Oda Wischmeyer on the “Grandness” of N.T. Wright with a Review of God and the Faithfulness of Paul

Over the last few weeks I have enjoyed reading through God and the Faithfulness of Paul (edited by Christoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird), which contains many excellent responses to N.T. Wright‘s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Hence, after providing a key excerpt—in English and German—from Oda Wischmeyer (Eng) on the “grandness” of N.T. Wright, this post will also include some brief comments on the chapters written by German-language-sphere scholars. On another note, readers of this blog may be interested in participating in the 2016 Mainz Summer School in German (and) Theology.

I. Oda Wischmeyer on the “Grandness” of N.T. Wright

I both profited from and greatly enjoyed co-translating (with Christoph Heilig) Oda Wischmeyer‘s chapter in God and the Faithfulness of Paul. What I found so remarkable was the honest and profound way that she was able to interact with both N.T. Wright’s work and her own academic tradition (cf. Christoph Heilig’s comments on Wischmeyer’s essay). Unlike many of us—whether we are Wright’s adoring admirers, sharp critics, or somewhere in between—Wischmeyer seemed to be entirely comfortable in her own shoes when discussing Wright and his work, so that she was able both to reflect on her own tradition with great insight and self-awareness and to draw out striking aspects of N.T. Wright’s work in a way that was both appreciative and critical in the best sense of the word. I don’t know why exactly this is the case. Perhaps it is because Prof. Wischmeyer herself is a senior scholar who has nothing to prove. Or perhaps it is simply because her hermeneutical approach has given her better tools for observing and reflecting on what is going on with Wright and in her own tradition. Whatever the reason, I found the tone and content of her essay to be both refreshing and illuminating. Let me turn then to my key excerpt, alternating between the English translation and the German original for those who are learning—or seeking to revive their—German:

GFP 74: Exactly one hundred years after the publication of Wilhelm Bousset’s great Paul article in the first edition of Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, N. T. Wright in his two-volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God has again struck that sonorous tone which one could probably last hear in Germany in the the Pauline research of the history of religion school. …

Genau hundert Jahre nach dem Erscheinen des großen Paulus-Artikels von Wilhelm Bousset in der ersten Auflage der “Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart” hat N.T. Wright in seinem zweiteiligen Werk „Paul and the Faithfulness of God“ wieder jenen klangvollen Ton angeschlagen, den man in Deutschland wohl zuletzt in der Paulusforschung der Religionsgeschichtlichen Schule hören konnte…

GFP 74: At the first reading of Wright, it is the perception of the lofty tone, the liveliness of the historical narration and methodological discussion, and finally the certainty, elegance, and joy in the details of the presentation that excites an exegete who comes from the Bultmann school. …

Es ist die Wahrnehmung des hochgestimmten Tones, der Lebendigkeit der historischen Erzählung wie der methodischen Diskussion und schließlich der Sicherheit, Eleganz und Detailfreude der Darstellung, die eine Exegetin, die aus der Bultmannschule kommt, bei der ersten Lektüre von Wright begeistert. …

GFP 75: Wright writes today as Bousset … wrote a hundred years ago and as one does not write in contemporary German-language exegesis. …

Wright schreibt heute, wie Bousset … vor hundert Jahren schrieb und wie in der zeitgenössischen deutschsprachigen Exegese nicht geschrieben wird. …

GFP 76: For “German” ears or, more specifically, for a hermeneutical perception from the German-language exegetical tradition it is first—this deserves to be repeated once more—Wright’s tone or style that demands our full attention. …

Für „deutsche“ Ohren bzw. für eine hermeneutische Wahrnehmung aus der deutschsprachigen exegetischen Tradition ist es – es sei noch einmal wiederholt – zuerst der Ton oder der Stil Wrights, der alle Aufmerksamkeit beansprucht. …

GFP 76: Behind the pages of Wright we hear Handel’s music and Shakespeare’s language and we might not only be impressed by the force and energy of the presentation, but even saddened, or at least discontent, that we ourselves have lost this tone so completely and can no longer rhetorically orchestrate “grandness.”

Wir hören hinter den Seiten Wrights Händels Musik und Shakespeares Sprache und sind unter Umständen nicht nur beeindruckt von der Wucht und Energie der Darstellung, sondern auch betrübt oder mindestens unzufrieden, dass uns selbst dieser Ton so ganz abhandengekommen ist und wir „Größe“ nicht mehr rhetorisch instrumentieren können.

GFP 76: Or we react critically and regard this tone as too pious, too triumphalistic, too self-assured, not analytical enough—depending on our own academic background.

Oder wir reagieren kritisch und halten diesen Ton für zu fromm, zu triumphalistisch, zu selbstgewiss, zu wenig analytisch – je nach unserer eigenen akademischen Prägung.

