Barth And Eschatology -- By: R. Laird Harris

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 06:4 (Fall 1963)
Article: Barth And Eschatology
Author: R. Laird Harris

Barth And Eschatology

R. Laird Harris

Karl Earth, in Dogmatics in Outline,1 discusses the affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed, “He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” He begins by objecting to the conception of Michael Angelo’s great painting in the end of the Sistine Chapel because it, and all such conceptions, divide the just from the wicked, with rewards or punishment meted out. He alleges that the painters have some delight in the idea “how these damned folk sink in the pool of hell.” He does not elucidate how he knows that painters have these feelings of delight. Angelo has apparently not left a record of his feelings in the matter, but Barth’s remark is calculated to impress the reader with the awfulness of Angelo’s representation without admitting that the picture, in general, faithfully represents both the Biblical teaching and the confessional statement upon which Barth is commenting.

Barth proceeds to contradict this teaching of the Bible with what I can only call a semantic deception. He declares that in “the Biblical world of thought, the judge is not primarily the one who rewards some and punishes others; he is the man who creates order and restores what has been destroyed.” In short, he appeals to the Old Testament office of “judge” current before the monarchy and derives the definition of “judge” in the creed from the action of men like Gideon and Barak in the Book of Judges! It is true, of course, that Gideon was a leader. It is also doubtless true that as a leader in Israel he executed judicial functions. But the Apostles’ Creed and the passage in Matthew 25 which Michael Angelo depicts does not use the Hebrew word shophet. These sources clearly and unambiguously represent Jesus as a rewarder and punisher, and it is no explanation of them nor answer to them to introduce the matter of the office of Old Testament judge and argue from its character that Christ will not conduct a Last Judgment. I repeat, in my opinion this is a clever way of advocating a position by semantics, but cannot be called interpretation of the documents being considered. I emphasize this example, for I fear it is all too typical of Barth and his eschatology. We shall return to the reference in Dogmatics in Outline later. Christology and Anthropological Eschatology.

As is well known, Barth bases or claims to base his anthropology upon Christology. This is affirmed in Weber’s Synopsis 2 and the Church Dogmatics.3 In the section on “Man in his Time,” which discusses both similarities with and differences between the ...

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