Volume 1 Liberation towards Justice/Befreiung zur Gerechtigkeit
Here we are dealing with the centerpiece of the Reformation: justification – law – gospel. Key is the new interpretation of Paul – against an individualistic understanding, reducing God's justice and liberation to the western Ego, thus preparing the way for calculating capitalism; against the identification of the Torah with the “killing law” instead of with the law of the Roman Empire; against the sharp antithesis of law and gospel leading to the separation of the New and Old Testament, to anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.
INHALT und ABSTRACTS/Content and abstracts Vol 1
EINFÜHRUNG IN DIE NEUE REIHE 9
INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW SERIES 17
DIE REFORMATION RADIKALISIEREN – PROVOZIERT VON BIBEL UND KRISE
94 THESEN 24
RADICALIZING REFORMATION – PROVOKED BY THE BIBLE
AND TODAY'S CRISES
94 THESES 47
„BEFREIUNG ZUR GERECHTIGKEIT“ – ZUR EINFÜHRUNG 69
PAULUS UND DAS GESETZ IM GALATERBRIEF: RÖMISCHER NOMOS ODER
Brigitte Kahl 78
1. Theologie der Rechtfertigung in Geschichte und Gegenwart –
eine Problemanzeige 78
2. Gesetz versus Evangelium: Luthers Pauluslektüre 83
3. Krister Stendahl und die unaufgearbeitete exegetische Reformation 89
4. Paulinische Gesetzeskritik und das „In-Christus-Sein“ 95
5. “Werke des Gesetzes” im Kontext des Imperium Romanum 99
5.1 Galatien und die Galater 99
5.2 Römischer Nomos oder jüdische Tora 101
5.3 Eine Neudefinition der „Werke des Gesetzes” in
imperiumskritischer Perspektive 105
6. Zusammenfassung 106
Abstract: Brigitte Kahl
Paul and the Law in Galatians
The established Lutheran interpretation of Justification by faith (alone) is
based on the Pauline antithesis of Law versus Gospel, Works versus Faith. As
Law was identified with Jewish Torah, this antithesis inscribed anti-Judaism into
the core of Protestantism. It also enabled a much wider application of “work
righteousness” and” (self)justification through the law” to other antagonists like
Anabaptists, enthusiasts, Turks and Muslims – and later to liberationist or feminist
theologies. According to the “scriptural principle “(sola scriptura), this problem
at the center of any re-thinking of Reformation today requires first and
foremost a critical re-evaluation of its scriptural basis: What is Paul’s polemics
against Law and Works in Galatians actually about? In the wake of Krister Stendahl
and the empire-critical/post-colonial turn in Pauline Studies Brigitte Kahl
shows that the Law that Paul contests in Galatians is primarily Roman Law, rather
than Jewish Torah. Its “works” (identical with “flesh” and “boasting”) are
combat and competition as normalcy of the imperial order. Jewish Torah as law
of the Exodus is inherently opposed to this imperial law but can be drawn into its
orbit. This is the case when the opponents of Paul in Galatia want to “normalize”
the status of the messianic Galatians through circumcision. As uncircumcised
Gentile children of Abraham they do not conform to the standards of the dominant
binary order of Self (Jewish) versus Other (Gentile); they also unduly dodge
the requirements of imperial religion as if they were “proper Jews.” Noncircumcision
has become a marker of civil disobedience. Alternatively, Paul’s
model of One-an(d)-Otherness “in Christ” (Gal 3:28) means the radical deconstruction
of the imperial law and its hierarchical, competitive order through
“bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). This has far-reaching consequences
for a re-configuration of Justification by faith as a theology of radical transformation,
liberation and reconciliation of Self and Other.
„HEIßT DAS, DASS WIR DIE TORA DURCH DAS VERTRAUEN
AUßER KRAFT SETZEN?“
Marlene Crüsemann 110
1. Die Diskussion der Übersetzung von Röm 3,28 nach der 'Bibel in
gerechter Sprache' 110
2. Röm 3,28-31 und die „neue Paulusperspektive“ 113
3. Röm 3,28 als Abschaffung der Tora? 116
4. Die Schwächung der Tora durch die Herrschaft der Sündenmacht
im Brief an die Gemeinde in Rom 118
5. Rechtfertigung: Befreiung zu einem Leben
nach den Geboten der Tora 125
Abstract: Marlene Crüsemann
„Does it mean that we condemn the Torah through faith?“ Rom 3:28-31
and the Bibel in just language
M. Crüsemann’s paper expounds the problems of the translation in Rom 3:28 and the
“Bible in just language”* – choris ergon nomou (without works of law). This verse has
had a strong impact on the tradition of the Reformation, because many have argued (and
still do) that the Jewish Torah has less significance for Christianity. The consequence was
the marginalization of the Torah in theology and ministry. M. Crüsemann points out that
Paul’s insights regarding the Torah have to be seen in the light of the Roman Empire. The
power structures of the Empire showed Paul the terrorizing dominion of sin, which made
it impossible to live according to the Torah of God. Women and men who wanted to live
according to the Torah in the Roman Empire experienced failure. Thus Paul has no ontological
view of sin but calls for structures in which people realize that they are part of a
sinful system. Through the raising of Jesus from the dead, humankind gains the strength
to live the commandments of the Torah (Rom 8:4). Justification by faith alone has to be
seen through this lense. Only through the resurrection of Christ are people empowered to
live according the Torah. Jus-tification means the liberation of the Torah and the liberation
of the people from the ter-rorizing dominion of sin (hamartia). If people live according to
the Torah, God’s right-eousness will flourish in this world, overcoming Empire. Hence
Paul does not condemn the Torah, he strengthens it.
