The Guilt of Karl Barth: Strengths and Weaknesses of Barth’s Römerbrief Reading of Romans 9:30–10:21

UPDATE: Here is the paper that I gave at the 2019 Karl Barth Graduate Student Colloquium at the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary.

INTRODUCTION: “GENTILES” = “WORLD” IS WORSE THAN “ISRAEL” = “CHURCH”

On at least one level, Karl Barth’s Römerbrief reading of Romans 9–11 is supersessionist. In general, especially in the second edition, when Paul refers to “Israel” in Romans 9–11, Barth refers to the “Church.”[1] He replaces Israel with the Church. That’s supersessionism, case closed. Right? Well, yes and no. It has become increasingly common to at least mitigate or nuance the charge of supersessionism against Barth’s reading of Romans 9–11. Various scholars have broadly argued that, yes, Barth’s handling of Romans 9–11 at least leaves the door open for at least a certain kind of supersessionism, but, no, he wasn’t being quite as careless with Israel as it might initially seem.[2] By and large, I agree with these assessments. Barth should have said more about the actual people and history of Israel, but he wasn’t trying to merely displace Israel with the Church, as if the latter were superior and the former were forgotten. He was trying to bring Israel and the Church together in solidarity, in opposition to the arrogance of the Church.

Of course, the very worst thing about supersessionism is that it implies that God is faithless and fickle. The next-worst thing about supersessionism is that it’s only a short step away from antisemitism and anti-Judaism. And yet, if Barth’s goal and our own is to interpret the book of Romans by ascertaining what Paul thought and spoke “in general and in detail,”[3] then the worst thing about Barth’s somewhat supersessionist Römerbrief reading of Romans 9–11 is not his equation of “Israel” with the “Church,” but rather his equation of “Gentiles” with the “world.” When it comes to Römerbrief chapter 10, there are actually good reasons for Barth to apply Romans 9:30–10:21 to the guilt of the Church, instead of Israel. However, glossing Paul’s “Gentiles” as the “world” makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pick up on Paul’s pastoral handling of the tensions between Jews and Gentiles within the Church. Paul is talking about the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, whereas Barth is talking about the relationship between the Church and the world.

In order to make this point, I will first summarize Barth’s argument in Römerbrief 10, before assessing its strengths and weaknesses as an interpretation of Romans 10.

SUMMARY: WHAT BARTH IS DOING IN RÖMERBRIEF 10

The KRISIS of Knowledge (Romans 9:30–10:3): With Great Revelation Comes Great Culpability[4]

The knowledge in question is the knowledge of God and the crisis is the judgment that humans are guilty. In fact, the crisis of knowledge is that both avoiding and pursuing the knowledge of God lead to guilt. Avoiding the knowledge of God increases the guilt and pursuing (and even receiving) the knowledge of God reveals the guilt. For Barth, the relationship between divine revelation and human plight is direct, not inverse.[5]

And yet, despite this direct correlation between revelation and plight, there is no escape from the judgment of God. There is no religiously privileged position from which the Church can judge Israel or the world. And there is no religion-less position from which the world can judge the Church. For Barth, as it is with Israel, so it is with the Church, and so it is with the entire world of ineluctably religious human beings.

In this chapter, Barth usually glosses “Israel” as the “Church” and “Gentiles” as the “world.” However, we should note that Barth is making an argument from the greater to the lesser when it comes to the relationship between Israel and the Church. He admits that the pinnacle of human religion, which is already the highest human possibility, is to be found in the history of Israel, asking:

Can there be a ‘supreme’ religion, a highest pinnacle of all human work, in the relation between God and men? If such a religion were to be found anywhere, it would be in the ‘religion’ of the prophets and psalmists of Israel, which is nowhere excelled, certainly not in the history of Christianity, and not even in the so-called ‘Religion of Jesus’.[6]

Here, Barth is willing to mention Israel and Christianity in a differentiated manner. And yet Barth sees no religious evolutionary progress from Judaism to Christianity. The pinnacle of religion had already been reached in the history of Israel, before the history of the Church.

