Barth on Revelation, Christology, and the Historical Jesus


Today I was playing catch-up on Church Dogmatics as this weekend was dominated by reading for school. Anyway, I’m excited about the beginning second part of Volume I of Church Dogmatics as it focuses on the incarnation. However, I’m not looking forward to the final 400 pages that focuses on ecclesiology. Church talk always bores me so much. I understand he was a pastoral theologian. Oh well, I’ll trudge my way through it. Here are some gems I found in today’s reading

“If we would or could merely be aware without wanting to understand, merely let ourselves be told without also telling ourselves be told without also telling ourselves what had been told, merely have faith without knowledge, it certainly would not be God’s revelation with which we had to do. If it were, such a refusal on our part would only reveal our disobedience, our unwillingness to be involved in it. Obedience to revelation must invariably mean to let oneself be involved” (CD I/2, 26).

What a beautiful quote. It flies right in the face of all those who think faith is merely a personal relationship. Not only is that insufficient, Barth goes so far as to say it’s disobedience not think through one’s faith.

“Thus we can say as little speak of an antithesis within the New Testament as of a synthesis. It may be the case that the Synoptic Gospels arose out of a certain opposition to Paul, and that the Fourth Gospel arose out of opposition to the Synoptics…That Paul and John could be reproached with Docetism and the Synoptics with Ebionitism is indeed testimony to the mutual interrelation of the two these” (CD I/2, 24).

This got me thinking about how the NT canon is ordered. I wonder what it’d be like to read through the NT chronologically. So often we read it as if it was already structured in this manner, forgetting that Paul was writing some 40-50 years before John’s gospel.

“This must be said particularly of the gigantic attempt (still as gigantic as ever) of the “Life of Jesus research,” i.e., the attempt, made in every style from mildest conservatism to the most imaginative or else most unimaginative, “hypercriticism,” to uncover out of the New Testament, by means of a series of combinations, restorations and also and particularly deletions, the figure of the mere man Jesus, the so-called “historical Jesus,”…He (Kahler) grounded his assertion historically that on the simple fact that we possess no sources for a life of Jesus which a historian could accept as reliable or adequate, because the Gospels are testimonies not sources” (CD, I/2, 64).

I found this to be an interesting move. Barth criticizes the historical Jesus research because we have scant evidence on the actual life of Jesus. He rightly recognizes that the Gospels aren’t historical documents, but rather proclamations of each church’s understanding of the gospel. I suspect that even with our burgeoning understanding of Jesus’ historical existence Barth would still refuse to engage the historical scholarship because of his theological commitments. Of course, I disagree.

“Through this likeness, then, God can become accessible to us because – in the broadest sense of the world – visible to us. A man we can see, physically or spiritually or both at once. Jesus Christ can reveal God because He is visible to us men as a man. His actual entry into this visibility signifies, let us remember, the entry of the eternal Word of God into veiling, into kenosis and passion. But this very veiling, kenosis and passion of the Logos, has to take place in order that it may lead to His unveiling and exaltation and so to the completion of revelation. God’s revelation without the veiling or in the form of an unknown being from another world would not be revelation but our death” (CD I/2, 36).

I thought this a fun quote especially the part how God’s presence would kill us if He didn’t veil Himself. I immediately though of Moses receiving the Declaogue on Sinai.

“But the succession of veiling and unveiling, incarnation and resurrection (John and Synoptists) suggest that in the veiling, in the incarnation, we do not have to do with a lessening in the divinity of the eternal Word…He who the third day rose from the dead was no less true God in the manger than on the cross” (CD I/2, 38).

This last quote speak for itself.


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