The PostBarthian

The Futility of Debating a Biblicist

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Jürgen Moltmann at 90: A Recap of the Unfinished Worlds Conference at Emory

molmtann90"Jürgen Moltmann is the greatest living theologian in the world." I said it, everyone said it, we said it together at this week's Unfinished Worlds: Jurgen Moltmann at 90 conference hosted by Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Famous Moltmann experts, authors, and bloggers came from around the world to attend this day-and-a-half conference, and many feared it would be their last chance to see their aging hero.

Moltmann arrived Wednesday morning with the other panelists. He had aged since the last time I had seen him spoke, but appeared to be in good health, and said he was well despite the 10 hour flight from Tübingen. As soon as he arrived, people began whispering and pointing, and within minutes, he was asked to sign a book and take a photograph. I heard many people express that they were too shy to approach him. One young man had brought his grandfather's first edition copy of the Theology of Hope, but was too nervous to ask Moltmann to sign it (he did eventually). Moltmann sat down each time he signed a book, and one of the hosts said they were worried that Moltmann would use up all his energy. Moltmann remained seated during his morning lecture. I watched as expert after expert greeted Moltmann, as well as his old friends. One man had translated Moltmann's books, and asked if Moltmann remembered him.

Welcome Professor Moltmann

The conference was to commemorate Moltmann's 90th birthday, but no one sang Happy Birthday. Moltmann was welcomed with tears, because his wife Elizabeth Wendell-Moltmann had died in June. Moltmann was a visiting professor at Emory for ten years, and Elizabeth was known and loved as much as Moltmann. The welcoming speaker and many in attendance were openly crying and glassy eyed at even the mention of her name.

Moltmann's five decade career was celebrated beginning with the legacy of his book The Theology of Hope, which is now in its 14th publication since it was written in 1964. Steffen Lösel said after Moltmann's professional career, he made the world his university, but without faculty meetings! Moltmann has been in critical dialogue with other world famous theologians, including Karl Barth, John Baptist-Metz, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, James Cones and others. Steffen Lösel remarked that Moltmann was such a prolific writers, that he recalled Moltmann saying "I cannot remember everything I've written." The room burst with laughter. Lastly, the story of the Jesuit martyrs was told, and how a copy of Moltmann's Crucified God had soaked up their blood, as they lay dying.

So this is how the conference began.

Moltmann and the Unfinished Reformation

The Unfinished Worlds was a reference to Moltmann's 2011 Boyle lecture with the same name, describing how the world of science and the world of theology are unfinished and unreconciled. It has been five years, and Moltmann now spoke much slower and less clear, and remained seated, however, Moltmann was as sharp as he ever was.

Moltmann began his lecture by reviewing his political theological career and ecumenical work, and then announced that a theology of Dispute must be reintroduced into the Church, State and communities of the world. "Why dispute? Because of the truth!" Moltmann remarked. Molmann wanted to break out of Church-based theology and enter into political theology and dispute with the ideologies of the world. Moltmann recalled a dangerous dialogue between Christians and Marxist, and said about it, "If we do not agree with one another today, we may shoot each other tomorrow." He said that today "we have an inflation of dialogue and we are in dialogue with everyone" but "the problem is ecumenical dialogue benefits the Faith but not the community".

Part 1: Dispute Theology

Moltmann said this is why Dispute Theology is essential and through a quote, he said, "Dispute Theology: yes or no, hot or cold, but us never be lukewarm." He was displeased with ecumenical dialogue today, and compared it to a talk show where "in modern talk shows, everyone talks and no one listens." And he described this like two men who meet at a train station, "the first man asks 'where is the train station?' and the second man said 'no, but it is nice that we came into dialogue'" The room burst in laughter again. "Today theologians are nice and pleasant and theology is a harmless business", Moltmann remarked with disgusted, and then said, "What we need is dispute! Why do we need disputes? Because of the truth! It is worth a heated conflict, especially amongst friends. Tolerance is good, but being tolerated is bad. I want to be accepted or rejected by my friends, but not tolerated!" 

Despite the laughter, the room was not pleased with Moltmann's call for a return to Dispute Theology. There was a Q&A session that followed Moltmann's lecture, and the questions were critical of Dispute Theology in particular. There was a frustration with Moltmann's lack of examples for dispute today. Moltmann initially justified his Dispute Theology by appealing to the Magisterial Reformers, who dedicated their theologies to the Kings and rulers of the world, and worked out their theology in very dangerous and life-threatening public events. The conference was located in Atlanta, and Moltmann said that he was not an American, but he then identified Capital Punishment as a specific example of where his Dispute Theology should be done. Moltmann's friend Kelly Gissendaner was executed by the State of Georgia in 2015, and many people in the room had met and known Kelly. Another questioner asked how the Death Penalty may be opposed, to which Moltmann answered, "The resurrection of the Crucified Christ is God's no to the Death Penalty" Moltmann scolded the audience and said, "Progressive theologians should not peacefully coexist with fundamentalism. The spirit of the Reformers is public dispute!" 

Moltmann answering a seminary students question

Part 2: Unfinished Reformation and the Anabaptists

The next major theme of Moltmann's lecture was a defense of the Anabaptists, whom Moltmann said were the only ones to follow the Reformation call "by faith alone" because "Only the Anabaptists crossed over the Corpus Christi and were persecuted for it. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli never did." For this reason, Moltmann titled his lecture the "Unfinished Reformation". According to Moltmann, "the Reformation only happened within the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation only happened in the Western Churches and not in the Eastern Churches." Moltmann said "The Protestant Reformation is not finished until no one is excluded from the Lord's Supper" and he believed that the Anabaptists were the only ones that extended the Reformation outside the confines of the Western Church and were persecuted for it. The Lord's Supper was invoked, and Moltmann said that he had taken the Eucharist in many churches and has never been denied it. It is not acceptable that anyone may be excluded from the Lord's Supper, whether it is by Protestants, Catholics or Orthodox alike. Moltmann spoke about how the Protestant Reformers were unified in their excommunication of the Anabaptists, and that we had no right to excommunicate anyone.

"The only thing that's important in the Lord's Supper is Jesus Christ's blood and body that was given for you. Anything else is a work of man. How may we excommunicate anyone when Christ has died for all and the whole world. We should remain seated after the Eucharist and discuss what happened to us. The Eucharist happens to us and what we experience follows from it. I always respond to the word of Christ in the invitation to the Lord's Supper in every church and have never been refused."

Moltmann said that it was not enough for the Lutherans to apologize to the Anabaptists in 2010 for their persecution of them in the 16th century, because the condemnations of the Anabaptist has not been removed from the Augsburg Confession and Symbolic Literature, and that a Mennonite minister could never accept the Augsburg Confession because of it.

Reactions to Moltmann's Lecture

After Moltmann's lecture, it was quiet. The first question came, then another, then another. There were standing microphones, and each question was more emotionally charged. Initial questions expressed frustration with Moltmann's Dispute Theology, but later questions focused on Moltmann's criticism of the Death Penalty. Kelly Gissendaner was not mentioned by name until the end of the Q&A. I was surprised because it was the elephant in the room. At last, I stood up to ask a question about Kelly's execution and afterlife, but the denied the opportunity by the moderator.

The remainder of the day were presentations by other speakers, some were great and some were not so great. One speaker said that computers and devices were not allowed in their classroom, and expressed frustration with technology. I sighed, as I continued to live-tweet the conference. Several lectures were excellent, but for the sake of brevity, I won't discuss them here and now. Hopefully that class wasn't on engaging modern culture!

Your favorite Moltmann fans: Travis, Wyatt, Danielle, Mark, and Pat left to right)

I was disappointed with the lack of panel discussions and interactions throughout the conference. It was sad to see Moltmann sitting silently in the front row, without engagement. I imagine that a 90 year old man only has so much energy for engagement, but he was there and listening attentively. It was an odd experience, to listen to the speakers quote Moltmann, as Moltmann sat in front of them listening. Moltmann has always been a very gracious and warm personality, and very pastoral too. He always listens and responds charitably. It was the first time I met Moltmann face-to-face, and he was as I imagined him.

Moltmann is older now, but as sharp as ever. I was impressed by the stinging lecture, and by Moltmann's witty responses in the Q&A. One questioner (heckler?) unwittingly said, "If that is true, then what is truth?" and Moltmann responded, "That is the question of Pontius Pilate!" And everyone laughed.

I met up with many Moltmann fans at the conference, that I had only known through online discussion in the past. It was a great experience to meet the Candler students, and several of them helped me find coffee and food throughout my time. It was a very beautiful part of Atlanta, and a welcoming experience. After the first day, I had a Moltmann Meetup over dinner, and heard about all the fascinating encounters others had had with Moltmann over the years. Meeting other Moltmann fans was as great as meeting Moltmann himself. Several of them had published books on Moltmann, such as Danielle Shroyer's Original Blessing and Mark Buchanan's Embraced: Many Stories, One Destiny: You, Me, and Moltmann. Personal letters from Moltmann were shared, and stories told of times we've been pastored by Moltmann in our lives. We were distant friends with a common bond before, but now we were friends for life.

Day Two: Moltmann's Closing Remarks

Day two was a half day, and the final day of the conference. Moltmann stood for his closing remarks behind a lectern. The final presidential debate was the night before, and Moltmann said it had made him tired. In his closing remarks, Moltmann stood for his lecture, and spoke more boldly against the execution of Kelly Gissendaner. Moltmann began by returning to the eucharist, "The risen Christ makes life a feast without end. My theology is an unfinished work and on the way. Out unfinished words are like Karl Barth, Martin Luther and Augustine." Then, Moltmann addressed Kelly's experience on Death Row:

"I followed the execution of Kelly Gissendaner very carefully. What theology do these prisoners develop? I myself was a prisoner in Scotland. What happens there in prison with human beings? Kelly was confined to silence, solidarity, isolation, and celibacy. She couldn't even shake hands longer than thirty seconds. She spent years not knowing if this day was her last, and this is cruel and unusual punishment. People after five years in solitary confinement go crazy and are stripped of humanity. John of the Cross described this as the dark night of the soul. Kelly sang songs and prayed prayers to survive death row. Jesus, the Spirit of Life, will visit you in your prison cell. Kelly said do not allow prison to rob you of your dreams and dignity. A miracle occurs and our life is redeemed and not wasted. Kelly Gissendaner sang amazing grace as she was executed and was the only free person in prison. The sin of the middle class is indifference. Get out and live and the spirt will bless you."


