Reformation und Rationalität

New in the R5AS from V&R

978-3-647-55079-4On 19th October 1512, Martin Luther received his doctorate of theology under the chairmanship of Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt. Throughout his life, Luther remained tied to the Universityof Wittemberg. The Reformation movement was initially driven by and through his concern with academic issues, which also from the outset pertained to the relationship between theology and the other sciences.

The contributors to this volume describe the relationship between faith and reason – or ratio and pietas – which was assessed in different ways in the Reformation, described by some as oppositional and by others as harmonious. Moreover, reformers referred back to medieval philosophical and theological points of view to relate reason with belief. The way in which this was done was definitive, for example for the establishment of universities, relations between science and the Church and in matters concerning the Bible and preaching. The lectures printed in this volume address the question of the relationship between the Reformation and reason before a European, interdenominational horizon.

Hebrew Bible / Old Testament – II – From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

978-3-525-54024-4The third part of this five part series examines volume two of the work: II – From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. The series ‘home page’ (as it were) is available here. Volumes reviewed and to be reviewed are listed there and links are provided to those reviews.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the historical period which interests me the most is the sixteenth and that era is, obviously, front and center of the discussion here. It will not surprise anyone, then, that I found the present volume particularly engaging and that within this volume these chapters were the most interesting of all:

6. The Institutional Framework of Theological Studies in the Late Middle Ages
7. Ad fontes! The Early Humanist Concern for the Hebraica veritas
9. The Textual and Hermeneutic Work of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam
13. Scriptural Interpretation in Pre-Reformation Dissident Movements

And the greatest of them all

18. The Exegetical and Hermeneutical Work of John Oecolampadius, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin

And then

21. History and Impact of English Bible Translations
23. Scriptural Interpretation among Radical Reformers
24. Further Development of Reformation Hermeneutics

The volume moves into these chapters and out of them with the thoroughness we have come to expect from the work. The contributors themselves are – to put it bluntly – academic superstars. Chapter 18, which was written by Peter Opitz, should be a volume on its own and, indeed, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that many of the chapters in this volume could appear as independent booklets.

As was certainly true of the preceding two volumes of this series, it is really exceptionally difficult to quibble with anything here. When one sees an absolutely astonishing building one doesn’t say “but it would look better if that window there were a half a foot to the right”. Instead, one admires both architect and construction worker. Here too the structure erected is so spectacularly well built and aesthetically pleasing and equipped with every possible amenity that to pick out any fault makes the one doing so not only petty but potentially even bitter with jealousy.

Why is this such a worthwhile volume? Because the authors and editor haven’t missed anything important. So, for instance, Opitz discusses

I. John Oecolampadius
1. Oecolampadius in the Context of the Renaissance
2. Oecolampadius’s Exegesis of the Old Testament

II. Huldrych Zwingli
1. Zwingli in the Context of the Renaissance
2. Zwingli’s Exegesis of the Old Testament

III. John Calvin
1. Calvin in the Context of the Renaissance
2. The Relationship of the Testaments
3. Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament

Ample subsections adorn the three. For example, the famous ‘Prophezei’ is part of the discussion of Zwingli’s work.

The specific content of the essays too is remarkable. Sticking with Opitz, we read of Calvin (p. 433)

Calvin’s opinion of the Isaiah interpretations of Zwingli, Luther and Oecolampadius [was] expressed in a letter to Viret on 19 May 1540. Though he concedes that Zwingli has exegetical “skill”, he often takes “too much freedom” and strays “far from the meaning of the prophet”. His judgment of Luther as interpreter is even more critical: he is “not too careful with regard to the characteristics of the wording and the historical circumstances”, he “contents himself with carving out a fruitful teaching”. Less severe is the assessment of Oecolampadius, to whom great industry as interpreter is ascribed, though not always accompanied by accuracy. This clarifies what Calvin means when he says that perspicuitas and brevitas are the guiding principles of his exegesis: While it is self-evident that exegesis is done to uncover a “useful teaching”, this can never weaken the effort to recover the original “meaning” of the biblical text, and this sense in turn is found by understanding the text in its grammatical and historical context and the intention followed by its author, which is formally expressed in certain rhetorical figures.

This is the sort of historical insight which so greatly enriches everything we understand of the history of the Bible’s interpretation.

