Gunther Bornkamm’s “Paul:” A Review Article -- By: E. Margaret Howe

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 22:3 (Sep 1979)
Article: Gunther Bornkamm’s “Paul:” A Review Article
Author: E. Margaret Howe

Gunther Bornkamm’s “Paul:” A Review Article

E. Margaret Howe*

Of the many outstanding students trained by Rudolf Bultmann, the names of a few hold particular significance for NT scholars—names such as Ernst Käsemann, Hans Conzelmann, Ernst Fuchs, Erich Dinkler and Gunther Bornkamm. Bornkamm is best known in the English-speaking world for his trilogy of books on the origins of the Christian faith: Jesus of Nazareth, Early Christian Experience and Paul.1 In the foreword to Jesus of Nazareth Bornkamm writes, “The experience that the greatness of the subject and the limitations of our ability are out of all proportion to one another will, I hope, constitute a bond between reader and author” (p. 10). He also writes, “I cannot imagine the reading of this book without the Gospels open beside one” (p. 11). These two features—humility in approaching momentous topics, and constant monitoring of opinions with reference to the Biblical text—characterize also Bornkamm’s volume on Paul.

Bornkamm brings to this work a rich and varied background. As a Lutheran churchman, Bornkamm places much emphasis on Paul’s doctrine of “justification by faith alone” and shows throughout the entire work a concern to communicate this doctrine meaningfully to the present-day Church. As a former student of Bultmann, Bornkamm is well acquainted with existentialist thought. He speaks of man’s condition of “losthess” before God (p. 120), of man’s being “confronted by God,” and of this leading the individual to “self-understanding” (p. 119) and to “authentic existence” (p. 161). The influence of Bornkamm’s mentor is seen also in part two of the book, where the thematic arrangement of Paul’s theology is found to be similar to that of Bultmann in his Theology of the New Testament.2 Bornkamm acknowledges that he is indeed indebted to many scholars (pp. ix, x), and from time to time he mentions ideas gleaned from Dibelius, Barth, Stauffer, Conzelmann and Käsemann. He also makes reference to the works of Jewish scholars such as Buber, Baeck, Schoeps and Shalom ben Chorim, and he shows his acquaintance with the works of scholars even less sympathetic to Paul—notably Bloch, Nietzsche and DeLagarde. The book, however, was written for the layman as well as the professional theologian (p. ix) and for this reason lacks footnotes. Even the bibliographical data included in the German edition are lacking in the English translation. The reader is thus left to surmise the exact source from which these ideas came. Nevertheless the book bears the marks of a lifetime of scholarly enquiry and draws together some of Bornkamm’s most profound reflections on the Pa...

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