The PostBarthian

Karl Barth’s Modifications to Classical Theism

Karl-Barth_Classical-TheismGeorge Hunsinger provides an excellent summary of Karl Barth's modifications of Classical Theism in his new book, Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal, which I've provided in the quotation below. In the same chapter, Hunsinger also provides a definition of Classical Theism as Aseity, Simplicity, Immutability, Impassibility and Timelessness with references to Anselm's Monologion and Proslogion.

Barth's modifications are excellent improvements to each tenant of Classical Theism. His definition of aseity is inline with the Reformed Tradition, maintaining God's transcendence, yet this does not prevent God from also being the source of life. Simplicity for Barth also includes multiplicity, especially a trinitarian one. God's immutability  does not make God a inanimate (i.e. dead) God that is motionless. God's impassibility does not prevent God from loving or experiencing in the suffering of the cross; This is an affirmation of Jürgen Moltmann's reappropriation of Luther's phrase "Crucified God." And lastly, Barth's timelessness clarifies time in relationship to eternity.  Barth's 'recasting' of Classical Theism (as Hunsinger phrases) demonstrates that God is not a prisoner of His own perfections!

Barth found it possible (and necessary) to accept in modified form certain divine predications of classical theism.

  • Aseity. "God himself and he alone is the principle and source from which [he is] all that he is . . . eternally . . . in the act of his existence as the living God" (IV/3, 80). "This God has no need of us. This God is self-sufficient. . . . He is not under any need or constraint" (IV/1, 346).
  • Simplicity. "God is certainly simple," but not according to "the absolutized idea of simplicity" as found in classical theism (II/1, 450). "God in himself is not just simple, but in the simplicity of his essence he is threefold--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" (III/2, 218). Because his simplicity includes multiplicity in itself (II/1, 329), the living God is free to operate in multiple ways ad extra without ceasing to be perfectly indivisible in himself.
  • Immutability. God's immutability means that "he is always the same in every change" (II/1, 496). "He is what he is continually and self-consistently" (II/1, 494). Although he partakes freely in the alteration of creation, he does so as the Lord, so that his being and essence do not change along with creation, "He is what he is in eternal actuality. He never is it only potentially (not even in part)" (II/1, 494). Whatever God does ad extra, he does in accord with his antecedent being. His external works always correspond (entsprechen) to something "in his own essence" (II/1, 496). In all his external works he remains "rich in himself," never losing, altering, or contradicting himself (II/1, 495). God's immutability is "the constancy of his faithfulness to himself" as the triune God who loves in freedom (IV/1, 561). His constancy is both "ethical" and "ontological."
  • Impassibility. "[God] is absolute, infinite, exalted, active, impassible, transcendent, but in all this he is the One who loves in freedom, the One who is free in his love, and therefore not his own prisoner. He is all this as the Lord, and in such a way that he embraces the opposites of these concepts even while he is superior to them" (IV/1, 187). Barth agrees with classical theism that nothing apart from or opposed to God can cause him to suffer. He goes beyond classical theism, however, in positing that God freely and sovereignly takes human suffering into his own being through his union with humankind in the humanity of the incarnate Son. In and through the mediation of Christ, God takes suffering and death into his own being in order to triumph over them by destroying them. The impassible God becomes passible by grace. He truly suffers in Christ--in his divine being, not just in his humanity--but in so doing he remains strong to prevail. Suffering and death are destroyed in the annihilating fire of God's love. In this radicalized form Barth affirms with Cyril and Gregory of Nazianzus the suffering of the impassible God.
  • Timelessness. Although created time does not belong to God's eternal being, his being includes its own unique form of temporality. This unique time is "the [eternal] form of the divine being in its triunity." It is "a movement which does not signify the passing away of anything, a succession which in itself is also beginning and end" (II/1, 615). Without this inner eternal temporality, God as triune would not be the living God in himself (II/1, 638-39).

Hunsinger, George. Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. 131-33. Print.

Header Image Source: "Illuminated initial from Anselm's Monologion" by Hugo Pictor - Anselm of Canterbury's Monologion, manuscripted by Hugo Pictor, Jumièges scriptorium, late 11th century [1] downloaded from [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Library Walk Through

Here is a video walk through of my theological library at home:

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N.T. Wright on Unscholary Scholars and Sachkritik (Material Criticism)

sachkritikIn N.T. Wright's newly published book, Paul and His Recent Interpreters: Some Contemporary Debateshe provides a fascinating critique of Sachkritik (material criticism) and those scholars who use it. Sachkritik is the german word for material criticism (or subject criticism), which is the attempt by scholars to separate the subject (Sache) from the form of the subject is presented in the text to the readers, in an attempt to understand the true meaning of the text. Rudolf Bultmann is most famous for his use of Sachkritik in his Theology of the New Testament, and for this he receives the bulk of N.T. Wright's criticism in the first chapters of his new book. Wright disparages the Sachkritik scholars, by accusing them of presumptive arrogance, as if these scholars knew what Paul intended to communicate better than Paul himself.

(I've modified the formatting of quotation by including the footnotes in square brackets and linking directly to the books cited.)

Until we catch up with the complexities of such an enquiry—until, in other words, we allow a properly historical vision of Paul to take priority over later images—we will not advance towards a fuller understanding.

This process has been delayed by a scholarly move which is, in fact, remarkably unscholarly. So strong have been the traditions of Pauline interpretation in the western academy that many have assumed they knew, sometimes better than Paul did himself, what questions he was 'really' asking (despite what he actually said). [I add these parentheses because, of course, I once wrote a book with the hostage-to-fortune title What St Paul Really Said. In my case, the 'really' was implying a contrast, not with some of the ideas which happened to occur in Paul's letters, but with some of the interpretations given by both scholars and popular writers]. Unfortunately, the apostle did not have the benefit of a relaxed sabbatical in an accommodating twentieth-century scholar will have to do it for him. This generates a process (it seems too kind to call it a 'method') known as Sachkritik, 'material criticism', 'the interpreter's criticism of the formulation of the text in the light of what (he thinks) the subject-matter (Sache) to be'. [Morgan, The Nature of New Testament Theology, 42. The whole discussion (42-52) is important.] In other words, we know better than Paul what he 'really' wanted to say, and we now have ways of making sure he will say exactly that.

[e.g. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 198: what Paul wanted to say in 1 Cor 15 was that human existence both before and beyond death would be 'somatic' in Bultmann's sense; but Paul, whose 'capacity for abstract thinking is not a developed one', muddles this up with bodily resurrection. On Sachkritik see also e.g. Matlock, Unveiling the Apocalyptic Paul, 124 (noting that it seemed as though 'Paul deserved a hand up from the modern interpreter at those points where he found it beyond his power to maintain against the currents of his time his critical insights'); 126 n. 135, quoting Conzelmann, Current Problems in Pauline Research, 175 in summary of Bultmann's program to know better than Paul himself what he was 'really' saying, and like a wise sub-editor must help the author make his meaning clearer by slicing through all those awkward bits which didn't quite fit.

My other favorite example of his genre is Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, 71, striking through Rom 3:1-8 like a tutor responding to an essay from a dull pupil: 'The argument of the epistle would go much better if this whole section were omitted.' In other words, 'I am determined that Paul should talk about what I think he was talking about, whatever ideas he may have to the contrary.' Whatever else this may be, it is not responsible historical exegesis.]

Wright, N. T. Paul and His Recent Interpreters: Some Contemporary Debates.
Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015. 33. Print.

Wright gives two fascinating examples of unscholarly behavior of Sachkritik scholars. The first is Rudolf Bultmann's correction is of Paul's belief in a bodily resurrection. According to Wright, Bultmann believes Paul has muddled things up because Paul's 'capacity for abstract thinking is not a developed one' (quoting Bultmann).  Wright scolds Bultmann because (according to Wright), Bultmann understood what Paul intended to say better than Paul himself!

