Barth has a stimulating discussion of Israel's double-knowledge of Yahweh in the first volume of the Church Dogmatics. He begins with a discussion of what he calls the "hypostases" of God, a usage he takes from "religious science" rather than dogmatics per se. In this context, "hypostases" are anthropomorphic descriptions of God – God's hands, arms, etc – which "are sometimes referred to as though they were not just in or of Yahweh but were Yahweh Himself a second time in another way." This shows that in the revelation that occurs in God's actions, Yahweh takes form, objective form, among creatures to whom He manifests Himself. Anthropomorphic terms in the Old Testament show that "all these human, all too human concepts are not just that, are not just descriptions and representations of the reality of Yahweh; they are themselves the reality of Yahweh."
Above all these, Barth says that there is one hypostasis that "stands out in a significant and, if appearances do not deceive, a comprehensive way as the epitome of what God is a second time in another way in His self-unveiling." That concept is the "Name" of Yahweh. The Name concentrates "everything He is in His relation to His people, to the righteous, and from His name proceeds in some way everything that the people or the righteous can expect from Him as they stand in this relation." For ancients, a name was not merely a label but "a being, belonging of course to another being; identical with it in a way one cannot explain, yet still a separate being, so that statements about the name and him who bears it can be differentiated from and yet can also replace one another."
The Old Testament, consistent with this, "distinguishes between Yahweh who dwells on Sinai or in heaven and Yahweh who dwells in Canaan, Shiloh, and later in Jerusalem, between Yahweh in His hiddenness and Yahweh in His historical form in which, as the fact that His name is given shows, He is known in Israel and has dealings with Israel." Yahweh is hidden; no one has seen God. Yet, this hidden God is manifested in the Name that dwells in the temple, and "all the predicates of the name are those of the hidden Yahweh Himself." Israel knows Yahweh twice, yet each time she knows Yahweh she knows Him differently: "And for Israel or the righteous everything depends on knowing Him thus, this second time in a very different way. For the Yahweh who exists this second time in a very different way, the name of Yahweh, is the form in which Yahweh comes to Israel, has dealings with it, is manifested to it." To know Yahweh's Name is to know Yahweh as the One who has made Israel His covenant partner, who has elected and chosen Israel to be His own.
The New Testament has the same "fundamental concern" to declare that God is known as second time in a different way, but in the New Testament He is known in this second way in a way "so much more direct that even the hypostases of the Old Testament are weak in comparison." Jesus comes "into the place, not of Yahweh on Sinai or in heaven, but of the name of the Lord which finally dwells very really in a house of stone in Jerusalem" but now in flesh.
The New Testament revelation rules out any "objectification of God in His revelation," Barth says. And God has revealed Himself in this second manner so fully in Jesus that this revelation demands a decision. And the Jews' rejection of Jesus forcefully shows that "it was possible to accept the God of the Old Testament in what seemed to be the most profound reverence and the most zealous faith and yet in fact to deny Him to the extent that His form, now become quite concrete, became an offence to the righteous." Condemning Jesus as a blasphemer of the Name housed in the temple, Israel "denies this very name, and thus separates itself from it and from its own Holy Scripture, which is one long witness to this name as God's real presence and action in the human sphere." The "whole point of Jesus" is to affirm not something new but "that which is first and primal," namely, the "God who wills to be God and to be known as God a second time in a different way, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who wills to be revealed in His name and hallowed in His name." The Jews' rejection of the prophets, and of Jesus, is religion's rejection of revelation.
But the rejection of Jesus is something more profound still: "just because Immanuel had been unconditionally fulfilled in Jesus the crucifixion of Jesus was bound to mean something different from the stoning of even the greatest prophets, namely, the end of the history of Israel as the special people of revelation, the destruction of the house of stone as a dwelling of the name of the Lord, the free proclamation, not of a new gospel, but of the one ancient Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles."
Barth ends this dense section with the note that Paul's battle was not one against the Old Testament, but "like the battle of Jesus Christ Himself, to whom he simply wished to testify, it was a battle for the Old Testament, i.e., for the one eternal covenant of God with men sealed in time, for acknowledgement of the perfect self-unveling of God."
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 04:11 PM
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