Sunday, December 19, 2010

Et tu Barth?

'A mistake which is not justified by its respectable antiquity, and which Luther himself had a share in confirming, is that of regarding the Old Testament as a document, and, where possible, as the classical document, of a religion of works, and therefore, because all religion as such is a religion of works, of religion in general.' (KD 1.2; 310)

The ax I want to grind here is not Barth's comment on Luther (in the same excursus Barth goes on to speak of a corresponding strand in Luther's thought which finds infinite monuments of grace in the Old Testament), but his refusal to see genuine works-righteousness in Old Testament Judaism.

Paul states: 'So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.' (Rom.11:6)

I find Paul's "no longer" to be extremely intriguing. If I am reading him correctly, he seems to be presenting a time in theological history where works were THE normative modicum by which God credited men with righteousness.

An example of this would be the well-known verse about Phinehas in Psalm 106:30-31. 'But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked. This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.'

Or perhaps the "because you have done this" in which the angel of the LORD blesses Abraham in Genesis 22:16.

Or the meaty saying of Jesus in the Synoptic gospels: "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments."

Or Paul's now-famous dictum: "but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous."

I think these verses amply support my view that Judaism was a religion of works-righteousness. The people under this covenant were expected to fulfill certain obligations if they wished to receive blessing, life, favor, deliverance, forgiveness, inheritance, land, healing etc....David could confidently say: "The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight." (2 Samuel 22:25).

The testimonies in the scriptures abound.

Anyways, Barth deserves an extremely respectful hearing. I look forward to reading every last page of exegesis he has on Romans and learning more about what he has to say on the matter. He certainly was not anticipating Sanders' theory of a linear pattern of grace throughout the scriptural history.

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