Rudolf Bultmann’s Letter to Jeffrey B. Gibson (Oct. 27, 1972)

On facebook, Jeffrey B. Gibson recently posted a letter that Rudolf Bultmann sent him, and he has kindly given me permission to provide a translation of this letter here.

As usual, I will alternate between the German text and the English translation:

Sehr geehrter Herr Gibson!

Dear Mr. Gibson (or: Very honored/esteemed Mr. Gibson)!

Für Ihren freundlichen Brief von vom 2.10. danke ich ich Ihnen bestens.

I thank you you most sincerely (or: very much) for your friendly letter from October 2 (1972).

Ich kann ihn nur kurz beantworten, denn ich bin alt und leidend und meine Augen sind schwach, so daß ich nicht mehr lesen und arbeiten kann.

I can answer it only briefly since I am old and suffering (or: ailing) and my eyes are weak, so that I can no longer read and work.

Ich kann nur mit Mühe wenig schreiben.

I can only with difficulty (or: toil) write a little.

Ich freue mich, daß meine theologische Arbeit für Sie fruchtbar geworden ist.

I am glad (or: I rejoice) that my theological work has become fruitful for you.

Zu Ihren Fragen kann ich nur kurz antworten.

Your questions I can answer only briefly (or: I can only respond briefly to your questions).

1. In den biblischen Schriften müssen alle mythologischen Sätze und Begriffe entmythologisiert werden.

1. In the biblical writings all mythological sentences and terms (or: concepts) must be demythologized.

2. Alle biblische Texte müssen existential interpretiert werden.

2. All biblical texts must be interpreted existentialistically.1

Die Interpretation hat zu fragen, welches Verständnis der menschlichen Existenz sich in den Texten ausspricht.

Interpretation must ask (or: The task of interpretation is to ask) which understanding of human existence is expressed in the texts.

Der Leser ist dann vor die Entscheidung gestellt, ob er die in den Texten zu Wort kommende Möglichkeit menschlichen Existenzverständnisses bejahen oder verneinen soll.

The reader is then placed before the decision of whether he (or: s/he) will (or should) affirm or reject the possibility for understanding human existence that comes to expression in the texts.2

Mit den besten Wünschen für Ihre Arbeit und freundlichen Grüßen

With best wishes for your work and friendly greetings

Ihr sehr ergebener,

Yours sincerely (or: Your very devoted),

Rudolf Bultmann

Note 1: For the translation of “existential,” cf. David Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing, p. xv: “The terms existential and existentiell are consistently translated as “existentialist” and “existential,” respectively, according to the convention of earlier Bultmann scholars, even though the distinction is largely ignored today.” I owe my own knowledge of this distinction to Michael Wolter.

Note 2: I am not sure if “the possibility for understanding human existence” is the correct translation of die … Möglichkeit menschlichen Existenzverständnisses, but this seems to be what is being said.

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Paul and Bonhoeffer on Humility according to Eve-Marie Becker

Amidst the stresses of the last year, I have not managed to keep up with my blogging. As such this is not such a problem, but I do regret the fact that I have therefore not written a single post on my translation of Prof. Eve-Marie Becker‘s excellent book Paul on Humility, which I greatly enjoyed and from which I profited significantly both personally and intellectually.

1) One characteristic that I appreciated about Becker’s book is the nuanced way in which she develops the multilayered character and constructive potential of humility. I think that the following excerpts from Becker’s concluding “Attempt at Terminological Specification” give a good sense of this strength of the book (pp. 147-150):

147-148: With ταπεινοφροσύνη, Paul, rather than shaping a ‘moral norm’ that would follow the flow of “Greco-Roman morality,”50 expresses an ethical attitude that must be conceptualized from the standpoint of the individual and related to the fellowship in a polity. Thus, viewed against the Greco-Roman world of ideas (especially Plato and Aristotle) as outlined in this study, the goal of Paul’s concept of humility is communitarian and political rather than individual: the goal of humility, according to Paul, is the unity of the community with a view to the expectation of eschatological time—humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological tool. It promotes the fellowship also with the apostle, even across physical separation.

50 So Horrell 2019, 148, 150ff.

148-149: Paul propagates ταπεινοφροσύνη as ethos, which has characteristics of an ethical, but even more of a dianoetic (phronesis), virtue. For the striving for conformity to Christ and fellowship with God reckons with an establishment of the justice of God, for which the κλητός prepares not only morally but—in the sense of φρονεῖν—with the whole person. The fact that the term ταπεινοφροσύνη rapidly fell into the intellectual discourse of (Christian) virtues and their relation to the ancient doctrine of virtue is already grounded, to a certain degree, in the Pauline concept and is promoted by corresponding lexis (e.g., ἀρετή in Phil 4.8). The Pauline term humility is, however, multilayered and opens up far-reaching theological-ethical perspectives on life together in the Christian community and its place in space, time, and history. History ultimately arises out of “accepting this responsibility for other human beings” and “for entire communities or groups of communities,”52 and humility is the basis that enables this. Thus, ethical thinking has not only eschatological but also historical implications. The term humility in Paul is arranged in a correspondingly large and complex way. The mere reproduction of ταπεινοφροσύνη in post-Pauline virtue catalogues signifies, by contrast, a reduction of Pauline humility to a moral category. Here, the dualistic thinking on virtues and vices is in danger of morally charging humility according to the need of the moment or, alternatively, discrediting it (cf. already the discourse behind Col 2).

52 Bonhoeffer 2005, 220 (GV = 1992, 219).

2) A second characteristic of Becker’s book from which I benefited greatly was her facilitation of a dialogue with a remarkable range of ancient and modern voices and perspectives on humility. To give a sense of this wonderful feature of the book, I will provide an excerpt from her discussion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflections on humility, which she finds to be especially close to those of Paul:

36-38 (cf. also 147 and 189 [index]): Against this polyphonic cultural-historical and philosophical-historical background, it is thus impressive how Barth and especially Bonhoeffer, in the midst of political resistance and in the confusion of World War II—partly in direct confrontation with Nietzsche73—dealt with humility ethically and ecclesiologically. In 1944 Bonhoeffer ( “Entwurf für eine Arbeit” / “Outline for a Book”) sketched out a conception of a church, which opposes the “vices of hubris” and instead speaks of “patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment.”74 In conscious confrontation with ancient teaching on virtue, Bonhoeffer formulates an ‘ecclesial catalogue of virtues,’75 which goes beyond New Testament (e.g., Col 3.12) conceptions of virtues:76

The church is church only when it is there for others. As a first step it must give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the freewill offerings of the congregations and perhaps be engaged in some secular vocation [Beruf]. The church must participate in the worldly tasks of life in the community—not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell people in every calling [Beruf] what a life with Christ is, what it means “to be there for others.” In particular, our church will have to confront the vices of hubris, the worship of power, envy, and illusionism as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, authenticity, trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment. . . . All this is put very roughly and only outlined. But I am eager to attempt for once to express certain things simply and clearly that we otherwise like to avoid dealing with. Whether I shall succeed is another matter, especially without the benefit of our conversations. I hope that in doing so I can be of some service for the future of the church.77

Bonhoeffer’s reflections on humility shape his theology.78 It is initially motivated ecclesiologically or ‘ecclesio-sociologically’ and thus builds on the lines of questioning of his dissertation Sanctorum Communio (1930). However, Bonhoeffer’s life’s work also circles thereafter around the themes of “Christ, community, and concreteness.”79 However, his late conceptualization of humility in the “Entwurf für eine Arbeit” / “Outline for a Book” and his sketches on an ethics lead beyond the framework of ecclesiology in two respects. As Charles Marsh has recently shown, they are closely connected, first, with Bonhoeffer’s reflections on a religionless Christianity. Bonhoeffer hopes for a new elite, who “exhibit the highest values” and thus will exemplify “what a life with Christ is.”80 In an ethical respect, the practice of humility is an expression of ‘good works,’ which characterizes human life together and especially the ‘good’ “in relation to God.”81