Optiz and other contributors do not simply talk about practitioners of exegesis: rather, they illustrate by means of quotations the understanding of the text of the Bible.  Here’s Calvin on Psalm 18:16 (p.446):

David fitly conjoins with that ancient deliverance of the Church the assistance which God had sent from heaven to him in particular. As the grace which he declares God had shown towards him was not to be separated from that first deliverance, since it was, so to speak, a part and an appendage of it, he beholds, as it were at a glance, or in an instant, both the ancient miracle of the drying up of the Red Sea, and the assistance which God granted to himself. In short, God, who once opened up for his people a way through the Red Sea, and then showed himself to be their protector upon this condition, that they should assure themselves of being always maintained and preserved under his keeping, now again displayed his wonderful power in the defense and preservation of one man, to renew the remembrance of that ancient history. From this it appears the more evidently, that David, in using these apparently strange and exaggerated hyperboles, does not recite to us the mere creations of romance to please the fancy, after the manner of the heathen poets, but observes the style and manner which God had, as it were, prescribed to his people.

The work at hand cannot be overvalued.  Not if readers and researchers are seriously interested in scraping more than the surface of the history of the interpretation and reception of the biblical text.  It is impossible for me to praise this particular piece of the historical puzzle too highly and were I to try I would be accused of idolatry.

This work needs to be added to your personal library, even if you have to borrow funds from friends and family to obtain it.  Elsewise, in terms of the pursuit of academic knowledge, non-readers will be left far, far behind.

Einleitung in das Neue Testament/ Theologie des Neuen Testaments

The two volumes of Udo Schnelle are now available together in one handy handbook (in terms of what the Germans would call a handbook- for the rest of us it’s an encyclopedic work) :

978-3-8252-4284-8Udo Schnelles Einleitung behandelt die Entstehungsverhältnisse der 27 neutestamentlichen Schriften und stellt die theologischen Grundgedanken jeder Schrift und die Tendenzen der neuesten Forschung dar. Darüber hinaus werden Themen wie die Chronologie des paulinischen Wirkens, die Paulus-Schule, methodische Überlegungen zu Teilungshypothesen, die Gattung Evangelium, Pseudepigraphie und das Werden des neutestamentlichen Kanons ausführlich erörtert.

Schnelles „Theologie“ gibt einen umfassenden Überblick zur Theologie des Neuen Testaments auf dem aktuellen Stand der internationalen Forschung. Der Darstellung der Verkündigung Jesu folgen  umfangreiche Kapitel über Paulus, die Logienquelle, die synoptischen Evangelien, die  Apostelgeschichte u.a. Dabei konzentriert sich Schnelle jeweils auf Theologie, Christologie, Pneumatologie, Soteriologie, Anthropologie, Ethik, Ekklesiologie und Eschatologie.

Dr. theol. Udo Schnelle is Professor of New Testament Studies in the Theological Faculty of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg.  He is very well known among New Testament scholars because his work is extraordinary.

The great advantage of Schnelle’s two volumes is that they are written with the sort of person in mind who expects precision, thoroughness, and lucid expression.  Schnelle delivers precisely those things.

The Einleitung is now in its eighth edition.  That suggests two things: it has already been reviewed numerous times, and it has been found to be so useful and so usable that it is constantly needed.  This edition is over 640 pages.   Our author writes

Die 8. Auflage stellt eine durchgngige Neubearbeitung dar, was konkret bedeutet: Völlig neu ist der Exkurs 2 (Modelle der Paulusinterpretation); umfangreich erweitert sind die Abschnitte 3.2 (Das synoptische Problem) und 8.1 (Die johanneische Schule); wesentlich erweitert wurde der Abschnitt 2.9 (Philipperbrief). Nennenswerte Erweiterungen erfuhren die Abschnitte 1. (Einfhrung), 2.1 (Chronologie des paulinischen Wirkens), 2.2 (Die Schule des Paulus), 2.6 (Der zweite Korintherbrief), 2.7 (Der Galaterbrief), 3.5 (Das Matthusevangelium), 3.6 (Das Lukasevangelium), 4. (Die Apostelgeschichte), 5.1 (Pseudepigraphie), 5.5 (Die Pastoralbriefe), Exkurs 3 (Sammlung der Paulusbriefe), 7.1 (Der Jakobusbrief), 8.5 (Das Johannesevangelium), 9. (Die Johannesoffenbarung). Zu allen Abschnitten wurde aktuelle Literatur ergnzt; außerdem finden sich durchgngig kleinere Ergnzungen/nderungen und weitere Fußnoten. Wiederum habe ich mich bemht, die internationale Diskussion zu bercksichtigen.

Users of earlier editions will wish to take note of these changes.  New users of the volume will be impressed by the arrangement and layout of the work.  There is, in sum, no better introduction to the New Testament in German than this.  Notice, for instance, this, regarding the Letter to the Hebrews:

Die Verfasserfrage gehört zu den großen Rätseln des Hebräerbriefes. Im Brief finden sich keinerlei Hinweise auf den Autor, eine paulinische Verfasserschaft soll möglicherweise im Briefschluss Hebr 13,23f nahegelegt werden: „Wisst, dass unser Bruder Timotheus freigekommen ist. Mit ihm, der in Bilde kommt, werde ich euch sehen. Grüßt alle Leitenden und alle Heiligen. Es grüßen euch die aus Italien.“ Diese Nachrichten kommen angesichts des vorangehenden Briefinhaltes unerwartet, so dass der formal an Paulusbriefen orientierte Briefschluss Hebr 13,22–25 erst sekundär hinzugefügt sein könnte, möglicherweise von dem Herausgeber einer Paulusbriefsammlung.

