This summer, I’ve spent most of my reading/writing time working on a paper on Barth’s Römerbrief reading of Romans 10. This paper is for the 2019 Barth Graduate Student Colloquium, and it has taken way longer than I originally anticipated.
Will I get to use this paper in my dissertation? I’m not sure.
At first, I got excited, because, in my work on Genesis 1–3 last school year, I discovered some differences in how Barth and Bonhoeffer handled Genesis 1–3 vis-a-vis the subsequent history of Israel. Namely, while Barth takes care to work his way from Eden to the Church only after moving through the history of Israel and Jesus, Bonhoeffer jumps right from Eden to the Church via Christ. This difference in what I’m provisionally calling “Christological immediacy”—which is perhaps a confessional one that parallels some of the exegetical differences between Calvin and Luther—has me wondering whether Barth and Bonhoeffer differed in important ways on Israel.
If so, then perhaps a chapter devoted to their readings of Romans 9–11 would be in order! However, while Barth wrote about Romans 9–11 at least three different times (Römerbrief, Shorter Commentary, CD II/2), the closest that Bonhoeffer came to a lengthy exegesis of the passage was in his “Exposition on Romans 9–11 (Student Notes), Finkenwalde, September 28, 1935” (DBWE 14:868ff.). All we have are the following student notes:
Romans 9–11 Jewish Problem Judenproblem
Who is a Jew? Israel according to the flesh?
Chapters 8 to 9: concept of “election.” Jews “brothers,” 9:5 only passage where Christ is called God.
Verses 6–13 The children of Israel are not = σπέρμα but rather only those of the promise (not Ishmael, but rather Isaac). The σπέρμα does nothing, but rather the word of God that comes to the σπέρμα.
Verses 1–5 who: according to the flesh, who have the promises etc. Israel according to the flesh has received all [gifts] of the promise. Israelites, however, are only children of the promise. Only the elect, however, are children of the promise. They are children not through the σπέρμα but through election. But as the elect from the σπέρμα Ἀβραάμ. The real basis is election. The epistemological basis: σπέρμα. Not because they receive the kingdom of God. But rather as those who have come along, belong to it. Luke 19 … because he too is of the seed of Abraham.
Verses 14ff. Further: hardness of heart. Traced back to nothing but God’s. Hardness of heart traced back to election (cf. verse 12 Luther’s addition “by the grace of the one who calls,” where the Greek reads simply ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος).
Verse 17: Pharaoh’s hardness of heart serves to proclaim God’s glory in all the earth. (Chapter 11 also: Israel’s hardness of heart. God uses the hardness of heart of one person to convert another.) This hardness of heart has one goal: proclamation of the name. Perhaps also an end to it.
Verse 30—chapter 10:3 Here their guilt discussed. The election hardness of heart is at the same time self-incrimination.
Verses 4–8 The word of the gospel was already close to them (the Jews)!
Hardness of heart: 1. God’s will 2. Israel’s guilt 3. Calling of the others.
Chapter 11 Rejected? No, not rejected. Proof: he himself. God has not rejected but hardened. λεῖμμα: remnant, new beginning (Elijah).
Verse 11 Have come so that they then stumble? No. Rather, this stumbling took place for the sake of the gentiles. Hardness of heart vicarious representative suffering for the gentiles, not without guilt, in that sense different from the Servant. Notion of vicarious representation remains. But guilt nonetheless.
Why did the Jews have to be hardened so that the gentiles might receive salvation? So that they crucified Christ (and Deutero-Isaiah?). It remains such that Israel is the missionary of the world, suffering in a vicarious representative fashion, and yet nonetheless because of guilt! Cross is culpable hardness of heart, which does not, however, relieve Israel of its mission task.
Vicarious representative action [Stellvertretung]: That means that God does not deviate from his plan. He uses guilt for this purpose. This cannot be understood morally.
Verse 15: Israel’s acceptance will come only with the resurrection of the dead.
Verse 17ff.: If chosen branches have already been broken off, how much more so will a gentile be broken off.
Verse 25ff.: μυστήριον—prophecy.
Verse 28 quite clearly vicarious representative action, guilt, choice remains. God’s will, which is not clear, is carried out with regard to the Jews (election); they remain the beloved of God but ἐχθροί, for their and others’ salvation. Although it must happen (the betrayal), woe to whoever does it!
