Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Karl Barth on God's Faithfulness to the People Israel

"Is Israel's mission thereby superseded? No, on the contrary, through everything the Old Testament again and again insists that God's election holds and will hold to all eternity. This man who is thus set forth as he is in Israel, is and remains the man elect by God and the man in consequence entrusted with this mission. Where man fails, God's faithfulness triumphs. And this Israel, which is a great demonstration of man's unworthiness, at the same time becomes a demonstration of God's free grace, which asks no questions about man's attitude, but sovereignly pronounces upon man a 'nevertheless,' by which he is upheld. Man is nothing but the object of the divine compassion, and where he wants to be more, he must necessarily rebel against this Israel-existence. Israel is simply thrown upon God and simply directed to Him. Read the Psalms: 'Thou only....' Man appears simply as a hearer of God's Word, and is set, and remains, under God's lordship, even if he attempts time and again to withdraw from it. And in the fulfillment of his mission, in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, here most of all it becomes visible once more what Israel means. What else is the Jesus hanging on the gallows but this Israel once more in its sin and godlessness? Yes, this blasphemer is Israel. And this Israel's name is now Jesus of Nazareth. And if we glance again at Jewish history and see the strangeness and absurdity of the Jew, his obnoxiousness which repeatedly made him odious among the nations -- and now you may give the anti-Semitic register full play -- what else does that mean but the confirmation of this rejected Israel, which by God was made visible at the Cross, but also of the Israel with whom God keeps faith right through all stages of his wandering?"

--Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), 79


  1. Nice post on Barth. It reminds me of Donna Bowman's book on Barth and Whitehead's surprisingly complimentary views of election.


  2. This is simply a reworked form of classic Christian supercessionism: the only purpose Israel serves after the coming of Christ is to demonstrate divine faithfulness in the face of disbelief.

    For all of Barth's interesting take on Israel, he still is caught within a supercessionist logic. Israel, for him, at the end of the day, plays no positive role in the economy, only a negative one. They are the witness to unbelief, while the church witnesses to belief.

    I think such a straightforward mapping of belief/unbelief onto church/Israel is problematic.

  3. Barth is always caught in his own dialectic...nice Lucy

  4. Hello, Brad. Thanks for always addressing such timely issues. By the way, I've not forgotten about your email re school! I've been quite behind on correspondence this semester due to comps. My sincere apologies.

    I think Lucy is right on. Barth reoriented the Christian tradition onto its narrative which meant making "covenant" and "election" front and center. In this way he avoided the tradition's constant "structural supersessionism" which conceives of salvation history as the consummation of "humanity" by God w/no place for the Jewish story. The two players in the traditional structure are imago Dei and God w/not much room for the covenant w/Israel and the promise to bless the nations. Overall, I think he failed to embrace a positive ongoing theological role for the Jewish people. Kendall Soulen believes Barth is "economically supersessionist"--after Christ the Jewish people fade out of history only to return at the Parousia.

    BUT don't hear me saying "Nein" to Barth!

    Matt T