Friday, March 20, 2009

An Evening Reflecting on Markus Barth

I've said before, that one my favourite NT Theologians is Markus Barth. This evening I've been sipping a nice cab sav and reading about good old MB (brilliant initials you have to agree). Markus Barth (b. October 6, 1915 – d. July 1, 1994) studied Protestant theology in Bern, Basel, Berlin, and Edinburgh. From 1940 to 1953 he was pastor in Bubendorf near Basel. In 1947 he received a doctorate in New Testament from the University of Göttingen. Between 1953 and 1972 he held professorships in New Testament at theological schools in Dubuque (Iowa), Chicago, and Pittsburgh. From 1973 to 1985 he was professor of New Testament in Basel. I'm amazed of how much stuff that has gained currency in NT studies was prefigured by Markus Barth. For example:

Resurrection and Justification: Acquittal by Resurrection (with Verne H. Fletcher; New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1964). I thought my own ruminations on this subject were unprecedented, original, and masterful - until I read MB on the subject and learned that he'd said the same thing 35 years before me.

Faithfulness of Jesus Christ: "The Faith of the Messiah," Heythrop Journal 10 (1969): 363-70. MB long ago recognized that God's faithfulness is revealed in the faithfulness of the Messiah.

The New Perspective: “Jews and Gentiles: The Social Character of Justification in Paul,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 5 (1968): 241-67. Forget Stendahl and Sanders, the New Perspective on Paul was really launched by the Barthians.

The 1995 issue of Horizons in Biblical Theology is dedicated to Markus Barth and includes several articles interacting with his work and, importantly, inlcudes a reflective piece by Donald E. Gowan, "In Memory of Markus Barth: A Personal Note". Several quotes from Gowan stand out:

"One of the advantages of having Markus Barth as one's model teacher is that his style was so unique that it was impossible to imitate him, as other students have tried to imitate the styles of their favourite teachers. One had to develop one's own style, with the aim of making a similar impression on one's students: namely the impression made by Markus' committment to Scripture as the Word of God, his dedication to thoroughness, and his obvious joy in discovering new things in Scripture. I sometimes tell my classes how he answered a student's question at Dubuque as to why he did not open his classes with prayer: He said he made no sharp distinction between his exegetical work and his prayer life".

"The quiet, gentle man was also in truth a daunting person, for he expected us to work."

"At the Divinity School [i.e. Chicago], he represented a challenge to the old, Chicago liberalism for which that school was famous The Divinity School News reported on a congenial, but vigorous discussion between Barth and Bernard Loomer, an advocate of process theology ... the significance of Markus' appointment to the Divinity School was emphasized by one student's blunt question: 'Why did the school appointment Dr. Markus Barth to this faculty?'"

"During my first year there, the Biblical Colloquium involved graduate students and Bible faculty in a year-long study of Romans, and the exchanges between Barth and Robert Grant, who represented significantly different approaches to interpretation, offered young scholars a great learning experience. The open forums at his home that year were no less stimulating; we worked our way through Bultmann's New Testament Theology during those evenings."

Another article by Charles Dickinson, "Markus Barth and Biblical Theology: A Personal Re-View" is no less entertaining than Gowan's article.

"After breaking a lance with the Bultmannians [Kasemann's review of Barth's doctoral dissertation Der Augenzeuge was savage]; serving a pastorate in Bubendorf, Switzerland; and publishing a tome on baptism, Markus was called to teach New Testament at Dubuque, Iowa; at the University of Chicago; at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; and finally to succeed Oscar Cullmann in his beloved home town of Base, Switzerland. It was in Chicago in 1962/63 that something of a theological parousia occurred in my own life, when not only did Markus Barth - primarily through his weekly theological evenings 'at home' - become my own mentor, advisor, and 'spiritual father,' but Karl Barth himself came to the University of Chicago in 1962 to deliver the lectures which became the beginning of Evangelical Theology: An Introduction and to speak with us students at Markus' 'at-home' that week".

I also found it interesting to learn that Markus Barth's first publication was: "Die Gestapo gegen die Bekenntniskirche," BN June 19-20 (1937). Heck of a topic to start your publishing career on!!! I honestly wish I'd met the guy, oh well, I'll compensate for that by reading his many works, esp. on baptism and eurcharist.

If anyone can get me a copy of Markus Barth's audio lectures on Galatians (do I have any friends in Princeton who have access to them?), I would dearly love to listen to them!


C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

"Markus' committment to Scripture as the Word of God ... "

Really? Isn't this guy related to Karl :-)

Cliff said...


I may be able to get my hands on the recordings for you.


Michael F. Bird said...

You get me the recordings (preferably on CD) and I'll give you a copy of my next book!

Bruce J. Russell, Sr. said...


Did you ever get the recordings?