Second, it is then especially Bonhoeffer’s personal fate of becoming a political martyr as a theologian82 that lets ecclesiology and ethics become a political ethic. As we shall see, here we find a direct point of contact with Paul and ταπεινοφροσύνη in Phil 2. A further concretization of Pauline ταπεινοφροσύνη takes place in the life and political martyrdom of a contemporary of Bonhoeffer, namely with Ernst Lohmeyer. We will need to return to the tragic fate of Lohmeyer, one of the most significant—if not the most significant—commentators on Philippians in the twentieth century.83

Bonhoeffer’s reflections on humility also come close to Phil 2 because in 1944 they were probably written under the impression that the theologian, who had already proven himself to be a brilliant interpreter of Paul early on,84 was in a parallel situation to the person of Paul as a prisoner. The imprisonment with an expectation of a violent death as well as reflections on a possible suicide or escape from prison, as Marsh describes this in the last chapter of his biography on Bonhoeffer,85 are close to the reality of life, as Paul also presents it in Phil 1.86 Especially after the events of July 20, 1944, these life circumstances probably became important—whether consciously or unconsciously—for Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of humility. During and because of the separation from their communities, in a situation of farewell, the apostle to the gentiles and the resistance fighter reflect on the connection between ethics, community, and humility. For both the elite action of the individual, which finds its standard in the model of Christ, becomes the key to existential understanding. Bonhoeffer also formulates this thought explicitly:

It (= our church) will have to see that it does not underestimate the significance of the human “example” (which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus and is so important in Paul’s writings!); the church’s word gains weight and power not through concepts but by example. (I will write in more detail later about “example” in the NT—we have almost entirely lost track of this thought.87

Thus, what is regarded as essential to humility becomes clear only in the personal model and example. With this we are also close to Phil 2. In the originating text of Christian humility, Paul makes Christ the paradigm of ταπεινοφροσύνη. With his understanding of humility, Bonhoeffer appears to come very near to Paul personally and materially. He proves himself to be a genuine interpreter of the Pauline term humility—not least through the way that reflections on humility have the character of a testament and are precisely therein an expression of an ‘unfinished ecclesiology.’88

73 Cf., e.g., Bonhoeffer 1993, 93.

74 Bonhoeffer 2009a, 503 (GV = 1998, 560)

75 On this, cf. Bonhoeffer 1993, 26, where Bonhoeffer, in connection with his preliminary studies on an “ethic,” points out that in the ancient teaching on virtue, “obedience. Service. Truthfulness. Knightly faithfulness humility, mercy, thankfulness, love, chastity” [sic!] are lacking.

76 Some terms (“illusionism, trust, steadfastness, patience, modesty”) are, however, subsequent additions; cf. Bonhoeffer 2009a, 503, nn. 28-29 (GV = 1998, 560, nn. 27-28).

77 Bonhoeffer 2009a, 503-4 (GV = 1998, 560-61). With the exception of the phrase “our church,” the italics have been added by E.-M. Becker.

78 Cf. the numerous attestations in the indices to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works (Anzinger/Pfeifer 1999, 496; Barnett/Wojhoski 2014, 24).

79 Marsh 2015a, 57 (GV = 2105b, 78).

80 Marsh 2015b, 465-66; cf. 2015a, 378.

81 Bonhoeffer 1993, 36 and 61-66.

82 On the problems of the distinction made between “Christian martyrdom and political resistance” made by the Berlin-Brandenburg church in the reception of Bonhoeffer, cf. Bethge 2000, 930ff., quotation on 931 (GV = 1978, 1041ff., quotation on 1042).

83 See under section 7.3 below.

84 On this, cf. Bonhoeffer’s 1926 essay “Joy in Primitive Christianity” (“Freude im Urchristentum”), which Marsh (2015a, 51-52 [GV = 2015b, 71-72]) refers to in this context.

85 Marsh 2015a, 348ff. (GV = 2015b, 428ff.) Cf., much more cautiously, Bethge 2000, 832 (GV = 1978, 934).

86 On this, see E.-M. Becker 2013.

87 Bonhoeffer 2009a, 503-4 (GV = 1998, 560-61).

88 Cf. Bethge 2000, 887 (GV = 1978, 995). Bethge evaluates this unfinished ecclesiology of Bonhoeffer critically and even characterizes it as a failure (ibid.). In light of how similar the fragmentary reflections on ecclesiology that Boonhoeffer makes in his imprisonment are to Phil 2 and the role that humility has in the two situations of imprisonment, this evaluation of Bethge can possibly be revised.

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Jens Schröter on the Protevangelium of James and the Immaculate Conception

It has been so long since I have written a blog post that I am having a hard time figuring out how to use the transformed Word Press! Still, having just completed a translation of Jens Schröter’s accessible book Die Apocryphen Evangelien (The Apocryphal Gospels, forthcoming in due course), I thought I would share a quotation from his discussion of the Protevangelium of James and the Immaculate Conception, which seemed fitting for this time of year. As usual, I will alternate between the English translation and the German text (note that the German text quoted/translated here differs slightly from the published version).

ET: The narrative of the Protevangelium reflects the milieu of the story of Israel. At the beginning we find the portrayal of Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary, who are mentioned here for the first time in Christian literature. They are portrayed as a well-to-do, older Israelite couple who are grieving over the fact that they do not have a child. This is followed by Anna’s prayer that God would end her barrenness. Here, a clear connection to the story of the birth of Samuel in 1 Sam 1 is established. His mother is also called Anna (or Hannah). There too, the birth occurs only after a long period of childlessness at the lament of Anna. There too, we find the promise to devote the child after the birth to the Lord. The birth of Mary is then announced to Anna by an angel of the Lord. And it is noted after the fact that this had also already been communicated to Joachim by an angel. [Note that it is often necessary to translate the German word “hier” with “there”]

GV (p. 26 in published version of the text): Die Erzählung des ProtEv spiegelt das Milieu der Geschichte Israels wider. Am Beginn steht die Schilderung von Joachim und Anna, den Eltern Marias, die hier zum ersten Mal in der christlichen Literatur erwähnt werden. Sie werden als wohlhabendes, älteres israelitisches Paar gezeichnet, das über seine Kinderlosigkeit trauert. Es folgt eine Bitte Annas zu Gott, ihre Unfruchtbarkeit zu beenden. Dabei wird ein deutlicher Bezug zur Erzählung von der Geburt Samuels in 1. Samuel 1 hergestellt. Auch dessen Mutter hieß Anna (oder Hanna), auch hier erfolgt die Geburt erst nach einer langen Zeit der Kinderlosigkeit auf eine Klage Annas hin, auch hier findet sich das Versprechen, das Kind nach der Geburt dem Herrn zu weihen. Sodann wird Anna die Geburt Marias durch einen Engel des Herrn angekündigt, auch Joachim wurde dies, wie nachträglich vermerkt wird, bereits durch einen Engel mitgeteilt.

ET: Here, it is disputed whether Mary is conceived in the Protevangelium in a natural way or whether a conception through the divine Spirit is in view. The decision depends on whether Joachim is informed by an angel that Anna has conceived in her body or that she will conceive and whether Anna, shortly thereafter, says to Joachim that she has already conceived or that she will conceive (4.2 or 4.4).

GV (p. 26 in published version of the text): Umstritten ist dabei, ob Maria im ProtEv auf natürliche Weise gezeugt wurde oder es sich um eine Zeugung durch den göttlichen Geist handelt. Die Entscheidung darüber hängt davon ab, ob Joachim durch den Engel mitgeteilt wird, Anna habe in ihrem Leib empfangen oder sie werde empfangen und Anna kurz darauf zu Joachim sagt, dass sie bereits empfangen habe oder empfangen werde (4,2 bzw. 4,4).

