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).

For more posts on GFP, see here and here.

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Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere

For the most up-to-date version of BNGLS, see here.

As a new feature for this blog, I have spent the last two weeks compiling Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere (BNGLS). This task has greatly expanded my own understanding of what is going on in the German-speaking world, and I hope it will also prove beneficial for others who are seeking to engage with the ‘German’ tradition. A distinctive feature of this new resource is that I have provided a separate bibliography of the English publications of each German-language-sphere scholar as well as a link to their full bibliographies, webpages, academia.edu pages etc. For the bibliographies themselves see the BNGLS tab of my blog or click here.

Jörg Frey zum Geburtstag: Present and Future Eschatology in the Johannine Farewell Discourses

I had not planned to write a blog post today, but having discovered that it was Jörg Frey’s birthday, I was inspired to create a new blog category, namely zum Geburtstag, which I hope will become a bright spot in Facebook’s multifaceted Wirkungsgeschichte. And rather than continuing my series of Frey posts on Johannine Interpretation, it seemed fitting to select an excerpt from his Habilitationsschrift, namely Die johanneische Eschatologie (cf. Google Books).

As indicated by my title, the selected excerpt is focused on one of the major contributions of this book, namely its nuanced discussion of the relationship between present and future eschatology in the Johannine Writings (cf. also J. Frey, “Eschatology in the Johannine Circle”, pp. 47-82 in Theology and Christology in the Fourth Gospel).

Due to time constraints I will not include a grammatical analysis for this category.

Translation (wmc):

(b) The accent set by the Johannine author lies, however, clearly on the present certainty of salvation. The temptation/trial of the addressees should not be met through a mere strengthening of the traditional expectation, but precisely by giving the community assurance in the salvation grounded in Jesus’s death and mediated through the Spirit-Paraclete…

(c) On the other hand, the thus-opened perception of the Christ and God fellowship inaugurated in the present and of the fullness of salvation bestowed through the Spirit-Paraclete does not make obsolete the promise of the coming consummation of salvation handed down in Jesus’s words. One can sooner assume that the reference to the present reality of salvation also newly strengthened and stimulated the expectation of the addressees. The promise of the ‘coming’ of Jesus to ‘bring home’ his disciples is never explicitly contested, and in the concluding petition of the farewell prayer in 17.24 the expectation of the definitive consummation of the fellowship with the exalted in the unveiled beholding of his glory is explicitly confirmed. In the whole of the Johannine farewell discourses there can therefore be no talk of Easter, Pentecost, and parousia being somehow identified with one another, neither in the sense of a fusion of the Easter Christophanies into the post-Easter reality determined by the Spirit-Paraclete nor in the polemical thesis that the true parousia has already happened and every other expectation is therefore superfluous. The intention of the author is—much more concretely and less dogmatic-polemically—to comfort and assure his addressee community in their λύπη and ταραχή.

Die johanneische Eschatologie III, p. 238:

(b) Der vom johanneischen Autor gesetzte Akzent liegt jedoch deutlich auf der gegenwärtigen Gewißheit des Heils. Der Anfechtung der Adressaten soll nicht etwa durch eine bloße Bekräftigung der überkommenen Erwartung begegnet werden, sondern gerade dadurch, daß die Gemeinde in dem in Jesu Tod begründeten und durch den Geist-Parakleten vermittelten Heil vergewissert wird…

