Monday, October 31, 2016

Reader Response: Church Dogmatics ch VII (8)

The next sub-section - the third of four discussing the election of the community - has the title The promise of God heard and believed.  In terms of format, it is again mostly taken up with a small print exegesis of a chunk of Romans 9 and 10.

The basic point that Barth wants to make is clear.  The community, which is Israel and the Church bound together by their common (if unacknowledged, on the one hand) relationship to Jesus Christ, is together "the environment of the elected man Jesus of Nazareth" (233).  But it is this in a differentiated way.  The particular service for which the Israelite form of the community is elected is "the hearing, the reception and the acceptance of the divine promise" (233).  If Israel comes to life in the Church, it will be through the acceptance of the promise given to it, and its service will continue to be to bind the church to the word Israel has received.  But even if Israel resists its election, it still bears witness to the given-ness of God's word.  "It is for just this reason that the Israelite (Jewish) regard for sentence, word and letter must continue in the Church" (234).  The object of the Church's faith is the word of God delivered to Israel, and therefore for the church to become anti- or even a-semitic implies that the object of its faith is, or soon will be, lost.  The Church needs Israel.

The particular service of the Church, elected for this from amongst Jews and Gentiles, is "that it secures attention for the promise heard by putting faith in it" (237).  The promise creates faith in itself, by the power of the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and therefore wherever the promise is believed, there is the Church.  As we have already seen, this promise was not only heard in Israel, but was by a minority really believed, and so Barth sees the Church pre-existing in Israel.  For Barth, the existence of these few sheds light on the purpose of Israel's election and reveals its end and purpose - an end and purpose which is shown dramatically in the gathering in of the Church of Jews and Gentiles.  Nevertheless, that Church still needs the service of Israel; it still needs to be pointed back again and again to the actual word received from God, by which its faith lives.

The exegetical portion, which makes up the bulk of the sub-section, covers Romans 9:30-10:21.  Here we see that Gentiles who had not sought God have found him, whilst Israel with all its zeal for righteousness has not attained it.  This highlights that everything depends on God's mercy and not human running or willing: "The perfection of human running and willing under the very best conditions given man by God Himself, under the sign of a unique presupposition, preparation and pre-history of his salvation, proves only that God's mercy alone can bring and keep together God and man, and thus make man participate in God's salvation" (242).  After all, Israel has heard God's word - Paul is at pains to make this clear - and in the apostolate has heard the proclamation of the fulfilled promise in the resurrection of Christ.  Barth thinks that Paul himself is, implicitly, the fulfilment of the prophecies he cites - not as a Jewish Christian per se, but specifically as an apostle.  His ministry brings it about that the promise is preached, not only as promise, but as fulfilled promise.  That Israel will not believe is guilt to them, but does not negate their election.  Rather, "the meaning of [Israel's] election is that in the very act of becoming guilty towards God it must genuinely magnify His faithfulness" (259).

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