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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Journal of Theological Interpretation, vol. 1.4 – Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

part 4.

Herod´s Temple on the TempleMount
“Although/Because He Was in the Form of God”: The Theological Significance of Paul’s Master Story (Phil 2:6–11)

Abstract—This article explores aspects of the Christology, ethics, and especially theology (proper) of Phil 2:6–11 by focusing on the interpretation of 2:6. It contends that both the concessive (“although”) and the causative (“because”) interpretations of the participle hyparchōn (“being”) are correct and theologically significant, the former being the surface structure of the text, the latter its deep structure. The surface structure (“although …”) is significant because it is part of a linguistic pattern that Paul exploits Christologically and ethically throughout his letters (“although [x] not [y] but [z]”). At the same time, because Paul says that Christ was in the form of God and that “this [anaphoric definite article to] equality with God” was properly expressed through the kenosis of incarnation and crucifixion, we can say that the deep structure of the text is causative: “because.…” Thus Paul compels us to rethink God and to speak of a cruciform God or “kenotic divinity” (Crossan and Reed). The article also argues that the incarnation and cross manifest, and the exaltation recognizes, both Christ’s true divinity and his true humanity, all of which lead us in a Chalcedonian direction, though with a Pauline (cruciform) twist. The understanding of God in Paul that emerges from this interpretation is then linked to John Webster’s notion of divine holiness as “majesty in relation,” which, for Paul, means power in weakness. This counterintuitive view of God is contrasted with popular notions of divinity that focus on (especially military) power and is offered as the foundation of a counterimperial lifestyle.

Key Words—Paul, Philippians, Phil 2:6–11, kenosis, cruciformity, cruciform, cross, theophany, preexistence, incarnation

For many years, Phil 2:6–11 has rightly been mined for its testimony to early Christian worship and hymnody, its Pauline and/or pre-Pauline Christology, and its ethic, or lack thereof. One collection of studies even suggests it is “where Christology began.” Some interpreters, however, have concluded that this text also reveals something extraordinarily significant about Paul’s theology proper, his doctrine of God. For instance, N. T. Wright concludes that the “real theological emphasis of the hymn … is not simply a new view of Jesus. It is a new understanding of God.”2 Richard Bauckham argues that this text asks whether “the cross of Jesus Christ actually can be included in the identity” of the exalted God of Israel and answers that his “humiliation belongs to the identity of God as truly as his exaltation does.” More recently, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed wonder rhetorically, as they contrast the Philippians text with imperial ideology, “Is kenosis not just about Christ, but about God …, not a passing exercise in ultimate obedience, but a permanent revelation about the nature of God?… Does, then, a kenotic Son reveal a kenotic Father, a kenotic Christ image a kenotic God?”4
In a careful analysis of the text to determine the validity of this theological interpretation, the question arises—answered affirmatively by a line of exegetes from C. F. D. Moule to N. T. Wright, Gerald Hawthorne, Markus Bockmuehl, and Stephen Fowl—whether the first words of the poem should be translated “because he was in the form of God” rather than “although he was in the form of God.” This article, consisting of ten exegetical theses followed by five points of theological reflection, contends that Phil 2:6–11, as Paul’s master story, is (in part) about the counterintuitive, essentially kenotic—or cruciform—character of God. More specifically, it argues that the Greek phrase en morphē theou hyparchōn in Phil 2:6 (“being in the form of God”) has two levels of meaning, a surface structure and a deep structure (to borrow terms from transformational grammar), one concessive and one causative: “although” and “because” “he was in the form of God.” These two translations, which, as we will see, are really two sides of the same coin, correspond to two aspects of Paul’s understanding of the identity of the one true God (or “divine identity”) manifested in this text: its counterintuitive character (“although”) and its cruciform character (“because”).
In addition, these arguments clearly have an impact on our understanding of the Christology present in the text. This article maintains that this Christology is essentially Chalcedonian in affirming that Christ embodied both true divinity and, as the antitype of Adam, true humanity, with both “natures” manifested in the story of incarnation and cross. The text also reveals clearly what it means for human beings in Christ to be conformed to his image and story.
Before proceeding to the theses, we consider a translation and graphic arrangement of the text and its introduction (2:5).

5 Cultivate this mindset [see 2:1–4] in your community, which is in fact a
community in Christ Jesus, who,
though [x] being in the form of God,
did not [y] consider his [ or this] equality with God as something to
be exploited for his own advantage,
but [z1] emptied himself,
by taking the form of a slave,
that is, by being born in the likeness of human beings.
And being found in human form,
he [z2] humbled himself
by becoming obedient
to death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him
and best owed on him the title [or name] that is above every title [or name],
so that [in fulfillment of Isa 45:23] at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and
on earth and
under the earth,
and every tongue acclaim that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Thesis One: Philippians 2:6–11 is Paul’s master story

N. T. Wright correctly asserts that the entire context of Philippians, especially 3:2–21, shows Paul “had the material and language of 2:5–11 in his bloodstream.” Less widely recognized is the evidence that this text permeates all his letters10 and so much so that 2:6–11 should be called not merely the centerpiece of Philippians but Paul’s master story. There are at least four reasons to call Phil 2:6–11 Paul’s master story: (1) its comprehensive scope in relation to the story of Israel, from protology to eschatology; (2) its simultaneously creedal and counterimperial character, rooted in the confession that “Jesus [not Caesar] is Lord”;13 (3) its inclusion of a wide range of significant Christological narratives or patterns; and (4) its generative power for Pauline theology and its ubiquity in the Pauline corpus.15
For all these reasons, I would suggest, Phil 2:6–11 is truly Paul’s master story. If this claim is correct (or at least the reasons for the claim), the significance of our text and our exegesis increases immensely.
Thesis Two: Philippians 2:6–11 is a poetic narrative full of intertextual overlapping

We must never forget that Phil 2:6–11 is a poetic narrative. Like most poetry, this text is rich in metaphor and allusion, and it is probably more accurate for us to speak of intertextuality than of sources or even “backgrounds.” Although we must strive for appropriate historical and philological precision, we must also learn to live with semantic overlapping and ambiguity in this rich tapestry of intertextual threads. This poetic intertextuality means that there may be words, allusions, and echoes that stand in creative tension with one another.17
This does not mean, however, that chaos reigns or that the poetic narrative has no internal structure, consistency, plot, or logic. Quite the contrary, once we abandon the quest for absolute precision with respect to sources and lexicography, we can look to the poem to explain itself. Many of the debated words and phrases in this text are glossed within the poem (for example, as many scholars have recognized, the clarification of main verbs by participles, which are italicized in the translation above). Moreover, the overall sense of the poem can be discerned by examining how Paul uses and thereby interprets the poem elsewhere in Philippians and throughout his extant letters. Thus, although we should not treat this poetic text as an essay in systematic Christology, we can reasonably assume that the narrative made, and makes, theological sense.
We may identify at least five echoes of scriptural images, as well as allusions to at least three cultural realities, that inform the text and should inform our reading of it. The scriptural echoes include (1) preexistent Wisdom, (2) the form and/or glory of God, (3) Adam,20 (4) the Isaianic suffering servant, and (5) Israel’s “eschatological monotheism” within the framework of Isa 40–55 more generally. Although there is still some opposition to the possibility of finding both preexistence (and thus incarnation) and Adam in the text, the work of N. T. Wright and others indicates that both can be heard here.23 Even J. D. G. Dunn, who had argued for Adam and against preexistence, admits this.
As for cultural echoes, we may identify three: (1) the reality and ideology of slavery, (2) the Roman ideology and pursuit of honor,26 and (3) the theology and practices of the imperial cult. It is difficult to weigh the significance of these various echoes and allusions, but for our purposes the three most important will be the Isaianic suffering servant within the context of Isa 40–55, Adam, and the imperial cult. These overlapping echoes together suggest that the text portrays the preexistent Christ as the self-emptying “form of God”—in contrast to the self-exalting Adam and self-glorifying Roman emperors—who, by virtue of his self-humbling incarnation to the status of a slave and consequent death by crucifixion, is the fulfillment of the Isaianic servant of God and thus the one worthy of universal acknowledgment and worship as Lord.
The narrative is divided into two basic parts, humiliation (2:6–8) and exaltation (2:9–11), the division indicated by the “therefore” at the beginning of v. 9, together with the change of subject, or Actor, from Christ in vv. 6–8 to God and then all creatures in vv. 9–11.
Thesis Three: Philippians 2:6–8 has a basic structure of “although [x] not [y] but [z]” that sets forth the narrative pattern of Christ’s status, disposition, and activity

Verses 6–8 assert Christ’s equality with God and narrate, both positively and negatively, his disposition toward that equality and the action he takes regarding it. This is accomplished in the form of a narrative pattern we can describe as “although [x] not [y] but [z],” as noted in the translation above, meaning “although [status] not [selfishness] but [selflessness].” This narrative pattern, with its corresponding semantic and syntactical patterns, may be displayed as in table 1:

Table 1. Philippians 2:6–8 Narrative Pattern

although [in the form of God]
did not [exploit equality with God]
but [emptied himself
… humbled himself]
Narrative Pattern
although [x]
not [y]
but [z]
Semantic Pattern
although [status]
not [selfish act/ selfishness]
but [selfless acts/ selflessness]
Syntactical Pattern
[concessive participle]
negated [verb]
alla + [affirmed verbs]

The basic sense of the text, then, is that Christ existed as someone with a certain status (2:6a) who did not do one thing (indicated by the negated main verb in 2:6b) but did do something else—specifically two things, acts of self-humbling and self-emptying, denoted by the two main verbs of 2:7–8 (“emptied himself … humbled himself”).
The narrative of 2:6–8 has been rightly described as one of “downward mobility.” Joseph Hellerman argues that it is a cursus pudorum, or downward-bound succession of ignominies, constructed in contrast to Rome’s cursus honorum, the elite’s upward-bound race for honors, imitated in various ways throughout the provinces and colonies. According to Hellerman, Paul’s depiction of Jesus’ humiliation in three main verbs modified by participles corresponds to “three progressively degrading positions of social status in the Roman world … equality with God; … taking on of humanity and status of slave; … [and] public humiliation of death on a cross,” the “utter degradation.”
Hellerman’s analysis shows that what we have labeled “[z]” has, in fact two successively lower parts (which we could label [z] and [z2]). The two analyses are complementary; his stresses the progressively downward movement itself, while ours stresses the reality of the downward movement as the antithesis of the alternative—selfish exploitation of status (that is, what Christ did do over against what he did not do). Hellerman’s observations are extraordinarily important theologically. The preexistent Christ’s self-emptying, self-lowering incarnation/enslavement finds a parallel action in the human Jesus’ self-humbling, self-lowering obedience to the point of death by crucifixion. The fundamental character of the actions taken by the “form of God” and the “form of a slave,” by the preexistent one and the incarnate one, is the same: downward movement. We will return to this below.
Thesis Four: Philippians 2:6 refers to Christ’s preexistence and equality with God

The ancient understanding of 2:6 as a reference to Christ’s preexistence and equality with God was most notably challenged in recent times by J. D. G. Dunn. While debate still exists, even Dunn is willing to admit a metaphorical reference to preexistence. Three major aspects of this difficult text point to its affirming Christ’s preexistence and equality with God.
First, two different, plausible, and complementary interpretations of the phrase “in the form of God” argue for this view. Markus Bockmuehl, followed by Fowl, argues that being in “the form of God” is a variation on a theme of Jewish mysticism and refers to “the visual characteristics of Christ’s heavenly being.” Similar is the contention that the reference is to Christ as God’s glory.35 Furthermore, Crossan and Reed demonstrate from a variety of ancient texts and images that “the form of God” is about “normal” Roman theology and that “the ‘form of God’ present in an Augustus or any divine emperor manifested itself … through the sequence of Piety, War, Victory, and Peace. It was simply normal divinity.” Kenosis and deity do not belong together.37
Whatever its precise (or polyvalent) meaning, three things seem clear: (1) Christ possessed this status, (2) “form of God” is in a relationship of antithetical parallelism to “form of a slave,” and (3) the phrase “form of God” “is related to and more fully clarified by the clause that immediately follows (“equality with God”).39
Second, then, Hawthorne, Silva, Wright, and others suggest that we should take “equality with God” (to einai isa theō) as an explanation of the phrase “form of God” and should therefore translate it as “this” or even “his” equality with God. This does indeed seem to be the force of the Greek article to, which functions in this articular infinitive phrase anaphorically to refer back to something already mentioned. This connection of the two phrases is ratified by the work of Erik Heen, who shows that the “terminology isa theō (godlike/equal) … has a long history in the Greek ruler cult and in the first century C.E. was applied to the Roman emperor.” Heen shows that after Augustus such language, at least in the East, was only to be applied to the emperor,42 so that isa theō language, like “form of God” language, “sets Christ over against the Roman emperor.”
Finally, there is the term harpagmos. There has been considerable debate about whether Christ already possessed or tried to grasp equality with God. Roy W. Hoover, seconded by Wright and many others (including the NRSV translators), seems to have settled this question with a slightly different but convincing answer. Hoover concluded that the idiomatic expression ouch harpagmon hēgēsato ti always “refers to something already present and at one’s disposal [such that the issue is] not whether one possesses something, but whether or not one chooses to exploit something.” This means clearly that Christ already was, in fact, equal with God.45
Thus the language, syntax, and most plausible cultural and intertextual echoes in 2:6 point to a status Christ possessed, equality with God, but did not exploit for himself. The text does not explicitly specify the precise nature of this equality or the way in which he could have selfishly exploited it. The text is most interested in Christ’s disposition—“although [x] not [y]”—toward his equality with God, and the cultural context and echoes suggest that he did not pursue honor or divinity the “normal” way. It is this equality with God that is assumed as the story continues in vv. 7–8, and examination of parallel Christological, apostolic, and hortatory (ethical) texts confirms this reading of the story.47
Thesis Five: The structure and sense of 2:6 suggest that the participle hyparchōn be translated concessively (“although”)