*This is a special edition of the Bible in German language, translating the biblical texts
with special care regarding social justice and gender justice, and also avoiding traditional
DIE WEISUNGEN DER TORA ALS WORTE DES LEBENS
UND DES WIDERSTANDES
Carsten Jochum-Bortfeld 128
1. Die Tora und Gegenwart Jesu Christi 129
1.1 Das Johannesevangelium 129
1.2 Das Matthäusevangelium 131
1.3 Paulinische Briefe 133
2. Kontexte der neutestamentlichen Torarezeption 136
3. Tora – Handeln können 143
Abstract: C. Jochum-Bortfeld
The instructions of the Torah as words of life and resistance – Against the
absolutization Law vs. Gospel!
C. Jochum-Bortfeld criticises the distinction between Law and Gospel. In Lutheran
tradition, gnosis of God was predetermined through this distinction. Humans
realize their sinfulness because of the law and escape into the gospel
through the satisfaction provided by Jesus. The author of this essay follows a
different path. He argues that we find a positive understanding of the Torah within
the New Testament. The importance of the Torah lies in the foundation of relationships
– relationships in the presence of Christ and which refer to God self.
The examples in John, Mark and Paul show: Where people live according to
the Torah, violence and oppression are transformed into solidarity and peaceful
relationships. Within imperial power structures the words of the Torah represent
protest and resistance. The interpretation of the Torah in the New Testament
gives a voice to those who do not want to live under imperial pressure. They use
the Torah of the liberating God to live the gospel.
DER THERMIDOR DES CHRISTENTUMS
Franz Hinkelammert 147
1. Der konkrete Universalismus im frühen Christentum. 149
1.1 Die Schuldentheologie 149
1.2. Die Lohnzahlung 151
1.3 Die Gesetzeskritik des Paulus 152
2. Die Wirkung des Paulus in der Geschichte der Neuzeit 163
3. Das Gesetz als Gefängnis des Körpers 166
4. Der Thermidor des Christentums 168
5. Anselm von Canterbury: Die angebliche Ungerechtigkeit des
6. Die Integration des Gesetzes in den Markt: die Nächstenliebe als
bürokratische Norm 182
7. Die Reformation und der Konflikt mit der Orthodoxie 192
Abstract: Franz Hinkelammert
The thermidor of Christianity as the origin of orthodoxy. Christian roots of modern capitalism
Economics in neoliberal capitalism is ruled by unchangeable laws. They have
to be obeyed. These rules have a long tradition. Within Christianity they are foreshadowed
in the thinking of Augustine and Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm's satisfaction
theory rejects the biblical idea that unpayable debt must be forgiven.
According to him, debt has to be paid and sins have to be paid for, as well. Augustine
and Anselm intellectually pave the way for the ideas and rules of capitalistic
thinking that find their way into Christianity. Author F. Hinkelammert analyzes
laws and rules that enslave humans. He shows that justification is liberation
from these laws. From this point of view, Hinkelammert starts re-reading Paul. In
contrast to Augustine and Anselm, Paul sees that laws made absolute and applied
without love can, and do, kill. Post-Constantinian orthodoxy is therefore the
thermidor (reversal) of original Christianity. The different Reformation movements
try to overcome this and prepare the ground for emancipatory approaches
to overcome the death-bringing laws of modernity.
IM NAMEN DES VATERS UND DES SOHNES UND DES HEILIGEN GEISTES.
Ton Veerkamp 197
1. Der Kampf gegen Marcion als der Kampf um die Einheit Gottes 197
2. Auf den Spuren des Johannes 201
3. Wider den Monotheismus 205
4. Der Messias 207
Abstract: Ton Veerkamp
In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Only cant?
Trinitarian theology was the outcome of the agonizing struggle of the early
church to overcome the Marcionite heresy, which abolished the Old Testament,
replacing the God of Israel by the new and better God of a crippled New Testament.
The Trinitarian formula, by contrast, testifies to the indissoluble unity of
both Testaments, of the God of Israel (Father) and the Messiah of Israel, the Jew
Jesus (Son). The Holy Ghost is the indissoluble unity, vinculum caritatis, between
Father and Son. This is the central testimony of Christian faith and of all
The God of Israel can never be seen or experienced, but only heard. He is
“voice only” (Deut 4:12), speaking the “Ten Words” and speaking the Torah of
Israel through Moses.
The Messiah of Israel, the Jew Jesus of Nazareth, is the invitation to all peoples
to participate in the future promised to Israel: “the land of promise” is a society
built on autonomy of all members of this society and on equality between
The Holy Spirit is the Inspiration that goes out from both, the God of Israel
and the Messiah. “He will not speak on his own; but will speak whatever he
hears…All that the Father has is mine (i.e. Jesus’),” John 16:13ff.
The message is not a kind of monotheism, but enables the churches to decide
who really is the God ruling the society: The God of Israel or Baal (1 Kings
18:21), God or Mammon (Matthew 6:24). The Trinitarian formula is a political
The theological tradition of the Lutheran Reformation broke up the unity of the
two Testaments. It showed in its anti-Judaism that it was more a disciple of Marcion
than of Jesus Christ and paved the way to the devastating anti-Semitism of
the 20th century.
The celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation on October
31, 2017 must therefore be, first, a day of confession of sin against the HoIm
Namen des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes 213
ly Trinity, secondly a day of renewing the faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Jew
from Nazareth and, thirdly, a day of commitment to rebuild Christian theology
on the foundations of the indissoluble unity of the two Testaments.
Only this way can the Lutheran Reformation become a political force to “renew
the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30).
