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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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 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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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







My Jesus Blog Review of the Jesus Handbook

The Jesus Blog is pleased today to publish Wayne Coppins’s detailed review of the new Jesus Handbuch, edited by Jens Schroeter and Christine Jacobi and published by Mohr Siebeck in their Handbuecher Theologie series. This review will particularly be helpful for those readers of the Jesus Blog who can’t read the Jesus Handbuch in German, though…

via Wayne Coppins’s Review of the Jesus Handbuch — The Jesus Blog

Jörg Frey on the Source-Critical and Redaction-Critical Approach to the Gospel of John

I am happy to announce that I have just submitted my co-translation (with Christoph Heilig) of a selection of essays on John by Jörg Frey (Eng), which will be published in the BMSEC series in 2018 with the title The Glory of the Crucified One. Thus, it seemed fitting to celebrate this occasion by continuing my series of posts on Frey’s chapter “Wege und Perspektiven der Interpretation des Johannesevangelium,” which will be titled “Approaches to the Interpretation of John” in our volume. For my full range of posts on The Glory of the Crucified One, see here.

Today’s key quotation comes from section 1.4 of this chapter : “The Source-Critical and Redaction-Critical Approach: The Search for ‘Original’ Sources and the Question of the Theological Development of the Johannine Community.”

After presenting specific criticisms of several recent source-critical works, Frey has this to say about the lasting value of this approach (page 20 in Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten):

Such works are well suited to discredit the method of source criticism as a whole. At the same time, here too a particula veri should be upheld. For the Gospel of John can scarcely be regarded as a text ‘made from a single mold,’ as a completely homogeneous literary unity.

Solche Arbeiten sind geeignet, die Methde der Literarkritik gänzlich zu diskredieren. Gleichwohl sollte auch hier eine particula veri festgehalten werden: Das Johannesevangelium kann eben doch kaum als ein Text ‘aus einem Guß’, als eine völlig homogene, literarische Einheit gelten.

It probably grew over a rather extended period of time, and strongly synchronic interpretations are justified text-theoretically rather than in a way that is actually historical.

Es ist wahrscheinlich über einen längeren Zeitraum gewachsen, und dezidiert synchrone Interpretationen sind eher texttheoretisch als tatsächlich historisch begründet.

At least for chapter 21 the question of a secondary expansion or edition of an existing text arises, and the question of what else was possibly added in this context can only be approached with cautious deliberations, since we have no parallel texts for comparison.

Zumindest für Kapitel 21 stellt sich die Frage einer sekundären Ergänzung bzw. Edition eines vorliegendes Textes, und die Frage, was in diesem Zusammenhang eventuell noch ergänzt wurde, läßt sich, da keine Paralleltexte zum Vergleich bereitliegen, nur mit vorsichtigen Erwägungen angehen.

The same applies to the by no means irrelevant question of the presupposed sources and traditions. For it seems clear that the evangelist presupposes sources and traditions.

Das gleich gilt für die keineswegs irrelevante Frage nach den vorausgesetzten Quellen and Traditionen: Daß der Evangelist Quellen und Traditionen voraussetzt, scheint klar zu sein.

As long as one regarded the Johannine line of development as completely independent and not dependent on other early Christian traditions (especially the Synoptics), one had to reckon with sources that consisted of larger narrative pieces (semeia source and passion narrative or Grundschrift). If one assumes knowledge of the Synoptic tradition, such continuous sources can scarcely be reconstructed any longer, but even then the taking up of individual special traditions from the Johannine community or other circles must be assumed.

Solange man die johanneische Entwicklungslinie für völlig eigenständig und von anderen frühchristlichen Überlieferungen (insbesondere den Synoptikern) unabhängig ansah, mußte man dann mit größeren erzählerischen Quellenstücken (Semeiaquelle und Passionsbericht oder Grundschrift) rechnen, wenn man mit Kenntnissen der synoptischen Überlieferung rechnet, können solche durchlaufenden Quellen kaum mehr rekonstruiert werden, aber auch dann ist die Aufnahme einzelner Sonderüberlieferungen aus dem johanneischen Gemeindekreis oder anderen Kreisen anzunehmen.

Now the source situation for a resolution of the associated problems are anything but great, so that one can scarcely expect source criticism to provide the key for the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel.

