2011.01.03 | F.W. Horn and R. Zimmermann, eds. Jenseits von Indikativ und Imperativ: Kontexte und Normen neutestamentlicher Ethik / Contexts and Norms of New Testament Ethics, vol. 1, (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 238), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009. ISBN 978-3-16-149997-5. Cloth.
Review article by Samuli Siikavirta, University of Cambridge.
We extend our thanks to Mohr Siebeck for providing us with a review copy.
It is only in the recent years that some scholars have begun to criticise the indicative/imperative division of New Testament ethics that was first presented by P. Wernle in 1897 and popularised by R. Bultmann in his 1924 essay.Truthfully to its name, Jenseits von Indikativ und Imperativ [Beyond the Indicative and Imperative] delves into the recent criticism via 17 articles (two of which are in English) that present ways of going beyond the indicative and imperative. The book is the result of a round-table discussion on the foundations of New Testament ethics that took place in Germany in 2007. The editors of the volume, Wilhelm Horn and Ruben Zimmermann, were behind the discussions to which were not invited only exegetes but also experts in Jewish studies, philology, philosophy and patristics. In order to let these fields interact fruitfully, all of them are present in the book in the following order: in the first part with six articles, New Testament ethics is placed in dialogue with its surroundings and contemporaries of Old Testament, Jewish and Greek thought; the second part deals with the foundational structures in Pauline ethics in five articles; the last part contains six articles on the contexts of justification of the ethic of the gospels, the Letter of Jacob and the early church. As the introduction states (p. 5), the purpose of the book is not to claim it has studied the field in an all-encompassing way but to act as a first stimulus to further discussion.
In this review, I shall, for the sake of space and owing to my interests as a student of Pauline ethics, focus on the articles in the middle section named Begründungsstrukturen bei Paulus (Foundational structures in Paul).
Udo Schnelle compares Paul with Epictetus (c. A.D. 50–125), a Stoic philosopher, in his article ‘Paulus und Epiktet – zwei etische Modelle’ in order to show what in Paul’s ethical thought is shared with Hellenistic tradition and what is distinctly Pauline.
Helpfully to the student of Pauline ethics, Schnelle portrays the criticism towards the indicative-imperative scheme concisely through seven points (p. 141). (1) It is static and arbitrary, as opposed to the broad Pauline context of being and living. (2) The problem of the connection between the indicative and imperative has not been solved with the Spirit, because the Spirit cannot be both gift and task. (3) It is yet to be shown how the gift of salvation is to be understood also as a task (e.g. if the newness of life must first be realised). (4) Were the believers and baptised brought to freedom merely ‘on probation’ (auf Bewährung)? (5) Is the soteriological contribution of the imperative just a negative one, if salvation is brought by the indicative alone? (6) The question about the ‘can’ and the ‘should’ (Können und Sollen) is peripheral in Paul’s ethical argument. (7) Is the model ‘obedient out of thankfulness’ a convincing and sustainable ethical pattern of argumentation? Can obedience replace discernment (Einsicht) permanently?
It is because of these problems that Schelle rightly suggests that one needs to distance oneself from the indicative-imperative model and find another that can perceive and apply to each other both the structure of Paul’s ethic and the structure of his thought on the whole (ibid.). The model Schelle proposes is that of transformation and participation, an intrinsic part of which is the exchange of status with Christ: “Durch den Statuswechsel des Sohnes (vgl. Phil 2,6–11) befinden sich auch die Glaubenden und Getauften in einem neuen Status: der Gnade (vgl. Röm 6,3–7:14b).” (p. 141) By ‘transformation,’ Schnelle means gaining the new ontological-soteriological status of Grace in Christ, freed from the power of sin: in this universal process of transformation, the Spirit plays a key role by enabling a new way of action (Rom. 8:11; pp. 141f.). By ‘participation,’ Schnelle means the believers’ participation already in the now in the salvation brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection through the gift of the Spirit in baptism. Participation indicates life in the reign of grace and in the power of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:8), freed from sin (p. 142).
