Markus Barth Conference at Princeton

Markus Barth Conference at Princeton September 20, 2018

I only just now heard that Princeton Seminary is hosting a 2018 Markus Barth Symposium on 27-28 Sept 2018 (so like, in a week!). So so wish I was going!

Markus Barth was the son of the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Markus Barth (b. October 6, 1915 – d. July 1, 1994) studied Protestant theology in Bern, Basel, Berlin, and Edinburgh. From 1940 to 1953, he was pastor in Bubendorf near Basel. In 1947 he received a doctorate in New Testament from the University of Göttingen. Between 1953 and 1972 he held professorships in New Testament at theological schools in Dubuque (Iowa), Chicago, and Pittsburgh. From 1973 to 1985 he was professor of New Testament in Basel.

Interesting fact, Markus Barth’s first publication was: “Die Gestapo gegen die Bekenntniskirche,” BN June 19-20 (1937). Heck of a topic to start your publishing career on!!!

I’ve really enjoyed and benefitted from Markus Barth’s many works over the years.

First, he wrote significant works on sacramental theology, or I should say, anti-sacramental theology, since he changed his father’s view on baptism to believer’s baptism.

You can get his book on the Last Supper from Wipf & Stock fairly cheaply.

Second, the theology of the Pauline epistles, including three major commentaries: Ephesians (1974), Colossians (1994), and Philemon (2000, posthumously). One of the few European scholars who thinks that Paul really did write Ephesians.

His volume on resurrection with Verne H. Fletcher, Acquittal by Resurrection (New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1964) was very important for me in my early days in Pauline studies:

“The legal ground of justification – and the reason to praise God as the justifier of the wicked lies in Jesus Christ exclusively . . . It lies in his death and resurrection, not in his teaching, or in our obedience to it. Man’s faith has a part in that legal ground only in as much as it is faith in Jesus Christ.” (p. 94)

In his book on justification, he wrote:

“‘Justified by faith’ means, accordingly, tried by the faithful God, sentenced conformably to the appearance, death, and rising of the obedient and loving Son, acquitted and set free in a manner identical with new creation and recognizably only with rejoicing and thanksgiving. God’s faith, the faith of Jesus Christ, and man’s answer in faith are – each in its own way – the means by which the righteousness and life are given to the community of sinful Jews and Gentiles. It is true: man is justified sola fide, by faith alone But this saving faith is much more than a mere existential posture and response of man. Faith is first of all the characteristic and gift of God and his Son. Built on the faithfulness of the Judge and the Advocate, the human trust and faithfulness toward God stand on firm ground. There is no other requisite or means of justification beyond this.”

Markus Barth was also way ahead of the curve on things like the pistis christou debate where he championed the reading of the subjective genitive long before it was fashionable in his article  Markus Barth, “The Faith of the Messiah.” Heythrop Journal. 10:4 (1969) 363-370.

Third, the Jewish-Christian dialogue, which for him included reflection about religious as well as political matters, for example, the theological importance of Judaism for Christianity (and vice versa) or the achievements and failures of Zionism. Two of his writings on this subject are: “Israel and the Church” (1969) and “The People of God” (1983).

He wrote a little known but thought-provoking article: “Jews and Gentiles: The Social Character of Justification in Paul,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 5 (1968): 241-67 which really did pave the way for the NPP. So Markus Barth, yes a Barthian, anticipated the New Perspective years before Sanders or Dunn. Read this quote:

“A careful analysis of Galatians 2:15-21 indicates that no one can claim God’s justice for himself – God’s impartial judgment through the death of Jesus Christ involves Jews and Gentiles. Justification is a social event. It ties man to man together. Justification by works would segregate men because each person selects his own arbitrary criterion of good works. Justification by grace, however, brings people together in reconciliation, even those of alien background, like the Jews and Gentiles.” (p. 241)

“For Paul one’s justification is closely related to the question of Jewish-Gentile unity.” (p. 242)

“For the two themes, justification by faith and unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ, are for him obviously not only inseparable but in the last analysis identical.” (p. 258)

“Sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means of justification: only in Christ’s death and resurrection is the new man created. But this new man is not any individual, this one or that one: he is created from at least two: a Jew and a Greek, a man and a woman, a slave and a free man, etc.” (p. 259).

The 1995 issue of Horizons in Biblical Theology was dedicated to Markus Barth and includes several articles interacting with his work and, importantly, includes a reflective piece by Donald E. Gowan, “In Memory of Markus Barth: A Personal Note”. Several quotes from Gowan stand out:
“One of the advantages of having Markus Barth as one’s model teacher is that his style was so unique that it was impossible to imitate him, as other students have tried to imitate the styles of their favourite teachers. One had to develop one’s own style, with the aim of making a similar impression on one’s students: namely the impression made by Markus’ commitment to Scripture as the Word of God, his dedication to thoroughness, and his obvious joy in discovering new things in Scripture. I sometimes tell my classes how he answered a student’s question at Dubuque as to why he did not open his classes with prayer: He said he made no sharp distinction between his exegetical work and his prayer life”.
“The quiet, gentleman was also in truth a daunting person, for he expected us to work.”
“At the Divinity School [i.e. Chicago], he represented a challenge to the old, Chicago liberalism for which that school was famous The Divinity School News reported on a congenial, but vigorous discussion between Barth and Bernard Loomer, an advocate of process theology … the significance of Markus’ appointment to the Divinity School was emphasized by one student’s blunt question: ‘Why did the school appoint Dr. Markus Barth to this faculty?'”
“During my first year there, the Biblical Colloquium involved graduate students and Bible faculty in a year-long study of Romans, and the exchanges between Barth and Robert Grant, who represented significantly different approaches to interpretation, offered young scholars a great learning experience. The open forums at his home that year were no less stimulating; we worked our way through Bultmann’s New Testament Theology during those evenings.”
Another article by Charles Dickinson, “Markus Barth and Biblical Theology: A Personal Re-View” is no less entertaining than Gowan’s article.
“After breaking a lance with the Bultmannians [Kasemann’s review of Barth’s doctoral dissertation Der Augenzeuge was savage]; serving a pastorate in Bubendorf, Switzerland; and publishing a tome on baptism, Markus was called to teach New Testament at Dubuque, Iowa; at the University of Chicago; at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; and finally to succeed Oscar Cullmann in his beloved hometown of Basel, Switzerland. It was in Chicago in 1962/63 that something of a theological parousia occurred in my own life, when not only did Markus Barth – primarily through his weekly theological evenings ‘at home’ – become my own mentor, advisor, and ‘spiritual father,’ but Karl Barth himself came to the University of Chicago in 1962 to deliver the lectures which became the beginning of Evangelical Theology: An Introduction and to speak with us students at Markus’ ‘at-home’ that week”.
Some lectures by Markus Barth are online thanks to Matt Montinini. In one of them, he recollects chastizing Billy Graham on the grounds:  “Why do you speak 10 minutes about the Bible and 40 minutes about the altar call? We’d like to hear a bit more gospel and a little less method.”


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