MARTIN LUTHER, BARTOLOMEO DE LAS CASAS
AND THE FAITH OF THE OTHER 214
Lauri Emilio Wirth 214
1. Preliminary observations 214
2. Jean de Léry: a narrative impacted by the place of the Other 218
3. A Geneva in the Brazilian jungle 220
4. The theme of the Protestant Reformation in the constitution
of the Roman Catholic Identity in Latin America 224
5. Echoes of the Protestant Reformation in the missionary
project of Las Casas 228
6. Final considerations 236
Abstract: Lauri Emilio Wirth
Martin Luther, Bartolomeo de Las Casas und der Glaube der Anderen
Vom 16. bis Anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts war der römische Katholizismus die
einzige rechtlich zugelassene Religion in Lateinamerika. Trotzdem hat die protestantische
Reformation den Kurs des Christentums in diesem Kontinent schon
seit den Anfängen der Christianisierung beeinflusst. Die so genannte ‚neue
Welt‘ stellte für die römisch-katholischen Missionare einen privilegierten Ausgangspunkt
dar, um eine Kirche zu gestalten, die dem europäischen Christentum
moralisch überlegen sein sollte. Als nächsten Schritt entwickelten sie dann die
Vorstellung, das europäische Christentum selbst durch das vom reformatorischen
Gedankengut nicht ‚verseuchte‘ koloniale Christentum zu reformieren. In diesem
Zusammenhang wurden die zentralen Thesen der lutherischen Theologie als eine
Bedrohung behandelt, die ständige Wachsamkeit erforderte. Trotzdem lassen sich
bestimmte Affinitäten zwischen grundsätzlichen Aussagen und Handlungen der
Römisch-Katholischen Mission in Lateinamerika und verschiedenen Aspekten
der lutherischen Reformation nachweisen. Das trifft zur Zeit Luthers auf Las
Casas zu, der sich an die Seite der einheimischen Bevölkerung gegen die Conquista
stellte. Der Vergleich zwischen protestantischer Reformation und römischkatholischer
Mission in Lateinamerika erfordert einen hermeneutischen Standort,
der die Folgen der Christianisierung ernst nimmt und vom Schicksal der Opfer
der Kolonisierung ausgeht. Von daher ist es möglich, zwischen Mission, Kolonialismus
und zentralen Themen der protestantischen Reformation eine Verbindung
Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda 239
1. Introduction 239
2. Luther’s Subversive Claims 241
2.1 Two Kinds of Righteousness 242
2.2 Neighbor Love as Guide for Economic Life 246
2.3 Christ as Indwelling Presence 248
2.4 Obey and Disobey Ruling Authorities 252
2.5 Held together: subversive moral agency 254
3. Embracing the Safe Side…..Obscuring the Word 254
3.1 Two Kinds of Righteousness 254
3.2 Neighbor Love as Guide for Economic Life 255
3.3 Christ as Indwelling Presence 256
3.4 Obey and Disobey Ruling Authorities 257
3.5 Held together 257
4 Faithful Response, Great Hope 258
Abstract: Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda
Die Rechtfertigungslehre Luthers entspringt dem Widerstand gegen politische
und kulturelle Vorstellungen, die Menschen die Erfahrung des Geschenks Gottes,
seiner bedingungslosen Liebe, vorenthalten. Wie kommt es, dass eine solche
Tradition zum Komplizen politischer und kultureller Macht wurde, die der Vorstellung
von Rechtfertigung zuwiderläuft?
In einer kritisch rekonstruktiven Lektüre wird entgegen dem herrschenden
Strom lutherischer Tradition die „gefährliche“ Hälfte der Theologie Luthers er-
neut zum Vorschein gebracht. Traditionell wird die Ermahnung Luthers, der Obrigkeit
zu gehorchen, hochgehalten. Seine Ermahnung, ihnen nicht zu gehorchen,
wenn sie gegen das Gebot der Nächstenliebe handeln, wird ignoriert. Gleiches
gilt für Wirtschaftsfragen: Seine karitativen Vorschläge und Aktionen werden
hoch gehalten. Seine grundsätzliche Kritik am frühmodernen Wirtschaftssystem
findet hingegen kaum Beachtung.
Der Text entwickelt ein Verständnis von Rechtfertigung, das dieses radikale
Erbe Luthers ernst nimmt, um so zu einer widerständigen Interpretation von
Rechtfertigung zu kommen.
Authors/AUTORINNEN UND AUTOREN
ARTICLES IN OTHER LANGUAGES THAN PRINTED IN THE VOLUME:
The Bible, the Economy, and the Poor
Edited by Ronald A. Simkins and Thomas M. Kelly, Creighton University
Journal of 'Religion and Society,Supplement Series, Suplement 1 (2014), p 132ff.
8. Justification and Justice
Reading Paul with the Economically Vanquished
Brigitte Kahl, Union Theological Seminary, New York
Justification and justice in English are two words worlds apart. Located in the august
dictionary of Christian dogmatics and the mundane territory of social ethics respectively,
they seem to speak different languages and represent incompatible ways of reasoning –
especially when it comes to Pauline or Protestant justification by faith and economic justice.
Yet in the ancient languages that give voice to the biblical texts, apparently this split does not
exist – justification and justice are covered by the same term: diakaiosunē in Greek and ṣĕdāqā
in Hebrew. This should give us pause, especially as the Protestant understanding of
justification through faith and grace claims to be based solely on scripture. Martin Luther’s
famous triad of faith, grace, and Christ alone (sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus) by definition
includes scripture alone (sola scriptura) as its fourth pillar on which any legitimate
interpretation of justification rests. Yet its exclusion of social ethics, especially economic
ethics, raises questions precisely from a scriptural perspective. This requires some digging
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into the deep grammar of our theological language and hermeneutical premises. The scriptural
Paul and the Paul of the Protestant tradition need to re-open their debate. While they both might agree
on the centrality of justification by faith and grace, the ethical underpinnings commonly
attached to this “article by which the Church stands or falls” require new scriptural scrutiny.
As is well known, Martin Luther’s enormously consequential reading of Galatians as his
favorite Pauline letter (his “Kathy von Bora”) made justification by faith the cornerstone of
the Protestant Reformation and subsequently Protestant theology. Over the past fifty years,
however, new debates in New Testament scholarship in response to post-Holocaust,
feminist, liberationist, empire-critical, and postcolonial approaches have led to significant
shifts in Pauline studies that shed different light on the established interpretations of Pauline
justification by faith (Ehrensperger; Zetterholm).1 These hermeneutical landslides, often
unnoticed in Theology Departments, will require a sustained interdisciplinary effort by
biblical and systematic theologians to be processed and understood in their far-reaching
implications for a contemporary re-formulation of the Protestant justification paradigm.
