Barth and Ephesians – Book of the Year Contender (Gupta)

Barth and Ephesians – Book of the Year Contender (Gupta) June 8, 2017

Barth EphesiansGood news! A NEW book from Barth….Ok, since Karl Barth has been dead for almost half a century, he hasn’t been publishing much. But Baker just published a newly-translated-into-English book-version of Barth’s German lecture notes on Ephesians. Put simply, what we have now in English are Barth’s lectures on Ephesians. To be more specific, Barth’s extensive notes on Ephesians chapter one, with a brief overview of Ephesians chapters two through six. Putting all the caveats aside, this little book is exhilarating reading, bring the voice of Barth alive to a new generation! This is a contender for book of the year!

Preliminary Notes

This edited work is based on Barth’s 1921-22 lectures on Ephesians. Apparently, Barth had so much to say about chapter one, that he had to rush through the rest of Ephesians in one lecture (Feb 23, 1922). I love an announcement that Barth made to his class pre-empting any questions about the pace of the course:

Announcement: In response to the complaints that we are moving too slowly, I would point out that the text we are considering is not easy to interpret, not insignificant, and not merely a matter of controversy. Our goal is to understand the text. We have no control over how far we go or do not go when it is a matter of understanding something from the word” (92)

The translator offers this comment: “By this point in the course, Barth had delivered five lectures, roughly one half of the semester, and covered only three verses [from Ephesians chapter one]” (92)!

Notes on Barth’s Notes

Authorship: Barth argues that “It seems to me much more likely that one author wrote both letters (Col and Eph), drawing from the same conceptual framework but expressing his ideas in different situations, freely adapting his own ideas the second time, repeating, paraphrasing, and occasionally modifying them, much as any of us might do today when we have lectured on or written about similar material to different audiences” (56); Later: “Personally, I would defend the authenticity of Ephesians” (58)

Who Cares?: “frankly, I do not have any great interest in the (authorship) question. As far as I am concerned, it could be otherwise…[I]t is enough to know that someone, at any rate, wrote Ephesians (why not Paul?) thirty to sixty years after Christ’s death, someone who understood Paul well and developed the apostle’s ideas with obvious loyalty as well as originality” (59)

An Apostle: “An apostle is a person with a mission and the power to carry it out. He is sent to enemy-occupied territory to break up a blockade…” (59)

Incarnation: “The message of the incarnation is not proclaimed as an idea, in the normal sense of the word; rather, the word from the peaceful kingdom enters the world as a battle cry, as a declaration of war” (61)

Faith: “Faith is the action of the new person in me, the person I am not, the new person whose identity within me is the source of the greatest possible honor. Faith is a fundamental and eternal event that is beyond all temporal processes.” (68)

Grace and Adoption: “Grace is the reality of forgiveness, which has no continuity whatsoever with anything that we can grasp (apart from the continuity that is established by God’s will and God’s alone!): this human creature, who is fallen and without exception fails to recognize God, is recognized by God as his child” (73)

The Incomprehensible Nevertheless! “Despite God’s holiness, Grace! Despite human sin, Peace!” (77)

God as Lord: “There is no cause to shudder as before a despot, because his despotism is the despotism of love” (100)

Transforming Forgiveness: “Forgiveness is not a matter of merely excusing a person; the one who is forgiven is also made obedient. The rule of God does not refer only to the dynamics of God’s action; God’s acquittal effects a corresponding dynamic in the creature, whose action is completely dissolved, reconstituted, and established on a new foundation” (106)

Hope: “To hope is to intentionally align oneself with God, with all the risk that such partisanship involves. It is a declaration of war against the reality of this world. You could call it the willingness to see the world completely unromantically and without any illusions” (119)

Pilgrims: “true theology is and will always be theologia viatorum. But if all we can be is pilgrims, then pilgrims we should be…The ambiguity of our existence corresponds to the liveliness of our hope; and hope in turn enables us to live to the glory of God, neither blind to life’s difficulties nor resigned to them” (146).




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