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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Oda Wischmeyer on Love as Agape

I have recently finished Oda Wischmeyer‘s excellent new book Liebe als Agape: Das frühchristliche Konzept und der moderne Diskurs (cf. Google Books), which does so much in less than 300 pages! Showing a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge, Wischmeyer approaches the topic from multiple perspectives, including perceptive engagement with contemporary conceptions of love such as those of Julia Kristeva, Martha Nussbaum, and Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus caritas est. In this way, she facilitates a dialogue between the treatment of love in the New Testament and the diverse discussions of love in our own time. For this post, I have chosen a short passage from her fourth chapter. As usual I will begin with the translation and then quote the original text.

Translation (wmc): Common to Paul and John is the interpretation of the death of Jesus as giving up the life for others, understood as the highest form of love. This form of giving up the own life as the highest expression of love undoubtedly forms the theological-christological center of the whole New Testament concept of love. Here in the inner-divine sphere the basic form of love is pre-formed and pre-suffered. When in John 1.1-3, 14, 18 and Philippians 2.6-7 the separation of the Son from the Father is addressed, which is formulated elsewhere as “delivering up (of the Son)”, and Jesus’s fate of death is interpreted as the love of God and of Jesus to human beings, we find ourselves at the center of the concept of love. Love and death mutually condition each other here, and yet in such a way that love and thus life gains the victory.

Liebe als Agape (p. 153): Paulus und Johannes gemeinsam ist die Interpretation des Todes Jesu als Hingabe des Lebens für andere, verstanden als höchste Form der Liebe. Diese Form der Hingabe des eigenen Lebens als des höchsten Ausdrucks der Liebe bildet zweifellos das theologisch-christologische Zentrum des gesamten neutestamentlichen Liebeskonzepts. Hier im innergöttlichen Bereich ist die Grundform der Liebe vor-geformt und vor-erlitten. Wenn in Joh 1,1-3.14.18 und in Phil 2,6f. die Trennung des Sohnes vom Vater angesprochen wird, die an anderer Stelle also “Dahingabe (des Sohnes)” formuliert ist, und Jesu Todesschicksal also Liebe Gottes und Jesu zu den Menschen interpretiert wird, befinden wir uns im Zentrum des Liebeskonzept: Liebe und Tod bedingen sich hier gegenseitig, aber so, dass die Liebe und damit das Leben den Sieg behält.

(Selective) Grammatical Analysis: Not sure if “giving up” is a good solution for “Hingabe”. I considered saying “his life” rather than “the life” (as often, each solution has its advantages and disadvantages). inner-divine doesn’t quite do justice to innergöttlichen but it still seems to be the best solution. Not sure if “vor-erlitten” is best translated with “pre-suffered” or if the sense is weaker, i.e. something like pre-experienced. I also considered translating “Dahingabe” as “handing over” or “giving over” rather than “delivering up”, which might not be a good word choice. I considered translating den Sieg behält with “prevailed” but it seemed important to retain the word “victory” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

In other news, Oda Wischmeyer provides a fascinating analysis of N. T. Wright’s Biblical hermeneutics in her contribution to the forthcoming volume God and the Faithfulness of Paul (see here)!

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Greek Grammar and Linguistics Beyond BDR/BDF: Heinrich von Siebenthal zum 70. Geburtstag

For many English-speaking (and even German-speaking) scholars BDR/BDF epitomizes German scholarship on Greek Grammar. This is, of course, understandable to some extent, for BDR/BDF is a landmark work that can still be consulted with great profit today. At the same time, just as Bultmann did not mark the end of German New Testament scholarship, so BDR did not mark the end of German scholarship on Greek Grammar and linguistic approaches to the New Testament.

With this in mind, today’s post will look at the work of a more recent German-speaking scholar who has made a number of important contributions to the study of Greek Grammar and the relationship between linguistics and Biblical interpretation, namely Heinrich von Siebenthal, who celebrates his 70th birthday today.

* For another post on von Siebenthal’s work, see this post on the Zürich New Testament Blog.

I will first introduce four of his publications and then translate an excerpt from his Greek Grammar in which he gives two reasons for rejecting Porter and Campbell’s thesis that the Greek verb does not grammaticalize time, not even in the indicative (my phrasing; cf. Decker).