Along the way, the deeply rooted schism between justification by faith and social ethics will
need to be rethought from the perspective of the “economically vanquished,” i.e., the losers
of our present-day global market economy: not just as an ethical but as a profoundly
theological question regarding the credibility and authenticity of Christian faith today (see
Bieler and Guttmann; Streufert; Chang, Duchrow, and Nessan).
Gospel versus Law – the Protestant Paradigm
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners. Yet we know that a person is
justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to
believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the
works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law (Galatians 2:15-
“Not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ” (Galatians 2:15) is
the classic formulation of Paul’s justification theology, second only to Romans 3:22-31, and
is the core of his works/law versus faith justification theology. What “law” and “works”
mean here determine the meaning of “faith.” (The terms “justification,” “righteousness,”
and “rectification” are English translations of the Greek dikaiosunē.) Work righteousness or
justification by works/law is the negative foil against which the foundational gospel of
justification though faith can shine.
Yet within the social, political, and economic realities of his first-century context, what
does Paul actually talk about when he rejects “law-works” (erga nomou)? Traditionally, the
answer to this question seemed deceptively easy: the issue of law/works in Galatians
obviously is closely related to circumcision and thus Judaism. Faith stands for the contested
1 A pioneering study on the re-integration of justification theology and economic/social justice for the poor
and marginalized masses of Latin America is Elsa Tamez’ The Amnesty of Grace. Her point of departure is the
one-dimensional, individualistic and abstract understanding of Pauline faith-justification in dominant
theological readings that reduce it to divine-human reconciliation and leave out inter-human (in)justice. For her,
this eclipses the original and liberating message of Paul’s (and even Luther’s) justification theology within the
concrete reality of poverty, suffering, marginalization and survival struggles today. “The personal anxiety of
how to bring about a merciful God changes to ‘How can we bring about a just world?’” (27).
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opposite, namely non-circumcision of Paul’s Gentile believers, and thus Christianity. In our
passage, Galatians 2:15-21, law and law-works are obviously the commonly accepted
demarcation between “Jews by birth” and “Gentile sinners” (2:15) that Paul has come to
reject after Damascus when he was sent to proclaim the gospel as “good news” (euangelion)
among precisely these “Gentiles,” the non-Jewish “nations” (ethnē) of the Roman world
(1:16).2 Within the concrete conflict setting of Galatians, Paul stands against the circumcision
demand of his opponents who want to turn the non-Jewish Christ followers into full
proselyte Jews, acting in accordance with the prescriptions of Jewish law. The antithesis of
law/work righteousness versus gospel/faith righteousness thus gradually morphed into the
marker of a foundational polarity that separated Christianity (uncircumcised) from Judaism
(circumcised), making Paul the founder of a new religion – and of Christian anti-Judaism
(Kahl 2010: 1-27).
In a wider sense, applicable to all of humanity composed of “Jews and Gentiles,”
justification by faith stood against any type of human self-justification by means of
“meritorious” activities. The prototype of this “achievement-based” religion was Judaism,
denigrated as a religion of legalism that made people earn their salvation by meticulous
observance of highly detailed rituals and rules (Zetterholm: 33-93; Wright 1997: 12-20). This
reading of Galatians established the two most influential and problematic antitheses that
have (mis)shaped the understanding of justification theology until today. “Faith” was defined
in opposition to “practice” on an individual and social basis. As the Jews and Torah were
labeled the protagonists of “work/law righteousness,” anti-Judaism as “gospel versus law
(Torah)” was inscribed into the very core of the Christian identity and faith construct –
ironically with very “practical” and most terrifying socio-political consequences, as Christian
supersessionism became complicit in the development of anti-Semitism and ultimately the
During the time of the Reformation, another set of paradigmatic representatives of law
and works entered the picture. Works righteousness not only separated Jews from Christians,
but also Catholics from Protestants – the papal church was law oriented, whereas Luther and
his followers relied on faith and grace alone. Furthermore, in an early codification of the
clash between the “Christian Occident” and Islam/Orient, the “Mohammedan” Turks
threatening to conquer Vienna and take over Europe in 1529 were also labeled as faithless
and law/work-righteous, thus being lined up together with “Papists” and Jews, e.g., in
Luther’s introduction to his commentary on Galatians (Kahl 2010: 11-13; Boys: 67-70).3 It
became clear that “law” and “works” had become the rubric under which all kinds of very
heterogeneous “opponents” of proper Christianity were subsumed. Before this background,
most far-reaching effects for the split between ethics and justification theology were brought
about by Luther’s unforgiving condemnation of the so-called “enthusiasts” of the
Reformation period ruing the German Peasants’ War (1524-26) in his writing, “Against the
2 The Greek term ethnē, commonly translated as “Gentiles” (in line with the Jewish usage that defines Gentiles
as non-Jews/non-us), from a Roman perspective comprises all conquered nations of the Roman Empire,
including the Jews themselves (see Lopez).
3 On the “orientalizing” traits of Protestant justification theology, in line with Edward Said’s construct of
Western Orientalism, see Kahl 2011.
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Murderous, Thieving Hordes of the Peasants” (Pelican and Oswald). The linkage between
faith justification and social justice seemed to be ruled out as heterodox and heretic.4 Closely
connected to his teaching of the two-kingdom doctrine as unconditional submission to
established authorities, Luther here paved the way for the subsequent spiritualization,
depolitization, and individualization of justification theology in the Protestant tradition
(Chung, Duchrow and Nessan: 34-35).
The highly pliable, antithetical equation of “works of the law,” which equates Jews,
Catholics, peasants/Anabaptists, Muslims, and Turks with anti-faith, is perpetuated as a
multi-faceted rejection of “false believers,” liberals, “un-born-again” Christians, other
religions, or a-religious people in a variety of present-day settings. It has become one of the
most widely applied boundary markers to distinguish the (Protestant/Evangelical/
fundamentalist) Christian self from any heterodox, hetero-religious, or simply secular other.