ET: Both readings are attested by manuscripts. Based on the flow of the argument, the future form is more likely, since it takes up the announcement of the angel to Anna. Moreover, a supernatural conception of Mary is also unlikely in light of the connection to 1 Sam 1. What is meant to be emphasized is the fact that God can also bring an end to long periods of childlessness and can give older couples the blessing of children.

GV (p. 26 in published version of the text): Beide Lesarten sind durch Manuskripte bezeugt. Vom Duktus her legt sich die Futurform näher, da sie die Ankündigung des Engels an Anna aufgreift. Zudem ist eine übernatürliche Empfängnis Marias auch angesichts des Bezuges auf 1. Samuel 1 unwahrscheinlich. Herausgestellt werden soll, dass Gott auch lange Zeiten der Kinderlosigkeit beenden und älteren Paaren Kindersegen schenken kann.

ET: At any rate, there can be no talk of a “virginal conception,” for Joachim and Anna have already been a married couple for a long time and are presented as grieving over the fact that they are still childless. Accordingly, the Protevangelium cannot be claimed as a witness for the notion of a supernatural birth, let alone for the “immaculate conception” of Mary, even though the text has often been understood in this way.

GV (pp. 26-27 in published version of the text): Von einer „jungfräulichen Empfängnis“ kann ohnehin keine Rede sein, denn Joachim und Anna sind bereits seit langem ein Ehepaar und trauern darüber, dass sie immer noch kinderlos sind. Für die Vorstellung einer übernatürlichen Geburt oder gar der „unbefleckten Empfängnis“ Marias kann das ProtEv demnach nicht in Anspruch genommen werden, auch wenn der Text oftmals so verstanden wurde.

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“I also decided … to write”—Michael Wolter on Luke’s Relationship to his Predecessors

Listening to James Crossley and and Chris Keith discuss Chris’s new book The Gospel as Manuscript fruitfully stimulated my thinking on the question of the specific ways in which the Gospels reflect what Chris calls “competitive textualization.” With respect to his use of this key phrase, Chris helpful explains that “What I am primarily getting at with the term term competitive textualization is when one written tradition tries to position itself and its authority in relation to a previous … written tradition” (see -45.00ff.; cf. here). For me, this discussion also called to mind a notable line of argument in Michael Wolter’s commentary on Luke, which finds more continuity between Luke and his predecessors than many others have found. On the one hand, I personally think that there is certainly a sense in which Luke seeks to outbid his predecessors, and I regard it as very likely that he thought he was producing the best version of the story. On the other hand, I think Wolter effectively argues that Luke’s language suggests more continuity with his predecessors than is often assumed. Needless to say, I look forward to reading Chris’s book in due course and seeing how it will shape or reshape my thinking around this question. For now, here are two of the most relevant quotations from Wolter’s commentary, in English and in German:

ET (44-45): In Josephus, Bellum judaicum 1.17 ἐπειδήπερ is connected in a comparable way with the reference to “many” predecessors (πολλοὶ πρὸ πρὸ ἐμοῦ). It is not possible to infer the number of works that Luke alludes to, for the use of πολύς and derivatives is a rhetorical stereotype in prefaces and in general at the beginning of speeches and writings (cf. in detail section [b] above as well as Josephus, Bellum judaicum 4.238; Acts 24.10; Hebrews 1.1). The same also applies to the characterization of the predecessors’ works as ἐπιχείρησις (see section [c] above), so that it is not possible to hear a critical subtext in the Lukan ἐπεχείρησαν (pace G. Klein 1964, 239; Bovon). This already seems doubtful on the basis of the parallelizing ἔδοξε κἀμοί in v. 3 with which Luke does not distance himself from the πολλοί but rather connects to them (see also van Unnik 1973–1983, I: 13). This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that in what follows Luke does not devalue his predecessors’ works with a single word. He thus forgoes the use of a form-historical option that was certainly available to him.

* Translation note: in the last sentence it would have been better to translate “durchaus” with “indeed” rather than certainly.

GV (61): Bei Josephus, Bell. 1,17 verbindet sich ἐπειδήπερ in vergleichbarer Weise mit dem Bezug auf “viele” Vorgänger (πολλοὶ πρὸ πρὸ ἐμοῦ). Ein Rückschluss auf die Zahl der Werke, auf die Lukas hier anspielt, ist nicht möglich, denn der Gebrauch von πολύς und Ableitungen ist ein rhetorisches Stereotyp in Vorworten oder überhaupt am Beginn von Reden und Schriften (vgl. im Einzelnen o. Abschn. [b] sowie Josephus, Bell. 4,238; Apg 24,10; Hebr 1,1). Dasselbe gilt auch für die Charakterisierung der Vorgängerwerke als ἐπιχείρησις (s.o. Abschn. [c]), so dass es nicht möglich ist, aus dem lk ἐπεχείρησαν kritisierende Nebentöne herauszuhören (gegen Klein* 239; Bovon). Dagegen spricht allein schon das paralleliserende ἔδοξε κἀμοί in V. 3, mit dem Lukas sich nicht von den πολλοί distanziert, sondern sich an sie anschließt (s. auch van Unnik*, Remarks, 13). Bestätigt wird diese Interpretation dadurch, dass Lukas die Vorgängerwerke im Folgenden mit keinem Wort abwertet. Er verzichtet also darauf, eine ihm durchaus zur Verfügung stehende formgeschichtliche Option zu realisieren.

ET (48): The phrasing (ἔδοξε) κἀμοί reveals that Luke wanted to emphasize the continuity with the efforts of the πολλοί, which were mentioned in v. 1, for he does not distance himself from them—for example with the help of the adversative phrasing (ἔδοξε) δέ μοι (e.g., DanielLXX 4.37c; Lysias, Orationes 1.14; Galen, De methodo medendi, ed. Kühn 1964, X: 910.11; Vettius Valens, ed. Kroll 1973, 142.30; 241.16; Diogenes Laertius 7.9). ἔδοξέ μοι . . . γράψαι is a widespread Greek idiom (cf. Hippocrates, Prorrhetica 2.2; [Ps.-]Speusippus, Epistulae, ed. M.I. Parente 1980, 158; 159.1; Galen, De placitis Hippocratis et Platonis 8.2.11 [de Lacy 1978–1984, 492.16]; De curandi ratione per venae sectionem, ed. Kühn 1964, XI: 312.11).

GV (64): Die Formulierung (ἔδοξε) κἀμοί lässt erkennen, dass Lukas die Kontinuität mit den in V. 1 erwähnten Bemühungen der πολλοί betonen möchte, denn er distanziert sich nicht von ihnen – etwa mit Hilfe der adversativen Formulierung (ἔδοξε) δέ μοι (z.B. DanLXX 4,37c; Lysias, Or. 1,14; Galen, Meth. Med. ed. Kühn X, 910,11; Vettius Valens, ed. Kroll, 142,30; 241,16; Diogenes Laertius 7,9). ἔδοξέ μοι . . . γράψαι ist verbreitetes griechischen Idiom (vgl. Hippocrates, Prorrhet. 2,2; [Ps.-]Speusippus, Ep., ed. M. I. Parente, 158; 159,1; Galen, Plac. Hipp. Plat. 8,2,11 [492,16 de Lacy]; Cur. Rat. Ven. Sect., ed. Kühn XI, 312,11).

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Paul’s Dasmascus Road Experience and the Message of Easter (Peter von der Osten-Sacken)

Having learned much in the process of writing my review of Peter von der Osten-Sacken‘s new Galatians commentary, I have begun working through his collected essays on Paul, titled Der Gott der Hoffnung (Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2014). Today’s post, which I thought would be especially appropriate for the Monday after Easter, comes from his essay “Von Saulus zum Paulus” (24-49, here: 27-29). As usual, for the benefit of readers who are using this blog for the purposes of interacting with German texts, I will alternate between my English translation and the German original.

