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!

For more German commentaries on Galatians, see here.

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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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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

Review of R. Zimmermann’s The Logic of Love (trans. D. T. Roth)

In this post I will provide a review of Ruben Zimmermann‘s newly translated book The Logic of Love: Discovering Paul’s “Implicit Ethics” Through 1 Corinthians (trans. Dieter T. Roth; Fortress Academic, 2019; cf. German Version).

Let me begin with a reading suggestion. For scholars of 1 Corinthians or New Testament ethics, I think that this will be a book that they happily read from cover to cover, profiting throughout from the precision, depth, and sophistication of Zimmermann’s argument. However, for a broader range of readers (including philosophers, pastors, students, and anyone who is interested in the potential relevance of Paul for thinking about ethics), I would suggest starting with Zimmermann’s short “Introduction” (xvii-xix) and his concluding chapter “Pauline Ethics in Current Ethical Debate,” with the rational that this path will give readers a clear sense of the fruit and relevance of Zimmermann’s approach at the outset, which will, in turn, provide the necessary motivation to work through the more difficult previous chapters.

In his introduction, Zimmerman clearly sets out his purpose:

“It is the express purpose of the book to uncover and trace the pluralistic and contextually bound ethics in the Pauline texts. We want to descend with Paul into the valley of practical ethics in which we do not encounter dogmatic judgments in the sense of absolute, metaphysical statements (God says …) nor simple alternatives (good/evil) nor radical principleism (you should …). Instead we discover a multiplicity of norms, deliberative judgments, and nuanced claims to validity. Such an ethics is not a priori impossible within the context of a modern, pluralistic society” (xix).

The last part of this quotation signals another important feature of Zimmermann’s work, namely, his “aim of making biblical ethics once again compatible and relevant as a conversation partner in interdisciplinary debates concerning ethics” for which reason he chooses “to examine and describe the context and grounds of justification in Pauline ethics using the language and forms of description utilized in modern ethical theory” (xii; cf. 30). In this respect, Zimmermann’s work is comparable to David Horrell’s important book Solidarity and Difference (cf. also here).

Zimmermann’s first chapter “Ethics: Basic Considerations and Terminology” (1-28) is especially rewarding for two reasons. First, as elsewhere (e.g. here), Zimmermann excels here in his ability to clarify his use of key terms such as morals, ethos, ethics, and metaethics and in the care in which he presents his reasons for using the term “implicit ethics.” In his view, “ethics is the reflective consideration of a way of living with a view toward its guiding norms and having as its goal an evaluation” (4). Second, Zimmermann provides a very helpful discussion of recent debates—esp. in German scholarship—over the validity and sufficiency of the “indicative-imperative model.” Indeed, this section (13-21) would be an excellent gateway for Anglophone readers into this significant and lively area of debate in the German-language sphere (cf. also here). Whatever one thinks about the validity or usefulness of the formula “indicative and imperative” with respect to illuminating certain features of Paul’s thought, I think Zimmermann persuasively argues that taking one’s orientation from this formula runs the risk of hindering conversation with other disciplines and, perhaps more importantly, of focusing too narrowly on a small part of the material that needs to be considered with regard to the scope of the study of the grounds for Pauline ethics (20).

The weighty second chapter: “On Methodology: How to Read Biblical Texts Ethically” (29-110) develops Zimmermann’s model of implicit ethics. Without going into detail, let me point out two features of this chapter that I appreciated. First, Zimmermann develops an analytical grid that brings more of the Pauline material into view than is usually the case by incorporating seven different perspectives or points of view, namely 1. The Medium of Ethics: Moral Language, 2. Ethical Points of Contact: Norms as Indicators of Ethical Significance, 3. Ethics in Context: Convention and Tradition-History of Individual Norms, 4. Ethics as a System of Values: Developing a Hierarchy of Norms, 5. Forms of Ethical Reflection: Generating Moral Significance, 6. The Ethical Subject: Questions concerning the Moral Agent, 7. Ethics and Social Reality: Lived Ethos, 8. The Purview of Ethics: The Realm of Validity-Application. In terms of specifics, I particularly enjoyed his inclusion of sections on Mimetic Ethics (70-72) and Doxological Ethics (72-73). Second, in addition to entering into dialogue with relevant discussions in New Testament scholarship (e.g. “The use of the term “Ethos” in NT Studies, pp. 83-85), this chapter frequently provides one with a window into wider ethical discourses (e.g. Further Foundational Questions concerning a “Value Ethics”, pp. 54-58).

