Benjamin Schliesser on the Cosmic Interpretation of pistis in Gal 3.23, 25

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. Benjamin Schliesser of the University of Zürich. His chosen excerpt, which comes from his 2011 book Was ist Glaube? Paulinische Perspektiven, suggests, in the context of debates about the interpretation of pistis Christou, that pistis should be understood in a comprehensive “cosmic” sense in Gal 3.23, 25, a viewpoint that has been developed previously by Ernst Lohmeyer and one that is discussed as a “third” view in the second edition of Udo Schnelle’s book on Paul (Paulus. Leben und Denken. 2nd Edition. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014, p. 572).

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): Paul evidently understands pistis here [in Gal 3.23, 25] as a powerful eschatological event that marks a turn of the times and opposes the supremacy of the law that was  previously in force in order to supplant this once and for all. Faith and Law come upon the stage as personified entities at a certain point in time of the salvation-historical drama. They possess a cosmic dimension that determines the reality as a whole and yet simultaneously a personal dimension that determines the entire person. Through the revelation of faith God has radically transformed the reality of the world and placed it under a new light. From this results the designations with which pistis has been understood [in scholarship]: “eschatological event of salvation” (F. Neugebauer), “divine event-reality”, “transubjective entity” (H. Binder), or “transindividual overall phenomenon” (P. Stuhlmacher).

Was ist Glaube (p. 36): Offensichtlich versteht Paulus die pistis hier [in Gal 3,23.25] als machtvolles eschatologisches Geschehen, das eine Zeitenwende markiert und der bis dato geltenden Vormachtstellung des Gesetzes entgegentritt, um dieses ein für alle Mal abzulösen. Glaube und Gesetz treten als personifizierte Größen zu einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt des heilsgeschichtlichen Dramas auf die Bühne. Ihnen ist eine kosmische Dimension eigen, die die Wirklichkeit als Ganze bestimmt, zugleich aber eine personale Dimension, die den ganzen Menschen bestimmt. Durch die Offenbarung des Glaubens hat Gott die Weltwirklichkeit radikal verwandelt und unter ein neues Licht gestellt. Daraus ergeben sich die Bezeichnungen, mit denen die pistis [in der Forschung] versehen wurde: «eschatologisches Heilsereignis» (F. Neugebauer), «göttliche Geschehenswirklichkeit», «transsubjektive Größe» (H. Binder) oder «überindividuelles Gesamtphänomen» (P. Stuhlmacher).

Selective grammatical analysis: For me it is often difficult to decide whether to translate offensichtlich as “apparently” or as “evidently”. I have chosen the latter, which implies a somewhat stronger claim. Previously I had never encountered the phrase bis dato, which appears to have the force of “hitherto”, “previously” or “to date”. The translation of gelten is often tricky; solutions I have adopted include “in force”, “in effect”, and “valid”. For the translation of ablösen I opted for “supplant” rather than “replace” or “supersede”. Rather that using the phrase “come onto the scene” I decided to retain the literal force of treten … auf der Bühne and translate the phrase as “come upon the stage”. Ihnen … eigen is not easy, but I think that “they possess (or they have)” captures the general sense. I often translate bestimmen as “specifies” but “determines” seemed better here. The strong verb “transformed” seemed to better capture the sense of verwandelt than “changed”. Daraus ergeben sich could be translated as “from this arises/results” or perhaps more freely as “This gives rise to…”. For eschatologisches Heilsereignis I waffled between “eschatological salvation event”, “eschatological event of salvation” and “eschatological salvific event”. It is hard to capture Geschehenswirklichkeit, and there is presumably a better solution than “event reality”.

II. Biographical-Bibliographical Information

Before coming to the University of Zürich, Benjamin Schliesser studied Protestant theology in Tübingen (Germany), Glasgow (Scotland), and Pasadena (USA). He completed his PhD in 2006 with a dissertation on the Pauline understanding of faith (see here). He has been Oberassistent (Senior Research Assistant) for Prof. Jörg Frey since 2010 and, in addition, for Prof. Samuel Vollenweider since 2011. He is currently working toward the completion of his habilitation on the “phenomenon of doubt in early Christianity”.
A selection of his most important publications can be found at his University of Zürich homepage (see here). Readers will also want to consult his page, which contains some of his research, including a valuable article on recent Theologies of Paul (Becker, Dunn, Schnelle, Wolter).

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