Posts in this series:
A crucified Christ is a dead Christ, isn’t he? Is that what Paul and the other Apostles preached – a dead Christ, who died for our sins? Certainly not! Ponder Paul’s words in 1Cor.15:12-19. Here’s v.17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Why “futile”? Because faith is personal trust, and we place our trust in a living Person, not a dead Christ, or a mere proposition.
As we have seen, the cutting edge of their gospel message was the declaration that Jesus is Lord, with the command, “Repent therefore, and put your trust in him.” Why then does Paul, in 1Cor.1:23 and 2:2 affirm that he preached “Christ crucified“? Why does he challenge the Galatians (3:1-2),
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
While ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing’ (A. Pope – see here), a little knowledge of Greek can help us here.
With NT Greek verbs, there are various ‘tenses’ or ‘kinds of action.’ For example, the ‘present tense’ in Greek denotes actions that are in progress, or are repeated. The ‘aorist tense’ refers to actions that took place at a point of time, or which are considered as completed.
In 1Cor.1:23, 2:2, and in Gal.3:2, the verb ‘crucified’ is the ‘perfect tense.’ What kinds of action does this ‘tense’ describe? According to one Greek grammar book (Blass-DeBrunner-Funk, §318(4)), the perfect denotes “a condition or state as the result of a past action.” Another writer (Stanley E. Porter) says that the perfect depicts “the action as reflecting a given (often complex) state of affairs.”
What does this mean for our interpretation of the verb “crucified,” which is in the ‘perfect tense’? We might put it, very awkwardly (!) like this: “Christ crucified” means “Christ, who is now in the state or condition of having been crucified in the past” (Phew!).
Why doesn’t Paul use a simple ‘past tense’ (ie. aorist)? Because he wishes to emphasise the ongoing reality of Christ’s death for us, and its role as a model for our discipleship. The gospel message is that Jesus Christ is Lord right now – he is alive from the dead, and reigning over all for his church!
Preaching ‘Christ-crucified’ does NOT mean preaching the cross, or the atonement, as the heart of the gospel. It means preaching the Risen Christ and the call to faith in him, and to a life of self-denying discipleship together as his people.