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Paul the Suffering Servant

In my forthcoming book I note that Paul sees himself as a “Suffering Servant” (Isaiah) after the model of Jesus. In Romans 15:21 Paul quotes from Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song, the famous “Song of the Suffering Servant” (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) and applies it to his own ministry. Luke presents him in the same way in Acts, which is one of the many reasons we have for believing that the author of Luke-Acts really was one of Paul’s co-workers.

He is a servant, suffering for Jews and for Gentiles.

These observations aren’t uniquely mine, of course. I recently dipped into a new commentary on 1 Corinthians and was pleased to see Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa make the same case, but apply it to Paul’s mission. Relying on Hafemann and others, they discuss the role of suffering at the heart of Paul’s identity and mission. Because of his self-conception as a “suffering servant” as described in Isaiah, Paul can tie his ministry to the good news of the breaking in of God’s kingdom as promised in that same OT book:

Paul in his own person takes on the prophetic role of Israel—he is the light to the nations, the bringer of salvation.

Paul’s task of proclamation, therefore, is not the mere rehearsal of past facts. God is bringing to pass, through Paul, the eschatological fulfillment of salvation history. Just as the new eschatological age has already dawned with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so it is currently breaking in to the old age through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s message is not idle chatter or some good news ideas; it is apocalyptic power (1 Cor. 4:20). As Paul proclaims and lives out ‘Christ crucified,’ all the structures of human existence are transformed, human pride is judged, and salvation comes to those who believe (1 Cor 7:17-25; cf. 1 Thes 1:5)….Paul sees himself as not only proclaiming but also actively bringing about, the new age of God’s direct rule over the cosmos in both judgment and salvation.

The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Eerdmans, 2010) p. 12