Foundation for Reformed Theology
John Calvin
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§ 43. Man as a Problem of Dogmatics
§ 44. Man as a Creature of God
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In fulfillment of our mission to promote the study of Reformed theology for the building up of the church of Jesus Christ, and as a part of our work to provide for better preaching, better teaching, and better pastoral care, we are continuing to encourage all who will to read through Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics.

A three year plan for reading through these 9,000 pages at a pace of ten pages per day for ten months each year has been posted on our website at this link:

Barth's Dogmatics in 2010-2012 

Of course, the plan may be easily adjusted for any start date or any pace.

In previous emails, we have shared a few quotations from, and observations on, Volume I, "The Doctrine of the Word of God," and Volume II, "The Doctrine of God."

Now we have arrived at Volume III, "The Doctrine of Creation," part two, Chapter X, "The Creature," paragraphs 43 through 44. Again, this email includes a few quotations and observations, in case they might be of help to you in your reading.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to hearing back from you.


Because man, living under heaven and on earth, is the creature whose relation to God is revealed to us in the Word of God, he is the central object of the theological doctrine of creation. As the man Jesus is Himself the revealing Word of God, He is the source of our knowledge of the nature of man as created by God. (III.2, 3)

1. Man in the Cosmos (III.2, 3)

"The Word of God does not contain any account of the cosmos; any ontology of the created totality It certainly gives us an ontology of man, and we shall be concerned with this in the doctrine of the creature, i.e., with the ontology of man living under heaven and on earth. But the Word of God does not contain any ontology of heaven and earth themselves." (III.2, 6)

"The man with whom we are concerned in dogmatics is man in the cosmos. He is man under heaven, i.e., as delimited by a realm of being which like himself was created by God and is therefore real, but which is basically hidden from and inaccessible to man, which absolutely transcends him and is therefore a realm of being higher than man, corresponding though not equal to the transcendence of God. And he is man on earth, i.e., in a realm of being which like himself was created by God and is therefore real and distinct, which is basically open and knowable and under his control, in which the animal and spiritual mingle, which is a lower sphere, corresponding but not equal to the lowliness of man before God and God's condescension to him. Whatever else man is, he is rooted in this twofold determination." (III.2, 14)

2. Man as an Object of Theological Knowledge (III.2, 19)

"Man is made an object of theological knowledge by the fact that his relationship to God is revealed to us in the Word of God. We have seen it is this which distinguishes man from the rest of the cosmos. Of all other creatures the Word of God tells us only that they are the creatures of God, subject to His sovereignty, intended for His praise, and the heralds of His glory. How and why this is so is hidden from us. But how and why man is the creature of God is not hidden from us; it is revealed by the Word of God. As God speaks His Word, He not only establishes the fact but reveals the truth of His relationship to this, the human creature. The description of this relationship or the account of its history, forms the content of Holy Scripture. This does not give us any description or recount any history of the relationship between God and the rest of the cosmos. God alone and man alone are its theme. This is the distinction of man which makes him the object of theological anthropology." (III.2, 19)

"The point is that the revelation of God does not show us man as we wish to seem him, in the wholeness of his created being, but in its perversion and corruption. The truth of man's being as revealed in the Word of God and attested generally by Holy Scripture shows us man as a betrayer of himself and a sinner against his creaturely existence. It accuses him of standing in contradiction to God his Creator, but also to himself and the end for which he was created. It presents him as the corrupter of his own nature. It is no doubt true that this does not mean that God ceases to be God for him or that he ceases to stand for God. But his real situation in the sight of God is that he is the one who contradicts the purpose of God and therefore himself, distorting and corrupting his on being. What is sinful and strives against God and himself is not just something in him, qualities or achievements or defects, but his very being. And when he sins, entering into conflict with God and making himself impossible, it is not in virtue of his creation by God, but by his rebellion against it, by his own decisive deed, with which he takes up the history commenced with his creation. This history begins with the fact that at the very moment when God acts with the greatest faithfulness towards man His creature, man in supreme unfaithfulness takes sides against God his Creator." (III.2, 26)