It was an amazing conference, and I feel sad for any Moltmann fan who was not able to be there. A little bird told me that Moltmann's lectures will be available online soon. I had a great time in Atlanta, and I was impressed by all the Emory Candler students who showed me true southern hospitality (you know who you are!). And lastly, here is a special thank you to Candler School of Theology at Emory University for hosting a once in a life time event!

Moltmann and Me

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Unfinished Worlds: Jürgen Moltmann at 90 Conference

Unfinished Worlds: Jürgen Moltmann at 90 Conference

I will be live tweeting the Unfinished Worlds: Jürgen Moltmann at 90 conference at Emory (Oct 19 & 20, 2016). Follow me @PostBarthian on twitter and use the hashtag #UWJM for conference related tweets. See you soon in Atlanta!



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The Errors of Inerrancy: #3 Inerrancy Censors the Bible’s Capacity for Error

The Errors of Inerrancy: #3 Inerrancy Censors the Bible's Capacity for Error[The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals.]

The Errors of Inerrancy: #3. Inerrancy Censors the Bible's Capacity for Error.


What harm is there in believing that the Bible might be Inerrant? In most cases, Biblical Inerrancy is a relatively harmless foreign praxis applied to the Holy Scriptures that forces theologians to defend absurd answers to "Bible Difficulties" (e.g. see the preposterous explanations for how the wrong priest was named in Mark 2:26 or how the wrong prophet was cited in Matt 27:9-10). In other cases, this praxis becomes harmful because, by not acknowledging any errors exist in the Scriptures, a theologian is forced to affirm an error (i.e. Bible Difficulty), and then must reorient their entire theology around that error to harmonize with it and avoid admitting the error exists. In the worst cases, Biblical Inerrancy forces theologians to defend detrimental errors in order to avoid admitting that there is an isolated and spurious error in the Scriptures.

For example, Wolfhart Pannenberg believes that the Word of God opposes patriarchy, but he said "that the Biblical tradition has legitimized a patriarchal order of the family" in not only the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor 14:34, Col 3:18, 1 Pet 3:1, Tit 2:5). According to Pannenberg, these patriarchal verses are in theological error, and patriarchy must be eliminated based by what the Bible teaches about the mutual love of early Christianity and the example of Jesus. To continue to affirm 'Biblical patriarchy' may result in the suppression of women's rights, in the Church and outside the Church. So according to Pannenberg, we must use the Word of God to defeat the errors of Biblical patriarchy!

The existence of errors in the Bible does not mean the Bible is ridden with errors—don't let Biblical Inerrantists deceive you! There are many explanations why these spurious and isolated verses exist in the Bible, but the Word of God opposes them and corrects these errors in these human words of the Holy Scriptures. Biblical Inerrancy forces theologians (and all Christians!) to defend these errors due to its unwillingness to admit that these isolated and spurious verses are in error. Thankfully, many Biblical Inerrantists do not defend these erroneous practices like Biblical Patriarchy, because most resort to the absurd answers to Bible Difficulties (that I previously mentioned) to evade the errors.

In this post, I will explore how the Bible may have a capacity for error that even extends to its theological and religious claims, and why it is an Error of Inerrancy to deny that the Bible has a capacity for error, and to explain how this Error of Biblical Inerrancy censors the Bible.

God Writes Straight, Even In Crooked Lines

Hans Küng summarizes the problem of Biblical Inerrancy concisely in his book, Theology of the Third Millennium, and in the following quotation he explains why the veracity of the Word of God does not depend on the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and in manifold ways, Biblical Inerrancy denies what the Bible says about itself.

As we know, the theory of verbal inspiration and verbal inerrancy was profoundly shaken by the Enlightenment. The historico-critical question, now directed at the books of [sic] the Bible, brought their genuine humanity and historicity to light. In the process, furthermore, the biblical authors' capacity for error became more than clear. . . . For deviation from the truth on historical and scientific questions in no way endangered the authority of Scripture. Rather God accepted the human author with all his weaknesses and mistakes—and reached his goal nevertheless: to teach men and women the "truth" of revelation. . . . The historical-anthropological relativity of Scripture must be taken seriously. Every doctrine of inspiration is limited by the fact that the biblical Scriptures are at the same time wholly human texts by human authors. They have to be measured and relativized by their human authors' gifts and shortcomings, their possibilities for knowledge and error, so that mistakes of the most varied sort cannot be excluded in advance. . . . Only when we recognize that God writes straight even in crooked lines and can reach his goals by way of our humanity and historicity without doing any violence to human beings. . . . We do not have to wash our hands before handling the Bible. The New Testament Scriptures nowhere claim to have fallen directly from heaven; rather they often quite unselfconsciously stress their human origin (along with the Apostolic Letters, Luke 1:2 is especially informative on the subject of how the Gospels came into being). . . . The operations of the Spirit excludes neither obscurity nor confusion, neither limitation nor error. The testimonies recorded in the New Testament have neither the same texture nor the same value. Some are brighter, some darker; some are more intelligible, some less; some are stronger, some weaker; some are more original, some derivative. There are testimonies that can diverge, contrast, and partially contradict one another. They are held together by the fundamental testimony that Jesus Christ has revealed the God who interacts with us. [1]

The Bible has a Capacity for Error

What does it mean to say that the Bible has a "capacity for error"? In the simplest sense, it means that the Word of God is not the exact same thing as the Bible, and the Word of God may not be falsified by an error in the Bible, and when errors are encountered in the Bible, these errors may be corrected by the rest of the Bible—theologians refer to this as material criticism or Sachkritik. Barth said that there is an "indirect identity" between the divine Word of God and the human words of Holy Scripture, therefore this distinction means that the human words of the Bible have a "capacity for error". So there's no need to have a panic attack, if an error is discovered in the Scriptures (like proponents of Biblical Inerrancy) because we may rightly discern the Word of God despite the finitude of the human authors of the Holy Scriptures. And if we do not discern this distinction, we censor the Word of God by the limits of the human words of Scripture.

Karl Barth explains how the Bible has a capacity for error well in this quotation:

"First, there is the truism that we cannot expect or demand a compendium of Solomonic or even divine knowledge of all things in heaven and earth, natural, historical and human, to be mediated to the prophets and apostles in and with their encounter with divine revelation, possessing which they have to be differentiated not only from their own but from every age as the bearers and representatives of an ideal culture and therefore as the inerrant proclaimers of all and every truth. They did not in fact possess any such compendium. Each in his own way and degree, they shared the culture of their age and environment, whose form and content could be contested by other ages and environments, and at certain points can still appear debatable to us. “Man has said what he could”. This means that we cannot overlook or deny it or even alter it. In the biblical view of the world and man we are constantly coming up against presuppositions which are not ours, and statements and judgments which we cannot accept. Therefore at bottom we cannot avoid the tensions which arise at this point. We must reckon with the fact that this may be possible in points of detail, and we must always be ready for it. Instead of talking about the “errors” of the biblical authors in this sphere, if we want to go to the heart of things it is better to speak only about their “capacity for errors.” For in the last resort even in relation to the general view of the world and man the insight and knowledge of our age can be neither divine nor even Solomonic. But fundamentally we certainly have to face the objection and believe in spite of it!" [2]

The Bible's capacity for error also means, that if an insignificant error is found in the Bible, the Word of God continues to be true. When Science demonstrates that the rabbit does not chew the cud (contrary to Lev 11:6) or the Moon is not greater than Saturn (Gen 1:16), then these isolated and insignificant errors do not invalidate the truth of the Bible and they certainly do not falsify the resurrection of Jesus Christ! We may use the Bible to amend itself at times, so that we may discerned the Word of God in the human words of Scripture. The revelation of the Word of God in the witness of the Holy Scriptures is not invalidated by these isolated and insignificant errors. (For instance, John Calvin believed there was an error in a quotation of the Old Testament in Hebrew 11:21, and he believed that this error may be safely ignored because the "Apostles were not so scrupulous in this respect" and since the error may be safely corrected by cross checking the original quotation in 1 Kings 1:47.)

The Bible's Capacity For Error extends to its Religious and Theological content


It is tempting to say that the Bible has a capacity for error only in its scientific claims, but this is not true. The Bible may also contain errors in its theological and religious claims. The Bible does not need us to hide its blemishes, because anytime we suppress the Bible, we may be suppressing the truth. Limiting the Bible's capacity for error to its non-theological and non-religious claims, is like placing training-wheels on the Bible, and although there are times it is useful to simplify the Bible for children, and use tools like Flannelgraphs, however these accommodations should not be mandated by Biblical Inerrancy, and there must come a time when the training wheels of Biblical Inerrancy must be removed from the Bible.

Barth explains how the Bible's capacity for error also extends to its religious and theological content as follows:

"But the vulnerability of the Bible, i.e., its capacity for error, also extends to its religious and theological content. The significance of a fact which was known to the early antiquity weighs on us more heavily to-day than formerly: that in their attestation of divine revelation (from the standpoint of the history of religion) the biblical authors shared the outlook and spoke the language of their own day--and, therefore, whether we like it or not, they did not speak, a special language of revelation radically different from that of their time. On the contrary, at point after point we find them echoing contemporaries in time and space who did not share their experiences and witness, often resembling them so closely that it is impossible to distinguish between them. Not only part but all that they say is historically related and conditioned. It seems to be weakened, and therefore robbed of its character as witness to revelation, by the fact that it has so many 'parallels'." [3]

Martin Luther on the Holy Scriptures and the Word of God


Martin Luther said, "There are two entities: God and the Scripture of God, which are no less than two entities, Creator and creature of God." The human witness of the Holy Scripture and the divine Word of God are two separate entities, and the unity and distinction of these two entities must be simultaneously upheld. In a marriage, it is essential to make to affirm the unity of two persons, but also affirm that there are two persons in unity! Or, it's also essential to affirm the two natures in the one person of Jesus (and that's why monophysitism was declared a heresy by the Ecumenical Councils). Therefore, conflating the Bible and the Word of God, diminishes and censors the Bible. My point is that affirming the unity of the Bible and the Word of God at the expense of the distinction of the Bible and the Word of God, is an Error of Inerrancy!

