Zimmermann’s Parables, Congdon’s Bultmann, and Wolter’s Paul—With a note on the terms “eschatic” and “existentialogical”

At this year’s SBL I picked up three great books that are likely to be of particular interest to readers of this blog. Therefore, it seemed fitting to give them each a plug in the form of a brief comment and key quotation.

I am excited to work through Ruben Zimmermann‘s Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Interpretations not only because it showcases his characteristic blend of sophisticated methodological reflection and close textual analysis, but also because—as shown by the following quotation—it explicitly seeks to bring together current German and American research.

Puzzling the Parables of Jesus (p. xiii): In spite of strong German roots with Jülicher and Joachim Jeremias, a certain gap has appeared between continental (esp. German) and American scholarship, and the two threaten to continue to drift apart. In this book it is my intention to bridge this gap and to demonstrate how current questions are still being influenced by decisions made by older German parable researchers. Furthermore, it is my hope to be able to bring together, at least to a certain extent, current German and American research on parables and in the process to gain insights from engagement with each other.

While I have thus far only read the first four chapters of David Congdon‘s short book Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology, I can already tell that it is likely to shape—and correct—my understanding of Bultmann in many helpful ways (cf. also Congdon’s illuminating review of Beyond Bultmann). Here is a quotation to give you a feel for his book:

Rudolf Bultmann (pp. 59): We can therefore define Bultmann’s concept of theological self-understanding as follows: Self-understanding is the event in which a person encounters the word of God and so discovers herself to be a sinner who has received justification by God’s grace, and who has therefore been given a new future, a new life, a new world. Faith as self-understanding has nothing to do with a solipsistic turning inward upon oneself. It rather means being placed outside ourselves and into a new historical existence, and thus it is “the exact opposite of a dwelling-on-oneself.” For Bultmann, following Paul (cf. Gal 3:23), faith is the advent of new creation: “Could faith then be the Archimedean point from which the world is moved off its axis and is transformed from the world of sin into the world of God? Yes! That is the message of faith.”

Finally, having spent much of my existence over the last year co-translating Michael Wolter‘s impressive commentary on Luke, I am taking great pleasure in reading Robert L. Brawley‘s fine translation of Wolter’s Paul: An Outline of His Theology, not only because of I am interested in Wolter’s interpretation of Paul, but also because it is both fun and illuminating to see how Brawley has navigated some of the same sticking points that Christoph Heilig and I have attempted to get past in our own translation. With this in mind (and with a view to Bultmann’s distinction between existentiell and existential) I have chosen a quote from Wolter’s book that relates to his introduction of the term “eschatisch/eschatic”.

Paul (p. 181 n. 14): I use the adjective “eschatic” here and in what follows to signify end-time events and conditions (that is, the so-called “last things”) (see also Härle, Dogmatik, 605n8). By contrast, I limit the use of the adjective “eschatological” to matters that concern speaking or thinking about the last things. The distinction between “eschatic” and “eschatological” thus is parallel to the distinctions between “Egyptian” and “Egyptological,” “ontic” and “ontological,” “existential” and “‘existentialogical,'” etc.

Though I doubt that Wolter will be successful, I think this is a fascinating attempt to introduce a distinction between eschatisch/eschatic and eschatologisch/eschatological that runs parallel to the Bultmannian distinction between existentiell/existential and existential/existentialogical, which corresponds in turn to the more widely made distinction between ontisch/ontic and ontologisch/ontological and Egyptisch/Egyptian and Egyptologisch/Egyptological. Against this background, I also think it would be appropriate if Bultmann scholars would consider translating existentiell with “existential” and existential with “existentialogical”, though I also think this is unlikely to be taken up. At any rate, I will probably do so!