Chapter 3: “A Test Study: ‘Implicit Ethics’ in 1 Corinthians (111-229) shows Zimmermann’s model in action, working through the seven “points of view” set out in chapter 2 with reference to 1 Corinthians. What struck me most about this chapter is how Zimmermann’s different perspectives and ethical tool kit often gave me new insights into some of the texts that I am most familiar with. For example, his discussion of “Weighing Goods in the Discourse on Marriage in 1 Cor 7” (154-158) helped me to see how and why Paul can argue in the first section of this chapter that it is good not to marry (vv. 1, 8), but it is better to marry (v. 9) and in the second section that it is good to marry (v. 38; cf. v. 36), but it is better (v. 38b) not to marry!

In terms of constructive criticism, I would like to focus on Zimmermann’s discussion of the topic of freedom, with special reference to his treatment of “freedom” in 1 Cor 9. On the one hand, I think that there is much to commend in his discussion. In particular, his valuable “Attempt at an Overarching Hierarchy of Values in 1 Corinthians” correctly places freedom under the category “Second Order: Values of Relative Validity” and perceptively explains how “the same norm can be super- or subordinated, depending on the ethical problem or concrete conflict at hand” (147). Moreover, while I think it is necessary to go further than Zimmermann in actively defending a concessive interpretation of the participle ὤν in 1 Cor 9:19 (see Coppins 2009; 2011; 2014a), I think that he rightly grasps the most important points for the interpretation of this verse when he states:

“One should treat a too narrow conception of the participle as causative with caution, however, especially in the light of the ensuing verses (cf. the concessive μὴν in 20-21). The norm of freedom itself is not that from which making oneself a slave is derived. … Individual freedom, however, can be subordinated to other norms in a process of teleological reflection. This is precisely the case when, stated negatively, there is a danger that the congregation would suffer (as in 1 Cor 10:29) or, stated positively, when the congregation can be encouraged (as in 1 Cor 9:19-23). In such cases one is dealing with ‘forgoing the exercise of one’s own ἐξουσία, but not the application or implementation of freedom. Freedom is no longer the highest norm guiding conduct.” (133)

In short, in this quotation Zimmermann rightly recognizes that freedom is assigned a relative validity, while correctly clarifying that it is not functioning as the highest norm guiding conduct and that neither the action of making oneself a slave nor the action of forgoing the exercise of one’s own ἐξουσία is explicitly presented as the application or implementation of freedom.

On the other hand, it seems to me that there are other places in Zimmermann’s argument where his statements on freedom are more problematic. For example, on the previous page, he states that “In the ensuing discussion Paul explains that his individual relinquishing of this claim should actually be understood as an expression of his understanding of freedom” (132). Moreover, he later states that “From an ethical point of view this means that ‘freedom’ is directed toward the goal of the preaching of the gospel and the gospel mission, i.e. teleologically and along the lines of a consequentialist perspective. As already hinted at in the clauses of 1 Cor 6:12 and 10:23, freedom is determined by and limited through certain consequences of behavior. In the passage in 1 Cor 9:19-23 presently under consideration the goal of the norm of freedom is: ‘so that I … might win and by all means save’ … These aims are summarized in 1 Cor 9:23 in the goals of the proclamation of the gospel” (154). Finally, taking a rather different tack, Zimmermann also states that “A climax of sorts can be seen in 1 Cor 9:19-22 for here Paul relinquishes the right to recognized norms such as the Torah, strength, and even freedom (1 Cor 9:19)” (244).

In criticism of this second set of quotations, I think it is advisable to refrain from claiming that Paul presents his relinquishing of certain rights as “an expression of his understanding of freedom.” Moreover, I would want to clarify that Paul’s making himself a slave to all is directed toward the goal of the preaching of the gospel and the gospel mission in 1 Cor 9:19-23, but it is not clear to me that the same can be said of “freedom.” Likewise, the goal of Paul’s making himself is a slave to all is “so that I … might win and by all means save”, but it is not obvious that the same can be said of “freedom.” Finally, moving in the other direction, I think that it is insufficiently precise or at least potentially misleading to say that Paul relinquishes the right to the norm of freedom in 1 Cor 9. In 1 Cor 9:1 Paul affirms that he is free, and he never takes claim this back. On the contrary, he appears to think that he remains free. Likewise, Paul affirms that he has certain rights and never retracts this claim. Rather, what he does say is that he has not made use of any of these rights (9:15). How exactly this latter point relates to what can be said about freedom is less clear, at least to me. Here, however, I continue to think that it is important to stress that Paul himself does not explicitly clarify the important question of “whether his self-imposed slavery should be understood as a/the manifestation of ‘freedom’ or rather as the renunciation or limitation of the use of ‘freedom'” (Coppins 2009, 76).

