Knowledge in Romans 1, per Barth
August 22, 2009
My contribution to the Barth Blog Conference was posted a couple days ago on Travis’ blog (click here). The topic is Barth’s rejection of natural theology in his Shorter Commentary on Romans. Shannon’s argument is that (1) Barth is doing exegesis, intending to let Paul speak for himself, and (2) Barth’s exegesis is correct, i.e., Paul and Barth are in agreement. In my response, I affirm the former and dispute the latter. Here is an excerpt, my argument in nuce:
And now we come to my criticism. Given this wholly foreign knowledge of God, hidden until the work of Christ, Barth declares that “it would be very strange indeed, if Paul suddenly regarded the Gentiles as being in full participation and possession of a genuine knowledge of God” (p.15). The difficulty I have with such a statement is that Barth is filling-in the idea of “knowledge” with such terms as “full participation” and “possession” of a “genuine knowledge” of God and contrasting this with the idea of knowledge in the first chapter of Romans, in particular, knowledge of God by the Gentiles “ever since the creation of the world.” This language of “full participation,” etc., heavily tilts the argument in Barth’s favor, but I believe Paul is working with a more limited understanding of knowledge: a genuine knowledge of God but without the soteriological value and definitional content. Thus, famously, Paul is able to say that God’s “eternal power and divine nature” is known through “the things he has made” (1:20), yet “though they knew God, they did not honor him as God (1:21). Also, more critically, Paul ends the section with, “They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die…” (1:32). A certain knowledge of God is made available to the Gentiles outside of Christ, though it is knowledge that only leaves them in condemnation. It lacks the object of saving faith.