C.H. Dodd is also targeted but does not receive as many pages of criticism as Bultmann. I remember reading C.H. Dodd's The Epistle of Paul to the Romans and I was taken back by the audacious statements in it, such as the one Wright cites Dodd saying in the commentary that Paul should have not included Romans 3:1-8 in the letter! (The header image is inspired by this comment by Dodd). Dodd's commentary is unlike any other commentary on Romans I've read. Dodd's arrogancy is audacious in the way he corrects the epistle to the Romans, as if he knew better than Paul himself! Wright sums up Dodd's bravado well when he says "tutor responding to an essay from a dull pupil." Wright likewise disdains C.H. Dodd for comments such as: 'The argument of the epistle would go much better if this whole section were omitted.' In other words, 'I am determined that Paul should talk about what I think he was talking about, whatever ideas he may have to the contrary.' Wright concludes regarding Dodd, "Whatever else this may be, it is not responsible historical exegesis."

A close friend of Clement Dodd's family composed this famous poem about C.H. Dodd:

"I think it extremely odd
That a little professor named Dodd
Should spell, if you please,
his name with three D's
When one is sufficient for God."

Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. Ed. Donald K. McKim.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998. 481. Print.

Lastly, N.T. Wright includes a statement of humility, because he himself, wrote a book title: What St Paul Really SaidSo in the end, N.T. Wright is like the pot calling the kettle black in his criticism of Rudolf Bultmann, C.H. Dodd and all unscholarly Sachkritik scholars! I have benefited from all three scholars, and enjoy their books, and hope this promotes awareness and discussion of the good, the bad and the ugly of Sachkritic unscholarly scholars!

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Wolfhart Pannenberg on Defeating Biblical Patriarchy

The Banishment of Hagar by Jan Mostaert, c. 1620-25, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

The Banishment of Hagar by Jan Mostaert, c. 1620-25, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

In his famous book, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, Wolfhart Pannenberg says "that the biblical tradition has legitimized a patriarchal order of the family" in not only the Old Testament, but also in New Testament: cf. 1 Cor 14:34, Col 3:18, 1 Pet 3:1, Tit 2:5, etc. Pannenberg boldly believes that the Bible itself is to blame for the pathology of patriarchy! He believes that there are two parallel developments throughout the bible: the first establishes patriarchy and the second overthrows it.

Biblical Patriarchy is ultimately defeated by Jesus and the advancement of Christianity in the world. Pannenberg's dialectical approach has an advantage over the traditional complementarian and egaliatarian interpretations of these troubling patriarchal verses. The Complementarians wish to read these patriarchal verses with rose color glasses and affirm them cautiously in order to defend the bible from error. The Egalitarians disarm these troubling verses by contextualizing them away as artifacts of an ancient culture, or  reinterpret them in a way contrary to their prima facie meaning. (There are even evangelicals today who wish to defend and affirm biblical patriarchy, but I will ignore them for now). Pannenberg's strength is that he is able to point his finger at these troubling verses and say biblical patriarchy is no longer justified after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because Jesus has established a community of mutual love to which we may all submit ourselves.

I've divided Pannenberg's long quotation on biblical patriarchy from Anthropology in Theological Perspective into sections to provide commentary on what would otherwise had been a continuous selection of his book:

"It is in fact undeniable that the biblical tradition has legitimatized a patriarchal order of the family and, in particular the subordination of wife to husband as his possession (Ex 20:17). The Yahwist story of creation sees the relation of wife to husband as regulated by the divine words spoken at the end of the story of paradise: "He shall rule over you." The New Testament writings continue to reflect the Jewish organizations of the family and to call for the subordination of wife to husband (1 Cor 14:34; see Col 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1; Titus 2:5)."

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Anthropology in Theological Perspective. Trans. Matthew J. O'Connell. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985. 438-40. Print.

In the first chapters of the Bible, Pannenberg finds justification for patriarchy in the verse "He shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16). This same location in scripture (Gen 2-3) is frequently cited to prove that marriage has always been monogamously defined as "one man and one woman." If the sanctity of marriage is timelessly defined as such, then we inherit the burden of defending the holiness of patriarchy! In the cynical words of Paul, may it never be! Marriage is revealed as good (in Gen 2-2), yet the revelation is mixed with patriarchy that is not good and also is inseparable from it.

It is partially analogous to Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:24-30): the farmer sows 'patriarchal' weeds along with the wheat, and although the wheat is the intended harvest, the farmer is responsible for cultivating the weeds as well, and we are unable to grow wheat if we pull up the 'patriarchal' weeds, yet when the harvest is here the weeds are separated and burned. The analogy to the parable isn't perfect, but it helps explain how the patriarchal organizations of the family are established and affirmed by the Old Testament. Yes, patriarchy is justified by the bible, but it is not until the fullness of revelation appears in Jesus Christ that we are able to purge patriarchy from us, and then establish a mutual community of love that is free from patriarchy.

The "Patriarchs" and Kings of Israel were exemplars of patriarchy and instances of today's definition of marriage as "one man and one woman" is rare. If we are honest, the bible praises, and does not condemn, these holy men for their concubinage, bigamy, polygamy, divorce and desertion of women: Abraham with Hagar, Sara, and Keturah; Jacob with Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah; Moses with Zipporah and Keturah; King David with Abigal, Michal, Bathsheba, Abishag and many others; And of course the thousand wives and concubines of King Solomon, and Jephthah sacrificing virgins in household. The troubling verses that Pannenberg cites reminds us that these patriarchal examples were not limited to the Old Testament but were also in the New Testament as well (and I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to understand why).

"At the same time, however, the basis for a breakthrough and for the elimination of patriarchal structures is to be found in early Christianity and, above all, in the behavior of Jesus himself. But the Old Testament recognized the possibility of conflict between obedience to God and loyalty to the patriarchally organized family. In such cases, obedience to God had to take precedence. Thus Abraham was summoned by God to leave his father's house (Gen 12:1). There is a saying of Jesus that points in the same direction: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26)."


Only in the western modern world in the last century has Women's Right begun to be realized. Pannenberg gives all the credit to Jesus Christ and the work of early Christianity that has finally begun to be realized today. Pannenberg's remarkable insight into Luke 14:26 explains how Jesus defeated biblical patriarchy and liberates us from it when he observes that the "Patriarch" Abraham separated himself from the patriarchal familial structures of his father's Terah's house, and that we may understand this as a partial liberation from his old patriarchal "absolutizing of family loyalty."

"These and similar sayings of Jesus, however, are not directed against the patriarchal family structure in particular but first and foremost against the absolutizing of family loyalty as such. Obedience to God takes priority over family ties. But since this demand binds all human beings alike, it has consequences that in the name of God the Father shatter the patriarchal family order. This can be seen especially in Jesus' dealings with women. Even though the early Christian tradition was rather strongly prejudiced on the side of patriarchal views, it did at decisive points speak out against the neglect of woman in comparison with men, as, for example, when it emphasized the equality of men and women in Christ (Gal 3:28) and called married people to mutual love after the example of Christ (Eph 5:28ff)."


Pannenberg begins to explain how Jesus defeated biblical patriarchal by observing the way his relationships to women were superior to his received patriarchal structures. Jesus engages with women throughout his ministry and we see Jesus emphasizing and utilizing women in the same way as his male disciples throughout his ministry (cf. Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel's The Women Around Jesus.)

Pannenberg believes that biblical patriarchy is replaced with a renewed relationship between men and women that he defines as "mutual love after the example of Christ". It is through the imitation of Christ, that the early Church was able to overcome the patriarchal ancient society. Pannenberg uses this brilliant insight to explain Jesus' statement about 'hating ones own family', by saying that this is a hatred of biblical patriarchal structures.

"These impulses were also at work in the subsequent history of Christianity. This is especially true of Jesus' condemnation of divorce, which Jewish law allowed husbands to declare unilaterally (Mark 10:2-12). By making divorce difficult, but also by requiring marital consent from both partners and abolishing the right that Roman law granted to the pater familias over the life and death of family members, the legislation of the early Byzantine emperors significantly improved the position of married women. We may see this legislation as paving the way for a conception of marriage as more of a partnership, even if it left untouched the basic patriarchal structure of the family, a structure that was indeed also based on the economic and political conditions of that age. In any case, in the light of those beginnings it is possible to see the dissolution of the patriarchal family structure, which resulted from political and economic changes in modern society, as an opportunity to reshape marriage and family in the spirit of the Christian idea of mutual love."


