The strength of weakness, the wisdom of foolishness: A theological study of Paul's 'theologia crucis'

David Reid Nichols, Marquette University


Studies of Paul's theology of the cross have tended to emphasize comparison with other theological topics within his thought. While developmental studies have been written for almost every conceivable Pauline theological topic, little attention has been paid to the historical development of the theologia crucis in the Pauline epistles. The thesis of the dissertation is: the theologia crucis of the Apostle Paul is a product of an historical development which can be understood by using the passage I Corinthians 1:18-25 as an anchoring point; from there an examination of other selected Pauline passages can proceed chronologically in both directions. The author advances three main lines of argumentation in support of the thesis. The first (Chapter 1) develops the proposition that Paul responded to the Corinthian errors with dialectical statements based on his own interpretation of scripture. The second (Chapter 2), sets forth the position that the justification and eschatology teachings of the epistle to the Romans are derivatives of theologia crucis, and thus I Corinthians is the better source for Paul's teaching on the cross itself because of its paradoxical description of the cross. The third (Chapter 3) places Paul's interaction with the Corinthians in the chronological context of five other Pauline epistles, and shows that the cross had other meanings for Paul both before and after I Cor 1:18-25. This study establishes the probable chronological relationship among the selected Pauline epistles, and then examines the specific cross passages in each epistle in turn. In this way it is possible to detect a development over time in Paul's pastoral application and theological description of the cross. The results of the study are that Paul used the genuine paradox "Christ crucified" in the several situations of the epistles to combat false practices and false doctrines. "Christ crucified," under Paul's theological genius, produces (1) an affirmation of suffering, (2) appreciation for scandalon and moria, (3) strength through weakness, (4) life through death, and (5) the necessity of imitating Jesus.

Recommended Citation

Nichols, David Reid, "The strength of weakness, the wisdom of foolishness: A theological study of Paul's 'theologia crucis'" (1992). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9227132.