Schnelle shows skilfully that Paul’s ethics stem, not from the autonomous subject, but from the entirety of his theology whose central point is participation in the new existence (Sein) that takes form in a new kind of action (ibid.). Correctly, Schnelle puts a lot of emphasis on baptism in Paul’s thought as the foundation of his ethics: “Die in der Taufe vollzogene Beziehung zwischen dem Getauften und Christus ist die Grundlage aller ethischen Aussagen des Apostels.” (ibid.) Put simply, Pauline paraclesis reminds the addressees of the foundations and implementation of the new existence in Christ and aims to make the ‘believed gospel’ also a ‘lived gospel’ (pp. 142, 158). In the reality of the new existence, there must be coherence between the way of life (Lebenswandel) and one’s relationship with God, lest the latter be dissolved (p. 142). Schnelle stresses that the coherence is never justified by an indicative or imperative and that the reason for Paul’s paraclesis is to exhort Christians to remain and advance in the ethical direction of life instead of becoming static or going backwards (ibid.).
Schnelle argues that Paul’s primary cultural context was Hellenistic Judaism, but that he lived intrinsically also in Greco-Roman Hellenism that became decisive with Paul’s westward missionary pursuits (pp. 137f.). Both contexts need to be given attention, because “[a]lle zentralen Begriffe des paulinischen Denkens haben eine jüdische und eine griechisch-römische Geschichte, die sich teilweise überlagern und die es gleichermaßen zu erheben und zu berücksichtigen gilt” (p. 139). The dichotomy exists also in Paul’s ethics, the material content of whose paraclesis Schnelle regards as similar to both his Jewish and Greco-Roman contemporaries (p. 142, also pp. 143–147). For instance, Schnelle argues that for Paul, Christian ethics are rational ethics, because the Spirit recalibrates the reason that was defected by sin to itself (p. 145). This is why, Schnelle maintains, Paul is able to incorporate general human wisdom and ethical norms into his Christian ethics (cf. Phil. 4:8; ibid.). Perhaps somewhat unnecessarily, Schnelle interprets even Paul’s tendency to remind his readers of something they already know as reflecting Hellenistic friendship ethics (p. 147). If the material content of Pauline instruction contains little that is new, the emphases and foundational statements of his ethics are more distinctly Pauline, as Schnelle rightly observes (pp. 148, 157). Especially the more exclusive role of the love command as Paul’s leading ethical principle arouses Schnelle’s interest: love provides the gift of the relationship with God, a new self-understanding and a renewed relationship with one’s neighbour (p. 148). Pauline ethics thus have an independent foundational structure in which behaviour is judged in light of the Christ event that frees one from the power of sin, empowers renewed action by the Spirit and enables Christ-like existence in love (ibid.).
It is here that the comparison with Epictetus comes in useful. By going through Epictetus’ ethics concisely, Schnelle is able to show some similarities and great differences. The similarities are limited to theology/philosophy being comprehended as a form of thought and life (pp. 151, 156), ethics being seen as coherent with God’s/Zeus’ will (pp.153–155, 156), the Spirit/Logos being seen as the enabler of ethical behaviour, and goodness as the goal and content of ethics (p. 156). The differences have mostly to do with hamartiology and christology. Unlike for the optimistic Epictetus who stresses free will, the human ability to discern what is and is not in his control and to increase his happiness by bettering things that are (pp. 150f.), for Paul, the human will has also fallen to sin, which limits the human desire for good and ultimately brings about death (p. 156). Most importantly, “[d]ie Destruktivität menschlichen Seins kann der Mensch nicht selbst überwinden”( p. 157). Christ is needed not to make the old sinful existence better but to bring an entire change of rule and existence, which happens in baptism where the gift of the Spirit is also given (ibid.). While Epictetus writes about a model of ethical self-insight and development, Paul focuses on entry into a relationship with Christ and a break from sin (ibid.). Thirdly, the abovementioned exclusiveness of the love commandment in Paul is taken as a major difference.
All in all, Schnelle succeeds in presenting a plausible model of transformation and participation to replace the indicative/imperative scheme. In doing so, he acknowledges the material similarities between Paul’s ethics and his contemporary environment, but rightly and clearly highlights the distinctly christocentric foundations of his ethical thought.