The participle hyparchōn (“being”) in 2:6 can be rendered concessively (“though”/“although” he was), causally (“because”/“since” he was), or temporally, and more neutrally (“being,” “while he was”). The vast majority of translators opt for “although,” which appropriately stresses both the existing reality of the status of being in the form of God and the dramatic downward mobility and status reversal that ensues to the point of Christ’s taking on the form of a slave. At this point, we need only emphasize the absolute importance of this translation for understanding the narrative pattern with the interrelated elements [x], [y], and [z] that Paul puts forward here and throughout his letters. However, we will need to return to the translation of the participle after considering the text of vv. 7–8 and some of the parallels to vv. 6–8 elsewhere in Paul.
Thesis Six: Philippians 2:7–8 narrates the similarity in selfless acts performed by the preexistent Christ and the incarnate Christ/human Jesus

Philippians 2:7–8 recounts Christ’s two-step alternative to selfish exploitation of his equality with God, [z1] and [z2] in the “narrative pattern.” The first step “down” is his voluntary incarnation (self-emptying), the second his voluntary humiliation (self-humbling) and obedience that led to death on a cross. Much could be said about these two verses. Of particular importance to note, however, is the similarity in the two acts narrated and expressed by the two main verbs, “emptied himself” and “humbled himself.”
The phrase “emptied himself” in 2:7 should not be read as a reference to the divestiture of something (whether divinity itself or some divine attribute) or even as self-limitation regarding the use of divine attributes but “figuratively,”50 as a robust metaphor for total self-abandonment and self-giving, further explained by the attendant participial phrases “taking on the form of a slave” and “being born [found] in human likeness.” That is, he poured himself out,52 probably an echo of the suffering servant. The language of “the form of a slave” is clearly an antithesis to “the form of God” in 2:6. It is reminiscent not only of the suffering servant of Isaiah but also of the plight of those in slavery, “the extreme in respect of deprivation of rights.” The parallel phrases “form of God” and “form of a slave” mean that to the extent that this one really took on the form of a slave, he also really was in the form of God—and vice versa.55
The divine one emptied himself by becoming a slave, becoming human. So, too, the human one humbled himself by becoming obedient to death. There is continuity of actor and of attitude, of disposition.
Thesis Seven: Paul’s use of the “although [x] not [y] but [z]” pattern elsewhere confirms that the pattern narrates an existing condition that is not exploited, and it suggests that the one who does “not [y] but [z]” acts in character for one who is [x]; that is, “although [x] not [y] but [z]” also means “because [x] not [y] but [z]”

The “although [x] not [y] but [z]” pattern—the story line of “although [status] not [selfishness] but [selflessness]”—appears throughout the Pauline corpus, sometimes explicitly in complete form, sometimes more implicitly and/or abridged. This pattern provides a narrative structure in Philippians and elsewhere to a cruciform life in contrast to “normalcy.” We can see this pattern, critical for the exegesis of Phil 2, in three types of texts: Christological texts, apostolic autobiographical texts, and hortatory (ethical) texts. In fact, two or three types sometimes occur in an interrelated cluster of texts, summarized in the Pauline dictum, “Become imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Space permits only a consideration of two apostolic autobiographical texts.
First, in 1 Thess 2:6–8 Paul depicts his behavior as “although [x] not [y] but [z]” when he says that “although we might have thrown our weight around as apostles, we did not seek honor from humans, but we were gentle among you and were pleased to share with you, not only the gospel, but our own selves” (author’s translation). Similarly, in 1 Cor 9, Paul puts himself forward as an example of freedom expressing itself in love (that is, refraining from eating meat offered to idols for the sake of the weaker believers; 1 Cor 8), when he tells the Corinthians that, “although [x] as an apostle I was free, and I had the right to take a wife along with me and the right to be paid for my ministry, I did not [y] make use of any of these rights but rather [z] enslaved myself to all in multiple ways, including self-support and adaptability to different kinds of people” (1 Cor 9:1–23, paraphrased summary). Paul hopes the meat-eating Corinthians will act similarly toward the non-meat-eaters.
In these texts, Paul claims that, although [x] as an apostle—by virtue of being in fact an apostle, and only by virtue of this “preexisting condition”—he had certain apostolic rights and could have exercised power in certain ways, he freely chose not to [y] exercise those rights and powers but rather to [z] freely give and spend himself for the good of others (compare with 2 Cor 12:15). He thereby becomes an “imitator” of Christ crucified (1 Cor 11:1), a Christ-like slave (compare emauton edoulōsa, lit., “I have enslaved myself,” in 1 Cor 9:19 with Phil 2:7).
When Paul describes himself as an imitator of Christ and calls others to be imitators of him and thus of Christ (1 Cor 11:1), he is speaking, not about an option, but about a nonnegotiable mandate in which one does not deny but rather exercises one’s true identity as an apostle (and one’s true apostolic freedom) or, more generally, one’s identity as a “Christian.” Imitatio Christi (or, better, conformatio Christi) is nonnegotiable because those whose freedom is defined by being in Christ must be conformed to Christ, as Phil 2:5 suggests by linking 2:1–4 to 2:6–11. Thus when Paul or the Corinthian community performs the narrative “although [x] not [y] but [z],” this performance is also a matter of “because [x] not [y] but [z].” For instance, when Paul says he did not exercise his apostolic authority (1 Thess 2:7) or rights (1 Cor 9:12–18), he is saying that he acted in this way (1) although he had certain rights by virtue of his status as an apostle, and (2) in spite of normal expectations of apostles, but also (3) because he is an apostle of the self-giving and loving crucified Lord. Thus, in not throwing his weight around and in forgoing rights, Paul is acting in character, not out of character as an apostle.
For Paul, the possession of a right to act in a certain way has an inherent, built-in mandate to exercise truly the status that provides the right by refraining from the exercise of this right out of love for others. This is not to deny one’s apostolic or general Christian identity, or to void it, or to put it aside, or to empty oneself of it, but to exercise it as an act of Christlike love. For Paul, love does not seek its own interest or edification but, rather, that of others (1 Cor 13:5, 8:1a), which is the core meaning of conformity to Christ. Apostolic or general Christian freedom and identity are revealed in the performance of “not [y] but [z].” Thus the “[x]” in the narrative pattern is preceded simultaneously, in effect, by both “although” and “because.”
We see, then, that Paul believes that in his decisions not to use or exploit his apostolic power and rights, he does not renounce his apostleship or divest himself of his apostleship but in fact exercises true apostleship because he thereby acts in ways that are in conformity to Christ. That is to say, as an apostle—an ambassador (2 Cor 5:20) of the self-emptying, crucified Lord—Paul acts kenotically and cruciformly. Thus Paul’s use of the narrative pattern “although [x] not [y] but [z]” to recount his own narrative identity as an apostle confirms the interpretation of Phil 2:6 offered above based on philology and grammar. That is, the “[x]” in the pattern represents a status that is already possessed and that can be either exploited for selfish gain or not. Moreover, the evidence of truly possessing such a status is in the refusal to exploit it selfishly and thus to use it in such a selfless way that its use seems to be a renunciation of the status but is in fact a different-from-normal manner of incarnating this status.
Looking at Paul’s use of this “although [x] not [y] but [z]” pattern also confirms the suggestion that the “not [y] but [z]” dimension of the pattern is in fact constitutive of the “[x]” dimension of the pattern. That is to say, “not [y] but [z]” glosses, or explicates, “[x].” Paul’s apostolic status ([x]) is most truly and fully exercised, not in throwing his weight around or making use of his right to financial support ([y]), but in practicing self-giving, Christlike, parental love (1 Thess 2) or enslaving himself by working with his hands in self-support so as not to be a burden to others (1 Cor 9 [z]).
So, too, to return to Philippians, Christ’s status of being “in the form of God” (and thus possessing “equality with God”)—his [x]—was most truly and fully exercised, not in exploiting that status for selfish advantage ([y]), but in the self-emptying and self-enslaving that manifested itself in incarnation and crucifixion ([z]). Moreover, the similarity in the Christological and apostolic uses of this pattern leads us also to conclude, in light of the similar pattern used to describe appropriate behavior in Christ generally (for example, Phil 2:1–4), that the true and full exercise of “mere Christianity” (as opposed to apostleship) also involves the practice of “not [y] but [z].”
In sum, it is not just although Christ, Paul, and all believers possess a certain identity ([x]) that their story has a certain shape (not [y] but [z]); it is also because they possess this identity.
Thesis Eight: Philippians 2:6–8 narrates the counterintuitive kenotic and cruciform identity of God displayed in Christ

We may now come to the conclusion that the text of Phil 2:6–8 reveals the narrative identity of the Messiah Jesus as one who possessed equality with God ([x]), did not exploit it for selfish advantage ([y]), but, like a slave, emptied himself in incarnation and humbled himself obediently ([z]) such that the result was death—death on a cross. By examining the parallels to Paul’s description of his own apostleship, we have seen that the “not [y] but [z]” dimension of this pattern actually reveals the full and true being of the “[x]” dimension of the pattern. That is, Christ’s divinity, and thus divinity itself, is being narratively defined as kenotic and cruciform in character. The text “subverts and even lampoons how millions within the Roman Empire took it for granted that somebody with the ‘form of God’ should act.”
Thesis Nine: The participle hyparchōn in Phil 2:6 may also be translated causatively (“because”) since “because he was in the form of God” represents the deep structure of the text

We return now explicitly to the sense of the participle hyparchōn in Phil 2:6. As noted in thesis five, the voluntary, dramatic, and unexpected downward shift in status narrated in Phil 2:6–8 compels us to translate this participle not merely temporally (“while he was” or “while being”) but concessively: “although he was.” But before we can also solidify the argument of thesis eight that the participial phrase should also be translated “because he was,” we must next wrestle with the question of how to account for the clearly concessive character of the narrative (“although [x]”) that, on first read, would suggest that the “not [y] but [z]” dimension of the narrative indicates not Christ’s divinity but his repudiation of divinity, or at least of divine prerogative. This has been, of course, one of the common interpretations of this text.
Having established the importance of recognizing both that Christ already possessed equality with God and that the participle hyparchon is used concessively (“although”), we must now carefully consider the semantic sense of this concessive use of the participle in the construction “although [x] not [y] but [z].” What Crossan and Reed call “the normalcy of imperial divinity” forms the basic assumption lying behind the concessive use of the participle in 2:6. Nevertheless, two fundamentally different senses about what is being conceded are possible. One implies that Christ’s condescension was a contravention of his true identity, while the other implies that it was the embodiment of his true identity.
(1) Option one would be something like this:

Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that means the exercise of power, he acted out of character—in a shockingly ungodlike manner, contrary in fact to true (imperial) divinity—when he emptied and humbled himself.

In this reading, Christ in effect renounced his deity, or at least some aspect of it. He acted abnormally for one possessing equality with God. That is, the form of God that Christ had (and thus also essential divinity) is in fact one that would never condescend to the humiliation of incarnation and crucifixion. To do so would in fact be ungodlike.
(2) Option two would be something like the following:

Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status people assume means the exercise of power, he acted in character—in a shockingly ungodlike manner according to normal but misguided human perceptions of divinity, contrary to what we would expect but, in fact, in accord with true divinity—when he emptied and humbled himself.

