‚The Royal Man. Some Hermeneutical, Dogmatic, Biblical Theological, and Contextual Remarks’

Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer

The Royal Man

Some Hermeneutical, Dogmatic, Biblical Theological, and Contextual Remarks

On §64.3 of the Church Dogmatics, I will make a fourfold comment. (I) ‘The man Jesus of Nazareth as such is the substance of the Christological foundation of the second part of the doctrine of reconciliation’ (CD IV/2, 155), but ‘the older dogmatics (…) did not give any independent consideration to this fact

[the manhood of Jesus Christ]

’ (156). Some commentators have remarked that there is a certain synchronism between this ‘book on Jesus’ in the midst of the Church Dogmatics and the so-called second quest for the historical Jesus in the 1950’s.[1] How should we characterize Barth’s specific approach? (Hermeneutical question) (II) In §64.3, Barth does not explicitly return to the technical Christological investigations he has made in a creative conversation with the doctrinal tradition in the preceding §64.2. How can we read the conversations on ‘the royal man’ in light of these decisions that were made earlier? (Dogmatic question) (III) ‘The royal man is the Jesus of the four Gospels – and especially the first three’ (156). With this, Barth makes some distinctions, particularly between the Synoptics and the gospel of John, but in general, he tries to sketch a unitary image of the man Jesus. This may lead to some tension with the current focus on the distinct Christological approach of each of the New Testament witnesses (a question of Biblical Theology). (IV) ‘I seem to hear from one and another of my former friends and fellows the question whether in the aspect of the matter which is now to the forefront I have not gone too far in what I ascribe to man’ (Preface CD IV/2, x). There were constructive as well as contemporary considerations in stressing these aspects in 1953-5. How should we evaluate stressing these aspects in our day? (Contextual Theological question)


In 1954, Ernst Käsemann gave his lecture on the historical Jesus, which James Robinson later would characterize as the beginning of the ‘new quest’. It is remarkable that Barth pays considerable attention to the man Jesus in the same period, but his approach is decisively  different from that of the waves that come rolling on with the first, the second, the third, and all the following quests.[2] Barth remarks, continuing his argument at the end of §64.2, that ‘We have to remember that either way the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the presentation in the whole of the New Testament and therefore from the very outset in the Synoptics, rests on the self-declaration in which He revealed Himself to His disciples in the resurrection and ascension. The New Testament attestation would be valueless, and His history and He Himself as the royal man obscured, if we tried artificially to divert this light of His self-declaration and consider the pre-Easter prelude in abstraction from its Easter sequel. From the very first, and wherever it has been alive, the Church has lived by and with the Jesus Christ of the New Testament as written in the light of His resurrection and ascension.’ ‘It cannot be our intention to think and speak in a vacuum. We can think and speak only in and with the Church’ (156).

As early as his Tambach lecture of 1919, Barth said, ‘The Synoptic reports about Jesus are completely incomprehensible without Bengel’s insight into their intention: spirant resurrectionem [“they breathe of the resurrection”]’.[3] He gives his most extensive elaboration of his view on the quest for the historical Jesus in his portrait of David Friedrich Strauss in his lectures on Nineteenth Century Protestant Theology. There, in conclusion, Barth formulates his critique in five points:[4]

  1. Is it not a fact that if we conceive of the Christian faith as a relation, which is historically immanent, thereby making faith a matter of history, we destroy it as faith?
  2. Is it not a fact that the New Testament records are useless as ‘sources’ of a pragmatically comprehensible picture of a man and of a life? For it is from the very first word that they seek to be something quite different, namely testimonies to a ‘superhuman being’, corresponding feature by feature to the prophecies of the Old Testament, a being whose image [Bild] must defy all historical reconstruction?
  3. Is it not a fact that a ‘historical Jesus’, established behind the so-called sources, and therefore quite independently of the New Testament witness, can only be comprehended as such, if we remove those predicates of his which are essential to this witness (…)? Is it not a fact that the sentimental, moralizing description of character, which is indispensable to the establishment of this figure, has nothing at all to do with the faith of the Apostles?
  4. Is it not a fact that (…) the historian, focusing on the Life of Jesus, cannot escape a fatal dilemma? He has either to undertake this erasure of the predicates and give a moralizing interpretation, or, like Strauss, conceive of Jesus as a noble spiritual fanatic [geistvoller Schwärmer]. He must do this unless he prefers to stop at the Early Church in Palestine at the last historically accessible date, and apply the concept of myth to everything or nearly everything lying beyond it. He must then at least take into account the possibility that, according to Drews’s thesis, Jesus never lived.[5]

5.    Is it not a fact that the goal of historical research can, at best, only be a historical Christ, and that this implies a Christ, who as a revealer of God can only be a relative Christ, a Christ (…) who at best could only be related to a real, eternal revelation to mankind as a most high and perhaps ultimate symbol is related to the thing itself, who could on no account be the Word that became flesh, executing God’s judgment [Entscheidung] upon us and challenging us ourselves to make a decision?

In a small, but significant number of places in the Church Dogmatics, Barth maintains this demarcation.[6]

            If I am well-informed,[7] one can distinguish four main currents in the hermeneutical approach to the Jesus-traditions in the Gospels today:

(1) The first one is that of the ongoing historical quest in line of the ‘first quest’, the theological relevance of which was denied by Barth. Historically, the man Jesus must be seen in analogy to other men, the texts that have become canonical in the Church must be seen as a mythical paint-over and deformation, and the Christ of the dogma is a chimera, which must be approached with a hermeneutics of suspicion. For the rest, many possibilities can be discussed: Jesus as a prophet with an apocalyptical message, a teacher of wisdom, a charismatic, or a subversive person, etc.[8] The awareness of the methodological problems in this approach, and of the danger that each researcher could project his own ideals in the ‘real’, Jesus can mutually be different. However, not all scientists that participate in the historical Jesus research do still share the sentiments of the ‘first quest’. The enterprise may also be seen as an aspect of studying historical science, that necessarily is only able to reconstruct an image of Jesus that is as plausible as possible, and that at the same time can only be hypothetical. ‘The criterion of recurrent traditions’ enables one to assess assertions on the  beliefs and the acts of Jesus and the judgements about him (including the theological ones) as they are saved in the early Christian communities, and shows therefore an openness for these ongoing traditions.[9]