In his reading of 4 Maccabees and 4 Ezra, Manuel Vogel focuses on the question whether virtue is teachable. At the end of his article ‘Ob Tugend lehrbar sei. Stimmen und Gegenstimmen im hellenistischen Judentum mit einem Ausblick auf Paulus,’ he then reflects his findings on Paul, finding both similarities and differences between Paul and these Jewish books.
From 4 Maccabees, Vogel retrieves the self-awareness of Hellenistic Judaism: the way of life oriented according to the law of Moses acts as a model for an ethical practice that is submitted to reason. In fact in 4 Maccabees, living according to the law is not merely a lifelong model but a real possibility (pp. 162f., 166f.). ‘Godly reasoning’ has power over the passions (p. 165), which Vogel takes to reflect a rational optimism whose goal is not to eliminate but to domesticate the passions (pp. 167f.; cf. the Platonic model, pp. 159f.). This stands in stark contradiction to Paul’s much more pessimistic thought, as Vogel rightly notes (p. 173).
Contrary to 4 Maccabees, Vogel finds 4 Ezra to contain a bleak post-A.D.-70 perspective of history that emphasises man’s continuous susceptibility to evil (p. 171). Because of this negative propensity and the evil heart of man (4 Ezra 3:19-22), the gift of the law does not reach humanity as a duty to do good (p. 172). In 4 Ezra, the human freedom of decision between good and evil is limited to the negative, which is comparable to Paul’s teaching in Rom. 7 where Paul departs from the assumption of the superiority of the affects (pp. 171, 175). Paul’s teaching is therefore similar to the Euripidic pessimism of 4 Ezra (pp. 159, 171). Paul departs from the assumption of the superiority of the affects by teaching that the law acts as the instrument of the conflict between the will and the action and by hypostasising sin as an alien influence (p. 175). Vogel concludes rightly that the Pauline pessimism is no unsophisticated pessimism, however, because of the broader fanning out of the motivational structures of his ethics compared with 4 Ezra: the latter speaks of the evil heart, whereas Paul uses multiple notions such as ‘I,’ the ‘inner man,’ reason, sin, lust, flesh and ‘the other law in my members’ (p. 174). Vogel answers the question of his title that for the hamartiologically pessimistic Paul, virtue is not teachable as it is in Platonic optimism, but depends solely on the revelation of the Son in whom both God’s anger at sin and His righteousness to the sinner can be seen (p. 172). The law is paidagôgos only insofar as it leads the Christian to cry out for help in the words of Romans 7:24 (p. 173). The reception of the Spirit in conversion must also not be forgotten, as Vogel aptly points out (p. 173).
Vogel does not explicitly relate his findings to the indicative/imperative debate. Implicitly, however, the reader may find reason to believe with Vogel that for Paul, any law-based ‘imperative’ could not suffice to motivate ethically correct living.
Christof Landmesser addresses the notion of an ‘implicit ethic’ in his article ‘Begründungsstrukturen paulinischer Ethik.’ He rightly points out that if we mean by ‘ethic’ a thoroughly formed ethical theory in its Aristotelian sense, we cannot find one in Paul (p. 177). However, if we can speak of a Pauline theology even when we lack an explicit systematic presentation of one, we can surely speak of a Pauline ethic in similarly implicit terms (p. 179). According to Landmesser, it is also clear that Paul gives moral commandments that are interlinked with christology, soteriology and the entire Christian existence, so much so that in Paul’s thought, ethic and theology become closely intertwined (pp. 178f.) and ‘irresolvably entangled’ (p. 186). This is why the indicative/imperative scheme proves to be unsuitable to capture the underlying foundational structures of Pauline ethic (p. 180).
A Christian ethic is necessary even amidst Paul’s emphasis on the irrevocability of salvation in Christ, because those in Christ are not yet with Christ in the eschatological sense (pp. 181f.). Christians have already left the domain of sin and eschatological death as symbolised by baptism (Rom. 5:12–6:11), although physical death and sin still affect the lives of Christians (p. 184). I find this to be an accurate representation of Paul’s eschatological ethic. As Landmesser writes, moral instruction is needed for this present temporality but not for the coming age of perfection and fulfilment (p. 183), lest Christians ignore their finitude (p. 184). As somewhat of an unexpanded aside, Landmesser also sees the certainty of salvation and the contentiousness of Christians’ action as significant for Paul’s ‘implicit ethic’ (Strittigkeit des Handelns, p. 185).
