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Neues Testament


Coppins, Wayne


The Interpretation of Freedom in the Letters of Paul. With Special Reference to the ›German‹ Tradition.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2009. XIV, 218 S. gr.8° = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 261. Kart. EUR 59,00. ISBN 978-3-16-149969-2.


Jan Lambrecht

The revised version of this doctoral thesis (Cambridge, UK; directors: Graham Stanton and Markus Bockmuehl) is a fine study. Three questions concerning freedom in Paul are asked. What is the importance of the term and/or concept freedom? Is »freedom from the law« central in Paul’s thought world? What is the relationship between freedom and service in Paul? These are the typical emphases of Luther.
The publication contains three parts: Approaching the Topic (three chapters), Exegesis (three chapters) and Conclusion (two chapters). In the first chapter C. justifies why he limits himself to the German exegetical tradition and reminds his readers how Martin Luther, with his tractate »The freedom of a Christian« is responsible for the great interest for this theme in the ›German‹ tradition. For C. ›German‹ also includes scholars from Austria and Switzerland as well as non-German exegetes who are influenced by this tradition and who wrote in German. First of all are mentioned Johannes Weiss, Rudolf Bultmann and Heinrich Schlier. Yet the two authors who are dealt with more than any others in this book are F. Stanley Jones (American) and Samuel Vollenweider (Swiss). Chapter 2 expounds the three questions (importance, »free from the law« and freedom-service) in the twentieth-century ›German‹ scholarship. Chapter 3 is devoted to pointing out the passages that C. will investigate and the methodology he will use. Only the rela­tively few texts where the freedom vocabulary is present are studied in detail. The following three chapters are given to that investigation: 1–2 Corinthians in chapter 4, Galatians in chapter 5, and Romans in chapter 6. The conclusions are then presented in chapter 7 (»Paul’s Freedom Texts and Luther’s Emphases«): the concept freedom is not that important in Paul’s letters and theology; the expression »freedom from the law« is used only once by Paul (and ›law‹ there is not the Jewish law); Paul never explicitly states that freedom is service. The last chapter deals with the promise and the pitfalls of both the major tradition and minor tradition in ›German‹ scholarship. There is the majority which tends to exaggerate Paul’s attention to freedom but, at the same time, adds deep theol­ogical thoughts regarding freedom; and there is the minority which is closer to what Paul in fact says but seems to be less open for further reflection on this theme.
The limits which C. sets for his study justify the select yet copious bibliography on pp. 181–202. At the end of the publication three indexes are provided: Ancient Sources, Modern Authors, and Selected Topics. All original German texts are carefully translated into English. The reading of this doctoral thesis may initially leave the reader with a somewhat repetitive impression. It also seems strange that only the catholic authors are explicitly introduced as »Roman Catholic«.
Yet one admires the objective, balanced and patient way in which the positions of the different authors are explained and then critically examined. More than once C. demonstrates that Paul does not present nor even possess an unified vision of freedom. He rightly underscores that several kinds of freedom are mostly negatively characterized: free from slavery, from the elements of the world, from the power or jurisdiction. However it would seem that C. rightly interprets »the law« (of sin and death) in Rom 8,2 not as the Torah but as the rule or compulsion (141–142) and he concludes his discussion of 8:1–4: »... while it is possible to argue that the concept of ›freedom from the law‹ ... is present in Rom 8.1–4, it is in my judgment crucial to recognize that Paul’s use of the ἐλευθέρ-word group in v. 2 is probably exclusively concerned with the believer’s liberation from the rule or compulsion of sin« (144).
C. duly recognizes that for some of Paul’s texts a clear and certain interpretation is not available. Yet C. can also be very outspoken. So, for example against G. Ebeling, Vollenweider and especially W. Schrage (67–71) he rightly defends the concessive meaning of 1 Cor 9,19a: »Although Paul was and remained (no slave of human beings but) free from all (people), he (nevertheless) made himself a slave of all (people) in order that he may gain the many« (73). Perhaps it could have been added that Paul here freely gave up part of his freedom.
At several occasions C. makes the distinction between exactly reconstructing Paul’s ideas and constructing a unified theological concept of freedom. Although he is firmly in favor a further de­-velopment he summons exegetes to fully recognize the distinction: »If one wishes to go further than this (= reconstruction), then it becomes necessary to make a clear and careful distinction between the steps that Paul himself appears to have taken and one’s own constructive endeavors« (163). With good reasons C. rejects the claim that Paul himself paradoxically sees freedom as service, that freedom realizes or exercises itself in service (e. g, 170).
No doubt C.’ careful exegesis of Rom 7,1–6 has to be praised. I wonder, however, whether ἀπὸ τοὺ νόμου in v. 3 could and should not be translated »from that law«, i. e., the law of the husband (v. 2), and whether by the omission of »the husband« in v. 3 Paul really opens the expression to the understanding »free from the (Jewish) law«, the idea very much present in vv. 4–6.
In its well-defined way this monograph certainly advances the exploration of freedom in Paul. With C., one can hope that the publication will be of service to the extremely rich and vibrant ›German‹ exegetical tradition (179).