Biblical Inerrancy prima facie affirms the humanity of the Biblical authors, but denies that the Biblical authors have written in a way common to all other human authors. So the Biblical author's humanity is affirmed, only so far as that humanity is a subset of the divine Word of God. Due the finitude of human language, this calls into question whether God has been revealed at all! Chicago Statement Article IV, demonstrates that the Bible is not a distinct human entities as Luther said: "We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration."

In Martin Luther explains to read the Bible, in a way that maintains its distinction and unity with the Word of God, in his preface to James and Jude:

"The true touchstone for testing every book is to discover whether it emphasizes the prominence of Christ or not. All Scripture sets forth Christ (Rom 3:24f) and Paul will know nothing but Christ (1 Cor 2:2). What does not teach Christ is not apostolic, not even if taught by Peter or Paul. On the other hand, what does preach Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, or Herod does it." [4]

I am not ashamed of the Bible's humanity

The Bible is not a divine document that descended from heaven on golden plates, but a collection of human writings born from the witness of the Church witnessing to the Word of God. Similar to Christology, the Bible is fully human and fully divine like the two natures of Jesus. If a preacher preaches the divinity of Jesus at the expense of Jesus' humanity, then he is perpetrator of Doceticism. Inerrancy is not a heresy, but like Doceticism, it diminishes the Bible by denying its humanity. Biblical Inerrancy censors the Bible by not allowing it to have a "capacity for error" and it rejects any theological conclusion that acknowledges errors in the Scriptures. Biblical Inerrancy appears harmless on the surface, but may result in affirming errors to avoid acknowledging errors exist in the Bible.

In conclusion, there's no need to protect the Bible by censoring it's blemishes like the Biblical Inerrantists—ripe fruit has the most blemishes but tastes the best! I'm not ashamed of the gospel, and that includes the humanity of Jesus, the humanity of the Bible, the humanity of the Church, and the humanity of every individual Christian and humanity of all people. In a final word of encouragement, Karl Barth reminds us that the Bible is the revealed Word of God, so the Bible does not need us to defend it and we do not need to protect it—as Paul said, we have this treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).

In a final word of encouragement, we do not need to solve all of the "Bible Difficulties" and we may be comfortable with the humanity of the Bible. If we allow the Bible to have a capacity for error when we interpret it, then the truth will shine more brilliantly in it. This last word is expressed best by Karl Barth when he said,

We are absolved from differentiating the Word of God in the Bible from other contents, infallible portions and expressions from the erroneous ones, the infallible from the fallible, and from imagining that by means of such discoveries we can create for ourselves encounters with the genuine Word of God in the Bible. If God was not ashamed of the fallibility of all the human words of the Bible, of their historical and scientific inaccuracies, their theological contradictions, the uncertainty of their tradition, and, above all, their Judaism, but adopted and made use of these expressions in all their fallibility, we do not need to be ashamed when He wills to renew it to us in all its fallibility as witness, and it is mere self-will and disobedience to try to find some infallible elements in the Bible. But finally we are absolved from having to know and name such the event or events, in which Scripture proves and confirms itself to us as the Word of God. [5]
[^1] Küng, Hans. Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View. New York: Doubleday, 1988. 52-58. Print.
[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Word of God I/2. Vol. 5. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 52. Print. Study Edition. [508]
[^3] Ibid. 54. [510]
[^4] Martin Luther's preface to James and Jude.
[^5] Ibid. 78-9. [532-3]
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The Errors of Inerrancy: #2 Inerrant Original Autographs are a Tautology of Biblical Inerrancy

The Errors of Inerrancy: #2 Inerrant Original Autographs are a Tautology of Biblical Inerrancy[The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals.]

The Errors of Inerrancy: #2. Inerrant Original Autographs are a Tautology of Biblical Inerrancy

What are Inerrant Original Autographs?

The Inerrant Original Autographs are the linchpin of Biblical Inerrancy, but what are these hypothetical documents? I'll answer by reviewing the history of it.

According to the rationalistic logic of Biblical Inerrancy, God may not error, and God may not speak error, and so the syllogism concludes that if there is even an insignificant error in the Bible, then the Bible is not the Word of God. The first proponents of Biblical Inerrancy in the 17th century, including Francis Turretin and John Owen, extended inerrancy to the scribal copy-work of Biblical manuscripts over the centuries, and they believed that their extant Bibles were absolutely free from error, and generously extended inerrancy to the vowel pointers added by the scribes to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. They believed that variants existed in some Biblical manuscripts, yet believed that God had divinely preserved the Bible without errors to their day.

In the 16th century, Erasmus had initiated the reconstruction of the Bible from extant Greek Biblical manuscripts, and even the best manuscripts contained unsolvable problems (i.e. Bible Difficulties), and as more ancient and accurate manuscripts were discovered, the hope of finding an inerrant manuscript of the Bible vanished. In time, it became impossible to assert that any extant Biblical manuscript was inerrant, such that later proponents of Biblical Inerrancy were forced to retreat from their original claims (i.e. that the extant Bibles were still inerrant) and admit that the inerrant Bible was now lost. According to the Rogers/McKim Proposal, proponents of Biblical Inerrancy were continually forced to retreat further and further from the claims of Owen and Turretin, until at last the American theologian A.A. Hodge (1823—1886) popularized the idea that only the very first written text of each book of the Bible was free from error, and these hypothetical documents are now collectively known as the Inerrant Original Autographs.

Inerrant Original Autographs are the linchpin of Biblical Inerrancy, because these hypothetical documents represent the minimal viable parchment that must exist for Biblical Inerrancy to be possible, such that at the bare minimum, the very first written copy of the biblical text must be inerrant. Biblical Inerrancy has inexplicably grounded the Word of God in the written human words of Scripture, and does not allow for any distinction between the divinely spoken Word of God and the human written Scripture, because these Inerrant Original Autographs are the very revelation of God in written text. In an odd way, Biblical Inerrancy grounds the Word of God into the written texts in such a way that the Incarnation is relocated and reoriented from the birth of Jesus to the writing of the Inerrant Original Autographs!

Inerrant Original Autographs are therefore a tautology of Biblical Inerrancy, and tells us nothing about the nature of the first sources of the Bible, and tell us everything about the flawed presuppositions of Biblical Inerrancy.

The 'Lost' Inerrant Original Autographs is Biblical Inerrancy Backtracking

Biblical Inerrancy has backtracked so far that today, proponents say that the Inerrant Original Autographs are now lost, so there is no way to verify (or falsify) their theory. Since the Inerrant Original Autographs have perished, and even the first copies of these hypothetical documents were susceptible to error, then their exact content is now extinct, and hope that they will be reconstructed is lost forever. The lost Inerrant Original Autographs, make Biblical Inerrancy an unprovable tautology!

The Chicago Statement says "We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant." This statement admits, unbeknownst to the authors, that they have no access to the Inerrant Original Autographs, and these extinct documents might as well have never existed, because they are inaccessible to the Church. And, since the exact words of the Inerrant Original Autographs are lost, then all of the essential elements of the Christian Faith are affected by the absence of the autographs. Biblical Inerrancy has so strictly united the Word of God with the human words of Scripture that revelation of the Word of God depends on their accuracy, so then the absence of these documents means that all of Christian dogma is called into question by their absence because of the direct dependence upon them! Therefore, according to the logic of Inerrancy, if our Bible contains any errors, then it is not the Word of God, and so since there is no way to confirm that the first sources of the Bible were inerrant, since they are now lost (i.e. extinct), then the Church does not possess an Inerrant Bible, and so it doesn't possess the Word of God at all! To say that "this absence renders ... Inerrancy invalid" is a sheepish admission that the signers of the Chicago Statement are unable to be consistent with their own rationalist system.

The Inerrant Original Autographs are Lost Forever

The so-called Inerrant Original Autographs were lost as soon as they were written, so whether the first sources of the Bible were "inerrant" is impossible to demonstrate from the witness of Church history or from Biblical manuscript evidence. There's no historical attestation to first sources of the Bible that substantiate the claim that they resembled anything like Inerrant Original Autographs. Since the first copies of the Inerrant Original Autographs contained variants (like every copy thereafter), then the exact text of the Inerrant Original Autographs are lost forever, and may never be reconstructed since the parchments they were written upon have perished. Since the very first copies of the Inerrant Original Autographs contained variants, there is no way to certainly know that any verse is free from error. Even if the first copies were 99.99% accurate, there would be no way to absolutely know that any given word of the bible was correct without the Inerrant Original Autograph to verify it. It may have been possible to cross-check with the Inerrant Original Autographs before they perished, but there's no evidence that this practice ever happened in Church History, and if it did happen, then it was only for small selections of the Bible and for a handful of years. The oldest known manuscript copies of the New Testament were written a century or more after the original sources, so there are many transitional manuscripts between these know copies and the first sources. And the first hundred years of Church was one of the most active and viral epochs in the history of the Church, so the idea that an inerrant Bible was disseminated perfectly in this period of explosive expansion is an anachronistic tale from denizens of the Age of Information. Today its possible to perfectly transmit a text document to a billion people in a twinkling of an eye, but its absurd to think that any document was spread this way in the first centuries of the Church.

No one person or Church has ever seen all the Original Autographs

Before first English speaking theologians of the 17th century imagined Inerrant Original Autographs, no one in 1700 years prior had conceived of the existence of Inerrant Original Autographs. Sure there were various quotations by ancient people, when read anachronistically through the paradigm of Inerrancy that sounded like Biblical Inerrancy, but no historical witnesses that refer to the first sources of the Bible being any different in nature to any other ancient document.

No single Church or person has ever had access to all Inerrant Original Autographs. It's possible a person in the early church in Thessolonica may have read both Inerrant Original Autographs of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, but there's no evidence that all the golden copies of the Inerrant Original Autographs of the New Testament were ever located in one place. And the first sources of the Old Testament perished centuries before all the New Testament documents were written. All of this means that no Church or person has ever witnessed a complete set of Inerrant Original Autographs. So a complete "inerrant" Bible has never been normative in any Church ever, and the bible that has been normative in the Church has never been inerrant.