Pannenberg's ends with another excellent commentary on Jesus' prohibition of divorce. Today, many states have no fault divorce and divorce is very common, where both men and women often abandon their marriages. However, Pannenberg notes that in the Ancient Near East, divorce was a way for a husband to dispose of an unwanted spouse, and women did not have such rights. Jesus' prohibition of divorce means that the patriarch of the family was unable to dispense of one of his wives whenever he grew tired of her, in a time that the woman was otherwise helpless and at the husband's mercy. It's an excellent example of how our culture's perspective can deceive us when we compare it to Ancient Near East culture.

"It is essential for any such reshaping that marriage no longer be viewed from the standpoint of the family but, rather, the family from the standpoint of marriage. This means, first of all, that marriage, being a communion of love between partners, is an end in itself and does not need to be justified by any further purposes, not even the generation of a new life. Only if the community of marriage is understood as an end in itself can marriage serve as an exemplar of the human destination to that life in communion with others to which individual personhood owes its substance and cohesion. Marriage can represent the priority of the community over individuals because it embraces the entire life of the individuals in it. To that extent, individuals entering marriage surrender their isolated individuality."


In this final quote, Pannenberg states that Jesus and early Christianity has overthrown biblical patriarchy and replaced it with a definition of "being a communion of love between partners". No longer is marriage understood form patriarchal mandates, such as the demand that a husband and wife must bear children. Individuals enter marriage to obtain mutual love from others, and the same is true of community. When we enter into a community of faith, we submit and surrender to it as individuals, so that we may all mutually be loved by one another, as Christ loved us first. Only then, will we see Biblical Patriarchy defeated entirely! Only in modern times in the western world has Women's Rights begun to be realized, and this is a wonderful thing! We have also seen the widespread end of slavery and other forms of patriarchy as well. Deliverance was dimly preached before Jesus, and the abolition of Biblical Patriarchy was announced by Jesus, but only now after two millennia of the Church's labors has it finally begun to be realized.

Header Image Source: "Jan Mostaert - The Banishment of Hagar" by Jan Mostaert (circa 1475-1552/1553) - 1. Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork2. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Karl Barth’s Funeral Sermon for his son Matthias (1 Cor 13:12)



"The family in early 1930: Grete Karwehl, Peter Barth, Markus, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, Hans Jakob, Karl Barth, Franziska, Christoph, Matthias, Nelly Barth" (source:

Matthias Barth died on Sunday, June 21st, 1941. He fell in a climbing accident at Fründenhorn mountain. Matthias was 20 years old and the fourth child of Karl Barth. Karl Barth preached the sermon at Matthias' funeral, and it is printed in This Incomplete One: Words Occasioned by the Death of a Young Person. This book contains several sermons by famous theologians preached at the funeral for their own children. Karl Barth's sermon is particularly interesting because Barth arguably held to a "timeless" eschatology that denied there is an afterlife and rejected supra-temporal eternal life. Barth believed his eschatology provided us hope, and to better understand Barth's eschatology, I've provided a summary of Barth's funeral sermon for Matthias with some commentary in order to understand how Barth's eschatology was and was not hopeful through these words he spoke over Matthias' grave.

Karl Barth's Funeral Sermon for Matthias Barth

Barth's funeral sermon begins at the grave of Matthias with a nostalgic anecdote about his son Matthias' predilection for 1 Cor 13:12. Barth reads the verse and then describes his son's wounds in a way that's reminiscent to that of the crucified Jesus by saying, "And now we have come from the grave where we laid his poor broken body to its final rest". This verse made a "curious impression on our Matthias" and "the verse was found beneath a picture" in the Barth household that "Matthias saw daily in our home." Karl Barth had once "discovered by chance that he [Matthias] had copied this verse down in Latin, and it appeared that he had been contemplating it".

Ancient Mirrors

Ancient Mirrors

Barth's sermon text is "For now we see through a glass, in an enigmatic word; but then face to face" (1 Cor 13:12). As a short excursus, notice how this translation follows the German bible by separating the initial "now" to the final "then" with "in an enigmatic word" to emphasize discontinuity between the now and then. The common English translation of "in a mirror dimly" is received by a English reader to emphasize continuity between the "now" and "then" because modern mirrors reflect flawless images unlike ancient mirrors that were dull scraps of bronze that one must squint to recognize oneself in it (see the inline image). Barth's sermons are most often based on one verse like this one, so it's important that we do not get lost in translation.

Barth then exegetes the now and then in this verse as we anticipated:

"Because God's grace has come to help us in our misery through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, thus it is so: wherever and however we live our life with all its hopes, weaknesses, and secrets, both are true, both—deeply and indissolubly united with each other: the Now! but also the Then! They are not separate from each other but entirely together: The Now where we see very well and understand everything, yet we do not know at all what everything is like in reality. And the Then, where we will see everything clearly and where all will be glorious. The Now: a mirror in which everything is turned upside down; an enigmatic word, which certainly gives us an answer but at the same time remains the most difficult question. And the Then: where we will not only be known by God, but we ourselves will know him no less fully than he knows us."

This Incomplete One: Words Occasioned by the Death of a Young Person. Ed. Michael D. Bush. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. 12-13. Print.

I begin to understand why Barth has chosen the phrase "in an enigmatic word" to connect the "now" and "then" of 1 Cor 13:12. When faced with the loss of a child, we have hope in Jesus Christ in the midst of our loss, yet we do not know the true nature of really, or why this has happened. Barth's response is one of solidarity, that is reminiscent of Jesus as he faced his own death in the garden, and said: "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).

An intriguing point is that Barth looks forward to understanding the loss of his son in a new way, and does not express hope for a future time with Matthias. It's a noetic hope, one to understand the past, rather than an ontic hope for a future reunion with his son.

"It is by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that the Now and the Then are together in such a way that no power in heaven or on earth can separate them again. For it is he alone who in his bitter death on the cross and in his glorious resurrection has bound the Now and the Then together so that even now there is no mirror or enigmatic word that does not have standing behind it the clarity of that seeing face to face. And everything single beaming ray of the future glory of God will be nothing but a particular turning and adjusting of the reflection before which we now stand, a particular resolving of the riddle we are now trying to figure out."

Ibid. 13.

Barth then explains how the enigmatic relationship between the "Now and Then" relates personally to his son Matthias:

"In our thoughts about our Matthias we do not want to put ourselves in any other place than precisely at this border. He has now crossed over it, and we are still here. But we are not far from each other if we put ourselves at this border. But we are not far from each other if we put ourselves at this border. In Jesus Christ there is no distance between Now and Then, between here and there, however profoundly they are separated. Our Matthias—just as he really was—is in Jesus Christ, yet very differently than the way he used to live with us and we with him. He is the same, yet he has become completely different. Because Jesus Christ has taught us about both, about life and death, death and life, we may now therefore remember our Matthias and thus speak about him"

Ibid. 13-4.

And Barth's next comments explain how Matthias now sees "face to face" in a way that we do not. This telling quotation indicate that Barth has a future hope for Matthias, that is not merely a nostalgic and redeeming memory. Barth describes Matthias' experience of "face to face" in the vernacular of a beatific vision:

"But for him the Then is already effectively Now, beyond the mirror and the enigmatic word. He now sees that which he obviously meant and wanted to see in our Now: face to face, knowing God and all things in such a way as God himself has known him throughout eternity. Being "in Jesus' arms and lap" he now truly knows it better than his father and his brothers. Could it be that he, like Joseph, already here dreamed more about the true reality of life [Gen 37:6ff.] than he knew?"

Ibid. 15.

The sermon then returns to anecdotes about Matthias' life and aspirations. Matthias had an excellent education but did not believe he had enough life experience. Maybe this is what inspired him to climb mountains. Matthias had looked forward to working in the armed services in the future. Barth reflects on Matthias' life and then ends with a discussion of King David's loss of his child with Bathsheba, concluding the sermon with these words:

David therefore was right. Precisely where we must give up everything as lost, hidden beneath the sighing and tears which we are allowed to have, the appropriate thing for us is the full jubilation of those who even now may taste the life that waits beyond each grave.

A deep helpless and defenselessness was perhaps something of our Matthias's innermost being. How could he have escaped the strong one who now, as in a storm, swept away his life that was so far from completion? But even now we believe and know that there is One who long since took this strong one captive, who long since took away his power to kill, who long since has forced him into his own service. This we shall see when we see him face to face. But the Then is very close to the Now. Therefore, in all our sorrow today, we cannot merely mourn.