Now, of course, for Barth, to call something the “pinnacle of religion” is a particularly damning critique! And he immediate says that “a religion adequate to revelation and congruent to the righteousness of God, a law of righteousness, is unattainable,” except through the miracle of faith.[7] However, Barth is arguing that, if even Israel failed to attain the righteousness of God, then the Church will fare no better.

Although some might suggest that, given the direct correlation between revelation and plight, the best course of action would be to distance ourselves from the guilty Church, Barth maintains that there really is no escape from the solidarity of human beings under the judgment of God. He writes that “in the Church humanity becomes conscious of itself and is manifested as religious.”[8] Therefore, “in describing the Church we are describing ourselves.”[9] After all, Barth maintains that “in the affairs of God it is impossible for one individual to range itself against another, or one person against another. We cannot examine men, and then proceed to justify some and to condemn others.”[10] The knowledge of God, therefore, leads to a crisis, a judgment, a critique of ourselves and our best thoughts about God.[11]

And Yet, The Light Shines in the Darkness (Romans 10:4–21)

Barth insists that, despite the Church’s tribulation and guilt, there is a way forward. But it is not pleasant. For Barth, “the hope of the Church” is manifest “precisely where its guilt is proven.”[12] The stone of stumbling, the rock of offense, is the only way forward. That is, in order to see the light of God that shines in the darkness, the Church must accept the judgment of God as her own, instead of trying to escape the judgment.

After all, on its own, the Church is desperately incapable. It is unable to have faith. It is unable to “do the law,” which, for Barth, means comprehending “that human righteousness comes into being only through the majesty of the nearness of God and of His election.”[13] The Church is unable to bring Christ near or to make Christ present. The Church can’t even negate its way to God![14]

Instead, the light shines in the darkness because God himself has already drawn near in Jesus Christ. Not, mind you, in a way that can be grasped and claimed by the Church as a possession. But, nevertheless, in an eschatological nearness that enables all human beings to call upon the Lord Jesus Christ and accept both the judgment and the salvation of God.

And yet, the light shines in “real darkness.”[15] Barth writes that “what is demanded of us here is that we should know that we are understood by God—in our lack of understanding.”[16] We best serve the Church by reminding it that even this demand exceeds its grasp. For Barth, we must not minimize but must instead emphasize “that the tribulation of the Church is its guilt, and that its guilt consists in a perpetual avoiding of the tribulation which it suffers from the secret of God.”[17] “The Church needs to be continually reminded of the most serious of all symptoms. It was the Church, not the world, which crucified Christ.”[18] Römerbrief chapter 10 was written as just such a reminder. With great revelation comes great culpability.

ASSESSMENT: WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE OF BARTH’S READING?

So much for a summary sketch of chapter 10. Let’s now assess Barth’s argument.

First, Barth Was Right to Critique the Church.

Previously, in chapter 9, Barth wrote that “in contrast with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is thrust upon our attention—Israel, the Church, the world of religion as it appears in history, and, we hasten to add, Israel in its purest, truest, and most powerful aspect.”[19] The first time I read those words, I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the ground. And yet, I believe that Karl Barth was right to use Romans 9–11 to critique the Church instead of critiquing Israel. He was right, in other words, to interpret Paul’s words “to all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7) as an internal critique of the Church rather than an external critique of Israel.

And, as far as an internal critique of the Church goes, I believe that Barth gives some very good advice to the Church. Instead of grasping for a religiously privileged position that does not exist, Barth urges the Church to submit to the judgment of God. Like a good prophet, he calls the people of God to repent. Consider the following:

Were the Church to appear before men as a Church under judgment; did it know of no other justification save that which is in judgment; did it believe in the stone of stumbling and rock of offence, instead of being offended and scandalized at it; then, with all its failings and offences—and certainly one day purified of some of them—it would be the Church of God.[20]

To me, this sounds like Paul, who, right after proclaiming that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16–17), then proceeds to cut everyone down to size by reminding them that there’s no human path to the righteousness of God apart from submitting to the judgment of God (1:18–3:20). Humble repentance, not positivistic boasting, is the correct human response to God’s gracious salvation.