2. The Turnabout/Die Kehre (p. 27)

ET: Let us begin as it is familiar to us from Acts: A persecutor and his group are on their way, in scorching heat, in burning desert sand, driven by the wish of tracking down, leading away, and handing over deviants. Then suddenly, at the height of the day and brighter than the midday sun, gleaming light shines around those going there. [Not sure how best to translate “auf der Höhe des Tages.” I suspect that it means something like “when the sun was highest in the sky” or simply “at noon.” Cf. Acts 22:6 and 26:13.]

GV (p. 27): Beginnen wir, wie es aus der Apostelgeschichte vertraut ist: Ein Verfolger und sein Gefolge sind unterwegs, bei brütender Hitze, in brennendem Wüstensand, getrieben von dem Wünsch, Abweichler aufzuspüren, abzuführen und auszuliefern. Da plötzlich, auf der Höhe des Tages und heller als die Mittagsonne, umleuchtet gleißendes Licht die Dahinziehenden.

ET: They were thrown down by its radiance and a voice sounding from the light surrounded the restless ringleader of the caravan: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This episode appears three times in Acts. To be sure, as has long been recognized, all three versions, for the sake of variation, go their own ways in details and also exhibit clearly legendary features; however, one thing they have accurately preserved. Something happened here that cannot be so easily explained psychologically as, for example, Martin Luther’s turnabout (Kehre): Long suffering from his church, fear before the judging God, whom the human being is not able to satisfy, despairing efforts to escape the threatening judgment, and, finally, the liberating insight wrested from the Bible—he wants not to judge but to save you.

GV (p. 27-28): Sie werden niedergeworfen von dessen Glanz und eine aus dem Licht ertönende Stimme umfangt den ruhelosen Anführer der Karawane: “Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?” Dreimal findet sich diese Episode in der Apostelgeschichte  “Saul, Saul, was verfolgst due mich?” Dreimal findet sich dies Episode in der Apostelgeschichte. Zwar gehen, wie seit langen erkannt, alle drei Versionen um der erzählerischen Abwechselung willen in Details ihre eigene Wege und tragen auch deutlich legendarische Züge; aber eins haben sie trefflich aufbewahrt: Hier ist etwas geschehen, was sich nicht so leicht psychologisch erklären lässt wie etwa Martin Luthers Kehre: Langes Leiden an seiner Kirche, Angst vor dem richtenden Gott, dem der Mensch nicht zu genügen vermag, verzweifelte Anstrengungen, dem drohenden Gericht zu entgehen, und schließlich die befreiende, der Bibel abgerungene Erkenntnis: Er will dich nicht richten, sondern retten.

ET: With Paul, the messenger/ambassador of the gospel among the nations, no comparable way can be detected. As in an instant, as with power, he appears, in the shortest period of time, to be thrown from the previous course. And in everything that the apostle thinks, says, and does, he henceforth appears to be more or less determined by this one upending experience. In some places in his letters he speaks of it with a few sentences.

GV (28-29): Bei Paulus, dem Botschafter des Evangeliums unter den Völkern, lässt sich kein vergleichbarer Weg ausmachen. Wie im Nu, wie mit Macht scheint er in kürzester Frist aus der bisherigen Bahn geworfen. Und in allem, was der Apostel denkt, sagt und tut, scheint er fortan mehr oder weniger von dieser einen umwerfenden Erfahrung bestimmt zu sein. An einigen Stellen seiner Briefe kommt er mit wenigen Sätzen auf sie zu sprechen.

ET: Its basic tenor runs as follows: God has revealed his son on/in/to me, Christ has appeared to me, I have seen—in a vision—the Lord, and through this, from the persecutor of the community I have become the apostle [hard to translate this last part into English, though it is easy enough to understand in German].

GV (29): Ihr Grundtenor lautet: Gott hat seinen Sohn an mir offenbart, Christus ist mir erschienen, ich habe – in einer Vision – den Herrn gesehen, und dadurch bin ich vom Verfolger der Gemeinde zum Apostel geworden.

ET: The core of what happened to Paul [or: what Paul experienced] and what hides behind these statements is identical with the message of Easter: There, in this figure, which/who according to human standards has foundered on the cross, is life, namely indestructible life. In this figure it already shines in the present, in this earthly time and history, which is determined/characterized by sin, suffering, and death.

GV (29): Der Kern dessen, was Paulus widerfahren ist und was sich hinter diesen Aussagen verbirgt, ist identisch mit der Botschaft des Osterfest: Dort, in dieser Gestalt, die nach menschlichen Maßstäben am Kreuz gescheitert ist, ist das Leben, und zwar unzerstörbares Leben. In dieser Gestalt leuchtet es bereits gegenwärtig, in dieser irdischen Zeit und Geschichte auf, die von Sünde, Leid und Tod bestimmt ist.

ET: In 2 Corinthians, Paul can summarize his thus defined certainty/assurance with the statement that Christ “was crucified out of weakness but lives out of the power of God,” and, correspondingly, says that the weaknesses that is visible on/in him as apostle also stands under the banner of promised life out of this power (2 Cor 13.4).

GV (29): Im 2 Korintherbrief kann Paulus seine so bestimmte Gewissheit mit den Worten zusammenfassen, Christus sei “aus Schwachheit gekreuzigt worden, doch er lebt aus der Kraft Gottes” und entsprechend stehe auch die an ihm als Apostel ablesbare Schwäche im Zeichen zugesagten Lebens aus dieser Kraft (2 Kor 13,4).

ET: In this certainty/assurance two things are contained: first, the fascination that the message of the resurrection of the crucified one has exerted on the apostle. It reflects back what has moved him in his innermost being—the question of the overcoming of sin, suffering, and death and not, as was the case with Luther, the burdened conscience of the sinner, even though for Paul the gracious liberation from the power of sin in the fellowship with Christ is the presupposition for sharing in life. Second, it is evident that when life, indestructible life, is here and when it, in the attachment to this figure, can already be experienced here through faith, hope, and love, all of reality, everything previously encountered, must be thought through anew from the standpoint of this experience and this reality. Upon what was before there falls again a new light from what now—determining everything—has happened and been experienced.

GV (29): In dieser Gewissheit ist zweierlei enthalten: zum einen die Faszination, die die Botschaft von der Auferweckung des Gekreuzigten auf den Apostel ausgeübt hat. Sie spiegelt das wider, was ihn im Innersten bewegt hat – die Frage nach der Überwindung von Sünde, Leiden und Tod und nicht wie bei Luther das beschwerte Gewissen des Sünders, auch wenn für Paulus die gnädige Befreiung von der Macht der Sünde in der Gemeinschaft mit Christus die Voraussetzung für die Teihabe am Leben ist. Zum anderen liegt auf der Hand: Wenn das Leben, unzerstörbares Leben, hier ist und wenn es in der Bindung an diese Gestalt bereits hier erfahrbar wird durch Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe, dann ist von dieser Erfahrung und von dieser Realität her die gesamte Wirklichkeit, alles Bisherige, neu zu durchdenken. Auf das, was vorher war, fällt noch einmal neues Licht von dem her, was jetzt – alles bestimmend – geschehen und erfahren ist.

Translation Note: While the content of this passage stimulated my thinking in fruitful ways, I found the German syntax to be quite hard going at certain points. Thus, it would not surprise me if I may have lost my way at various places, for example in the last part of the last sentence.

Analysis of Content: While I suspect that many readers may be especially interested in the comparison that von der Osten-Sacken makes between Martin Luther and Paul and the extent to which it advances our understanding of the two figures, what I found most striking about this quotation is the way that von der Osten-Sacken relates Paul’s Damascus Road experience to the message of Easter (p. 29). In other words, it was this comparison, above all, that captured my attention and made me reflect anew upon the message of Easter.