With regard to the foundational structures (Begründungsstrukturen) of Pauline parenesis, Landmesser identifies the following prominent foundational characters (Begründungsfiguren) in Pauline ethics. First, Landmesser presents as the primary christological-soteriological foundational structure the Christ event and the Christian’s relationship to it (i.e. faith and being-in-Christ) that lays the foundation for the new and changed life of the Christian and has its foothold outside the Christian in God’s action (pp. 187–189). Landmesser generalises quite aptly on the basis of Romans 6:1–11 that, “Die im Christusgeschehen verankerte und mit der Taufe symbolisierte enge Gemeinschaft mit Christus bestimmt immer wieder auch die ethisch relevanten Passagen der Paulusbriefe” (p. 187; cf. 1 Cor. 6:12–20). Secondly, Landmesser spots a localising ecclesiological foundation in Paul’s ethic, meaning that whilst belonging in the new community of the congregation, Christians must live responsibly towards one another in the new community of the body of Christ that should be characterised by love (1 Cor. 12:12–31; cf. 1 Cor. 13; pp. 189f.). Thirdly, the medial pneumatological foundation points out the central role of the Holy Spirit in the rooting of the Christians in the body of Christ and in directing their actions by making them his temples – again, with love as the central fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16f.; 6:19f.; Rom. 8:10f.; Gal. 5:22; pp. 190–192). Particularly clear here, Landmesser sees how the Pauline imperative is in fact a ‘christological performative’: when he exhorts Christians to walk by the Spirit and no longer gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), he is not so much asking for a choice as he is reminding them about their existence that they already have from God and the Spirit (p. 191; cf. 180). Fourthly, the temporal, or, futuristic-eschatological foundation of Paul’s ethic is shown in his references to the day of resurrection, the Lord’s day and the approaching day when salvation is made perfect, and how this obliges Christians to live rightly and characterised by love in the present age into which salvation has already broken (1 Cor 15:12 – 22; 1 Thess. 5:1 – 11; Rom. 13:11 – 14; pp. 192–195). These foundations are not meant to be an all-encompassing list of every aspect of Pauline ethic but merely an inventory of some of the more important ones: it is easy to agree with Landmesser that for instance the sacramental foundation accomplished through baptism in Romans 6:1–11 might deserve further attention (pp. 186, 196 fn. 51).
To conclude, Landmesser is right in stressing that despite having strong links with Jewish and Hellenistic traditions, what makes Paul’s ethic distinctly Christian is faith in Christ that through the Spirit’s work leads to life characterised by love – ‘the main concept of Pauline ethic’ (pp. 186, 196). This is why faith and ethos are so closely intertwined in Paul’s writings.
In his article ‘Particular Identity and Common Ethics: Reflections on the Foundations and Content of Pauline Ethics in 1 Corinthians 5,’ David G. Horrell criticises Bultmann for offering an unsatisfactory solution to the problem between indicative and imperative. Horrell maintains that it is because of Bultmann’s existentialist hermeneutic that he did not understand the indicative as a real, objective change in a person but simply as a new self-understanding. Similarly, Bultmann did not take the imperative as calling for a distinct behaviour or a new content compared to the conduct of others, but merely obedience (p. 197). With Wolfgang Schrage, Horrell holds that “specific commands and exhortations are integral to the Pauline ethic, and Paul’s theological ethics cannot be reduced to a new self-understanding and an obligation to love” (p. 198).
Rightly, therefore, Horrell sees the need to go beyond the influential yet problematic indicative-imperative division. His suggested direction, however, cannot be accepted without some criticism. Horrell focuses on (group) identity in 1 Cor. 5 and seeks to show that it does not, however distinct it be, imply “a distinctive set of ethical norms” from the surrounding cultures (ibid.). A relationship between a man and his mother-in-law was forbidden under both Roman and Jewish law (p. 205). With Bultmann, Horrell agrees that there is no new content in Christian ethics in addition to Gentile or Jewish ones, but against Bultmann, Horrell finds that in Paul’s view, Christians are and should be better at meeting ethical standards than those in the world (pp. 209f.). In 1 Cor. 5, Horrel holds that the ethical norm is commonly accepted and not particularly Christian, but the foundations and motivations for Pauline ethics are “part of a distinctly scriptural and Christian discourse, focused on the identity of believers as a pure and holy community in Christ” (p. 210, cf. 204).
