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The Epistle to the Romans Paperback – December 31, 1968
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From the Back Cover
Karl Barth's Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans first appeared in Germany in 1918, and caused an immediate sensation. A second edition, corrected, enlarged, and reconsidered, followed in 1921, and four others by 1933.
About the Author
Karl Barth (1886-1968) was an influential Swiss Reformed Christian theologian. He was also a pastor and one of the leading thinkers in the neo-orthodox movement.
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As with most of the reviewers here, I found the reading tough and had to make a few attempts to really get into it. Barth in his preface to the 2nd edition actually spent nearly one whole page defending the abstruseness of his writing against critics who charged him for being overly bombastic! Somehow I felt strangely comforted by both the critique and his defense : while simplicity is good, oversimplification falsifies.
I found that one of the keys to understanding Barth is his 'theology from above' approach. He repeatedly invokes the Kierkegaardian insight of the 'infinite qualitative distinction' between God and man as a lens to understanding spiritual perception. It is by faith and faith alone that one can properly apprehend spiritual reality. One does not work his way up the mountain of theology by his (unaided)intellectual effort or religious piety. Instead, it is through a supernatural encounter with God that the gospel can be grasped in all its mystery (think of the paradox of the Incarnation for example or the mystery of the atonement)
Barth does not seem to condescend to unbelievers by appealing to reason or experience since human will and perceptions are essentially fallen but bases his epistemology almost exclusively on divine election/revelation. In this regard, he stands squarely within the Reformed tradition which holds a high view of divine grace, leaving no ground for human boasting.
The letter to the Romans had been used historically as a revolutionary tool against the pelagian heresy and medieval Catholicism. It is amazing to see how Barth uses it against liberal Christianity, which basically reduces the gospel to anthropology and a civil religion. Barth's 'theology from above' approach basically calls us back to the transcendent nature of the Christian faith, 'which no eyes have seen or the ears heard'.
Barth writes with great passion and unapologetic fervor. One does not read this commentary with a cool head as one would read an exegetical work replete with lexical treatment and historical reconstruction. Rather Barth writes as if he is preaching, bringing the letter of Paul alive to his readers with great urgency. One has to keep pace with the rhetoric to get it, like riding a bicycle (keep pedaling to avoid falling off !), even when one is tempted to pause to consider a ponderous turn of phrase.
I finished it in a couple of days and will likely go back again and again, to soak in this theological tour de force for a deeper grasp of Barth's ideas and passion. Not your average devotional reading but one that can deepen and enrich our reading of Romans as well as Barthian theology.
The Jews are the believers. Accordingly, all of us, even Christians, as the believers of XXth century, may be labeled as "Jews".
The Law is the Religion, that is, the literality of religion: written texts, cults, devotions, etc. When you read "through the law we know what sin is", you have to understand: "through religion -that is Christianity of XXth century kind - we know what sin is".
Circumsicion is Sacrament. When we read "did God accept Abraham before or after circumcision?"; we have to see: "did God accept Abraham after or before any Sacrament?".
The works of the Law are the works of Religion: masses, prayers, etc.
Sin: all the things human beings do, think or intend without reference to God. For example: Democracy, Comunism, Economics, etc. When we read: "God enclosed everyone under sin in order God may be exalted", it does mean: all human work is corruption, even religion, as far it is a human elaboration about God.
God's Wrath: all human work. God's justice: all human work already condemned. But, as God is the one who makes possible the impossible, and only because of that, God's work.
God's work or Grace: all the things already condemned by sin or human efforts. However, as they stand already condemned because all human do is evil and sin, they are, nevertheless, made rigtheous by the Grace of God.
The Grace of God is the relation which is no relation, the intellection which is no intellection, the voice which is no voice, pronounced in words which are not audible, upon men. To this only Faith matches. God's action is God's Grace. God, as the Creator, the Infinitum, as He who any eye has seen, is the Invisible. His relation to man is the lack of relation, the Invisible bound which is not any tangible thing. In a sense, God does not exist. And, however, He is the Hope, Life and Salvation expressed through Faith. The problem is when such a friendship or conviction has to be expressed in human words and works. Then we don't have God Himself, but a speech about God, which is Religion. Then we come to the God of this world, the God of the Law and the Works which only reveals sin. But when such a speech or work -Religion- shows its vacuity, because it is also full of sin as all other human doings; then we are in disposition to enter into relationship with the True God.
Not for people who is sleeping in their faith, but for those who don't take scandal on Jesus, so they are blessed.