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The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West*

  • Krister Stendahl (a1)
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In the history of Western Christianity — and hence, to a large extent, in the history of Western culture — the Apostle Paul has been hailed as a hero of the introspective conscience. Here was the man who grappled with the problem “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do is what I do …” (Rom. 7:19). His insights as to a solution of this dilemma have recently been more or less identified, for example, with what Jung referred to as the Individuation Process; but this is only a contemporary twist to the traditional Western way of reading the Pauline letters as documents of human consciousness.

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1 D. Cox, Jung and St. Paul: A Study of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith and Its Relation to the Concept of Individuation (1959). — Attention should also be drawn to the discussion in The American Psychologist (1960), 301–4, 713–16, initiated by O. H. Mowrer's article “‘Sin,’ the Lesser of Two Evils”; cf. also the Symposium of W. H. Clark, O. H. Mowrer, A. Ellis, Ch. Curran and E. J. Shoben, Jr., on “The Role of the Concept of Sin in Psychotherapy,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 7 (1960), 185201.—For an unusually perceptive and careful attempt to deal with historical material from a psychoanalytical point of view, see Erik H. Erikson, Young Man Luther (1958). Not only the abundance but also the “Western” nature of the Luther material makes such an attempt more reasonable than when it is applied to Paul, who, as Erikson remarks, remains “in the twilight of biblical psychology” (p. 94).

2 The actual meaning of the Greek word syneidesis, usually translated “conscience,” is a complex linguistic problem, see Pierce, C. A., Conscience in The New Testament (1955). — The more gèneral problem dealt with in this lecture is closer to the problem to which P. Althaus draws attention in his Paulus und Luther über den Menschen (1951), cf. the critique by Bücbsel, F., Theologische Blätter 17 (1938), 306–11. — Reicke, B., The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism (1946), 174–82, gives the meaning “loyalty” in 1 Peter 3:21, cf. idem, “Syneidesis in Röm. 2:15,” Theologische Zeitschrift 12 (1956), 157–61.—Sec also Spicq, C., Revue Biblique 47 (1938), 5080, and Dupont, J., Studìa Hellenistica 5 (1948), 119–53.

3 See esp. Moore, G. F., Judaism, vol. III (1930), 151. — Schocps, H. J., Paul (1961), 213–18, voices the same criticism from the anachronistic point of modern Old Testament interpretation as carried out by M. Buber and others. Cf., however, Buber, M., Two Types of Faith (1951), 4650.

4 For a penetrating analysis of the original meaning of this formula in Luther's” theology, and its relation to the Pauline writings, see Joest, W., “Paulus und das lutherische Simul Justus et Peccator,” Kerygma und Dogma i (1956), 270321. — See also Bring, R., “Die paulinische Begründung der lutherischen Theologie,” Luthertum 17 (1955), 1843; and idem, Commentary on Galatians (1961); H. Pohlmann, “Hat Luther Paulus entdeckt?” Studien der Luther-Akademie N. F. 7 (1949).—For a perceptive view of the role of Luther's conscience, sec A. Siirala, Gottes Gebot bei Martin Luther (1956), 282 ff.

5 There is actually no use of the term in the undisputed Pauline epistles; it is found as an apposition in Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14; cf. the O. T. quotation in Rom. 4:7, where Paul's own preference for “justification” is clear from the context, and the similar term “remission” in Rom 3:25. — Cf. my articles “Sünde und Schuld” and “Sündenvergebung,” Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 6 (1962), 484–89, and 511–13, with a discussion of the absence of a common word for “guilt.”

6 For this change and its effect on Christology, see Williams, G. H., “The Sacramental Presuppositions of Anselm's Cur deus homo,” Church History 26 (1957), 245–74.

7 For early Pauline interpretation see Staab, K., Pauluskommentare aus der griechischen Kirche (1933); Hasler, V. E., Gesetz und Evangelium in der alten. Kirche bis Origenes (1953); Aleith, E., Paulusverständnis in der alien Kirche (1937); Verweijs, P. G., Evangelium und Gesetz in der ältesten Christenheit bis auf Marcion (1960); now also Wickert, U., “Die Persönlichkeit des Paulus in den Paulus kommentaren Theodors von Mopsuestia,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 53 (1962), 5166. For Paul and conscience in relation to Gnosticism, see F. F. Sagnard, Clement d'Alexandrie, Extraits de Théodote (1948), 247–49, and R- M. Grant's observations in Journal of Theological Studies 7 (1956), 310 f.