Even if we cannot rejoice ourselves, we still hear an entirely different voice rejoice even over the evil spot at the Fründenhorn where everything happened, also over the grave from which we have just come. This voice speaks about the completion of even this incomplete one, about his completion as God's servant brought about through death. It speaks about peace and joy and life to the fullest [John 10:10]. What else can we do as we hear this voice but thank our God -- even if  in tears -- that he fulfilled his good will and purpose in the life and the death of Matthias? And with us, too! 'I am,' Jesus says to us, 'the resurrection and the life' [John 11:25]"

Ibid. 20.


Karl Barth loved his son Matthias, and the grief of losing a child is beyond what words may express, so this sermon is not a final or definitive statement on Barth's beliefs about afterlife or eternal life. However, by listening to what Barth does and does not say, we may better understand his eschatological hope. Barth does not believe Matthias has disappeared into the abyss, but that in his death, he will "taste the life that waits beyond each grave" and that our response to his death should be "full jubilation".  Barth says that even though Matthias' life was incomplete, God will bring completion to Matthias' incomplete life in his death. Barth's message is one of hope for his son, and belief that God will make complete Matthias' life in his death, means that we may all hope that through our death and in our death, we will finally see completion in life that was enigmatic before our death. Barth does not speak of death like an optimistic atheist, who makes the most of his own life, and finds solidarity of the good times had with the one they had lost. Barth's hope is that we will all have some sort of Beatific Vision of Christ in our death, that we should hope to one day receive.

Barth's sermon does not relieve the concerns I've raised previously regarding his rejection of the afterlife and supra-temporal eternal life. Barth does not mention any continued life or future life for his son beyond his death. Barth sees the last moments, as one of fulfillment, but without continuation. The sermon lacks any reference to a future reunion with his lost son, or any future change of events that would make wrongs right. Barth does speak of some sort of Beatific Vision, but this sounds more like a paradigm shift or a noetic change, such that we will be able to see things differently, or finally see the true nature of what happens. It is true that we do not have all the information, but seeing things differently doesn't indicate that there is any real reconciliation or redemption that occurs. However, it must not be overlooked that Barth calls the event of Matthias' death "evil".

In the end, Barth's eschatology now remains an enigmatic word to us, especially since it was never completed. We understand it in a mirror dimly, and we have no choice to recognize the enigmatic doctrine, and to wait when we finally see face to face to fully understand the reality of our hope.


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Blogosphere prefers Viking’s Valhalla to Karl Barth’s Eternal Life

will-you-please-read-us-againControversy erupted in the blogosphere this week in reaction to Karl Barth's Argument Against Afterlife. The response to Barth's rejection of afterlife may be summed up in one word: outrage! There were some who doubted this was Barth's final position, and some who tried to understand Barth, and even a few shocking exceptions who praised Barth, but overall the response was virtually one of outrage, anger, and protest. The sentiment may be described as "If Barth is right, then back to paganism!" or "I'd rather go to Valhalla than have Barth's Eternal Life"

I'd like to stick a finger in the blogosphere's open wound by demonstrating that Karl Barth's description of "Eternal Life" is even more dismal and hopeless than his rejection of afterlife. I don't like it either, but this is what our church father and the greatest theologian of the 20th century has to say about "Eternal Life." This quotation is from his book, Credo, published in 1935 (just before Barth published the first volume of the Church Dogmatics, Vol I/1):

Karl Barth on Eternal Life

If, finally, eternal life is the name given to this new form of our unity with Jesus Christ, we shall again have to be on our guard against all those abstractions which our philosophic arrogance delights in. When eternity of our life is spoken of in the Christian Creed, it does not mean a life of any super-temporal kind, or timelessness or infinite time. It does not even mean a life in any kind of carefully and boldly conceived perfection. Nor does eternity of our life mean that this life of ours is annihilated and its place taken by some other life in some other world, even if it be an eternal world. Finally, eternity of our life does not mean that our life becomes identical with the life of God. But eternal life in the sense of Holy Scripture is this life that is ours now in this world that now is, this life, still, as it has always been, distinguished from the life of God, since it is created, but now, as a life that has become new in an earth that has become new under a heaven that has become new,--life that has become new in its relation to God its Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer. Become new in this respect, that it is now no more a life differing within itself, as, on the one hand, our life in Christ and, on the other, as our own life, but now (let this "now" be emphasized) at once as entered life and as our own life, a life which is reconciled with God and therefore righteous and holy.

Barth, Karl. Credo. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962. 169-70. Print.

A Summary of Karl Barth's Doctrine of the Eternal Life

Barth is often difficult to understand, so I've broken down this quotation into the following ten point list:

  1. Barth claims his position is biblical and others are "philosophic arrogance"
  2. Eternal Life is not super-temporal
  3. Eternal Life is not timeless
  4. Eternal Life is not infinite time
  5. Eternal Life is not some other life
  6. Eternal Life is not in some other world
  7. Eternal Life is our past life lived that becomes new in relationship to God
  8. Eternal Life does not mean our life becomes identical with the life of God
  9. Our Eternal Life remains distinguished from the life of God
  10. Eternal Life emphasizes "now" in our own life that we have lived.

Reaction to Karl Barth's Argument Against Afterlife

Here are some reaction from twitter to Karl Barth's Argument Against Afterlife:

On Facebook, I received similar critical comments:

Karl Barth For Dummies: "Prompted by PostBarthian's blog on Barth's view on the afterlife, I read the end of CD III/2 and have to admit that Barth did seem to view death as the end of us. It's not what I want him to say, and it conflicts with what he preached at his own son's funeral. But it did seem to be what he said. However, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to read the whole of III/2 to confirm." October 15, 2015

Doug: "when I read through of some his writings, I took away the idea that our view of the afterlife is paganism because we are worshiping our idea and not what will be. We dont really know, we may have hints of what might come. But we have a positive hope of the future. btw, I think Barth's critics were a bit right about his views, he kinda contradicted himself. but, im not a Barth scholar."

Mitch: "yikes. I prefer Moltmann"

Frank: "Damn. Everybody getting rid of eternal consciousness. (frown emoticon)"

Zach: "If there is no hereafter, I don't find that to be scary personally, but I do find it to be rather boring and uninspiring (frown emoticon)"

John: "That sounds like a bad case of German Idealism."

Richard: "Things that make you go, 'Hmmmmm'"

Zachary: "It seems to me that he mainly rejects the Sunday School Sentimental view of the afterlife because it misunderstands eternity. The life after death is not merely this life extended into infinity. He doesn't reject the idea that, through the resurrection, humankind participates in eternity."

Samuel: "That said, I'm writing whilst finding tangential possibilities of arguing against and for what I'm saying! I think my conclusion is that I agree with the phrase 'It is a hard word from Karl Barth, and I don't like it.'"

And also from the comments on the post:

Juan: "Thank God for Moltmann!"

George: "In essence, his dialectical approach separates God and humanity, to the joint where in the end, humanity and creation will have had their time, and God will be all. What he has done is “de-temporalize” eschatology, so that eschatology is not a real judgment and redemption of this time. His eschatology becomes abstract at that point. The eternity of God means that every moment of human time is the “end.”"

Kevin: "Moreover, the 'brainless' description is precisely the way that Buddhist and even Gnostic mysticism describes the annihilation and absorption of the ego into the divine. This is the very consummation of the temporal into the divine in Gnostic mysticism. If this is where 'radical' Barthianism leads, then fuck it. "

I've saved the best for last. There were two bloggers who responded to Barth's rejection of afterlife, and here's what they said:

Kevin from After Existentialism, Light posted this response, "I'll take a beer in Valhalla". His post received "hell yes!" comments in his "combox" that are worth reading as well.  In his post, Kevin made the following statement:

"But I am grateful that Wyatt Houtz has addressed the doctrine of the afterlife in Barth’s theology: “Karl Barth’s Argument Against Afterlife.”

I do not agree with Wyatt, and you can read my brief comments in the combox for further indications of why. I am not in the least convinced that Barth believes in such a depressing afterlife, where the temporal is absorbed and annihilated into the divine — where the individual consciousness is decisively negated. This is the very worst of Gnostic speculation, and it makes the eternal-finite dialectic the end-game of Barth’s dogmatics. If this is true, then Barth is a truly terrible theologian, scarcely worth our time and energy.