I largely agree with what Gaventa recently argued at the 2019 Karl Barth Conference.[21] On the one hand, Barth’s reading of Romans 9–11 is dangerous, because it leaves the door open for supersessionism, and wrong, because it “violates the plain sense of the text.” Yet, on the other hand, Barth’s handling of Romans 9–11 flows naturally from his emphasis on human solidarity and the qualitative difference between God and humanity in his reading of Romans 1–8. Furthermore, Barth’s prophetic and pastoral indictment of Christian arrogance coheres with other aspects of Paul’s letter.[22] As Gaventa pointed out, throughout the letter, Paul appears to draw lines between human groups, but he then proceeds to erase those lines.[23]

In his critique of the guilty Church in Römerbrief 10, Barth is at least attempting to take the same posture as Paul. As a Jewish Christian writing to Christians in Rome, Paul took a posture of self-critique and solidarity with Israel. Barth therefore takes a posture of self-critique and solidarity with the Church.

And Yet, Barth Was Wrong to Miss the Jew-Gentile Tensions WITHIN the Church.

Exegetically speaking, using Romans 9:30–10:21 to critique the Church at least plausibly depends on Paul’s admission in the following chapter that he is speaking to “you Gentiles” as “an apostle to the Gentiles” (11:13). That is, the Gentiles among his predominantly Gentile Christian audience at Rome. At this point, we should recall that, in Romans 9:30–10:21, Paul is in the second stage of his argument that “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a). The first stage of his argument (9:6–29) was that “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel” (9:6b), “and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants” (9:7a). That is, membership in the people of God has always been determined by God’s gracious election—nothing else.

But what was the problem that necessitated this argument in the first place? Why, in other words, would anyone think that the word of God had failed? We get the answer in Romans 9:30–31: “Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law.” I take Paul to be referring to the fact that, at that time, the Church was becoming more prominently Gentile, and that the message concerning Jesus as the Messiah was getting a better hearing, as it were, among Gentiles than among Jews.[24] If the gospel were “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16), then why was it receiving such a relatively poor hearing among the Jews? Did this imply some kind of faithlessness on God’s part? Had his word to his chosen people failed (9:6)? Was God being unjust (9:14)? Had God rejected his people (11:1)?

Paul’s answer to these questions in Romans 9–11 is an emphatic “No!” He argues for continuity in the saving works of God, despite the apparent discontinuity in the response of Jews and Gentiles to Jesus the Messiah. This argument about God’s faithfulness, then, has implications for both Jewish and Gentile believers—a mixture reflected in the original audience of Paul’s letter.

As far as I can tell, Paul elegantly interweaves critiques of Jewish and Gentile Christians throughout his letter. Here, in Romans 9–11, after critiquing the majority of Israel for not pursuing the “law of righteousness. . . on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (9:31–32), Paul springs a rhetorical trap, as it were, and accuses Gentile Christians of being no better than Jews (11:11–32). These critiques play a role in laying the foundation for what Paul has to say in Romans 12–16, especially to the “strong” and the “weak” in chapters 14 and 15.[25] The pastoral heart of the book of Romans is arguably Paul’s exhortation to Jewish and Gentile Christians to “welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (15:7).[26]

In Romans 9:30–10:21, then, Paul is critiquing Israel for failing to follow her Law to its telos, Jesus the Messiah. But he is doing so in order to address tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians within the Church. Barth therefore at least has room to consider what role Paul’s critique of Israel should play for a Christian audience. So, although he should have said more about Israel, perhaps focusing on the Church in Römerbrief 10 was justified.