"If man is the object of divine grace, his self-contradiction may be radical and total, but it is not the last word that has been spoken about him. For with God and from God he has a future which has not been decided by his self-contradiction or the divine judgment which as the sinner guilty of this self-contradiction he must inevitably incur, but which by the faithfulness and mercy of God is definitely decided in a very different way from what he deserves." (III.2, 31)

"For all its newness the behaviour of God to sinful man as revealed in His Word is in continuity with His purpose in creation to the extent that it takes place on the presupposition and in the framework of certain relationships of the being of man which are influenced by sin but not structurally modified by it. His attitude reveals and confirms these relationships in their unchanged and unchangeable character. And the sum of these relationships is what we here understand by the creaturely essence and nature of man." (III.2, 40)

"As the man Jesus is Himself the revealing Word of God, He is the source of our knowledge of the nature of man as created by God." (III.2, 41, emphasis added)


We are accustomed, perhaps, to saying and understanding that Jesus Christ reveals God to us. What Barth is saying in addition to this is that Jesus Christ reveals ourselves to us. Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human, true God and true man. We deceive ourselves if we look elsewhere for knowledge of true humanity. It is Jesus Christ alone who tells us who we really are. 



The being of man is the history which shows how one of God's creatures, elected and called by God, is caught up in personal responsibility before Him and proves itself capable of fulfilling it. (III.2, 55)

1. Jesus, Man for God (III.2, 55)

"Jesus is wholly and utterly the Bearer of an office." (III.2, 56)

"He is not a real man in spite but because of the fact that He is the Son of God and therefore acts as the Saviour. For this reason He remains a real man even in His resurrection and ascension and session at the right hand of God, and it is as real man that He will come again. No Christian of the apostolic age thought otherwise. Hence He is always to be identified with His history. He is always engaged in His office and work as Prophet, Priest and King, as the Evangelist describe him." (III.2, 58)

"It is not the case, however, that He must partake of humanity. On the contrary, humanity must partake of Him." (III.2, 59)

"He is not man for nothing, nor for Himself. He is a man in order that the work of God may take place in Him, the kingdom of God come, and the Word of God be spoken." (III.2, 71)

2. Phenomena of the Human (III.2, 71)

"When human existence becomes unavoidable and inexplicable and totally questionable, it acquires value as a question which is worth putting and which, without ceasing to be a question, implies an answer, provided there is unconditional trust. In it the transcendent other comes to man." (III.2, 112)

"On a very definite ground, that of the view of the man Jesus which is normative for Christian theology, we have postulated that real man must in any event be a being which as such belongs to God, to which God turns as Saviour, the determination of which is God's glory, which exists under the lordship of God and is set in the service of God. We are warned at the outset not to seek real man elsewhere but in this history between God and man, and to recognise as the nature of real man none other than his being in this history." (III.2, 121)

"The sovereignty in which man claims to know himself is renounced, or rather . . . it is regarded as relative rather than absolute. Hence it is seen that, while the conclusions of autonomous human self-understanding are not necessarily false, but rather in their limits may well be accurate and important, they are all bracketed, and no decisive enlightenment about man is to be expected from within these brackets, but only from a source outside. This source is God. He, the Creator of man, knows who and what man is. For man is His creature, and therefore in the last resort known to Him alone. He must tell man who and what he really is if this is to be known to him." (III.2, 122)

"To be a man is to be responsible. To be a man is to respond to what is said to man." (III.2, 126)

3. Real Man (III.2, 132)

"The ontological determination of humanity is grounded in the fact that one man among all others is the man Jesus." (III.2, 132)

"Because this One is also man, every man in his place and time is changed, i.e., he is something other than what he would have been if this One had not been man too. It belongs to his human essence that Jesus too is man, and that in Him he has a human Neighbour, Companion and Brother. Hence he has no choice in the matter. The question whether and to what extent he knows this Neighbour, and what attitude he adopts to Him, is no doubt important, but it is secondary to that which has already been decided, namely, whether he can be a man at all without this Neighbour. Once for all this question has been decided in the negative for every man. We cannot break free from this Neighbour." (III.2, 133)

"Basically and comprehensively, therefore, to be a man is to be with God." (III.2, 135, emphasis added)

"Sin itself is not a possibility but an ontological impossibility for man." (III.2, 136)

"We come now to the two material and therefore primary statements of our ex and that it consists in the hearing of the Word of God." (III.2, 142, emphasis added)

We are accustomed, perhaps, to saying and understanding that the church exists and lives by hearing the word of God. What Barth is saying here in addition to this is that our very being human consists in our hearing the word of God. That is who we are. That is what we do. That is how we exist and live. To whatever extent we try to be and to live in any other way, to that extent we are not and we do not live.