In this reading, Christ exercised his deity. What is out of character for normal divinity in our misguided perception of the reality of the form of God is in character for this form of God. That is, although Christ was in the form of God, which leads us to certain expectations, he subverted and deconstructed these expectations when he emptied and humbled himself, which he did because he was the true form of God.
In other words, such a form of God (and thus also essential divinity) is in normal human perception one that would never condescend to incarnation and crucifixion. Normal human perception of deity is that the story of Christ is counterintuitive, abnormal, and absurd as a story of God.
That this is precisely Paul’s point is confirmed by 1 Cor 1:18–25. There Paul argues that Christ crucified is the counterintuitive reality of divine wisdom and power, that the cross is in fact theophanic—revelatory of God’s essential attributes, known in the reality and the narrative of the crucified Messiah. Thus Paul is doing in Phil 2 something very similar to what he does in 1 Cor 1: reconstructing the meaning of God’s essential attributes and thus the meaning of divinity itself. Like the wisdom of God and the power of God, so also the very form of God is displayed for Paul on the cross by the one who was and is equal to God. The story of Christ in 2:6–8 shows us that kenosis—specifically cruciform kenosis, or cruciformity—is the essential attribute of God while at the same time, paradoxically, being the expression of divine freedom (so with Paul and his apostleship/kenosis/freedom, according to 1 Thess 2 and 1 Cor 9).
God, we must now say, is essentially kenotic, and indeed essentially cruciform. Kenosis, therefore, does not mean Christ’s emptying himself of his divinity (or of anything else) but rather Christ’s exercising his divinity, his equality with God.
Calvin claimed that “the humilitas carnis (humility of the flesh) covers the divina majestas (divine majesty) like a curtain,” says Barth, in agreement. Similarly, Gregory of Elvira said that Christ’s majesty and divinity, though never lost, were “momentarily hidden,” like the sun is briefly hidden by a cloud. Many of the Fathers were very concerned to argue that Christ’s self-emptying was not the termination of his deity, which is permanent. We must agree that the (metaphorical) self-emptying is not the end of Christ’s divinity. But is it really the case that Christ’s self-emptying or humility hides his divinity? Is it not rather Paul’s point that the humility of incarnation and cross reveals the divine majesty, like a transparent curtain? “Look here to see true divinity,” calls Paul.
If this line of reasoning is correct, then we must translate the participle hyparchōn in 2:6 as “because” in addition to “although”—“in addition to” because we should not relinquish the importance of what is conveyed semantically by the translation “although,” and yet we should indeed conclude that, at the deepest level, the “although” of v. 6 is in fact a “because.” Without accepting all the tenets of a particular linguistic theory, I would suggest that it is helpful to distinguish between this text’s surface structure (“although”) and its deep structure (“because”). Christ Jesus did what he did because this is what it means to be in the form of God. Cruciform kenosis is the counterintuitive “truth about God.” It is the constitutive characteristic of the divine identity that this narrative reveals. Philippians 2:6–11 is therefore rightly called a “narrative of a vulnerable God” (to use Placher’s apt phrase), and it displays the cross as a theophany.
We would be right, therefore, to join the line of interpreters that runs from Moule to Wright, Hawthorne, Bockmuehl, and Fowl and render Phil 2:6b as “precisely because” Christ Jesus was in the form of God and equal with God, he emptied himself.
Thesis Ten: Philippians 2:9–11 narrates God’s vindication of the story of Christ as the story of true humanity and true divinity

We have focused on the first half of the poem but must now turn briefly to the second part. The imperial and cosmic overtones of 2:9–11 should not be missed. Jesus is honored along with God the Father as integral to the divine identity.71 Jesus shares in the reign of God over all creation, continuing the scriptural theme of God’s rightful rule over the cosmos and challenging all others who might issue a claim to universal sovereignty or demand obeisance from human beings (or any other creatures). As we will see below, the character of Jesus’ lordship continues to overturn normal expectations about the meaning of divinity and of divine power.
In considering 2:9–11, we must especially avoid the conclusion that God the Father is here portrayed as “promoting” Jesus by virtue of his self-emptying and self-humbling. Something quite different is happening. Verses 9–11 suggest that human beings will appropriately render a kind of homage to Jesus that is properly due only to God, as the quotation of Isa 45:23 makes clear. Thus the “therefore” of v. 9 does not signal that God has promoted Jesus to a new status, as if divinity (for a Jew) could be manufactured or gained by some act, however noble. Rather, it indicates that God has publicly vindicated and recognized Jesus’ self-emptying and self-humbling as the display of true divinity that he already had and that makes the worship of Jesus as Lord (that is, YHWH, the God of Israel) perfectly appropriate.
Jesus’ exaltation is not the divine reward for his incarnation and death as God’s suffering servant (as this text is normally interpreted) but divine recognition that his suffering-servant behavior is in fact truly “lordly,” even godly, behavior. C. F. D. Moule renders the beginning of 2:9 as follows: “And that is why (i.e., the fact that Jesus displayed the self-giving humility which is the essence of divinity is the reason why) God so greatly exalted him.”
There are also here intimations of the common early Christian theme of the Son’s obedience to the Father (despite the absence of “Son” language, see the language of obedience in v. 9 and of Father in v. 11), a theme that elsewhere in the NT brings together language that affirms both Christ’s divinity and his incarnated humanity (for example, Hebrews, John). As in the theology of Hebrews (1:1–14, 5:1–10, 10:5–10), so also in Phil 2: Jesus’ obedience demonstrates that he is in fact God’s Son, God’s image and reflection and glory. The underlying logic seems to be that the principle of “like Father, like Son” means that, inasmuch as Christ does the will of his Father, he does so because he is in the Father’s likeness, even as he freely chooses to exercise obedience as the Son and human being that he is. But of course this underlying logic, in Paul’s case, assumes that the servant-like, kenotic activities attributed to Christ in 2:6–8 are in fact divine in character, or to put it the other way around, that divinity has kenotic servanthood as its essential attribute.
In light of the various echoes of Isa 40–55 in Phil 2, we are almost compelled to conclude that its author reads Isa 40–55 as an integrated unit with a radical message: that the suffering servant is one with the universal Lord, and the universal Lord is one with the suffering servant. It turns out that the God who is sovereign but also condescending in compassion (57:14–21) has been manifested in the career of the servant. Philippians 2:6–11 asserts this while recognizing that the servant was raised and vindicated by someone other than himself (the fourth Isaianic hymn plainly stating this twice: 52:13, 53:12), so that at least a binitarian theology, or Christological monotheism, is the necessary conclusion. The identifying characteristic of this Isaianic eternal and sovereign Lord is, henceforth, kenotic servanthood.
The notion of kenotic servanthood also brings us back to the subject of echoes of Adam in Phil 2. As the obedient suffering servant who behaves in the pattern “although [x] not [y] but [z],” Christ displays not only true divinity but also true humanity. Unlike Adam, he does not exploit his status as God’s image-bearer or disobey God the Father. Rather, he acts in obedience to the Father in a way that serves not himself but others, bringing about their redemption from sin.
Finally, the exaltation raises also the question of the ongoing significance of the humiliation. The confession “Jesus is Lord” means, implicitly, that the crucified, servant Jesus, and no other Jesus, is Lord. There is continuity between his humiliated and his exalted status, just as there was continuity between his preexistent and his incarnate, humiliated status (revealed in the parallel phrases “emptied himself” and “humbled himself”). That is, Jesus’ lordship, paradoxically, has the form of servanthood even in the present (which is why it is no surprise that Paul tells the Romans that Christ is praying for us [Rom 8:34]). This is why a community that lives “in Christ” (Phil 2:1–5) will be shaped like the story of Christ narrated in 2:6–8. Such a community does not simply remember and imitate a story; rather, it experiences the present activity of Father, Son, and Spirit mentioned in 2:1–12, which is formation into the eternal, unchanging image of the eternal Son of God (compare Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18), an image manifested in the story of 2:6–8.

Having explored Phil 2:6–11 in some depth, we may now draw some theological conclusions.
The Counterintuitive Kenotic Character of the God of the Cross

The counterintuitive God revealed in Christ is kenotic and cruciform, the Eternal vulnerable and self-giving One, the God of power-in-weakness. Thus we may now paraphrase Ernst Käsemann and assert that the cross is the signature of the Eternal One. Any other understandings of God are henceforth rendered either incomplete or obsolete or idolatrous.
Some may object to the notion of a cruciform God and argue that, in the discussion of God’s holiness, we cannot forget God’s majesty and power. Here John Webster is helpful, because he rightly defines God’s holiness not as pure majesty but as “majesty in relation.” Because God’s majesty and God’s relationality cannot be separated, we must understand God’s majesty in light of God’s revealed relationality. We do not simply hold the majesty and relationality of God in tension; with Paul, we must see them in concert, a unison revealed in the power of the cross. God is not a god of power and weakness but the God of power in weakness. As Webster also reminds us, we must always keep divine activity and divine attribute together; God’s actions are self-revelatory, the expression of God’s essence or character. Thus if the cross is theophanic, God must be understood as essentially cruciform.80 The embedded theology of most Christians still revolves around a noncruciform model of God’s power, and a crucial corrective is needed. If we know God in the cross, then we should also know that God’s majesty is one of power-in-weakness.
The Idolatry of “Normal” Divinity

In light of this first theological conclusion, we must affirm that the “normal” “civil” god of power and might is an idol, and it must be named as such. This god is not the Lord God revealed in Jesus Christ and narrated in the theopolitics of Phil 2:6–11. The “normal” god of civil religion combines patriotism and power; this is the god of many American leaders and of many Americans generally. (This god has, of course, had many other incarnations in human history.) Most especially idolatrous in light of our exegesis of Phil 2 is the image of God (and/or of Christ) as military power incarnate, whether in the crusades or in Iraq or at Armageddon. As the Spanish historian-theologian Jaume Botey Vallès has said, the god of George W. Bush (and, we might add, of many other presidents, prime ministers, kings, and so on) is a god of military might. That simply is not the God revealed by Jesus, Vallès rightly says. Neither is it the cruciform God of Paul. In other words, military power is not the power of the cross, and these misconstrued notions of divine power have nothing to do with the majesty or holiness of the triune God known in the weakness of the cross. The “civil” god, though perfectly “normal,” is not only unholy; it is an idol.
A Cruciform, Kenotic Chalcedonian Definition

Traditionally, Phil 2:6–11 has been read as a text about Christ, but we have read it also as a text about God. It is of course about both, about Christ as God incarnate. The fully divine and fully human Christ of kenosis and cross is the definitive theophany. It is especially imperative that we see the modus operandi of both incarnation and cross as theophanic. The narrative identity of Christ reveals a similar disposition in his preexistent and his incarnate life: self-emptying and self-humbling. This is theologically important because it demonstrates that for Paul true humanity and true divinity are analogous at the most fundamental level.
We therefore do not need to agree with Richard Bauckham’s claim—in his otherwise superb book—that N. T. Wright’s taking both a “divine incarnational and an Adam christological approach” to Phil 2:6–11 is an example of trying to have one’s cake and eat it, too. Again, quite the contrary is the case in light of the continuity of the preexistent and incarnate Son of God. Christ was the antithesis of Adam because he truly and faithfully incarnated the image of God that Adam, by his disobedience, embodied unfaithfully and falsely. By being unlike Adam, Christ revealed his own true divinity as well as his true humanity. James Dunn goes so far as to say that, “[e]ven if it were judged not to be an expression of Adam Christology, it [2:6–11] would still be a powerful way of saying that in Christ, his death and resurrection, God’s original design for humanity finally achieved concrete shape and fulfillment.” This, Dunn says, is a life of “serving and not grasping,” and it is the basis of the appeal in 2:1–4.
Kenosis is thus the sine qua non of both divinity and humanity, as revealed in the incarnation and cross of Christ, the one who was truly God and became truly human. His preexistent and incarnate actions—[z1] and [z2] in our narrative analysis—had essentially the same character. As Chalcedonian and therefore anachronistic as this claim will sound to some, it seems to be the inevitable conclusion of the line of thought we have been pursuing; it is Chalcedon with a Pauline, cruciform twist.
True Humanity as Counterimperial Theoformity

To be fully human is to be Christlike and thus Godlike in this kenotic and cruciform sense. Cruciformity, it turns out, is really theoformity. That is, in more traditional language, imitatio Christi is really imitatio Dei and even theosis. John Chrysostom said as much in his homily on Phil 2:5–8: “For nothing so sustains the great and philosophic soul in the performance of good works as learning that through this one is becoming like God.” Human beings, including Adam, are most like God when they act kenotically. In Christ’s preexistent and incarnate kenosis, we see what God is truly like, and we simultaneously see what Adam/humanity truly should have been, truly was not, and now truly can be in Christ. To be like Christ crucified is both to be most Godly and most human.
Our text provides the basis for understanding this theoformity, or theosis, as a counterimperial style of life. Fowl puts it this way:

In worlds such as ours and Paul’s where power is manifested in self-assertion, acquisition, and domination, Christ reveals that God’s power, indeed the triune nature, is made known to the world in the act of self-emptying. Self-emptying is not so much a single act as the fundamental disposition of the eternal relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus become the decisive revelation to us of that “self-emptying” that eternally characterizes the triune life of God.