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English Bibliographies of Martin Hengel, Anna Maria Schwemer, and other BMSEC Authors

As part of the BMSEC series, I have attempted to compile and maintain bibliographies of the English publications of the authors whose books have been featured in the series. For the most recent versions of these bibliographies, see:

Jens Schröter,

Matthias Konradt

Christoph Markschies

Michael Wolter

Jörg Frey

Martin Hengel

Anna Maria Schwemer

Eve-Marie Becker

Though they are not up-to-date, readers may also wish to consult the English bibliographies of other German scholars at my BNGLS page.

German authors who would like to update the information provided on my BNGLS page are welcome to send me an updated list of their English publications and/or other relevant changes pertaining to their title, university, webpage, etc.

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Review of Peter von der Osten-Sacken’s New Commentary on Galatians

In this blog post, I will provide a review of Peter von der Osten-Sacken‘s 2019 commentary Der Brief an die Gemeinden in Galatien (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer). Together with Klaus Haacker’s commentary on Acts, Osten-Sacken’s commentary represents the most recent addition to the respected series Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament. This series stands in the tradition of classical historical-critical New Testament scholarship, while giving special attention to themes relevant to Jewish-Christian dialogue, feminist-theological discourse, and social-historical lines of questioning. While Osten-Sacken’s commentary reflects all of these emphases, it is especially distinguished by its sustained focus on issues relevant to Christian-Jewish dialogue.

I. Let me begin by commending the commentary to a wide range of readers. Due to its combination of accessible form and substantive content, I think it can and will be read with profit by New Testament scholars, theologians, pastors, participants in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and other interested readers within and outside the Christian tradition. It is marked by historical-critical expertise and robust material-theological reflection. It is a commentary to which I will gladly return and a work that motivates me to read Osten-Sacken’s collected essays on Paul, i.e. Der Gott der Hoffnung (For Osten-Sacken’s English publications, see here).

What I like most about the commentary is the fact that one is guided from start to finish by Osten-Sacken’s clear and distinct voice. This is not to say that other voices are absent. On the contrary, Osten-Sacken consistently develops his interpretation in dialogue with others and can be counted on to weigh in on exegetical debates. Such issues, however, do not take on a life of their own, but are skillfully situated in relation to Osten-Sacken’s interpretation of the primary text in question within the framework of his overall reading of the letter.

II. The headings of the introduction and conclusion already give the reader a sense of the impressive intellectual breadth of the author and commentary:

A. Introduction (11-47). 1. The Author: Apostle of the Messiah for the Nations (11-18). 2. The Addressees (18-22). 3. Situation and Problem of the Letter (22-24). 4. The Document: An Apostolic Community Letter (24-28). 5. Galatians in the History of Theology and Church History (28-34). 6. Hermeneutical Questions (34-45). 7. Structure of the Commentary and Reception of Literature (45-46). 8. Reading Aids (46-47).

C. Summary and Reflections (320-350). 1. The Inheritance Promised to Abraham and Inherited by Christ and Those Who Belong to Him: Contours of the Letter (320-322). 2. Global Orientation and Lived Location of the Pauline Gospel (323-324). 3. First Comes the Human Being and Then the Confession: The Turn Since the Enlightenment (324-326). 4. Human Dignity and Human Rights in Theological-Ecclesial Perspective (326-331). 5. Characteristics and Perspectives of the Pauline Gospel (331-350).

From this material, let me highlight a few notable points. a) Due to the close connections between Galatians and Romans, Osten-Sacken thinks it is likely that Galatians should be placed in temporal proximity to Romans (20). While he is somewhat noncommital with respect to the location of the addresses, he seems to favor the region/territorial hypothesis over the province hypothesis (20-21, 61, 132, 210). Due to the northward extension of the province, he regards the terminology of North Galatia/South Galatia to be potentially misleading and suggests that it should therefore be abandoned (19n28). b) In the valuable section on hermeneutical questions, Osten-Sacken challenges the tendency to disclose the meaning of Galatians through the antithesis “law and/or gospel” and suggests that it is similarly problematic to characterize the core issue with the juxtaposition “faith and/or law” (35). In support of the latter point, he writes: “The exact antithetical term to ‘faith’ or ‘tidings (hearing) of faith’ is – in the common, though at another point to be questioned rendering – ‘works of the law,’ and, correspondingly, the opposition to the verb ‘believe’ is the verb ‘do.’ The implications are far-reaching. If one juxtaposes faith and works of the law (instead of faith and law), then it is clear from the outset that the problem lies in the realm of action and this means with the human being and not with the law taken by itself” (35; see also III.f and IV.c below). c) In this same section (p. 40), Osten-Sacken includes a notable critical exchange with Ulrich Luz with regard to the latter’s talk of the Bible’s “claim to truth” (Wahrheitsanspruch). d) Osten-Sacken relates his earlier research and his present commentary to what F. Tolmie characterizes as an “evaluative approach” … “according to which Paul’s strategy is not merely described, but also scrutinized critically” (28). This feature of his work is directly related to the form of his commentary, which comments on the text of Galatians under three rubrics, namely “Überblick” (overview), “Einzelexegese” (detailed exegesis), and “Vertiefungen” (deepenings). The first rubric enables Osten-Sacken to present his overall assessment of the meaning and function of a unit, the second allows him to take up specific questions pertaining to individual verses, and the Vertiefungen give him space to grapple with material-theological questions and to engage with Paul’s argument in Galatians critically, especially with a view to the coherence of Paul’s thought and to issues relevant to Jewish-Christian dialogue (28, 42-43). To give the reader a feel for these different sections, I will translate an excerpt from each of these rubrics at the end of my review.

III. Osten-Sacken structures his interpretation of Galatians as follows: pp. 48-68: The Beginning of the Letter (1.1-5). 59-72: Curse Instead of Thanksgiving: The Proem (1.6-9). 73-129: I. The Origin of the Gospel for the Nations and the Struggle of the Apostle for its Preservation (1.10-2.21). 130-240: II. The Gospel and Scripture: The Son and Those Who Belong to Him as Heirs of Abraham (3.1-4.31). 241-304: III. Gospel and Law: The Gift of Freedom as Inheritance (5.1-6.10). 305-319: Without Greetings to Galatia: The Conclusion of the Letter (6.1-18).

