Previous posts in this series:
- Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
- Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
- Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
This post sets out the weaknesses that Robert Ewusie Moses (REM: not to be confused with a rock band or type of sleep) sees in the prevailing view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified Jesus Christ is a reference to human authorities. REM’s discussion is found in his doctoral thesis, Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited (pages 123-131).
Argument: the gospels inform us that the demonic powers did know who Jesus was so the rulers of this age who crucified Jesus because of ignorance (1 Cor. 2:6-8) could not be these spiritual powers
Suddenly, they screamed, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Did you come here to torture us before the proper time?” — Matthew 8:29
“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” — Mark 1:24
He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. However, he wouldn’t allow the demons to speak because they knew who he was. — Mark 1:34
Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they would fall down in front of him and scream, “You are the Son of God!” — Mark 3:11
“Oh, no! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” — Luke 4:34
Even demons came out of many people, screaming, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus rebuked them and ordered them not to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah. — Luke 4:41
The above argument is Gene Miller’s [see previous posts for details] but before Miller, REM notes, Julius Schniewind argued the same:
that while Paul may have believed that the devil stood behind Jesus’ opponents, the view that the rulers of this age are spiritual powers cannot be maintained because it would put Paul in tension with the Synoptic Gospels, which portray demonic spirits as recognizing the identity of Jesus.
(REM, p. 124)
As an aside I may interject to point out that we first encounter this argument in Tertullian’s attack on Marcion who did argue that the “rulers of this age” were angelic forces.
The most fundamental objection to the above argument is its fundamental logical or methodological error. It is not valid to interpret the original meaning of a document written around 50 CE according to other ideas and stories that were extant a generation later. But that aside….
REM’s Objection #1
Paul’s views were opposed to a number of mainstream positions in the early church (e.g. law; gentile inclusion). Paul was a contentious figure. So that Paul would disagree with gospels or early church is not remarkable.
REM’s Objection #2
Interpreting “rulers of this age” as earthly authorities still leaves us with contradictions against the gospel narratives. Just like the demons, some earthly authorities are presented as knowing who Jesus was. Recall the Roman centurions in Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10 and Mark 15:39.
Thus, we are trapped in the very pit that this interpretation seeks to escape. (REM, p. 126)
Again if I may be allowed to interject a detail in REM’s case, there is also Jesus’ parable in Mark 12:1-12. Some maybe object to this evidence because it is a parable, but even so, it is surely a very pointed parable as I try to highlight here:
12 Then Jesus began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went abroad. 2 At the right time, he sent a servant to the farmers to collect from them a share of the produce from the vineyard. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 Again, the man sent another servant to them. They beat the servant over the head and treated him shamefully. 5 Then the man sent another, and that one they killed. So it was with many other servants. Some of these they beat, and others they killed. 6 He still had one more person to send, a son whom he loved. Finally, he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those farmers told one another, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ 8 So they grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 “Now what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, execute the farmers, and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you ever read this Scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
12 They were trying to arrest him but were afraid of the crowd. Realizing that he had spoken this parable against them, they left him alone and went away.
REM’s Objection #3
Also important is the recognition that the ignorance about which Paul speaks does not concern the “identity” of Jesus. As the context of the passage suggests, the ignorance concerns the cross as the locus for the manifestation of God’s power. The rulers of this age could not see God’s power in the event of utter degradation and weakness. Consequently, the rulers could not discern that the cross would be the site of their own undoing. If they had known this, they would not have crucified “the Lord of glory.”
(REM, pp. 126-27)
REM suggests that some scholars who adhere to the earthly authorities interpretation of “rulers of this age” do so in order to short circuit any possibility of gnosticism in Paul. However, as REM notes, there is not need for such a concern since those gnostic myths (including the events in the Ascension of Isaiah) also point to the demons’ failure to recognize who Jesus was as he descended to earth. But that’s not the ignorance Paul is addressing in 1 Cor 2:6-8.
REM’s Objection #4
See James Robinson, The Problem of History in Mark and Other Marcan Studies (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982 ) 91-4; Susan R. Garrett, The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). Robinson and Garrett argue convincingly that human opposition to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is an extension of demonic opposition. See also J. Marcus’ demonic interpretation of the sudden shift in the crowd’s stance towards Jesus and cosmic darkness at the death scene in Mark 8-16 (AB 27A; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) 1036-37; 1061-64. It may well be that Mark is an interpreter of Paul (see Marcus, “Mark — Interpreter of Paul,” NTS 46  473-87; cf. C. Black, “Christ Crucified in Paul and Mark: Reflections on an Intracanonical Conversation,” in Theology and Ethics in Paul and His Interpreters: Essays in Honor of Victor Paul Furnish [ed. Eugene H. Lovering and Jerry L. Sumney; Nashville: Abingdon, 1996] 184-206). If so, then our reading is corroborated by one of the earliest interpretations of Paul’s theology. As we hope to show, the author of Ephesians is another early interpreter of Paul who gives support to our reading. . . .
(I have read Robinson’s Problem of History in Mark but not the others set out here. After I catch up with more of those I may post some of the details of this interpretation of the Gospel of Mark.)
The gospels may not contradict the idea that it was demonic powers who crucified Jesus if we look at them more closely. The Gospel of Mark strongly appears to present all of Jesus’ encounters with demons, his debates with the Jewish leaders, his controversies aroused over his healings, his conflicts with his disciples, his final Passion, as part of a grand cosmic drama in which demons have been trying to destroy Jesus from the outset. All of those trials are portrayed as “temptations”, that is, as attacks by the demonic world. Jesus’ career begins with the earthly setting blurred out after his baptism as he is moved centre stage and communes with a divine voice from heaven and is thrust to the wilderness by the spirit to encounter Satan. The same language of temptation and trial continues throughout the gospel. See the side-box for REMs supporting references.
REM’s Objection #5
Paul never identifies Roman authorities as the executioners of Jesus. At best, as we see in Romans 13:1-7, the Roman authorities are subordinate and derivative of God’s power and not acting independently of God’s authority anyway.
REM’s Objection #6
If Paul meant Jewish authorities then we have run up against context of the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians since up to 2:6 Paul has categorized the Jews as those who are opposed to the earthly wisdom. Wisdom is the prized possession of the Greeks; the Jews want to see power, a sign. So it does not follow that in 1 Cor 2:6-8 that Paul is suddenly faulting the wisdom of the Jews.
REM’s Objection #7
A number of commentators have pointed to Acts 13:27-29
27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their leaders, not knowing who Jesus was, condemned him and so fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Although they found no reason to sentence him to death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had finished doing everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and placed him in a tomb.
But the argument that Paul could be speaking of Jewish leaders and of the ignorance of the identity of Jesus see objections #3 and #6 above.
REM further points out in another section that it is evident that Luke (as the author of Acts) appears to have misunderstood Paul’s views numerous times. He is not a reliable interpreter of Paul.
“The Rulers of this Age” as both Human and Spiritual Powers
Some scholars have argued that Paul’s “rulers of this age” embraced both the spiritual and earthly authorities. Against this view REM points to the above weaknesses and problems with the view that human authorities could be included at all.
Continuing — next, a look at REM’s argument that the “rulers of this age” are best understood as spiritual rulers.
Moses, R.E., 2012. Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited (Doctor of Theology). Divinity School of Duke University.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!