Excerpt from Robert Hamerton-Kelly's Sacred Violence: Paul's Hermeneutic of the Cross, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992, pp. 65-71.

The Cross as a Metonymy
of the Gospel

Although he can speak of the death of Christ without referring to the Cross (e.g., Rom 5:6ff.; 6:3ff.), Paul's characteristic references make the Cross a symbol of the whole gospel. It is a symbol of the saving power of the death of Christ, a metonymy of the gospel. The metonymy presents the gospel under two aspects: as given by God and as received by us.

As given by God, the gospel is the benefits of the work of Christ, and the Cross is a summary symbol of these benefits. (1) The phrase "Cross of Christ"(stauros Christou) describes the power of the gospel that can be drained away if it is proclaimed as a human wisdom (1 Cor 1:17). This power opposes those who base their conduct on the principles of greed and rivalry (Phil 3:18), and who boast in the privilege of Jewish exclusiveness (Gal 6:12, 14). We may also include in this metonymic category the texts that identify Jesus as "the crucified" (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2; Gal 3:1), as well as some of the texts that use the verb stauroun. The fact that Christ was crucified for us is the basis of the Christian community (1 Cor 1:13). The fact that the powers crucified him exposed their reign of violence (1 Cor 2:8). Philippians 2:8 is especially noteworthy because it interprets the Cross as the symbol of the non-acquisitiveness of Christ, his willingness to give up even the divine equality rather than to grasp it possessively. Paul recommends this non-acquisitiveness as the moral pattern for life in the community (cf. 2 Cor 13:4; Gal 5:24). Thus the Cross stands for the power of the gospel that comes from beyond the structures of the Sacred formed by acquisitive and conflictual mimesis.

To receive the gospel is to be "crucified with Christ" (Christo synestauromai -- Gal 2:19; Rom 6:6), that is, to identify mimetically with the crucified. This suggests that Paul's conversion was an experience in which the fact of the crucifixion was of determinative importance. He understood the sacred violence of Judaism suddenly in the experience that we, not inappropriately, call his conversion. This understanding deepened over time as he was persecuted by the Judaizers, but it was essentially complete at its inception. (2)

The references to the conversion emphasize the divine intervention, as if to say that an enemy of the gospel such as Paul could not have been changed by anything less. This intervention took the form of a vision (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; Gal 1:15; 2 Cor 4:6), and there can be no doubt that Paul was a visionary. The accounts of the Damascus road incident in Acts (9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18), which record the communal memory of that event, also make the vision central to the action. Paul does not, however, make such an extraordinary experience the necessary cause of faith in Christ.

Vision is an extraordinary experience and the validity of the gospel does not depend on it. The validity of the gospel rests rather on the more general basis of its power to illumine the human condition and to convince the mind and will (Rom 12:1-3). It is the re-creation of the insight of prelapsarian Adam (2 Cor 4:6), the renewal of the reprobate mind "to discern the will of God, the good, the pleasing, and the perfect" (Rom 12:3; Phil 1:10; cf. Rom 1:28; 2:18;14:22). Under normal circumstances one comes to faith as a result of the witness of scripture (Gal 3:6; 2 Cor 3:7; Rom 4), the testimony of preaching (Rom 10:14), rational insight (Rom 6:3,9; 7:1; 8:28) and experience (Gal 3:1-6). (3)

The Pauline gospel, therefore, is not the offer of the possibility of super-natural experiences, but the offer of the possibility of a renewal of the mind that enables one to see the truly important things. This renewal of the mind, I would argue, takes the form of an insight into the meaning of the Cross as the epiphany of sacred violence. For Paul this insight is summarized in Galatians 2:19, which we must now consider at some length.