The goal of the Christian community is to allow the life and Spirit of this God, rather than the imperial spirit of domination and acquisition, to flow in and through it—to participate in God.
Kenosis, Crucifixion, and the Missio Dei

Finally, we must note that our reading of the passage suggests that kenosis and crucifixion are intimately expressive of the missio Dei in the world, because divine being and act are inseparable. The community that bears witness to this divine mission (Phil 2:12–18) does so through participation, by means of Spirit-enabled theoformity, in the reality of the life of the kenotic triune God described in Phil 2:1–4 and revealed in Paul’s master story of the incarnate, crucified, and exalted Messiah (Phil 2:6–11), who effects the eschatological mission of God the Father.
These theses and conclusions, then, constitute some key aspects of the theological significance of Paul’s master story.

The “New Creation,” the Crucified and Risen Christ, and the Temple: A Pauline Audience for Mark

Abstract—In the wake of the debate on Gospel audiences, this article illustrates one way of engaging in an explicitly theological interpretation of a Gospel, constrained and enriched by canonical and historical considerations. Building on the arguments of scholars who see “new exodus/new creation” concepts implicitly underlying much of Mark, it asks how portions of this narrative (1:1–11, 15:33–16:8) might be heard if we construe the audience as having been shaped by Paul’s theology of “new creation” that underlies 1 Corinthians. This interpretive move assumes that Mark is an attempt to articulate the significance of Jesus within a scriptural matrix, that is, within Isaiah’s “conversation” with Genesis and Exodus. This 1 Corinthians audience is an intracanonical, hermeneutical construct intended to further Mark’s attempt to articulate the significance of Jesus within a broader scriptural matrix. The reading of Mark that emerges contends that Jesus proleptically baptizes with the Spirit as he forges a new creation throughout the Gospel; at the crucifixion, the Spirit moves from Jesus into the temple (a microcosm of the old order/cosmos) to split the outer curtain signifying its end; and the Spirit continues Jesus’ work by raising him from the dead as a microcosm of the new creation.

Key Words—theological interpretation, Gospel audiences, Gospel of Mark, new exodus, new creation, temple, temple curtain, crucifixion, Spirit Christology

In the wake of the current debate on Gospel audiences initiated by Richard Bauckham and others, the purpose of this article is to illustrate one way of construing an audience for the Gospel of Mark that offers a theologically fruitful alternative to reconstructing an original “Markan community” lying behind the Gospel as its “proper” audience. This construal will be constrained and enriched by canonical, theological, and historical considerations. In order to give it some specificity, I will ask, How might Mark’s narrative, particularly 1:1–11 and 15:33–16:8, be heard if we construe the audience as having been shaped by Paul’s theology of “new creation”?
Some initial clarification will be helpful. What follows is largely an intracanonical dialogue between sections of Mark and 1 Corinthians that refuses to bracket out theological considerations. I have chosen 1 Corinthians because, as in the case of Mark, the theology of “new creation” implicitly underlies much of Paul’s discourse there.4 Because of this underlying resonance, focusing on an audience shaped by 1 Corinthians in order to ask how they might hear portions of Mark’s narrative not only provides some canonical constraint on the reading but may also generate a theologically suggestive reading of those portions of Mark.
Although this audience construal is an intracanonical construct, it will be informed by attention to the broad historical context from which these documents emerged. A few words about this broad historical context as it relates to Gospel audiences are in order. If Bauckham is correct, the Gospels were intended to address Christian audiences from around the ancient Mediterranean world. Although varied from the start, they would have shared a broad framework of understanding constituted by a pool of basic cultural assumptions characteristic of that milieu. Most, if not all, would have heard at least some version of the story of Jesus and would share a basic pool of Christian assumptions. Whether or not Bauckham is correct that these were the kinds of audiences that the Gospels were originally intended to address, early on (at least by the 2nd century) these were the kinds of audiences that they did address. Hence, their hearing of a Gospel would be a rhetorical event/performance that would constitute an attempt to persuade them to attribute a particular significance to the events in the story of Jesus that it narrated.6 Within this framework, any given Gospel narrative would be heard with a general sense of coherence by the entirety of the audience, while more informed hearers could attach deeper levels of theological significance to the way certain events were narrated (and performed).
An audience shaped by 1 Corinthians would likely make even more particular judgments about the meaning of various events, the significance that should be attached to the way these events are ordered in the narrative, and the kinds of background information that give this narrative the most coherence. In offering a profile of this audience below, I do not intend to reconstruct a particular historical community as “the proper” audience for Mark. Rather, this audience will be a historically informed, intracanonical, hermeneutical construct that enables us to see possible theological connections in Mark’s narrative that we may otherwise miss.

By the time Paul writes 2 Corinthians, the phrase “new creation” functions as a shorthand way of referring to the new age that God has inaugurated by graciously invading the cosmos in order to reclaim and establish sovereignty over a world enslaved by the powers of Sin and Death. God’s invasive act is constituted by a twofold movement—that is, the crucifixion, where God strikes a decisive blow to the powers of the old age, and the confirmation of this action in the ensuing resurrection of the crucified one. This conceptuality is implied in 1 Corinthians by the way Paul structures the epistle as a whole and by the fact that many of his specific arguments rely on the “logic” generated by it.
By beginning the body of 1 Corinthians with a discourse on the cross (1:18–2:16) and ending it with a discourse on the resurrection (15:1–58), Paul rhetorically brackets the letter with a structure that resonates with the twofold movement of God’s invasion of the cosmos. The latter explicitly affirms God’s decisive victory over the enslaving powers of Sin and Death through the crucified and risen Lord (15:56–57). In the beginning discourse (1:18–2:16), Paul sets forth an apocalyptic epistemology of the cross, a way of understanding the world available only to individuals to whom it has been revealed by the Spirit, that is, individuals who are “in the realm of Christ” (ἐν χριστῷ). It is an epistemology “not of this age nor of the rulers of this age” who are being brought to nothing by God’s invasive act (2:6).
Throughout chaps. 3–14, he implicitly appeals to this epistemology in order to shape his audience’s communal life in a way that is consistent with their being in the realm of a crucified and risen Christ. His arguments in these chapters rely on the “logic” of this epistemology and therefore only make sense if God has newly invaded the cosmos in the death/resurrection of Christ, thereby turning all human standards of knowledge and social status upside down. The arguments make sense only if the σχῆμα of this cosmos is passing away (7:31), if Paul’s audience consists of those upon whom the ends of the ages have come (10:11). In sum, they only make sense if what Paul later says in 2 Cor 5:17 is true, namely, that in the realm/body of the crucified and risen Christ there is already the start of a “new creation.”
This “logic” in 1 Corinthians is confirmed for its audience by the activities of the eschatological Spirit in their midst, who is actively making them into a temple (ναός) of God (3:16), which at the same time is the body of the crucified and risen Christ (1 Cor 12:12–13), in which the “new creation” has begun. As we will see, such a self-understanding arising from these images (temple and body) may give rise to particular judgments about how Mark’s narrative connects the body of Jesus with the Jerusalem temple and how it connects both with the new creation.
But this is an audience that also knows that the new age has just begun. The one they know as Christ the Lord (1 Cor 8:6) has broken the control of the chaotic and evil powers of “this age” over them and is reigning now in the sphere of the church. The new age/reign of God is not yet consummated because Christ must “continue reigning” until the final defeat of every rule, authority, and power with the defeat of Death as the last strike in an ongoing war (1 Cor 15:23–28). It is only then that the Son “hands over the reign to God the Father,” and the new creation is consummated at the future resurrection of the dead when Death is “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:24, 54–55). With this profile of an audience in place, let us turn now to consider how they would likely hear sections of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 1:1–11

The first verse of Mark signals to our audience that they are about to hear the beginning of the εὐαγγέλιον with which they are already familiar. It is the good news about “Jesus Christ, [Son of God],” whom they already confess as Lord (κύριος), the one “through whom are all things and we through him” (1 Cor 8:6). Hence, it is good news about the person they confess as being instrumental in bringing about the new creation that has begun among them.
Both in the LXX and in the wider Hellenistic culture, the term εὐαγγέλιον could carry military/political connotations implying the announcement of a military victory, that is, “the good news of victory from the battlefield.” But as Mark makes clear in v. 2, this is not “good news” about just any war. It is good news about a particular war, the good news as Isaiah wrote it. The good news that comes from Isaiah’s battlefield is about Yahweh’s victorious cosmic battle as he leads a “new exodus” through the wilderness to Zion, in which he reclaims sovereignty in a way that results in “new heavens and a new earth.”15 However, what the audience is about to hear is Isaiah’s good news recontextualized, because it involves “Jesus, Messiah, Son of God.” As Mark will narrate it, the good news is that Yahweh, through the Spirit embodied in his royal Son, has initiated a battle to reclaim dominion (1:14–15) over the forces of evil/chaos, a move that constitutes a “new exodus” for many and ultimately results in a “new creation.”
In vv. 4–6, the audience is introduced to John the Baptist. Located immediately by Mark as being “in the wilderness,” John is portrayed as preparing the way of the Lord (τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, v. 3), that is, the way for the Divine Warrior to march through the wilderness as he executes the battle to bring about a new exodus leading to a new creation. John does this by proclaiming “a baptism of repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins.” Those who submit to it publicly identify themselves as the gathered people of God ready for his coming to reclaim his dominion and set the new age in motion.17 A predominantly Christian audience even vaguely familiar with Jewish life in the first century would be aware that the primary mode of “forgiveness of sins” was through the Jerusalem temple cultus. Hence, they would sense something momentous happening when informed of the movement away from Jerusalem in connection with the “forgiveness of sins.” Indeed, an audience who consider themselves to be the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16) would have grounds for making the judgment that the primary locus of God’s forgiving, healing, salvific presence had begun to shift away from the temple in Jerusalem at the very “beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ.” The implication of this judgment is that, throughout their hearing of the rest of Mark’s narrative, they do not imagine that the Jerusalem temple is functioning as the primary locus of God’s presence among his people.
The first clue as to the place where the eschatological presence of Yahweh will take up residence in the story of Mark comes in the enigmatic prediction of John that “the stronger one who is coming after me … will baptize you with/by means of the Holy Spirit” (v. 8). This promise appears at first glance to force the audience beyond the confines of the story in order to see its fulfillment. Certainly, an audience who is aware that they have been “baptized into one body by means of/in one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12–13) would understand the promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit as a postresurrection event. However, based on their own experience, such an audience might attach another level of significance to John’s promise as the narrative unfolds. Their being baptized into Christ by means of the Holy Spirit not only brought them into corporate union with Christ but also brought them into the sphere of his power and lordship. Hence, as Jesus begins healing and saving various characters from chaotic powers over which they have no control, this audience would likely make the judgment that they are witnessing something analogous to their own experience.21 They could indeed infer that these characters are being (proleptically) “baptized with the Spirit” in that they are being brought into the sphere of God’s power and lordship by means of the Spirit embodied in God’s royal Son.
The baptism and death of Jesus (Mark 1:9–11, 15:37–39) display significant literary symmetry (see below) and bracket his appearances in the Gospel. They are widely recognized as forming an inclusio, “bookends” that bracket and give a particular shape to Mark’s story of Jesus. Hence, there is good reason to assume that a Markan audience would recognize the literary symmetry between these passages when they arrive at 15:37–39. In addition, the expectations created by this symmetry would influence their judgments/inferences about how the latter’s narrative gaps are to be filled and its ambiguities resolved. Therefore, an important factor in considering what sort of judgments an audience might make about 15:37–39 is the extent to which the reading that emerges highlights the literary symmetry between it and 1:9–11. The importance of these comments will become evident in the section on 15:33–39.
The first time the audience encounters Jesus is at his baptism (1:9). When he is coming up out of the water, he sees the heavens in the process of being ripped apart (1:10), an action not depicted as completed here at Jesus’ entrance into the narrative. Hence, the hearers are alerted at the outset that Mark will be narrating the ripping apart of “the great cosmic curtain that separates creation from God’s presence,”25 an act of initiation that is not completed until “the great cosmic curtain” of the temple is split (ἐσχίσθη) at Jesus’ death (15:38).
Our Pauline audience regularly experiences the eschatological Spirit as active in their midst. Hence, it would be natural for them to imagine that, because what Jesus sees immediately following the tearing apart of the heavens is the Spirit descending into (εἰς) him, it is this very Spirit who is active in ripping open the heavens. While the Spirit had a variety of functions in the OT, for an audience shaped by Paul’s theology of new creation, Mark’s usage of dove imagery to describe the Spirit’s descent would likely evoke one of the primary functions associated with the Spirit: creative power (Pss 33:6, 104:30). It is the rûaḥ/πνεῦμα (Spirit/Wind/Breath) who in bird-like fashion “hovers over the waters” in Gen 1:2, preparing them to be forged into a well-ordered cosmos. Hence, when Jesus sees the Holy Spirit descending like a dove after tearing apart the heavens, this audience would have reason to believe that this is the point at which God, through the Spirit, began to forge a new creation.28
The initial scene then powerfully portrays “the beginning of the good news,” of Yahweh’s victory when God, through the Spirit, initiates a “gracious gash in the universe” and inhabits the body of the Son in order to invade the cosmos and reclaim dominion by taking back what is rightfully God’s. Hence, for our audience it is Jesus who is the locus of the eschatological presence of God, the one in whom the Power of God’s new age is embodied as he both announces and executes God’s reign. Between the “book ends” of his baptism and death, those whom Jesus saves/redeems from evil/chaotic powers experience the Power of this new age (that is, the Spirit) at work in their very bodies and are thereby at least proleptically “baptized with/in the Spirit.” Before moving to Jesus’ death, we will find it helpful to summarize this salvific activity and briefly comment on Jesus’ struggle against the temple leadership to prepare us for 15:33–16:8.
Between the “Book Ends”

