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.

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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

Eve-Marie Becker on Humility in Paul

In today’s post I will comment on a key quotation from Eve-Marie Becker‘s excellent new book Der Begriff der Demut bei Paulus (for my other E.-M. Becker posts, see here; for a bibliography of Prof. Becker’s English publications, see here).

To provide a taste of Becker’s work, I have selected a passage from the final section of her book (pp. 217-218). Since it is a lengthy quote, I will first provide the English translation in its entirety and then present the German and English text in an alternating format along with select grammatical notes, for those who want to work through the translation.

English Translation

With ταπεινοφροσύνη Paul describes an ethical stance that has to be thought from the standpoint of the individual and related to the community. The goal of humility is the oneness of the community with a view to the expectation of the eschatological time – humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological instrument. It promotes fellowship also with the apostle even across physical separation. Paul defines ταπεινοφροσύνη not primarily with respect to its content, but rather elucidates it narratively in an exemplum. To practice humility is dependent on persons and context, but presupposes – as  the Christ example shows – a self-conscious personal status. It leads to an ecclesial or communitarian dynamic that finds expression in continual mutual higher-regarding, and entails a vertical interaction structure. The low-thinking realizes itself at the same time in the personal perception of the community members, of the person of Paul, and of the Kyrios Christ. In the sense of Aristotelian ethics and platonic theory of the state humility serves as Christian phronesis of the ‘political’ organization of the ecclesial fellowship for the establishment of righteousness and the doxa of God (Philippians 2.11). The practice of humility has a religious perspective that is already heard in Plato. However, it is only with Paul that it becomes an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which is typical for early Christianity precisely in its communitarian aspects. It is not least the eschatological implications that contribute to this: The reward of humility lies in the future in the ultimate conformity with Christ.

* What I find striking about this quotation in particular and Becker’s book in general is the way she argumentatively develops a more complex and rich notion of “humility” in relation to Paul’s writings. Indeed, I think her reflections on humility could prove fruitful for the academy, churches, and politics of our time.

German Text with Translation and Notes

Mit der ταπεινοφροσύνη umschreibt Paulus eine ethische Haltung, die vom Einzelnen her zu denken und auf die Gemeinschaft zu beziehen ist.

With ταπεινοφροσύνη Paul describes an ethical stance that has to be thought from the standpoint of the individual and related to the community.

* I usually translate the relative pronoun (here: die) with “that” (rather than “which”) when I think the relative clause is defining (see here). vom einzelnen her is not easy, but I think “from the standpoint of the individual” might work.

Das Ziel  der Demut ist das Eins-Sein der Gemeinde im Blick auf die Erwartung der eschatologischen Zeit – die Demut fungiert dabei als ethisches und ekklesiologisches Werkzeug. Sie fördert die Gemeinschaft auch mit dem Apostel sogar über physische Trennung hinweg.

The goal of humility is the oneness of the community with a view to the expectation of the eschatological time – humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological instrument. It promotes fellowship also with the apostle even  across physical separation.

* Eins-Sein is tricky: “oneness” is not ideal”; “is for the community to be one…” might work better? dabei is often troublesome: “here” is sometimes the best option. The translation of “auch” frequently causes problems, since the German word placement is often awkward, whereas a change of placement often shifts the sense somewhat; here I retained the placement. I translated “über hinweg” with “across”, though I suspect a better option might exist.

Paulus definiert die ταπεινοφροσύνη nicht primär in Hinsicht auf ihren Inhalt, erläutert sie aber in einem exemplum narrativ. Demut zu üben, ist personen- und kontextabhängig, setzt aber, wie das Christus-Beispiel zeigt, einen selbstbewussten persönlichen Status voraus.

Paul defines ταπεινοφροσύνη not primarily with respect to its content, but rather elucidates it narratively in an exemplum. To practice humility is dependent on persons and context, but presupposes – as the Christ example shows – a self-conscious personal status.

* “explains” is often a good solution for erläutern but “elucidates” seemed better here. setzt … voraus = voraussetzen = “presupposes”; I used dashes to make the sentence easier to read.

Sie führt zu ekklesialer bzw. kommunitärer Dynamic, die in kontinuierlicher gegenseitiger Höher-Achtung ihren Ausdruck findet, und geht mit einer vertikalen Interaktionsstruktur einher.

It leads to an ecclesial or communitarian dynamic that finds expression in continual mutual higher-regarding, and entails a vertical interaction structure.

* I debated translating “kommunitärer” with “communal” rather than “communitarian”, but decided on the latter since Becker references an English work that uses this word in this context. It might be better to change the wooden “mutual higher-regarding” to “in continually regarding the other more highly than oneself” but that would become rather free.

Die Niedrig-Gesinnung realisiert sich dabei zugleich in der personalen Wahrnehmung der Gemeindeglieder, der Person des Paulus und des Kyrios Christus.

The low-thinking realizes itself at the same time in the personal perception of the community members, of the person of Paul, and of the Kyrios Christ.

* I think that “low-thinking” is probably the best solution for Niedrig-Gesinnung, which Becker uses as a literal translation for ταπεινο-φροσύνη (see p. vii n. 1), but there may be a better one.

Im Sinner aristotelischer Ethik und platonischer Staatslehre dient die Demut als christliche Phronesis der ‚politischen‘ Organisation der ekklesialen Gemeinschaft zur Durchsetzung von Gerechtigkeit und Doxa Gottes (Phil 2,11).

In the sense of Aristotelian ethics and platonic theory of the state humility serves as Christian phronesis of the ‘political’ organization of the ecclesial fellowship for the establishment of righteousness and the doxa of God (Philippians 2.11).

* It is probably best to translate Im Sinne with “In the sense of” but “In the vein of” is sometimes better in this sort of context or “Along the lines of”. I think ecclesial or ecclesiastical are valid options for translating ekklesialen. “for the establishment” is probably the best solution for zur Durchsetzung, though it is far from perfect. I am not sure if it should be “for the establishment of the righteousness and doxa of God” or “for the establishment of righteousness and the glory of God”.

Die Übung der Demut hat eine religiöse Perspektive, die schon bei Platon anklingt, aber erst mit Paulus zu einem auf die ἐκκλησία bezogenen religiösen identity marker wird, der gerade in seinen kommunitären Aspekten für das frühe Christentum typisch ist.

The practice of humility has a religious perspective that is already heard in Plato. However, it is only with Paul that it becomes an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which is typical for early Christianity precisely in its communitarian aspects.

* This sentence is easy enough to understand but very difficult to translate. erst is often difficult: first is frequently a false friend; only is a good solution in many cases; sometimes “not until” is even a good option. I added in “it is … that” which may or may not have been a good decision. The real difficulty is that the relative pronoun “der” looks back to einem … identity marker. This creates a problem, since I would normally translate einem auf die bezogenen religiösen identity marker with “an identity marker related to the ἐκκλησία” but cannot do so here, since the reader would most likely link the following “which” with ἐκκλησία and not with “identity marker”. Accordingly, I have had to render it with “an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which…”.

Hierzu tragen nicht zuletzt die eschatologische Implikationen bei: Der Lohn der Demut steht in der endgültigen Konformität mit Christus aus.

It is not least the eschatological implications that contribute to this: The reward of humility lies in the future in the ultimate conformity with Christ.

* Struggled with the first part of this sentence, which I may or may not have gotten right. Likewise, I am not sure whether “lies in the future” captures the force of “steht … aus”, but I think it does.

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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