GFP 76: Precisely these signals should be observed hermeneutically.

Gerade diese Signale gilt es hermeneutisch aufzufangen.

II. Review of Chapters by German-Language-Sphere Scholars

* For the complete table of contents, see here.

In “Paul and the Faithfulness of God among Pauline Theologies” Benjamin Schliesser (Eng) effectively situates Wright’s contribution in relation to the Pauline theologies of Bultmann, Dunn, Schreiner, Wolter, and Schnelle, displaying a remarkable gift of synthesis (cf. also his 2013 German article).

In “N.T. Wright’s Biblical Hermeneutics” Oda Wischmeyer (Eng) discusses both the history and present situation of German-language Pauline scholarship and the biblical hermeneutics of N.T. Wright.

In “Wright’s Version of Critical Realism” Andreas Losch offers a valuable discussion of “critical realism” in relation to the works of Ian Barbour, Bernard Lonergan, Ben F. Meyer, and N.T. Wright. Whether or not his thesis that Wright’s “critical realism” was initially developed with respect to Barbour and only associated with Lonergan/Meyer secondarily is correct (Wright rejects it [p. 718]), I found this chapter to be a helpful presentation of different versions of “critical realism” and benefited from Losch’s own assessment of the value and limitations of this approach.

In “Historical Methodology” Theresa Heilig and Christoph Heilig (Eng) provide a careful discussion of abduction, inference to the best explanation, and Bayesian confirmation, which includes a systematic analysis of the crucial issues in the debate between Barclay and Wright over whether Paul is criticizing the Roman empire (pp. 145-148)

In “Wright’s Paul and the Paul of Acts” Eve-Marie Becker (Eng) argues from the perspective of recent advances in historiography that Wright should have taken greater account of Acts as a source for Paul, suggesting, inter alia, that such an approach would have preventing him from problematically failing to incorporate Paul’s activities as miracle worker into his overall portrayal of Paul (pp. 160-161). In some respects her argument reminded me of perspectives advanced in Benjamin White’s important book.

In “N.T. Wright’s Narrative Approach” Joel R. White provides a sympathetic presentation and defense of much of what Wright is doing (e.g. he defends “the existence of a common first-century Jewish metanarrative highlighting God’s faithfulness to Israel in spite of her ‘ongoing exile'”), while also criticizing Wright at specific points (e.g. his treatment of apocalyptic language in relation to the notion of cosmic cataclysm, pp. 198-199). Significantly, at certain points White made me feel the force of Wright’s vision to a greater extent than Wright himself has done!

In “N.T. Wright’s Understanding of Justification and Redemption” (trans. Lars Kierspel), Peter Stuhlmacher both challenges key elements of Wright’s interpretation (e.g. the validity of his controlling narrative; cf. John BarclayAlexandra Brown, and Chris Tilling [part I]; but see also Joel R. White’s defense of this metanarrative) and, perhaps more importantly, provides a compact and eloquent presentation of his own views on sacrifice and justification in critical dialogue with Wright (cf. Christoph Heilig’s comments on Stuhlmacher’s essay).

In “God and His Faithfulness in Paul” Torsten Jantsch (Eng) both presents a very helpful discussion of the history of research on God in Paul and compactly outlines aspects of the “concept of God” in Romans in critical dialogue with N.T. Wright (cf. also here). In my judgment Jantsch’s chapter would be an excellent place to start for anyone interested in recent (German) research on God (in Paul). It complements well Jochen Flebbe’s fine monograph on God in Romans.

In “Demythologizing Apocalyptic?” Jörg Frey (Eng) provides both an extensive discussion of recent perspectives on apocalyptic and a hard-hitting critique of Wright’s treatment of apocalyptic, which he regards as a “neutralizing” or “taming” of apocalyptic. In particular, Frey stresses that there is no need to deny that Paul drew on mythological concepts such as the idea of an end of the world and personally reckoned with the return of Christ during his lifetime (p. 526; cf. Joel R. White’s comments on pp. 198-199; cf. also Paula Fredriksen; Larry Hurtado). In his lengthy response Wright emphasizes the extent of their agreement (744-745, 748), differentiates between 6 forms of apocalyptic (pp. 745-748), denies the charge of neutralizing/taming (751), and responds to their primary disagreement about whether or not Paul’s “end-of-the-world” language is concerned with the end of the world as well as the relationship between this question and the early Christian conviction that Jesus the Messiah would return from heaven (748-754).

