The Epistle to the Ephesians

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Karl Barth
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , April
     192 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In The Epistle to the Ephesians, R. David Nelson introduces Karl Barth’s early lectures first by providing an editorial overview and Ross M. Wright’s insight as the translator. Nelson then presents Francis Watson’s essay entitled “Barth, Ephesians, and the Practice of Theological Exegesis,” and one of John Webster’s last pieces, “‘A Relation beyond All Relations’: God and Creatures in Barth’s Lectures on Ephesians, 1921-22.”

However, what truly shine are the lectures themselves. Published in English for the first time, the lectures not only provide insight into Barth’s earliest days teaching at the University of Göttingen, they further expose his brilliant, developing theology.

Barth dedicates the great majority of the course to the prologue of the first chapter of Ephesians. Laying a precise groundwork, Barth first considers the Epistle’s authorship and the nature of Paul’s apostolicity, then turns to the substance of the community as God’s holy ones. In typical fashion, Barth stays true to Christian orthodoxy and takes up the appropriate academic questions, while disrupting his readers’ expectations and opening their eyes to a truth previously unseen.

In particular, Barth considers the topic of blessedness; interweaving complex theological issues such as election, the trinity, salvation, time and eternity, and the knowledge of God, with groundbreaking pastoral insight. Here he meets and challenges todays congregations which yearn for both assurance and purpose.

Only the last lecture is reserved for Ephesians 2-6. Yet, Barth is able to thoughtfully consider the paradox of this life, ultimately pointing the Church to its peaceful purpose and revolutionary calling to hope. Barth is relentless in reinvigorating his readers to take up the Christian life, stirring in them a passion that is constantly new for the Gospel and breaking them out of habits and rhythms in order to understand who they truly are. Barth’s message not only needed to be heard by students and churches in the 1920’s, but also rings true nearly one hundred years later.

Though this volume certainly demands a careful reading, it is as beneficial to the pastor as it is to the academic. In any case, one will likely be disappointed by Wright’s decision against translating Barth’s Greek and Latin references. Rather than making these dense lectures more accessible to the Church, this decision forces Barth into a small corner of the academy—a place he did not seek to be. What’s more, it is unfortunate that Wright retains gendered language for God, and at points humanity, further isolating the work from modern readers.

Barth has already stolen the hearts of systematic theologians and pastors alike, but biblical scholars may be swayed through this volume. These lectures not only weave together themes from the Epistle’s rich theological heritage, but highlight key elements of its syntax and diction. Though there is no one starting point for readers of Barth, Nelson and Wright have provided a new inlet through this volume, offering a biblically-grounded foundation for many of the themes that are later developed in Church Dogmatics

About the Reviewer(s): 

Catherine C. Tobey is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
August 23, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Karl Barth (1886-1968) is widely regarded as one of the most significant Christian theologians since the Reformation. He was a professor of theology at several universities in Germany and later taught in Basel, Switzerland. His works include Church Dogmatics (14 volumes), the most influential work of theology in the twentieth century.



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