Participation and Paul’s Understanding of Suffering

So, as I’ve stated before, I’m currently working on an essay that examines Ignatius’ suffering in light of Pauline suffering. To do this, I have to clearly articulate what we learn about Paul’s understanding of suffering from his letters. Right now, I’m trying to think of texts to examine this. Philippians will definitely play a large role in my construction, but 2 Corinthians will also likely play a big role. There also seem to be little germs spread out in other letters where suffering isn’t an explicit theme, like Romans 8:17, Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 3:13, Galatians 6:17, and throughout Thessalonians.

Baptism seems to play a large part in Paul’s theology of suffering. In baptism, we participate in the passion, the death and resurrection of Christ. In baptism, we have been “crucified with Christ,” (Gal 2:20), and are “clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27). Paul goes into more depth in Romans. In understanding suffering, I think we have to understand the participation language in Paul, and not simply think in forensic terms like Protestants typically do. That’s to say that while there is a large amount of legal terminology in Paul, where something is done by God for the sinner, there’s also quite a bit of participation language in Paul. When taken into account, this means that the sufferings of Christ are not only something done for us, but also something which we ourselves participate in to some degree. This is seen in Philippians 3, among other places, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Of course, the justification language in Paul is very important as well, but I don’t think we’ll correctly understand Paul’s ethics, and especially his views on suffering, without understanding the participation of the believer in Christ.


2 thoughts on “Participation and Paul’s Understanding of Suffering

  1. Alex,

    You’re right. We need to heed more attention to the participationist aspect of Paul. I think ignoring this side of Paul has led us to misread a lot of what he had to say.

  2. Yeah, it certainly seems that the early fathers read Paul in those terms. From what I understand, justification by faith doesn’t really get written about much until Augustine. The basic protestant default seems to be that the early fathers read the New Testament wrong. I’d rather start with the opposite assumption, that they had many advantages in reading the NT that we don’t. Most spoke Greek as their first language and lived in a culture that was a lot more like the 1st century than ours (or the reformers).

    Of course, nobody is perfect. I just wanna give Paul’s earliest interpreters the benefit of the doubt :-)

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