Modern Greek Bibles have essentially reconstructed the original sources of the New Testament

The Bible has far greater historical attestation than any other ancient work of literature. Archeologists have discovered over a hundred papyri manuscripts of the New Testament that were written as early as the second century of the Church, and thanks to the science of Textual Criticism, experts have essentially reconstructed the original sources of the Bible. The UBS5 and NA28 are two different reconstructions of the Greek New Testament based on the manuscript evidence, and these eclectic Bibles are essentially identical to the letter. It is a false dichotomy of Biblical Inerrancy to say that either the Bible is inerrant or the Bible is fully of errors and lies. Due to the discoveries of ancient Biblical manuscripts and the scientific work by Textual Criticism, the eclectic Biblical texts are a near exact reconstruction of the primal sources to the Greek New Testament. The UBS5 and NA28 are not inerrant copies of the Inerrant Original Autographs, but are almost identical to the Bible used by the earliest Christian Churches. In many ways, this eclectic text is a more complete and accurate copy of the Bible than anyone in Church History possessed for the first 2,000 years of the Church.

A highly accurate Bible is not an inerrant Bible.

The eclectic Bibles are highly reliable and accurate, but they are not inerrant! The UBS5 includes an apparatus that provides a confidence rating for each verse of the Bible. The highest score is an A-ratings that means that the first order manuscripts are in reasonable agreement and the lowest score is a D-rating that means that it is uncertain which manuscript contains the original text (or none of them are correct). Almost every page of the eclectic Bible contains a D-rated verse. And even if all the verses had an an A-rating, this doesn't guarantee that the eclectic text is error free, because a variant may have been introduced to the common ancestor to all the first-order Biblical manuscripts. All Biblical manuscripts contain variants (errors), so we know with high certainty that variants were introduced between the earliest extant manuscripts and the first sources of the Bible.

Inerrant Original Autographs are aping Historical Adam controversies

Our highly accurate and reliable eclectic Bibles are not free from internal problems. Apart from presuppositions of Biblical Inerrancy, there's no reason to believe that the first sources were one unique document. Even conservative theologians admit that there is a Synoptic Problem in the Gospels that demonstrates that there were many first sources that were brought together into the present form of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in the Bible today. Asserting that the Bible today descend from copies of Inerrant Original Autographs is similar to Biblical Literalists today who assert that all human beings descended from a Historical Adam. (The Historical Adam is an Evangelical controversy where the book of Genesis is read under the auspice of Biblical Literalism to assert that all human beings physically descended from one perfect man, specially created by God directly from the dirt without intermediate form, named Adam in the Garden of Eden.) All ancient documents originated from first sources, but this does not prove that any ancient text originated from one and only one primal source, and it certainly does not prove that that a first source was inerrant! Textual criticism teaches that ancient literature is an amelioration of sources from various times, places and redactors, and this is true of the Bible as well. The Bible has far better historical manuscript attestation than any ancient document, however there is no evidence that the first sources of the Bible one and only one Inerrant Original Autographs. All the manuscript evidence and evidence from Church history indicates that the Bible originated from a very intricately weaved grouping of many sources; and even the Bible says this about itself (Luke 1:1-4)! If the proposition of Biblical Inerrancy were removed, then there would be no further basis for asserting Inerrant Original Autographs ever existed.


The hypothetical and so-called Inerrant Original Autographs are an unprovable tautology of Biblical Inerrancy, that do not inform of the historical nature of first sources of the Bible, but rather inform us what is the absolute minimum requirements that these first sources of the Bible must have been in order to affirm Biblical Inerrancy. So Inerrant Original Autographs are a result of Biblical Inerrancy, not a support for Biblical Inerrancy. And in the end, if the true sources of the Bible were absolutely dissimilar to Inerrant Biblical Autographs, then our Bibles would remain unchanged! So therefore as G.C. Berkouwer once said, the Inerrant Original Autographs are "foreign to the world of Scripture", and may be safely disregarded in any orthodox doctrine of inspiration of the Bible.

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The Errors of Inerrancy: #1 The Church has never possessed an inerrant Bible

errorofinerrancy1[The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals.]

The Errors of Inerrancy: #1. The Church has never possessed an inerrant Bible.

No one person or church has ever possessed an inerrant Bible, because Biblical Inerrancy "strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture" (c.f. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X) and all the Original Autographs have not existed at the same time. It's possible that an early church may have briefly possessed two or more Original Autographs of Paul's letters (e.g. 1 & 2 Corinthians), but no one has ever seen all of the Original Autographs of the New Testament. Therefore, the Church has never possessed or operated with a complete inerrant Bible. The extant Bible that has actively guided the Church everywhere throughout history, from the very beginning, has never been an inerrant Bible.

Inerrancy undermines the Authority of the Bible in the Church

According to the logic of Biblical Inerrancy, only the lost Original Autographs are authoritative, and extant copies of the Bible are authoritative so far as they accurately reproduce the inerrant Original Autographs. Therefore the Church has never operated with an authoritative Bible because the Original Autographs perished shortly after they were written, and as few as fifty people or less may have been eye-witnesses to one or more of the so-called inerrant Original Autographs! Sadly, the hypothetical inerrant Original Autographs have perished and are forever lost, and their brief existence was like shooting stars that unknown people happened to see strike brilliantly across the sky before disappearing forever into the darkness of space.

Inerrancy undermines the Infallibility of the Bible.

On the contrary, the extant Bible has always had authority in the Church throughout history despite the immediate extinction of the inerrant Original Autographs. The authoritative Bible is the extant Bible actively used in the Church, and not the extinct inerrant Original Autographs. The authority of the Bible does not depend on inerrant Original Autographs, but exclusively upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit, such that revelation of the Word of God is faithfully witnessed through even inaccurate copies of the Bible (e.g. consider the influence of the KJV Bible that used the defective Textus Receptus). Establishing the authority of the Bible on extinct inerrant Original Autographs means that the Word of God has failed to outlive the parchment of the Original Autographs they were written upon, and is in flat contradiction to Matthew 24:35, where the Evangelist declares the word of Jesus are infallible.

Inerrancy undermines Church Dogma dependent on single words of scripture.

It is impossible to say that a single word of any extant Bible is identical to the inerrant Original Autograph. Many Christian Doctrines are established on a single word of Scripture (c.f σπέρματι in Gal 3:16). Ironically, this includes inerrancy as well! B.B. Warfield's argument for Inerrancy in his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible rests exclusively on the single greek word inspiration (θεόπνευστος) in 2 Tim 3:16! So it is impossible to affirm Biblical Inerrancy and "DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs" (Chicago Statement, Art X).

Biblical Inerrancy is a Dispensable Accretion to the Doctrine of Inspiration.

Martin Luther said that "there are two entities: God and the Scripture of God, which are no less than two entities, creator and creature of God." The error of inerrancy might have been averted if this distinction between the divine revelation of the Word of God and the human witness in the Holy Scriptures were maintained. Inerrancy unnecessarily combines these entities in a similar way to how the monophysites combined the human and divine natures in Christology (and for clarity, I'm not saying Biblical Inerrancy is a heresy). The desire to affirm the Bible, naively resulted in reducing the doctrine of inspiration to a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. Maintaining Luther's distinction abolishes the requirement for inerrant Original Autographs entirely! If there are errors in the Scriptures, then the testimony of the Holy Spirit will enable the Church to hear the Word of God faithfully and accurately in Scriptures, despite the Scripture's capacity for error.

Biblical Inerrancy is a Mechanical Dictation Theory of Inspiration

For instance, Paul dictated the Epistle of the Romans through the prison bars to Tertius (c.f. Rom 16:11), so in his cause, there is no written Original Autograph! Tertius copied down what Paul spoke, so the first written copy of the Epistle to the Romans is not inerrant (according to the logic of Biblical Inerrancy). Asserting that Tertius' transcription was the inerrant Original Autograph of Romans reduces Biblical Inerrancy to a "mechanical dictation theory of inspiration" (identical to the Islamic view of the Qu'ran). Consider the odd conclusion that Paul's spoken words are not inerrant, but Tertius' transcription of Paul's words are inerrant! Suggesting Paul and his scribe co-authored the inerrant epistle is equally and likewise odd. Proponents of Biblical Inerrancy have said, "WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities" (Chicago Statement, Art. IX). However, in this view, Paul is comparable to a computer speaker that plays heavenly music, and Tertius is like a microphone that records a heavenly musician—and no one considers speakers and microphones to be authors of music today!

The extant Bible is always better than the extinct inerrant Bible

The Bible that has always been normative and authoritative in the Church has never been an inerrant Bible! So there's no need to imagine an inerrant Bible. And since we have no known witnesses to describe the ontology of the lost Original Autographs, we may not make any positive statements regarding their composition or nature. If the lost Original Autographs were miraculously preserved and one day discovered, and upon analysis, proved to have the same types of errors that all future copies possessed, there would be no change to the Bible possessed everywhere today! It is the extant Bible, not the inerrant Bible, that has been norming norm for the Church and the extant Bible, not the extinct inerrant Bible, that is the sola scriptura of the Church.


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Schleiermacher’s Distressing Letter To His Father

schleiermacher5The young Friedrich Schleiermacher wrote a "distressing letter" to his father to confess that he no longer affirmed Christian doctrines that his father believed were necessary to obtain salvation: namely, vicarious atonement and the deity of Jesus Christ. The distressing letter, as Schleiermacher titled it, is an icon of de-conversion, especially for atheists and those who have apostatized from Christianity. Schleiermacher didn't de-convert from Christianity or become an atheist, but he knew that if he followed his convictions, then his family would view him as an apostate or false teacher. Schleiermacher's distressing letter is in an emotional correspondence with his father, and in this post I will share the distressing letter and the correspondence that culminated in it. The distressing letter epitomizes a common experience today for anyone who has deviated from the theological commitments of their community, and then fears being rejected for it.  (The full collection of these letters were published in The Life of Schleiermacher as Unfolded in His Autobiographical Letters and Texts.)

Friedrich Schleiermacher: A Biographical Sketch

friedrich-schleiermacherFriedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) was an enlightenment Calvinist, a German pastor, philosopher, and the father of modern Protestant theology. Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith dominated theological thought for four hundred years between Calvin's Institutes (c. 16th century) and Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (c. 20th century), and it is the most challenging theological book I've ever read. Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith (a.k.a. The Doctrine of Faith) is a juggernaut that all Christians theologians must face today, but few are able to comprehend it, yet alone answer it. Schleiermacher is sadly dismissed as a liberal Protestant in the pejorative sense. However, Schleiermacher and his Christian Faith remains a formidable challenge and influence to even the greatest theologians today, both liberals and conservatives alike. (For instance, Michael Horton recently titled his systematic theology "The Christian Faith."). Other influential books by Schleiermacher includes: On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, The Life of Jesus, and Christian Ethics.