Despite this somewhat vague argument, Horrell could make a stronger point about the christological motivations. Even if Paul does not focus in this chapter on proving why the relationship is wrong but merely alleges everyone agrees so, can 1 Cor. 5 be seen detached from Paul’s deeply theological and christocentric baptismal statement in 6:11? When Horrell shows that the relationship was considered wrong in both Greco-Roman and Old Testament and later Jewish writings, he misses one point: the Levitical commandments for holiness, sexual purity and separation from the immorality of the Gentiles stems from Yahweh’s own holiness (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7, 26). This profoundly theological idea is taken up by Peter (1. Pet. 1:16), which shows it was not a foreign concept in the apostolic age either. Paul formulates the same in terms of partaking in Christ’s death to sin and resurrection in baptism (Rom. 6), and in the washing, sanctification and justification in the name of Jesus and in the Spirit of God in baptism (1. Cor. 6:11). It is from this Christ-centred salvific event that the holy, sanctified life of the Christians stems in Paul’s view. [How this baptismal concept is not distinctly Judaeo-Christian cannot be explained satisfactorily through the Greco-Roman mystery cults because of their significant differences from the Christian baptismal rite.]
Horrell holds that the distinction between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ is not uniquely Pauline nor Christian (p. 199). Therefore, Horrell suggests that the ‘is’ (i.e. the indicative) should be seen rather as a world-view that maintains the identity of a group. Similarly, he sees the imperatives as indicating how the norms of the group should be expressed and its characteristics shown in practice. Replacing the indicative and the imperative with ‘identity’ and ‘ethics’ is how Horrell suggests to move beyond the Bultmannian concepts. For support, Horrell points to the community aspects in the case of the incestuous relationship in 1 Cor. 5. “It is the community which is criticised and instructed, not the man himself.” (p. 201) The key point for Paul is to cast out the immoral man from the midst of the holy community lest it leaven the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6), which Horrell takes to suggest a general social dissociation (“rhetoric of distinction”) that culminates in his exclusion from communion (pp. 202f.).
Horrell observes rightly that 1 Cor 5:7a binds up closely the indicative and imperative in precisely the way that Bultmann formulated: the indicative (the community as the new unleavened lump) calls forth the imperative (to purge the lump of the old leaven, pp. 202, 207). Horrell questions, however, whether the indicative can be reduced to an expression of the new self-understanding of the believer and the indicative to an expression of obedience in this case. The indicatives of the chapter express instead, so Horrell holds, “the terms in which the identity of the community is defined, while the imperatives call for action to reflect and sustain the identity” (p. 207). According to Horrell, constructed and unsteady identity requires affirmation and sustaining action. In 1 Cor 5, the congregation is reminded of their status as a holy community of God and that they must be so even if it means getting rid of the pornos in their midst. In emphasising the need to maintain this identity in the face of an inner threat through purging action, however, Horrell stresses the negative. Similarly, he writes, “it is [the immoral man’s] action which defines his identity” (p. 208). A more positive way of reading Paul would be to say that it follows from the church’s identity in Christ that her washed, sanctified and justified character is also shown in practice.
Horrell’s observation is right in that Paul addresses communities instead of mere individuals and upholds the importance of their communal identity in Christ. As interesting a case study 1 Cor 5 may be, the reader is left to ask, however, whether it can be generalised in such a way so as to determine what Pauline ethic is all about elsewhere in his writings.
