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Schweitzer’s Significance

It is impossible to study the history of New Testament scholarship for long without encountering the work of Albert Schweitzer and being confronted with his importance for the discipline, especially with regard to Pauline studies. And sometimes you come across such remarkable praise of a person’s work that it is striking and makes the point more clearly than you’ve heard it made before. Reading Robert Jewett’s Paul’s Anthropological Terms last night, I came across just such praise and thought I would share it here. Jewett says,

Schweitzer’s extraordinary thesis throws light on almost every aspect of Paul’s theology. It accepts and makes sense out of the Pauline understanding of the body in a way which no earlier interpretation could match. That it has been so little accepted and emulated is due in part to the utter strangeness of the conceptions which he sets forth; modern man does not appear to possess the philosophical assumptions to grasp such ideas of somatic unity. And this is what stamps Schweitzer’s interpretation as a contribution of the highest order, because it grasped and interpreted thoughts so completely alien to those held by the exegete himself. But it is not the mere strangeness of the ideas which convinces one that Schweitzer has made a vitally important discovery; rather it is the fact that he can follow the clear sense of Paul’s argument in crucial passages…” (Leiden: Brill, 1971, p. 215, italics mine).

Jewett does take exception to some aspects of Schweitzer’s interpretation of Paul, but he goes on to say, “Under no circumstances however are the insights of his exegesis of the σῶμα (body) concept to be cast aside simply because of these difficulties. His work on this problem remains a beacon of light of historical exegesis” (p. 216).

So, Schweitzer’s treatment of the text was supremely brilliant. However, the presuppositional narrow mindedness of the guild caused his work to be under-appreciated. High praise, indeed, along with some thinly veiled criticism.

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