Addendum: David Congdon has informed me via a facebook exchange that he would “dispute the comparison to the existentiell/existential distinction” on the grounds that “the latter is not a first-order/second-order distinction but rather a theological/phenomenological or personal/general distinction” and has explained that against this backdrop he thinks it is preferable to retain the standard translation for the two terms, i.e. “existential” for existentiell and “existentialist” for existential. On the basis of his helpful explanation, I think I will also retain this standard translation rather than adopting “existentialogical” as I had suggested in my original post. But I still like “eschatic”!

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Bultmann, Käsemann and the Righteousness of God in Paul (Paulus Handbuch Series)

Paulus Handbuch (ed. Friedrich W. Horn; Mohr Siebeck, 2013; see here and PDF).

In my last two Paulus Handbuch Series posts I looked at Peter Arzt-Grabner‘s valuable discussion of the Corpus Paulinum in Section II of the book.

Today’s post will come from Section III: Research on Paul, which contains subsections on 1. Ferdinand Christian Bauer (C. Landmesser), 2. The History of Religions School (R. von Bendemann), 3. Rudolf Bultmann and his students (R. von Bendemann),  4. “The New Perspective on Paul” and “The New View of Paul” (M. Bachmann), and 5. Impulses from Social History and History of Religions (M. Lang).

Inasmuch as many have set their hand to write about Bultmann of late—with his title of “greatest of all time” being staunchly defended by West, despite demurrals from Bird (here and here) and Käsemann (here; cf. here), with a flurry of publications from David Congdon (here), with an old recording on freedom surfacing to my delight (here; regrettably in English), and with an impressive lineup of scholars seeking to move beyond Bultmann (here)—I too have decided, having followed all things carefully, to devote a post to the giant of Marburg, complemented, of course, with the great Ernst Käsemann and my beloved teacher Peter Stuhlmacher. It is a quotation that reminds me of Tübingen, where I first heard of die heilschaffende Gerechtigkeit Gottes, which somehow loses something of its punch when it becomes “the righteousness of God that creates salvation”.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.


English Translation (wmc): The presentation of the human being under faith too is developed by Bultmann as a working out of central terms. Prior to the thematization of “grace as event” it begins—in continuation of Luther and in clear demarcation from the thesis of a “subsidiary crater” (Schweitzer 21952) or “polemical doctrine”  (Wrede 21907)—with the theme of Romans, the righteousness of/from God (Bultmann 1984, 271-282). The righteousness of/from God appears as the central expression of the gift of life or its condition of possibility. Righteousness, here too Bultmann takes up Luther, is a forensic concept that is not directed to the quality of a person but to their relationality. It does obtain its profile in Paul against the background of Jewish-eschatological statements, but according to Bultmann, it is categorically distinguished from these in its present orientation (274-280). In the understanding of righteousness as the righteousness of faith Bultmann identifies an “antithesis to the Jewish view” (281). The righteousness of/from God discloses itself more precisely to Bultmann not from passages such as Rom 3.5, 25 as God’s own righteousness (in the sense of his punishing righteousness); rather he finds—following Luther—the key for the notion in Rom 1.17; 3.21-22, 26; 10.3; Phil 3.9; and 2 Cor 5.21, where the concern is with the righteousness that is gifted or spoken to one by God (285). … Käsemann and his students called the on-Luther-oriented interpretation of the righteousness of God in the sense of a gentivus obiectivus in question and emphasized those passages in which Paul also presupposed the subjective Genitive, in the sense of God’s own covenant righteousness that is directed not only to the individual but to the world as a whole (Stuhlmacher 21966).