Background to Schleiermacher's Distressing Letter

Young Friedrich Schleiermacher recognized there were problems in his Calvinist Faith at the young age of 17 (or possibly earlier) when others were struggling with puberty. His recently remarried father and supportive uncle deeply impressed Christianity on Schleiermacher, and actively corresponded with him through letters laden in pious prose. At this time in Schleiermacher's youth, while he was living among the Moravian brethren, he entered a season of doubt and skepticism of Moravian theology that he believed his Father's apologetics were unable to resolve. The Moravians were unwilling to admit there were weaknesses in their theology, or even engage the arguments of critics, and this made Schleiermacher believed the Moravians were deceptively hiding him from their critics because they were unable to answer their criticisms. Schleiermacher desired to continue studying theology, but no longer within the bounds of Moravian orthodoxy. It was a difficult time for a young genius, who had realized he had advanced beyond his father, and due to fear and respect for his father, he felt compelled to keep his doubts a secret from everyone. He knew that if he confessed his doubts then his father would view him as a false teacher or apostate, and feared his father would not allow him to continue studying theology or reject him.

Schleiermacher's Initial Cryptic Letter to his Father.

Schleiermacher decided to write his father the following cryptic letter in which he covertly confessed his concerns regarding the Moravians but he concealed his own doubts from his father. This is the first letter in the correspondence to his father that culminates in the distressing letter, I've added bold to important selections of the letters to emphasis important sections. (The following letters are available online here: The Life of Schleiermacher as Unfolded in His Autobiographical Letters and Texts.)

Barby, 1786.

Thanks to moderate exercise and to a wholesome diet, which is also very wholesome for my purse, I am now, praise be to God, healthy and cheerful. With one thing only I am not content. I wish very much to study theology, and that thoroughly ; but I shall not be able to boast of having done anything of the kind when I leave this, for in my opinion we are kept within too narrow limits in point of reading. Except what we see in the scientific periodicals, we learn nothing about the objections, arguments, and discussions raised in the present day in regard to exegesis and dogmatics. Even in the lectures delivered to us sufficient mention is not made of these matters, and yet knowledge of them is absolutely necessary for a future theologian. The fact that they fear to lay them before us, awakens in many minds a suspicion that the objections of the innovators must approve them selves to the intellect and be difficult to refute. I do not, however, share this opinion; and upon the whole, the small amount of discontent I feel in regard to this subject does not as yet disturb my tranquillity, and you are the only person to whom I have mentioned it. I recommend myself to yours and mamma's[*] tender affection, and am with entire filial love and reverence.

Your most dutiful son.

[*n.b. The father had by this time married again.]

His Father's Undiscerning Response to Schleiermacher's Cryptic Letter

Schleiermacher's father responded without deciphering his cryptic message. He had hoped his father would have provided him consolation to his rejection of Moravian theology, however his father gave him no such thing. His father defends the Moravians and tells Schleiermacher to disregard the objections and criticisms of Moravian theology, and assures Schleiermacher that those infidels had a dangerous love for profundity, and that he did not wish for Schleiermacher to become a vain theologians like those innovators. His father continues to say that he had read all the so-called refutations and that they did not convince me. Since Schleiermacher had embraced the objections and criticisms with full conviction, he realized that these hard words applied to himself, and he knew now how his father would respond to him if he confessed the truth about his doubts. In despair, Schleiermacher did not respond to his father for six months, until finally his convictions drove him to confess the truth to his father in an emotional and "distressing letter". 

Here is the letter Schleiermacher received from his father in response to his cryptic letter.

The Father to the Son.

My dear Son,

Anhalt, 2nd August, 1786.

I wish you and your comrade joy at having got Count Reuss for your warden ; that you, more especially, are highly pleased at it, and that you are relieved from the necessity of writing to ask for money and an increase of allowance, I see by your letter. It is certainly very good when a man can be free from pecuniary cares while he is studying. I was not so fortunate ; but my narrow circumstances proved very beneficial to me, and thus I hope that the dear Savior will graciously turn to your true good, that which may at first seem a hardship to you — such as, for instance, your delicate health. His invisible hand ever leads us along the safest path, if we do but give ourselves up to His guidance like little children. Do this as regards your studies also, dear son, and be assured that you will lose nothing by it, should even the objections and criticisms of the innovators remain unknown to you. Keep out of the way of this tree of knowledge, and of that dangerous love of profundity which would lure you towards it. I have read almost all the refutations of infidelity, but they have not convinced me ; but I have, on the contrary, learned from experience that faith is the regalia of the Deity, and can only be the work of His mercy. Besides, you do not intend to be a vain theologian, but are preparing to render yourself capable of bringing souls to the Savior, and for this purpose, you need not all that knowledge; and you cannot sufficiently thank your Savior for having brought you into the community of the Brethren, where you can so well do without it. Believe, moreover, that the Bible is an inexhaustible spring at which you may abundantly quench your thirst for knowledge. Make your self, more especially, thoroughly acquainted with the Hebrew ; for that many a treasure is still buried in this language, you may in a measure learn from the commentaries of brother B[...]. Should you wish, in addition to this, to read some thing pleasant, and at the same time edifying and likely to confirm you in your faith, you will find this in the writings of Martinot, Sander, Bonnet, and Harvey (principally of the latter), men who have endeavored to trace in material nature also the love, the wisdom, and the power of God, who died upon the cross for us godless ones. It is, undoubtedly, very elevating ; yet, when we remember and believe in the martyrdom of God, it makes us at the same time bow low in the dust, and inspires us with the deepest compunction, when in such books we learn to know not only the unfathomable depth of God's love, which has condescended to us miserable and lost sinners, but also its height, length, and breadth. Here you will find a wide field for the exercise of your love of knowledge, in which you will be secure against pride and vanity, and will, ultimately, be led back again to blessed simplicity.

The Distressing Letter

Schleiermacher did not meet in the minimum criteria of faith that his father had told him that was necessary to be saved—and so he was in a crisis. At last, Schleiermacher confessed to his father that he loved theology and wished to continue to study it, but he was in full conviction did not meet his father's minimum standard for Christian orthodoxy. It was a bold response by Schleiermacher, since he was dependent upon his father (and uncle) for financial support. The publish correspondence indicates there was a six month hiatus before Schleiermacher finally respond with this distressing letter. By that time, he had already confessed to his superiors, and was told that if he did not have a change of heart within a short period of time, that he would not be allowed to hold even the lowest office in the church.

Tenderly beloved Father,

Barby, 21st January, 1787.

Though tardily expressed, my wishes for you in the New Year are not, therefore, the less sincere or the less fervent. The older we grow, dear father, the longer we witness the course of events in the world, the more persuaded we become, that neither for ourselves nor for others ought we to wish any of those things which are generally the object of desire, lest we should in reality be wishing for evil. Everything is, under some circumstances, happiness, and under others, unhappiness, except peace, tranquility of mind, and submissiveness of heart; and this is what I wish for you, in addition to that which must be most valued by a father, well-founded joy in your children. The more I, as your son, wish you this from the bottom of my filial heart, the more it costs me, the more it pains me in the depth of my soul, that I must now announce to you something which will cause your hope, in the fulfillment of this wish, to waver.

I confessed to you, in my last letter, my dissatisfaction with the limited scope of my position here, and pointed out how easily, under such circumstances, religious doubts may, in our times, arise among young people. I thus endeavored to prepare you for the intelligence that these doubts have been awakened in me, but I did not attain my object. You believed that your answer had set me at rest; and for six whole months I most unjustifiably remained silent, because I could not find it in my heart to destroy this illusion.

Faith is the regalia of the Godhead, you say. Alas! dearest father, if you believe that, without this faith, no one can attain to salvation in the next world, nor to tranquility in this—and such, I know, is your belief—oh! then, pray to God to grant it to me, for to me it is now lost. I cannot believe that He, who called Himself the Son of Man, was the true, eternal God : I cannot believe that His death was a vicarious atonement, because He never expressly said so Himself; and I cannot believe it to have been necessary, because God, who evidently did not create men for perfection, but for the pursuit of it, cannot possibly intend to punish them eternally, because they have not attained it.

Alas! best of fathers, the deep and acute suffering which I endure while writing this letter, prevents me from giving you in detail the history of my soul as regards my opinions, or all my strong reasons for entertaining them ; but I implore you, do not look upon them as merely transient views, without deep roots. During almost a whole year they have had a hold upon me, and it is long and earnest reflection that has determined me to adopt them. I entreat you not to keep back from me your strongest counter-reasons; but I candidly confess that I do not think you will succeed in convincing me at present, for I hold firmly by my convictions. And now are told these tidings which must be so terribly startling to you ! Try to enter entirely into my feelings, and you will, perhaps, be able in some measure to understand what it must have cost me to write these lines, devoted to you as I am, my good father, with such tender filial affection, acknowledging as I do your great love for me, and being conscious that I owe everything to you; for that I entertain these feelings, I can aver with a good conscience, and I am sure that you also are persuaded of it. They have been written with trembling hand and with many tears ; but even now I would not send them forth, had not my superiors encouraged me ; and even in a manner charged me to write to you. Comfort yourself, dear father, for I know you were long in the same state that I am now. Doubts assailed you at one time as they now do me, and yet you have become what you now are. Think, hope, believe, that the same may be the case with me ; and be assured that, although I may not be of the same faith as you, I will, nevertheless, ever strive to become an honorable, upright, and useful man ; and, after all, that is the most essential thing.