And much more.  This introduction is indispensable for students quite serious about learning as much as they possibly can about the collection known as the New Testament.

Likewise, the Theologie (in this its second edition) is aimed at the goal of expanding the readers knowledge of the biblical text.

Ziel dieser Theologie des Neuen Testaments ist es, umfassend die Vielfalt und den Reichtum der neutestamentlichen Gedankenwelt darzustellen. Jede Schrift/jeder Autor des Neuen Testaments blickt aus der je eigenen Perspektive auf das gemeinsame Zentrum Jesus Christus und gerade diese Multiperspektivität eröffnet Glaubenswelten und ermöglicht neues Denken und Handeln.

That’s an impressive and complex goal no matter how you slice it, especially since explaining the theology of Paul, or John, or Matthew, are notoriously difficult.  Nevertheless, Schnelle tries mightily to do what he has stated he wishes to do.  So, for instance, in his examination of the Theology of Paul he discusses these issues:

Theology, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, Anthropology,Ethics, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology (including what may be the best section of the chapter- a subsection on Israel in Paul’s eschatological theology.  In it, Schnelle discusses the topic with such theological insight and sensitivity that it is exceedingly difficult to find anything in the segment with which to find fault or criticize.

Im Röm verdichten sich die theologischen und biographischen Probleme im Verhältnis Paulus – Israel, um dann in eine neuartige eschatologische Dimension überführt zu werden. Die Frage nach der Gültigkeit der an Israel ergangenen Verheißungen angesichts der Offenbarung der Gerechtigkeit Gottes ohne das Gesetz kommt bereits in Röm 1,16; 2,9f …  in den Blick und wird von Paulus in Röm 3,1–8 thematisiert, um dann in Röm 9–11 aufgegriffen und ausführlich behandelt zu werden.

Every page of this 752 page work is worthy of the reader’s time and concentrated effort.  And, much to the joy of English only readers, it is also available in that language.  And so is his Introduction.

These volumes have, again, been widely discussed.  My purpose here has simply been to commend them for their usefulness to persons new to the study of the New Testament, whether they be readers of German, or English, or both.  All who encounter the learning herein contained take away a far better understanding of the contents and theology of the New Testament than persons making use of similar volumes.

To state it another way- Schnelle’s Theology is as good as Bultmann’s and his Introduction is as good as Kümmel’s.

What I’m Reading (Again) Now

978-3-8252-4284-8Several years back Udo Schnelle published two volumes of great usefulness for students of the New Testament.  I read both books back when they first appeared and I’ve spent some weeks reacquainting myself with their contents, aims, and achievements.

These two volumes recently re-appeared in a unified pair from Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht and my take (or is it re-take?) on them should make its own appearance next week.

Reading John

9781610978033Chris Skinner sent along a copy of his (I have to say right up front) really great little book some time back.

The Gospel of John is often found at the center of discussions about the Bible and its relation to Christian theology. It is difficult to quantify the impact John’s Gospel has had on both the historical development of Christian doctrine and the various expressions of Christian devotion. All too often, however, readers have failed to understand the Gospel as an autonomous text with its own unique story to tell. More often than not, the Gospel of John is swept into a reading approach that either conflates or attempts to harmonize with other accounts of Jesus’ life. This book emphasizes the uniqueness of John’s story of Jesus and attempts to provide readers with a road map for appreciating the historical context and literary features of the text. The aim of this book is to help others become better, more perceptive readers of the Gospel of John, with an ability to trace the rhetoric of the narrative from beginning to end.

It accomplishes that goal in 8 chapters, titled 1) Reading John: Where to Start?; 2) John’s Prologue: The Interpretive Key for Reading the Gospel of John; 3) A Tale of Two Stories: John’s Two Level Drama; 4) John, Jesus and Judaism; 5) An Alien Tongue; 6) John’s Characters and the Rhetoric of Misunderstanding; 7) Putting the Pieces Together; 8) Postscript: Reading John Theologically?.

Even a cursory glance at the contents demonstrates that Skinner’s purpose is not to give readers a commentary on the Gospel.  150 pages would be the length of a basic commentary, to be sure, but Skinner’s jumping from place to place in the Gospel and following a topical outline would turn any commentary in the format into a confused mass.  Instead, readers receive guidance in understanding the main themes or notions of the Gospel According to John.