8 For the Jewish background to this problem as the one relevant to Paul, see Davies, W. D., Torah in the Messianic Age and/or the Age to Come (1952); also H. J. Schoeps, op. cit., 174, with reference to the talmudic tractate Sanhedrin 98a.

9 It is significant that the contrast in Paul is between Jews and Gentiles, or Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, but never between Jews and Gentile Christians; see Bornkamm, G., “Gesetz und Natur: Röm 2:14–16,” Studien zu Antike und Urchristentum (1959), 93118; cf. Sevenster, J. N., Paul and Seneca (1961), 96.

10 A. Schweitzer was certainly right when he recognized that Paul's teaching about justification by faith had such a limited function in Paul's theology and could not be considered the center of his total view. “The doctrine of righteousness by faith i s therefore a subsidiary crater. …” The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1931), 225.

11 J. Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (1959), ch. 1; sec also H. G. Wood, “The Conversion of St. Paul. Its Nature, Antecedents and Consequences,” New Testament Studies 1 (1954/55), 276–82; and U. Wilckens, “Die Bekehrung des Paulus als religionsgeschichtliches Problem,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 56 (1959), 273–93.

12 For the Augustinian interpretation sec A. F. W. Lekkerkerker, Römer 7 und Römer 9 bei Augustin (1942) ; cf. Ph. Platz, “Der Römerbrief in der Gnadenlchre Augustins,” Cassiciacum 5 (1938); also J. Stelzenberger, Conscientia bei Augustin (1959); and idem, “Conscientia in der ost-westlichen Spannung der patristischen Theologie,” Tübinger Theologische Quartalschrift 141 (1961), 174–205. — For the Greek background, see O. Seel, “Zur Vorgeschichte des Gewissensbegriffes im altgriechischen Denken,” Festschrift F. Dornseiff (1953), 291–319. For a broad and instructive survey, which substantiates our view in many respects — but reads the biblical material differently — see H. Jaeger, “L'examen de conscience dans les religions non-chrétiennes et avant le christianisme,” Numen 6 (1959), 175–233.

12a Cf. my article on Gal. 3:24 in Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 18–19 (1953–54) 161–73.

13 Bultmann, R., Theology of the New Testament, vol. I. (1951), 242f.

14 C. H. Dodd feels the difficulty in such an interpretation, but ends up with placing Paul's overcoming of his boasting somewhat later in his career, “The Mind of Paul,” New Testament Studies (1953), 67128.

15 Bultmann, ibm. vol. 2 (1955), 251; cf. idem, “The Problem of Hermeneutics,” Essays Philosophical and Theological (1955), 234–61.

16 Volz, , Die Eschatologie der jüdischen Gemeinde im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (1934), 111ff.

17 Cf. also how F. Büchsel, who repeats this view in highly biased language, admits the lack of evidence for such an attitude: the Pharisee “vacillated between an overbearing confidence in his good works, which made him blind to his sinfulness, and a desperate anxiety before the wrath of God, which, however, manifests itself only seldom” (italics mine), Theologisches Wörterbuch z. N. T. (ed. G. Kittel), vol. 3 (1938), 935. — The examples, often quoted, from 4 Ezra 3–4 and 7–8 deal primarily with the historical theodicy and not with the individual conscience.

18 This theme is elaborated further in the Epistle of Barnabas 5:9, where all the Apostles are called “iniquitous above all sin,” with a reference to Mk. 2:17.

19 The confusion caused by psychological interpretations, and the centrality of the Law in Rom. 7, was seen in the epoch-making study by Kümmel, W. G., Römer 7 und die Bekehrung des Paulus (1929); cf. Mitton, C. L., Expository Times 65 (1953/1954), 7881; 99–103; 132–135; and E. Ellwein, Kerygma und Dogma I (1955), 247–68.

20 In a similar fashion even the standard Greek text of the New Testament (the Nestle edition) indicates that ch. 7 should end with the exclamation in v. 25a, and ch. 8 begin already with v. 25b. But the New English Bible retains v. 25b as the concluding sentence in ch. 7.

21 For a fuller treatment of these issues, sec my article “Biblical Theology'’ in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1 (1962), 418–32.

* This paper was delivered as the invited Address at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, September 3, 1961; it is a revised and footnoted edition of my article “Paulus och Samvetet,” published in Sweden in Svensk Exegetisk Arsbok 25 (1960), 62–77.

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Harvard Theological Review
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