(c) Andererseits macht die so erschlossene Wahrnehmung der in der Gegenwart eröffneten Christus- und Gottesgemeinschaft und der durch den Geist-Parakleten geschenkten Heilsfülle die in Jesu worten überlieferte Zusage der kommenden Heilsvollendung nicht obsolet. Man kann eher annehmen, daß der Hinweis auf die gegenwärtige Wirklichkeit des Heils auch die Erwartung der Adressaten aufs neue bekräftigt und stimuliert hat. Nirgendwo wird die Verheißung des ‘Kommens’ Jesu zur ‘Heimholung’ seiner Jünger ausdrücklich bestritten, und in der abschließenden Bitte des Abschiedsgebets in 17.24 wird die Erwartung der definitiven Vollendung der Gemeinschaft mit dem Erhöhten in der unverhüllten Schau seiner Herrlichkeit ausdrücklich bestärkt. Im Ganzen der johanneischen Abschiedsreden kann daher keine Rede davon sein, daß Ostern, Pfingsten und Parusie in irgendeiner Weise miteinander identifiziert werden sollten, weder im Sinne einer Einschmelzung der österlichen Christophanien in die nachösterliche, vom Geist-Parakleten bestimmte Wirklichkeit noch gar im Sinne der polemischen These, daß die wahre Parusie schon geschehen sei und jede weitere Erwartung sich deshalb erübrige. Die Intention des Autors ist – viel konkreter und weniger dogmatisch-polemisch -, seine Addressatengemeinde in ihrer λύπη und ταραχή zu trösten und zu vergewissern.

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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.

Jörg Frey on the zeitgeschichtliche Approach to Johannine Interpretation

This week’s post comes from my 2016/2017 translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s collection of essays titled Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. For all my posts on this book see here.

More specifically, it continues my series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. Today’s key quotation comes from section 1.3: Der zeitgeschichtliche Zugang: Der historische Ort des Evangeliums als Schlüssel der Lektüre, which I am currently translating as “The Time-of-Composition Approach: The Historical Position of the Gospel as the Key to Reading”.

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

I. Translation and German Text

The Glory of the Crucified One (trans. wmc): Decisive, however, is the hermeneutical insight that results from the two-level model: The Gospel of John is evidently consciously configured—not only in chapter 9—in such a way that the horizon of the time and history of Jesus is interwoven with the horizon of the author and his addressees. In this way the narrated (hi)story of Jesus becomes transparent in relation to the experiences of the addressees; conversely these experiences are interpreted in the light of the earthly history of the eternal Logos. This hermeneutical insight brings at the same time a fundamental qualification in relation to every pure carrying out of the time-of-composition reading approach. If in the Johannine text the narrative of circumstances from the spatial, temporal, and material horizon of the earthly Jesus connects itself with problems, theological insights, and language forms from the Johannine author and his addressees or is overlayed by them, then the Johannine text can be understood neither solely as a ‘historical’ account of the activity of Jesus nor exclusively as a mirror of events in the horizon of the addressee community or their history, but the two horizons are instead fused with each other in a complex and usually no longer clearly separable manner. Thus neither the historicizing nor the time of composition approach is hermeneutically sufficient, although both highlight in their own way the Johannine text’s connection to history.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (p. 15-16): Entscheidend ist jedoch die hermeneutische Einsicht, die sich aus dem Zwei-Ebenen-Modell ergibt: Das Johannesevangelium ist offenbar bewußt – nicht nur in Kapitel 9 – so gestaltet , daß sich der Horizont der Zeit und Geschichte Jesu mit dem Horizont des Autors und seiner Addressaten verschränkt. Damit wird die erzählte Geschichte Jesu für die Erfahrungen des Adressaten transparent; umgekehrt werden diese Erfahrungen im Lichte der irdischen Geschichte des ewigen Logos gedeutet. Diese hermeneutische Einsicht bringt zugleich eine wesentliche Einschränkung gegenüber jeder reinen Durchführung des zeitgeschichtlichen Lektüreansatzes. Wenn sich im johanneischen Text die Erzählung von Begebenheiten aus dem räumlichen, zeitlichen und sachlichen Horizont des irdischen Jesus mit Problemen, theologischen Einsichten und Sprachformen aus dem Horizont des johanneischen Autors und seiner Adressaten verbinden oder von diesen überlagert wird, dann läßt sich der johanneische Text weder allein als ‘historischer’ Bericht über das Wirken Jesu noch ausschließlich als Spiegel von Vorgängen im Horizont der Adressatengemeinde oder ihrer Geschichte verstehen, vielmehr sind beide Horizonte in komplexer und meist nicht mehr klar auflösbarer Weise miteinander verschmolzen. Damit sind weder der historisierende Zugang noch der zeitgeschichtliche hermeneutisch suffizient, obgleich beide auf ihre Weise den Geschichtsbezug des johanneischen Text zur Geltung bringen.