(2) The second current advocates a critical openness and sympathy towards the sources. There must be some continuity between the ‘earthly Jesus’ and the one to whom witness is borne and who is remembered as the Son of God. It must be possible to offer a synthesis between historical science and theology. Apparently, Jesus left an impression that gave rise to interpretations as in early Christianity.[10] Generally, I would also dissociate Barth from this line of reasoning, but there are some common elements. For instance, when Barth speaks of the canonical gospels as ‘inadequate attempts to preserve the tradition of the life-act of Jesus’, striving for ‘the unmistakeable unity of the picture [Bild] which they drew of the totality of the activity of Jesus’ (CD IV/2 193, at the beginning of § 64.3 section III) – does the ideal of such a ‘picture’ not belong to the heritage of Barth’s liberal teacher Wilhelm Hermann? Or when he speaks of the work of the Early Church after Easter and Pentecost, collecting the accounts of Jesus’ sayings and acts before His death, as an activity of remembrance (CD IV/1 320; cf. CD IV/2 159: ‘recollection’): a category that has been intensely discussed since the contributions, e.g., of James Dunn. Therefore, some overlap can be observed, although in the end the hermeneutical approach differs.

(3) Barth’s actual approach can be attributed to the heritage of Martin Kähler, the merit of which ‘cannot be over-praised’ (CD I/2 64f.; ‘he called – at a time when it cost something to say so – the whole “Life of Jesus movement” in plain language “a wrong way”’).[11] For Kähler, the canonical texts are testimonies, not sources. However, we do not have any other texts, and a reconstruction of a Jesus behind these texts is totally subject to the projections of the reader or researcher – it can be as variable as there are human characters or aspirations. Nowadays, we can call this the canonical hermeneutics approach. It was also Barth’s approach since in ‘the royal man’, he asks for the man Jesus who is remembered in the canonical witnesses. In section III of this article, I will return to some of the problems in the execution of this programme.

(4) As the last current, we can distinguish the one that recently found a representative in the books on Jesus by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. For me, the most informative category of his approach seems to be that of the ‘resonance of fact and Word’ [‘Einklang von Faktum und Wort’].[12] This means that not only the older Jesus-traditions and the testimonies of the Gospels display a certain continuity, as in the second current, but also what ‘really’ happened in history converges with what the evangelists and apostles say happened. Or otherwise, one must assume a synthesis between the historical reality and the reality of the Word of God. With some reservation, this position, which is found in evangelical circles too, can be called a fundamentalist hermeneutics, although Ratzinger himself prefers to describe his exegetical method as having a ‘canonical’ character.[13] For Barth, however, there is no reality in theology that is not the reality of the Word, and therefore there is no reality ‘outside’ the Word that must afterwards be synthesized with that of the Word (cf. CD I/2, 56ff.).

We may conclude this hermeneutical section with the observation that the approach of Barth shows mostly an affinity with the programme as it was sketched by Martin Kähler (third current), but that because of his attention for the unifying ‘image’ of Jesus in the ‘remembrance’ of the community, as it is witnessed by the texts of the gospels, some overlap with the second and even with (some representatives of) the first current seem not to be excluded.


In May 1924, during a lecture on the Trinity (‘the content of revelation is God alone’), Barth discovered in the textbooks of Heppe and Schmid the doctrine of the an- and enhypostatic nature of the assumption of the flesh by the eternal Word. Immediately that formula, which says that the humanity of Christ has no personhood of its own, but has reality only in its union with the Logos of God, offered him the dogmatic foundation for his rejection – already performed earlier (and in Tambach on hermeneutical grounds) – of the New Protestant search for and veneration of the man Jesus as such, ‘the hero, the religious personality, his inner life as far as we may know it, his view of God and the world and life’, as a man seen in abstraction from the hypostatical union as initiated and executed by the eternal logos.[14]This formula would remain foundational for his whole approach to the relationship between revelation and history during the long duration of his theological life and work. That is a surprising phenomenon, for it presupposes a modern context (the question of the ‘historical Jesus’) that was totally unknown to the fathers of the sixth century who are said to have coined it.[15] Two semesters later, in his lectures on Heppe’s locus on the person of Christ, Barth asserts that the positive content of the enhypostatic existence of humanity in the Logos can only be described in sparse sentences, such as, ‘This singular person’ – who as a man could be known by people like Caiaphas or Pilate, or mentioned by Suetonius and Tacitus, who did not know him as the Son of God – ‘is the Logos, the Son of God’, or ‘The divine person is exactly his human person’.[16] I presume Barth reread his earlier manuscript before writing his excursus on an- and enhypostasia in CD IV/2, 91.[17] But while in 1925 he had remarked, ‘one is curious to learn more, but perhaps exactly the restrictions that are made [by the older Reformed guides] are pre-eminently to the point’ (by only stressing the mystery of the divine initiative in accomplishing the hypostatical union),[18] one may ask whether in 1953-4 he actually tried to say more. For the manhood that (in traditional terms) is assumed by the Logos now receives a concrete shape… exactly that of ‘the royal man’, as Barth will sketch him in this circumstantial §64.3!

In the argument of §64.3, Barth does not return to the unfolding of the Christological dogma of §64.2. In ‘The royal man’, the endeavour to give a systematic account of the image of Jesus Christ according to the biblical witnesses demands the bulk of his attention. Nevertheless, I suppose that we must read the later pages from the perspective of the earlier ones, and I will now try to reconstruct the connections between both points of view. After the hermeneutical introduction, ‘The royal man’ consists of four main parts. The dogmatic implications from each of these will be drawn below.