Select Publications

1) Griechische Grammatik zum Neuen Testament. Neubearbeitung und Erweiterung der Grammatik Hoffmann / von Siebenthal. Gießen: Brunnen, 2011 (cf. LogosVersion and ShortVersion). This 800 page Grammar represents a major contribution to the study of the Greek New Testament. And English-speaking readers will be delighted to learn that von Siebenthal is preparing an English translation! Readers may, for example, be particularly interested in his section on Textgrammatik (pp. 581ff).

2) Wilfrid Haubeck and Heinrich von Siebenthal. Neuer sprachlicher Schlüssel zum griechischen Neuen Testament. 3rd edition.  Gießen, Brunnen: 2011 (cf. here). I have used (an earlier edition of) this grammatical key to the Greek New Testament  for many years now, and I have found that it helpfully complements my more recent use of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series.

3) “Linguistische Methodenschritte: Textanalyse und Übersetzung.” Pages 51-100 in Das Studium des Neuen Testaments: Einführung in die Methoden der Exegese. Revised Edition. Edited by Heinz-Werner Neudorfer and Eckhard J. Schnabel. Wuppertal: Brunnen, 2006, 51–100. In this chapter, von Siebenthal seeks to show how linguistic insights can inform (the steps of) exegesis. It will be of special interest to scholars of James and Romans since he uses Romans 8.10 (pp. 52ff) and James 1.2-4 (pp. 61ff) as focal texts. I found the emphasis that he placed on establishing the communicative function of a text to be valuable.

4) “Sprachwissenschaftliche Aspekte.” Pages 69-154 in Das Studium des Neuen Testaments.  Vol. 1: Eine Einführung in die Methoden der Exegese. Edited by Heinz-Werner Neudorfer and Eckhard J. Schnabel. Wuppertal: Brunnen, 2000. I found this chapter to be more advanced (and a bit more rewarding) than “Linguistische Methodenschritte”. It contains valuable discussions of a wide range of issues pertaining to linguistics and Biblical interpretation. And it will be of special interest to scholars of Philippians, since von Siebenthal makes Philippians 2.5-11 a focal text for his discussion. And it is also valuable for the way in which he relates Akmajian’s inferential model of communication to the interpretation of the New Testament.

II. H. von Siebenthal on Aspect and Time in the Indicative Mood

Since the Greek verb is a hot topic of late (cf. e.g. here), I thought it would be fitting to select an excerpt on this issue from von Siebenthal’s Griechische Grammatik (p. 310). To help those learning German, I will alternate between English translation and German Original so that they can be read in relation to one another.

In more recent discussion on verbal aspect in Ancient Greek – especially among English-speaking New Testament scholars – the thesis is sometimes advocated (among others by Porter and Campbell; see Campbell 2007/2008) that also the indicative forms have only aspectual meaning; the classification of the intended subject matter as present or past is said to result only secondarily in the individual context (hence, similar to what happens with regard to the relative temporal meaning mentioned under §193b).

In der jüngeren Diskussion um den altgriechischen Verbalaspekt wird – besonders unter englischsprachigen Neutestamentlern – verschiedentlich die These vertreten (u.a. von Porter und Campbell; s. Campbell 2007/2008), auch die Indikativformen hätten lediglich Aspektbedeutung; die Einordnung des gemeinten Sachverhalts als gegenwärtig oder vergangen, ergäbe sich erst sekundär im Einzelkontext (also etwa so, wie es bei der unter §193b genannten relativen Zeitbedeutung geschieht).

In this point we follow here the consensus within Greek philology (cf., among others, Adrados, Meier-Brügger and Duhoux), which assumes a combination of aspectual and temporal meaning in the indicative present, aorist, and perfect (§192f).

In diesem Punkt folgen wir hier dem Konsens innerhalb der Gräzistik (vgl. u.a. Adrados, Meier-Brügger und Duhoux), der beim Indikativ Präsens, Aorist und Perfekt von einer Kombination von Aspekt- und Zeitbedeutung ausgeht (§192f).

In the main, the treatment of aspect offered here corresponds also otherwise to this consensus (and to what the New Testament scholars active in research on aspect – despite all differences in details – advocate in common; see Campbell 2007/2008).

Im Wesentlichen entspricht die hier gebotene Behandlung der Aspekte auch sonst diesem Konsens (ebenso dem, was die in der Aspektforschung tätigen Neutestamentler – bei allen Unterschieden im Einzelnen – gemeinsam vertreten; s. Campbell 2007/ 2008).

In the fine division and terminology we especially depend on the approach of the Indo-European language scholars and Greek philologists Risch and Meier-Brügger.

