Karl Barth’s Reversal on the “Knowledge of Good and Evil”

I argue that, although Barth’s interpretation of the Genesis passages changed between The Epistle to the Romans and the Church Dogmatics, his mature readings of Genesis 2–3 still support his overall theological critique of religion as idolatry, the self-justifying positing of false gods.

Specifically, in Romans (240–57, esp. 246–51), Barth interpreted “the knowledge of good and evil” as the divine secret that humans are merely humans.

  • The prohibition of eating from the tree of knowledge thereby concealed the creator/creature distinction
  • and was meant to enable a direct relationship between God and humans.
  • Instead, human disobedience revealed the distinction
  • and led to the rise of religion as worship of God, an independent action over against their creator.

In the Church Dogmatics (esp. CD III/1, 257–76, but also IV/1, 418–78), Barth interpreted the knowledge of good and evil as God’s prerogative to judge between what ought to be and what ought not to be.

  • The prohibition of eating from the tree of knowledge thereby revealed the creator/creature distinction
  • and was meant to prompt humans to acknowledge and praise their creator—to worship God in a proper way.
  • Instead, humans disobediently attempted to abolish the distinction.
  • This led to the rise of religion as improper worship—the self-exalting, self-justifying, and self-helping positing of false gods.

By Joshua Steele

Software engineer using "dead" languages to help the living. Learn more at joshuapsteele.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.