But we proclaim Christ Electrocuted, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.
1 Cor 2:2 — For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him Electrocuted.
1 Cor 2:8 — None of the rulers of this age understood this: for if they had, they would not have put the Lord of Glory in the Electric Chair.
Gal 3:1 — You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as executed by Electric Chair.
Gal 5:11 — Why am I still being persecuted, if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case, the offense of the Electric Chair has been removed.
Gal 6:12,14 — It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the Electric Chair of Christ. May I never boast of anything except the Electric Chair of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been electrocuted to me, and I to the world.
Phil 2:6-8 — [Christ Jesus] who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death in an Electric Chair.
Phil 3:18 — For many live as enemies of the Electric Chair of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.
Is it helpful to put these passages in these terms? Do you agree that they are too specific to be seen as anything other than biographical: claims about an earthly death of an earthly man?