After Jesus’ baptism, in vv. 12–13, he publicly announces the εὐαγγέλιον that the reign of God has drawn near (1:14–15). With these “fighting words,” the battle lines are drawn and in the first (and paradigmatic) exorcism of the story (1:21–28), the battle with Satan (that is, the “strong man” of 3:23–27) begins. There Jesus reclaims someone for the dominion of God by delivering him from the forces of evil/chaos that hold him in slavery. Dramatic scenes of this sort are repeated in Mark (5:1–20, 9:14–29; cf. 6:13, 7:24–30) and referred to in the summaries of Jesus’ activities as well (1:34, 39; 3:11–13). In these cases, along with other instances in which physical maladies, sickness, and death are manifestations of evil/chaos, victims experience the Power of the new age (that is, the Spirit) as Jesus defeats the forces of evil/chaos embodied in them (for example, 4:35–5:43, 10:46–52). In doing so, Jesus proleptically “baptizes” these victims “with the Holy Spirit.” However, the victories are localized and provisional; the powers of evil/chaos rear up again and again because the decisive blow to them has not yet been struck at the cross.
Once Jesus enters Zion/Jerusalem, his struggle against the temple establishment and his relationship to the temple are highlighted. Any generally informed audience influenced by 1 Corinthians would be aware that the Jerusalem temple has been destroyed. This awareness, along with numerous clues in the narrative, would point such an audience toward understanding what Jesus does when he enters the temple in 11:15–18 not as a “cleansing” but as a “cursing,” that is, an action symbolizing the temple’s coming destruction. In fact, our audience may catch a hint of irony here, judging Mark as suggesting that the power of chaos/evil had become embodied in the temple leadership and was controlling the preeminent place where Yahweh’s Spirit/Presence was supposed to dwell among his people. As we will see, this embodiment of chaos/evil in the “rulers of this age” (see 1 Cor 2:6) who control the temple parallels its embodiment in the cosmos as a whole. In Mark’s portrayal, it will be dealt with decisively on the cross, the strange sight of “the victorious assault of the divine warrior on the resistant cosmos.”
Mark 15:33–39

In Mark 15:33–39, specifically with Jesus’ death and the tearing of the temple curtain, Mark’s narrative begins to move beyond Jesus’ provisional local victories. As is well known, there were two temple curtains to which Mark could have been referring in 15:38. The inner curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the remainder of the temple. The outer curtain hung in front of the doors that separated the sanctuary from the forecourt. We have little information about either apart from Josephus’s description of them, and he refers to both with the same word, καταπέτασμα, the word used in Mark 15:38. Which curtain the audience is to imagine as having been torn cannot be settled on the historical level alone.35 Whether one argues for the inner or outer curtain, any audience would have to be supplied with information about the curtain prior to, or during, the hearing of the narrative for its tearing to generate anything but a question mark. Because anyone reading/performing this Gospel would want to enable his/ her audience to actualize the narrative’s potential for meaning, I will assume that the hearers have been made aware of relevant information about the temple curtain(s).
In addition to information provided by the reader, a widespread understanding of the relationship of the Jerusalem temple to God’s well-ordered creation could also shape the way our audience would hear vv. 37–39 in particular. As was the case with some temples in the Greco-Roman world, the temple on Mount Zion was understood as directly connected to the cosmos itself. It was “the point from which creation proceeded,” the “meeting place of heaven and earth,” a microcosm of the cosmos.39 One of its functions included maintaining the order of the cosmos as set up by the creator God. That the destruction of the (second) temple could mean the return of the ordered cosmos to undifferentiated chaos is clear from Baruch’s pointed question about the temple’s destruction: “Or will the universe return to its nature and the world go back to its former silence?” (2 Bar. 3:7–8).
Key for our purposes is that this theology of creation was graphically depicted by means of the craftsmanship of the outer temple curtain. Josephus implies this with his description of it:

Before these hung a veil (καταπέτασμα) of equal length, of Babylonian tapestry.… Nor was this mixture of materials without its mystic meaning: it typified the universe (ἀλλʼ ὥσπερ εἰκόνα τῶν ὅλων).… On this tapestry was portrayed a panorama of the heavens (ἅπασαν τὴν οὐράνιον θεωρίαν).

Hence, the craftsmanship of the outer curtain graphically depicted the widespread assumption that the temple was an εἰκών, an image or microcosm of the universe as a whole.
With this in the background, suggestive ways of hearing 15:33–39 begin to emerge when we recall that (1) this audience has already been shaped by an understanding that at the cross God struck a decisive blow to the powers of the old age and confirmed this action in the ensuing resurrection, (2) this audience has already heard Mark’s narration of Jesus’ baptism (1:9–11) and would recognize the literary symmetry between it and 15:37–39, and (3) the expectations created by this symmetry would influence their judgments/inferences about how Mark’s narrative gaps are to be filled and its ambiguities resolved. Given all of this, Mark’s narration of Jesus’ baptism (1:9–11) and death (15:33–39) could indeed be characterized as a “cosmic inclusio” giving rise to the following way of hearing 15:33–39.
Throughout the narrative, the primary locus of the Spirit/Presence of Yahweh has not been the Holy of Holies but the very body of the Son. His entrance into the narrative was marked by the movement of the Spirit, who was portrayed as ripping open the heavens and descending into (εἰς) him (1:10). His exit is marked by the mirror image of the activity of this same Spirit. At Jesus’ death in 15:37, he breathes out the Spirit (ἐξέπνευσεν). As a result of the Spirit’s movement,46 the heavens are split again (ἐσχίσθη), this time in the form of the outer temple curtain with the heavens painted on it (v. 38). God’s Spirit/Presence is thus portrayed as moving out of Jesus into the temple, not as moving out of the Holy of Holies. The ripping apart of “the great cosmic curtain that separates creation from God’s presence” that began at Jesus’ baptism is now completed at his death.50 Because the idea that the temple was a microcosm of the cosmos was implicitly but graphically portrayed by means of the outer curtain, its ripping signifies not only a final sign of God’s sure judgment on the temple but also the end of the old order of things. It signifies that the Spirit, who had remained with and enabled the Son to endure crucifixion, is now “on the loose” and is out to reclaim the entirety of the cosmos for God’s rule.53 Hence, ironically it is at the death of the crucified one, when the old-age powers of chaos appear to have won, that God strikes the decisive blow in this cosmic war. For now the whole cosmos becomes fair game for the baptism of the now cruciform Spirit. Thus, for an audience shaped by 1 Cor 1:18–2:16 in particular, this part of Mark’s “cosmic inclusio” is a vivid narration of the Pauline conception that the cross is “an apocalyptic event, the turning point of the ages.”
But calling it an apocalyptic event implies that it is somehow revelatory. In what sense? The dominant way of answering this question has been to say that here the veil of the messianic secret in Mark has finally been lifted; that is, that the centurion at the cross experiences a revelation that enables him genuinely to confess the crucified one as God’s Son. Various understandings with regard to what the centurion saw and/or heard to elicit such a genuine Christian confession are then offered. Whitney Shiner, however, has called into question this whole line of interpretation in a recent article.57 He argues that a 1st-century audience would indeed connect various “divine portents” in Mark’s narrative with the centurion’s pronouncement and would understand him to be offering a genuine vindication of Jesus. However, this audience would not naturally regard it as a proper Christian confession of Jesus as the Son of God but would recognize it as “an ironic and uncomprehending vindication.”59 Although presented more positively than Jesus’ other enemies in the passion narrative (15:2; 9, 12, 18, 26, 32), like them, the centurion ironically utters truth about Jesus while failing to understand its real significance. Indeed, in the narrative world he is apparently the only one to hear his own vindicating utterance and it seems to have no impact on his subsequent behavior. When summoned before Pilate, he makes no mention of anything he observed or said (15:44–45), apparently choosing (wisely) not to speak publicly about a crucified son of a god/God. Hence, his pronouncement, while genuine, is not self-involving and thus turns out to be more of an “interesting observation” about a man crucified as a messiah rather than a genuine Christian confession. Therefore, this whole scene is best heard not as indicating a genuinely Christian revelation to the centurion but as revelatory to the audience, who realize its irony.61
The movement of Mark’s narrative, then, does not lead an audience to view the centurion as the paradigmatic Gentile who represents all who acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son. In fact, for our particular audience, shaped by Paul’s discourse on the revelatory impact of the cross as set in motion by the Spirit in 1 Cor 1:18–2:16, the centurion would probably be viewed as all the rest of Jesus’ Roman and Jewish enemies in the passion narrative. He would be viewed as a representative of the uncomprehending “rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:9), rulers who “are being brought to nothing” (1 Cor 2:6) by God’s invasive act. Shortly before the centurion makes his announcement, the Jewish chief priests, when confronted with Jesus on the cross, sarcastically seek the equivalent of a “sign” (1 Cor 1:23) when they implore him to “come down from the cross in order that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). The centurion follows by functioning as the prototypical “Gentile” who would count as “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23) the public proclamation of a “crucified messiah/king,” whether he died accompanied by divine portents or not. He would not be understood by this audience as being privy to the λόγος produced by the cross (1 Cor 1:18). He is entirely unaware that at the cross the old order is being undone and a new creation is being set in motion as the Spirit is breathed forth from a crucified “messiah.”66 Heard in this way, Mark’s narrative, like 1 Corinthians, intends to induce in its audience, or requires from it, “the adoption of a new epistemology that sees the power of God to be revealed nowhere else than in this seemingly God-deserted landscape.”
Mark 16:1–8