"Through the law I died to the law so that
I might live for God" (ego gar dia nomou
nomo apethanon hina theo zeso) (Gal 2:19,
cf. Rom 6:10-11; 7:4)

Although he does not generalize the visionary experience Paul does generalize the element of self-discovery expressed in the Lukan question from heaven, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14; cf. Gal 1:13, 23; 1 Cor 15:9). As a result of the vision Paul identified his persecuting violence as the work of the Mosaic Law in his life. The Law had created a way of life founded on sacred violence and the crucifixion of Christ is the logical outcome of such a way of life. Once Paul realized this he could only "die to the Law in order that he might live for God." (4) He implies, therefore, that life devoted to the Law is not a life devoted to God.

It is significant that Paul says that it was the Law itself that caused his death to the Law. He does not say that it was the vision of Christ alone, but something that the vision revealed in the Law itself that caused his defection from it. This puts in question the interpretation that says that it was for positive rather than negative reasons that Paul left Judaism. (5) The positive aspect of the experience revealed the negative element in the Law, and so the two moments are fused together as two sides of the same coin.

In order to understand the force of this brief reference to his conversion, and how the negative and positive moments are fused in his experience, we must read it as part of a climax to the autobiographical account that begins at Galatians 1:11 and extends to 2:21, which Paul gives to establish his authority vis-a-vis Peter. The bedrock of that authority is a revelation of Christ (di' apokalyptypseos Hiesou Christou -- Gal 1:12) that occurred to him amid an active persecution of the church. He had intended not merely to harass the church, but also to destroy it, in fulfillment of his Jewish "zeal" (Gal 1:13-14; 1 Cor 15:9). In the midst of this, God, who had chosen him from the womb, revealed his Son to him and commissioned him apostle to the gentiles (Gal 1:15-17). His commission was corroborated by the Jerusalem "pillars," Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:1-10). Paul embarked on a mission to invite gentiles into full fellowship with the God of Israel through faith in Jesus alone and without observance of the ritual laws.

The most revealing indications we have of what it was in the Law that disenchanted him come from the debate with Peter and the Judaizers in Antioch, (6) an account of which immediately precedes this statement (Gal 2:19). Paul accused Peter of making Christ the agent of sin by withdrawing from table fellowship with gentiles under pressure from Jewish Christian representatives of James and the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:14-21). He argues that he and Peter had been living as gentiles, ignoring the ritual laws of circumcision, Sabbath, and kashruth, because they believed that one is justified not by living in the Jewish way (= "works of Law") but by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. To return to the Jewish way is tantamount to saying that Christ caused them to sin (Gal 2:17), because it was through faith in him that they had chosen to ignore the ritual laws in the first place. Paul refused to return because that would be to build up the wall of partition (7) that had been broken down in his conversion. This experience of Jewish exclusiveness in Antioch challenged his commission as Apostle to the gentiles and caused him to invoke his conversion as a justification for it.

This account enables us to reconstruct Paul's reinterpretation of the Law in the light of the Cross. Through a double realization that the Law had been responsible for the death of Christ, and that the sharp distinction between Jews and gentiles expressed the same violence as had killed Christ, Paul had identified the Law and its community as a system of sacred violence and had left it to join the church. The shock of the double realization accounts for the vehemence with which he repudiates the Jewish way of life as "loss" (zemia) and "garbage" (skybala) (Phil 3:7-8). (8) The revelation of Christ in the midst of his zealous fulfillment of the Law caused him to see what the Law really is and at that moment he died to its claims.

The compressed nature of his statements here might mislead if it is taken to mean that he no longer recognized any claim from the Law. He continues to acknowledge its basic intention to command love of God and the neighbor, (9) and so his death to the Law is, strictly speaking, a death to its ritually excluding aspects that undergird Jewish separatism, signified by his leaving the Jewish community.

