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Neues Testament


Bieringer, Reimund and Jan Lambrecht


Studies on 2 Corinthians.


Leuven: University Press; Leuven: Peeters 1994. XIX, 632 S. gr. 8o = Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 112. Kart. BEF 3000.­. ISBN 90-6186-612-X u. 90-6831-612-5.


Margaret M. Mitchell

With this volume Reimund Bieringer and his teacher and now colleague at Leuven, Jan Lambrecht, present the fruits of many years of burrowing in to the mysteries of the Corinthian correspondence. This book well fulfills its authors’ hope "to support and to further the multi-faceted research on Second Corinthians" (Preface), especially through its painstaking surveys of previous scholarship, its up-to-date bibliography and useful charts, and the mass of careful exegetical detail it provides. The most significant thesis propounded in these collected essays is a controversial one ­ the acceptance of the original literary unity of the text, including the much disputed passage 6:14-7:1. The authors reject the judgment that this view is simply a "conservative" holdback (see p. 72, n. 25, but compare p. 549!), and seek to present "einen möglichen, am Text orientierten Weg ... 2 Kor in seiner kanonischen und textlich überlieferten Gestalt als ursprüngliche Einheit zu akzeptieren" (p. 179). Because all hypotheses about the original literary form of 2 Corinthians are indeed hypotheses, which need always to be reconsidered (for we lack the autograph), it is of value to have a positive case for the unity of the letter from those who have taken the time carefully to study the logic of the partition theories. Nonetheless, the present treatment does not present convincing proof for overturning the present (albeit diversified) consensus that in 2 Corinthians we have a collection of several letters of Paul.

The volume is composed of twenty essays in German, English and French, arranged in two parts. The first, "The Letter as a Whole", consists of six chapters by B. which treat the question of the compositional unity of the letter. Part Two presents fourteen essays on selected verses in the letter, all but four reprints of articles published by L. in journals and edited volumes between 1976 and 1994. The other pieces are by B., one of which was previously published. Most of B.’s contributions stem from his unpublished 1986 Leuven dissertation.

Part One contains most of the material here published for the first time. After the bibliography B. begins with two chapters of Forschungsberichte which diligently set out the arguments previously offered for the division of the letter and for its unity. Then in ch. four B. offers his own constructive approach ("eigener Zugang"), that 2 Corinthians can be understood as a single letter united by a single purpose: "Sein Hauptanliegen ist dabei, daß die Korinther ihr Verhalten ändern und Paulus dasselbe Verhalten entgegenbringen, das er ihnen gegenüber zeigt" (p. 178). In favor of this interpretation, B. offers a resolution to what he (rightly) considers the greatest argument against the unity of 2 Corinthians: that in 7:5-16 the apostle appears to celebrate with elation the reestablishment of his relationship with the church at Corinth, while in ch. 10-13 that relationship appears to be in the most dire straits, an impossibility in the same letter. His answer? "Nach unserer Überzeugung ist nämlich die Beziehung zwischen Paulus und den Korinthern weder in 7,5-16 ganz normalisiert, noch ist sie in Kap. 10-13 radikal in der Schwebe" (p. 168). B. claims that those two parts of the letter deal either with different aspects of the same problem or with different problems, thus resolving to his satisfaction any apparent contradiction. Distinctive to his approach, B. asserts, is the focus on the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, which provides the key to the unified letter (see pp. 140, 178, 253). The plan of the book is for this thesis, propounded in Part One, to be further corroborated by the exegetical studies of selected passages by both authors in Part Two (p. 178).

While B. and L. are to be commended for their patient and fair rendering of the various arguments for partition and for unity, and for their carefully considered exegeses, both of which will aid the on-going discussion, their own proposal suffers from both substantial and methodological weaknesses. Mostly, they have not met the burden of proof for their thesis with this volume, because the parts of 2 Corinthians which most challenge the unity hypothesis, chaps. 8 and 9, and especially ch. 10-13, are not examined here. In the essays on selected passages in Part Two, only one of fourteen treats a passage in ch. 10-13, and that only a single verse (13:4). In particular, one misses the proof for the most questionable contention that in ch. 10-13 the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians is not in grave doubt. The critical chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians are completely neglected. The central focus of the book’s analysis thus becomes ch. 1-7, and even more narrowly 2:14-7:4 (a section which is not divided in any division hypothesis), which is the locus of 13 of the 14 exegetical essays. Thus there is an unevenness of purpose between the program of Part One and the collected essays in Part Two (further, L.’s essays in Part Two claim only that 2:14-7:4 is a coherent argumentative unit, eschewing a judgment about the literary composition of the whole).