In contrast to one of Wyatt’s reflections, I am perfectly happy with a “pagan” image of heaven as a “Valhalla” where beer is on demand and abundant. At the very least, I hope that heaven is nothing less! By way of illustration, let me offer you the country-rock song, “Dirt Road,” by Kip Moore"

Kevin also responded with this video:

Eclenctic Orthodoxy Response

And on Fr. Aidan Kimel's post at Eclectic Orthodoxy titled: "Barth, Valhalla, and the Feasting of Heaven" that also received several comments, wrote the following quotes:

"However life beyond the grave is to be understood, the crucial claim is life beyond the grave, in personal wholeness."

"I cannot pretend to have grasped Barth’s essential point and invite you to visit the blog article and take a look yourself. Tell me what you think Barth is saying. The discussion is also interesting."

"Protestant Christians are at a real disadvantage at this point.  Perhaps this disadvantage explains the apparent “hopelessness” of Barth’s eschatological vision."

"Third, whatever heaven may be, it will not be less raucous, less boisterous, less jubilant than Valhalla. The dreams of paganism will be fulfilled in the Kingdom. But instead of being gathered around Odin, we will be gathered in the Holy Spirit around the risen Jesus Christ. Our feasting will be glorious, our joy infinite, our ecstasy rapturous. It will be the wedding supper of the Lamb."

One of the comments responded with this video:


The quotation from Credo quoted above leaves us with a hopeless and dismal view of Eternal Life according to Barth in my honest opinion. Are we like books, such that Eternal Life is God's rereading our autobiographically with a nostalgic tear? With no real future life for us after our final breath and our only comfort being that God will always have a nostalgic memory of us? Is our only hope, like Mo Willems, "We are in a Book", where we hope that God will remember us fondly someday in the same way the characters of our favorite book come to life when we re-read our favorite book? Is the blessed hope ultimately like "We are in a book" where we believe that God will reread our autobiography one day? Has reconciliation really occurred if God remembers us in a positive light with a tear in his eye?


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Karl Barth’s Argument Against Afterlife

VanhallaDoes Karl Barth believe in an afterlife? Barth answers Nein! Barth says that believing in an afterlife is "pursuing pagan dreams of good times after death" and that the New Testament teaches that time comes to an end on the last day at the "final trump", when "time shall be no more." Karl Barth's argument against afterlife appears at the end of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Creation, Vol. III/2 (CD III/2) and explained well in the following quotation from CD III/2 §47.5. It is a hard word from Karl Barth, and I don't like it.

(I've modified the quotation from the original small print to make it easier to read by breaking it into smaller paragraphs, adding bold to important sentences, and providing the translations of the original Greek words.) 

Karl Barth's Argument Against Afterlife

But the question seriously arises whether the New Testament form is really distinguished from that of the Old by the fact that its content and contents are to be understood as new beginnings, developments and continuations of human life in the time after death. For in the crucifixion of Jesus is not the end of time, both for the individual and all time, accomplished? Does not His resurrection usher in the last day, when even the believer in Jesus can only live a life hidden with God in Christ? Do not His coming again in glory and the consequent revelation of this hidden life mark the end of this last day and time, the handing over of the kingdom of the Son to the Father?

Even in the chapter he devoted so expressly to the resurrection of the dead in its connexion with the resurrection of Jesus. Paul can see beyond this end only one further prospect: God being all in all (1 Cor 15:28). lt is clear enough that the end of the last time is a historical and therefore a temporal event. But as the event of creation took place in a present without a past, so this event is that of a present without a future, in which, as in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, there does not follow any further information or promise of further occurrence but only the sounding of the "last trump" (1 Cor 15:52).

In this unique moment of time, when the secret of Calvary will be revealed as indicated in the forty days, there will be raised up in incorruption, glory and power, as this last temporal event, that which was sown in corruption, dishonour and weakness (1 Cor 15:43). At this moment it will be necessary for this corruptible to put on incorruption and this mortal to put on immortality (1 Cor 15:53). But nothing further will follow this happening, for then “there shall be time no longer (Rev 10:6).

There is no question of the continuation into an indefinite future of a somewhat altered life. The New Testament hope for the other side of death is very different from that. What it looks forward to is the "eternalising" of this ending life. This corruptible and mortal life will be divested of its character as "flesh and blood,” of the veil of corruption (1 Cor 15:50). lt will put on incorruption and immortality. This earthly tabernacle, which is doomed to destruction, will be "clothed upon" with the building prepared by God, with the house in heaven not made with hands. This mortal will be swallowed up in life (2 Cor 5:1f). Our past and limited life, which did not begin before time and does not continue beyond it, our real but only life, will then fully, definitively and manifestly participate in that "newness of life" (Rom 6:4).

It will then be eternal life in God and in fellowship with Him. To be sure, the past life of every man in its limited time has  a place in this fellowship with God, the Eternal who was and is and is to come. It can only be a matter, therefore, of this past life in its limited time undergoing a transition and transformation (1 Cor 15:51) and participating in the eternal life of God. This transition and transformation is the unveiling and glorifying of the life which in which in his time man has already had in Christ. It is the resurrection of the dead, which according to the indication given after the resurrection of Jesus is our participation in His future resurrection. This is our hope in the time which we still have.

The Old Testament never said this explicitly, nor could it do so before Christ. It simply refers transitory man to the abiding existence and faithfulness of God. And it does this so emphatically that there can be no doubt as to the positive implication of the reference. But it never makes it openly. It never actually says that transitory man with his temporal life will one day have a share in the eternal life of God. It never says anything about resurrection, about that transition and transformation, about that  manifestation of this life of ours in the glory of God.

The New Testament speaks of this as and because it speaks of the saving event whose Subject is the man Jesus. Yet it also confirms what the Old Testament says. For it places transitory man as such, his life in his time, his being with its beginnings and end, in the light of the promise vouchsafed in the death, the resurrection, and second coming of the man Jesus. It [the New Testament] has not abandoned the sober realism of the Old Testament. On the contrary, it has shown how sound it is, and given it its real force. For as it takes the majesty of God not less but more seriously, because concretely, than the Old Testament, so too it takes the littleness of man in his creatureliness and finitude more seriously. It agrees with the Old Testament that this lowly and finite creature, man, in his time is affirmed by the Most High God and that power of this affirmation is the secret of his beginning and end, his true help and deliverance in and from death.

If we wish the New Testament had more to say about this than the Old, it may well be that we are pursuing pagan dreams of a good time after death, and not letting the New Testament say the radically good thing which it has to say with the realism which it has in common with the Old Testament.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics III.2 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley, J. W. Edwards, O. Bussey, Harold Knight, J.K.S. Reid, R.H. Fuller, R.J. Ehrlich, A.T. Mackey, T.H.L. Parker, H.A. Kennedy, J. Marks. Vol. 16. London: T & T Clark, 2009. 184-5. Print. Study Edition. [624-5]

A Summary of Karl Barth's Argument Against Afterlife 

This CD III/2 quotation may be summarized as follows:

  1. Afterlife is a dream of Paganism: The hope that after death we will experience good times, where our plates and beer steins are always full is the dream of paganism like the vikings dreaming of dining with the gods in the halls of Valhalla. The Reformers, including John Calvin employed a similar criticism against the Chiliasts.
  2. Eternal life is not the dead are dead of Atheism: Eternity is not "a gray monotonous sea". We are to hope for eternal life. It is a hope for the new life that is already present, yet hidden in God.
  3. Human life is finite: There is a beginning time and ending time for each person, and our life is given and allotted between these bookends in history, such that we did not exist before our beginning time and will not exist after our ending time, because we are finite.
  4. Creation is finite: There was a first moment of Creation in history, for which there was no previous moment, and likewise there will be a final moment, in a twinkling of an eye, for which there will be no subsequent moment.
  5. Time is limited: Time will not go on for ever, and as there was a first moment of time, there will come a final moment of time, such that there will be no more moments of time after this ending time, and after which "time shall be no more".
  6. Time does not continue after the last day: There are no more happenings or occurrences in time once the final trump sounds, such that there will be no future consciousness or continuation of life beyond the last day. Eternal life means the "eternalizing" of our past life, because there will be no continuation of time in any way.
  7. Our past temporal life will be eternalized in God: The key phrase is "eternalized". Our past life, is not our final moment, but all the moments lived from the beginning to the end. Our temporal life will not continue indefinitely.
  8. The Old Testament did not inform us of what was revealed in the New Testament: The Old Testament was before Christ, so it could not speak of the transition and transformation from our temporal existence to our "eternalized" life revealed in the New Testament
  9. The New Testament has not abandoned the sober realism of the Old: The New Testament affirms what was said in the Old Testament and augments it with what was not yet revealed.
  10. All temporal existence will transformed and transitioned to eternal life in god: Our past life will undergo transition and transformation to participate in the eternal life that is hidden in God. The transitory man will not share in the eternal life of God. Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God.

