Eve-Marie Becker on Humility in Paul

In today’s post I will comment on a key quotation from Eve-Marie Becker‘s excellent new book Der Begriff der Demut bei Paulus (for my other E.-M. Becker posts, see here; for a bibliography of Prof. Becker’s English publications, see here).

To provide a taste of Becker’s work, I have selected a passage from the final section of her book (pp. 217-218). Since it is a lengthy quote, I will first provide the English translation in its entirety and then present the German and English text in an alternating format along with select grammatical notes, for those who want to work through the translation.

English Translation

With ταπεινοφροσύνη Paul describes an ethical stance that has to be thought from the standpoint of the individual and related to the community. The goal of humility is the oneness of the community with a view to the expectation of the eschatological time – humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological instrument. It promotes fellowship also with the apostle even across physical separation. Paul defines ταπεινοφροσύνη not primarily with respect to its content, but rather elucidates it narratively in an exemplum. To practice humility is dependent on persons and context, but presupposes – as  the Christ example shows – a self-conscious personal status. It leads to an ecclesial or communitarian dynamic that finds expression in continual mutual higher-regarding, and entails a vertical interaction structure. The low-thinking realizes itself at the same time in the personal perception of the community members, of the person of Paul, and of the Kyrios Christ. In the sense of Aristotelian ethics and platonic theory of the state humility serves as Christian phronesis of the ‘political’ organization of the ecclesial fellowship for the establishment of righteousness and the doxa of God (Philippians 2.11). The practice of humility has a religious perspective that is already heard in Plato. However, it is only with Paul that it becomes an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which is typical for early Christianity precisely in its communitarian aspects. It is not least the eschatological implications that contribute to this: The reward of humility lies in the future in the ultimate conformity with Christ.

* What I find striking about this quotation in particular and Becker’s book in general is the way she argumentatively develops a more complex and rich notion of “humility” in relation to Paul’s writings. Indeed, I think her reflections on humility could prove fruitful for the academy, churches, and politics of our time.

German Text with Translation and Notes

Mit der ταπεινοφροσύνη umschreibt Paulus eine ethische Haltung, die vom Einzelnen her zu denken und auf die Gemeinschaft zu beziehen ist.

With ταπεινοφροσύνη Paul describes an ethical stance that has to be thought from the standpoint of the individual and related to the community.

* I usually translate the relative pronoun (here: die) with “that” (rather than “which”) when I think the relative clause is defining (see here). vom einzelnen her is not easy, but I think “from the standpoint of the individual” might work.

Das Ziel  der Demut ist das Eins-Sein der Gemeinde im Blick auf die Erwartung der eschatologischen Zeit – die Demut fungiert dabei als ethisches und ekklesiologisches Werkzeug. Sie fördert die Gemeinschaft auch mit dem Apostel sogar über physische Trennung hinweg.

The goal of humility is the oneness of the community with a view to the expectation of the eschatological time – humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological instrument. It promotes fellowship also with the apostle even  across physical separation.

* Eins-Sein is tricky: “oneness” is not ideal”; “is for the community to be one…” might work better? dabei is often troublesome: “here” is sometimes the best option. The translation of “auch” frequently causes problems, since the German word placement is often awkward, whereas a change of placement often shifts the sense somewhat; here I retained the placement. I translated “über hinweg” with “across”, though I suspect a better option might exist.

Paulus definiert die ταπεινοφροσύνη nicht primär in Hinsicht auf ihren Inhalt, erläutert sie aber in einem exemplum narrativ. Demut zu üben, ist personen- und kontextabhängig, setzt aber, wie das Christus-Beispiel zeigt, einen selbstbewussten persönlichen Status voraus.

Paul defines ταπεινοφροσύνη not primarily with respect to its content, but rather elucidates it narratively in an exemplum. To practice humility is dependent on persons and context, but presupposes – as the Christ example shows – a self-conscious personal status.

* “explains” is often a good solution for erläutern but “elucidates” seemed better here. setzt … voraus = voraussetzen = “presupposes”; I used dashes to make the sentence easier to read.

Sie führt zu ekklesialer bzw. kommunitärer Dynamic, die in kontinuierlicher gegenseitiger Höher-Achtung ihren Ausdruck findet, und geht mit einer vertikalen Interaktionsstruktur einher.

It leads to an ecclesial or communitarian dynamic that finds expression in continual mutual higher-regarding, and entails a vertical interaction structure.

* I debated translating “kommunitärer” with “communal” rather than “communitarian”, but decided on the latter since Becker references an English work that uses this word in this context. It might be better to change the wooden “mutual higher-regarding” to “in continually regarding the other more highly than oneself” but that would become rather free.

Die Niedrig-Gesinnung realisiert sich dabei zugleich in der personalen Wahrnehmung der Gemeindeglieder, der Person des Paulus und des Kyrios Christus.

The low-thinking realizes itself at the same time in the personal perception of the community members, of the person of Paul, and of the Kyrios Christ.

* I think that “low-thinking” is probably the best solution for Niedrig-Gesinnung, which Becker uses as a literal translation for ταπεινο-φροσύνη (see p. vii n. 1), but there may be a better one.

Im Sinner aristotelischer Ethik und platonischer Staatslehre dient die Demut als christliche Phronesis der ‚politischen‘ Organisation der ekklesialen Gemeinschaft zur Durchsetzung von Gerechtigkeit und Doxa Gottes (Phil 2,11).

In the sense of Aristotelian ethics and platonic theory of the state humility serves as Christian phronesis of the ‘political’ organization of the ecclesial fellowship for the establishment of righteousness and the doxa of God (Philippians 2.11).

* It is probably best to translate Im Sinne with “In the sense of” but “In the vein of” is sometimes better in this sort of context or “Along the lines of”. I think ecclesial or ecclesiastical are valid options for translating ekklesialen. “for the establishment” is probably the best solution for zur Durchsetzung, though it is far from perfect. I am not sure if it should be “for the establishment of the righteousness and doxa of God” or “for the establishment of righteousness and the glory of God”.

Die Übung der Demut hat eine religiöse Perspektive, die schon bei Platon anklingt, aber erst mit Paulus zu einem auf die ἐκκλησία bezogenen religiösen identity marker wird, der gerade in seinen kommunitären Aspekten für das frühe Christentum typisch ist.

The practice of humility has a religious perspective that is already heard in Plato. However, it is only with Paul that it becomes an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which is typical for early Christianity precisely in its communitarian aspects.

* This sentence is easy enough to understand but very difficult to translate. erst is often difficult: first is frequently a false friend; only is a good solution in many cases; sometimes “not until” is even a good option. I added in “it is … that” which may or may not have been a good decision. The real difficulty is that the relative pronoun “der” looks back to einem … identity marker. This creates a problem, since I would normally translate einem auf die bezogenen religiösen identity marker with “an identity marker related to the ἐκκλησία” but cannot do so here, since the reader would most likely link the following “which” with ἐκκλησία and not with “identity marker”. Accordingly, I have had to render it with “an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which…”.

Hierzu tragen nicht zuletzt die eschatologische Implikationen bei: Der Lohn der Demut steht in der endgültigen Konformität mit Christus aus.

It is not least the eschatological implications that contribute to this: The reward of humility lies in the future in the ultimate conformity with Christ.

* Struggled with the first part of this sentence, which I may or may not have gotten right. Likewise, I am not sure whether “lies in the future” captures the force of “steht … aus”, but I think it does.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne

 

One thought on “Eve-Marie Becker on Humility in Paul

  1. Pingback: February 2016 Biblical Studies Carnival | Pursuing Veritas

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