Karl Barth on the Incarnation

Updated: I’ve just changed the timestamp on this post from September for the benefit of those who’ve only recently discovered the blog, as it is relevant to discussions at the recent QOD conference.

Karl Barth has some interesting observations on the humanity of Christ in Church Dogmatics (I/2, pp. 153ff).

…[T]here must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of the Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ really be like us? … God’s Son not only assumed our nature but He entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost….

He notes that the majority of theologians shied away from considering the full implications of this in both the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Reacting against Arianism, they tended toward a semi-Apollinarianism. Contrary to this, the Patristic affirmation, grounded in Scripture and echoed by Barth is “What Christ has not assumed He has not healed.”

He quotes a number of other theologians who share his concern.

Gottfried Menken:

“… the Son of God when He came into the world did not then assume a human nature such as this nature was when it came forth from God’s hand before the Fall, before it had in Adam … become sinful and mortal. On the contrary, it was a human nature such as was in Adam after the Fall and is in all his successors.”

He refers to Edward Irving, about whom I’ll say more in another post.

J. C. K. von Hofmann said that Christ assumed “human nature as limited and conditioned by sin”; “… He belonged to humanity as it was in consequence of sin, but without being a sinner.”

H. F. Kolbrügge: He was “flesh as we are flesh”; “in this whole nature of ours, with all human affections, appetitions and needs.”

Edward Bohl: “The Logos entered our condition thus alienated from God….”

H. Bezzel: “the form of a manhood dishonoured and devalued by sin.”

A reminder of the Scriptural background:

Hebrews 2:14ff–Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Hebrews 4:15–For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Romans 8:3–For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.

Is. 53:2b-3–He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Herbert Douglass, writing under a pseudonym, has a very good discussion of Barth’s theology here.

6 thoughts on “Karl Barth on the Incarnation

  1. Herb Douglas writing under a pseudonym–why would he feel the need to do that?

    (Maybe I’m asking this question in the wrong place, but perhaps it speaks to the controversy of this issue.)

  2. MINISTRY set that up (June 1985). They wanted a discussion of the issues apart from the personalities. “Benjamin Rand” wrote the article for the opposing perspective–that was Norman Gulley. The identities were revealed in the August 1985 issue, where they were able to respond to each other.

    In his response, Gulley (p. 24) accused Douglass’s Jesus of being “too human.” That’s a strange accusation. Christian orthodoxy must assume his full humanity (and his full divinity). Gulley suggests Douglass may be a bit Arian (accusing Arius of teaching an “overidentification of Jesus with man”), yet then Gulley uses the term “homoi-” to refer to Jesus’ humanity (Arius used that term to refer to Jesus’ divinity). Douglass assumes Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy in his article–in this article, Gulley seems not to be on familiar ground. It was written 20 years ago, so I would hope Gulley has reflected more on this point since that time.

    There’s no way to make Jesus “too human” or “too divine” if he is fully both. The errors that are possible were addressed at Chalcedon: minimizing one nature or the other, separating them so they don’t really touch or get affected by the other, or blending them in such a way that Jesus has a unique nature.

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