In der Feineinteilung und der Terminologie lehnen wir uns vor allem an den Ansatz der Indogermanisten und Gräzisten Risch und Meier-Brügger an.

The thesis advocated by Porter and Campbell appears to display, inter alia, the following main weak points:

Die von Porter und Campbell vertretene These scheint u.a. folgende Hauptschwachpunkte aufzuweisen:

a) An understanding of “category” is apparently presupposed that must be designated as problematic. As, for example, the linguist T. Givón (2000: 29–34) shows, categories usually do not encompass clearly delimitable, homogenous segments of reality (which is apparently different from what is assumed in the aforementioned thesis).

a) Man setzt offenbar ein Verständnis von »Kategorie« voraus, das als problematisch zu bezeichnen ist. Wie etwa der Linguist T. Givón (2000: 29–34) nachweist, umfassen Kategorien in der Regel keine klar abgrenzbaren, homogenen Segmente der Wirklichkeit (offenbar anders als bei der obigen These angenommen).

This applies not least to the linguistic categories: The reality that is investigated here and has to be described consists in large part of a continuum. Time and again the (category) boundaries between different spheres are shown to be fluid.

Dies trifft nicht zuletzt auch auf die linguistischen Kategorien zu: Die hier untersuchte und zu beschreibende Wirklichkeit besteht zu einem großen Teil aus einem Kontinuum. Die (kategoriellen) Grenzen zwischen unterscheidbaren Bereichen erweisen sich immer wieder als fließend.

In the core sphere of a category we find the typical, i.e. those phenomena that display all the features of this category.

Im Kernbereich einer Kategorie findet sich das Typische, jene Phänomene nämlich, die sämtliche Kennzeichen dieser Kategorie aufweisen.

At the margins, however, one also encounters atypical manifestations in which part of the category markers are lacking.

An den Rändern trifft man jedoch auch auf atypische Erscheinungen, bei denen ein Teil der kategoriellen Kennzeichen fehlt.

The existence of some indicative forms with problematic temporal meaning function are therefore not yet a reason to deny such a function to the indicative as a whole; they can be reasonably assigned to the periphery, which borders the neighboring category without typical temporal meaning function.

Einige Indikativformen mit problematischer Zeitbedeutungsfunktion sind von daher noch kein Grund, eine solche dem Indikativ überhaupt abzusprechen; sie lassen sich sinnvollerweise dem Randbereich zuordnen, der an die benachbarte Kategorie ohne typische Zeitbedeutungsfunktion grenzt.

b) The possibility of mutivalence seems to be too little taken into account. Linguistic signs can – as distinct from non-lingustic signs – be multivalent, i.e. polysemous or polyfunctional: to one element of expression there often corresponds more than one content or one function, a circumstance that ordinarily does not prevent texts from being understood, since what is meant in each case can usually be inferred from other linguistic signals or simply on the basis of the context.

b) Die Möglichkeit von Mehrdeutigkeit scheint zu wenig berücksichtigt. Sprachliche Zeichen können – im Unterschied zu nichtsprachlichen Zeichen – mehrdeutig, d.h. polysem bzw. polyfunktional, sein: Einem Ausdruckselement entspricht häufig mehr als ein Inhalt oder eine Funktion, ein Umstand, der die Verstehbarkeit von Texten gewöhnlich nicht beeinträchtigt, da sich das jeweils Gemeinte meist anhand von weiteren Sprachsignalen oder einfach aufgrund des Kontextes leicht erschließen lässt.

When, for example, imperfect forms sometimes refer not to something past but to the unreal for example, this need not call into question the temporal meaning function of this indicative category; the reference to the unreal is typically signaled via the conjunction εἰ, the particle ἄν or through the meaning of the verb (§198h/i; 284), a situation that is not dissimilar to that of the English past tense (cf., e.g., He went. – If he went.).

Wenn sich z.B. Imperfektformen manchmal nicht auf Vergangenes, sondern etwa auf Nichtwirkliches beziehen, braucht dies die Zeitbedeutungsfunktion dieser indikativischen Kategorie nicht in Frage zu stellen; der Bezug auf Nichtwirkliches wird ja typischerweise durch die Konjunktion εἰ, die Partikel ἄν oder dann durch die Verbbedeutung signalisiert (§198h/i; 284), eine Situation, die der der englischen past tense nicht unähnlich ist (vgl. z.B. He went. – If he went.).

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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