With particular force the verdict of work-righteousness, however, has been always turned
against social activists of Christian or non-Christian backgrounds. Any effort to establish
justice on earth beyond individual acts of charity and altruism became susceptible to the
blame of self-righteousness and “self-salvation”; liberating human practice directed against
the very structures of oppression and injustice is under the verdict of human hubris of
ignoring the all-pervasive reality of sin as well as the salvation through Christ’s redemptive
death “alone” that justifies solely by grace and faith.5
With this, Paul’s grand manifesto of justification has been turned into a major prooftext
of social injustice to be tolerated in the name of faith, grace, and Christ. Paul and his
letters became the dogmatic stronghold of Christian political conservatism, often used as a
mighty fortress of “proper faith” in fight with a “social gospel” of structural change and
liberation theology (Tamez: 25-38). Faith justification in our theological semiotics thus
practically functions as the antonym of “faithless” justice work, just as theology stands
against economy, Paul against politics, spirituality against materiality – and “we” as proper
believers against “them” as works-righteous others. Apart from the history of Protestant
Pauline interpretation(s) as outlined above, this dualistic approach is also closely linked to
the introduction of Greek thought, especially Platonic/Aristotelian binaries into Christian
theology that happened after Paul and “resulted in a general devaluation of the concrete,
4 Chung, Duchrow, Nessan make a point that although these “harsh remarks against the Peasants’ Rebellion
remain an unfortunate example,” in Luther’s overall writings (e.g., on usury, Mammon, idolatry) nonetheless
theology and economics are closely interwoven in an early critique of emerging capitalism (89). This means
“that economic issues are not merely part of social ethics, but an indispensable part of theological reflection
about god, a status confessionis.” For a retrieval of Luther in Protestant and Catholic Latin American Liberation
theology, see Tamez: 19-36.
5 This was stated by German New Testament scholar Luise Schottroff as early as 1988 in a polemical response
to a declaration issued by the Bishops of the Church of North-Elbia that criticized feminist theology as an
expression of sinful human self-reliance that contradicts Paul’s doctrine on sin and grace. She quotes an
interpretation of Pauline justification in a standard German commentary series that subsumes “Jews, idealists,
and Marxists” among those who ignore Paul’s insight into the universal presence of sin by trying to transform
society on their own, thus falling prey to a sinful practice themselves (see Schaumberger and Schottroff: 25-29).
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material world of Christianity” (Ehrensperger: 56; see also Kahl 2010: 15-21).6 It furthermore
reflects the separation of religion and politics as a fundamental paradigm of contemporary
Western societies, including the United States, a paradigm that was entirely alien to the
ancient world where Jesus and Paul moved (Horsley 2003: 6-9).
Counter-Readings: Between “New Perspective” and Empire Criticism
Over the past four or five decades, significant interpretational shifts have re-opened the
debate about Paul and justification theology. Three of them are of particular importance for
First, in the wake of the “New Perspective,” the alleged “works-righteousness” of
Judaism was revealed as a Christian and most notably Protestant projection. Similarly, Paul’s
“anti-Judaism” was reframed as his passionate stance in an inner-Jewish debate about the
proper interpretation of Torah for the community of Jews and Gentiles newly established
through the redemptive action of the Messiah/Christ. Paul at Damascus did not convert
from Judaism to Christianity (a term that he never uses); rather, he remained a Jew – though
a disputed, marginal, radical Jew – all his life. The separation between Judaism and
Christianity is a much later and gradual development. This approach that dates back to the
1970s and was spearheaded by Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, and James Dunn; N. T.
Wright (2005) represents a somewhat belated response to the entanglement of Christian
theology with anti-Semitism and the German Holocaust. It profoundly challenged the anti-
Judaistic pattern embedded in the established interpretation of Paul, most notably into his
justification theology (see further, Zetterholm: 95-163).
Second, the community and practical aspect of Paul’s theology became focal with two
landmark essays by Stendahl that vigorously recontextualized Galatians 2:15-21 within the
controversy about the joint meals of Jews and Gentiles at Syrian Antioch (2:11-14), making
community the focal lens for reading Galatians (and Romans) as a whole.7 Justification by
faith was no longer the antithesis of social practice and “works” in general but the
theological codification of a concrete social practice that reconciled two formerly hostile and
segregated groups: Jews and Gentiles. Furthermore, its main thrust was not antithetical but
aiming towards solidarity, commonality, and the transgression of hitherto existing
boundaries.8 This scripturally well-founded statement by a leading New Testament scholar
6 Ehrensperger mentions especially “women and Jews, who as such were associated with this concrete,
material, and ‘fallen world’” (56). One could easily add the poor and the plight of exponentially growing
economic inequality to this traditional list of theologically “less relevant” issues.
7 “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” dates back to an article by Stendahl
published in 1960; it was complemented by a second essay on “Paul among Jews and Gentiles” that was based
on a Lecture Series in 1963/64 and then became the title of Stendahl’s book that appeared in 1976.
8 Stendahl claims that “the doctrine of justification by faith was hammered out by Paul for the very specific and
limited purpose of defending the rights of Gentile converts to be full and genuine heirs to the promise of God
to Israel” (2). He laments that “this primary focus on Jews and Gentiles was lost in the history of
interpretation,” leading to a highly problematic spiritualization and de-contextualization of Paul’s theology.
“Justification no longer ‘justified’ the status of Gentile Christians as honorary Jews, but became the timeless
answer to the plights and pains of the introspective conscience of the West. Paul was no longer seen ‘among
Jews and Gentiles,’ but rather as a guide for those perplexed and troubled by the human predicament” (5).
