Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

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by Neil Godfrey

Previous posts in this series:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. — 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)
  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Each heading represents an argument Gene Miller addresses.

In 1 Cor 2:6-8 Pau’s “rulers” (archai) is a pesonalization of the spiritual powers “elemental spirits/principles” (stoicheia tou kosmou) in Col 2:20

Miller responds: Paul would be unlikely to use an ambiguous term (archai) that could mean either human or demonic authorities to indicate “elemental spirits”.

Comment: Such an assertion needs to be accompanied by a justification.

In Rom 13:1-7 Paul considers the Roman authorities to be “a providential and beneficent power” so he would not in 1 Cor 2:6-8 accuse them of being ignorant and crucifying Jesus. 

Miller responds: Paul’s view of Roman authorities is irrelevant since he believed it was the Jewish authorities who were responsible for crucifying Jesus. In support Miller cites Acts 13:27-29 and 1 Thes 2:14-15.

Comment: The author of Acts elsewhere portrays a view of Paul that is in stark contrast to the Paul of the letters. That author known as Luke appears to have been creating a Paul more suited to the “orthodoxy” of his day. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 is of very doubtful authenticity according to a number of scholars so cannot be relied upon as a sound basis for an argument.

I Cor 2:6 says the “rulers of this age” have a certain kind of wisdom, implying in a sense that they are more than human.

Miller responds: In this context, Paul has been speaking only of human wisdom. Ergo, the rulers of this age have a human wisdom and are therefore human. Compare 1:19, 20 where Paul speaks of the wise person, the scribe or teacher, the philosopher of this world.

Comment: Paul also speaks of the “wisdom of God” being found among humans. There is no reason to think that a certain type of wisdom (whether human or divine) must by necessity be found only in one realm among one type of being. Besides, there is no tradition that the philosophers and wise scribes etc crucified Jesus. It follows that there is no clear link between the wise philosophers etc and those “rulers” who crucified Jesus. There seems little reason to insist that wisdom opposed to divine wisdom must be confined exclusively to humans. (Besides, are humans really “rulers OF this age” or rather “rulers within this age”? That’s a grammatical point I would like to follow up.)

I also have a question about Paul’s double expression, “wisdom of this age OR of the rulers of this age”. The former phrase, wisdom of this age, certainly follows the previous discussion of wisdom among the wise men of the world but what do we make of Paul adding “or of the rulers of this age”? If he has already covered the wise and noble of this world who know only the “wisdom of this age” then why introduce “rulers of this age” as if they are an afterthought or an extra to be brought in at this point? If he has been talking about those nobly born, the philosophers, etc, then why not simply say that those same people crucified “the lord of glory”? Rather, one might find here room for an alternative interpretation of those who rule over this age with its mighty, noble, wise, philosophers, etc. Thus far I think it is a mistake to be dogmatic about rulers being a reference to earthly kings.

1 Cor 2:8 says that if the “rulers of this age” knew the “wisdom of God” they would not have crucified the lord of glory. Demonic powers would fit such a description since they were ignorant of both the plan of God and identity of Jesus (e.g. In both the Ascension of Isaiah and a writing of Ignatius we find that the angelic powers were indeed unaware of both the plan of God and the identity of Jesus.

Miller responds: The Gospel records clearly says that the demons did indeed recognize Jesus as “the Holy One of God and “the Son of God. Throughout Acts (3:17, 13:27) we also read that the human rulers were ignorant of both the plan of God and identity of Jesus and that is why they crucified him.

Comment: Again, the question is what Paul meant. Turning to significantly later texts that in some cases present a very different picture of Paul from the one we know in his letters will tell us what later persons believed or wanted others to believe, not what Paul himself meant.

Many commentators have pointed out that both Jewish and Hellenistic beliefs of the day held that supernatural powers lay behind the human world and its rulers (e.g. Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas). Some have connected this concept with gnostic views that were thought to be prevalent at the time. 

Miller responds: Even if some Jewish leaders were in ignorance of God’s plan and crucified Jesus, Paul would never have thought of the Jewish leaders as being under the say of demonic powers.