"I have been crucified with Christ" (Christo
synestauromai) (Gal 2:19)

The precise nature of Paul's identification with Christ remains unknown despite a long literature on the subject. (10) Practically it meant leaving the Jewish community and joining the church, a transfer that he describes as an identification with Christ in his death. In Romans 7:4 one dies to the Law "through (dia) the body of Christ," by membership in the church, which is metaphorically his body. To die with Christ is to move from one community to another, and since this is to leave the persecutors and identify with the victim, it can be called co-crucifixion. The discovery of the violence in the Law was the same as the discovery of the suffering of Christ in his afflicted community ("Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" -- Acts 9:4). To exclude the gentiles was to afflict the body of Christ.

The transfer from one community to another signals a change in the function of desire, because those who have entered the realm of Christ have "crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24). This warrants an interpretation in terms of mimetic theory. To leave the community of sacred violence is to refuse the unanimity of conflictual mimesis. As soon as one dissents, one becomes a victim oneself. Such dissent is tantamount to identifying with the victim, because the group of conflictual mimesis needs unanimity to function and can treat dissenters only as victims. Thus Paul is transformed from persecutor to persecuted (Gal 5:11), he is crucified with Christ.

Mimetic theory therefore provides a better framework for understanding "co-crucifixion" than vaguer terms like "mysticism" or "corporate personality." Paul mimed the renunciation of desire by Christ the victim and became the mimetic double not of the executioner but of the victim. Co-crucifixion, therefore, is the realization of the good mimesis that was forfeited in the original double transference. By mimetic identification with the victim, Paul broke free of the system of sacred violence and opened himself to the possibility of love in relationship with true transcendence, within the new community of nonacquisitive and nonconflictual agape love. This mimesis of Christ became the foundation of his understanding of Christian existence as structured by faith, hope, and love. The key to the structure of the Christian subject is the mimesis of the crucified Christ, (11) within the community of such nonacquisitive mimesis.

This mimesis is the presupposition of all that Paul writes about the nature of Christian existence as a living out of the nonviolent life of the divine victim in the world of sacred violence. The result of having died with Christ is: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). To live by faith means to let the will of Christ replace one's own will, to be his slave, as Paul repeatedly says (Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Cor 7:22), or, in mimetic terms, to let him be the mediator of nonacquisitive desire. Given that we are the slaves of desire in any case, the true mimesis is to let one's desire be shaped by the nonacquisitive divine desire as seen in the Cross, and thus be liberated from the realm of mimetic rivalry and sacred violence. This, in turn, takes the form of a new inclusive quality of communal life, free of scapegoating.

In the Sacred, mimesis takes place before the point of the surrogate victim is reached, whereas here mimesis is the mimesis of the surrogate victim himself. This entails a redefinition of the meaning of sacrificial terms, which in this case can be seen in the way Paul uses the idea of sacrificial substitution to support the understanding of community. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 he writes that if once we conclude that one has died as the representative of all, it follows that all have died. A normally sacrificial reading of this statement would be that once we conclude that one has died for all, then it follows that all no longer need to die; but in Paul's interpretation it means that all have died in the sense that all are now victims, and if all are victims, then none is a victim. Thus Paul describes a free mimesis of the victim (cf. 2 Cor 5:21, which must be interpreted in the same terms) rather than the automatic mechanism of sacrificial substitution, which separates the group from the victim.

The free mimesis takes the form of mutual representation. In terms of the Sacred, the many can represent the one and the one represent the many, precisely because of the fundamental structure of representation as it arose out of the surrogate victim and the double transference. All tropes in which the one stands for the many or vice versa (synecdoche/metonymy) or the one for the other (metaphor) are sacrificial. So there is no need to introduce speculations about mysticism (psychological explanations), or parallels from the history of religion (that merely extend the range of the explicandum) to explain the sense in which the Christian and Christ are identified. It takes place through a reconstitution of honest representation by a decoding of the double transference through mimesis of the nonacquisitive desire of the victim.

