Review: Karl Barth, The Word of God and Theology

Karl Barth, The Word of God and Theology. Trans by Amy Marga. London: T&T Clark, 2011. 242 pp.
T&T Clark | Amazon

Darren Sumner recently posted a helpful guide: “How to Start Reading Karl Barth.” One of the comments suggested that The Word of God and Theology might be one place to start and I couldn’t agree more (I remember my nerdy excitement when I saw that T&T Clark would soon release Amy Marga’s new translation). As Marga notes in her preface, “the core commitments of Barth’s theology and the trajectory of his later thought can all be found here” (x). 

First published as Das Wort Gottes und die Theologie (Munich, 1924), it was (much) later translated by Douglas Horton into English and published as The Word of God and the Word of Man (Harper, 1957). Yet, Horton rearranged the original ordering of the essays for the sake of logic. Marga has restored the original ordering which is also chronological. This follows Barth’s request in the 1924 preface to “read the entire work – as a whole” and that “its unity must be sought along an inner line.” 

In terms of translation, Marga notes that many of the original 1924 essays have appeared in the Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe (GA), the German critical edition of his works. Three essays in the 2011 edition have been translated from the German edition in GA, III: “The Need and Promise of Christian Proclamation”; “The Problem of Ethics Today”; and “The Substance and Task of Reformed Doctrine.” She has also included the critical apparatus in the footnotes. The other essays are translated from the original 1924 text except for two: “The Christian in Society” and “Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas” which were translated from Anfänge der dialektischen Theologie, Teil I, edited by Jürgen Moltmann (1962). Hans-Anton Drewes, the archivist of the Karl Barth Archive in Basel, Switzerland, wrote the footnote apparatus for the essays that aren’t in the GA, wrote introductions to each essay, and provided Scriptural references throughout.

These details may seem boring or insignificant to some readers, but I include them to emphasize that the new edition contains many helpful additions and was not quickly put together. The introductions and footnotes place each essay in its context and therefore facilitates a better reading experience. My hunch is that readers won’t feel as lost as they usually do when beginning with Barth.  

In total there are eight essays: 1. The Righteousness of God, 1916; 2. The New World in the Bible, 1917; 3. The Christian in Society, 1919; 4. Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas, 1920; 5. The Need and Promise of Christian Proclamation, 1922; 6. The Problem of Ethics Today, 1922; 7. The Word of God and the Task of Theology, 1922; 8. The Substance and Task of Reformed Doctrine, 1923. Many thanks, as well, to T&T Clark for the review copy and the unnamed person for providing a thorough index!

Whether you’re new to Barth or have been reading him for years, I suspect that this will be a worthy purchase and addition to most libraries. 


About Jordan P. Barrett

PhD, Systematic Theology, Wheaton College
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One Response to Review: Karl Barth, The Word of God and Theology

  1. Pingback: Theology Around the Blogosphere — June Edition « Cheese-Wearing Theology

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