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from Harvard Divinity School and bishop of the Swedish Lutheran Church in Stockholm
represents a substantial challenge to the Protestant paradigm. Paul’s justification theology
was not about “Jews versus Christians,” but “Jews together with Gentiles” – it no longer
divided two mutually exclusive identities but brought them together “in Christ.” With
remarkable clarity and anticipatory force, Stendahl opened new pathways for current efforts
to re-conceptualize Pauline theology and Christian ethics; erasing hierarchical division and
distinctions between self and other along the split-lines of ethnicity, religion, class, and gender
(Galatians 3:28) was recovered as a core concern of the apostle.
Based on “scripture alone,” Stendahl’s argument is hard to refute. The passage on
justification by faith in Galatians 2:15-21 is, indeed, inseparably tied to the conflict about the
break-up of the Antiochene table community between Jews and Gentiles in 2:11-14. That
means “works of the law” for Paul cannot be wrong just because they make people falsely
trust in their ability to earn their own righteousness before God; what weighs equally is that
such law-works in the Pauline sense are necessarily social acts of rejection and arrogance
towards the neighbor. This became evident when the Jews of Antioch withdrew from the
common table with the Gentiles and refused to eat together with them (2:12). Works of the
Law according to Paul are works of exclusion that bolster the delusional superiority and
disconnection of the “self” both with regard to God and the human “other” (cf. 4:17).9 The
vertical dimension of pride and self-centeredness in the relation to God and the horizontal
dimension of segregation towards the other belong together. “Boasting” therefore is the
antithesis of faith justification and a core feature of “works-righteousness” (Romans 3:27); as
such it is embedded into a profoundly competitive relationship towards the other, as Robert
Jewett has shown in his landmark commentary on Romans.10 This leads to a fundamental
shift in the perception of justification theology that opens it up to economic and social
justice, especially as competition is one of the basic features of the current market economy
that turns more and more people into losers of the economic “game,” perceived as
undeserving and persons without value. “God’s righteousness is manifested in Christ in such
a way that it shatters ordinary definitions of righteousness as conformity to a particular
culture’s norms. In Christ divine righteousness acts to counter the arrogance of dominant
groups and the shame of subordinates. God’s righteousness expresses the [Old Testament]
expectation of salvation of the ‘poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan’” (Jewett: 275).
Third, and most significant, a new contextual dimension of Paul’s overall missionary
project emerged: the Roman Empire.11 Galatia was a Roman province and its inhabitants,
Jews, ethnic Galatians, and other ethnicities, were firmly shaped by the reality of colonial
domination and exploitation on many levels. What if the “law of exclusion” and its “works”
9 The exclusionary aspect of law as a chief reason for Paul’s law critique is strongly emphasized by Tamez and
reflected in the original subtitle of her book in Spanish (1991): La Justificación por la Fe desde los Excluidos
(Justification by Faith from the Perspective of the Excluded).
10 Jewett explains “boasting” in Romans 3:27 as “the normal means of maintaining one’s honor in the face of
competition” in a cultural setting where this was the general practice modeled in particular by the Roman
system of perpetual self-glorification (295).
11 As an introduction to the empire-critical work on Paul and Roman law that was pioneered by Dieter Georgi
and Jacob Taubes, see Horsley 1997, 2000, 2004; Jewett; Elliott; Taubes; Crossan and Reed.
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that Paul criticizes is primarily Roman law rather than Jewish Torah? What if he contests,
from a Torah-based and messianic Christ-perspective, the way in which the Roman order
segregates and separates people in order to secure Roman domination (the famous divide and
impera – “divide and rule”)? What if the circumcision conflict in Jerusalem, Antioch, and
Galatia that shapes Paul’s most famous letter is not a conflict about Jewish law per se but
about the deceptive mechanisms of co-opting Torah in the service of Roman nomos and
making the conquered participate in the structures that perpetuate their defeat – in this case
the continuing separation and mutual contempt between “Jews” and “Gentiles”?
Rome built its rule over the nations (including the Jews) precisely on the hierarchical
and antithetical law of competition, combat, and contempt that Paul sees erased “in Christ”
and that resurfaced at Antioch when the Jews separated themselves from the common table
with the Gentiles – maybe because their new table order and commonality was an anomaly
within the social parameters of a Roman city, the capital of the province of Syria? What if
the debates and conflicts between Paul and his opponents, rather than simply pitting “Jews”
against “Christians,” refer much more to the complex inner-Jewish negotiations of how far
one could accommodate and assimilate Torah to the requirements of Roman Law – or how
far one had to resist “in Christ” the social models and idolatrous modes prescribed by the
law of the imperial colonizers.12 Roman law sanctioned the worldwide order of conquest,
colonization, and exploitation as justified by divine consent. In this order the victory over
defeated nations like Jews or Galatians demonstrates the support of the gods for Rome, an
alliance embodied, ritualized, and tangible in the emperor who was universally worshiped as
supreme god and “son of God.”13 Undoubtedly, the “New Perspective,” combined with
empire-critical and post-colonial approaches pushing beyond it, amounts to an entire
reformulation of Paul’s overall theological construct and persona.
The Dying Galatian: An Icon of Roman Law and Colonial Economy
An image illustrates the implications of this complex paradigm shift and facilitates the
process of critically re-imagining Paul’s Galatian circumcision conflict from the social,
cultural, and economic perspective of the “vanquished.” The sculpture of the Dying Galatian
(or Dying Trumpeter) shows a defeated and mortally-wounded warrior sunk on his shield. A
torque around his neck, his nakedness and wild hair are all visual markers of his
Celtic/Galatian/Gallic identity, which both Greeks and Romans saw as prototypically
barbarian and aggressively hostile to the gods, laws, and assets of civilization. The blood
trickling from a wound underneath his right chest together with the sword and a broken war
trumpet that fell from his hands signal that his battle is positively over and for good, inviting
the spectator to proudly identify with the invisible victor who struck the deadly blow against
an enemy of law and order. The image, preserved in a Roman marble copy from the late first
12 On the “mixed” communities of circumcised and uncircumcised Christ-followers as “anomalies” within the
civic and imperial order, leading to the circumcision demand of Paul’s opponents as an “evasive action” to
establish at least minimal conformity, see Winter: 141-42; Nanos: 257-71; and Kahl 2011: 219-22.