Freilich ist die Quellenanlage für eine Lösung der damit gegebenen Probleme alles andere als günstig, so daß von der Literarkritik der Schlüssel zur Interpretation des vierten Evangeliums kaum zu erwarten ist.


As a single comment on the translation of this passage, let me simply flag up the difficulty of translating the German terms Literarkritik and literarkritisch. Since it is now used to refer to a very different approach, “literary criticism” is not a viable solution in my judgment. Accordingly, the translator must find another term for the subject matter in question. This, however, is difficult. In fact, since Literarkritik is a more far-reaching term than “source criticism” (see e.g. here), I considered retaining the noun Literarkritik (see e.g. here) and even gave considerable thought to whether it would be possible to coin a new word for the adjective. However, in the end, while recognizing the shortcomings of using “source criticism” and “source-critical” (see e.g. here), I decided to adopt this common translation, albeit with reservations.

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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


Bill Heroman, Christoph Markschies, and the “Great Man Theory”

As a way of wishing Bill Heroman a happy birthday, this post will focus on a topic that he has discussed at length, namely the so-called “Great Man Theory.” I’ve chosen to combine the perspectives of Heroman and Markschies, because I think they approach the topic from two fascinating angles. Neither wishes to defend this rightly discredited theory of course but rather to enable us to think about it more precisely. In short, Heroman unpacks its mnemonic advantages, while Markschies shows how its emphasis on the role played by talented individuals contains an element of truth when considered in relation to the dynamics of institutionalization. Let me give a sense of each of their contributions by including several key quotations from Heroman’s multi-part blog series on “Heroic Histories” (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, recap of 1-6, 7) and a single quotation from Markschies’s book Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire.

Key Quotations from Heroman:

Heroic Histories, 1: From a reception standpoint, therefore, while the so-called “great man theory” (henceforth a.k.a. “the hero-centered view of history”, or “the hero-driven theory of history”, or for short perhaps just “heroic history”) remains impossible to defend as either objective or accurate, it has nevertheless gone deeply under-appreciated by professional historians, who should at least feel duty-bound to explain its perennial appeal. Most importantly, we may have all overlooked the mnemonic advantages heroic histories provide in their oversimplifications.

Heroic Histories, 6: The primary advantage of Biography, for delivering rememberable story-structure, is that the ultimate human contingencies (birth & death) guarantee the reader a stable continuity in discourse, with both consistent orientation on a single subject (stable content) and an implicitly overarching chronological timeline (stable structure). That’s why a comprehensive life story’s fabula/discourse dynamic is unique among narrative genres and styles.

Heroic Histories Recap: So far, this series has made two major points. First, Heroic History is a common literary tactic because it offers significant mnemonic advantages for remembering the past. But second – and perhaps more importantly – Plot isn’t everything. Memorable stories also cohere strongly around Character.

Key Quotation from Markschies (English and German):

CTaiI (p. 26): Thus, when the term “Institution” is used to consider not only the hierarchically structured majority church but first and foremost all social structures that establish stability and duration, then the focus on the “great men”—which characterizes the traditional writing of church history and is [often] so problematic from an epistemic methodological perspective—obtains a good sense as well: institutionalization can only succeed when, in addition to a new idea, there are also “talented individuals” who endeavor to obtain a social basis for its establishment. Whether we know all these individuals and whether they were only male is naturally a completely different question that is also difficult to answer for the second and third centuries.

KCTuiI (p. 37): Wenn also mit dem Terminus “Institution” hier nicht nur die hierarchisch strukturierte christliche Mehrheitskirche in den Blick genommen werden soll, sondern zunächst einmal alle sozialen Gebilde, die Stabilität und Dauer etablieren, dann bekommt auch der wissenschaftsmethodisch oft so problematische Blick auf die “großen Männer”, der traditionelle Kirchengeschichtsschreibung prägt, einen guten Sinn: Institutionaliserung kann ja nur gelingen, wenn es neben einer neuen Idee auch “talentierte Individuen” gibt, die sich um eine soziale Basis zu ihrer Durchsetzung bemühen. Ob wir alle diese Individuen kennen und ob es nur Männer waren, ist natürlich eine ganz andere Frage, die für das zweite und dritte Jahrhundert auch nur sehr schwer beantwortet werden kann.