Although Rom 1:4 comes very close, nowhere does Paul explicitly say that the Spirit is the agent of Jesus’ resurrection. However, a Pauline audience shaped by 1 Corinthians, particularly chap. 15, would likely have this sort of understanding. In 1 Cor 15:44–49, Paul’s rhetoric leads his audience to imagine that the risen Christ was raised with a σῶμα πνευματικόν, a body that has been acted upon, transformed, and totally permeated by the life-giving Spirit (πνεῦμα), making it appropriate for the new creation. Hence, when an audience shaped by this kind of rhetoric encounters Mark’s portrayal of the Spirit’s being breathed forth from the crucified Christ at his death, the natural candidate for the subject of the divine passive verb in 16:6 (ἠγέρθη) is this same life-giving Spirit, the Spirit of God the Father.
However, before this announcement in 16:6, the audience must briefly traverse the “seemingly God-deserted landscape” of 15:40–47. In effect, in these verses, the Spirit who once “hovered over the unruly waters” is now, as the cruciform Spirit, immersed in them. Even though the audience already knows the basic story of Jesus, these verses in Mark force them to experience again the shock and scandal of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, that is, the death and burial of the one they now confess as Lord. It brings them face to face again with the fact that the person who had embodied and executed God’s own reign in order to initiate a new creation also wound up where the forces of chaos, death, and decay finally take all the rest of the old cosmos; that is, he became nothing but a corpse (πτῶμα, 15:45). While the text is silent as to the when of Jesus’ resurrection, on “the first day of the week” when the dawn occurs and light streams into the opened tomb (16:1–4), the women enter it and hear the revelatory announcement: “He has been raised. He is not here. See the place where they laid him” (16:6). What the characters see is only a heavenly messenger and the absence of the effects of chaos, death, and decay—the absence of a corpse. However, our Pauline audience with “eyes to see,” who have followed Jesus through Mark’s narrative, particularly through the crucifixion scene, are in a position to “see” something else: the presence of the new creation. They can see that the Son’s death did not snuff out the new creation that he, empowered by the Spirit, had proleptically initiated in specific locales in the preceding narrative. Rather, the new creation has been confirmed and continued in a decisive way by means of the action of that same Spirit who has been at work in the tomb to raise the body of the dead Jesus. Hence, the cruciform Spirit is depicted as giving life to the crucified Son by entering into death and the grave and bringing life where there was none, forging a new creation from the ruins of the old.74 Having thus been reclaimed by the Spirit for the reign/sovereignty of God, the crucified and risen Son now becomes connected to the new creation in a way that is analogous to the connection between the temple and the old created order.
The connection of all of this with the temple begins to become more clear when we remember Jesus’ own attitude toward the temple in Mark as well as what others say about him. As we have seen, his actions in the temple prophetically symbolize its judgment and destruction (11:15–18). In addition, his words explicitly predict it (13:1–2). Indeed, if our audience connects Jesus’ death with the destruction of the temple as a microcosm of the old order, there is at least a ring of truth in the “false testimony” in 14:58 to the effect of his destroying the temple and rebuilding it (see 15:29). It is “false” in that Jesus does not destroy the temple immediately. However, for the discerning audience, there is a clear ring of truth to the statement in that Jesus, through his obedience culminating in crucifixion, does indeed “destroy the temple,” marking its ultimate demise by breathing forth the Spirit who rips its outer curtain. If this is the case, then an audience might assume that the additional words attributed to Jesus in 14:58 also have a ring of truth; that is, after three days he would replace this temple made with hands with a temple not made with hands (see John 2:19). Again, these words are “false” in that Jesus does not immediately replace the Jerusalem temple with another one. For the discerning audience, however, the words ring true as a result of Jesus’ actions in going to the cross and his subsequent resurrection. This is because, in raising the body of the obedient Jesus from the dead, the Spirit replaces the εἰκών/microcosm of the old order (the Jerusalem temple) with the εἰκών/microcosm of the new order (the risen body of Jesus). Hence, Mark’s story might be heard by our audience as implying that the eschatological Spirit’s redemptive activity becomes so focused on the body of Jesus that his (absent) body becomes a new temple that functions as an εἰκών/microcosm of the new creation as a whole.
That an ancient Mediterranean audience could imagine the risen body of Jesus taking over the role that the Jerusalem temple had in the old order of things and functioning as a microcosm of the new cosmos is not surprising in light of a widespread assumption about the connection between the human body and the cosmos. It was commonly assumed in the ancient Mediterranean milieu that “the human body was not like a microcosm; it was a microcosm—a small version of the universe at large.” With this assumption in the background, what particular significance would hearers shaped by Paul’s theology of “new creation” likely attach to the Spirit’s raising of the body of Jesus? With Mark’s narrative moving in a “new creation” direction throughout, they would have warrant for making the judgment that it represented God’s proleptic redemption of the universe in microcosm. They could indeed affirm that what the Spirit has done for the body of Jesus in microcosm, the Spirit will do for the cosmos in macrocosm.
In their life together, our audience is faced with the absence of the new creation in its fullness in a way that corresponds to the absence of narrated appearances in Mark of the one who is a microcosm of this new creation. Even so, their life together characterized by the activity of the cruciform, yet life-giving Spirit, as well as Mark’s unfolding narrative would make it clear that Jesus’ words in the Gospel can be trusted.80 Hence, this audience would expect Jesus to make good on his promise to appear in Galilee and then later to “come with the clouds of heaven” (14:62), presumably to consummate the new creation by “handing over the reign to God the Father” (1 Cor 15:23–28). In the meantime, Mark’s narrative presses our Pauline audience to go continually back into assembly for a confirmation of the words of Jesus. For there they have experienced the Power of the new creation in their midst, that is, concrete liberation from the chaotic and evil powers of this age by means of the Spirit. There the new creation is currently embodied, as the Spirit who raised the Son from the dead and made him into a microcosm of the new creation is doing something analogous for them. There the cruciform Spirit is shaping them into a “colony of cruciformity,” the body of the crucified and risen Christ, a temple of God that is a microcosm of the new creation in their particular location.82

Dwight Peterson has convincingly shown the failure of “Markan community” reconstruction to deliver what it promises—that is, a reliable interpretive context to ground “the correct” reading of Mark’s Gospel. As he insists, the vast majority of Mark’s interpretive life has been spent outside and beyond any putative originative community.84 However, one thing that is increasingly clear about its “original context” and its early interpretive life is that it was engaged from the beginning in an ongoing theological conversation with Israel’s Scriptures. With the “new exodus/ new creation” themes in the background, Mark is engaged in a conversation extending back through Isaiah’s own conversation with Genesis and Exodus. Hence, Mark’s narrative originates as an attempt to articulate the significance of Jesus within a scriptural matrix. My attempt to bring 1 Corinthians into conversation with Mark is an attempt to do likewise. Only now, the scriptural matrix is the Christian canon, the interpretive context within which Mark has spent most of its interpretive life.
As this article illustrates, situating Mark within this interpretive context via a historically informed, intracanonical, hermeneutical construct does not lead to a reading that lacks critical criteria. In fact, the reading that has emerged by focusing on broad historical considerations and refusing to bracket out canonical and theological considerations brings substantial narrative and theological coherence to Mark’s Gospel. At the very least it has been theologically suggestive and has reinforced and expanded the arguments of writers who contend that the concept of “new exodus/ new creation” underlies and informs the Gospel in profound ways.
Construing Gospel audiences by using other similar intracanonical constructs may prove helpful in facilitating explicitly theological readings of the Gospels. While moving in this direction would surely result in a plurality of ways of interpreting a Gospel rather than a single “correct” way, it might also stimulate fresh articulations of the significance of Jesus. And if Bauckham and his colleagues turn out to be generally correct, this sort of interpretive situation would look a bit like the 1st century, in which each interpretation of a Gospel by any predominantly Christian audience was probably similar to, yet to some degree different from its interpretation by the next one.

Apocalypticizing Dogmatics: Karl Barth’s Reading of the Book of Revelation

Abstract—Although Karl Barth has rightly been called an apocalyptic theologian, his relation to the book known as the Apocalypse has not often been noted. This article seeks to clarify Barth’s relationship to Revelation in three areas: (1) the characteristic themes that emerge in the citations appearing in Church Dogmatics; (2) a long exegetical excursus on Revelation in Church Dogmatics 3/3 on the question of angelology; and (3) theological interpreters whose approach to Revelation has been influenced by Barth. Although Barth’s appeals to the Apocalypse tend to be ad hoc and confirmatory, it is possible that the book would have played a more prominent role in the unwritten volume 5 of Church Dogmatics.

Key Words—Barth, Church Dogmatics, Revelation, Apocalypse, eschatology, theological exegesis, Balthasar, Ellul, Stringfellow, Yoder, Peterson, angels

Karl Barth’s thought has rightly been called apocalyptic, a way of doing theology “without reserve,” in the elegant phrase of Walter Lowe. Jesus is victor! His death and resurrection are the divine invasion of a world held captive by Sin, Death, and the lordless Powers, effecting the triumph of God’s righteousness and therefore the definitive reconciliation of the world with God. We find no rationalist apologetics or pious inwardness here; what we see in Jesus is nothing less than the end of the old aeon and the dawning of a strange new world—the world, as Barth marvels in a famous early essay, “of God.” The apocalyptic character of Barth’s imagination has been widely attested, explicitly by scholars such as Lowe and Douglas Harink, implicitly by many others.
This affirmation stands in a certain tension with the fact that the magisterial Protestant tradition to which Barth belonged stood in an uneasy relation to the book we call the Apocalypse, or book of Revelation. The Apocalypse was always a bit suspect among the Reformers. In his 1522 preface, Luther severely criticizes the work for its obscurity, complaining that “while they are to be blessed who keep what is written therein … yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it.” He maintains that “Christ is not taught or known in it; but to teach Christ is the thing which an apostle is bound, above all else, to do.” (In 1545, Luther tempers this judgment, no doubt a reflection of his increasingly “apocalyptic” struggle with the Papacy.) Revelation is famously one of the few biblical books on which Calvin never preached or commented. The turn to modernity gave Protestant theologians new reason to be suspicious, given the problematically Jewish, mythological, and works-oriented character of apocalyptic literature. Thus Rudolf Bultmann’s verdict that the book is but a species of “weakly Christianized Judaism,” not to be mentioned in the same breath with the great insights of Paul or the Fourth Gospel. One does not read John of Patmos for his ideas on justification by faith alone. We might expect Barth’s own views on Revelation to reflect a similar bias.
Yet this turns out not to be the case. Not only did Barth have an apocalyptic imagination, but this imagination is on full display in a set of wide-ranging and variegated interactions with the last book of the Bible. In the present article, I will try to sustain this thesis by considering in turn: (1) Barth’s various ad hoc engagements with Revelation, in relation to passages he lists or notes briefly (here the index volume to his Church Dogmatics will serve as a useful resource); (2) the one lengthy excursus he devotes to the book, a discussion of angels in Church Dogmatics 3/3; and (3) Barth’s influence on a select group of theological interpreters of the Apocalypse, who bring the apocalyptic imagination to bear in the realm of exegesis and commentary. In all three of these areas—occasional citation, dogmatic argument, and influence—Barth shows that he was not just an apocalyptic theologian but a theologian of the Apocalypse itself.

A glance at the index of the Church Dogmatics (CD) will show roughly 250 discrete references to Revelation, with some 50 more appearing in The Christian Life, the posthumously published lectures intended for inclusion in 4/4. They range from mere citations of chapter and verse to quotations in service of “proof-texting” (a neutral term; every theologian needs to “proof-text” from time to time) to more substantial forms of engagement. Of course, the same might be said of any other biblical book: Barth’s mind inhabits Scripture like that of no other modern Christian thinker. We will begin by examining his ad hoc citations and shorter exegetical excursus dealing with the Apocalypse. I have grouped these under three thematic headings: (1) God’s revelation, the Trinity, and the person of Christ; (2) the lordship and victory of Christ; and (3) creation. Although Barth also referred to the Apocalypse in other connections, these categories serve as an accurate index of the place that the book held in his theological imagination.
Revelation and the Trinity

Barth’s dogmatic prolegomena famously begins with the doctrine of the Word of God or of revelation, which is at the same time a doctrine of the Trinity: in his economic self-utterance to the world, God “repeats” himself as Revealer, Revealed, and act of Revealing; as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This action is at once noetic and ontic, an act of self-giving and self-disclosure that God (in his mysterious freedom) also is. The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that secures God’s concrete identity as “God for us,” inseparable from the cradle and the cross of Jesus Christ. The doctrine therefore “tells us—this is the positive thing it was defending on the polemical fronts—how far the One who reveals himself according to the witness of Scripture can in fact be our God and how far he can in fact be our God.”
In Latin-speaking Christianity, apokalypsis was rendered as revelatio, “revelation”; in German this became die Offenbarung Johannes. Although Barth never mentions the book’s title in his own doctrine of revelation, the work does show up there as part of his amassing of biblical evidence for the Trinity. Barth is careful to stress that the doctrine of the Trinity inheres in the very logic of God’s being-in-act; it does not depend on the few texts in Scripture where something like a Trinity is explicitly mentioned. Nevertheless, the presence of these passages offers welcome support for the doctrine. Among the passages that Barth cites are the epistolary greetings that open both 1 Peter and Revelation:

Thus according to 1 Pet 1:2 the election of the saints is grounded in the prognosis theou patros, worked out in the hagiasmos pneumatos and directed eis hypakoen kai rantismon haimatos Iesou Christou. Rev 1:4 tells us that the grace and peace wished for the seven churches come apo ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos (note how the first and basic concept is here again paradoxically broken into a significant trinity) kai apo tōn hepta pneumaton ha enōpion tou thronou autou (the one Spirit is here obviously meant to be called too the Spirit of each of the seven churches) kai apo Iesou Christou the faithful witness, etc.

