Karl Barth’s lectures on the first chapter of the Gospel of John, delivered at Muenster in 1925–1926 and at Bonn in 1933, came at an important time in his life, when he was turning his attention more fully to dogmatics. Theological interpretation was thus his primary concern, especially the relation between revelation and the witness to revelation, which helped to shape his formulation of the role of the written (and spoken) word vis-a-vis the incarnate Word.
The text is divided into three sections—John 1:1–18, 19–34, 35–51, with the largest share of the book devoted to the first section. Each section begins with Barth’s own translation, followed by verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase commentary on the Greek text. Although Barth’s interpretation is decidedly theological, he does take up questions of philology and textual criticism more thoroughly than in his other works.
Much has happened in Johannine scholarship since these lectures were first delivered, yet they remain valuable today—100 years after Barth’s birth—both for their insights into the gospel and into Karl Barth.
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“‘I dare to say, brethren, that perhaps not even John himself has said it as it is, but only as he could, for a man has here spoken about God, a man enlightened by God, but still a man.” (Page 1)
“As a medium20 what is historical, the human word of the witness to revelation, demands our total, concentrated, and serious attention. But only as a medium,21 not for its own sake and not to be understood in terms of itself, but as witness which itself needs witness and expects witness—the witness that its subject must give.” (Page 7)
“The Word is where God is. Hence it must belong to God and be of the same nature as God. No more and no less than God himself was and is needed if the Word is there, and is and will be spoken. He had to speak it. But he has spoken it. And he speaks it again. To this Word the human word of the Evangelist bears witness.” (Page 27)
“By the Word God, too, imparts himself to us. Because he is the Word of God, he is not just a word but the Word, the Word of all words. But the Word. In the simplicity and strictness, and precisely thus in the fulness of the Word, God reveals himself and has revealed himself.” (Pages 26–27)
“Because enlightened, he has said something; if he had not been enlightened, he could have said nothing; but because he is an enlightened man, he has not said it all as it is, but only said it as a man can say it.’” (Page 1)
Karl Barth (May 10, 1886–December 10, 1968) was a twentieth-century Swiss theologian in the Reformed tradition. A vigorous opponent of theological liberalism and modernism, he is sometimes called “the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy.”