Ruben Zimmermann

Enhancing Life by Waiving Rights An Ethics of Surrendering in the New Testament and its Meta-Ethical Implications

Professor of New Testament Studies
Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, New Testament
Mainz-Kostheim, Germany

Capstone Conference Talk

Saturday (8/5) 3:10-3:30PM

Less Is More! How a Bible-based Ethics of Relinquishing Can Inspire Modern Medicine

Ethics have often focused upon the manner in which one can create opportunities for disadvantaged individuals and groups. In my project, I consider a different approach. Enhancing life in the world of the future can also occur when people voluntarily relinquish their claim to certain rights and possibilities to which they are entitled. Quality of life is enhanced not only through an expansion, but also through the giving up. On the basis of a phenomenon in Early Christianity, I will describe a theory of an ethic of relinquishing which can inspire current ethical debate. Specifically, I will demonstrate how such an ethics could work in the contemporary world based on the example of medical treatment at the end of life.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Sharing to Enhance Life

The aim of this laboratory is to explore what scholars can offer – from philosophical, theological, historical, and social science perspectives – that might provide ideas about a) what sharing means, b) what is shared, c) how sharing occurs, d) what inspires and promotes sharing (e.g. religion, culture, institutions, economic forces), and e) barriers and limits to sharing (e.g. cultural, infrastructure, habits, systems, individual concerns about trust and equity). We construe sharing in the broadest possible sense, to include the material (e.g.w commodities/products, water, land) and immaterial (e.g. energy, time, culture, community). In this way, we hope to isolate the ways in which acts of sharing enhance personal and social life. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Ruben Zimmermann wrote his doctoral thesis on “Gender Metaphors and Sexual Ethics” in the Department of Protestant Theology at the Ruprecht-Karls-University at Heidelberg (1999). After his Habilitation on “Christology in the Gospel of John” at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich (2003) he held a Chair for Biblical Studies and Didactics at the University of Bielefeld (2005-2009). Since 2009 he has been professor for New Testament Studies at the Johannes-Gutenberg-University of Mainz. He has been a guest scholar in residence at various institutions, including the University of Pretoria/South Africa (2008), Radboud University of Nijmegen (2010), University of Vienna (2015), and Catholic Australian University (2016). He has published and edited more than twenty books and over a hundred articles in peer reviewed journals all over the world. He has also received several awards and various grants from, for instance, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Foundation. 

His primary areas of research include the four Gospels, in particular parables and miracle stories, the Synoptic Problem, as well as hermeneutical and methodological issues related to the study of the Bible within an interdisciplinary context. One of his primary areas of interest is ethics in Early Christianity, both philosophical and practical ethics (bio-Ethics). He is the founder and co-leader of the Mainz Research Center for Ethics in Antiquity and Christianity. One of the meta-ethical topics he is dealing with is how moral significance is generated through “non-rational” forms, such as in “narrative ethics” or “metaphorical ethics.”  Zimmermann, who is also an ordained pastor of the German Lutheran-United Church, is asking how biblical texts and ethics can inspire contemporary ethical discourse.

Project Executive Summary

The proposed project seeks to present a counterpoint to an ethics centered on entitlement and rights and sets forth the following thesis: Enhancing life in the world of the future will only be possible if people surrender their claim to certain legitimate rights to which they are entitled. Quality of life is enhanced not only through an expansion of rights but also through the giving up of rights. Such waiving of rights, however, is not merely a curtailment as it leads to a gain of a different sort. The empowerment for surrender is promoted and fostered through a spiritual life and community.

The starting and focal point of the study is early Christian ethics with reference to two primary sources: Paul and John. Whereas in Paul’s epistles, in particular 1 Corinthians, the act of surrendering one’s claim to certain rights is rooted in a concrete situation, the Gospel of John presents a philosophical conception in which the story of Jesus is presented as a model for an “ethics of life.” Though both texts differ in genre and context, they reveal the common rule that abundant life and the present life in society paradoxically results out of the surrendering of rights and claims.

By using the analytic organon, a methodology established in the Mainz Center for Christian Ethics, the “implicit Ethics” in Early Christian texts can be described on an abstract level and then transferred to contemporary ethics. As a result, source-based work can subsequently, and with hermeneutical reflection, provide input and insight into present challenges in ethical discourse.