Once again, let me highlight just a few notable points: a) Osten-Sacken interacts throughout with major commentaries on Galatians in both German and English. Among others, he frequently engages the commentaries of Eckert, Lietzmann, Schlier, Klaiber, Betz, Bruce, and Dunn. Given the particular influence of J. L. Martyn’s commentary in the English-speaking world, it may be helpful to list out the references to his commentary here: 186, 188, 208, 214-216, 272, 275, 293, 297, 310. Special mention should also be made of his interaction with Martin Luther at many points (see the subject index, p. 382). b) In terms of structure, I think that Osten-Sacken convincingly argues that 5.1-12 should be taken more strongly with what follows than with what precedes (241-242). c) In terms of specific verses, I found Osten-Sacken’s interpretation of the phrase “born of a woman” in Gal 4.4 to be especially noteworthy (see IV.b. below). Special mention may also be made of his discussion of the designation for and content of the “Pneuma- and Sarx- catalogues” in Gal 5:19-23. d) Since I have tended to side with interpreters who have sought to relate Paul’s use of “we” and “you” in multiple texts to Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, I found it significant that Osten-Sacken, like J. L. Martyn and others, argues against this interpretive tendency at multiple points with admirable clarity, detail, and argumentative rigor (e.g. 154-55, 170, 192). e) In terms of broader themes, Osten-Sacken unsurprisingly gives considerable attention to Paul’s diverse statements and perspectives on the law. This is developed both in relation to his discussion of specific texts (e.g. his comments on 3:19-25, esp. p. 167, and his comments on 5:14, esp. 259, 260-63), in his Vertiefungen (e.g. 70-72, 282-284), and in various summarizing-systematizing statements (e.g. 282, 340-42). As a point of criticism, while I think Osten-Sacken justifiably emphasizes the significance of the hina clause in Gal 3:22 (cf. also 3:24) for thinking about Paul’s view of the law, I do not think that this justifies assigning more than a temporal meaning to Paul’s use of eis in 3:23 and 3:24—as Osten-Sacken appears to do (see p. 167 and 282)—and correspondingly translating eis with “auf hin” in 3:23, 24 rather than with “bis” as in 3:19. Instead, as indicated by the purely temporal force of the same preposition in 3:19 and the temporal marker “before” in 3:23, the preposition eis should be translated with “until/bis” in 3:19, 23, 24. Despite this criticism, I think that Osten-Sacken’s larger point remains valid and important: In comparison with 3:19, Paul does assign a more positive role for the law with his use of hina clauses in 3:23-25. f) Let me conclude my comments on the body of the commentary with a comparison of Osten-Sacken and John Barclay in relation to a specific point (while Osten-Sacken himself interacts with Barclay’s earlier work, he unfortunately does not engage with Paul and the Gift). Within the context of a footnote justifying his translation and interpretation of Gal 3:11, Barclay writes: “There is no reason to find here a generalized contrast between the conditional Torah (which demands “doing”) and the promise (which requires only “faith” in God’s unconditional saving act; so F. Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith [London: T&T Clark, 2004], pp. 16-63, 276-77; developed in P.M. Sprinkle, Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:3 in Early Judaism and in Paul [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2008, pp. 133-64). Paul makes it clear that faith also involves action (5:6), arising from and made possible by the Christ-gift (2:20), and that in such action eternal life is at stake (5:21; 6:8). The Torah is problematic for Paul, not for setting conditions, or for demanding human action prior to God’s, but because it stands apart from the promise fulfilled in Christ and is incapable of producing either the righteousness or the faith to which the promise points” (Paul and the Gift, p. 406n40). On the one hand, like Barclay, Osten-Sacken strongly emphasizes that faith involves action that arises from and is made possible by the the action of God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit (e.g. 261) and notes that we also find a poiein and ergazesthai in the life of the Christian (161). Moreover, like Barclay, he takes the threat of judgment and its relation to the conduct of the Christian in 5:21 and 6:8 very seriously (see 274 and 299-304). On the other hand, Osten-Sacken nevertheless argues with reference to Gal 3:11-12 that for Paul “the nomos is now rejected as medium of justification and deliverance in general (generell), because it is oriented in general (überhaupt) to poiein, doing, and not to pistis” (114; not sure how best to translate überhaupt here). In other words, while he shares much in common with Barclay and his interpretation should not be equated with the specific emphases of Watson or Sprinkle that Barclay is rejecting, Osten-Sacken does think that Paul presents an opposition between “faith” and “doing” in Gal 3:11-12 and in other key texts in Galatians and Romans (cf. also II.b. above and IV.c. below).

IV. To give the reader of this post a true taste of the commentary, I will now translate an excerpt from Osten-Sacken’s three types of material: Überblick, Einzelexegese, Vertiefungen:

a) Überblick/Overview (p. 149, on Gal 3:13-14):

ET: The two verses 13-14 give the impression that they would bundle once again all the load-bearing terms of the preceding context and lead them to their goal. At the same time, the statements in 3:1-14 appear as a considered ring composition. It begins with the reminder of the proclamation of the crucified one by the apostle in the Galatian communities (3:1), and it concludes with the recourse to his liberating deed on the cross (3.13-14). What is new in 3.13-14 is the term promise (epangelia, 3:14), which occurs for the first time in the letter here. It is taken up especially in the second half of the third chapter and therefore in 3.14 resembles a springboard into the following statements of the apostle.

GV: Die beiden Verse 13f. erwecken den Eindruck als würden sie noch einmal alle tragenden Begriffe des vorausgehenen Zusammenhangs 1,1-12 bündeln und zu ihrem Ziel führen. Zugleich erscheinen die Ausführungen in 3,1-14 wie eine überlegte Ringkomposition. Sie beginnen mit der Erinnerung an die Verkündigung des Gekreuzigten durch den Apostel in den galatischen Gemeinden (3,1), und sie schließen mit dem Rekurs auf seine befreiende Tat am Kreuz (3,13f.). Neu ist in 3,13f. der hier zum ersten Mal im Brief begegnende Begriff der Verheißung (epangelia, 3,14). Er wird vor allem in der zweiten Hälfte des dritten Kapitels mehrfach aufgenommen und gleicht deshalb in 3,14 einem Sprungbrett in die anschließenden Darlegungen des Apostels.

b) Einzelexegese/Detailed exegesis (p. 191, on Gal 4:4)

ET: For a long time already, interpreters have postulated behind this expression [genomenon ek gynaikos/born of a woman] the Hebrew syntagm yelud isha, which occurs in both the Bible of Israel and in the texts of the Dead Sea. With this designation is connected statements that describe human life in a way in its creaturely frailty, which evoke associations that it is verhängt [not sure how to translate verhängt here: doomed? fated? punished? something else?] and in this sense subjected to stoicheia tou kosmou as enslaving conditions of existence. … The previously suggested understanding has the advantage that it interprets v. 4 also with its first participial specification genomenon ek gynaikos (and not first with the second genomenon hypo nomon) in close connection back to v. 3. The expression means, as a first illustration of the enslavement under the world elements, participation in human existence above all in its frailty or also in its Verhängtheit [also unsure how to translate the noun: doomed condition? fatedness? punishment?]. In this sense, the son is subjected to the same conditions of existence as the ones for whose sake he is sent.

GV: Man hat hinter dieser Wendung [genomenon ek gynaikos/geboren von einer Frau] schon seit langem die hebräische Verbindung jelud ischa vermutet, die sowohl in der Bibel Israels als auch in den Texten vom Toten Meer begegnet. Mit dieser Bezeichnung verbinden sich Aussagen, die das menschlichen Leben in einer Weise in seiner kreatürlichen Hinfälligkeit beschreiben, die die Assoziation hervorrufen, es sei verhängt und in diesem Sinn stoicheia tou kosmou als versklavenden Existenzbedingungen unterworfen. … Das zuvor vorgeschagene Verständnis hat den Vorzug, dass es v. 4 auch mit seiner ersten Partizipialbestimmung genomenon ek gynaikos (und nicht erst mit der zweiten genomenon hypo nomon) in engem Rückbezug auf v. 3 deutet. Die Wendung meint, als erste Veranschaulichung der Versklavung unter die Weltelemente, Teilhabe an menschlicher Existenz vor allem in ihrer Hinfälligkeit oder auch in ihrer Verhängtheit. In diesem Sinn ist der Sohn denselben Existenbedingungen unterworfen wie die, um derentwillen er gesandt ist.

c) Vertiefungen/Deependings (p. 70-72, on Gal 1.6-9; cf. II.b. and III.f. above)

ET: Revelation and Prerogative of Interpretation: Paul and the Rabbis

GV: Offenbarung und Deutungshoheit: Paulus und die Rabbinen

ET: The clearest material connection between Gal 1.6-9 and and b. Bava Metzia 59b lies in the firm rejection of a mixing in of the heavenly world in the shaping of the teaching of the apostle or the rabbis. …

GV: Die deutlichste sachliche Verbindung zwischen Gal 1,6-9 und bBava Mezia 59b liegt in der dezidierten Abwehr einer Einmischung der himmlischen Welt in die Gestaltung der Lehre des Apostels bzw. der Rabbinen. …

ET: Thus, the prerogative of interpretation of the apostle refers not only to the gospel received and proclaimed by him, but—as its basis—also to the Holy Scriptures of Israel, above all to the Torah.

GV: Die Deutungshoheit des Apostels bezieht sich mithin nicht nur auf das von ihm empfangene und verkündigte evangelium, sondern – als dessen Grundlage – auch auf die heiligen Schriften Israels, allen voran die Tora.

ET: In this respect, we can speak then not only of an analogy between Paul and the rabbis, but unquestionably also of a relation of divergence.

