Michael Bachmann on the New Perspective on Paul (Paulus Handbuch Series)

Before beginning today’s post, let me share a link to a translation competition that may be of interest to readers of this blog (see here).

This week’s post is devoted again to the Paulus Handbuch (ed. Friedrich W. Horn; Mohr Siebeck, 2013; see here and PDF).

In my last Paulus Handbuch Series post I looked at Reinhard von Bendemann‘s discussion of Bultmann, Käsemann, and the Righteousness of God in Paul. Building on this post, today’s quotation is taken from Michael Bachmann‘s section on “The New Perspective on Paul” and “The New View of Paul”.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the grammatical commentary directly follows the German text. Since it is a both a difficult and a short sentence, I will analyze it as a model sentence.

I. Text and Translation

If one summarizes what has thus far been said on the New Perspective, then the result is as follows: The concern is with a direction of research, which has been developing since the 1960s and is in itself quite differentiated, that finds a unifying point above all in the fact that in the proto-Pauline letters, precisely also in formulations on justification, it believes it can make out something like a sociological dimension, which has more precisely to do with the relation of early Christianity to Judaism. Here an important role is usually assigned to the expression “works of the law”, insofar as with it a connection to Jewish identity markers is often claimed. Then the concern, especially in the formulation of a justification “not from works of the law”, would be with the possibility of an inclusion of non-Jews precisely as non-Jews into the community of salvation.

Fast man das bislang zur New Perspective Gesagte zusammen, so ergibt sich: Es handelt sich um eine sich seit den 1960er Jahren entwickelnde, dabei in sich durchaus differenzierte Forschungsrichtung, die v.a. darin einen Einheitspunkt findet, dass sie in den protopaulinischen Briefen, gerade auch in Formulierungen zur Rechtfertigung, so etwas wie eine soziologische Dimension auszumachen meint, die es genauer mit dem Verhältnis der frühen Christenheit zum Judentum zu tun hat. Dabei kommt zumeist dem Ausdruck “Werke des Gesetzes” eine wichtige Rolle zu, sofern bei ihm oft ein Bezug zu jüdischen Identitätsmerkmalen behauptet wird. Dann ginge es zumal bei der Formulierung von einer Rechtfertigung “nicht aus Werken des Gesetzes” um die Möglichkeit einer Inklusion von Nichtjuden eben als Nichtjuden in die Heilsgemeinde.