In “The Faithfulness of God and Its Effects on Faithful Living” Volker Rabens investigates Tom Wright’s portrayal of Paul’s ethics. In addition to providing a valuable discussion of Wright’s treatment of “plight” and “solution”, Rabens develops an especially perceptive critique that warns against Wright’s tendency to give pride of place to cognitive renewal and presses Wright to give greater attention to relational transformation and, more specifically, to “the transforming and empowering transferal by the Spirit into loving relationships to the divine and the community of faith” (p. 577; cf. Wright’s response on 729, 762 and 766).

In “Barth, Wright, and Theology” Sven Ensminger provides a concise sketch of Barth’s treatment of revelation, religion, and Christology with some points of comparison with N.T. Wright. Ensminger seeks to contribute to the question of the relationship between biblical studies and theology (658), and gives particular attention to the following question: “to what extent can God be bracketed out of theological reflection about a key figure of the Christian church such as Paul in order to consider him as a historical figure with his socio-political background?” (p.656). See also my post Sven Ensminger on N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and the Aufhebung of Religion.

In “Evangelism and the Mission of the Church” Eckhard J. Schnabel tackles a range of topics related to evangelism and mission, including a) a challenge to Wright’s suggestion that Paul wanted to visit places “where Caesar’s power was the strongest” (p. 688), b) the interpretation of Gal 2:7-9 (691-692), c) the validity of the language of “conversion” (692-696; but cf. 759), d) the meaning of gospel (796; but cf. 729), and e) a critique of Wright’s alleged repetition of caricatures of missionaries (700-704; but cf. 757-758).

Finally, if I could mention only one of the many fine essays by English-language-sphere scholars—I realize, of course, that some of the scholars could be classified in both groups—I would highlight Gregory Sterling‘s chapter “Wisdom or Foolishness? The Role of Philosophy in the Thought of Paul”. Sterling shows genuine appreciation for N.T. Wright’s treatment of philosophy, while suggesting, inter alia, that Wright has not given sufficient attention to the later Platonic tradition and specifically to what we call Middle Platonism. Among other observations, I found Sterling’s discussion of prepositional metaphysics to be especially illuminating (cf. here). More generally, I found his chapter to be a very helpful introduction to recent scholarship on philosophy and early Christianity, and I will certainly return to it (for N. T. Wright’s very positive response to Sterling’s essay, see p. 754-756).

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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

Torsten Jantsch and God as Creator in Paul (German Scholars Post)

Before starting this blog post, let me begin by congratulating my wife Ingie Hovland for her now position as an editor in the new anthropology section at the Marginalia Review of Books (see here)!

This post falls under one of my favorite categories on this blog, namely “German scholars”. The purpose of this category is to introduce German scholars and their research to the English-speaking world. Each post will consist of (I) my translation of a short passage from a publication submitted by the German author her/himself and (II) some biographical-bibliographical information about the scholar in question. For further information on this category, see here. For my other “German scholars” posts, see here.

Today’s “German scholar” is Dr. Torsten Jantsch of the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich. As his passage of choice, he has selected an excerpt from his book “Gott alles in allem” (1Kor 15,28). Studien zum Gottesverständnis des Paulus im 1. Thessalonicherbrief und in der korinthischen Korrespondenz. Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 129. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2011.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the selective grammatical commentary can directly follow the German version.

I. Translation

English Translation (wmc). A pass through the texts in which Paul thematizes God as creator or the world as God’s creation has shown how much his thinking is rooted in Old Testament and Early Jewish conceptions. Paul is especially stamped by Hellenistic-Jewish conceptions and patterns of interpretation, as is shown by the receding of the “hand-crafted” elements of the biblical creation story in favor of an act of creation through the word and by the theme of creatio ex nihilo. It has become evident that creation faith is in fact a fundamental theme of Pauline theology; to this extent “the apprehension of reality as God’s creation”, as Jürgen Becker has formulated, “determines Paul’s thinking in a constitutive manner” [Jürgen Becker, Paulus. Der Apostel der Völker [Uni Taschenbücher 2014], Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998, p. 402]. One can differentiate three aspects that stand in the foreground in Paul depending on the pragmatic of the textual context.

a) The conception of God as creator grounds especially the sovereignty of God, inter alia, to act in history and with humans and his right to veneration.

b) God’s action of creation corresponds to the power of God and continues in God’s redemptive action in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the effective power of the gospel and in the eschatological consummation of creation (resurrection of the dead).

c) The conception of the world as creation emphasizes its inferiority vis-à-vis God, its deficiency and need for redemption, but also grounds the perspective of hope, because God takes the side of his creation and does not abandon it to forsakenness.