However, when Barth equates “Gentiles” with “the world” in Romans 9–11, he is sawing-off the exegetical branch he is sitting on. Paul’s critique of Gentile Christians vis-a-vis Israel in chapter 11 is the most immediate exegetical justification for applying the critique of Israel in chapters 9 and 10 to the Church. But, according to Barth, the “Gentiles” are “those outside” the Church. Commenting on Romans 9:30 (“What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith”), Barth writes:

The KRISIS appears here first. We have to recognize that, side by side with those who have knowledge and who are saints and children of God, there exist ignorant and unholy men of the world. However the Church be defined, it is encompassed by Gentiles and strangers, who do not comprehend, do not communicate with it, and do not follow after righteousness. . . . How can it be that the Gentiles, when confronted with the Church, are, and remain, Gentiles?[27]

Now, Barth’s theological conclusions about the relationship between the Church and the world might be legitimate. But the fact remains that this is almost completely the opposite of what was most likely in the background to Romans 9:30–10:21. It was the Church’s relative success among the Gentiles and relative failure among the Jews that Paul had in mind.

Furthermore, Barth might be correct in his refusal to identify and quantify who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to God’s gracious election. But, for Paul and his audience, “Jews,” “Gentiles,” the “strong,” the “weak,” and “doing the law” at least had concrete, visible ramifications. These things were not merely eschatological.[28]

In his comments upon Romans 10:12–13 (“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’”), Barth writes: “But are these men within the Church, or outside it, or are they members of some Church of their own founding? The question is trivial.”[29] Why trivial? Because Barth maintains that these “faithful heathen” are an “eschatological quantity.”[30]

I disagree. Although Barth is absolutely correct to interpret Paul as arguing for (1) unity between Jews and Gentiles on the basis of (2) the judgment and the salvation of God, he is guilty of overlooking the fact that, for Paul and the Roman Christians, differences between Jews and Gentiles were still significant, even if they were not meant to be ultimate/final.[31] Although Barth was right to use Romans 9–11 as an internal critique of the Church, the main problem with Barth’s reading of Romans 10 and Romans 9–11 is that, while Paul is speaking about Israel in order to address tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians, Barth is speaking about the Church’s relationship to the world.[32]

CONCLUSION

Borrowing Barth’s words from his preface to the English translation of Römerbrief, we might ask, after reading chapter 10 of the Romans commentary, “Did Paul think and speak in general and in detail in the manner in which [Barth has] interpreted him as thinking and speaking?” My answer would have to be “yes and no.” Yes, in general, but no in detail. Yes, in form, but no in content.

Yes, the internal critique of the Church is Paul’s. But, no, Paul was not primarily talking about the relationship between the Church and the world. He was primarily talking about the Church. Yes, Paul brought Jew and Gentile alike together under the judgment and the salvation of God. But, for Paul, the guilt of the Church was not its ignorance of its dialectical relationship with the world. Instead, for Paul, the Church is guilty primarily because of its internal divisions.

Is there a way to bring Paul and Barth together in Romans 9:30–10:21? I think and hope so. We might arrive at the same destination, with regards to the relationship between the Church and the world, but I think that, when reading Romans, we need to start with the divisions that exist within the Church. With great revelation comes great culpability. The Church cannot comprehend the nature of her division and divisiveness apart from her knowledge of God. “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all” (10:12). And yet the Church cannot afford to erase or forget the distinction between Jew and Greek from her own internal history.[33] Within the Church, the light of Christian unity shines, but it shines in divided and divisive darkness.

NOTES:

  1. Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief, Zweite Fassung (1922), ed. C. van der Kooi and Katja Tolstaja, GA II 47 (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2010), 451–570. Hereafter: Römer II. ET: The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn Hoskyns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933). Hereafter: Romans II.

  2. See, for example: Beverly Gaventa, “The Finality of the Gospel: Barth’s Römerbrief on Romans 9-11” (paper presented at the 2019 Annual Karl Barth Conference, Princeton, NJ, 18 June, 2019); Douglas K. Harink, “Barth’s Apocalyptic Exegesis and the Question of Israel in Römerbrief, Chapters 9-11,” Toronto Journal of Theology 25 (2009): 5–18; Wesley Hill, “The Church as Israel and Israel as the Church: An Examination of Karl Barth’s Exegesis of Romans 9:1-5 in the Epistle to the Romans and Church Dogmatics 2/2,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 6 (2012): 139–58; Katherine Sonderegger, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew: Karl Barth’s “Doctrine of Israel” (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992), esp. 15–42; R. Kendall Soulen, “Karl Barth and the Future of the God of Israel,” Pro Ecclesia 6 (1997): 413–28 (note that Soulen addresses CD, not Römerbrief); Susannah Ticciati, “The Future of Biblical Israel: How Should Christians Read Romans 9-11 Today?,” Biblical Interpretation 25 (2017): 497–518. For Ticciati’s analysis and critique of Barth’s reading of Romans 9–11 in Church Dogmatics II/2, see “Israel and the Church: Barth’s Exegesis of Romans 9–11,” in Freedom Under the Word: Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis, ed. Ben Rhodes and Martin Westerholm (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 151–71.

