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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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While the Gospels often use the word "weakness" to describe the many illnesses Jesus healed, the concept of weakness is seldom used in a physical sense in Scripture. In fact, the incarnational theology of the Gospels sets forth the most important spiritual principle. The "infleshing" of the Word means that God's power is most preeminently evidenced in human weakness (1 Corinthians 1:25 ; 2 Corinthians 13:4 ; Hebrews 5:2 ).

The paralleling of divine empowerment and human suffering in the life of Christ commences with his birth and continues through to the cross and the resurrection. Indeed, the cross and resurrection encapsulate the paradox of God's power being evidenced in the midst of human suffering and weakness. Yet the realization of this paradox in the life of Jesus fulfills the Suffering Servant motif of Isaiah and forms the basis of the atonement (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 ; Hebrews 4:15 ).

For Paul the principle of strength in weakness serves as the paradigm for life and ministry. Humankind is weak by nature. Yet weakness is the very point at which God reveals his power and grace (1 Corinthians 1:27 ; 2 Corinthians 12:9 ). Human weakness is not a liability only because it makes room for the power of God (2 Corinthians 12:10 ). Weakness facilitates dependence on God, cultivates the appropriation of grace, and ascribes all glory and credit to God (2 Corinthians 12:7-12 ). For these reasons Paul boasts of his weakness and views it as a sign of true apostleship (2 Corinthians 11:30 ).

The spiritual union between the believer and Christ permits us to experience not only the weakness and the suffering of the cross, but also the power and glory of the resurrection (Romans 6:1-5 ; 2 Corinthians 13:4 ).

William A. Simmons

See also Strong and Weak

Bibliography . R. Bauckham, Themelios 7 (1982): 4-6; D. A. Black, Paul, Apostle of Weakness ; T. Y. Mullins, JBL 76 (1957): 299-303; G. G. O'Collins, CBQ 33 (1971): 528-37.

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Weakness'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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