A Critical Response to Barth's Argument Against Afterlife

Not all appreciators of Barth have said amen to his argument against afterlife. One such example is G.C. Berkouwer, who has written a book thoroughly lauding Barth's theology: (Berkouwer, G. C. The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Trans. Harry R. Boer. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1956. 161. Print.) Berkouwer's arguably strongest criticism of Barth is his chapter devoted to criticizing Barth's argument against afterlife: "Chapter XII: The Triumph of the End."

Berkouwer says that "it is not surprising that the idea of the 'eternalizing' of human life as contrasted with its continuation attracted wide attention" (329), because he sees (via H. Vogel) "the confession of the Church with respect to eternal life threatened" (329) and "Barth's idea of 'having-been' is in conflict with the positive teaching of the Church, namely, the life everlasting" (329). Yet, Berkouwer agrees with Barth that common notions of afterlife are pagan rather than Christian when he writes, "Obviously this reaction to pagan dreams of glory and immortality does not bring us a step further in the understanding the problem of the 'vita eterna' (eternal life)'" (330)  Berkouwer also says this distinction between pagan afterlife and Christian eternal life has always been acknowledged in the church when he writes,"also Calvin warned against the 'diabolical furor of immortal fame" (330). Berkouwer explains his agreement with Barth, "Our concern is not with dreams, or with subjective projections on the screen of an endless-time idea, or with a repristination of the conception of immortality as the Enlightenment understood it, but with the reality of eternal life about which the Scriptures speak with so much emphasis" (330).

Barth is correct that "eternal life" was a late addition to the creeds. The phrase "eternal life" did not appear in older forms of the Apostles's Creed or the Nicene Creed (325 AD) and it was until the end of the fourth century that it was added to the official forms of the creeds. Berkouwer responds as follows, "The Apostolicum in its original form did not contain the words 'vita aeterna.' This does not indicate hesitation on this subject in the early Church, for from the beginning she had in defense against gnostic errors of various kinds confessed the 'resurrectio carnis.' We will not err when we say that the Church in later adding the words 'vitam aetenam' was not at all conscious of having added a new element. The 'vita aeterna' had always been understood to be included in the 'resurrectio carnis.' For this reason the debate in our day about the eschatological triumph touches the faith of the Church in every age." (345-6)

Berkouwer also reminds us that Barth's Church Dogmatics is unfinished, and that Barth may have returned to affirming 'eternal life' in some circuitous way in this final volume (that never came to be written), so we cannot ultimately say that there will be no afterlife or continuation of temporal existence whatsoever. Berkouwer says, "We shall have to await the last volume of his Dogmatik to see how his eschatological conception will finally formulate his understanding of the 'vita aeterna.' Will he maintain his idea of 'limitation' or will this yield place to the scriptural witness concerning God's promise for our future?" (346) I recommend reading Berkouwer's The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth hear all he has to say about Barth's eschatology that is beyond this analysis of Barth's argument against afterlife.

An Excursus on Karl Barth's Unfinished Eschatology

Karl Barth abandoned the Church Dogmatics before completing his planned fifth and final volume on Eschatology. Sadly, not even an outline exists of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Redemption, Volume V, so it is a mystery what this ending of the Church Dogmatics might have contained. This is an important point that must never be understated when speaking about Barth's eschatological beliefs.

Some Barth scholars are convinced that we know nothing of CD V's contents, pointing to the surprising conclusions Barth made at the end of CD IV, such as Barth's famous rejection of Infant Baptism (CD IV/4) and his allowance for a form of Natural Revelation in his Secular Parables of the Truth (CD IV/3.1). On the other hand, other scholars believe these were not surprising changes, but indispensable test cases of what Barth had believed throughout his mature theology (which most Barth scholars consider to be CD II/2 through CD IV/4.) These other scholars believe that Barth's eschatology may then be safely reconstructed from his statements in his mature theology.

The best material for defining Barth's eschatology from his mature works is substantially contained in Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Creation, Vol. III/2: "§47 Man In His Time." The last section of CD III/2 is about Jesus' lordship over time, and it is divided into five subsections of CD III/2: §47.1 Jesus, Lord of Time§47.2 Given Time§47.3 Allotted Time§47.4 Beginning Time and §47.5 Ending Time. The most frequently discussed is Barth's analysis of the forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension in §47.1 Jesus, Lord of Time and his statements about Eternal Life and Afterlife in the final section §47.1 Ending Time.

Three publications are demarcated as the beginning of Barth's mature theology by Barth scholars: Romans II (1922), CD I (1932), CD II/2 (1942). Therefore, Barth's earlier writings on eschatology published before his mature theology period (conservatively speaking CD II/2 onward), such The Resurrection of the Dead (1926), cannot be relied upon for reconstructing Barth's eschatology or speculating about the contents of CD V. (Some have utilized Credo (1935) as another debated source for Barth's eschatology.) Another factor is that Barth's conclusions on eschatology and the resurrection are notoriously hard to interpret, and at times he appears to contradict what he had written earlier or later in the Dogmatics. Many people, such as Rudolf Bultmann, believed Barth was inconsistent at this point of his theology, but Barth protests against critics who say he's inconsistent. The conclusion is that Barth's eschatology may be substantially reconstructed from his mature theology (especially CD III/2), but we will never know what Barth's final volume of the Church Dogmatics might have concluded on this subject.


Karl Barth's Argument Against Afterlife is disturbing because it is prima facie a hopeless eschatology, finding hope in the past without a hope for the future. The most difficult ramification is the potential end of consciousness for all people, making men to be like brainless jellyfish swimming in the gray monotonous sea of God's nostalgic eternal memories of Creation. It is difficult to understand how sin is positively dealt with on the last day, especially those victims who have known only horror in their lives. The positive aspect is Barth's call to listen to revealed eschatology, and not let paganism infiltrate our hopes. Even if Barth's eschatology finally becomes deplorable to some people, we may have hope and peace in the fact that his eschatology is unfinished, and no one ultimately knows what will happen in the end, or what eternal life or the resurrection will be like until it appears on the last day with the coming and appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Image Source: "Walhall by Emil Doepler" by Emil Doepler - Doepler, Emil. ca. 1905. Walhall, die Götterwelt der Germanen. Martin Oldenbourg, Berlin. Photographed by Haukurth (talk · contribs) and cropped by Bloodofox (talk · contribs).. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Jürgen Moltmann on September 11th as Apocalyptic Terrorism

9-11-moltmannToday is the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks. I remember studying in the Media Union on the University of Michigan's North Campus in Ann Arbor when it happened. There was a network outage in the computer lab, and I remember that the news websites would not load. I went down to the lower lobby where people were crowding around the televisions and that was when I first saw the images of the planes flying into the World Trade Center towers. I remember watching those horrifying events but unable to understand why or how this could happen.

Jürgen Moltmann labels the events of September 11th as "apocalyptic terrorism" in his book In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope, and these events were beyond the comprehension of so many people because they were apocalyptic, and not rational. In remembrance of the suicidal mass murders on September 11th, I've provided the following quotation to help understand these events that were beyond comprehension:

The scenario of the crime committed on 11 September 2001 in the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington was beyond the comprehension of so many people because the script it followed was apocalyptic, not rational. If we look at it again: there the World Trade Center, symbol of the globalized progress of the modern world, and the Pentagon, the symbol of America, the superpower—here in the kidnapped aircraft the anonymous mass murderers, executing, as they believed, the judgment of a supernatural power. Rational purposes and goals behind the assassinations cannot be discerned. The voices of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar talk about retribution for the humiliations suffered by Islam, about God's vengeance on unbelievers, and about the destruction of America. Have religious energies turned criminal here?