II. Extensive Grammatical Analysis

Fast … zusammen = zusammenfassen = summarizes; the fact that the verb stands in the first position lets you know that it needs to be translated “if …”. man = one. das … Gesagte = that which has been said = what has been said (past particle of sagen; with the neuter article “das” + capitalization it becomes a substantive); bis lang modifies Gesagte (what has been said “thus far/to date/up to now/previously”) and zur New Perspective specifies the topic “on the New Perspective”. so ergibt sich is difficult: as part of the if-then-construction, so can be translated as “then”; ergibt sich = arises or emerges but here the sense probably needs to be unpacked to read “then the result is as follows” or “then the following emerges” etc. Es handelt sich um = the concern is with or we are dealing with. eine … Forschungrichtung depends on um. It is modified by participial phrases (sich … entwickelnde and … in sich differenzierte …) and a relative clause (die … findet), which creates a problem since this usually can’t be reproduced in English. I converted the participial modifiers to two relative clauses, namely “which has been developing and is in itself quite differentiated” and “that finds …”, using “which” and then “that” because it seemed to me that the first relative clause (which) was a “non-defining relative clause” and the second one a defining relative clause (that), but I often struggle with this issue so I could be off here. sich entwickende is present but in English it has to become a past tense (has been developing) with seit 1960er (since the 1960s): German (like Greek, I think) uses the present tense when a past action extends into the present whereas English uses a past tense in such cases. I left dabei untranslated. I translated durchaus as “quite” and differenzierte as differentiated. die is feminine singular because this is the gender and number of its antecedent Forschungsrichtung; it is nominative because it is the subject of findet (that finds). v.a. = vor allem = above all. einen Einheitspunkt is accusative because it is the direct object of findet. darin … dass = therein that = in the fact that. sie is the subject and meint is the main verb; I translated sie … meint auszumachen as “believes it can make out”, which I hope is correct. so etwas wie eine soziologische Dimension = “something like a sociological dimension”: not sure exactly how to describe what is going on grammatically, which reminds me that I really do need to work through a German grammar at some point! The relative pronoun die, which I think looks back to eine soziologische Dimension (rather than Forschungsrichtung) is the subject and hat zu tun is the main verb (has to do). I’m not sure what es is doing? Perhaps literally “which has it to do more precisely with…”? genau becomes genauer in the comparative form: “more precisely/exactly”. mit (with) + dative dem Verhältnis (the relationship) + genitive der frühen Christenheit (of early Christianity) + zu (to) + dative dem Judentum => zum Judentum. I translated the always troublesome Dabei as “Here”. kommt zu with Rolle (role) + dative (dem Ausdruck) = an important (wichtige) role is usually (meist) ascribed (zukommen) to the expression (dem Ausdruck). Werke (works) + genitive des Gesetzes (of the Law). sofern = insofar as. bei is difficult to capture in English; sometimes “in” works best and sometimes “with” is better; ihm refers back to dem Ausdruck: with it. I often translate Bezug as “reference” but I was concerned that this translation might say more than Bachman wanted to say, so I went with “connection” (relation would perhaps also have worked); it is the subject of wird behauptet (is claimed). a connection zu (to/with) + dative Jewish identity markers. Dann = then. I believe ginge is subjunctive, and that it has the force of “would be concerned with” (see further my post on es geht um). I am uncertain about the force of zumal: I think it has the force of “especially” or “above all”, but it might have the sense of “namely” or perhaps even “at least”, though I couldn’t find support for the last proposal. Here I translated bei as “in” + dative der Formulierung + von (of) + dative einer Rechtfertigung. I translated Rechtfertigung as justification (there is obviously lots of discussion about what terminology to use for the Greek word here); like the Greek the German has “not from works of the law”; English usually has “not by works of the law”, but I retained “from”. um die Möglichkeit (with the possibility) + genitive einer Inklusion (of an inclusion) + von (of) + dative Nichtjuden (non-Jews). eben has the force of “precisely” + als (as) + Nichtjuden (non-Jews). I expected to find in der Heilsgemeinde rather than in die Heilsgemeinde but Inklusion must have an active force so that the accusative is used, for which reason I chose to write “into” the community of salvation.

III. Substantive analysis

On the one hand, I agree with Michael Bachmann that one of the enduring contributions of the New Perspective on Paul resides in its sensitivity to the presence of a sociological dimension that can be discerned in many of the key Pauline texts under discussion. And I think it is a shame when detractors of the New Perspective are unwilling to acknowledge this contribution with appreciation. On the other hand, I think there is much room for debate concerning the exact place that is assigned to this dimension in our attempts to unpack Paul’s argumentation in general and his language about justification and “works of the law” in particular. To name one point of hesitation, I seems problematic to me when the language of “justification” and “works of the law” is linked too exclusively to the inclusion of Gentiles, since Paul’s argument in Galatians 2 proceeds from a claim about justification/works of the law in relation to Jewish believers to a claim about justification/works of the law in relation to Gentile believers. Readers of Bachmann’s discussion of the “works of the law” in this section of the Paulus Handbuch may also wish to consult Otfried Hofius’s critique of Bachmann’s interpretation of “works of the law” in his Exegetische Studien (pp. 49-88 and 89-94).

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Gerd Theissen’s Critique of the New Perspective on Paul

The topic of “Paul and the Law” and the long-standing debate around the strengths and weaknesses of the many different versions of the “New Perspective on Paul” have continued to be of interest to many scholars of Early Christianity. Within the blogosphere, for example, many posts at Near Emmaus and various Patheos Blogs have been devoted to the admittedly Now-Not-So-New Perspective on Paul, and a recent post by Shawn Wilhite has helpfully drawn attention to James Dunn’s latest attempt to clarify his position in Early Christianity 4 (2013).

This post will attempt to contribute to the discussion by highlighting a key quotation from Gerd Theissen’s 2007 book Erleben und Verhalten der Ersten Christen: Eine Psychologie des Urchristentum (Experience and Behavior of the first Christians: a Psychology of Primitive Christianity), and by pointing readers to one of Theissen’s English publications on the topic in my analysis section.