Now the question: Israel according to the flesh or through nature? or through the law?
What is a Jew? (DBWE 14:868–70).
So, quite a bit less to go on than Barth’s handful of lengthy expositions of Romans 9–11!
And yet, Bonhoeffer did preach a sermon on Romans 11:6 (“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace”) while he was in Barcelona (“Sermon on Romans 11:6, Barcelona, Oculi, March 11, 1928,” DBWE 10:480ff.).
Intriguingly, in a letter to his friend Walter Dreß, he wrote:
On Sunday I preached on Romans 11:6 and in the process realized that my previous understanding of dogmatics is being severely questioned by all these new impressions in a country that has known neither war nor revolution, neither a youth movement nor Spengler. It’s still difficult to articulate these impressions. In any case I now do have serious questions whether Barth could have written in Spain—whether he had any understanding at all for circumstances outside Germany. At the very least, given the circumstances here—both ecclesiastical and political—one really finds oneself forced to reassess one’s theology from the ground up. Just as I already had in Germany a theology of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, so too is the theology of the spring and summer momentarily taking the place of the Berlin winter theology.—Despite all my theological reservations, I read Wittig with a great deal of pleasure. I recommend you and Suse read him together. I’m also planning to get to Barth’s Dogmatics [Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf, that is] once more. It’s really worth reading (DBWE 10:76–77).
And, before the sermon, Bonhoeffer had written in his diary:
My theology is beginning to become humanistic; what does that mean? I wonder whether Barth ever lived abroad? ¶Wittig’s Leben Jesu is making a very strong impression on me. ¶Tomorrow I am to preach here for the first time. I decided on Rom. 11:6 as my text, after having begun to work on many other texts (DBWE 10:64).
Regarding this diary entry and the subsequent sermon, Reinhart Staats wrote (in the Editor’s Afterword to the German Edition of DBWE 10):
This statement should be understood within its proper context. What he comes to see more clearly is not what separates him from Barth but rather what he fails to find in the leader of the theology of revelation, namely, a humanistic theology focused on the whole world in its history. . . .
Josef Wittig’s book Leben Jesu in Palästina, Schlesien und anderswo, which strongly influenced Bonhoeffer at that time, can also help explain this shift toward a “humanistic” theology. Wittig was a patristics scholar and Catholic writer who was for a time condemned by the Roman Curia for his “modernism.” In this book he presents a modern example of what discipleship to Jesus means, giving the Sermon on the Mount a central role and attesting Christianity’s openness to the world with the inclusion of antiquity: “The priest who is to become a new Paul must have been with Paul in Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome if he is to know how Paul would preach in Berlin.” Finally, even Bonhoeffer’s first sermon in Barcelona on the freely chosen passage Rom. 11:6 can help explain his diary remarks. This sermon addresses one of the basic Christian beliefs regarding grace (Bonhoeffer’s famous book Discipleship will first address the notion of “costly grace” in 1937): It is in God’s own goodness that “our gaze is opened to the entire world.” “Only one thing remains, namely, that God comes to human beings and bestows grace [,] the path from eternity into time, the path of Jesus Christ.” The critique of an ethic of principles that occurs for the first time in the Barcelona texts is thus also to be understood in connection with Bonhoeffer’s new personal experiences. This is “the great moral renewal Jesus brought about, the dismissal of principles.” The attendant critique of an unclear understanding of “religion” does admittedly correspond largely to Karl Barth’s critique of religion. Still, after Barcelona Bonhoeffer’s own theology is more humanistic, which also means that it is more ecumenical without imposing on his understanding of the Oikumene any institutional ecclesiastical elements (DBWE 10:627–29, emphasis added).
So, perhaps there’s more going on with Romans 9–11 than meets the eye.
Of course, as far as Barth’s theological critique of religion goes, Romans 7 is more central than Romans 9–11. But, again, Bonhoeffer doesn’t have much to say about Romans 7, at least not in the form of a lengthy exposition. Nevertheless, for both Romans 7 and 9–11, Bonhoeffer might just have enough scattered mentions of the passages to make an interesting comparison of his and Barth’s exegesis of those passages possible.
The search continues!