As I suggested at the outset of my review, I think that many readers of Zimmermann’s book would do well to begin with his fourth chapter “Pauline Ethics in Current Ethical Debate” (231-266). An initial feel for this final chapter can already be gained from the section headings: Introduction (231-233), “Trapeze Ethics”—Beyond Principial and Situational Ethics (233-235), Pluralistic Ethics—Beyond Rationalistic Logic and an Ethics of Norms (235-239), Practical Ethics—Beyond Utilitarianism and Universalism (239-242), Ethics of Relinquishing—Beyond Rights-Based and Contractual Ethics (242-246), Bodily Ethics—Beyond Hedonism and Communitarianism (246-251), Ethics of Love—Beyond Eudaimonian and Virtue Ethics (251-257).

The volume concludes with Three Appendices—Appendix I: Imperatives in 1 Corinthians (267-275), Appendix II: Overview of Select Norms of Conduct in 1 Corinthians (277-279), and Appendix III: Select Metaphorical Ethics in 1 Corinthians (281)—a Bibliography (283-327), an Index of Subjects and Names (329-332), and an Index of Passages (333-340).

In summary, this is an excellent book by a leading New Testament scholar that fruitfully contributes to broader interdisciplinary debates concerning ethics. For me personally, the most important contribution of the book involves the way that it helped me to expand my vision with regard to the range of material that should be considered in relation to Paul’s ethics and, more specifically, sharpened my sense of what to look for through Zimmermann’s valuable analytical grid or organon. With this in mind, I hope that Zimmermann presents further “test cases” for his approach in the future or that other scholars take up his analytical grid in their own work.

As a final note, I would like to express my great admiration for Dieter T. Roth’s translation. As Zimmermann notes, the high quality of the translation reflects not only Roth’s “bilingual background and exegetical expertise,” but also his evident care “to engage and accurately render the many technical terms and discussions in philosophical moral theory and Pauline ethics” (xiv). For my part, I suspect it is precisely Roth’s exceptionally fine grasp of the nuances of the German language and of the relevant academic discourses that has enabled him to produce such a fluid translation in English.

As one example of the quality of Roth’s translation, let me highlight his treatment of the technical terminology that German authors often use in speaking about metaphors. Having struggled to render this language on several occasions, I appreciated the precise and elegant solution that Roth adopted as well as his decision to include the German terms in this case:

69: “Consonant with its etymology (Greek μετα-φέρειν = carry over), a metaphor characterizes itself through a transfer from a known semantic field (the realm offering the image, i.e., the bildspendender Bereich) to another, usually unknown or unclear, field (the realm receiving the image, i.e. the bildempfangender Bereich).”

What I like about Roth’s treatment of this particular sentence is that it proceeds in a way that helps the English reader to see and understand how exactly Zimmermann and other German authors speak about this issue, which sheds light, in turn, upon the subject matter itself. In my own attempts to render this terminology, I have often translated the technical terms with “source domain” and “target domain,” which I think is a solid solution in many cases. Here, however, I think Roth’s solution is better, precisely because it gives greater insight into the way in which this topic is discussed in the German language sphere.

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Susanne Luther’s Discourse-Analytical Approach to Speech-Ethics in Matthew, James, and 1 Peter: A Reading Guide to an Impressive New Book

In today’s post I will look at a recent work by Dr. Susanne Luther (Eng) of the University of Mainz. I  have decided to provide a “reading guide” to her 2015 book Sprachethik im Neuen Testament (Google Books) simply because I think it is an impressive book that will be of interest not only to New Testament scholars specializing in speech-ethics, but also to three other groups of people, namely a) scholars with a special interest in cutting-edge methodological reflection in the field [see esp. my discussion of her Introduction], b) exegetes of all stripes whose research is focused on Matthew, James, or 1 Peter [see especially my discussion of chapter 8], and c) PhD students (and other scholars) who are looking for a well-developed, imitable methodological approach [see especially my discussion of chapters 2-7 and of her introduction]. In other words, my purpose is not to offer a full review but merely to direct my readers to particular topics and pages that might be of special relevance to their research.

Preface: Two points may be noted here: 1) The book is based on Luther’s PhD dissertation at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, which was supervised by Prof. Oda Wischmeyer (Eng). 2) Since 2009 Luther has held the position of Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin for the chair of Prof. Ruben Zimmermann (Eng) in Mainz.