II. (Selective) grammatical analysis

While it reads smoothly in German, this quotation presents many challenges for the translator or at least for this one. The first problem is presented by the name of the approach. How should one translate Der zeitgeschichtliche Zugang? It usually works to translate zeitgeschichtliche with “contemporary”, but unfortunately I don’t think the meaning of “The Contemporary Approach” is very clear. But perhaps it would work to translate it as “The Contemporary-Historical Approach”? For now I am favoring “The Time-of- Composition Approach” since this seems to bring out the intended meaning, but I am certainly open to a better solution should one be presented! Other tricky points include the translation of Ort in the heading (is “position” the best solution? Or would “place” or “location” be better? The problem with the latter solutions is that they could make the reader think of a geographical location when something broader is in view); sich … verschränkt, which I have rendered with “is interwoven with”; für die Erfahrung des Adressaten transparent, which I have rendered with “transparent in relation to the experience of the addressees” since the point seems to be that the experience of the addressees is able to find its way into the narrated history of Jesus; sachlichen Horizont (I am unsure what exactly is in view here and therefore uncertain whether “material horizon”, “thematic horizon”, “substantial horizon” or some other solution would work best); wesentliche (is “fundamental” the best solution here [I think it probably is] or would “essential” or “substantial” be better?), verbinden (it seems to me that the subject of this verb is die Erzählung, so I am confused as to why it is not verbindet; but perhaps sich verbinden is dependent on wird?); überlagert wird (is “overlayed” acceptable? Or would it be preferable to rework the sentence and write something like: “or if the latter is superimposed on the former”?); Vorgängen (is event the best solution here or would another option such as “processes”, “occurrences” or “affairs” be better?); zur Geltung bringen (would it be preferable to translate more woodenly and write “bring to bear” or is “highlight” preferable with a view to readability and clarity?).

III. Substantive analysis

While some aspects of Martyn’s two-level reading of John 9 have rightly been criticized (see e.g., herehere, and Frey’s discussion of Martyn in this same section), I do not think that weaknesses in Martyn’s particular version of the two level reading as such (cf. Andrew Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, p. 47). Instead, I remain convinced of the validity and fruitfulness of a two-level reading of John 9 in particular and of the Gospel of John as a whole, and I find Frey’s nuanced articulation of this perspective to be especially helpful, both in its description of the interweaving or fusion of the two historical horizons and in its acknowledgment that it is often not possible to disentangle them clearly from each other.

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Jörg Frey on the Historicizing Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. For all my posts on this book see here.

Today’s key quotation continues my series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2), The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

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

I. Translation

The Glory of the Crucified One (wmc): A second approach stands in a complementary relation to the first. It has largely disappeared from the scholarly discussion in the German-language sphere but it still occurs in ‘naive’ readings and it finds defenders time and again in conservative-evangelical circles, above all in North America. It is the historicizing exposition, which in the episodes reported in John and also from the Johannine speeches wants to see, almost without exception, information about the time and history of Jesus and thus reads the Johannine work solely with reference to the time and history of Jesus. … A thoroughgoing reading of the Johannine text in the horizon of the time and history of Jesus strikes upon insurmountable limits, and it appears that with some – not all – evangelical commentators deference to the public interested in the historicity of the biblical texts, to sponsors or the statements of faith of a specific teaching institution impairs too much the view of the freedom of the Johannine manner of presentation and thus a reflection on its problems that is appropriate to the subject matter and honest. One must, however, hold fast to the particula veri of the historicizing interpretation: According to its own claim, the Gospel of John is not a timeless and placeless ‘mythological’ presentation, but rather the narrated witness of the history of Jesus of Nazareth that is concrete and anchored in space and time – irrespective of the clear traces of post Easter and addressee-oriented shaping.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (pp. 8 … 12): Ein zweiter Ansatz steht dem ersten komplementär gegenüber. Er ist aus dem wissenschaftlichen Gespräch im deutschsprachigen Raum weithin verschwunden, begegnet aber nach wie vor in ‘naiven’ Lektüren und findet in konservativ-evangelikalen Kreisen, vor allem in Nordamerika immer wieder Verteidiger. Er ist die historisierende Auslegung, die in den bei Johannes berichteten Begebenheiten und auch aus den johanneischen Reden Jesu fast durchweg Informationen über die Zeit und Geschichte Jesu sehen will und somit das johanneische Werk allein mit Blick auf die Zeit und Geschichte Jesu liest. … Eine konsequente Lektüre des johanneischen Textes im Horizont der Zeit und Geschichte Jesu stößt an unüberwindliche Grenzen, und es scheint, daß bei manchen – nicht allen – evangelikalen Kommentatoren die Rücksichtnahme auf das an der Historizität der biblischen Texte interessierte Publikum, auf Sponsoren oder die Glaubenssätze einer spezifischen Lehrinstitution den Blick auf die Freiheit der johanneischen Darstellungsweise und damit eine sachgemäße und aufrichtige Reflexion ihrer Probleme allzusehr beeinträchtigen. Festzuhalten ist freilich die particula veri der historisierenden Auslegung: Das Johannesevangelium ist nach eigenem Anspruch keine zeit- und ortlose ‘mythologische’ Darstellung, sondern das erzählte Zeugnis der konkreten, in Raum und Zeit verankerten Geschichte Jesu von Nazareth – ungeachtet der deutlichen Spuren nachösterlicher und adressatenbezogener Ausgestaltung.

