Friday, September 28, 2007

The Afflictions of Christ: Part 3

Here is the third installment in my debate with "daveskia" on the meaning of Col 1:24. See also Parts 1 and 2.
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pc, u said, "Paul suffered as a minister of the gospel...."
below, i said Paul suffered for being a Christian, which includes all of his preaching, etc. which is in accordance to what Jesus told him in Acts 9:16, "...for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." (NASB)
so i think we agree there.
Great!
obviously, the issue at hand is what does "lacking" mean?
Here's Matthew Henry's take on it.
"He was a suffering preacher: Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, v. 24. He suffered in the cause of Christ, and for the good of the church. He suffered for preaching the gospel to them. And, while he suffered in so good a cause, he could rejoice in his sufferings, rejoice that he was counted worthy to suffer, and esteem it an honour to him.
I tentatively agree. I'm sure that Paul is happy to be considered worthy to suffer for the spreading of the Gospel. But, in this passage, he is happy for a different reason.

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake...." (Col 1:24). In other words, b/c of the needs of the people, he rejoices in his suffering. But why? Why is it necessary to rejoice in his suffering? Why not begrudgingly suffer, or half-heartedly suffer? Because suffering in that way will not build up the Body. God only rewards good works done willfully and in charity. So, Paul rejoices in his sufferings b/c it is only joyful suffering that will benefit the Body and he is intent on building it up.
And fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh. Not that the afflictions of Paul, or any other, were expiations for sin, as the sufferings of Christ were. There was nothing wanting in them, nothing which needed to be filled up. They were perfectly sufficient to answer the intention of them, the satisfaction of God’s justice, in order to the salvation of his people.
Again, I tentatively agree, but I don't want to derail this thread so we'll just leave it at that. What's important here is what Henry says next about the meaning of "making up for what is lacking":
But the sufferings of Paul and other good ministers made them conformable to Christ; and they followed him in his suffering state: so they are said to fill up what was behind of the sufferings of Christ, as the wax fills up the vacuities of the seal, when it receives the impression of it.
Or it may be meant not of Christ’s sufferings, but of his suffering for Christ. He filled that which was behind. He had a certain rate and measure of suffering for Christ assigned him; and, as his sufferings were agreeable to that appointment, so he was still filling up more and more what was behind, or remained of them to his share.
What Henry seems to be saying here is that, like the wax, which conforms or becomes more like the seal by filling up the spaces in it, Paul conforms or becomes more like Christ by suffering more. In other words, it is not Christ's suffering that is lacking but Paul's suffering.

I think the key to understanding Col 1:24 in that way is in the translation of the Greek as "fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" (KJV), instead of the more common translation, "complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (NAS, ASV, ESV, NIV, NRSV, RSV, etc.). The same Greek word, husterema, is used in both instances.

If you translate it the way the KJV does, then it takes on the meaning of something being behind Christ's afflictions, catching up to them or trying to be more like them. This allows Henry to then say that the "that" that is behind Christ's afflictions is Paul's afflictions and that Paul has not yet suffered as much as God wills him to suffer, so as to conform Paul more to the Crucified Christ.

I like that image, I really do, and I believe in it. But I don't think that is the intended meaning. It seems that the KJV translators have translated husterema in this peculiar way so as to avoid the hard truth that there is something truly lacking in the afflictions of Christ. In every other instance in the KJV of the word husterema, it is translated as "which is lacking" (1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 11:9; 1 Thes 3:10), "lack" (Phil 2:30), or "want" (2 Cor 8:14; 9:12; 11:9) and "penury" (Lk 21:4), which are states of lacking. So, to translate husterema in Col 1:24 as "which is behind of" is very peculiar to me.

In every other old and modern translation of the Bible that is available online--and I mean every single one--Col 1:24 is translated either as "fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" or "complete what still remains in (or "of") the afflictions of Christ." I do not think that we should base our understanding of the passage on a single, idiosyncratic translation. In the more common translation, it is easier to see that the "lack" is in Christ's afflictions, not Paul's, and so we must figure out some way of acknowledging this lack while still upholding the complete sufficiency of Christ's work on the Cross.

The traditional Catholic interpertation--the one I have been presenting in this thread--solves this problem, and it is the only understanding I have seen that does not try to explain away Paul's words, and that is in harmony with the context of the passage and Paul's words in other places about the benefit of suffering for the entire Body.

In short, my argument is this:
  • Christ's work on the Cross is completely sufficient, insofar as the "objective redemption" is concerned. In other words, he won all the grace necessary to save mankind.
  • Christ's work on the Cross is "lacking" in the sense that it won the grace, but it did not instantly apply that grace to us. The grace of the Cross must still be applied to us somehow. Jesus spilled His Blood, but we still need to be washed in it. This "application," this "washing" is called the "subjective redemption."
  • Paul makes up for this lack, or put another way, Paul insures that the grace of the Cross is applied to us, by suffering.
  • This says something about individual suffering, that when you take it up willingly and joyfully, when you "rejoice in it" for the sake of others, this good work of yours results in the grace of the Cross being applied to other members of the Body.
That is my argument, and it follows directly from the Scriptures.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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