1. Introduction: This 66 page introduction will be especially relevant to scholars interested in reflecting upon methodological developments in New Testament Studies. After (1) defining her topic and key terms and (2) providing a brief account of the status quaestionis, Luther (3) presents a valuable 23 page discussion of her chosen methodology, i.e. discourse analysis (23-47), as well as (4) further discussion of the importance of context for discourse analysis. In my judgment, section 3 is especially valuable. The strength of her discussion lies not simply in the fact that she provides a helpful discussion of Michel Foucault’s discourse theory and its appropriation and development in application oriented discourse theories (esp. in Achim Landwehr’s historical discourse analysis and Siegfried Jäger’s critical discourse analysis) but even more in the fact that she ably and concisely articulates her own view of the “heuristic added value the discourse-analytical method” (pp. 40-43) and, most importantly, sketches out in a very precise way how she will implement her “combination of methods of historical as well as critical discourse analysis, linguistic and literary text-analysis, and historical-critical exegesis” (43-47). In other words, unlike many studies, her theoretical reflections build to a very coherent and imitable approach that I think could be of value to other scholars who are seeking to find a methodological framework that could help them to approach and structure their research, especially if they, like Luther, wish to pursue a given topic that is developed in various New Testament books.

Chapters 2-7: In these chapters Luther organizes the material thematically, i.e. by topic and not by New Testament book. For example, in chapter 2 she discusses the topic of “speaking in anger.” Notably, each chapter basically proceeds in the same way. First, after a very brief chapter introduction, Luther discusses the discursive context. Here,  the focus is not on historical dependence but on material/thematic parallels to the topic in question. For example, in chapter 2 she discusses how the topic of speaking in anger is treated in Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch, Epictetus, Philo, the Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, she discusses the relevant New Testament texts (in this case Mt 5.21-26 and James 1.19-27). Third, she provides a more synthetic analysis of the topic.

Notably, her discussion of the texts always follows the same pattern: 1) Translation and 2) Exegetical Observations. The latter is then subdivided into the same categories: 2.1: Argumentative structures; 2.2: Intertextuality [understood very broadly] and discourse-strand overlaps, 2.2.3: Ideological Frameworks; 2.2.4 Speech-Ethical Aspects. In my judgment, it is this sort of structural consistency and precision that makes her approach particularly useful for comparing themes across the New Testament and potentially imitable. In other words, one could use this same format to discuss another theme, which would only require a revision of the focus of 2.2.4.

The topics of the chapters are as follows: 2) Anger: Speaking in Anger and the Intention of the Speaker, 3) The ‘Control of the Tongue’: Control of the Affects and Controlled Speaking, 4) Speaking Falsely: Inadequate Forms and Intentions of Speaking, 5) Taking Oaths: Speech-Acts and the Truth of Speaking, 6) The Divided Person: The Integrity of the Person and Speech, 7) From Judging to Reprimand: Speech in the Responsibility of a Person.

I have not yet read all of these chapters yet, but the material I have read is characterized by considerable exegetical insight and impressive theoretical and synthetic reflection.

Chapter 8: The Discourse Strand of Speech-Ethics in the New Testament.

Exegetes who are specializing in Matthew, James, or 1 Peter may wish to start with chapter 8. Here, Luther initially proceeds on a book-by-book basis, providing a concise synthesis of her analysis of speech-ethics in Matthew (407-414), James (414-422; cf. 441-453), and 1 Peter (422-428). Moreover, she then goes on to provide a Reconstruction of the New Testament Discourse Strand (430-437). Rather than merely offering atomistic observations on passages pertaining to speech-ethics, Luther’s synthetic analyses seek to work out the depth dimensions of these books as a whole in such a way that they will be relevant for any exegete who is interested in Matthew, James, and 1 Peter.

Appendix: The Law in James (pp. 441-453)

The book concludes with an appendix on the law in James, which gives special attention to the relationship between λόγος and νόμος. Here is a brief quotation from its conclusion to give you a sense of where she ends up:

English: In James there is not an identification of λόγος and νόμος but rather a coordination of the two terms to each other, which displays their complementing supplemental relation. The λόγος presents the presupposition and grounding of the νόμος.

German (p. 452): Im Jakobusbrief findet sich keine Identifikation von λόγος und νόμος, sondern eine Zuordnung der beiden Termini zueinander, die ihr sich komplematär ergänzendes Verhältnis anzeigt: Der λόγος stellt die Voraussetzung und Begründung des νόμος dar.

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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