Emotions and Passions in the New Testament

Methodological Issues

in Biblical Interpretation
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Numerous texts from the New Testament deal with passions in a wide variety of genres. Historical-critical methods have been applied but cannot be regarded as complete. Especially for texts dealing with passions, no consensus of methodology has yet been established. The situation is further complicated by the existence of differing or ambiguous definitions and many unclear categories. This article highlights some important aspects we ought to consider when describing and analyzing passions in their given literary contexts with precision. They belong to abstract concepts; they appear in explicit terms, but also in paraphrases – that is, in a descriptive manner represented by facial expressions and gestures, for example. They are expressed by descriptions of diverse physical symptoms and by metaphors. This variety results in semantic problems. Many additional factors have to be taken into account. The duration, quality, and intensity of passions described ought to be considered. Emotions are embedded in psychological processes, and they might be connected to pragmatic intentions. The different genres and concepts of texts in which they occur should not be neglected either. Most of the emotional phenomena are culturally acquired forms of expression and communication. Therefore, it is always necessary to be aware of the danger of anachronism, and to consider the historical and cultural background along with its respective display rules: namely, the socially accepted patterns and rituals in which these passions could be encountered. In the last section of this article, a functional psychological approach of exegesis with concrete examples is offered to assist with finding suitable methods.

Emotions and Passions in the New Testament

Methodological Issues

in Biblical Interpretation



 S.R. Leighton“Aristotle and the Emotions,” Phronesis 27.2 (1982) pp. 144-74; L.A. Kosman “Being Properly Affected: Virtues and Feelings in Aristotle’s Ethics” in A. Oksenberg Rorty (ed.) Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics (Berkeley: University of California Press 1980) pp. 103-116; A. Oksenberg Rorty (ed.) Essays on Aristotle’s Rhetoric (Philosophical Traditions 6; Berkeley: University of California Press 1996).


 A. ZierlAffekte in der Tragödie. Orestie Oidipus Tyrannos und die Poetik des Aristoteles (Berlin: Akademie Verlag1994).


 Already back in 1981P.R. Kleinginna and A.M. Kleinginna collected and analyzed more than 90 different definitions of emotions in English alone. See P.R. Kleinginna Jr. and A.M. Kleinginna “A Categorized List of Emotion Definitions with Suggestions for a Consensual Definition” Motivation and Emotion 5.4 (1981) pp. 345-79. Depending on the approach emotions can be described as affective and cognitive psycho-physiological and motivational situational and syndromic expressive and adaptive phenomena. P.T. Young (Emotion in Man and Animal: Its Nature and Relation to Attitude and Motive [Huntington/New York: Krieger 1973] p. 749) argues that “almost everyone except the psychologist knows what an emotion is… . The trouble with the psychologist is that emotional processes and states are complex and can be analyzed from so many points of view that a complete picture is virtually impossible. It is necessary therefore to examine emotional events piecemeal and in different systematic contexts.” See also M. Wenger F. Jones M. Jones “Emotional Behavior” in D.K. Candland (ed.) Emotion: Bodily Change an Enduring Problem in Psychology (Princeton: Van Nostrand 1962) p. 3: “Emotion is a peculiar word. Almost everyone thinks he (sic) understands what it means until he (sic) attempts to define it.”


 Schwarz-FrieselSprache und Emotion p. 138; D.A. Cruse et al. (eds.) Lexikologie/Lexicology: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft; Berlin: de Gruyter 2002)vol. 1 pp. 78-128 200-227. Only in the last two decades linguists have started dealing intensively with the question of how linguistic representations can be used to refer to human inner experiences. See Schwarz-Friesel Sprache und Emotion p. 12 for more bibliographic references.


 F. de SaussureCourse in General Linguistics (trans. W. Baskin; Glasgow: Fontana/Collins1977) pp. 92-93 (§133) 146-47 (§203).


 Z. KövecsesEmotion Concepts (New York: Springer1990) pp. 11-20; 41-49.


 N. GeldenkuysCommentary on the Gospel of Luke (NIC 3; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans1956) pp. 81-82.


 GeldenkuysCommentary p. 82; B. Weiss (Handbuch über die Evangelien des Markus und Lukas [KEK I.2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck/Ruprecht 6th edn 1878] p. 267) writes “Gemeint ist eine Bewegung des Kindes im Mutterleibe wie sie im 6. Monat der Schwangerschaft durchaus nichts Ungewöhnliches ist nur der Erzähler legt ihr von vornherein eine Bedeutung unter.” See also H. Klein Das Lukasevangelium übersetzt und er­klärt (KEK über das NT I.3; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck/Ruprecht 10th edn 2006) p. 111; and D.L. Bock Luke I 1:1-9:50 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament III.1; Grand Rapids: Baker 1999) pp. 132-41. According to Bock “Many speculate that ­Elizabeth’s excitement caused fetal movement. But such attempts at physiological explanation miss the point of the narrative” (p. 135).


 J.A. FitzmyerThe Gospel According to Luke I-IX (AB 28; New York: Doubleday1970) pp. 357-58. See in contrast M. Wolter Das Lukasevangelium (HNT 5; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck 2008) p. 97.


 J.B. GreenThe Gospel of Luke (NIC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans1997) p. 95.


 Schwarz-FrieselSprache und Emotion pp. 69-72; 84.


 J.A. Russell“Culture and the Categorization of Emotions,” Psychological Bulletin 110.3 (1991) pp. 426-50.


 K. BergerHistorische Psychologie des Neuen Testaments (SBS, 146-147; Stuttgart: Katholi­sches Bibelwerk1991) p. 17.


 R.S. LazarusEmotion and Adaptation (New York: Oxford University Press1991) pp. 203-213.


 LazarusEmotion and Adaption pp. 168-69 210; R.S. Lazarus and S. Folkman Stress Appraisal and Coping (New York: Springer 1984) pp. 24-25 32-38. See also Inselmann Freude p. 44. Following Epictet Encheiridion c5a 11.12 (ed. G.J. Boter; Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum Teubneriana; Berlin: de Gruyter 2007) p. 6: “Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take on them.”


 Lazarus and FolkmanStress pp. 44; 150-157; R.S. Lazarus Stress and Emotion: A New Synthesis (Springer: New York 1999) pp. 114-115.


 InselmannFreude pp. 166-69; 181-91.


 InselmannFreude pp. 260-69; 390-93.


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