"To be a man is to be with Jesus, to be like Him. To be a man is thus to be with the One who is the true and primary Elect of God." (III.2, 145)

"Our second point is that the being of man as being with Jesus consists in listening to the Word of God." (III.2, 147)

"Man is the being which is addressed in this way by God." (III.2, 149)

"Men are those who are summoned by this Word. To be summoned means to have heard, to have been awakened, to have to arouse oneself, to be claimed." (III.2, 150)

"The being of man is a history. . . . The history of a being begins, continues and is completed when something other than itself and transcending its own nature encounters is, approaches it and determines its being in the nature proper to it, so that it is compelled and enabled to transcend itself in response and in relation to this new factor." (III.2, 157, 258)

"What is man? . . . He is the being whose Kinsman, Neighbour and Brother is the man Jesus, and in whose sphere therefore this history takes place." (III.2, 160)

"A. Harnack opened his lectures on 'What is Christianity?' (1900) by recalling the dictum of John Stuart Mill that humanity cannot be reminded too often of the fact that there was once a man named Socrates; and he added a sentence which is worth pondering, that although Mill was right it is even more important continually to remind humanity that there once stood in its midst a man named Jesus Christ. We may differ from Harnack as to the way in which we should remember this man. But we can agree that we cannot be reminded too often that this man once dwelt in the midst of humanity. In Him we have the central human factor." (III.2, 160)

"If only we keep the idea of election free from the suggestion of contingency, from this standpoint again we shall see that history is the essence of his being." (III.2, 163)

Note this very carefully. Barth is saying that election is not for some only. In that Jesus Christ is the elect, and that to be human is to be with him, election is not an accidental quality adhering only to some people but instead has to do with being human and therefore with every human.

"The Word and summons of God to each and every man is the existence of the man Jesus. Every man is man in the fact that Jesus exists for him, too, that the call of God embodied in Jesus concerns him too. His being is human as it is called in Jesus." (III.2, 164)

"The Word of God is obviously not only a communication but a challenge, not only an indicative but as such an imperative, because it is the Word of His grace." (III.2, 165)

"Man is, as he hears this Word. He is, as he is awakened by this Word. He is, as he raised himself to this Word. He is, as he concentrates on this Word." (III.2, 165-166)

"Gratitude is the precise creaturely counterpart to the grace of God." (III.2, 166)

"Gratitude, the acceptance of grace, can itself be understood only as grace. Man does nothing special, nothing peculiar or arbitrary, when he thanks God. He is permitted to thank God. He has freedom to do so." (III.2, 168)

"1. Only God deserves the thanks of man." (III.2, 169)
"2. God can only be thanked by man." (III.2, 169)
"3. Only as he thanks God does man fulfill his true being." (III.2, 170)
"4. To thank God in this way is incumbent on man alone." (III.2, 171)

"As man is the hearer of this Word, thanksgiving is the only realisation of what is from the divine and human standpoint man's only possibility." (III.2, 174)

"The being of man is an answer, or more precisely, a being lived in the act of answering the Word of God." (III.2, 175)

"1. As human life is a being in responsibility before God, it has the character of a knowledge of God." (III.2, 176)

"2. As the being of man is being in responsibility before God, it has the character of obedience to God." (III.2, 179)

"3. As the being of man is a being in responsibility before God, it has the character of an invocation of God." (III.2, 186)

"4. As the being of man is a being in responsibility before God, it has the character of the freedom which God imparts to it." (III.2, 192)

"It is never freedom to sin. When man sins, he has renounced his freedom." (III.2, 197) 

Dr. James C. Goodloe IVGrace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
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