- Where, O Death (θάνατε), is your victory (τὸ νῖκος)? Where, O Death, is your sting (κέντρον)? 56 The sting of death (τὸ κέντρον τοῦ θανάτου) is sin (ἁμαρτία), and the power of sin (ἡ δύναμις τῆς ἁμαρτίας ) is the law (ὁ νόμος). But thanks be to God who gives to us victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!
|Chariot Racing from a 510 BC Attic Hydria|
The κέντρον or horse's goad (circled in yellow)
image credit: wikipedia commons
In the mythic world of the Aeneid, it was the furies who held whips, goads, and other weapons to torture and punish wrong-doers. But in 1 Cor 15:55, Death itself holds the κέντρον. The vocative θάνατε personifies Death, and Paul taunts Death as the last enemy. Or, as Garland puts it, "does Paul picture death wielding a goad in its hand to rule over humans and torture them?" (Garland, 1Cor, p. 745). Is Death a military general, believing it has victory (τὸ νῖκος) at hand (because of Adam's fall), but only to find its victory stripped away, disarmed of its ability to torture and goad humanity any more, because of Christ's death and resurrection? Here is my interpretative translation of 1 Cor 15:55-57 once more:
- Where, O Death, you last of the apocalyptic superpowers, is your victory? You were robbed of your victory by Christ's death and resurrection. Where, O Death, is your ability to torture and punish humanity? Where is your sting? 56 It used to be that Sin could torture, goad, and punish humanity as Death's ally. Sin is the sting which culminates in death. The Law gave sin its power and authority to accuse humanity for failing to observe the commandments. 57 But not any more! Thanks be to God who through the cross and resurrection of Christ removes the sting from death by providing forgiveness for sin and vindicates believers at the resurrection by overcoming their death with new life.
In my next post, I will compare the Philodemus text on the "sting" and "bite" of death with Paul's reference to death's goad here in 1 Cor 15. While it is possible that the lexemes τὸ νύττεσθαι and δηγμὸν used by Philodemus are synonymous with the way Paul employs the word κέντρον, there are also very clear differences. But for now, we can simply all be challenged by Paul's taunt against stingless Death and his unwavering confidence in what God had done through Christ.