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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

Happy to see Bob Dylan made my Top Ten Posts of 2015

Here are my top posts of 2015 – glad to see Dylan made it!

1.  Echoes and Empire Criticism: Christoph Heilig on Hays, Barclay, and Wright/Elliott

2.  Jumping over one’s own shadow with Ernst Käsemann and David Lincicum: the challenge of translating unusual idioms

3. Michael Wolter, Martin Hengel, and the Titles of the Gospels

4. Francis Watson, Jens Schröter, and the Sayings Collection Genre of the Gospel of Thomas

5. Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

6. Christine Jacobi on Social Memory and Jesus Tradition in Paul

7. Greek Grammar and Linguistics Beyond BDR/BDF: Heinrich Siebenthal zum 70. Geburtstag

8. Peter Arzt-Grabner on the Interpretation of ΙΟΥΝΙΑΝ in Rom 16.7 (Paulus Handbuch Series)

9. Bob Dylan Career Path

10.  Christoph Markschies and the Publication of Christian Theology and Its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (BMSEC 3)

For my top posts of 2014 see here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

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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

3 PhD Positions, 1 Postdoc Position, and a German Summer School in Mainz

I recently learned from Ruben Zimmermann about two great opportunities at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz that may be of interest to readers of this blog.

First, the International Summer School German (and) Theology will be taking place in July 2015. This would be a great way for graduate students (or advanced undergraduates) to learn the German language and delve into the wonderful world of German theology at the same time. For half the day the Center for “Deutsch als Fremdsprache” will offer a German course on different levels (beginners are welcome), and for half the day there will be courses (probably in English) on German Theology throughout the centuries, reading texts from German authors and becoming conversant with influential German figures like Luther, Schleiermacher and Bultmann.

Secondly, Three PhD Positions and One Postdoc Position in Mainz are being funded for the research project “Die Zeitdimension in der Begründung der Ethik” (The time dimension in the grounding/justification of the ethic/ethics). International applicants are encouraged to apply, and it is my understanding that the PhD dissertations and Habilitation associated with this project can be written in English. Applicants for the PhD positions are not required to know German already, but they should be willing to learn German to participate in faculty activities. While knowledge of German is especially desirable for the Postdoc position, all highly qualified candidates are encouraged to apply for this position, i.e., regardless of their level of competency in German.

In other news, I stumbled upon a wonderful list of bibliographies of German New Testament scholars here.

Finally, thanks to Kim Fabricius for the very fitting addition to my Bob Dylan Career Path:

On learning theological German

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (for full lyrics see here)

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

Apologies for the lack of properly German posts this month!

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! Unfortunately, I have found it increasingly difficult to write a new post each Monday, but I hope to be able to write at least two or three Monday blog posts each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.


Top 5 Posts in 2014

I have very much enjoyed my first year of blogging and even more being part of the blogosphere community! So thanks to all who have taken the time to read this blog and especially to those who have encouraged me along the way.

For the last Monday of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to provide links to my 5 most popular posts from 2014. For links to other “top posts in 2014” posts, see here.

1. Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

2. Hengel and Schwemer on Historiography and the Messianic Claim of Jesus: with special guests Jens Schröter and Dale Allison

3. Gerd Theissen’s Critique of the New Perspective on Paul

4. Always Choose the Stronger Word and Beware of False Friends: A Translator’s Memories of Martin Hengel (1926-2009) and John Bowden (1935-2010)

5. Volker Rabens, “‘Schon jetzt’ und ‘noch mehr’: Gegenwart und Zukunft des Heils bei Paulus und in seinen Gemeinden” (JBTh 2013)

Other popular authors-topics-series included Schröter/HistoriographySchröter/Jesus of Nazareth, Käsemann-Baur-LincicumFrey/John, Schliesser/Pistis, Markschies/Theology-Institutions-Canon, Wolter/Quirinius, Wischmeyer/Bibelhermeneutik,  Bultmann-Käsemann/Righteousness,  Koch/Septuagint, Jüngel/LoveKonradt/Matthew, Paulus Handbuch Series, German Scholars Series.

I wish everyone a great 2015!

For three interviews with me about the BMSEC series, see here, here, and here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page here.

German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! Unfortunately, I have found it increasingly difficult to write a new post each Monday, but I hope to be able to write at least two or three Monday blog posts each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.