A socio-rhetorical interpretation of Paul’s theology of Christian suffering of 1 Corinthians
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This dissertation is a socio-rhetorical investigation of Paul’s theology of Christian suffering in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s undisputed Letters offer seven lists of his suffering (see 1 Cor 4:9-13; 2 Cor 4:8-9; 6:4-5, 8-10; 11:23-29; Rom 8:35; Phil 4:12) and on numerous other occasions in his Letters he mentions that he has suffered, is suffering or anticipates suffering (e.g. 1 Cor 9:24-27; 15:31). The question arises as to how Paul understood his suffering. Paul’s theology of suffering begins with a loving God, who is always seeking a relationship with creation. However, his people often reject it, alienating themselves from him in a sinful world. The coming of Christ is the returning point. Through Christ’s sacrificial service of others (1 Cor 4:9-13, 16; 6:12-20; 9:19-27; 11:1; 15:31) humanity is offered a new relationship/union that is ontological, spousal, spiritual and participatory (1 Cor 6:12-20). By appropriating Jewish Passover remembrance theology, Paul holds that followers of Christ may enter this union through the symbolic remembrance theology and rituals of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:17-34). This new union is a participation in Christ’s life, mission, death, resurrection and exaltation. Living out this union, working towards creation’s salvation (1 Cor 9:19-27) is a mission of sacrificial, suffering service: in 1 Corinthians Paul speaks of suffering always in mission-related contexts (1 Cor 4:9-13; 9:19-27; 15:31). As a ‘life-giving spirit’ (1 Cor 15:45-49), Paul is gifted by the Spirit for his mission (1 Cor 12:1—14:40). Paul/each believer, in union with Christ and empowered by the Spirit, reconciles others with God: they are God’s “workers,” “builders,” “partners,” (1 Cor 3:9, 10; 9:23). Their sacrificial mission is an expression of God’s love at work (1 Cor 13:8— 14:1): they are sacraments of God’s love. Paul and believers are continuing God’s salvific mission that is guaranteed success (1 Cor 15:58). Ultimately, the believer’s suffering (redefined as the selfless, sacrificial service of others in the promotion of God’s Plan) has positive, salvific meaning and value: the believer participates in God’s plan to “save others” (1 Cor 9:19-23).
Theology of Christian suffering