GV: In dieser Hinsicht lässt sich dann nicht nur von einer Analogie zwischen Paulus und die Rabbinen sprechen, sondern fraglos auch von einem Divergenzverhältnis.

ET: While the rabbis bring to the fore the Torah not exclusively but indeed with special weight as halakah, Paul interprets it as witness for Jesus Christ, a clear indication of the entirely different presupposition from which he comes since his calling to proclaim the gospel.

GV: Während die Rabbinen die Tora nicht allein, aber doch mit besonderen Gewicht als Halacha zur Geltung bringen, legt Paulus sie als Zeugnis für Jesus Christus aus, deutliches Indiz für die völlig andere Voraussetzung, von der er seit seiner Berufung zur Verkündigung des Evangeliums herkommt.

ET: The divergence becomes most impressively visible in the interaction with the last verse of the section Deut 30:12-14. The rabbis let it stand as it is: “The word is near in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” Paul, by contrast, breaks off the quotation before the infinitive clause and continues: “This is the word of faith, which we proclaim” (Rom 10:8).

GV: Am eindrücklichsten zeigt sich die Divergenz an dem Umgang mit dem letzten Vers des Abschnitts Dtn 30,12-14. Die Rabbinen lassen ihn stehen, wie er ist: “Nahe ist das Wort in deinem Munde und in deinem Herzen, es zu tun.” Paulus hingegen bricht das Zitat vor dem Infinitivsatz ab und fährt fort: “Das ist das Wort des Glaubens, das wir verkündigen” (Rom 10,8).

ET: What is juxtaposed/opposed with all this is not gospel and Torah—after all, Paul reclaims the Torah as a witness for the gospel and thereby draws it to his side—but rather gospel and halakah.

GV: Gegenüber stehen sich mit allem nicht Evangelium und Tora – Paulus reklamiert die Tora ja als Zeuge für das Evangelium und zieht sie damit auf dessen Seite –, vielmehr Evangelium und Halacha.

ET: In terms of substance, this juxtaposition/opposition [not sure how best to render Gegenüber here and below] also grasps the conflict in the Galatian communities and its theological processing by Paul much better than the frequently used antithesis of gospel and law, which we have already raised questions about.

GV: Dieses Gegenüber erfasst in der Sache auch den Konflikt in den galatischen Gemeinden und seine theologische Bearbeitung durch Paulus viel besser als die bereits problematisierte, oft bemühte Antithese von Evangelium und Gesetz.

ET: It makes clear terminologically that while the Pauline statements about the understanding of the law on the side of his opponents grasp a fundamental aspect of the law, they do not grasp the fullness of its significance in Judaism.

GV: Es macht begrifflich klar, dass mit den paulinischen Aussagen über das Verständnis des Gesetzes aufseiten der Gegner zwar ein wesentlicher Aspekt, aber nicht die Fülle seiner Bedeutung im Judentum erfasst wird.

ET: Thus, this—the juxtaposition/opposition of gospel and halakah—is probably the most important insight that is to be drawn from the recourse to b. Bava Metzia for the interpretation of Galatians.

GV: So dürfte dies – das Gegenüber von Evangelium und Halacha – die wichtigste Erkenntnis sein, die aus dem Rekurs auf bBava Mezia für die Auslegung des Galaterbrief zu ziehen ist.

V. Let me conclude by reiterating my great appreciation for Osten-Sacken’s commentary and by thanking him also for including both an index of ancient sources and an index of terms, subjects, and persons, which will be of particular help to his English readers!

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The Root of Wrede and Schweitzer’s Error: Hengel/Schwemer on the Messianic Claim of Jesus

For my one hundredth blog post, I have selected two excerpts from the most recent volume in the BMSEC series, Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer‘s book Jesus and Judaism (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2019; cf. here and here). As usual, I will alternate between the English Translation and German Version for the benefit of readers who are using this blog to develop their German language skills:

Excerpt 1 (ET = p. xix; GV = p. v):

ET: A special emphasis is placed on the still largely misjudged problem of the messianic claim of Jesus, without which the accounts of the Gospels cannot be understood. The ever so popular “unmessianic Jesus” never existed. This is shown by the comparison of Jesus with John the Baptist, his proclamation in authority, his deeds of power, the passion story with its accusation that he is “king of the Jews,” and the emergence of the earliest Christology, which has its ultimate foundation in Jesus’ activity and way.

GV: Ein besonderer Schwerpunkt bildet das bis heute weithin verkannte Problem des messianischen Anspruchs Jesu, ohne den wir die Berichte der Evangelien nicht verstehen können. Den immer noch so beliebten “unmessianischen Jesus” hat es nie gegeben. Das zeigen der Vergleich Jesu mit Johannes dem Täufer, seine Verkündigung in “Vollmacht”, seine Krafttaten, die Leidensgeschichte mit ihrer Anklage, er sein “der König der Juden”, und die Entstehung der frühesten Christologie, die ihren letzten Grund in Jesu Wirken und Weg besitzt.

Excerpt 2 (ET = pp. 547-48; GV = pp. 517-18):

ET: The Theories of Wrede and Schweitzer are diametrically different, and yet their error has the same root. Both believed that they could solve the controversial question of the messianic consciousness of Jesus through one comprehensive theory drawn from the Gospel of Mark. One thought that he had justified it, the other that he had refuted it. In reality neither the one nor the other is possible.

GV: Die Theorien von Wrede und Schweitzer sind diametral verschieden, und doch hat ihr Irrtum dieselbe Wurzel. Beide glaubten, die umstrittene Frage nach dem Messiasbewußtsein Jesu durch eine umfassende, aus dem Markusevangelium geschöpfte Theorie. Der eine meinte, dasselbe begründet, der andere, es widerlegt zu haben. In Wirklichkeit ist weder das eine noch das andere möglich.

ET: The only possible approach to the historical reality lies in the interplay of numerous, rather different texts, from Mark and the sayings tradition, with the inclusion of four complexes: (a) the witnesses to the variety of Jewish messianic expectations, which have been significantly expanded by the Qumran texts; (b) the relationship of Jesus, presented above, to his “forerunner,” the Baptist; (c) the accusation against Jesus and its Jerusalem prehistory since his entrance into the city; and (d) the question of the emergence of the earliest Christology and its development in the post-Easter circle of disciples, in which Jesus’ word and deed were still directly vivid.

GV: Die einzig mögliche Annäherungsweise liegt im Zusammenspiel zahlreicher, recht verschiedener Texte, aus Markus und der Logientradition, unter Einbeziehung von vier Komplexen: (a) die durch die Qumrantexte wesentlich erweiterten Zeugnisse für die Vielfalt der jüdischen Messiaserwartung, (b) das oben dargestellte Verhältnis Jesu zu seinem “Vorläufer,” dem Täufer, (c) die Angklage gegen Jesus und ihre Jerusalemer Vorgeschichte seit dem Einzug und (d) die Frage nach der Entstehung der frühesten Christologie und ihrer Ausbildung im nachösterlichen Jüngerkreis, in dem Jesu Wort und Tat noch unmittelbar lebendig waren.

ET: All four points were neglected by Wrede, and this is all the more true for his successors, i.e., for Rudolf Bultmann and the majority of his students. We must give great credit to Wrede that he himself, in contrast, to his epigones, placed only a powerful question mark here and did not—as happened later in a historically less conscientious way—deny it with a categorical quod non but rather continued to reflect upon it, and, at the end, cautiously called his opinion into question again, as shown by his letter to Harnack.

GV: Alle vier Punkte hat Wrede vernachlässigt, und dasselbe gilt erst recht von seinen Nachfolgern, das heißt Rudolf Bultmann und der Mehrzahl seiner Schüler. Man muß es Wrede hoch anrechnen, daß er selbst, im Gegensatz zu seinen Epigonen, hier nur ein kräftiges Fragezeichen gesetzt, die Frage aber nicht – wie es dann später, historisch weniger gewissenhaft, geschah – mit einem kategorischen quod non abgelehnt hat, sondern weiter darüber nachgedacht hat, um am Ende, wie der Brief an Harnack zeigt, seine Meinung vorsichtig wieder in Frage zu stellen.