            Part I (CD IV/2, 156-166) tells about the unique way Jesus was present among the people of his time. His uniqueness is described here [1] ‘in a way which could not fail in some sense [so oder so] to be seen or heard’ – ‘He was an absolutely alien and exciting novum’ – (156-7), [2] in a way ‘that He not merely demanded decision, but introduced and made it’– for ‘there does not exist any neutrality in the Kingdom of God’ – (157-9), [3] in a way ‘which could not be forgotten’ (159), and [4] in a way ‘which was irrevocable’ (163). This incommensurability of the man Jesus according to §64.3, in my view, should be seen as a reflection of the thesis as unfolded in §64.2, that the unio hypostatica should be ‘without precedence, parallel or repetition either in the divine sphere or (much less) in the human, natural and historical creaturely sphere.’ It would be ‘quite nonsensical’ to ‘try to subject it to analogies either in earth or heaven’ (59). From the Leiden Synopsis of 1624 (Disputation 25 thesis 3), Barth quotes the sentence that nullum eius in tota natura perfectum et omnino respondens existit exemplum (‘in the whole of nature no perfect example exists what completely answers to it’, i.e., to the divine mystery of incarnation).[19] Therefore, Barth also rejects such analogies for the assumptio carnis as that of the relationship between soul and body, which, e.g., was advanced by Athanasius. In conclusion, because of the character of the incarnation as being without analogy, Jesus Christ who is the Word that became flesh can also only be seen as incommensurable.

            Part II (CD IV/2, 166-192) sketches the new man who, according to Eph. 4,24, has been created ‘after God’ (κατα θεόν). Barth writes, ‘This means that as a man He exists analogously to the mode of existence of God. In what He thinks and wills and does, in His attitude, there is a correspondence [Entsprechung], a parallel in the creaturely world, to the plan and purpose and word and attitude of God’ (166). It seems to me, that based on §64.2, one must think here especially of one of the forms of exchange among the divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ, namely – specifically stressed by Reformed tradition – the communicatio gratiarum (CD IV/2, 84-104). If anhypostasia can be seen as a more or less Alexandrinian element, here the more Antiochene line is developed, as provoked by and folded into the more primary Alexandrinian-Cyrillian line.[20] Exactly this God, who alone takes the initiative in the Word becoming flesh, also calls for a responsive and responsible existence of human being, that enhypostatically exists in unity with the divine essence. Therefore, we learn that ‘What the grace of His origin does involve and effect, with supreme necessity and power, is the exaltation of His human essence. Exaltation to what? To that harmony with the divine will, that service of the divine act, that correspondence [Entsprechung] to the divine grace, that state of thankfulness, which is the only possibility in view of the fact that this man is determined by this divine will and act and grace alone, and by them brought in His existence into not merely indirect but direct and indestructible confrontation with the divine essence. We may indeed say that the grace of the origin of Jesus Christ means the basic exaltation of His human freedom to its truth, i.e., to the obedience which, when put into practice, is not superhuman, but becomes true human freedom’ (91f.; ET slightly changed). In this elaboration, Jesus is introduced [1] as ‘the One who is ignored and forgotten and despised and discounted by men’ (167); [2] as ‘the partisan of the poor’ (168-71; 180); [3] as a revolutionary in his relationship to the orders of life [Weltordnungen und Lebensordnungen], founded on the freedom of the Kingship of God (171-180);[21] [4] In his being ‘for men’, as an analogy of the inner divine wholeheartedness and mercy (181-192) – the ‘Man for other Men’ (CD III/2 § 45.1) in correspondence with the sending of the eternal Son ‘because of us men and because of our salvation’ according to the Constantinopolitan Creed.[22] Under the last point of view, the communication of Graces is revealed most clearly.

            The third and most voluminous part (192-246) is devoted to the study of the activity of the man Jesus, which includes His words. For ‘we must abandon completely the current distinctions between logos and ethos, or speaking and action, behind which there usually lurk the differentiations of knowledge and life, theory and practice, truth and reality’ (194).[23] Presupposed here are earlier decisions in the Church Dogmatics, which are broader than the doctrine of Incarnation, such as the characterization of ‘the Speech of God as the Act of God’ (CD I/1, § 5.3) and ‘The Being of God in Act’ [Das Sein Gottes als ein Sein in der Tat] (CD II/1, § 28.1). In both definitions of the acting of God, the man Jesus apparently participates, as he participates in his ‘Being as the One Who loves in Freedom’ (§28) too, as a reflection of his Kingship in Mercy and Righteousness. Based on this point of view, Barth criticizes the reduction of action to uttering the kerygma in the school of Bultmann (204f.), and the reduction of man’s need for salvation to his spiritual needs while neglecting its physical aspects in Western Christianity as a whole, and in Protestantism in particular (in contrast to the Eastern Church, 233).