To mime the victim is to see the truth about oneself in the mirror of the victim, decoding the transference so that the representation appears as the representation of one's own mimetic rivalry and surrogate victimage. In this sense one can say that once we conclude that one has died representing all, then it follows that all have died, because they see in his death the effects of their mimetic rivalry and can therefore freely renounce it by choosing to mime the nonacquisitive desire of the victim, and thus "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24). The Christian subject is, therefore, constituted mimetically within the community of the crucified, as Christ represents the community and the community represents Christ. They are reciprocally both synecdoche and metaphor of each other.

That is why the rite of entry into the community is a rite of identification with the crucified. Co-crucifixion (Rom 6:6) is part of an exposition of baptismal theology in terms of which baptism is an identification with Christ's death (symphytoi gegonamen to homoiomati tou thanatou autou -- Rom 6:5), burial (synetaphemen -- vs. 4), and resurrection (syzesomen auto -- vs. 8). The passage from the world to the church mimes the passage from the present age of sacred violence to the eschatological future of nonacquisitive love. The ancient Christian rite of baptism may have involved a drama of descent into and ascent from the water that mimed death and resurrection, as well as the exchange of old clothes for new. (12) In any case, it is significant for my thesis that the rite of initiation should be understood as a mimetic identification with the death of Christ. This is consonant with Paul's actual experience of conversion as an experience of the significance of the Cross.

The Law is therefore the instrument of Paul's metaphorical death as it was the cause of Christ's actual death. This metaphor can only mean that the interpretation of the Mosaic Law that led to such action ceased to have any positive significance for Paul. More than that it meant that status claims based on this-worldly values also became insignificant (Gal 6:14). Most prominent among such claims was the boasting in Jewish privilege that he had previously indulged (Rom 2:17-29). The Law in this sense was a marker of this-worldly value and an instrument of the prestige of the order of the Sacred.

The evidence of Galatians, therefore, is that the references to the Cross belong to the situation of zealous Jewish persecution for the sake of strict observance of the ritual requirements of the Law. Paul brings the crucifixion out of the past and applies it metaphorically to the present because the crucifixion of Christ and the expulsion of the gentiles are formally the same acts of sacred violence.


1. Cf. H. Weder, Das Kreuz Jesu bei Paulus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981).

2. Against H. Räisänen, "Paul's Conversion and the Development of his View of the Law," Paul and the Law (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 404-19.

3. C. Dietzfelbinger, Die Berufung des Paulus als Ursprung seiner Theologie Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1985), 54.

4. Dietzfelbinger (Berufung, 96) has essentially the same view of the impact of conversion, but he does not explain the nature of the "service of the curse" as the service of violence.

5. E. P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

6. R. Hamerton-Kelly, "Sacred Violence and 'Works of Law,'" CBQ 52 (1990) 55-75.

7. F. Hahn ("Das Gesetzesverstandnis im Romer- and Galaterbrief") points out that in Gal 2:18 Paul uses terminology reminiscent of the sayings of Jesus against the temple, specifically the terms katalyo and oikodomeo (cf. Mark 13:2; 14:58; 15:29; Matt 26:61; 27:40; Acts 6:14; John 2:19). The temple was the only place where there was an explicit system of exclusion in operation, and Josephus brings the "balustrade" (ho dryphaktos), upon which the warning excluding gentiles was inscribed in Greek and Latin, into specific association with the zealot faction of John of Gischala (BJ 6.124-26; cf. 5.193-96) (cf. Eph 2:11-22).

8. Dietzfelbinger, Berufung, 97.

9. R. W. Thompson ("How is the Law Fulfilled in Us?") referring to Rom 8:4, 13:8-10, and Gal 5:13-16, argues that dikaioma refers primarily to the love of neighbor as the "just requirement" of the Law. Cf. P Stuhlmacher, Versohnung, Gesetz, and Gerechtigkeit, 188, n. 46.

10. R. C. Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ, summarizes the possibilities.

11. R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, "A Girardian Reading of Paul" (Semeia 33).

12. Didache 7; cf. Gal 3:27; Rom 13:14.