Though Part One promises a fresh proposal for the unity of 2 Corinthians, grounded in the text, the argument takes frequent recourse to older, already discounted arguments (such as the appeal to the lack of manuscript evidence for partition, on pp. 107, 169; cf. 549, 553, 564). Thus the position taken throughout is unfortunately more defensive than offensive, on the assumption that the text is a unity unless it can be proven otherwise (see also L. on 6:14-7:1). The procedure of the book raises some important methodological considerations. Though he well recognizes the interdependence of literary and historical questions in the study of 2 Corinthians, B. is not confident that literary criticism can prove compositional unity (p. 137), and indeed tends to treat the literary-critical objections to the unity of the letter far too lightly (see, e.g., p. 168 where he states, without further elaboration, that the considerable variations in diposition and tone in the letter "lassen sich durchaus psychologisch erklären"). He presents his literary-critical arguments for the unity of the whole epistle in only six pages (pp. 133-136). In place of this, B. prefers "inhaltliche Argumente" based upon his own historical reconstruction of a single, complex situation in which Paul wrote the letter. But his solution, to account for severe changes in the apostle’s disposition toward the Corinthians by recourse to a different dimension of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians ("verschiedene Problemkreise" or "verschiedene Aspekte desselben Problems" [pp. 178, 168]), as, for example, between the celebration of reconciliation in 7:5-16 and the appeals for reconciliation in 5:20 f., remains too imprecise. Though this is not historically implausible on general terms, B.’s next conclusion, that the historical identity of "die Gegner" is not only impossible to uncover, but is unnecessary (because Paul thought it unimportant to mention!) undermines our confidence in the solvency or cogency of this appeal to history. Indeed, the vague observation that all three parts (1-2 and 7:5-16; 2:14-7:4; 10-13) deal with Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians is no probative argument for their literary unity. As B.s ch. 6 competently shows, Paul’s relationship with his churches is a key component of every epistolary situation. B.’s treatment of 2 Corinthians in that essay more demonstrates than defuses the acute tension between the various parts of the letter in this regard (see pp. 246-51).

But while the appeal to history dominates in Part One, in Part Two literary criticism comes to the fore. In his essays L. presents intricate micro-structural analyses of small "pericopae" (if one can accurately use the term, given Paul’s larger, continuous argumentative units), with a penchant for identifying chiasmus and concentricity in Pauline prose. While the detailed exegetical studies collected here provide many valuable insights into sentences or small sense units, the meaning of the larger argumentative complexes is left unaddressed, except in the most general terms. Paul’s literary artistry, according to these careful, deliberate analyses, was exhibited in the composition of exquisitely designed chiastic sentences and paragraphs, but the larger literary structure of his letters is judged, by its neglect, to be either undistinguished, or, worse, insignificant. For example, 2:14-7:4, which is a separate letter according to the Bornkamm-Schmithals hypothesis, is here quickly termed a "Digression" (p. 135), but without any further explanation of why Paul would have inserted a digression here, or how it relates to his overarching purpose (cf. L.’s recourse to a "digression" to account for 6:14-7:1 on p. 539, and B.’s attempt to buttress it on pp. 561 f.). But any conclusions about the whole must influence also the meaning of each small part, and vice versa.

To attempt to prove the compositional integrity of 2 Corinthians a full structural and argumentative analysis of the entire letter, with direct treatment of the places where readers have discerned severe breaks in the argument, remains to be done. A starting point for such an analysis could be found in the promising identification of 1:12 f. (esp. 1:14) as the thesis statement to the letter (though B. does not use this language; see p. 175: "die grundlegendste Bitte des Briefes"), which signals Paul’s intention to lead the Corinthians from partial understanding, signaled by the good news in Titus’ report, to full understanding which is still lacking because of the pernicious influence of the opponents. How all of the letter might support this fundamental purpose needs to be shown in detail. This leads to a final, crucial methodological consideration: the need for a control against which to test literary unity. The strongest arguments for the unity of any text are those which can move beyond subjective suggestions of where one reader can imagine a unified piece, and instead can map out literary and rhetorical techniques which are recognizable and repeated in the work of this and/or other ancient authors. To the extent that the exegetical work presented here is entirely internal, it suffers that limitation.

B. and L. have composed a volume which is profitable reading and will be a fine reference work for all who struggle with the complex problems posed by 2 Corinthians. The debate will continue.