I have openly laid my thoughts before my present superiors, and, upon the whole, I have been treated very kindly. They have told me that they would wait some time to see whether a happy change might not take place ; but, at the same time, they have given me frequently and distinctly to understand, which is indeed a matter of course, that I must not look forward to obtaining even the most insignificant office in the community, until my convictions have undergone this change. I know, dear father, that however great may be the pain which I am now causing you, you will not withdraw from me your fatherly love and care. You will see, without my suggesting it, that it will be necessary even in case it cannot soon be realized — which, alas ! I am convinced it cannot be — that measures should at once be taken to enable me to become a useful man beyond the limits of the community, as within it I cannot at present be so. If your circumstances will at all admit of it, pray, allow me to go to Halle, if only for two years. You must see that my success in life depends upon, this. I can hardly believe that you will give your consent to my continuing my theological studies there, for you will not be willing to add one more to the heterodox teachers of our country. However, if you can do so with a good conscience, as I would at all events probably devote myself to a scholastic career, it will suit me much the best, for I am better prepared herein than in other sciences, and my inclination also lies this way. There, also, I would be more likely to change my views than by continued study in the congregation, for I would have more opportunities of testing every diversity of opinion, and would, perhaps, learn to see that many reasons are on one side not so strong, and on the other, stronger than I at present conceive. However, I leave it entirely to you to determine what I shall study. In regard to law there is this objection, that a jurist belonging to the burgher class rarely obtains an appointment ; and in regard to medicine there is this other objection, that on account of my deficiency in preliminary knowledge, I would require two years more, while at the same time, the lectures are much more expensive. Perhaps uncle can give me free lodgings or free board in his house ; or, perhaps, I might obtain free board elsewhere, or even a small stipend. Six young members of the Brotherhood are already studying law in Halle, and these, together with my old friend W[...], from Breslau, and Mr. S[...], would be sufficient society for me ; so that from this side you would not have reason to fear the corruption of the university, besides which, my time would be fully occupied with study, and I would live quietly under the guardianship of my uncle.

If you would communicate with the Brethren in Herrnhut upon the subject, and represent the matter to them, you might, perhaps, succeed in obtaining their consent to my going to Halle, in which case should I hereafter change my convictions, I would be at liberty to return to the community. The Brethren will no doubt understand that this diversion of my thoughts to quite different subjects would be the most likely means gradually to effect the desired change. However, should this even for a time entirely separate me from the congregation, it will, nevertheless, be better than that I should remain in the community with unaltered convictions, leading an inactive and discontented life. On the other hand, should I change in Halle, it is not impossible that I might return to the Brethren.

You will perceive in reading this letter, dear father, how hard it has been to me to write it. May God give you strength to receive the intelligence without injury to your health, with out too great pain, and without suffering it to impair your fatherly love for me. He knows best what it has cost me to impart it to you.

And now, one request more only : make up your mind as quickly as possible. After Easter begin all the courses in Halle, and of what use would it be that I should remain an other half-year here, consuming a great deal of money, and yet at last have to go ?

In sorrow, dear father, I kiss your hands, and entreat you to look at everything from the most favorable side, and to consider well, and to bestow upon me in future, also, as far as it is possible, that fatherly affection which is so indescribably valued by

Your distressed and most dutiful Son.


The remaining letters that follow the distressing letter may be read online between Schleiermacher and his father and uncle. His father responds with an emotional and apologetic letter, where he provides some biblical counter arguments and encouragement. It is easy to sense the grief and shock his father experienced, and to see that Schleiermacher's confession was entirely unexpected. Schleiermacher's uncle's response in a similar fashion and is available in the correspondence too.

After writing the distressing letter, he learns from the Moravian Brotherhood that he will not be permitted to remain in their community beyond Easter, so Schleiermacher's crisis continues because he doesn't know what he will do. He had not yet received a reply from his father, so he writes a second letter asking his father for permission to study theology at the University of Halle, and asks to live with his uncle after he leaves the Moravians.

Schleiermacher's life is a fascinating life to study. He continues on to be one of the greatest Protestant theologians in the history of the Church, and writes one of the most influential theology books ever, The Christian Faith. Though there are many places I disagree with his theological conclusions, his influence cannot be ignored. As for Schleiermacher's personal faith, Karl Barth reminds us frequently that Schleiermacher requested the Lord's Super on his death bed. Although he substituted water for wine, it was a final moment of faith in the amazing life of Friedrich Schleiermacher that may not be ignored after reading the distressing letter.


  • [^Header Image Background] By scanned by NobbiP (scanned by NobbiP) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Schleiermacher, Friedrich. The Life of Schleiermacher as Unfolded in His Autobiography and Letters. Trans. Frederica Rowan. London: Smith, Elder, 1860. Print.


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Dear Karl Barth, What does Election mean to Individuals?

In Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election, Jesus Christ is the only elected individual, and no other individual is elected like Jesus (Act 4:12), but in him (c.f. Eph 1:4) all people are included in his election (1 Cor 15:22). Since Barth was not a Universalist, this syllogism indicates that there may be individuals who are included in Jesus' election that are ultimately condemned in the Final Judgment. So then, it is difficult to answer the question, "What does election mean to individuals?" (especially for those who are ultimately condemned). Does election directly apply to anyone besides Jesus? In this article, I will explore the election of Jesus and other individuals.

Karl Barth's reconstruction of John Calvin's Double Predestination

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election is a reconstruction of John Calvin's Double Predestination. In order to understand Barth's schema of election, it is helpful to understand the Calvinist tradition from which it spawned. John Calvin began his doctrine of election in God's horrible, dreadful, and absolute decree before the creation of the world, where some people were elected and the rest were rejected. Calvin's view is not good news to all people, because it says to the non-Christian that they are predestined to perdition and there's nothing that may be done about it. Calvin's schema of election was only good news to the elected individuals. Calvinist tradition called the non-elected individuals "reprobates" or the "mass of perdition", and the person and work of Jesus Christ provides no benefits to such individuals, so what purpose is there in preaching Christ crucified to them? (1 Cor 1:23) This preaching is only bad news to these "reprobates".

Barth affirms Calvin's biblical support for Double Predestination, but dismantles Calvin's theory by restricting the scope of election to Jesus alone. According to Barth, Jesus is the sole subject and object of election, such that there is no longer two indiscriminate groups (i.e. the elect and the reprobate), but instead there is one man who is both the only elected one and only rejected one (CD II/2). This means that Jesus was elected to be rejected, specifically in that God sent his one and only son to die on the cross for the sins of the world (John 3:16-17). So Jesus is elected for all and rejected for all, and therefore in his resurrection, "Jesus is Victor" (CD IV/3.2) over all and has become the savior of all the world (1 John 2:2). Barth re-orientated the Doctrine of Election around the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ for the entire world, so therefore it is no surprise the Barth says that "the doctrine of election is the sum of the gospel":

"The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all the words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God's election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God."

—Karl Barth (CD II/2) [1]

The strength of Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election is that it is good news to all people—not to the elect only (as in Calvin's schema). Centering election on Jesus has been incredibly helpful for me, especially in understanding how election and the person and work of Jesus are correlated. Calvin confessed that the absolute decree was "dreadful" and "horrible" but nevertheless believed it was true. So I still love John Calvin, because he would never call this absolute decree "good news" like some Calvinists today.

(Good News)
Dystopian Gospel
(Bad News)
1. God has elected Jesus alone
2. Jesus is rejected for all
3. Jesus is victor over all
4. Jesus is proclaimed
the savior of all the world
1. God made a horrible
and absolute decree
2. Some people are elected,
the rest are rejected
3. Christians tell Non-Christians
they are predestined to hell
4. No mention of Jesus

The Election of Individuals Who Deny Their Election

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election allows for the salvation of individuals who deny their own election. This doesn't mean that all people who deny their election will ultimately be saved (as in Universalism), but it does mean that non-Christians who reject Jesus do not understand what they are saying! For those individuals who deny the Christian Faith, Barth explains why they may ultimately be included in the saving work of Jesus Christ as follows:

"The man who is isolated over against God is as such rejected by God. But to be this man can only be by the godless man's own choice. The witness of the community of God to every individual man consists in this: that this choice of the godless man is void; that he belongs eternally to Jesus Christ; that the rejection which he deserves on account of his perverse choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ; and that he is appointed to eternal life with God on the basis of the righteous, divine decision. The promise of his election determines that as a member of the community he himself shall be a bearer of its witness to the whole world. And the revelation of his rejection can only determine him to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled."

—Karl Barth (CD II/2) [2]

Barth's answer is similar to John Calvin's teaching in the Institutes III.21-24 regarding people who were elect but were not converted yet. In the preface to CD II/2, Barth said "I would have preferred to follow Calvin's doctrine of predestination much more closely, instead of departing from it so radically." Barth and Calvin are saying similar things about a person who has not yet realized that they are among the elect. Barth is not an enemy of Calvin, he is simply more optimistic than Calvin, and allows for the hope that all might be elected in the end.

Election, Vocation, and Faithfulness (CD IV/3.2 §70.1)

In the final complete volume of the Church Dogmatics (CD IV/3.2), Barth returned to the question of how election applies to other individuals in a fascinating paragraph that links election to vocation to faithfulness. In the CD IV/3.2 §70 "The Vocation of Man: 1. Man in the Light of Life", Barth explains that election and calling are "indissolubly coordinated". If all people are elected in Jesus, then therefore all people have a specific vocation (i.e. calling) that is determined by their election in Jesus. And the experience of this "calling" (a.k.a. vocation) is linked to faithfulness to Jesus (c.f. Rev 17:14). So the universal scope of Jesus' election has a vocational determination for all people, even if individuals deny this determination, it is nevertheless determinate upon them. This indissoluble link between the election of Jesus and the vocation of all people, means that even when individuals are not faithful to the their vocation, Jesus remains faithful in them (2 Tim 2:13).

The following small-print section in CD IV/3.2, Karl Barth explains how the election of Jesus determines the vocation of all individuals, especially those who believe (1 Tim 4:10):

It is of this that we must think first and supremely in relation to this event. We recall Isa 41:4: "Who hath wrought and done it? (The reference is to the calling of Cyrus to his work of deliverance in the service of the exiled people of God.) He who called to the generations from the beginning, I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he." Of the called, i.e., Christians, we have thus to say first of all with Calvin: "Those who approach Christ were already sons of God in his heart, since they had been enemies in him, but because they were foreordained to life, they were given to Christ" (Dei praed, C.R. 8, 292). Within the framework of his understanding of predestination, divorced at the crucial point from Christology, and of the vocation which follows this in time, Calvin could not, of course, speak of an election of all men to a real, true and certain vocation grounded in this election. According to him, not all men are elected in Jesus Christ, and therefore not all are called. Yet the fact remains—and this is our present point—that Calvin did speak plainly of the eternal election of man, or of certain men, as the presuppositions of their vocation and not vice versa, and of the vocation of man, or of certain men, as the historical fulfillment of their election. For him vocation and election are indissolubly coordinated. Election looks forward to the future event of vocation; vocation backward to election.