            Part IV treats the cross as the ‘coronation’ of the royal man Jesus (247-264). In the gospels, it is not conceived of as a tragic entanglement, or as a misfortune which befalls Him either by chance or fate, or as an alien element [Fremdkörper] in his work as a whole. On the contrary, ‘what we have said finds its true climax and glory in the fact that – however hard this may sound – He finally hung up on the gallows as a criminal between two other criminals, and died there, with that last despairing question on His lips, as One who was condemned and maltreated and scorned by men and abandoned by God’ (252). On his side, ‘the dimension of death is a more precise form of a readiness and willingness which characterised this life from the very outset’. But ‘what we have called His self-determination to this end and outcome is also [zugleich] the divine order which controls His life and its course. He fulfils voluntarily that, which is resolved concerning Him. And the divinity of that, which is resolved emerges in the fact that its execution is not suffered by Him as a burdensome constraint of destiny or a chance misfortune, but in his readiness and willingness, as the content of His own self-determination.’ ‘The deity of God who is and lives and rules in the One who is His Son is characterised by the fact that He, the Father of Jesus, has resolved this concerning Him, and claims His free obedience to it’ (259). In the point of view of CD IV/2, it is the man Jesus Christ who accepts his way towards the cross. But it is not concealed that this man lives in unity with the eternal Son of God who became flesh by assuming humanity in him. Thus, this section must be read simultaneously with CD IV/1 §59.1 on the obedience of the eternal Son by offering and humbling Himself.[24] Although that is unmistakably true, one can regret that Barth only invites the reader to let this simultaneity sink in. But by placing both subjects one after another in spite of the synchronism, Barth, having here (in CD  IV/2) started with the experience of the man in his willingness to undergo the humiliation on the cross, fails to go back (to the main question of CD IV/1) and ask how this experience was received by God.[25] This raises questions which require further Christological investigations such as how the ‘receptivity’ of the eternal Son vis-à-vis the experiences of suffering and death by the human nature actually works. However, such investigations would go beyond the conversation in this article as it is limited to § 64.3.

            In conclusion, we may summarize this dogmatic section with the observation that Barth, who fails to link his sketch of the man Jesus to his unfolding of Christological questions in the former section, nevertheless shows himself remarkably consistent in his argument. In his stressing the incommensurability of the man Jesus, we find an echo of the mystery of the unio hypostatica in his anhypostatic figure; in his contemplating the being of Jesus ‘after God’, the pattern of the ‘correspondence’ of the Son of Man with the Son of God in the unity especially of their community of Graces can be recognized; in his simultaneous treatment of the liberating words and acts of Jesus, the ‘Being of God in Act’ of the doctrine of God can be found again; and in his description of the coronation of the royal man Jesus at the cross, the interaction with the obedience of the Son of God has to be stressed. Although it is rarely explicitly pronounced, the cohesion of the underlying dogmatic structure is a strong one.


At the beginning of the section on the incarnation in his Prolegomena, Barth argues that in the New Testament, one can distinguish two lines of Christological confession (CD I/2: 15-25; 165-171).[26] Along one line, represented by Paul and John, the starting-point is the eternal Word. But to guard against Docetism, it is emphatically said that this Logos bears the name of the man Jesus, that therefore the Word can only be found in the flesh, that the Lord became a servant, and that his glorification can only be recognized on the cross. Along the other line, represented by the Synoptic witnesses, the starting-point is the way men associated with their fellow-man Jesus. But there is a mystery to this fellow that should not inappropriately be exposed. From heaven, the wonderful voice is heard saying ‘this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him’ (Mt. 17:5), and on earth people like the centurion at the cross in the end confess, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’ (Mk. 15:39; Mt. 27:54). With this, against any Ebionite hesitation, it is proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ, and that in him God is with us. Between both lines, there is no antithetic opposition. On the contrary, the ‘extraordinary criss-cross relations’ between both are interlocked, both together testify to one reality, which apparently cannot be represented by only one kind of witness. Barth adds, ‘that must be remembered when we are compelled to adopt a position towards the antitheses which repeat the same variety in Church History, namely between the Christologies of Alexandria and Antioch, of Luther and of Calvin’ (CD I/2: 24). This is how Barth, in the days the German Church Struggle, abandoned his sturdy Calvinistic stand from his time in Göttingen. Then he had seen in Lutheran Christology a dangerous deviation from pure doctrine, but now he prefers to speak of the non-Church-splitting character of two theological schools [‘eine zweifache theologische Schule’] that are ‘calling to each other and questioning each other’ [‘gegenseitiger Ruf und gegenseitige Frage’]. ‘For the reality of Jesus Christ does not admit of being grasped or conceived by any unitary theology [‘Einheitstheologie’]’ (CD I/2: 171).

The shape of CD IV/1-3 shows that Barth still refuses to develop a ‘unitary’ Christology. It appears to be impossible to represent the overwhelming reality of the reconciliation of God with man in Christ in one history, one story, and one theological line of thought. It has to be unfolded in several passages, as one may go up through several naves of a basilica to the altar. But in a comprehensive way, Barth does not confine himself to repeat the testimonies of the various gospels or to reconstruct the arguments of the various theological schools, but he develops three successive – that, as we have seen, are to be read simultaneously – representations himself.[27] Nevertheless, with some restrictions one can say that the first passage, on the humiliation of the Son of God in his priestly office as the cause of man’s justification of Christ (CD IV/1), mostly resembles the witnesses of Paul and John and the theologies of Cyril and Luther. After that the second passage, on the exaltation of the Son of Man in his royal office as the cause of man’s sanctification (CD IV/2), shows affinity with the Synoptic gospels – as Barth clearly expresses in the hermeneutical introduction to ‘the royal man’ (156) – and the theological thought of the Antiochenes and the Reformed. Finally, the third passage, on the revelation of the Life of the Mediator between God and man in his prophetic office as the cause of man’s calling (CD IV/3), mostly resembles the Gospel of John (in its stress on the self-revelation of Jesus Christ) and moreover, it offers an approach that is necessary for a theology ‘after Christendom’.

            Therefore, generally one can say that Barth acknowledges the differentiations among the distinct testimonies and he subscribes to the rule alius non alia dicit, sed eadem aliter [‘the other one is not saying other things, but the same things in another way’].[28] However, on the micro-level of a textual unit like §64.3, this rule is much less clearly maintained. Here Barth offers a reconstruction of the synoptic memories of Jesus, mixed with some added Johannine elements. With this, he comes close to a unitary image [Bild] of the man Jesus of Nazareth. It is clear that dogmatically, this is a different perspective on Jesus Christ than that of the humiliation of the Son of God and of the Revealer of Himself. Nevertheless, on the level of biblical texts, it is a forced attempt at unifying quite mutually different materials.