Paulus Handbuch (p. 26 …28, von Bendemann): Auch die Darstellung des Menschen unter dem Glauben wird von Bultmann als Ausarbeitung von zentralen Termini entwickelt. Sie setzt vor der Thematisierung der “Gnade als Geschehen”—in Anknüpfung an Luther und in klarer Abgrenzung zur These von “Nebenkrater” (Schweitzer 21952) oder der “Kampfeslehre” (Wrede 21907)—mit dem Thema des Römerbriefs, der Gottesgerechtigkeit, ein (Bultmann 1984, 271-287). Die Gottesgerechtigkeit erscheint als der zentrale Ausdruck der Lebensgabe bzw. ihrer Möglichkeitsbedingung. Gerechtigkeit, auch hierin schließt Bultmann an Luther an, ist ein forensischer Begriff, der nicht auf die Qualität einer Person zielt, sondern auf ihre Relationalität. Er gewinnt zwar bei Paulus sein Profil vor dem Hintergrund jüdisch-eschatologischer Aussagen, ist nach Bultmann in seiner präsentischen Orientierung jedoch zugleich von diesen kategorisch unterschieden (274-280). Im Verständnis der Gottesgerechtigkeit als Glaubensgerechtigkeit konstatiert Bultmann eine “Antithese zur jüdischen Anschauung” (281). Die Gottesgerechtigkeit erschließt sich Bultmann näherhin nicht von Stellen wie Röm 3,5.25 her als Gottes eigene Gerechtigkeit (im Sinne seiner Strafgerechtigkeit), vielmehr findet er—im Anschluss an Luther—den Schlüssel zur Vorstellung in Röm 1,17; 3,21f.26; 10,3; Phil 3,9 and 2 Kor 5,21, wo es um die von Gott geschenkte, zugesprochene Gerechtigkeit geht (285). … Käsemann und seine Schüler zogen die an Luther orientierte Interpretation der Gottesgerechtigkeit im Sinne eines genetivus obiectivus infrage und betonten diejenigen Stellen, an denen Paulus auch den subjektiven Genetiv voraussetzte, im Sinne von Gottes eigener Bundesgerechtigkeit, die sich nicht nur auf das Individuum, sondern auf die Welt insgesamt richtete (Stuhlmacher 21966).

Select grammatical commentary

in Anknüpfung is always tricky: options in include: in continuation of, taking up, in connection with, etc. anschliessen/schliesst an presents similar problems. I went with “takes up” here. The traditional “polemical doctrine” is a bit weak for Kampfeslehre, but it may be preferable to alternatives such as “fighting doctrine”. I think that the sense is something like “doctrine that has emerged from the struggle/battle/fight with opponents”. I am not sure if gift of life captures the force of LebensgabeBegriff is a horrible German word because it hovers between word and concept (if it were up to me, Germans would abandon the term Begriff and use Wort and Konzept so the distinction remains clear). I translated it with “concept” here. zielt auf means aims at: I have rendered it here as “is directed to”. zwar is tricky: I sometimes translate it as “admittedly”, sometimes adopt a “while … ” construction and sometimes use “does … but”. I had a tough time with Die Gottesgerechtigkeit erschließt sich Bultmann näherhin: I think Bultmann is dative and Die Gottesgerechtkeit is the subject, with erschliesst sich having the force of “opens itself to” or “discloses itself to” and näherhin having the force of more precisely. I rendered geschenkte quite woodenly as gifted. As far as I can see, zugesprochene is impossible to render. It is often translated as “promise” but it seems to me that this doesn’t fully capture the force, at least in some cases: here I rendered it with “spoken to one”, which hopefully comes closer to capturing something of the sense?

Substantive analysis

I continue to struggle with what can be said about the righteousness (or justice) of God in the Pauline texts. But even if many more things have to be said, I remain convinced that for Paul God’s own salvation-creating righteousness/justice is in play in at least some of the relevant texts. At the same time, it is clear from Phil 3.9 that the notion of “righteousness from God” is also a Pauline concept, which make this issue comparable to the pistis Christou controversy insofar as there is justified debate over the interpretation of key texts alongside a general recognition that the notion of “faith in Christ” and the notion of “Christ’s faithfulness” are both Pauline concepts. For an alternative to Bultmann’s suggestion that the Pauline view of righteousness is an “antithesis to the Jewish view”, see here.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.