Friday, December 20, 2013

Reading Notes: Ernst Käsemann on the "'The Righteousness of God' in Paul"

I think about Ernst Käsemann each time I teach Romans and introduce different ways of understanding the "righteousness of God", but I confess that I never got around to reading Käsemann's 1961 essay until this week--shortly after encountering this statement by Leander Keck about the essay's significance: "In a time of massive monographs and multivolume commentaries on a single book, Käsemann redirected the study of Paul with an essay of a mere fourteen pages." (Keck, Paul and his Letters, 152-3).

The experience reminded me that actually reading seminal scholarship is a far richer experience than getting it second-hand. It also helps explain current debate. I thought, for instance, that I could detect traces of Käsemann in contemporary scholars who defend perspectives rather different from Käsemann and from each other. Needless to say I will introduce the topic more carefully and with greater precision next time.

A few excerpts:
Righteousness as activity: "The widely-held view that God's righteousness is simply a property of the divine nature can now be rejected as misleading." Instead, the "righteousness of God" in Romans 1:16 "is for Paul, as it is for the Old Testament and Judaism in general, a phrase expressing divine activity, treating not of the self-subsistent, but of the self-revealing God" (174). Käsemann grants that righteousness is also a gift (cf. 169), but...
You can't have the gift without the giver: "Paul knows no gift of God which does not convey both the obligation and the capacity to serve" (170). This is because "the gift which is being bestowed here [i.e., the "righteousness of God"] is never at any time separable from its Giver. It partakes of the character of power, in so far as God himself enters the arena and remains in the arena with it. Thus personal address, obligation and service are indissolubly bound up with the gift. When God enters the arena, our experience is, that he maintains his lordship even in his giving; indeed, it is his gifts which are the very means by which he subordinates us to his lordship and makes us responsible beings." (174) 
On justification and sanctification: "[E]very gift of God which has ceased to be seen as the presence of the Giver and has therefore lost its character as personal address, is grace misused and working to our destruction. Justification and sanctification must therefore coincide, provided that by justification we mean that Christ takes power over our life. But at the same time the understanding we have now gained excludes the possibility of righteousness by works and of boasting of one's own moral achievement. The same Lord who calls us to his service enables us for it and requires us to render it in such a way as to ensure that his gift is passed on. As an instrument of grace, one cannot reasonably go on talking of one's own achievements." (175) 
On historical method: "[T]he historical is not simply that which can be shown to be what actually happened, but the field on which the self-understanding of the interpreter is either confirmed or shattered, or else triumphs by violence. We ourselves are at risk here" (173 n. 4).

The whole essay is gold. Tolle lege.

Käsemann, Ernst. “‘The Righteousness of God’ in Paul.” 1961. English translation: Pages 168–82 in New Testament Questions of Today. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969.
Keck, Leander E. Paul and His Letters. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

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