Do not misunderstand me, Miskotte’s simple feeling when reading ‘The Royal Man’ in 1955 is also mine. He writes, ‘All so very well-known and here so moving all over again, to the extent that a person’s love for Jesus would fire up all over again.’[29] Yet in a certain sense, this synopsis of the Synoptic gospels is the edition of a new gospel, using former ones ‘redaktionsgeschichtlich’. In liturgical practice (a lectio continua in the sense of Calvin or the cloisters, the tri-annual cycle post Vatican II) or in the practice of private devotion, one is used to following one gospel with its own one-sidedness and its own rich perspectives for a while, realizing that the other gospels that one might read at another opportunity are saying the same things in quite different ways. For decades now, New Testament theology has been writing about ‘The theology of Matthew’ and so on.[30] I wonder how consciously Barth omitted this level of analysis. It is clear how important noticing the man Jesus is for his unfolding of the doctrine of reconciliation. Is he also of the opinion that the unitary image of Jesus is more important than the separate ‘inadequate attempts’ (193) of the biblical testimonies?[31] In my eyes, he may have been too reliant on nineteenth century theology (Hermann, but also Kähler[32]) in this respect.

 I will choose two short examples from the abundance of material. (1) Barth formulates very effectively regarding the prediction ‘The Son of man must suffer many things’, and ‘Must he do it as a great concession, or even submission, to a cosmic law whose power He cannot escape, or is it an observance of the will of God, the fulfilling of all righteousness (Mt. 3:15), and therefore the discharge [Vollstreckung] of his Royal office in an act of perfect obedience?’ (255; also 258).[33] Indeed, it is obvious to link the royal office of Christ in particular with (the first word of Jesus in) the first gospel of the canon. As a theme, kingship is present in the other gospels too, but only Matthew calls his book ‘the gospel of the kingship’ in three places (Mt. 4:23 and the analogous references in Mt. 9:35 as well as 24:14; see also 26:13).[34] I would have expected Barth to have been guided by Matthew when thinking through the royal office of Christ Jesus, but in his perception, ‘being royal’ is rather a feature of His way of ‘being human’, and so he misses this opportunity to do so. (2) In the excursus on the revolutionary Jesus, Barth first describes Jesus’ attitude towards the institutions regarding His relationship with the temple in Jerusalem. Under the catchwords ‘passive conservatism’ (173), ‘provisional recognition’ (175), and ‘radical antithesis’ (177), he brings verses from the four canonical Gospels together. However, he overlooks the different functions of this theme in the various witnesses.[35] Paul does not, but the Evangelists all presuppose the destruction of the second temple by the Flavians. Most of them respond to it by conceiving of Jesus as the one who destroyed the temple, and raised it up in three days (Mk. 14:58; still clearer Jn. 2:19, and vs 21: ‘but He spoke of the temple of His body’ KJV). But Luke neglects this tradition, although in his texts the place of the temple is much more dominant. His gospel begins (Lk. 1:19, where Gabriel has been come to euangelizesthai) and ends (Lk. 24:53) in the temple, the third and last temptation is about the temple (Lk. 4:9-12 – unlike Matthew, who ends with the temptation of kingship (!) over all the kingdoms of the world; Mt. 4:8-10, cf. Mt. 28:18), and Jesus consistently teaches in the (purified) temple daily (Lk. 19:47). The reason may be that in Luke’s perspective, Jesus (according to his first word in this gospel!) has to be ‘about My Father’s business’ (Lk. 2:49 KJV), which is, of course, ‘My father’s house’ (NRSV). Still more, it refers to the Scriptures that are saved in the temple so to speak (cf. 2 Kings 22), and that is what Jesus is talking about with the teachers there (vs 46). Thus, where for Mark or John the temple is saved in the body of Christ, for Luke the temple has been wrapped in the roll of his gospel, and that in Jesus’s next act, it is opened and read in the synagogue (Lk. 4:17!) and to be saved through the ages. If that is true, Barth should have rather treated this Lukan theological theme in CD IV/3 where he deals with the message of reconciliation as revelation or prophecy that goes out from Israel to all the nations.

In conclusion, I should wish for a more intensive conversation between Biblical Theology and Dogmatics. Barth’s ‘the royal man’ is a major source of inspiration, but its materials deserve a more refined, less ‘unitary’ elaboration. Of course, the discipline of Dogmatics has its own ordering, and its own disposition, but in its own way, it may resolve to reckon with and to reflect on the multiplicity of voices in the Biblical witness.


As an introduction to this last section, I want to share two observations. The first one is about the designation ‘Son of Man’ that already appears in the title of CD IV/2 §64. Barth is not totally consistent in the way he cites it, but usually, he quotes it with the meaning it had with the Fathers (such as Athanasius),[36] i.e., as the indication for the human nature of Christ, or in his own more simple presentation: for the man Jesus of Nazareth. He writes, ‘The view that it is to be regarded as a declaration of dignity [Hoheitsaussage], a standing confession of His Messiahship by Himself, seems to me very unsatisfactory’.[37] But is that the alternative? Would it not be possible that Jesus would find himself in a continuous dialogue with a heavenly man, an Adam that had not fallen, as a promise and a norm for Himself as a human being in his very readiness to descend and be humbled?[38] If that is true for the Synoptic gospels, we are looking at a process there of identification between Jesus and Ben-Adam. For Barth, however, the identity is given a priori. The Son of Man is the new man, is Jesus, as the one who has been exalted. The second observation concerns Barth’s translation of the Definition of Chalcedon. Most of the time, he renders it ‘very God and very Man’ (‘Wahrer Gott und wahrer Mensch’), i.e., with ‘very’ in the adjectival sense, not verily, an adverb.[39] This manner of speaking is as old as the Tomus Leonis ad Flavianum, the dogmatic epistle of Pope Leo of 449 (Denz. 290-95),[40] and it marks the western Christological tradition. In the existential experience of the Eastern Church, being human is having fallen into sin, mortality, and eternal death, and in that fallen world of the flesh, the Redeemer participates (ἂνθρωπος ἀληθῶϛ). However, for the West, the definition also defines our notion of humanity as such, and the human being of the Incarnate One has a moral impact on the whole of the human race at the same time. It is very clear that Barth is operating within the framework of this tradition and even strengthening it by declaring that ‘the Son of Man as such is the Head and Representative and Saviour of all other men, the origin and content and norm of the divine direction given us in the work of the Holy Spirit.’[41]