According to the New Testament norm we cannot speak of either except in this co-ordination. Christian are elect and therefore called. They are called because they are elect. And on the basis of both election and vocation they are holy and faithful. All these descriptions apply to them as Christians. This is intended even in passages in which only one or two or sometimes three are expressly mentioned. If calling and election are not identical, they are never independent but always go together. When in 1 Cor 1:1 and Rom 1:1 Paul calls himself a called apostle, he gives his own exposition by adding in Rom 1:1 set apart for the Gospel of God. He thus traces back his calling to be both a Christian and an apostle to his election. That is why he can say in Gal 1:15 that he was separated from his mother's womb and called by God's grace. According to Rom 8:28 Christians generally are called according to God's prior counsel (according to his purpose). And in the famous catena aurea of Rom 8:30 it is said of them generally that God called those whom He elected, and then that He justified and glorified them. In Rev 17:14 they are described in a single phrase as called and elect and faithful. From the very first (from the beginning) God has elected them to salvation and then called them by the Gospel, according to 2 Thess 2:13. It is not according to their works that God has done the latter, but in accordance with His purpose and the point in the same direction when it says of the called that they are "loved by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ."

—Karl Barth (CD IV/3.2) [3]

The Linchpin of Universalism: Matthew 22:14

In this exploration, Barth has not yet explained how an individual is elect and may be ultimately condemned in the Final Judgement. Barth does not answer this paradoxical question, but in this same small-print section of CD IV/3.2, he dismantles the strongest biblical text used against Univeralism: Matthew 22:14. Barth is not an Universalist, but he hopes that the final decision of God will be that no one is condemned: Barth once famously said, "I do not teach it [Universalism] but I do not not teach it either."[4] In his commentary on Matthew 22:14, Barth demonstrates that the Bible is not clearly opposed to a theology of hope where all people are ultimately saved.

I've saved the best part for last: Karl Barth's exposition of Matthew 22:14. This verse is the "interpretive crux" to the question of Universalism. It is the most famous verse against Universalism in the bible, and read in isolation, it renders Universalism impossible. Barth approaches this verse "many are called but few are chosen" as a paradoxical saying that is in contradiction to the rest of the New Testament that has been introduced by a redactor to the Gospel of Matthew. Other interpreters have suggested that there are two groups among the elect, those elect who are good and noble and the rest, but Barth denies that the New Testament supports such a dichotomy. Barth believes that the best way to understand Matt 22:14 is to imagine that all individuals are elect, but few live out their election.

As for elect individuals who are ultimately rejected, Barth admits that in the case of Judas (alone), we have the only example of an individual who is elected and rejected without any future hope for that individual. Judas is specifically called for his vocation of denying Jesus, that results in his personal apostasy. Barth keenly reminds us that the other disciples denied Jesus like Judas, so we cannot say that Judas is unique in his betray of Jesus. So to affirm that Judas is ultimately condemned, concludes that all the other disciples are likewise condemned for participating in a likewise sinful act! However, Barth admits that it is a possibility that a person, such as Judas, may be an elect individual, yet ultimately be condemned. As soon as Barth acknowledges this problem, he immediately retreats from it. The case of Judas is difficult to understand, and it is no surprise that a forger capitalized upon it and wrote a pseudo-Gospel according to Judas.

The election of Jesus, was for his rejection on the cross, that resulted in the salvation of the world. So we have no example of a person who is elected, that ends tragically in rejection without a future resurrection. Barth provides us a precedent that when confronted with Judas or any individual who denies their election, that we may shrug and say that this is a paradox. So when an individual who denies their election, or a person (such as Judas Iscariot), that is called for the purpose of being rejected, that the best way we may respond is to immediately back way from that situation, and to remain silent, and to not provide an answer.

In my personal opinion, the New Testament provides us two possibilities, in John and Paul's writings we have hope for Universal Reconciliation of all people, but in Mark and Matthew we have a double judgment of some who are saved and the others who are not. New Testament scholars are in agreement that its impossible to harmonize these two threads in the New Testament. So we are forced to a make a theological conclusion whether the New Testament provides us a theology of hope or not. Barth is not opposed to this theological consensus, but his commentary on Matt 22:14 demonstrates that the argument for Double Judgement is not standing on equal foundation as the Universalist passages (c.f. John 3:17; John 6:51; 2 Cor 5:19; Rev 11:15; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2).

Here is what Barth says regarding Matt 22:14 in CD IV/3.2:

A more difficult passage in this connection is Matt 22:14. Jesus has just told the parable of the wedding-feast, and especially the story of the rejection of the man who appeared without a wedding garment. There is then added the independent saying: "Many are called, but few are chosen." The verse forms a interpretive crux, since its most obvious meaning, in analogy to the saying quoted in Plato's Phaedo (69c) about the few real Bacchantes among the many Thyrsus bearers, seems to be in flat contradiction with all the other passages and to speak about a calling which has no election as its presupposition. Among those who rightly thought this contradiction intolerable, and thus could not accept the obvious meaning, R. Seeberg (PRE3 2, 657) took the view that in this passage elect is not a theological term but simply indicates the good and the noble of whom there are unfortunately only too few among those who are called. But if the saying is understood in this way it surely has a foreign ring in the synoptic tradition, and no such distinction between the good and noble and the rest of the called seems to be made anywhere else in the New Testament. Indeed, how could the saying be reconciled with what is said about the called and elect in 1 Cor 1:26f.? A. Schlatter again (Der Evangelist Matthäus, 1929, 640 f.) tried to avoid the contradiction by castigating and rejection as Greek the exposition which would "import into the supra-historical consciousness of God" the choice indicated by the word elect, Jesus and the Evangelist concentrating their attention consistently on history and therefore accepting the fact that the calling of man merely posits a beginning which contains the possibility of both of apostasy and also of preservation, so that election must be separated from vocation. But if this is the case, then the rest of the New Testament is at fault, and especially Paul, who unmistakably speaks of election as a divine purpose and the like. Can we really isolate it from this and link with the story of man's apostasy or preservation? And where in the New Testament, apart perhaps from Judas Iscariot, do we have any example of calling as a beginning which carries within it the apostasy of man?

My own view is that we may and must agree with K. L. Schmidt (Kittel II, 496) in regarding the saying as a paradox. It may thus be freely paraphrased as follows. Many are called, but there will only be few who in following the call will prove worthy of, and act in accordance with, the fact that as the called of God they are His elect, predestined from all eternity for life with Him and for His service. There will only be few who in the words of 2 Pet 1:10 are obedient to their calling and make sure, i.e., validate and confirm, their election. There will only be few who really are what they are as called, namely, elect or Christians. In this case the meaning of the redactor in Matt 22 is this. Like so many, and indeed the majority, the man without the wedding-garment has not been or done what he could and should have been and done when invited by the king to the feast and given like all the rest the robe with which to appear before him. If this is the meaning, the saying itself then points to the fact that both the calling and the underlying election in their co-ordination have and maintain the character of a free act of grace on the side of God and a free decision on that of man. On neither side, therefore, do we have the automatic function of a machine. Both vocation and election are always a free event. It is to be noted in conclusion that if this verse cannot be opposed to all the others in which the co-ordination of vocation and election is so clear and unequivocal, it cannot be adduced, as it often has been, in refutation of the universality of the election which underlies the future calling of all. 

—Karl Barth (CD IV/3.2) [5]


Barth's Doctrine of Election is contained in the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Vol. II/2 §32-35, and this includes an entire paragraph to the topic of the "Election of the Individuals" (CD II/2 §35). Barth also discusses the Doctrine of Providence in the CD III/4 that has bearing on this discussion, and he revisits election (as quoted above) in CD IV/3.2. However, we do not finally have an explanation on how an individual may be included in Jesus' election yet be finally rejected.  Barth clarifies his position in CD IV/3.2, but does not provide a definitive answer of how all people are elected in Jesus without necessitating Universalism. This question might have been answered in the hypothetical and unwritten fifth volume of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Redemption. What is learned from Barth is the election is the sum of the gospel and is about Jesus, and the person and work of Jesus applies to all the world (not only the elected), and that there is hope for all people (not only the elect).

As for Judas Iscariot and other elected individuals that are condemned in the Bible (such as Esau and Ishmael), we may boldly not answer whether they will ultimately join us in eternal life at the last day. There are many things I may have said about the election of the community, of Israel, of the Church and the entire world, that are not said in this post. But, Barth has addressed these things in his Doctrine of Election. To learn more, I highly recommend reading this bookthis book, this books, this book and this book to satiate those questions!

I've explored only one part of Barth's Doctrine of Election: The Election of the Individual; and, there's so much more that may be said about this one part, such as the election of Israel and the history of redemption. There are so many loci to consider (such as the Election of the Community in CD II/2 §34) in the Doctrine of Election, that "if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). 


[^Header Image Source]: By Phillip Medhurst - Photo by Harry Kossuth, FAL, [The background image is art depicting the person rejected from the wedding feast for not wearing the appropriate garments in a parable of Jesus.]

[^1] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God. Vol. II/2. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 3. Print. Study Edition 10.

[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God. Vol. II/2. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 111. Print. Study Edition 11.

[^3] Eberhard Jungel, Karl Barth a Theological Legacy, Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1986. 44f.

[^4] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Vol. IV/3.2. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 111-12. Print. Study Edition 28. [ET 484-6] [^5] Ibid.

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Karl Barth’s Angry Letter to Helmut Gollwitzer on the Book of Job

In 1959, Karl Barth wrote an exposition of the Book of Job that he divided into four long small-print sections weaved into the end of the Church Dogmatics IV/3.1. Helmut Gollwitzer was Karl Barth's personal assistant in the 1960's after Charlotte Von Kirschbaum became ill. And in 1966, Gollwitzer realized that these small-print sections on Job may be extracted from CD IV/3.1 and read independently, so he edited them into an independent exposition on the Book of Job. Unfortunately, he made a huge mistake, and did not include the fourth and final small-print section on Job by mistake.