13 For a critical re-reading of Galatians within its Roman imperial context as a letter to conquered and co-opted
(ex-)barbarians, see Kahl 2010 and 2011; for the conflict between Paul’s monotheism and imperial religion, see
Kahl 2010: 138-48; for the presence of emperor cult in Galatia and its role in general, see Hardin and Peppard.
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century CE, was created in Pergamon (Asia Minor) around 240 BCE after a victory over
“marauding” Galatian tribes of Anatolia who, according to established ancient
historiography, were terrorizing the region; they had entered Asia Minor in 279/78 BCE after
century-long migration movements that started somewhere in Western Europe. These
Galatians, and with them our Dying Trumpeter, are the direct ancestors of Paul’s Galatians.14
Dying Galatian, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont.
The sculpture, together with its twin-image of the Suicidal Galatian (a chieftain killing his
wife and himself), subsequently became the prototype for a whole iconographic paradigm of
anti-barbarian warfare and victory, and an icon as much of the Roman Empire as of Western
civilization. As a coveted trophy it was cherished for its inherent power of attributing
righteousness to victorious kings, conquerors, usurpers, and dictators of all kinds who from
ancient times well into modernity loved to portray themselves as the saviors of nation and
civilization against dark forces of chaos and destruction.15 With its intimate link to Paul’s
Galatian letter, this sculpture of the defeated Galatian warrior, seen through the eyes of the
victorious, is literally a “body of evidence” that there is still another law “at work” in Galatia
than just Jewish Torah, namely Roman law. This nomos is the most powerful law of victory
and subjugation that continuously needs, constructs, and stages to the public view an
inferior, unrighteous “other” in order to celebrate and justify its own (unjust) works of
14 It is indicative of the prevailing disembodiment of New Testament Studies that this intimate relationship
between the Dying Galatian and the Galatians behind Paul’s letter has been rarely noticed nor theologically
explored. For an introduction to the iconography of the Dying Galatian within the history of Greco-Roman antibarbarian
warfare, see Smith: 99-104 and Kahl 2010: 31-82; for the general history of the Galatians in Asia
Minor, see Mitchell.
15 This includes Napoleon who carried the sculpture to Paris in 1798. The sculpture was copied innumerable
times at European courts and elsewhere (see Haskell and Penny: 224-27, 282-84; Kahl 2010: 78).
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triumphant self-hood, including imperial conquest and colonization. The Dying Galatian
presents the normative imagery of Galatian bodies and Galatian history, meant to shape the
(self)image of those who inhabit the Roman province of Galatia, including Paul’s addressees
in the “churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:3); it shows the defeated their collective origin,
their place and their duty, discouraging rebellion and promoting subservience (see further
Kahl 2011: 213-22; Niang).
The status of Paul’s Galatia as a Roman province, notoriously downplayed in
theological commentaries as a mere historical footnote, is much more than that, no matter
whether Paul’s congregations are located to the south or north of this province – a question
that received disproportionate attention instead. At the time of the letter in the early or mid-
50s, this province had been in existence for about 75 years; it was established by Emperor
Augustus in 25 BCE, only two years after the Roman Empire came into being. The
foundation of the Galatian province sealed a process of gradual cooptation by Rome that
began with a devastating massacre of 40,000 tribal Galatians in central Asia Minor in 189
BCE, but subsequently reached out specifically to Galatian elites who eventually took on the
role of Rome’s successful client rulers across Asia Minor, policing and “adjusting” their own
and other peoples according to the laws and requirements of Roman supremacy (Kahl 2010:
In light of this, the Dying Galatian, with the blood trickling from his mortal wound, is a
victory monument that displays the “body politics” of colonialism; it targets the Galatians
collectively as losers and part of an inferior species of humanity, whose lives are no longer
theirs but at the mercy and disposal of their conquerors and overlords. Their bodies are
there to be used and abused, exploitable and expendable, drained of their lifeblood and lifeforce,
which are then channeled into the economic circulation system of the empire. Within
the Roman order, they are the defeated and, as such, the slaves of the victorious by law and
divine will. As conquered enemies their dying on the battlefield manifests the immovable
decree of the gods. They can be sent to die in the Roman arenas, or to be sold on the slave
markets with their women and children for work in the mines, fields, or houses of rich
Romans to accumulate wealth for their owners. All of this is completely lawful and justified
by divine consent and decree. If they continue to work the fields in their native regions, they
have to pay heavy tributes to Rome and cooperate with the indigenous power apparatus,
including the provision of soldiers for the Roman army. They and their land with all its
wealth and natural resources now belong to Rome.
Justification and Justice
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ
was publicly exhibited as crucified! (Galatians 3:1).
It is only before this background that the full implications of Paul’s justification
theology as the “good news” of a radically emancipatory counter-identity for the vanquished
nations of the Roman world can be seen. He puts before the Galatians’ eyes an other image,
the image of “Christ crucified” (3:1). It is the image of a Jew whose dying as a “visual event”
has much in common with the Dying Galatian, including its public character: both were, or
were destined to be, Roman subjects that have resisted the Roman order. Therefore, they
needed to be punished with the full force of Roman law, in full view of a large audience and
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as a lesson to be taught to other provincial subjects with rebellious inclinations.16 However,
the image, as it enters Paul’s messianic vision, undergoes a dramatic transformation. The
crucified is the resurrected Messiah, i.e., the death of the transgressor and enemy of the
Roman order is reverted into life. God appears no longer in solidarity with the winners but
as an ally of the doomed who are at the bottom of the Roman stratification system. Within
the logic of the images, this reversal de-legitimizes the law that justifies economic
exploitation and colonization of “losers” and “no-bodies” (cf. Corinthians 1:26-31), like the
Dying Galatian and his contemporary descendants of all nations, circumcised and
The resurrection of Jesus “out of the dead” is the first theological statement that Paul
makes at the beginning of Galatians (1:1), and it has game-changing implications for the
culturally, politically, and economically vanquished of the Roman Empire. It communally
restores their mutilated, abused, and commodified bodies to messianic integrity by
integrating them into the crucified and resurrected “body of Christ,” reclaiming them from
their deadly subservience to a blood-sucking and life-devouring empire. It makes them
subservient no longer to a law of death but to the law of life that, for Paul, is the law of love
(5:14) and the “law of Christ” (nomos Christou; 6:2) spelled out as “faith working (en-ergoumenē)
through love” (5:6). Law and works in general are irreconcilable with Pauline faith and grace,
but the works and law of love (as opposed to the works and law of competition/exclusion)
are the indispensable embodiment of faith.
