Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bullinger and the Pauline Epistles

Peter Opitz, the director of the Institute for Swiss Reformation History in Zurich, has a comprehensive article on “Bullinger and Paul” in R. Ward Holder (ed.) A Companion to Paul in the Reformation (Brill, 2009), pp243-265.

Opitz show his understanding of Bullinger and the events surrounding the writing of commentaries on particular epistles of Paul. It is well known that Bullinger defended Pauline authorship of Hebrews. In this regard, Opitz writes: “In spite of the counter-arguments that he knows Erasmus has made, he pleads for Paul as its author. In any case the significance and authority of this epistle do not depend on Pauline authorship, but rather on its message. He rates this message very highly: as early as 1526, Bullinger claims that there is no other book in the New Testament that more strongly places the focus on the covenant, brings Christ before our eyes and argues on the basis of the Old Testament writings (HBTS I, p135).”

The following quote illustrates Opitz’s understanding of Bullinger and his contemporaries:

“Bullinger judges the difficult message of Hebrews 6:4, which discusses the impossibility of a second repentance after a fundamental apostasy, as rhetorical exaggeration in the service of paranesis, and points out at the same time that only such an interpretation of the passage, rather than a literal one, does justice to the atonement theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (In epistolas, p679). The contemporary background is the controversy with some ‘Anabaptists’.

Bullinger consciously places himself in the Zwinglian Christological tradition with his high opinion and defence of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Thus is is no coincidence that Bullinger published his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews first, and dedicated it to Landgrave Philipp of Hessen. The foreword bears the date 17 August, 1532. Without a doubt, Bullinger had the intention of exegetically underlining the agreement between the Zwinglian and Pauline Christology. At the same time he wished to ensure Philipp’s lasting goodwill, in the particularly difficult times that the ‘reformed’ wing of Protestantism was experiencing after the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 and Zwingli’s death.”

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