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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