From Paul’s perspective, Christ has inaugurated a completely different order of justice
and justification than the one embodied in the sculpture of the Dying Galatian; it is closely
related to the liberating logic of Exodus, but has opened it up for the “others.” Both Jews
and non-Jews, all of them vanquished nations (ethnē) under Roman rule, can be justified and
set free (or redeemed) from their enslavement. This redemption happens apart from the
imperial law of conquest and competition, of segregation and self-righteousness through a
new practice of messianic solidarity: the one/self has to carry the burden of the other and
“thus fulfill(s) the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Faith (as opposed to works of the law) is
both the belief and the faithful practice of self and other becoming one and alive in the
broken body of the crucified and resurrected Christ (3:28) – including the broke(n) bodies of
This is a radical counter-imagination that draws on the biblical traditions of Genesis,
Exodus, and the prophets. It is not a slave rebellion that Paul promotes, nor armed
resistance against Rome that would flare up one decade later in the Jewish War of 66-70 CE,
leading to the most disastrous destruction of Jerusalem and Judaism in Palestine.
Nonetheless, Paul is on a mission that fundamentally contests and subverts empire from
within. His collection for the “poor” in Jerusalem is the most prominent example of an
16 The antithetical correspondence between the two images of “Christ Crucified” and the Dying Galatian has
been first observed by Balch. For the importance of public visibility of crucifixions and Roman capital
punishment, see Hengel: 50.
17 For a comprehensive treatment of Paul’s justification theology as messianic transformation of the
competitive, combative and consumptive self-other binary underlying the dominant law, see Kahl 2010: 245-89.
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alternative economic practice that he plants among his communities, modeling new attitudes
and new ways of challenging the socio-economic consensus of Roman society.18 His
advocacy for serving one another as “slaves” (Galatians 5:13) – rather than aiming at
subjugating the other to one-self as a master (arguably the supreme aim of the Roman slaveholding
society) – transforms the bodies and minds of Roman subjects into a new
subjectivity open to radically challenge the rules and laws of Rome by an alternative order of
solidarity and mutuality. Paul calls this order “new creation” (6:15). Justification and justice
are no longer divided by walls of separation that Paul constantly tries to erase as they creep
up again and again (2:18). The integrity of the messianic event and his whole theology are at
Paul’s criticism of law does not refer to Jewish law or any other religious or secular
practice per se, but to the imperial law of combat, competition, and murderous consumption
or exploitation that can “hijack” any religion (including Christianity), and any human
practice. This law constantly reproduces and naturalizes the split of humanity into deserving
and undeserving, good and bad, righteous and sinners, legal and illegal, winners and losers.
The law dissects humanity into bodies that are justified to consume and bodies that are
justifiably consumed. The Dying Galatian is the quintessential icon of this split and the law
behind it, as much as the crucified Christ is its irrevocable subversion. “Faith” thus means
the renunciation of the “works of the law” that require the presentation and continuous
production of unrighteous others in order to demonstrate one’s own righteousness; faith
overcomes this vicious circle of self-justification and other-incrimination by accepting and
confessing one’s own complicity with the all-pervasive system of “sin” – egotism, selfglorification,
and self-separation that are inseparably tied to the law (Kahl 2011: 206-207).
The “law of death,” as it was paradigmatically embodied in the Dying Galatian two
millennia ago, today makes us “see” a societal order as justifiable (or even divinely
sanctioned) where more and more people unjustly lose their houses, jobs, livelihoods, or
lives; their healthcare or their access to proper education, to clean air, water, and unpolluted
soil; their entitlement to the privilege of being “legal” and getting their share of the lifesustaining
resources of the earth. This is where Paul at Damascus starts to “see” the world
differently and where his justification theology becomes an intervention into the “order of
things.” A statement by Dieter Georgi is a fitting conclusion:
It has been a fatal side of much of Protestant exegesis that the rational as well
as the utopian elements of Paul’s understanding of justification have been
weakened and even covered up. As Paul transforms his understanding of
justification into a praxis and theory of the collection, the climate of a
pragmatic utopia becomes apparent. In the terminology of established
Reformation theology, Paul’s reflections on the collection and on money, if
18 For a stimulating exploration of the Pauline collection as an elaborate intervention into the established rules
for the flow of money in the ancient world, see Georgi 2005 and Welborn; for a more comprehensive
treatment, see Georgi 1992. For the economic context of Paul’s congregations and the implications of poverty
for Paul’s theology, see Meggitt; Longenecker; Longenecker and Liebengood 2009.
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brought out in their full historical meaning, qualify for the verdict of
“enthusiasm” as it was leveled against revolting peasants, Anabaptists, and
spiritualists. . .
Paul argues emphatically for a God engaged in the human demise and
impoverishment; Paul fights against a distant and unengaged deity. The
deficiency of the pagan deities in his eyes would not be that they were too
human but that they were too little involved in the human dilemma.
Justification is not important merely between God and the individual but
comes about and manifests itself in the interrelatedness of God, the world,
and all humanity (2005: 302).
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