J. Louis Martyn: A Tribute

indexNews has come through, via Facebook and Twitter, of the death of Lou Martyn. I never met Martyn, even though I attended the 2012 Princeton Conference on Romans 5–8 for which he was something of a ‘patron saint’ (John Barclay’s phrase from memory).

Martyn had the rare distinction (shared above all with Bultmann) of setting a scholarly agenda both in Johannine and Pauline studies. Many are of the opinion that his own particular solutions to the historical and theological issues raised by the Fourth Gospel and Paul’s letters are crucially misguided (again, Bultmann comes to mind as the nearest equivalent). My own view is more sanguine about his legacy but this is partly due to the fact that reading History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel as an undergraduate and Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul as a postgraduate were both transformative experiences. In both cases Martyn’s scholarship changed the way I read the relevant texts in relation to their purported historical context and, most importantly of all, theological Sache.

Perhaps the lesson I have learned above all from Martyn is that historical, exegetical, critical engagement with the New Testament texts can be generative of theological exegesis of the most profound kind. That is not the only way that biblical scholarship can or ought to be done, but it is the way I try and want to exercise my vocation as a biblical scholar.

So as a tribute, here is a quotation from the essay that opened up, for me a least, a new perspective (pun intended), on Paul’s theology.

Paul writes [Galatians]…confident that by hearing it the Galatians would once again be seized by that apocalypse, will once again be known by God (4. 9). So known, they will once again know what time it is, thereby coming once again to live in the real world. For, knowing what time it is, they will perceive that they are in fact former Gentiles who, in Christ, are united with former Jews. They will know that although they are united in Christ, the advent of the Spirit has caused the world in which they are living to be the scene of antinomous warfare on a cosmic scale. They will learn once again where the front line of that cosmic warfare actually lies. And they will be summoned back to their place on that battle front, perceiving experientially the pairs of opposites, the apocalyptic antimonies that are its hallmark…In the first instance such soldiers do not need exhortation about choosing the better of two ways. They need once again to be seized by the apocalypse of Jesus Christ, that invasive disclosure of the antinomous structure of the New Creation. Paul writes a letter, therefore, that is designed to function as a witness to the dawn of a New Creation, and, specifically, as a witness of the apocalyptic antinomies by which the battles of that New Creation are both perceived and won.

J. Louis Martyn, ‘Apocalyptic Antinomies in Galatians’, NTS 31 (1985), 421.

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