Informed by these two observations, we can stress how important it was for Barth in the 1950s to identify Jesus Christ as the true man, i.e., as the embodiment of true humanity who appeared in the flesh and in the exaltation in which all human beings are destined to participate. We have to realize that after two World Wars and the Great Depression, the splendour of humanity, which was the honour of the bourgeois culture of at least the two former ages, was lost and the hope that was linked to it was totally lost again. ‘Do we still know what it means to be human?’, or even: ‘are we still human?’ the Dutch theologian Oepke Noordmans asked in the midst of the ruins.[42] In that context, it was extremely important for Barth to emphasize that in God, and only in God, the mystery of humanity is saved in the shape of the man Jesus Christ, who as the eternally elected man eternally, is taken up into his divinity. ‘Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers’ (Ps. 124:7 KJV). This is the state of humanity. In addition, the Cold War again captured the people in ideological systems that tried to indisputably define who man was and how he had to behave. According to Barth’s experience, a free man, who would want to try to escape these so-called inevitable alternatives, could only exist in affliction (see the very personally coloured sketch in CD IV/2, 609-11). Here too, remembering the appearance of the royal man Jesus made it possible to demonstrate another way of being human, endowed with the grace of freedom. It offered a proclamation of an unexpected way out in a situation, where continental philosophers continued to discuss the crisis of humanism and the ‘end of man’. For that reason, it remains a great joy and comfort to read and reread Barth’s pages on ‘The royal man’.  Nevertheless, one can ask whether for us and in our times, the text does not give us the impression that its important tendency is emphasized too much.[43] It could be read, as in the political theology, which was taking shape in the 1970s, as presenting its own ideological alternative in the midst of the struggle of ideologies. It could give the impression of presenting a ‘strong’ character, a Jesus not without Goethean (or rather Schillerean) elements in him (Barth himself never lost such character traits). In its breadth, it could cause one to forget the ‘narrow escape’ that the history of the cross and the resurrection practically describes. Although Barth underlines the impossibility of writing a biography of Jesus (e.g. 102), what I called the striving for a ‘unitary image’ of the Jesus of the Synoptics can push aside the fragmentary character of meeting Him for the people in the biblical stories and for us all. Thus, while we should be extremely grateful for such a mighty text, we must carry out a similar exercise again and in another manner.

Therefore, the question that remains from the last contextual-theological section of this article may be whether, and when then in which way the ‘strong’ humanism of ‘The Royal Man’ (based on ‘The humanity of God’, as Barth would call it in 1956) could be maintained and recontextualized in these days of the second decade of the twenty-first century now that the voices that plead for ‘true humanity’, those who want to give testimony of ‘the true man’, find themselves between many pressures and afflictions, and will sound much more sotto voce.

[1] Cf. H. Berkhof, Christian Faith. An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 1986, 300.

[2] E. Käsemann, ‘Die Frage nach dem historischen Jesus’, ZTK 51 (1954), 125-53; James M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus, London: SCM 1959.

[3] K. Barth, The Word of God and Theology (1924), translated by Amy Marga, London: T&T Clark 2011, 44. See also CD IV/2, 132. In K. Barth, Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1914-1921, ed. Hans-Anton Drewes, Zürich: TVZ 2012, 567n., it is asserted that the expression probably should be ascribed to Fr. Chr. Oetinger.

[4] K. Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History, London: SCM Press 1972, 2001, (527-554) 551f.; ET slightly emended, RRB. In 1987, Hinrich Stoevesandt, of the Karl Barth Archive in Basel, told me that Barth had already presented a portrait of D.Fr. Strauss in his Münster lectures during the summer semester of 1926.

[5] In the Netherlands, this extreme position has recently been defended again by E. van der Kaaij, De ongemakkelijke waarheid van het Christendom. De echte Jezus onthuld, Soest: Boekscout 32015.

[6] CD I/2, 64f.; CD IV/1, 160-163, 224-228; 505 (‘why it seems so difficult, if not impossible, to derive a history of Israel from the Old Testament (! RRB), or a history of early Christianity or a life of Jesus from the New’); CD IV/2, 138f. (‘We cannot sufficiently consider how indissolubly for the 1st-century community the earlier and later elements in the history of Jesus belonged together, how necessarily they lit up and interpreted each other’), 149 (open-mindedness [‘Unbefangenheit’ – not in the ET] towards the witness of the resurrection), 248 (in the summary at the beginning of § 64.3 section IV: ‘we have


presupposed as the “New Testament” a fixed form of the tradition denoted by this term (…). We have thus refrained (again deliberately) from any critico-historical construction or reconstruction of this presupposition’, 253 (On the predictions of Jesus’ suffering): ‘Those who investigate the origin of these texts, and the actual words used by the “historical Jesus”, will be naturally inclined to find their original setting and form in the final version (…), all the other occurences being regarded as later transpositions and expansions and therefore dismissed as of no consequence. But this procedure (…) involves a destruction of the way in which the Gospels actually saw and wished to see the passion.’

[7] For this section, I am grateful for the instructive insights I received from dr. Christian Noack (Darmstadt) during a workshop at the Barth Tagung at the Leuenberg, July 21-24, 2014.