Barth notes that, while both 1 Peter and the Apocalypse mention Christ in the third place, he appears first both in 1 Cor 13:13 and (implicitly) in the story of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1. Barth does not linger over Revelation or indeed any of the other works he mentions; the point is not to engage in exegesis but to sketch an overall picture intended to persuade that “the problems that developed later in the doctrine of the Trinity are not alien to the Bible but are at least prefigured in it.” Still, even in this hasty summary Barth pays some attention to the details of the text. He notes how John’s formula for speaking of the Father itself displays a tripartite structure and how the odd locution “the seven Spirits” may be explained by reference to the seven churches. As with the other NT passages he cites, Barth’s interest in John lies less in what the latter explicitly teaches than in what he assumes. The language tends to assume a trinitarian form because revelation is trinitarian; this is true regardless of what John himself may have thought or “meant” by the use of such language.
Just a few lines later, God himself speaks—the first divine utterance in the Apocalypse: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8). Toward the end of the Apocalypse John will confirm his high Christology by placing the divine title “Alpha and Omega” on the lips of Jesus (22:13). By contrast, the phrase “the One who is and who was and who is to come” is reserved exclusively for God the Father. Barth either does not notice or, more likely, does not feel himself constrained by John’s usage when in his discussion of “Jesus Lord of Time” in CD 3/2 he applies the threefold formula to Christ; indeed, it structures the entire exposition. Barth rightly sees that the formula is based on the “I AM” or “I WILL BE” of Exod 3:14 as translated in the LXX (egō eimi ho ōn); the God apocalypsed in Jesus is identical with the Lord God of Israel. He anticipates this reading in CD 1/2, where he argues that John’s expansion of the phrase, along with his “pregnant addition” of the words to pantocrator or “the all-powerful one,” points to God’s rule over time’s three vectors: “From the fact that God is He who exists and therefore is the Living One in the supreme sense and therefore the Almighty, it follows that He is not only this, but, as this, also He who was and He who comes, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” This passage reads almost like a highly condensed version of Barth’s whole doctrine of revelation. As the unsurpassably Living One, God is Lord over time and the world. Yet the God who so rules does not do so “timelessly,” as one who is essentially alien to the finite world of creation, but from within the temporal order itself:

Of all the relevant passages in the Apocalypse, the clearest is Rev 1:8.… The context leaves us in no doubt that the speaker is not God in abstracto, but God in concreto, God in his identity with the man Jesus. It is equally clear that when the context speaks of his being in time it implies much more than that time has a beginning, duration and end. “I am,” says Jesus here, “the Alpha and the Omega”—ho protos kai ho eschatos, he archēkai to telos, as these letters are interpreted in Rev 22:13. Not even this part of the formula speaks of timelessness. For although A and O are the first and last letters they are part of the Greek alphabet, belonging to the series which includes all the other letters. The first and the last are not outside the series but within it. So, too, it is with Jesus when he calls himself the Alpha and the Omega. He ascribes to himself a being in time.

The historical existence of Jesus is thus the Archimedean point from which God rules the universe. Naturally this needs to be distinguished from any sort of collapsing of the economic and immanent Trinity, so that God’s temporality is something that merely befalls him, like a kind of fate. Yet the Apocalypse bears witness to the fact that God’s trinitarian identity goes “all the way down,” that there is no all-powerful Father apart from the gracious Son and the life-giving Spirit. It is as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that God rules over time and not otherwise. Here Barth uses the Apocalypse almost as a kind of metaphysical commentary on the incarnation. Interestingly, the context in which this occurs is theological anthropology, a locus that most people would not immediately associate with the Apocalypse. But because the clue to being human is Jesus Christ, the book in fact turns out to be highly relevant to Barth’s discussion.
The Victory of God

One sense in which Barth’s reading of Revelation may rightly be called apocalyptic is his attention to the pervasive themes of power, lordship, and divine victory that run throughout the book. “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15). Barth cites this and other hymns in Revelation as evidence for the accomplished character of Christ’s victory, which does not need to be actualized by us in order to be effective. Christ is Lord; therefore, the Serpent and his minions, the Beasts, are not. How far back can we press his victory? On Barth’s account, very far indeed. In the context of his doctrine of election, Barth twice quotes the phrase “the Lamb slaughtered from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). Modern translations are inclined to attach the phrase apo katabolēs kosmou to the book of life spoken of in this verse rather than to the Lamb himself. Given that the traditional reading is syntactically possible, Barth would no doubt see in the modern rendering a lamentable failure of the Christian imagination. Before Christ was the Omega, he was the Alpha, nor is there any reason to replace John’s powerful image of the slaughtered Lamb with the image of a bloodless logos asarkos. The one who is Lord is Jesus, the concrete form of the divine Love that is ontologically prior to everything else that ever was, is, or will be (see Rom 8:38–39). This radicalism has frequently invited the accusation that Barth disregards the world of contingent, historical happenings in favor of a sheerly asserted revelation. But Barth has also had his defenders against such criticisms. At any rate, he clearly thought the risks worthwhile in face of the all-too-confident historicism of modern theology.

Apocalyptic literature is notoriously dualistic. To construe the world of present experience as “the present evil age” seems to treat creation less as God’s good gift than as a cosmic disaster, something that can only be “overcome” (as Nietzsche said about humanity itself). Some of the imagery in the Apocalypse admittedly lends credence to this view. The images of cosmic catastrophe, especially the terrors of the sixth seal and the pouring of the seven bowls of God’s wrath, suggest a renewed Deluge, a purging that allows God to begin again with a world of pristine purity. This view has been underscored by the common assumption that the book has its origins in the experience of persecution, alienation, and ressentiment.
A closer look at the text of the Apocalypse will show that this reading cannot possibly stand scrutiny. The axiological center of the book is the heavenly worship, led by the four animals precisely as representatives of creation. Here God is praised as the One worthy to receive glory and power, “because you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (4:11; cf. 10:6, 14:7). In the drama of the majestic Woman Clothed with the Sun, it is, tellingly, Mother Earth who comes to her rescue as she is pursued by the Dragon (12:6). These and other clues suggest that the new heaven and new earth should be seen not as replacements for their counterparts in the present age but as their consummation. “Look, I make all things new” (21:5).
In Barth’s theology, creation is vindicated through the indissoluble covenant linking it with the covenant of grace. The opening movement of the doctrine of creation (CD 3/1) offers an extended exegesis of the first two chapters of Genesis, the first chapter as a witness to “creation as the external basis of the covenant,” the second a witness to “the covenant as the internal basis of creation” (§41.2–3). In the course of this discussion, Barth draws with surprising frequency on the Apocalypse, which has a richer and more varied cosmology than we might anticipate. Here we encounter not just heaven and earth but the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the sea—as in Genesis, the realm of chaos—along with a panoply of living things, from the four zōa who lead the heavenly worship to angels, birds, trees, and even insects. Some of these references are trivial, as we might expect, but others genuinely illuminating. It is a perceptive exegete who notices that the river flowing out of Eden finds its fulfillment in the “fountain of the water of life” in Revelation (Gen 2:10; cf. Rev 7:17; 21:6, 17). The tree of life planted in Eden appears again in the new Jerusalem but now as a whole grove of trees whose leaves are intended for “the healing of the nations” (Gen 2:9; Rev 22:2, 14, 19; cf. 2:7). References of this sort may seem superfluous, and yet they serve Barth’s larger purpose of drawing Scripture together as one vast, complex witness to the One who is both Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Thus Barth argues that created “light” throughout Scripture is never simply a physical phenomenon but is teleologically ordered to the history of salvation (as in Ps 19). As the climactic biblical instance of this ordering, Barth cites the majestic woman in Rev 12, clothed with the sun, standing astride the moon, and crowned with twelve stars—created light in the service of the light of grace. (The woman, Barth says, is “undoubtedly the church in her great tribulation.”) The Apocalypse can bear witness to creation, because creation itself bears witness to the One who is the very subject matter of the Apocalypse. Barth sees this kind of intratextual reading as intrinsic to the church’s engagement with Holy Scripture.18

Some of the exegetical excursuses in the Church Dogmatics run to astonishing lengths, such as the exposition of Genesis in CD 3/1 or the running commentary on Rom 9–11 in 2/2. Others are striking for their depth of treatment: examples include the famous exposition of the Leviticus “scapegoat” texts in CD 2/2, the remarkable overview of the evangelical passion narratives in CD 4/1, and the tour de force reading of Job as a type of Christ, the “True Witness,” in CD 4/3.19 One looks almost in vain for any comparable, large-scale exegesis of the Apocalypse. The references are mostly of the scattered and ad hoc variety that we saw above. This suggests that, while Barth may have held Revelation in high regard, it was not a book he was forced to wrestle with or that he turned to for solving dogmatic problems.
The one exception to this rule occurs in the third part of the doctrine of creation, where, as a kind of coda to his discussion of providence and das Nichtige, Barth takes up the doctrine of angels. It is in this context that he engages the Apocalypse at some length (3/3, §51, “The Kingdom of Heaven, the Ambassadors of God and Their Opponents”). That Barth should look to Revelation for help on angels is not surprising: the word aggelos appears some 75 times there, accounting for half its appearances in the entire NT. Not only is the apokalypsis transmitted by an angel but angels play a prominent role in the visions themselves—thus the angels with the seven trumpets, the angels with the seven last plagues, and the angel who gives John the scroll to eat. But to see how the Apocalypse figures in Barth’s exposition, we need to examine the larger contours of his angelology. There are three key moves that need to be observed.
First, Barth insists on the need for a strictly theological account of the angels. The fault he finds with many patristic and medieval accounts is that they are speculative, shaped by philosophical interests rather than by Scripture and dogmatic necessity. To be sure, the medievals are better than many of the moderns, who either banish angels from serious consideration or, what is far worse in Barth’s view, trivialize and romanticize them. The truth lies somewhere in between “the far too interesting mythology of the ancients and the far too uninteresting ‘demythologization’ of most of the moderns.”
Second, angels must be considered part of the larger realm the Bible calls “heaven.” As earth is the part of creation where human beings are at home, so heaven is the place where God elects to dwell. It is God’s “whence,” the place from which he comes to have dealings with creatures on earth. (The fact that God has such a place in creation actually makes him more available or immanent than would otherwise be the case. Heaven is as much about the immanence as it is about the transcendence of God.) Moreover, the place that is heaven is not empty but a rich, complex, and internally differentiated space. The Bible calls it the “kingdom” of heaven. But if there is a kingdom there must be citizens. These are the angels. One of Barth’s most important observations concerning angels is that the biblical language concerning them is fluid, imprecise, shifting, and poetic. Thus Scripture will not sustain the precise rankings proposed by Dionysius in his great “On the Celestial Hierarchy,” although in other respects Barth has surprisingly positive things to say about Dionysius’s angelology, admiring it for its boldness and frankly theological character. Unlike Thomas’s unbiblical speculations on angelic “natures,” the Areopagite brings angels into a direct relation with the economy of salvation.
Finally, Barth returns again and again to the subordinate role angels enjoy in Scripture. They are not free agents executing plans and projects of their own. They are defined exclusively in terms of the service they render. They are heralds, messengers, witnesses—indeed, they are witnesses in an exemplary sense: “They stand before the throne of God. They are at the place where the speech and action of God commence in the created world. They are its direct entourage and original witnesses. They follow the Word of God as riders on white horses.” This last sentence alludes to the description of the Messiah leading the heavenly armies off to war in Rev 19:14—a favorite passage also of Origen. But it is another passage, the great account of the heavenly worship in chaps. 4–5, to which Barth devotes his single long excursus on the Apocalypse.
Why this passage in particular? The most important reason is simply that it fits the theme: it offers “an authentic general depiction of the ministry of angels.” Barth wants to underscore that the existence of angels is pure witness, pure praise, by contrast with the imperfect witness offered by human beings. What better place to observe the angelic witness than in the cosmic liturgy around the throne? Yet Barth’s concentration on this passage also brings him into a polemical confrontation with Erik Peterson, a scholar (and former colleague) whom he respected but whose mystical-liturgical approach to angelology he found intensely distasteful. Peterson’s reading of Rev 4–5 in Das Buch von den Engeln (1935) thus provides the backdrop for Barth’s own exegesis of the text.
The excursus is rich and full of insight. Given the topic at hand, it is not surprising that much of the treatment revolves around the four living creatures (zōa) and the 24 elders who lead the heavenly worship. True, John does not call either the four or the 24 “angels”—but this simply underscores Barth’s point that angels are defined less by class or individual identity than by their doxological function. These are heavenly beings; therefore, they surely belong to the realm of angelic witness in the broadest sense. To be sure, the zōa and the elders each display a distinctive profile. In their guise as lion, human, calf, and eagle, the former represent the “sublunary or earthly sphere,” while the latter suggest either the people of God (12 tribes, 12 apostles) or the astral regions of the cosmos (signs of the zodiac, hours of the day). Yet, however we may construe them, Barth insists—pace Peterson—that the activity described here is nothing especially exalted or ecclesiastical but simply the ordinary service of the creature before God:

They [the living creatures] do not do anything which is particularly solemn or festal, but that which is supremely everyday. They do that which is proper to them and to all creatures from the very first. They do not know any other creaturely act but that which they fulfill with the threefold Sanctus. To be sure, this is a liturgy, but it is the kind of liturgy which can find a true correspondence on earth only when earthly creatures join the heavenly with the same self-evident totality as is actually described in 5:13. For this reason we should bring it into indirect and not into direct relation (like Peterson) with the liturgy of the church in its isolation and separation from the natural and everyday events of life.… Not the earthly church, or a monastic or congregational choir, but the earthly cosmos as such and in its totality is the true and proper participant in the heavenly song of praise initiated by the four living creatures.