Select grammatical analysis: (2) although it is weaker, I often use “still” for nach wie vor. In order to identify the object of findet one needs to look ahead to Verteidiger, which is at the very end of the sentence. (3) For historisieren I often use “historize” rather than “historicize” since the latter is a somewhat loaded word, but it seems like “historicize” might be preferable here, with the meaning of “treat or represent as historical”. I considered using “events” to translate Begebenheiten, but went with “episodes” in order to distinguish this term from Ereignisse. I translated fast durchweg as “almost without exception”, but “almost always” might be just as good or better.  (4) I am not sure if “deference” is the best translation of Rücksichtnahme…auf or if “consideration of/for” or another alternative would be better. sachgemäß is difficult: appropriate would be preferable with a view to readability in the target language, but it seems to me that something important is lost with this translation, so I adopted “appropriate to the subject matter”. “honest” seemed to capture the force of aufrichtig here, i.e., instead of alternatives such as “sincere”, “genuine”, or “upright”.  For beeinträchtigen I debated between impairs, negatively impacts, and compromises – I’m not sure why it is plural, unless die Rücksichtnahme is plural; even if it is plural, I think the singluar translation is correct in English.  I am unsure whether the force of Reflexion ihrer Probleme is “reflection on its problems” or “reflection of its problems”, but I think the former is correct. (5) It seemed appropriate to translate sondern as “but rather” here. I am not sure if “addressee-oriented” is an adequate translation for addressatenbezogener, but it was the best I could come up with,

Substantial analysis: As with my last post in this series, I am basically on the same page as Frey in his assessment of the historicizing approach. Specifically, with Frey I would like to affirm both that the Gospel of John is concerned with the concrete history of Jesus in space and time and that (to a greater degree than the Synoptics) this Gospel reflects post-Easter shaping and the life setting of the author and the author’s community at many points. I am, however, less comfortable with Frey’s attribution of some evangelical scholars’ advocacy of the historicizing approach to deference to institutions, sponsors, or statements of faith, even with his important qualification some – not all. It is not that I doubt that this plays a role in at least some cases, but simply that I think there is more to be gained by assuming/presuming the best of the vast majority of (conservative) evangelical scholars. In particular, while I assume that the diverse contexts and atmospheres in which scholars work shape our perspectives to a great extent and recognize that this sometimes makes scholars of various persuasions toe various lines, I also assume that evangelical scholars who hold to a more maximalist assessment of the extent to which John’s narrative can be situated in the life of Jesus do so because they remain convinced of the viability of this reading rather than that their view is (primarily or exclusively) determined by deference to others, just as I hope that evangelical scholars will give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I have come to a different judgment in this matter because my sustained engagement with the texts and critical issues has led me to believe that this is the best explanation and not simply because I am am eager to be accepted by others who teach in a public institution like I do, etc. In short, I am hesitant to frame my difference of viewpoint in this matter to a difference in the extent to which I am “honest” or the extent to which I am “toeing a given line”, but I am in agreement with Frey’s assessment that strong forms of the historicizing approach face insurmountable limits and with his conviction that this approach does not do justice to the freedom of the Johannine manner of presentation. In other words, I am critical of this approach because I think it  ultimately fails to “Let John be John” (James Dunn).