[8] E.g. Albert Schweitzer, Geschichte der Jesu-Leben-Forschung, Von Reimarus to Wrede (1906), Tübingen; Mohr 21913; Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus, Berlin: 1926 (Tübingen: Mohr, 21951); Ed P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, London: SCM 1985 (and further Geza Vermes 1983, Marcus Borg 1987, John D. Crossan 1991 e tutti quanti).

[9] Gerd Theissen, & Annette Merz,  Der historische Jesus. Ein Lehrbuch, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1996; Annette Merz, ‚Will the Real Jesus Christ Please Ascend?‘, in: Ǻbo Akademi Journal for Historical Jesus Research (forthcoming).

[10] E.g., J. Jeremias,  Neutestamentliche Theologie. 1. Teil. Die Verkündigung Jesu, Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1971; M. Hengel, , War Jesus revolutionär? Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1970; James Dunn,  Jesus Remembered, Grand Rapids Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003; Ruben Zimmermann, ‘Nur der gemalte Christus? Historische, erinnerte und erzählte Jesusbilder in der neutestamentlichen Wissenschaft des 20. und 21. Jahrhundert’, in: ZDTh 31(2015)2, 31-63. Some utterances by Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz may also be located among this group of authors.

[11] M. Kähler, Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus, 1882; München: Kaiser 21956; to his heritage belongs also (with some differences vis-à-vis the reception of Barth) R. Bultmann as a theologian. For recent studies along these lines, see Zuurmond, Rochus, ‘Op zoek naar de historische Jezus’, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 1993; O. Hofius, ‘Die Frage nach dem “historischen Jesus” als theologisches Problem’, in: Heinrich Assel (Hg.), Leidenschaft für die Theologie, Leipzig: Ev. Verlagsanstalt 2012, 79–115; Klaus Wengst, Der wirkliche Jesus? Eine Streitschrift über die historisch wenig ergiebige und theologisch sinnlose Suche nach dem ”historischen” Jesus, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2013.

[12] Joseph Ratzinger / Benedikt XVI, Jesus von Nazareth. Zweiter Teil, Freiburg in Breisgau: Herder 2011, 227.

[13] Ratzinger clearly interacts with Brevard S. Childs and James A. Sanders, who are mentioned in the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993), which came into being under Ratzinger’s supervision. See Peter-Ben Smit, From Canonical Criticism to Ecumenical Exegesis? A Study in Biblical Hermeneutics, Leiden: Brill, 2015, 14 and 72.

[14] K. Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics. Instruction in the Christian Religion, Vol. I, Grand Rapids, Michigan.: Eerdmans 1990, 90. Here, Barth links the dogmatic concept of anhypostasia with the hermeneutical remark (as unfolded in the first section of this article): ‘From the 18th Century onward everybody began to focus more zealously on (…) the living Jesus, not on the crucified and risen Jesus, as in Paul and the Reformers’. The lecture was given on the 23th of May. On May 28th, Barth wrote to his Swiss friends: ‘Das war noch rasante Lehre, – die nun wieder auf den Leuchter sollte, wa?’ (Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel Vol 2 (1921-1930), ed. Eduard Thurneysen. Zürich: TVZ 1974, 255). Cf. Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology. Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997, 361ff.

[15] F. Le Ron Shults, ‘A dubious Christological Formula. From Leontium of Byzantium to Karl Barth’, Theological Studies 57 (1996), 431-446. Shults denies the Byzantine origin of the doctrine and asserts that it was an invention of protestant orthodoxy. However, it is possible to demonstrate that this so-called post-Calcedonian doctrine was already implicitly present in the theology of Cyril of Alexandria.

[16] K. Barth, ‘Unterricht in der christlichen Religion’, ed. H. Stoevesandt, Dritter Band, Zürich: TVZ 2003, 46f.

[17] On anhypostasia see also CD IV/2, 49f.

[18] K. Barth, 2003 (ref. 16), 72.

[19] Cf. Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformation Orthodoxy, Farnham, UK: Ashgate 2015, 100f.: in CD I/2, 125f. the same quotation serves to stress the character of the incarnation as a mystery – in CD IV/2 its character as being without analogy.

[20] See recently George Hunsinger,  ‘Schleiermacher and Barth: two divergent views on Christ and Salvation’, in: Evangelical, Catholic and Reformed, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 2015, (146-168) 162.

[21] In the Netherlands, it was Bert ter Schegget who in the early 1970s took these pages as a starting-point for developing a theology of liberation against the background of the Church Dogmatics. See G.H. ter Schegget, Partijgangers der armen [Partisans of the poor], Baarn: Wereldvenster 1971 and the same, ‘Jezus revolutionair?’ (also consulting Hengel 1970, ref. 10), in: Het geheim van de mens, Baarn: Wereldvenster 1972, 31-54.

[22] For a more extensive treatment of these pages see  Paul Dafydd Jones, The Humanity of Christ. Christology in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, London: T&T Clark/Continuum 2008, 150-183.

[23] In such remarks, the Barth of the 1950’s shows some convergence with later developments in philosophy and/or hermeneutics, such as the speech-act analysis or the discourse analysis.

[24] Bruce L. McCormack, ‘Karl Barth’s Christology as a Resource for a Reformed Version of Kenoticism’, International Journal of Systematic Theology (2006) 8, (243-251) 250 concludes from CD IV/1: ‘If the eternal Son is rightly thought of as the self-posited God, and if – on that basis – ‘obedience’ to ‘command’ is a meaningful (if somewhat improper) way to speak of the relation established in the act of self-positing, then it would be in complete accord with the eternal humility of the Son which characterizes his eternal relation to the Father to express itself through a sovereignly willed receptivity vis-à-vis the human nature to be assumed. Complete and total receptivity towards everything that comes to him in and through his human nature – that, I want to suggest, is the meaning of kenosis.’

[25] Thus there is a good reason for Paul D. Jones 2008 (ref. 22) to treat his study on divine obedience in Chapter 4, not before but after the treatment of ‘The Royal Man’ in Chapter 3.