What seems to worry Barth most about Peterson’s interpretation is its spiritualizing quality—as if the Christian community’s main task were to engage in a mystical ascent into the empyrean. Here Barth shows a not-too-surprising Protestant disdain for monasticism, but the polemic also causes him to pose an interesting exegetical question: Why is it that it is precisely the four living creatures who take the lead in the worship? In their “earthy” character they might seem to represent a lower order of angels, yet John consistently shows them initiating the worship while the elders follow. The answer, Barth suggests, is that precisely as representatives of earth the creatures see something on earth that leaves them astonished:

As they look into these depths with their countless eyes, they see something which evokes their Sanctus cry. In anticipation of what will be expressly said in the hymn of 5:9 we might well expand this from Eph. 3:10. In these depths they see the ekklesía, and there is thus revealed to them the polupoíkilos sophía tou theo [the manifold wisdom of God].… We can and must hazard the statement that what the 4 living creatures proclaim is the evident mercy of God in relation to this lower sphere.

A sign of this mercy is the activity of the elders, who, summoned into action by the living creatures, cast down their crowns before the throne. In this act, they imitate the divine humility. By contrast with Peterson, Barth does not envisage the church’s worship as a direct participation in the heavenly liturgy. The heavenly worship is just that—heavenly. Although Barth is happy to acknowledge correspondences or Entsprechungen between heavenly and earthly things, he maintains a stoutly Reformed insistence on not confusing the one with the other.
Barth’s exegesis here is detailed, insightful, and compelling. Unlike most of his other appeals to the Apocalypse, this one offers a sustained wrestling with the text rather than a mere citing of particular verses in isolation. The polemical context forces him to think seriously about Revelation; he wants to answer Peterson’s reading with a superior account of his own. Although this is not one of the great exegetical excursuses in CD, it offers a serious engagement with the text and also serves as a kind of capstone for the discussion of angelology. The angels are, precisely, witnesses—no more and no less. The church must not prematurely place itself in their privileged position in the heavenly regions. In his famous preface to the second edition of the Römerbrief, Barth sought to summarize his putative “system” by citing Kierkegaard: “If I have a system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the ‘infinite qualitative distinction’ between time and eternity … ‘God is in heaven, and you are on earth.’ ” Here we see that Barth’s worry about blurring the eschatological boundary extended well into the mature theology of the Church Dogmatics.

Both the angel-excursus and Barth’s occasional, ad hoc uses of Revelation leave us wanting to know more about how he would have read the book as a whole. There is no way of satisfying this wish short of the eschaton. We have his splendid if unconventional commentaries on Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Philippians; alas, one will find no corresponding Erklärung der Offenbarung Johannes.
And yet there is something like a Barth-inspired interpretive tradition surrounding the Apocalypse. I do not mean in the professional guild of NT scholars, although doubtless Barth’s general influence on the theological climate can be discerned there as well. I am referring, rather, to four thinkers whose writings on the Apocalypse constitute a brilliant set of outsiders’ contributions: Jacques Ellul (1913–1994), John Howard Yoder (1927–1994), William Stringfellow (1926–1985), and Hans Urs von Balthasar (1904–1988). Not only was none of them a NT scholar, but of the four only Yoder taught theology professionally. Ellul taught law, Stringfellow was an attorney and Christian social activist, while Balthasar trained as a literary critic before turning to a vocation in theology. Yoder did teach on a theological faculty but at a Roman Catholic institution (Notre Dame) and as something of an outsider to his own Mennonite church. The independence of these authors is evidence that none can be discounted as a mere “Barthian.” And yet all show signs of his influence, traces of which can be seen in their writings on the Apocalypse.
Balthasar’s engagement with Revelation comes at a key moment in his vast Theodrama. Having established in part 3, “Dramatic Personae,” the agents who enact the divine drama in the freedom of Christ, he goes on in part 4 to describe “The Action”—the play itself. This part of the work opens with a long, detailed treatment of the Apocalypse. This is appropriate insofar as Revelation provides an overview of the whole drama seen from above. The book is not a continuation of church history as told in the Acts of the Apostles: “Instead, the Seer is lifted up, above the entire sphere of history of revelation in both Old and New Testaments, into a God-given vision that is separate from empirical history (although it integrates it).” Among the themes that Balthasar especially stresses are the ecstatic power of the images—John receives the revelation as gift; it is not an act of poetic “making” on his part—and the literally reactionary character of evil: like Barth, Balthasar views sin and evil only in light of their defeat at the cross. This is a decidedly vertical and Christological reading of the Apocalypse. Indeed, Balthasar presses this point so hard that at times the book almost seems to be dislodged from its 1st-century setting.
Unlike Balthasar’s rather free-form treatment of Revelation, Jacques Ellul writes what amounts to a theological commentary on the book. It is not a sequential commentary, however: Ellul reads Revelation chiastically. The “keystone” occurs in chaps. 8–14, especially the crucial sequence in which John shows us in turn the gospel (the angel with the little scroll), the crucifixion (the two witnesses slain in the city “where their Lord was crucified”), and the incarnation (the woman clothed with the sun). This is a great, albeit idiosyncratic commentary on Revelation. The freedom of treatment is reminiscent of some of Barth’s own early exegesis in works such as Romans and The Resurrection of the Dead. One also sees Barth’s influence in Ellul’s stress on the divine philanthropia. He is insistent that the God of Revelation is the friend and not the enemy of humankind and that the episodes that seem like judgment are in fact the result of God’s love encountering human rejection. Ellul’s Apocalypse also shows many signs of his anti-utopianism, expressed in books such as The Technological Society. Thus he frequently takes aim at the political uses of Revelation that began to appear in the 1960s and 1970s: he is constantly alert to the dangers of reducing the apocalypsing of Jesus Christ to the level of mere ideology.
If Balthasar and Ellul are reflective of Barth’s Christology, in Stringfellow and Yoder we see much more the ethical, ecclesial, and political dimension of his thinking. Stringfellow wrote two books on Revelation, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (1973) and Conscience and Obedience 1977). At first glance it might seem that Stringfellow’s political approach to the book would be just the kind of ideologizing treatment Ellul warned against. One does not need to spend long with Stringfellow, however, before realizing that he is anything but a utopian—indeed, quite the opposite. His jeremiad against “Babylon” in An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens attacks the military-technological-industrial complex of America in the Vietnam era, not in the name of utopia but in the name of Christ. Of course, Babylon is more than just America. It is the biblical name for what is fallen and rebellious in every nation; thus Stringfellow situates the powers of evil in the Apocalypse, Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and so forth within the larger context of NT teaching concerning the Powers. But if the gospel bids us unmask the inhumanity of Babylon, what does the church offer as an alternative? At times, Stringfellow can seem merely contrarian. In An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens, the opposition to Babylon often seems to overwhelm positive hope in Christ (never a problem in Balthasar or Ellul), although in Conscience and Obedience the Christology comes through more strongly. And in both books, the constructive ecclesiology and ethics are left a bit vague. Yet at his best, Stringfellow does a good job of capturing the realistic-yet-hopeful spirit of the Apocalypse. The sermon “A Homily on the Significance of the Defeat of the Saints” in Conscience and Obedience, a meditation on Rev 13:7, has more than a hint of Barth’s trademark slogan Trotzdem, “Nevertheless!” No outward defeat of the church by the forces of evil can nullify the victory of God; therefore, the community need never lose heart.
The theme of martyrdom also looms large in John Howard Yoder’s treatment of Revelation, found in the final chapter of The Politics of Jesus. Most of the book explores the call to radical discipleship through an engagement with Jesus and Paul. In the concluding chapter, Yoder tests his findings in light of other voices in the canon, including the witness of John the Seer. The Apocalypse nicely serves Yoder’s end of undermining the standard account of ethics offered by “Christian realism.” On the one hand, John clearly affirms that history is meaningful—this way of putting it shows the influence of Niebuhr and Collingwood and other mid-20th-century Christian writers. On the other hand, history does not disclose its meaning through the application of what passes for common sense. As against the basically mechanistic assumptions of Christian realism, Yoder tells us, the “substantial assumption which moves the seer is that God is an actor” (a conviction Yoder learned to articulate with Barth’s help). But how God acts runs in directions contrary to human expectations; hence the need for metaphorical and poetic language. If the world is inclined to dismiss this sort of language as mere fancy—or at best, as a kind of therapeutic balm applied after the fact to salve the wounds inflicted by “realism”—the church cannot but take it with the utmost seriousness. In Revelation, it is the Lamb and not Caesar who shows us which way the wind of history is blowing. Knowledge of this truth is what enables the church to live by patience (hypomonē) rather than resorting to violent means to ensure history’s outcome. History’s outcome is already assured. Hence the subtitle of Yoder’s work, Vicit Agnus Noster, “our Lamb has conquered,” and the consequence he draws from this fact: eum sequamur, “him [the Lamb] let us follow.”
Yoder shares with Balthasar, Stringfellow, and Ellul the kind of strongly vertical reading of the Apocalypse that characterizes Barth’s own approach to the book. Unlike the others, he draws Revelation into the arena of constructive ethics and ecclesiology: the vertical has immediate and concrete consequences in the realm of the horizontal. Of the four, it is Yoder who best exemplifies the way in which divine grace transforms human agency, although in neither Barth nor Yoder could it be said that the Apocalypse serves as a central resource for this moral vision. What the book does do is underscore the impossibility of any merely consequentialist ethics, of the kind that seeks to correlate Christian love with, say, “experience” (as if this were ever simply a given) or the supposed “realities” of human life in history. The death and resurection of the Lamb—this just is constitutive of reality. The apocalypsing of Jesus Christ is such as to overturn our all-too-human expectations about the way things go in the world. Assumptions shaped by the old aeon have to give way before the higher realism of the Seer.

Karl Barth, then, is not merely an apocalyptic theologian but a theologian of the Apocalypse—more perhaps than he himself realized. The book’s trinitarian and Christological themes lend themselves to his understanding of a world transformed by the coming of a God who is ganz anders. The vision of the slaughtered and risen Lamb is compatible with Barth’s own vision—shaped, admittedly, less by John of Patmos than by Paul of Tarsus—of the new age inaugurated by the apocalyptic coming of Jesus. The Apocalypse plays an important supporting role throughout the Church Dogmatics. Here it is worth reminding ourselves that this great work remained unfinished. It is entirely possible that in the projected doctrine of redemption, a doctrine appropriated to the activity of the Spirit, the Apocalypse might really have come into its own. Redemption, after all, is about the unveiling of our lives now hidden with Christ in God, an unveiling that is at the same time their final and definitive transformation. Eschatology for Barth was never simply about futurity but about the victory of God over everything that would divide God from his people—the Pauline “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What is proclaimed as hope in Rom 8, however, is depicted as sight in the visions of John. The descent of the heavenly Jerusalem “as a Bride adorned for her husband” would thus have served as a fitting conclusion to the entire Church Dogmatics:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:3–4, NRSV)
Mangina, J. L. (2007). Apocalypticizing Dogmatics: Karl Barth’s Reading of the Book of Revelation. Journal of Theological Interpretation, Volume 1, (1–2), 147–208.


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