  3. Barth, Romans II, ix.

  4. In what follows, I will focus upon the second edition of Barth’s commentary. However, it is helpful to note that Barth made some structural changes in chapter ten between the first and second editions. In Römerbrief 1919, chapter 10 is titled “A Guilt,” and the section headings are: Clarifications (10:1–3); The Message (10:4–15); The Deaf Ears (10:16–21). Barth addresses Romans 9:30–33 in the final subsection, “The Stone of Stumbling,” in chapter 9, titled “A Plight” (Eine Not). Der Römerbrief, Erste Fassung (1919), ed. Hermann Schmidt, GA II 16 (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1985), 388–93; 394–426.

    In Römerbrief 1922, Barth famously adds “the Church” into his chapter titles in 9–11. Chapter 10, “A Guilt,” becomes “The Guilt of the Church” (492–526). Furthermore, Barth moves Romans 9:30-33 into the beginning of chapter 10, combining them with 10:1–3 and calling the subsection, not “The Stone of Stumbling” or “Clarifications,” but rather “The KRISIS of Knowledge” (492–507). He also combines Romans 10:4–15 and 16–21 into a subsection titled, not “The Message” or “The Deaf Ears,” but “The Light in the Darkness” (507–26).

    So, between the first and second editions, it seems that Barth is doubling-down on his application of Romans 9–11 to the Church (as seen in the chapter titles), while also attempting the follow the contours of Paul’s letter a bit better (by seeing a break at 9:30 rather than 10:1). Among others, Cranfield, Jewett, Moo, Schreiner, NA28 and the NRSV all see a break at 9:30. See C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC (New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 2:503; Robert Jewett, Romans, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 606; Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 636; Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 2nd. ed., BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 522.

  5. You’re in much greater danger in the Holy of Holies than in the casino or anywhere else. Or, to borrow one of Barth’s images, when the revelatory shell explodes, those closest to it bear the brunt of the impact. Barth writes that “the real basis for this suffering coincides with the suffering’s basis of knowledge” (der Realgrund dieser Not zusammenfällt mit ihrem Erkenntnisgrund). Furthermore, “if human beings did not know/recognize God, they would not be in the position to recognize their suffering as such” (Würde er [der Mensch] Gott nicht erkennen, er wäre gar nicht in der Lage, seine Not als solche zu erkennen) Römer II, 493. Translation original. See Romans II, 363.

  6. Barth, Romans II, 366. When quoting from Hoskyns’ translation, I have retained the use of “men” to refer to humanity.

  7. Barth, Romans II, 366.

  8. Barth, Romans II, 362. In the original German, Barth refers to “die in der Kirche zum Bewußtsein ihrer selbst kommende und also in die Erscheinung tretende religiöse Menschheit.” Römer II, 492.

  9. Barth, Romans II, 371.

  10. Barth, Romans II, 371.

  11. Barth, Romans II, 373.

  12. Barth, Romans II, 374.

  13. Barth, Romans II, 376.

  14. Barth, Romans II, 379.

  15. Barth, Romans II, 390.

  16. Barth, Romans II, 390.

  17. Barth, Romans II, 388.

  18. Barth, Romans II, 389.

  19. Barth, Romans II, 332.

  20. The quote continues: “The Church, however, which sings its triumphs and trims and popularizes and modernizes itself, in order to minister to and satisfy every need except the one!; the Church which, in spite of many exposures, is still satisfied with itself, and, like quicksilver, still seeks and finds its own level; such a Church can never succeed, be it never so zealous, never so active in ridding itself of its failings and blemishes. With or without offences, it can never be the Church of God, because it is ignorant of the meaning of repentance.” Barth, Romans II, 370.