[26] See Darren O. Sumner, Karl Barth and the Incarnation. Christology and the Humility of God, London: Bloomsbury 2014, 95-99.

[27] Ford joins David Tracy in speaking of several ‘journeys of intensification’. See David Ford, Theology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press 11999, 118-125. In the midst of ‘multiple overwhelming’, it may happen that in her personal life, a Christian will not be able to travel more than some journeys, and may be only one. Usually, there will always be a concentration, e.g., on justification, sanctification and/or vocation. Can we read CD IV/1-3 as an attempt to help Christians in their individual and collective engagements to distinguish the way – or the ways – they themselves are travelling within the framework of multiple perspectives, that in spite of or rather exactly because of their diversity are a witness to the one reality of the living Lord?

[28] ‘Praefatio sancti Hieronymi presbyteri in evangelio’ [ad papam Damasum, 383 CE], in: Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem (Robertus Weber OSB), Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 1984, 1516 l. 38: eundem sensum alius aliter expressit’. Cf. F.H. Breukelman, Bijbelse theologie I/1. Schrift-lezing, Kampen: Kok 1980, 83n49 and 169.

[29] K.H. Miskotte, ‘De koninklijke mens’ (1955), in: Karl Barth, inspiratie en vertolking: inleidingen, essays, briefwisseling, Verzameld Werk vol. 2, Kampen: Kok 1987, (41-8)46.

[30] Barth could have known Johannes Wilkens, Der König Israels, Berlin: Im Furche-Verlag 1937; cf. F.H. Breukelman, Bijbelse Theologie III/2. Het evangelie naar Mattheüs als ‘Die Heilsbotschaft vom Königtum’, Kampen: Kok 1996, 145.

[31] Part of this ‘inadequacy’ is also due to the nature of language. Barth is quite right that ‘the Evangelists and the original tradition did not attribute to Jesus any special language, or cause Him to use any distinctive terminology’ (194). In principle, every existing language could be sanctified to function as a medium for the Word in words. Nevertheless, on the level of the various gospels, each Evangelist has his own semantics, and reconstructing the specific semantic field of various words may be helpful for recognizing the specific theological contribution of each of the witnesses, which Barth knew very well when explaining the Gospel of John in his lectures in Münster and Bonn (‘ich schöpfe meine Weisheit hauptsächlich aus – der griechischen Konkordanz’, Barth 1974 (ref. 14), 390; 1 December 1925).

[32] Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr, ‚Welchen Jesus predigen wir? Überlegungen im Anschluss an Martin Kähler’, Sacra Scripta 9, 2011/12, 123-142 concludes from Kähler’s approach that when preaching, the one Christ Jesus of the whole New Testament must always be presented, regardless of what individual text or pericope is being preached on. This approach, I fear, downplays the (alius) ‘aliter expressit’.

[33] From the perspective of a theology of liberation, these sentences have been thought through with some serious questions by Takatso A. Mofokeng, The Crucified Among the Crossbearers: Towards a Black Christology, Kampen: Kok 1983, e.g. 170-175.

[34] F.H. Breukelman 1996 (ref. 30), 21-61. See also the contribution of Gerard van Zanden, ‘I forgave you all that debt…’: Breukelman’s Explanation of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18:23-35) Compared with Barth’s Doctrine of Substitution’, in: ZDTh 32 (2016) 1, 136-162.

[35] K.A. Deurloo (and others), Koning en tempel. Kleine Bijbelse Theologie II, Kampen: Kok 2004, 211-218.

[36] Berthold Klappert, Die Auferweckung des Gekreuzigten: der Ansatz der Christologie Karl Barths im Zusammenhang der Christologie der Gegenwart, Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag 1971, 197 (an assessment of the exegetical status quaestionis at that time).

[37] CD I/2, 23, adding: ‘Without being able to adduce proof of this, I would prefer to think of this designation in relation to the name Messiah as that of a pseudonym to the correct name, at least as an element of veiling and not of unveiling.’

[38] For dogmatics Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt examined the possibilities of such a view in Was hoffen wir, wenn wir hoffen dürften? Eine Eschatologie Band 3, Gütersloh: Kaiser 1996, 85ff.

[39] Already in K. Barth, The Epistle to the Romans at Rom. 8:2 (‘God sent his own son…’), Oxford: Oxford University Press 1933, 1968, 277; CD I/2, title § 15.2. Hans C. van Loon,  ‘Karl Barth und Chalkedon’, ZDF 19 (2003)2, (162-182)166 points out that even when Barth refers to the adverbial Latin form vere Deus – vere homo, e.g., CD IV/1, 133, he nevertheless interprets it in an adjectival way.

[40] In Denz. 294 we read: ‘Qui enim verus est Deus, idem verus est homo’. See also Abraham van de Beek, Jezus Kyrios. Christology as Heart of Theology, Zoetermeer: Meinema [2002], 80f.

[41] This quotation is taken from the Leitsatz of § 64, which also anticipates the pneumatological § 64.4; in his description of Christ as ’the royal man’ in § 64, Barth is already giving an outline of his doctrine of sanctification in § 66. Compare for example CD IV/2, 242f., where faith is described as the most adequate answer to Jesus’ ministry (‘it is because faith is the freedom granted to man by the grace of God that the believer can do all these things and do them rightly’), with CD IV/2, § 66.5, where freedom described is as a free gift; or 263ff., the final pages on ‘the royal man’ describing the cross-bearing of every Christian, which anticipates § 66.6, ‘The Dignity of the Cross’.

[42] E.g., O. Noordmans, letter to K.H. Miskotte, 3 August 1945, Verzamelde Werken 9B, Kampen: Kok 1999.

[43] See also Wessel ten Boom, ‘Ecce homo agens. Der königliche Mensch bei Karl Barth’, ZDTh 31(2015)1, 85-102.

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R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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