Chapter One addresses the most basic of questions such as language, audience, authorship, and purpose of the Gospel.  Skinner can’t be credited in this chapter with breaking new ground (thankfully).  But he can be credited with that most mythical of beasts in academic writings: exactitude.  In the second chapter Skinner wants us to accept the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘interpretive key’ for understanding the text.  It would be nice if there were, but the quest for the historical key always ends up saying more about the author’s perceptions than the Gospel’s intentions.

One of the features of the book which I consider quite helpful is the use of ‘Tables’.  On page 11, for instance, we find a table on The Septuagint: The Old Testament For a Greek Speaking World which proffers very basic material which is nonetheless essential.  But at times the tables seem to reach far beyond the Gospel into areas which – properly speaking – do not apply to it at all.  On page 15 Skinner provides a table he calls ‘The Chalcedonian Definition’.  And though Skinner and the rest of us may interpret John through the lens of that document it isn’t actually probative to the meaning of the Gospel itself.  It is, bluntly, eisegetical.  Readers who take it seriously will be reading John in terms he may, or may not, have intended.  It’s better to let John be John than it is to interpret him through the later lens of Greek and Latin theological terms.

Another feature of the book I find very helpful is the inclusion of what I would term ‘study questions’ or ‘group discussion helps’.  See page 30 and the conclusions of other chapters for these.

Chapter three may be the highlight of the book.  Here Skinner is at his most Bultmannian.  He bypasses Bultmann’s terminology but the essential points are Bultmann to the end.  Here too Skinner continues to do what he does throughout which is- to tell stories, anecdotes, and share what he sees as illustrative materials.  The book isn’t hurt by these and they are instructive- but at times they almost appear to dominate the discussion in much the same way that in nearly every class any of us have ever been in or taught there’s that one person who always has something to say and after a while you want to shove them out of the window or put a garment in their mouth.  Skinner doesn’t arrive at that level of annoying, but he comes dangerously close periodically.

When I read chapter four, another favorite, I kept hearing the voice of Tom Thatcher in my ears.  And I also kept hearing the many voices of all who in recent years have tried to understand what the New Testament means by ‘Jews’ and ‘Jewish’.  This is a very fine chapter and its help in clarifying one of the most important topics in New Testament scholarship is astonishing (even if the story about Charlie Ward made me wonder a bit).  But to return to the subject (which the frequent stories sometimes obscure), Skinner’s observations on ‘The Jews’ is must reading for anyone trying to understand the Gospel of John.

Chapter five does its best to illuminate the strange sounding language of John (when compared to the Synoptics).  So herein the ‘I Am’ statements, John’s use of irony, the ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you’ bits, and what Skinner calls ‘literary asides’ are discussed in sufficient detail so as to permit Gospel readers to grapple with them when they run into them in the biblical text itself.

The sixth chapter is really an expansion on one of the literary tropes of John briefly noted in chapter five: misunderstanding.  In particular, Skinner wants us to think about the Beloved Disciple and Peter as examples of John’s very clever way of introducing and developing the characters in the story of Jesus which he relates.  Skinner believes, I think correctly, that

… character misunderstanding is a major part of the narrator’s rhetorical strategy and is related both to the Prologue’s description of Jesus and the gospel’s overall christological presentation (p. 120).

The seventh and essentially last chapter is an exposition of John 3:1-21.  In that exposition, Skinner makes use of the conclusions reached in the previous chapters and shows readers how they work out in a particular text.  In other words, this chapter is a ‘case study’.

Chapter eight is oddly titled “Postscript: Reading John Theologically?” as though reading the Gospel theologically is optional.  There is, in fact, no other way to read this Gospel or any other biblical text.  Even more curiously, Skinner notes,

Throughout this book I have tried to focus primarily on literary and historical concerns while leaving theological questions to the reader (p. 143).

This doesn’t seem to be the case at all given the presence of the aforementioned table on the Chalcedonian declaration the presence of which cast a theological shadow not only on its immediate context but on the entire volume.  The bell once rung cannot be unrung.

Nonetheless, this is an excellent introduction to the major themes of the Gospel of John and those who make the effort to read it in all its glorious brevity will not rue doing so.  I really like it.  As a consequence, I can highly recommend it (even though it could have been shorter and more to the point were the numerous anecdotes left out).

ISD’s Catalog

ISD has pulled together its latest titles on Religious and Biblical Studies and is offering them at special prices through the end of August 2015. The catalog includes titles from Equinox Publishing, Peeters Publishers, Brepols, V&R Academic, Mohr Siebeck, and others, including a newly distributed publisher, Edizioni Terra Santa.

Go here.