Barth as you’ve never read him

You’ve never read Barth’s lectures on Ephesians.

I guarantee you that this is the case, unless, however, you meet the following two criteria: (1) you read German (quite well), and (2) you somehow managed to get a hold of the German edition of 2009.  

This year, however, Baker released the first-ever English edition of Barth’s lectures on Ephesians, which is now also available on Logos.

This volume is extremely important for readers of Barth, and anybody interested in Ephesians, for a number of reasons:

  1. These lectures were given during a critical stage in Barth’s intellectual and personal history. He had just taken up his first academic post at Göttingen after serving his small parish church in Safenwil for a number of years. Indeed, Safenwil was the birthplace of his commentary on Romans, a theological “bombshell” that threw him into the limelight of German theological discussion. Barth had been working through Ephesians with confirmation candidates and had preached on the epistle, so in Ephesians we hear resonances of that pastoral emphasis intertwined with robust, erudite theology.
  2. Compared to Romans, Barth’s Ephesians shows “him trying to learn from this New Testament text how to think about God’s presence to and relation with creatures in rather less starkly oppositional terms” (34). In other words, there is a maturation in Barth’s thinking evident even in this early period of his life and work, that is necessary to understanding the man and his theology.
  3. While most readers of Barth look to his Romans commentary and Church Dogmatics to inform their understanding of his exegetical and hermeneutical practices, most have not considered Ephesians due to the fact that it wasn’t available until just a few years ago (2009).
  4. 12 of the 13 lectures focus on Ephesians chapter 1! This might strike potential readers as odd, but it should not dissuade them from engaging with Ephesians. Anybody familiar with the epistle will know that chapter 1 is composed of a doxology and prayer, and these are of utmost importance for Barth if any sense is to be made of chapters 2–6.
  5. The volume opens with two essays, one by Francis Watson, the other by the late John Webster, a foremost authority on Barth. These essays alone are worth getting the book, because in them you have the squaring off, as it were, of two of the greatest scholars of the last decade, each approaching Barth’s theological exegesis with a different perspective. I’ll let you read them to decide who wins out.

For those considering preaching through Ephesians, you should seriously consider beginning your study with Ephesians to lay the groundwork for the rest of your series. If there is anything we preachers can learn from Barth, it is that the Sache, or subject matter, of the text is itself the connection to our listeners, not personal anecdotes or rhetorical flair.

For those teaching the Pauline literature or theology in a university or seminary setting, there couldn’t be a better place to turn for an example of unflinching theological interpretation. This is, as John Webster says, “theology in exegetical and expository mode” (35, 36). The way Barth deftly handles questions of authorship and various textual difficulties is worth imitation, definitely a model for you and your students to follow.

In sum, as Francis Watson states, Ephesians demonstrates how Barth’s “theocentrism can issue in startling exegetical insights that both illuminate the text and disclose its potential to reshape its reader’s world” (28). This is powerful theo-logical exegesis fully on display.

For a fully searchable, tagged, and indexed version that integrates with the rest of your digital library, I heartily recommend you get a copy of Barth’s Ephesians on Logos, and begin to learn the art of theological exegesis from the foremost master of the art.

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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