Ever since 11 September 2001 we have been confronted with a new quality in this active apocalyptic terrorism. A man or woman becomes an assassin for money or out of conviction, but a suicidal mass murderer becomes so only out of conviction. The Islamist terrorists evidently feel themselves to be martyrs for their faith, and are highly reverenced by the like-minded. For what conviction do they murder? For decades, fanatical masses on the streets of the Middle East have denounced the United States as 'the great Satan', and the Western world has been condemned as the corrupt 'world of unbelievers'. Materialism, pornography, the break-up of the family, and the liberation of women are only some of the accusations. Out of ignorance or self-complacency people in the West failed to take this seriously; it was ridiculed as crude and half-baked. But 'the great Satan' is nothing other than the apocalyptic 'enemy of God'. Anyone who weakens him and humiliates him is on God's side, and earns paradise. The idée fixe of fighting together with God in the final struggle against the godless evidently does away with every normal human inhibition about killing, heightens the ecstasy of power, and transforms suicide into an act of worship. The suicidal mass murderers of New York and Washington will have felt themselves to be as God, who in the end annihilates the godless. If they feel that they are divine executioners, they do not need a rational justification for the mass murder. The meaning of terrorism is—terror. The meaning of murder is death. After that nothing more is to follow.

No Jewish or Christian apocalyptist believed that such a destruction of other people and oneself would be followed by a new beginning, a reconstruction, or even a redemption.

Moltmann, Jürgen. In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope. Trans. M. Kohl. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004. 50-51. Print.

Header Image Source: "September 11th Tribute in Light from Bayonne, New Jersey" by Anthony Quintano - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

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Soul of My Body: Karl Barth’s Anthropology

Soul of My Body: Karl Barth's Anthropology

What is Man? Karl Barth solves this enigmatic anthropological question with one word: Jesus! Barth fleshes out his anthropology throughout The Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3.2, Sections 45-46: The Doctrine of Creation (CD III/2), beginning with Jesus, Man for Other Men in "§45 Man in His Determination as the Covenant-Partner of God" where Barth declares the victory of the Crucified One over the Dionysus of Nietzsche's Man in Freedom. Barth shifts from the truest expression of anthropology in Jesus Christ to the anthropology of us all in following section: "§46 Man as Soul and Body" where Barth defines our anthropology by the famous phrase "Soul of my Body" as exemplified in the header to this section:

Through the Spirit of God, man is the subject, form and life of a substantial organism, the soul of his body—wholly and simultaneously both, in ineffaceable difference, inseparable unity, and indestructible order.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics III.2 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley, J. W. Edwards, O. Bussey, Harold Knight, J.K.S. Reid, R.H. Fuller, R.J. Ehrlich, A.T. Mackey, T.H.L. Parker, H.A. Kennedy, J. Marks. Vol. 15. London: T & T Clark, 2009. 119. Print. Study Edition. [325]

Soul of My Body

In this phrase, "Soul of My Body", Barth affirms the dichotomy vernacular of ancient orthodoxy by defining Man in two parts: Body and Soul. Barth's dichotomy of "Soul of My Body" reinforces the inseparability of these two parts as exemplified in the header to §46 Man as Soul and Body where this phrase, Soul of My Body, is terminologically reminiscent of the Chalcedon Christological formulation of the two natures of Jesus as "inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably." However, Barth's affirmation of dichotomy is a "yes, but..." because Barth affirms trichotomist, dichotomist and monistic anthropologies and yet denies them all as he strikes out into his own definition in his "Soul of My Body" anthropology.


For a concise summary of Barth's anthropology, the follow quotation from the conclusion of §46 Man as Soul and Body is clarifying:

Our interpretation of those phenomena, formulated as briefly as possible in four propositions would be as follows.

  1. The soul does not act on the body, but the one man acts. And he does it in that as soul he animates himself and is acting subject, but always as soul is soul of his body, animated by himself, determined and enabled to act, and engaged in action.
  2. Again, the soul does not suffer from the body, but the one man suffers. And this takes place in that as soul (namely, as acting subject) he is fundamentally exposed and susceptible to such hindrances and injuries, but as soul of his body must actually experience them.
  3. Again, the body does not act on the soul, but the one man acts. He acts in that as body he is animated by himself, determined and enabled to act, and engaged in action, but as body of his soul, animating himself and acting subject.
  4. And again, the body does not suffer from the soul, but the one man suffers. When this takes place, it means that as body he really experiences such hindrances and injuries, but that as body of his soul he must really make them his own.

The one whole man is thus one who both acts through himself and suffers in himself, but always in such a way that he is first soul (ruling, in the subject) and then body (serving, in the object)--always in this inner order, rationally and logically of his whole nature.

Ibid. 223-4. [432-3]

Monism: Embodied Soul and Besouled Body

The positive Monistic elements of Barth's anthropology is in his identification of the man Jesus of Nazareth as our true anthropology, and in the inseperability of the Soul and Body of every person. Barth describes the indivisible unity of Man's two parts by this in the dialectical phrase: "embodied soul and besouled body" as exemplified in the following quote:

The Jesus of the New Testament is supremely true man in the very fact that He does not conform to the later definition, and far from existing as the union of two parts of two "substances," He is one whole man, embodied soul and besouled body: the one in the other and never merely beside it; the one never without the other but only with it, and in it present, active and significant; the one with all its attributes always to be taken as seriously as the other. As this one whole man, and therefore as true man, the Jesus of the New Testament is born and lives and suffers and dies and is raised again.

Ibid. 121 [328]

Dichotomy: The Spirit that unifies Soul and Body

Karl Barth identifies the spirit with the Spirit of God. The Spirit is not another part of man. Man exists in a dichotomy of two parts: Body and Soul, and the Spirit of God is what brings to life the Soul of My Body. Man exists because he has Spirit. Barth explains the relationship of the Holy Spirit to Man's Soul of His Body as follows:

Our statement that man is wholly and at the same time both soul and body presupposes the first statement that man is as he has Spirit. We said in our second sub-section [46.2] that it is the Spirit, i.e., the immediate action of God Himself, which grounds, constitutes and maintains man as soul of his body. It is thus the Spirit that unifies him and holds him together as soul and body. If we abstract from the Spirit and therefore from the act of the living Creator, we necessarily abstract between soul and body. If we consider man for himself, i.e., without considering that he is only as God is for him, he is seen as a puzzling duality, his mortal body on the one side and his immortal soul on the other, a totality composed of two parts inadequately glued together, of two obviously different and conflicting substances. And however much we then try to persuade ourselves that this duality is the one man, we stand in the midst of Greek and every other form of heathenism, which sees neither the real God nor real man, and cannot do so, because knowledge of the Spirit is needed for this purpose and this is incompatible with heathenism. Our only relief will then be found in the see-saw movement between ideas and appearance, thinking and speculation and so on, which pervades the history of philosophy in every age.

Ibid. 186. [393]

The Spirit is Identical With God, Not A Part of Man

The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and it is the Spirit that makes creation alive, as it is so panentheistically expressed in Acts 17:28: in Him we live and move and have our being. Barth differentiates himself from Pantheism because he does not believe that Creation is in God, but it is the Spirit that is in Creation and brings it into being. It is the movement of the Creator Spiritus towards Creation that makes all things alive, and there is no life or suffering that exists apart from the animation of the Spirit as the next quotation explains:

We thus understand the statement that man has spirit and is thereby man as equivalent in content to our first statement, that he is man, and therefore soul of his body, not without God but by God, i.e., by the ever new act of God. Spirit is, in the most general sense, the operation of God upon His creation, and especially the movement of God towards man. Spirit is thus the principle of man's relation to God, of man's fellowship with Him. This relation and fellowship cannot proceed from man himself, for God is his Creator and he His creature. He himself cannot be its principle. . . . This is what is meant when Scripture says of man that he has spirit or the Spirit, or that he has done this or that in the Spirit or through the Spirit, or has said or done or suffered from the Spirit. This never signifies a capacity or ability of his own nature, but always one originally foreign to his nature which has come to it from God and has thus been specially imparted to it in a special movement of God towards him. . . . The Spirit, in so far as He not only comes but proceeds from God Himself, is identical with God.

