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Paul and the Introspective Conscience of Martin Luther: The Impact of Luther's Anfechtungen on His Interpretation of Paul

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All his life Martin Luther experienced what he calls his Anfechtungen, his struggles with spiritual despair and guilt. As is well known, these struggles yielded his "Reformation Discovery" that the righteousness of God in Rom. 1:17 is not the punitive righteousness by which a wrathful God punishes sinners, but the gift of his own righteousness through faith in Christ to all who believe. In recent decades, following the influential lead given by the work of Krister Stendahl, Pauline scholars have often assumed that Luther is guilty of simple anachronism, projecting back onto Paul his own guilty conscience. This article subjects that assumption to careful scrutiny, tracing Luther's reading of Philippians 3 across various texts. Although Luther does not discuss Paul's conscience as an issue in its own right, he in fact repeatedly assumes that Paul's pre-conversion conscience was robust. The article moves on to consider how this finding coheres with Luther's overall reading of Paul, the manner in which he thinks about Paul's post-conversion Christian conscience, and the parallels that Luther does draw between his own biography and that of Paul. These parallels are significant, but do not include a guilty conscience. Luther does not project his own introspective struggles back onto Paul. The paper concludes with an exploration of the origins of the idea that Paul had an introspective conscience and a consideration of the implications of its findings for current "new perspective" debates.


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