“Gott alles in allem” (p. 197). Ein Gang durch die Texte, in denen Paulus Gott als Schöpfer oder die Welt als Gottes Schöpfung thematisiert, hat gezeigt, wie sehr sein Denken in alttestamentlichen und frühjüdischen Vorstellungen verwurzelt ist. Dabei ist Paulus besonders durch hellenistisch-jüdische Vorstellungen und Interpretationsmuster geprägt, wie das Zurücktreten des “handwerklichen” Elements der biblischen Schöpfungsgeschichten zugunsten eines Schöpfungshandelns durch das Wort sowie die Thematik der creatio ex nihilo zeigt. Es hat sich gezeigt, dass der Schöpfungsglaube in der Tat ein Grundthema der paulinischen Theologie ist; insofern “bedingt die Auffassung der Wirklichkeit als Schöpfung Gottes”, wie es Jürgen Becker formuliert hat, “in konstitutiver Weise das paulinische Denken” [Jürgen Becker, Paulus. Der Apostel der Völker [Uni Taschenbücher 2014], Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998, p. 402]. Dabei kann man drei Aspekte differenzieren, die bei Paulus je nach Pragmatik des Textzusammenhangs im Vordergrund stehen:

a) Die Vorstellung von Gott als Schöpfer begründet besonders die Souveränität Gottes, u.a. zu seinem Handeln in Geschichte und an Menschen, und sein Recht auf Verehrung.

b) Gottes Schöpfungshandeln entspringt der Macht Gottes und setzt sich in Gottes erlösendem Handeln in der Auferweckung Jesu Christi, in der Wirkmacht des Evangeliums und in der endzeitlichen Vollendung der Schöpfung (Auferweckung der Toten) fort.

c) Die Vorstellung von der Welt als Schöpfung betont ihre Inferiorität gegenüber Gott, ihre Unzulänglichkeit und Erlösungsbedürftigkeit, begründet aber auch die Hoffnungsperspektive, weil Gott sich zu seiner Schöpfung stellt und sie nicht der Verlorenheit preisgibt.

Selective grammatical analysis: It is often best to leave dabei untranslated as I have done twice in this passage. Depending on the context, I usually translate geprägt as “shaped” or “characterized”, but I here I chose “stamped”, which is a solution that other translators often adopt. I am not sure how to best capture “handwerklichen”, but it seemed desirable to choose a solution that used “hand”, so I went with hand-crafted; I also considered workmanlike but it didn’t seem quite right. Es hat gezeigt could perhaps also be translated as “it has become clear” or “it turned out”; I think “it has been shown” might shift the emphasis a bit too much. je nach has the force of “depending on” or “according to”. Under a): I found the grammatical connection of zu difficult, but went with to act in history and with humans, after consulting Torsten Jantsch. Under b): Wirkmacht is a great word: hopefully “effective power” captures its sense. Under c: I found the translation of stellt sich zu very difficult, and went with takes the side of his creation after consultation with Torsten Jantsch. I was not able to find an elegant solution for Verlorenheit, but went with forsakenness instead of lostness or forlornness.

II. Biographical-Bibliographical Information

I was born 1976 in Zwickau, Germany.  I studied Protestant Theology in Leipzig (1996–2000) and Berlin (Humboldt University, 2000–2002). I wrote my PhD dissertation on Paul’s concept of God in 1 Thessalonians and his Corinthian Correspondence at Humboldt University, Berlin, under the supervision of Cilliers Breytenbach. It was published in 2011. I am Assistent and Akademischer Rat (corresponding Senior Lecturer) at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, since 2009 and 2011, respectively.

I learned from my academic teachers, Cilliers Breytenbach (Berlin) and David S. du Toit (Munich), that linguistic approaches like semantics, argumentative and narrative analysis are keys to an  understanding of Early Christian texts as elements of a historical communication. My research interests are the Theology of Paul and of Luke-Acts, concepts of God in the New Testament in the context of Early Jewish and Ancient philosophic discourses about God, socio-historic backgrounds of the New Testament, particularly man and woman, Early Christian prophecy in the context of Ancient concepts of prophecy and inspired speech. My current research (my habilitation) is on the concept of salvation of Luke-Acts in the context of Ancient religion and culture.

Selected Publications

ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ: Studien zum Verhältnis von Christologie und Soteriologie im lukanischen Doppelwerk, in progress (habilitation). Now Published as Jesus, der Retter: Die Soteriologie des lukanischen Doppelwerks. Tübingen: Mohr, 2017.

Frauen, Männer, Engel: Perspektiven zu 1Kor 11,2–16. Mit Beiträgen von David S. du Toit, Torsten Jantsch und Loren T. Stuckenbruck und einer Bibliographie von Jacob Brouwer, ed. by Torsten Jantsch (Biblisch-Theologische Studien 152), Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Verlag, 2015.

“Gott alles in allem” (1Kor 15,28). Studien zum Gottesverständnis des Paulus im 1. Thessalonicherbrief und in der korinthischen Korrespondenz (Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 129), Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Verlag, 2011.

For more information, see his website www.verbum-et-fides.de.

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