Friedrich Wilhelm Horn shows in his article ‘Die Darstellung und Begründung der Ethik des Apostels Paulus in der new perspective’ how the presentation (Darstellung) and foundation (Begründung) of Paul’s ethics are perceived according to the new perspective, and what the leading motifs of its proponents are. As part of the new perspective interpretation, Pauline ethics were usually presented by means of the now questioned indicative/imperative scheme, which shows particularly well in James D.G. Dunn’s writings where Horn holds that it is then detached from its original Lutheran framework and placed in a distinctly and emphatically Calvinistic/Presbyterian one that completely disregards the former: “Die new perspective steht in der Gefahr, das konfessionell lutherisch geprägte Paulusbild durch ein konfessionell calvinistisch geprägtes, zumindest bundestheologisch ausgerichtetes Paulusbild ersetzen zu wollen.” (pp. 230 f.)
Horn notes aptly that according to Dunn’s model, it is crucial to align one’s life according to the Old Testament commandments and instructions of Jesus (p. 213; cf. 227). Interestingly, Horn points out the New Perspective (NP) tendency to separate the erga nomou as mere ‘boundary markers’ from the structure of the Christian church and from justification, in order that the ethical instruction of the Torah remain without that problematic context (p. 226). Horn accurately criticises Dunn for seeing the Spirit as the sole difference between Jewish and the Christian ethic: even the connection of the love commandment with the Decalogue makes clear that it still obliges Christians (p. 227). The NP takes for granted the third use of the law, which Horn condemns, and sees the final judgment as targeted towards the ethics of Christians (p. 217; cf. 228f.). The overall goal of the NP is to depict Paul as tied up with the Old Testament and Jewish tradition and to disregard connections with Greco-Hellenistic ethics (pp. 224, 231) and linguistic or sociological models of interpretation (p. 219). Horn criticises the NP for viewing Pauline ethic in Jewish and synergistic terms, as opposed to his openly Lutheran stress on the one-off saving work of Christ in history (pp. 219f.). Quite aptly, he views Pauline ethic as ecclesial ethic and maintains that Paul’s strong emphasis on the sanctification of the church (e.g. 1 Cor. 5:1–13) can only be understood in light of the expectation of Christ’s parousia (p. 220).
In Dunn’s reading of Paul, justification serves as the point of departure and goal of a process described in turn as sanctification, renewal or transformation (pp. 220f.). Horn rightly doubts whether the Pauline language of holiness can be considered as synonymous to ethical life as has been presented in Reformed dogmatics (p. 229). His observation is correct: the hagios language in Paul is evidenced in the context of conversion (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Thess. 4:7), baptism (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Rom. 6:19, 22) and difference from Gentile world (Rom. 6:19; 1 Cor. 7:14; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:7; Rom. 15:16; pp. 229f.). These contexts do, Horn admits, serve as a kind of list of vices to warn the Christians against falling back to their pre-Christian situation. However, Horn insists that they do not act primarily as cases for ethical instruction but as foundational and underlying statements of the Gentile Christians’ status as holy in Christ (according to the Old Testament meaning of holiness; p. 230). As Horn takes Paul’s anthropology to be clearly depicted in Rom. 7 in rather unflatteringly pessimistic terms, the gift of the Spirit is very much needed, not to bring about perfect fulfilment of the law, but to establish a new direction of thought in harmony with the righteousness of the law (pp. 224f.).
All in all, Horn maintains that the NP reading produces a one-sided reconstruction of Pauline ethics that does not reach the current standards of the debate: it is a theological and literary simplification of Paul’s text (p. 218). Whatever one makes of the nuances of Horn’s argument, at the very least he makes a valid point about the importance of considering exegetes’ denominational standing-points when evaluating their reading of Paul.
Even this Pauline section of articles alone shows how the interdisciplinary study of Pauline ethics can produce most fruitful results to the debate on the limitations of the indicative/imperative model. Schnelle’s comparisons of Paul with a Stoic philosopher, Vogel’s observations from Second Temple Judaism, Landmesser’s systematic account of the foundations of Pauline ethics, Horrell’s case study and comparisons with Old Testament, Jewish and Greco-Roman texts, and Horn’s insights into the confessional background of an influential school of Pauline exegetics all contribute to a fuller picture of the field. It is clear that more discussion is needed, but it is equally certain that the articles in this thoughtfully edited recent book will provide scholars with food for thought to fuel the discussion that goes beyond the limitations of the Bultmannian indicative/imperative model.
University of Cambridge
mss43 [ at ] cam.ac.uk