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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.

Jörg Frey on the Theological Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking far into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I.

Today’s key quotation inaugurates a series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2),The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

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

Translation and German Original

English Translation (wmc): This approach rightly recognizes the theological intention of the Gospel’s message without classifying its message simply as ‘time-conditioned’ or ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ and thus relativizing it. The material claim of the Gospel of John to mediate theological truth is explicitly taken up in this reading. Therein resides its validity, for the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly calls for such a theologically sensitive reading. A danger may, however, reside in the fact that in an overly close identification of the interpreter with his [or her] author or the work and its proclamation the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance  is easily lost. John then becomes the standard of what is actually Christian and the problematic aspects of Johannine theology, for example the polemical statements about ‘the Jews’, can be relativized only with difficulty.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (7): Dieser Ansatz erkennt mit Recht den theologischen Aussagewillen des Evangeliums, ohne dessen Aussagen einfach als ‘zeitbedingt’ einzuordnen oder ‘historisch’ oder ‘kulturell’ zu erklären und damit zu relativieren. Der sachlich Anspruch des Johannesevangeliums, theologische Wahrheit zu vermitteln, wird in dieser Lektüre eindrücklich aufgenommen und vertreten. Darin besteht ihr Recht, denn zweifellos verlangt das vierte Evangelium nach einer solchen theologisch sensiblen Lektüre. Eine Gefahr mag allerdings darin liegen, daß in einer zu engen Identifikation des Interpreten mit seinem Autor bzw. dem Werk und seiner Verkündigung die Möglichkeit einer kritischen Distanznahme leicht verloren geht. Johannes wird dann zum Maßstab des eigentlich Christlichen, und die problematische Aspekte der johanneischen Theologie, etwa die polemischen Äußerungen über ‘die Juden’, lassen sich nur schwer relativieren.

Selective grammatical analysis

Although the German sentence reads very smoothly and is not especially difficult to understand, I found it quite difficult to translate. Aussagewillen presented a difficulty for me, and I am not sure if I am getting it right. I considered various options such as statement/declaration/testimony of purpose/intention, stated intention/purpose, and intended testimony. Sache/sachlich can’t be captured well in English. It is often translated as “content”, but I usually prefer “subject matter” for Sache and “material”, “materially” or “in terms of the subject matter” for sachlich. vermitteln is often best translated with “mediate” but “convey” is sometimes better. bestehen is often best translated as “consist” but “resides” seemed to read better here. I struggled with ihr Recht, but ultimately settled on “its validity” rather than “its right/legitimacy/justification/due/authorization” . verlangen nach has the force of “calls for”, “requires”, “demands”, “desires”, “longs for”: here, “calls for” seemed best. sensiblen means “sensitive”
(NOT “sensible”, which is a false friend: see here). I first translated kritische Distanzhame as “critical distancing” but then changed my mind and translated it as “a critical taking of distance”, which also didn’t seem quite right. And so I decided, against my usual inclinations, to translate more freely and write “the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance”. I recognize that “is easily lost” hardly does justice to leicht verloren geht but “easily goes lost”, “easily gets lost” or “easily gets lost in the shuffle” didn’t seem to work too well. But perhaps “easily slips away” would be better. eigentlich could also be translated as “real” or even with the term “authentic”, especially as this quotation occurs in relation to Bultmann. lassen sich + infinitive is usually best translated as “can be x-ed”, but the wooden “allows itself to be [or lets itself be] relativized only with difficulty” might be better here.

Substantive analysis

one of the things that I like about this section of Frey’s chapter is that he attempts to identify both the elements of truth of the approaches that he traces and the weaknesses and (potential) problems that burden them. Here, I think his assessment of the strengths and potential dangers of a theological approach are basically on target.

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For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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.