  21. Gaventa, “The Finality of the Gospel.”

  22. For example, as Gaventa noted, Barth perhaps took his cue from some of Paul’s “unsettling exegetical moves” in Romans 9–11, like Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 30 to refer to “Jesus” and the “word of faith,” instead of to the “commandment.” Or Paul’s use of Hosea to refer to the Gentiles, instead of to Israel.

  23. For example, Paul plays on Jewish stereotypes of Gentiles in the second half of chapter 1, before springing a rhetorical trap in chapter 2! In chapter 4, Paul brings up Abraham as the father of both the uncircumcised and the circumcised. And in chapter 5, Paul puts Jew and Gentile together in Adam and in Christ.

  24. This was a problem for Paul, given the Jewish provenance of the “the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (1:1–3). For more on the background and ethnic composition of Paul’s audience, see Jewett, Romans, 55–59, 70–72.

  25. This point stands even though I admit that “strong” and “weak” probably do not exactly coincide with “Gentile” and “Jewish,” respectively. See Jewett, Romans, 70–72.

  26. I think that it is legitimate to see Jew-Gentile tensions in the background here, because of what Paul then immediately says: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (15:8–9, emphasis added).

  27. Barth, Romans II, 363.

  28. In his comments upon Romans 10:4–5, Barth argues that both “the righteousness which proceeds from the faithfulness of God” (his rendering of ἡ…ἐκ πίστεως δικαιοσύνη, 10:6) and “the righteousness which proceeds from the law” are but two ways in which we encounter the one righteousness of God. “In the first case the righteousness of God is invisible (unanschaulicherweise), in the second it is visible (anschaulicherweise)” Romans II, 375; Römer II, 508. Nevertheless, in describing Paul’s quotation of Leviticus 18:5 (“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them,’” Rom. 10:5), Barth writes: “This is what Moses means. By using the Futurum aeternum, he cannot fail to make us understand that neither the promise nor the condition which is linked to it is direct and observable. Both are used to denote the possibility which is messianic and eschatological” Romans II, 376–77. To say nothing of all of the many interpretive issues involved here, the fact remains that, for the “strong” and the “weak” in Romans 14–15, “doing the law” almost assuredly involved anschaulicherweise matters such as what was on the table when Christians dined together.

  29. Barth, Romans II, 384.

  30. Barth, Romans II, 384.

  31. This oversight, I believe, explains why Barth only devotes only 24 pages to his discussion of Romans 14:1–15:13 (Römer II, 671–700; Romans II, 502–26). He claims that “Truth and Mercy hold together Jew and Gentile, Church and World” (Romans II, 526), but he misses the fact that, in both Romans 9–11 and 14–15, Paul is focusing on holding together Jew and Gentile within the Church.

  32. To be clear, Barth’s equation of “Israel” with “the Church” is also problematic. He should have said more about the actual people and history of Israel than he did. And this appears to be an error that he recognized and attempted to address. In his Shorter Commentary, Barth says much more about Israel than he did in Römerbrief. See A Shorter Commentary on Romans (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012), 110–47. Nevertheless, even there, Barth views chapters 9–11 and, indeed, 9–16 as someone of a digression from the main theme of Romans. Regarding chapters 9–11, he writes that “we are dealing with a second, comparatively independent part of the Epistle” (110). He applies the same judgment to chapters 12–16. Barth claims that “[a]ll that needs saying about that work of salvation, about the life that has been promised in the Gospel to the man who is righteous through his faith, has been said in what precedes” (110). I strongly disagree with this, and I think that Barth’s own hermeneutical principles should have prevented him from seeing the second half of the letter as only incidental to its main theme! What if, instead, Romans 9–16 were seen as the main point—at least pastorally—of the letter?

  33. See Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), esp. 250–94.

By Joshua Steele

Anglican Priest, Managing Editor of Anglican Compass, Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

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