Translation (wmc): “It is correct that Judaism was proud of the Torah. But precisely for this reason critical voices were massively pushed back and suppressed, which can be documented.  Paul is only one example of these voices. It is also correct that Paul was not conscious of any sin in his pre-Christian period; he persecuted the Christians out of conviction. But this does not rule out [the view / thesis / possibility / likelihood / fact] that he repressed a critical voice in himself that first broke through with the Damascus vision. It is finally correct that intra-Christian, Judaistic opponents first impelled Paul to grapple with the problem of the law. But this does not rule out [the view / thesis / possibility / likelihood / fact] that he fought against a part of his own life in these opponents. In my view, he grappled once more with the Jewish fundamentalist that he himself once was. He fought in them a part of himself – and it was precisely for this reason that the controversy with them was so heated. But in everything Paul is a representative of Judaism, both in his zeal for the law and in his criticism of the law.”

Erleben und Verhalten der ersten Christen (p. 468-9): “Es ist richtig, dass das Judentum auf die Thora stolz war. Aber eben deswegen wurden kritische Stimmen massiv zurückgewiesen und verdrängt, die sich belegen lassen. Paulus ist nur ein Beispiel für diese Stimmen. Es ist ferner richtig, dass sich Paulus in seiner vorchristlichen Zeit keiner Sünde bewusst war; er verfolgte aus Überzeugung die Christen. Aber das schließt nicht aus, dass er eine kritische Stimme in sich unterdrückte, die erst mit der Damaskusvision durchbrach. Es ist schließlich richtig, dass erst innerchristliche, judaistische Gegner Paulus genötigt haben, sich mit der Gesetzesproblematik auseinander zu setzen. Aber das schließt nicht aus, dass er in diesen Gegnern ein Stück seines eigenen Lebens bekämft hat. Er setzt sich m. E. noch einmal mit dem jüdischen Fundamentalisten auseinander, der er einmal selbst war. Er bekämpft in ihnen ein Stück von sich selbst – und eben deshalb war die Auseinandersetzung mit ihnen so heftig. In allem aber ist Paulus ein Repräsentant des Judentum, in seinem Gesetzeseifer wie in seiner Gesetzeskritik.”

Selective grammatical analysis: The second sentence reads awkwardly. One could perhaps repeat the word voices for clarification (“But precisely for this reason critical voices were massively pushed back and suppressed, voices which can be documented) or move the relative clause forward (“put precisely for this reason critical voices, which can be documented, were massively pushed back and suppressed). I am also uncertain whether it is preferable to translate “verdrängt” as “suppressed” or “repressed”, and the same question applies to the translation of “in sich unterdrückt “ in sentence 5. [In response to the facebook link to this post, Ben Wiebe noted that “‘verdrängt’ might literally be translated to press or crowd out; ‘unterdrückte’ to press or push under”.] The translation of “das schileßt nicht aus, dass” is difficult, since in English one would probably need to supply something before “that”, e.g., “the view that”, “the thesis that”, “the possibility that”, “the likelihood that”, or “the fact that”. ” I also have questions about the translation of “judaistische” in sentence 6. I have chosen the non-word “judaistic” since it is unclear to me whether the intended sense is “judaizing”, for which reason I have avoided this term. It is always difficult to translate auseinandersetzen – I have used “grapple with” for the verb here (“confront” would also have been possible) and controversy for the noun.

But here just two of them: “verdrängt” might be literally translated to press or crowd out; “unterdrückte” to press or push under

Substantive analysis: For better or for worse, my own relationship to the wide-ranging discussion surrounding the “New Perspective on Paul” is complex. Being strongly influenced by the diversity of approaches represented by my teachers, especially Peter Stuhlmacher, James Dunn, and Markus Bockmuehl, I have come to appreciate both the insights/arguments of its protagonists and the objections/concerns of its detractors, which is not to say that I have been able to attain to a clear or balanced position in the process! Against this background, I have included this “key quotation” from Gerd Theissen both because I regard it as a significant line of argumentation and because I think that it arguably merits more substantive engagement than it has received thus far. For further explication of this “key quotation”, I recommend beginning with the additional page references that I provide at the end of my RBL Review of Erleben und Verhalten, as well as Theissen’s 2007 article “The New Perspective on Paul and Its Limits: Some Psychological Considerations”, which appeared in the Princeton Seminary Bulletin. For a work that positively takes up Theissen’s line of thought, see Daniel Marguerat, Paul in Acts and Paul in his Letters. Tübingen: Mohr, 2013, p. 207-208.

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