Karl Barth received a copy of this book on Job that Gollwitzer had edited and was livid when he saw that the fourth small-print section was missing. Barth was so angry that he wrote back and told Gollwitzer he had committed a "wicked act" and that "irreparable damage . . . has been done" and that he desired to "publicly protest somewhere against this". Gollwitzer rectified the error by publishing the fourth section separately.

Barth's letter to Gollwitzer was published in Karl Barth's Letters: 1961-1968, and I was taken back by how harsh this letter was when I first read it, and was surprised that Barth would write such a letter. However, reading posthumously published letters is similar to reading a person's emails after they had died, and everyone sends an angry email from time to time. I revisited this letter after recently reading Barth's exposition of Job in CD IV/3.1, and realized that he wrote this harsh letter to his close friend and personal assistant, which I had not realized previously. The letter reminds me that world famous theologians are people like everyone else, and everyone writes an angry email from time to time that should never have been sent. This book of Barth's letters is an intimate view into Barth's private life, and demonstrates that my heroes can be arrogant jerks once in a while!

For the sake of background, Barth's exposition on Job appears in four small print sections in CD IV/3.1: According to the older English Translations, part 1 is on pp. 383-388, part 2 is on pp. 398-408, part 3 is on pp. 421-434, and part 4 is on pp. 453-461 (n.b. The T&T Clark Study Edition divides IV/3 into three parts, so §70 is in CD IV/3.2 instead of CD IV/3.1). Here are a few quotes from CD IV/3.1 that provide a glimpse of Barth's exposition on Job: Barth says that in Job "the figure of Jesus Christ as the true Witness unmasking the falsehood of man is delineated in it in distant, faint, fragmentary and even strange yet unmistakable outline"[1]. The beginning (Job 1-2) and end (Job 42), Barth describes as a "folk-story concerning the rich Job who was sorely tried but remained faithful to God and was finally justified and blessed by Him. They constitute the framework for chapters 3-31, which are a poetical account of the speeches of Job and his three friends". And the remaining chapters are later additions constituted of "poetical speeches of Elihu (32-37), the poem of Behemoth and Leviathan attributed to Yahweh in 40-41, parts of 38-39" (etc.) I highly recommend it!

The angry letter that Karl Barth sent to his assistant Helmut Gollwitzer after Barth's exposition of the Book of Job had been published without the fourth and concluding section mistakenly:

To: Helmut Gollwitzer, Berlin
From: Karl Barth, Basel

23 April, 1966

Dear Helmut,

Yesterday evening the parcel arrived with complimentary copies of "our" book on Job. I thank you sincerely for your dedication and for the great amount of work you have done a second time on my behalf. I also admire your skill in seizing on what is important as this comes to light in your introduction and the transitions. Your account of the very different book on Job by Bloch naturally interested me too. But—yes, but! I know, Helmut, that one should not look a gift-horse in the mount. But what if one finds that the gift-horse has only three legs instead of four? You wanted to give people my exposition of Job as such. But where are pp. 522-531 [ET 453-461]; where are my illuminating elucidations of the theology of the three friends?! An able scholar like you could hardly fail to see that the whole point is to be found on these pages. And now you leave them out, although in your version on p. 68 you expressly refer to the fourth time that I turn to the book of Job. And no hint as to the reason for this omission! I really cannot think what reason there could be. Helmut, how could you? Nelly can bear witness that all through our mid-day meal I was complaining about you and your wicked act. And if you were not you, I would publicly protest somewhere against this being regarded as my exposition of Job. I can still only weep quietly at the irreparable damage that has been done.

Well, in spite of it all, in friendship and therefore with warm greetings,


Karl Barth[2]


[^Header Background Image] By Internet Archive Book Images - book page:, No restrictions,

[^1] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.2. Vol. 28. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 384. Print. Study Edition. [Original ET is CD IV.3.1,  page 384]

[^2] Barth, Karl, Jürgen Fangmeier, Hinrich Stoevesandt, and G. W. Bromiley. Karl Barth Letters, 1961-1968. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981. 204-05. Print.Letter #210


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Karl Barth’s Rejection of Universalism

Since the stone-ages of Cornelius Van Til until modern times, many have claimed that Karl Barth's theology necessarily concludes universalism or else it is incoherent, as recently exemplified by Oliver Crisp's cavalier statement in his Deviant Calvinism, "that the scope of human salvation envisioned in the theology of Karl Barth either is a species of universalism or comprises several distinct, incompatible strands of doctrine that he does not finally resolve. "[1] Contrary to these Barthian despisers, I do not understand how such a statement maybe justified, considering Barth's plain and understandable explanation at the end of the Church Dogmatics, Vol IV/3.1, especially since this quotation (quoted a length below) is consistent with everything Barth had written since the infancy of the Church Dogmatics. I'm tempted to respond with an equally cavalier (and humorous) statement that this animus towards Barth may be caused by a demon that has gone out of Van Til, wandering the pages of the Church Dogmatics, seeking an affirmation of universalism or evidence of incoherence in the Barth's Doctrine of Election (CD II/2) or elsewhere, but it finds none, so it takes up dwelling in these Barthian Despisers!

Was Karl Barth a Universalist? Nein!

Was Karl Barth a Universalist? The short answer is No. Barth did not self-identify as a universalist, and this is an important point that is frequently ignored. Barth once told a universalist preacher seeking consolation that "I do not believe in universalism, but I do believe in Jesus Christ, reconciler of all."[2] Barth thought that it was nonsensical to believe in "universalism" because our only object of belief is in Jesus Christ, but does not mean that he was merely equivocating with universalism (i.e. affirming it in a hidden way) because Barth explicitly rejected Apocatastasis (or Universal Reconciliation).

Apocatastasis explained

The early Church Father, Origen (c. 185—254 AD) developed a form of Universalism known as Apocatastasis that teaches that God must necessarily save all people at the end of the age, and he based this doctrine on the Greek word apokatastasis from Acts 3:21 (often translated as the "restoration of all things" or "universal reconciliation"). Three centuries after Origen had died, the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553 AD) issued Fifteen Anathamas Against Origen for his doctrine of Apocatastasis, and henceforth, Origen had been branded a heretic. Some Origen scholars believe that these anathemas do not apply to what Origen actually taught, and suggest that his posthumous condemnation was unfair and inaccurate, especially since Origen lived long before any ecumenical council ever commenced.

Additionally, Apocatastasis was not rejected because it taught Universal Reconciliation, it was rejected because it taught the Platonic pre-existence of soul, as exemplified by the first anathema: "#1. If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema."[3] Other theologians who affirmed Universal Reconciliation but not the pre-existence of the souls were never condemned for their universalism; the most notable examples are Jerome (347—420 AD) and St. Gregory of Nyssa (335—395 AD). So the only form of universalism that was officially declared heretical by the ecumenical councils is the specific form of Apocatastasis that affirms both Universal Reconciliation and the pre-existence of the human soul. There are many forms of Universalism that do not fall within the rubric of Apocatastasis, especially in the Reformed Tradition, such as Amyrauldism and various hopeful universalists that have remained orthodox throughout their lifetime.

Why did Barth reject Universalism?

In the following quotation from CD IV/3.1, Barth explains why he rejects Universal Reconciliation (or Apocatastasis). His reasons are as follows:

1) the teaching that god necessarily must save all individuals undermines the biblical warnings about sin, and nullifies the biblical threats towards sin;

2) God is not obligated to save any sinner, and it is only by his grace that anyone is saved;

3) we do not have assurance or a promise that all people will be saved at the end of the age, so it may not be asserted as such;

4) although universalism may not be affirm, the bible provides us hope that all people will be finally be delivered until salvation at the end of the age.

Karl Barth's Rejection of Universalism (Apocatastasis)

At the end of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.1 §70, Barth explains his rejection of universalism as follows:

First, if this is not the case, it can only be a matter of the unexpected work of grace and its revelation on which we cannot count but for which we can only hope as an undeserved and inconceivable overflowing of the significant, operation and outreach of the reality of God and man in Jesus Christ. To the man who persistently tries to change the truth into untruth, God does not owe eternal patience and therefore deliverance any more than He does those provisional manifestations. We should be denying or disarming that evil attempt and our own participation in it if, in relation to ourselves or others or all men, we were to permit ourselves to postulate a withdrawal of that threat and in this sense to expect or maintain an apokatastasis or universal reconciliation as the goal and end of all things. No such postulate can be made even though we appeal to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in this direction, we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift.

Secondly, there is no good reason why we should forbid ourselves, or be forbidden, openness to the possibility that in the reality of God and man in Jesus Christ there is contained much more than we might expect and therefore the supremely unexpected withdrawal of that final threat, i.e., that in the truth of this reality there might be contained the superabundant promise of the final deliverance of all men. To be more explicit, there is no good reason why we should not be open to this possibility. If for a moment we accept the unfalsified truth of the reality which even now so forcefully limits the perverted human situation, does it not point plainly in the direction of the work of a truly eternal divine patience and deliverance and therefore of an apokatastasis or universal reconciliation? If we are certainly forbidden to count on this as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim, we are surely commanded the more definitely to hope and pray for it as we may do already on this side of this final possibility, i.e., to hope and pray cautiously and yet distinctly that, in spite of everything which may seem quite conclusively to proclaim the opposite, His compassion should not fail, and that in accordance with His mercy which is "new every morning" He "will not cast off for ever" (Lam 3:22f,31). [4]


Barth did not identify as a Universalist, and he rejected universalism as an object of belief, and specifically rejected the doctrine of Apocatastasis that taught that God must necessarily save all people in the end of the age, because this nullifies the threat of sin and God's grace in election. However, Barth had hope that God may freely choose to deliver all people in accordance with His mercy at the end of the age.


[^Image Background] By Gustave Doré - Alighieri, Dante; Cary, Henry Francis (ed) (1892) "Canto XXXI" in The Divine Comedy by Dante, Illustrated, Complete, London, Paris & Melbourne: Cassell & Company Retrieved on 13 July 2009., Public Domain,

[^1] Crisp, Oliver. Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. MN: Fortress, 2014. 155. Print.

[^2]Busch, Eberhard. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Trans. John Bowden. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015. 394. Print.

[^3] "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <>.

[^4] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.2. Vol. 28. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 105-6. Print. Study Edition. [Original ET is CD IV.3.1,  pages 477-8]

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