Ibid. 149 [355-6]

Evil Spirits

Barth includes a fascinating discussion about how evil spirits are not excluded from what is given to man from the Spirit:

God remains free to give, to take, and to give again. He shows Himself free in the fact that He can also give an evil spirit to man--this too is a kind of commission imposed on the man concerned--as again with Saul (1 Sam 16:14f) and in 2 King 19:7 with the king of Assur; and it can again happen (1 Sam 16:23) that this evil spirit too can depart from him. Even the "lying spirit in the mouth of all false prophets" is, as we are told in the remarkable passage in 1 King 22:21f, one of the spirits that surround the throne of Yahweh, and it is called and empowered by Yahweh Himself for the infatuation of Ahab. There are other passages (Isa 4:4,40:7;Job 4:9) where the Spirit is the burning blast of divine judgment, a power of destruction and extermination. Hence we cannot be surprised to hear in Job 20:3 of a spirit "without insight" (Zurich Bible), in Isa 29:24 of an "erring spirit," in Zech 13:2 of an "unclean spirit"; and even in the New Testament of a "spirit of bondage" (Rom 8:15), of "another spirit" which presents another Jesus and another gospel (2 Cor 11:4); and further, with a frequency which cannot be disregarded, of evil spirits, unclean spirits and spirits that cause sickness, with all the work of these spirits in and upon men. If God condemns a man and through him other men, He can give him such a spirit.

Ibid. 151. [357-8]


In the previous section, Barth's Anthropology is nearest to the traditional Dichotomists, because he believes that man is constituted in two parts: Body and Soul. Barth does not believe that the spirit is a third part of man, because he identifies the spirit with the Spirit of God. The Creator Spiritus movement towards man is the basis of his life as he exists in his "Soul of My Body."

1 Thess 5:21 is the locus classicus for trichotomy because it contains the phrase "spirit and soul and body" suggesting Man exists in three parts. Barth has an excellent comment on this verse so often used to justify trichotomy by Greek apologists:

The only biblical passage which can be regarded as ambiguous in this regard is 1 Thess 5:23 . . . Scripture never says "soul" where only "spirit" can be meant. But it often says "spirit" where "soul" is meant; and there is inner reason for this in the fact that the constitution of man as soul and body cannot be fully and exactly described without thinking first and foremost of the spirit as its proper basis. We are nowhere invited to think of these three entities. Even Augustine, when he once gave the almost intolerably harsh formulation: there are three things which define a human being: spirit, soul and body, immediately corrected himself: these may, on the other hand, be called two, since often the soul is named together with the spirit. Trichotomism must necessarily issue in the view and concept of two different souls and therefore in a splitting of man's being. This makes understandable the force with which it was condemned at the Fourth Council of Constantinople in A.D. 869-70.

Ibid. 148-9 [355]

Non-Theological Anthropology

Barth is famous for his relentless rejection of Natural Revelation and "non-theological" Anthropology is no exception. Man is unable to know thyself apart from the Word of God and any such non-theological anthropology is a dangerous foe of Christian anthropology. Barth believes the results of non-theological anthropology are hypothetical and non-essential, yet he does not prohibit all non-theological anthropological investigations. Wolfhart Pannenberg's Anthropology in Theological Perspective may be an example of a scientific and theological book on anthropology that meets Barth's qualifications for a scientific and yet theological anthropology. Barth believes that non-theological anthropology collapses in atheistic dogma as the following quotation exemplifies:

It is clear that we must here depart from the way taken by the anthropology which sets itself the aim of understanding man without God. It is of the essence of every non-theological anthropology to set itself some such aim. Of course, it is not essential that this aim be set absolutely and so be intended in the sense of atheistic dogma. It can be intended only hypothetically.

Ibid. 139 [346-7]


To summarize, Karl Barth's anthropology may be identified as Jesus Christ in particular, and as "Soul of My Body" in general. Man exists in two parts: Soul and Body. These two parts are inseparably unified by his phrase, "Soul of My Body". The spirit is not a third part of man, but is identified with the Spirit of God, and it is through the Spirit's free movement towards Man and through Man that Man is brought to life by the operation of God by his Spirit in Creation.  Man does not pantheistically exist in God, but there is no life apart from through the Spirit.

Header Background Image: "Illustrations to Robert Blair's The Grave: The Soul Hovering over the Body" by William Blake - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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Karl Barth on What Distinguishes Man From Beast

man-beast-barthThe Ethics of Hope is a reoccurring theme at the PostBarthian, and this includes hope for all, not only all people, but all non-human Creation as well, such that nothing is lost in the end when Christ Jesus is all in all (1 Cor 15:28).  What is it that separates Man from the Beasts such that only Humans may hear God's Yes and what prevents animals from hearing God's Yes as well? Anthropologists continually erode the wall of separation between humans and the higher primates, such that Bruce McCormmack says those who define the imago dei by how we are different from them are playing a dangerous game.

Karl Barth disagrees. Barth's Anthropology is developed in his Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Creation, Vol. III/2 (CD III/2) in section §46 Man as Soul and Body wherein he pronounces a No to all materialistic Anthropology. It is no surprise that Barth would say No to non-biblical Anthropology, and consider it as atheistic materialism, considering his famous Nein to Natural Revelation. Remember that famous statement by Barth in the preface to Church Dogmatics, Vol. I/1 where the analogia entis is called the "invention of the Antichrist." However strong Barth's opposition may be to Natural Revelation, his no to the higher primates may include a hidden Yes.

The following two quotations from CD III/2 address this question of whether there is a hidden Yes to the higher primates that also opens the door to hope for all (and not for humans only but the entire Cosmos!) Barth concludes that no matter how similar Man and Beast may be, it is Mankind alone that is baptized, and elsewhere Barth has made the persuasive argument that it is Mankind alone of all the animal kingdom in which the incarnation of Jesus appeared.

It is only by the Spirit of God the Creator that they [beasts] also live and are soul of their body. What distinguishes man from beast is the special movement and purpose with which God through the Spirit gives him life; and, connected with this, the special spirituality of his life, which is determined by the fact that God has not only made him in his constitution as soul of his body, but destined him in this constitution for that position of a partner of the grace of His covenant. We know nothing of such a double determination in respect of the beasts; and hence we do not understand the manner of their life or of their souls (though we cannot dispute that they have them) and at very best can only intuit. So far as we know, they lack that second determination by the Spirit which is primary and peculiar. Men and beasts can be born, but men alone can be baptized. Yet in the relation Spirit-life and therefore Spirit-life-body as such, there is no difference between men and beasts. However true this may be, the bible also names beasts among living beings, even before Adam comes into being, the animals are already living beings in Genesis.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics III.2 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley, J. W. Edwards, O. Bussey, Harold Knight, J.K.S. Reid, R.H. Fuller, R.J. Ehrlich, A.T. Mackey, T.H.L. Parker, H.A. Kennedy, J. Marks. Vol. 15. London: T & T Clark, 2009. 152-3. Print. Study Edition. [359]

And the second quotation is:

It should not be overlooked that it is on the basis of God's free operation that man has Spirit and therefore breathes and lives and may be soul of his body; and further that it is under the judgment of God that, as matters stand, he is placed in his creaturely constitution. This is proclaimed in a fact already mentioned, that he has his breath and life, as well as the Spirit, in common with the beasts. For example, Gen 1:20,25, calls beasts "living beings" before men; and Gen 7:15 calls them expressly "flesh having the breath of life in them." According to the Old Testament, neither soul nor the Spirit can be simply denied to the beasts. To be sure, their creation is not described as an act of special bestowal such as that which takes place in man according to Gen 2:7. Yet even so the creative Spirit which awakens man to life is also the life-principle of beasts (and even of the whole host of heaven according to Ps 33:6). Ecc 3:19ff develops this insight in a shattering way: "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" Yes; who knows? Man has no right to find in his own favour in this respect. All that he can really know and expect of himself is that his breath and life, like that of the beasts, will end as it began, and that like the beasts he must die.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics III.2 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley, J. W. Edwards, O. Bussey, Harold Knight, J.K.S. Reid, R.H. Fuller, R.J. Ehrlich, A.T. Mackey, T.H.L. Parker, H.A. Kennedy, J. Marks. Vol. 15. London: T & T Clark, 2009. 154-5. Print. Study Edition. [361-2]

Even if Barth does not share our Hope for all, we have Jürgen Moltmann on our side.


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