Even if some of the contemporary authorities of Judaism were blind to God’s plan and wisdom and were found to be in opposition to them (as indeed they were), this hardly warrants the thesis that Paul considered the Jewish religion as such to be the agent of a demonic power. On the contrary, Paul’s writings bear eloquent testimony that he had great respect and high regard for the Jewish religious covenant, the Law, and OT scriptures. They represented for him not the workings of a demonic power but the form of relationship between God and man. (Miller, p. 525)

Further, Miller notes that the rulers of 1 Cor 2:6-8 are not said to have any power over “the human soul”, are not said to be intrinsically evil in nature, are not said to have any spiritual power over humankind. Therefore we cannot think Paul is speaking of demons.

Comment: Miller is effectively saying that if Paul had written much more to explain in detail who he meant by “rulers of this age” then we would not be having this discussion. True enough, but beside the point.

Many scholars have followed Oscar Cullmann’s argument The State in the New Testament (1956) that in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Paul understands the “rulers of this age” to include both spiritual and human powers. Cullmann argued that we are to understand the passage implying that the demonic powers stood behind the earthly powers, influencing them. 

Miller responds: Miller points out that Cullmann points to the Gospel narratives to show that the earthly powers crucifying Jesus were ignorant of God’s plan and the identity of Jesus. Miller further says of Cullmann’s argument,

In the course of his discussion, Cullmann points out that Paul, on many occasions and probably always, uses the term exousiai to refer to supernatural powers. This makes it more likely than ever that Paul in this passage refers only to human authorities.

Comment: Again, the gospels and Acts are often at odds with the content of Paul’s letters and, being written after the time of Paul, cannot be used as a guide to what Paul himself originally understood. As for the second point Miller makes of Cullmann’s discussion, it is apparent that he has in fact misread Cullmann. Cullmann’s discussion centres around Romans 13:1-7 where Paul uses the word exousiai to refer to the earthly state power of Rome. Cullmann’s whole argument depends upon Paul understanding that the word can and does apply to both spiritual as well as human authorities.

Further, even in the famous passage in Romans 13:1ff Paul uses a Greek expression exousiai  [translated powers]) which, exactly like the designation, “rulers of this world,” refers in profane Greek indeed to the earthly authorities, the State, but at the same time means to Jewish readers “invisible powers.” Paul does not write: “Let every man be subject to the State!” He does mean the State, to be sure. But he writes: “Let every man be subject to the powers that be!” The Greek word for powers which stands here, exousiai, Paul uses in every other passage (and he speaks of them often) to refer to invisible angelic powers and forces. There is not a single other Pauline passage where Paul means anything else than angelic powers by this word in its plural form. The paragraph, Romans 13:1ff, obviously speaks of the State. And it is self-evident that Paul also knows that the word means “State” in profane Greek, just as he knows in I Cor. 2:8 that the word used there means “earthly rulers.” But it is then quite likely that in Romans 13:1ff as well Paul has in mind that the State which we are to affirm as an institution is the effective agent of those invisible powers. The word powers, then, exactly like the word “rulers” in I Cor. 2:8 has a double meaning. It means here at once “angelic powers” and “State.” (Cullmann, p. 64. Bolding is added by me to draw attention to what Miller missed in his reading of Cullmann.)

(This is yet the latest in a very long train of examples that demonstrate the need to always check the sources cited for oneself. Never assume that the one citing another work is doing so accurately.)

In other words, the Greek words for “powers” and “rulers” could be, and were, used for authorities in general and it was the context indicated whether they were spiritual or human.


The above points cover Miller’s arguments for the “rulers” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 being human authorities. He adds another point in support of his conclusion:

In vs. 6, the “rulers” are described as ton katargoumenōn, those who are “being brought to an end,” “doomed to perish,” “brought to ineffectiveness or nothing.” This description is certainly applicable to those who trusted in their own “human wisdom” and plans and so knew nothing of God’s. Godet is in all probability correct in saying that this term, rather than being connected with the nearness of the parousia (Meyer) or with God’s unchangeable decree (Ruckert), refers to the actual fact, “as the power of the Gospel increases on earth, the representatives of human wisdom lose their dominion, which will end by escaping from their hands altogether.” (Miller, p. 526, citing Godet, p. 7, 136My bolding.)