In addition to the enjoyable Zusammenarbeit with Anna Maria Schwemer, working on this project brought back good memories of working with Martin Hengel in the context of my first published translation and even better memories of my many friends and teachers in Tübingen (and Nürnberg), without whom I would never have become a translator or New Testament scholar at all. Against this background, I am especially glad that this volume is appearing only a year after Daniel P. Bailey’s excellent translation of my teacher Peter Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament. And I am also moved to remember my teacher and first academic employer Friedrich Avemarie, to whom I owe so much.

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Review of Jan Rüggemeier’s Poetik der markinischen Christologie: Eine kognitiv-narratologische Exegese

I am happy to see that my review of Jan Rüggemeier’s book Poetik der markinischen Christologie: Eine kognitiv-narratologische Exegese has been published by RBL (see here).

For those who do not have access to the full review, let me include several short excerpts from the review here:

As a recipient of the Armin Schmitt Preis für biblische Textforschung (2017) and the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise (2019), Jan Rüggemeier’s Poetik der markinischen Christologie is an outstanding monograph that demonstrates the value of a cognitive-narratological exegesis and advances the study of Markan Christology.

His goal is to integrate historical and philological methods of exegesis and more recent approaches, especially from the realm of literary criticism and narratology, into a common system of viewing the text and, at the same time, to demonstrate the possibilities of such an approach with reference to the Markan image of Jesus, with the ultimate aim of providing a new and maximally nuanced answer to the question of the Christology of Mark (3; also 517).

Because Rüggemeier has already provided a robust presentation of his own integrative model of textual interpretation in chapter 2, he is able to conclude each section with an evaluation and methodological comparison that concisely weighs in on material issues and sheds especially valuable light on the contours of his own approach. Due to the placement, organization, and analytical rigor of this chapter, Rüggemeier achieves the rare and commendable feat of providing a history of research that advances the overall argument with insight and verve.

This section includes a compact summary of Rüggemeier’s interpretation of the disciples’ incomprehension (500–505), the messianic secret (505–7; see 363–73), and the ending of Mark (507–13). According to Rüggemeier, the messianic secret is an expression of Jesus’s subordination to the Father: prior to Easter, Jesus does not speak of himself as the Son or let others speak of him as the Son because the full revelation of Jesus as Son and Lord is reserved for the Father alone (506; see also 372).

Rüggemeier argues that, rather than representing a “sporadic Kyrios Christology” (406, 488, 490, 496), Mark has a “coherent Kyrios Christology” (412) and suggests that “this high christological conception represents the key to understanding the Markan Christology” (490). While I remain hesitant to adopt this thesis in toto, Rüggemeier has persuaded me that my understanding of Mark and Markan Christology must be shaped much more strongly by the Markan Kyrios texts in their relationship to the wider narrative and perhaps also by the possibility that “Mark thematically takes up the early Christian confession to the one God of Israel and the one Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 8:6) and joins it narratively with the episodic narratives of the primitive community” (531; see also 406–8).

For my main criticism of the book, please see the published review!

For a translation of key excerpts from this book, see my “German Scholars” post on Rüggemeier here.

For Rüggemeier’s development of his perspective in critical dialogue with Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, see J. Rüggemeier, “Mark’s Jesus Reviewed: Towards a Cognitive-Narratological Reading of Character Perspectives and Markan Christology,” in Reading the Gospel of Mark in the Twenty-First Century: Method and Meaning, ed. Geert van Oyen, BETL 301 (Leuven: Peeters, 2019), 717-736.

For a German review of Rüggemeier’s work, see Paul-Gerhard Klumbies’ 2019 ThLZ review.

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New Journal of Ethics in Antiquity and Christianity & Raphaela J. Meyer zu Hörste-Bühre on the Biblical Texts as an Element of the Relation between God and Humans

For some time now I have been wanting to announce the good news of the launching of a new open access journal on ethics, especially as readers of this blog can take advantage of the opportunity to practice their language skills by comparing the German and English versions of the opening editorial! For another recent open access gem, see here.

In this post, I will first pass on a brief description of the new journal and then provide a translation of a German excerpt with a brief grammatical analysis. Since one of the things that I like about the journal is the inclusion of theses for discussion, I have selected an excerpt from Raphaela J. Meyer zu Hörste-Bührer‘s theses on the significance of the biblical texts for ethical work.


The newly founded international open access journal “Journal of Ethics in Antiquity and Christianity (JEAC)” (available at provides a platform for specialized research in ancient ethics with a particular focus on its impact and interdependence with the development of Christian ethics. It attempts to establish a dialogue between biblical, classical, Judaistic and patristic research on the one hand, and philosophical and theological approaches on the other. Thus, the journal opens up opportunities for interaction between the ethical traditions of antiquity – including the origins of Christian ethics – and current ethical discourses. The journal is edited and published by the research center “Ethics in Antiquity and Christianity“ ( at Mainz university.

The first issue, out now, is dedicated to the reflection on the hermeneutical challenges of the venture itself, and features essays and articles by Jan Assmann, William Schweiker, John J. Collins, Adela Yarbro Collins, Robert Brawley, Wolfram Kinzig, and Christoph Jedan. The second issue will look at the role of emotion in ancient and contemporary ethics. Further open issues are planned, and contributions are welcome. In addition to peer reviewed essays and articles, the journal has a „dialogue-„section, one for reviews and miscellae, and encourages contributions on ethical theories and issues in antiquity and the present.

II. Raphaela J. Meyer zu Hörste-Bühre on the Biblical Texts as an Element of the Relation between God and Humans (cf. here)

German text: Sofern man eine Geistwirkung in der Entstehung, Redaktion, Tradierung, Kanonisierung, weiteren Überlieferung und Rezeption der Texte nicht ausschließt, lassen sich die biblischen Texte in zweifacher Hinsicht als Element der Relation zwischen Gott und Menschen verstehen: Einerseits haben sie die Relation zum Inhalt, andererseits sind sie selbst Produkt der Relation.
ET: As long as we do not rule out an activity of the Spirit in the emergence, redaction, traditioning, canonization, further handing down and reception of the texts, the biblical texts can be understood in two respects as an element of the relation between God and humans: On the one hand, they have this relation as their content; on the other hand, they are themselves a product of this relation.
Grammatical analysis: Although this is a clearly written sentence, it presents several difficulties for the translator. 1) I sometimes struggle to determine the precise force of “Sofern” – here I think “as long as” might capture the sense better than “insofar as”; 2) Geisteswirkung presents several problems; first, the translator must determine the meaning of Geist – here I think it means Spirit rather than spirit or something like mind; second, one must capture the force of Wirkung – here I am not sure if it is something like “impact” or “influence” or more durative such as “activity,” but I think the latter is probably best; 3) while I have translated “man … nicht ausschließt” with “we do not exclude”, I often render this construction by making it passive, i.e. “an activity … is not excluded in …” – but it seemed best to keep the active voice here; 4) Tradierung is challenging – I went with “traditioning”, partly because I used handing down later in the sentence and because it seemed desire to keep the term tradition in play, though something like “passing on” might have worked; 5) Unfortunately, I am not sure if weiteren goes with Überlieferung only or with both Überlieferung and Rezeption – depending on how it works, it should probably rendered either with a) and further handing down and reception” or with b) “further handing down, and reception”; 6) German authors have the option of not using an article, i.e. of writing als Element rather than als das Element or als ein Element, whereas it sounds a rather awkward in English to write “as element of the” – here “as an element of” seems best to me; the same issue arises with “Produkt”. 7) lassen sich … verb can usually be rendered with “can be x-ed”; 8) although the German text just uses the article – die Relation / der Relation – it seemed to me that it has anaphoric force, and I have therefore rendered it with “this relation”.
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