Susanne Luther and Stephen Barton on Speech-Ethics, Anger, and Community in Ephesians 4:25-32

Since it seems relevant against the backdrop of the anger and heated speech surrounding this year’s presidential election within the American community, this post will look at the topics of speech-ethics, anger, and community in the New Testament. Drawing on some of my most recent readings, it will consist of two quotations on Ephesians 4:22-32 by Susanne Luther (Eng) and Stephen Barton. While direct lines can only rarely be drawn from ecclesial reflection to political reflection, perhaps some insights can nevertheless be gained.

Quotation 1: Susanne Luther on Speech-Ethics in Eph 4

The first quotation comes from Luther’s book Sprachethik im Neuen Testament. In addition to the fact that Luther tackles a fascinating and neglected topic, I have been especially impressed by the rigor and clarity of her methodological approach and analysis (see further here). In this post, I will simply provide a quotation in English and German from her comments on Ephesians 4:25, 29, 31:

English: Eph 4.25 mediates a positive speech-ethical demand. Adequate speech is characterized as a speaking of the truth (λαλεῖτε ἀλήθειαν) and – in an application of the image of body and members to the addressee community – grounded with the solidarity [or: connectedness] of the speakers in the community.

* Note that it is often preferable to translate “qualifizieren” with “characterize” rather than with “qualify”.

German (p. 222): Eph 4,25 vermittelt eine positive sprachethische Forderung: Das adäquate Sprechen wird als ein Sprechen der Wahrheit (λαλεῖτε ἀλήθειαν) qualifiziert und – in Applikation des Bildes vom Leib und den Gliedern auf die Addressatengemeinde – mit der Verbundenheit der Sprechenden in der Gemeinschaft begründet.

English: Ephesians 4.29 shows an orientation of the speech-ethical instruction to the inner-community situation and thematizes the problems of the λόγος σαρπός: every word should serve the building up of the community, as it is appropriate to the status of the holy ones, every appropriate word is characterized as ἀγαθός and assigned to the οἰκοδομην τῆς χρείας.

German: Eph 4,29 zeigt eine Ausrichtung der sprachethischen Weisung auf die innergemeindliche Situation und thematisiert die Problematik des λόγος σαρπός: Jedes Wort soll dem Aufbau der Gemeinde diene, wie es dem Status der Heiligen angemessen ist, jedes angemessene Wort wird als ἀγαθός qualifiziert und der οἰκοδομην τῆς χρείας zugeschrieben.

English: The vice catalogue in v. 31 frames the speech-ethical references – κραυγη και Βλασφημια- with dispositional entities that connect the speech-ethics closely with the human disposition: πᾶσα πικρία και θυμος και ὀργή [Ε] συν πάσῃ κακίᾳ.

German: Der Lasterkatalog in V. 31 rahmt die sprachethischen Bezüge – κραυγη και Βλασφημια – durch dispositional Verweisgrößen, die die Sprachethik eng mit der menschlichen Disposition in Verbindung bringen: πᾶσα πικρία και θυμος και ὀργή [Ε] συν πάσῃ κακίᾳ.

Quotation 2: Stephen Barton on Anger in Eph 4

My second quotation comes from Stephen Barton’s article “‘Be Angry But Do Not Sin’ (Ephesians 4:26a): Sin and the Emotions in the New Testament with Special Reference to Anger.”  Of my teachers, it was above all Stephen Barton who taught me to appreciate the value of multidisciplinary approaches to reading the Bible, and I enjoyed having my horizons broadened once again by him in this essay. Here is his key quotation:

My central thesis is that the teaching here about anger has to be situated in relation to the moral-theological vision of Ephesians as a whole, central to which is the revelation of the mystery (μυστήριον) of creation-renewing salvation in Christ bringing personal transformation in the context of the eschatological coming together as one of Jews and Gentiles in the Church. As elaborations of this transformation, instruction and exhortation are given on the virtues and vices. The virtues are qualities of character and personal practice which build up and sustain the unity of the Church in love and peace. The vices are qualities of character and personal practice that destroy that unity. Among the vices, particular attention is given to speech and related behaviors, including anger. It is apparent, however, that anger is not a sin in itself. Anger becomes sinful, I suggest, if it undermines the eschatological identity and oneness of the Church. The accent, then, is on sin as a contradiction of Christian identity under God and a threat to Christian sociality, with the appropriate control and discipline – indeed, ‘discipling’ – of the passions, including anger, as a necessary corollary.

For my other posts on affects/emotions in the New Testament, see here.

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

For interviews with me on my work, 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