Comment: There was nothing in Paul’s day to indicate that the philosophers and state rulers were “being brought to an end”. They continued with the same power as they always had as Paul well knew. Paul did not foresee their demise until the time of the end. Meanwhile there was no diminishing of their power “as the gospel spread”. Paul elsewhere speaks of unremitting hardship that the earthly powers continue to inflict upon him and his converts. Earthly powers will come to an end only with the final apocalypse. Satanic powers will also suffer their final fate at that future time but nonetheless there is a sense in which these dark spiritual powers are right now “being brought to an end” of their power over humanity. I quote from the same book by D.E.H. Whiteley that Miller also cited to illustrate the point. (Whiteley, like Miller,  includes Colossians as a genuine Pauline epistle, but there is rarely any doubt expressed about Galatians.)

(h) The fate of the Evil Powers

I have failed to find a single passage in St. Paul’s writings where ‘demonic forces’ as opposed to ‘personal’ demons are referred to which does not say either (1) that these forces have been overcome or (2) that they will be overcome or (3) that they are something which the Christian ought to have ‘grown out of’, apart from Col. i. 16, which makes it clear that all these powers were created through Christ and for Him.

That a victory has already been achieved is made clear in Gal. i. 3-4. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for our sins, to rescue us out of this present age of wickedness,’ if we are correct in seeing here a reference to demonic forces at all. No such doubt arises with Gal. iv. 3f, ‘During our minority we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe but. . . God sent his own son .. . to purchase freedom for the subjects of the law’. The thought is continued in Gal. iv. 8. We read in Col. i. 13, ‘He rescued us from the domain of darkness and brought us away into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom our release (apolutrosis, sometimes rendered “redemption”) is secured,’ in Col. ii. 15, On that cross he discarded the cosmic powers and authorities like a garment,’ and in Col. ii. 20, ‘Did you not die with Christ and pass beyond reach of the elemental spirits of the world?’ These passages have been quoted in full to underline the obvious, but supremely important fact that the victory already achieved over the forces of evil is closely bound up with the cross of Christ.

This past victory on the part of Christ has moral and spiritual repercussions for those who are Christians; in view of Christ’s victory, asks St. Paul in Gal. iv. 9, ‘How can you turn back to the mean and beggarly spirits of the elements?’ The same sentiment is repeated in Col. ii. 8, 18.

Christ has already won a victory over evil spirits at the cross, and He is destined to win another at the Second Coming. This is clear from Rom. xvi. 20, ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan beneath your feet,’ 1 Cor. vi. 3, ‘We are to judge angels,’ 1 Cor. xv. 24, ‘Then comes the end, when he delivers up the kingdom of God the Father, after abolishing every kind of domination, authority, and power,’ and Phil. ii. 10, ‘At the name of Jesus every knee should bow—in heaven, on earth, and in the depths.’

The ‘past’ victory is stressed, without reference to the cross, at Eph. i. 20-23 (where the resurrection is mentioned), ii. 1-2 and iii. 10-12. A further victory by Christians through Christ’s power, over evil spirits is the theme of Eph. vi. 10-19.

(Whiteley, pp. 29-30 – my bolding)


Cullmann, O., 1956. The State in the New Testament. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.

Miller, G., 1972. “ΑΡΧΟΝΤΩΝ ΤΟΥ ΑΙΩΝΟΣ ΤΟΥΤΟΥ — A New Look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-8.” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, 522–528.

Whiteley, D.E.H., 1964. The Theology of St. Paul. Blackwell, Oxford.

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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8”

  1. I believe that this whole debate exist cause we do not consider the similarities between Jewish laws and Athenian laws and in extend the Roman laws. Gmirkin’s “Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible” settled this. Even if someone do not agree with Gmirkin’s point of view, that the writers of the O.T. used the Athenian and Platonic laws, the fact of the similarities cannot be denied.
    Romans 13:1-7 makes this fact clear.
    In general Romans is all about this, how god passed the wisdom and how this wisdom was transformed by people cause they had no faith to him.
    So in the end seems like that we misunderstood Paul’s misunderstanding.
    And we created demons in this case.

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