The theology and ethics of Karl Barth have, over many decades, proven to
be provocative. Barth's dialectical methodology in approaching questions of
theology emphasized the gap that exists between a holy God and a fallen humanity.
However, Barth's Christology bridges the gap between a transcendent and
In this work, the author seeks to examine the ethics of Karl Barth, with
special reference to his doctrine of revelation and theological ordering of gospel
and law. This thesis intends to discuss the link between Barth's theology and
ethics; a link we believe was established as early as 1924 with the anhypostasisenhypostasis
Christological formula. By establishing a bridge between the 'wholly
otherness' of God through the anhypostasis-enhypostasis formula and therefore a
fully divine-fully human Christ, Barth found a means by which to bring God into
history, and thus into the affairs of humanity, including ethics.
Because Barth's doctrine of revelation elucidates the God who is gracious
from eternity, Barth re-defines the inversion of law and gospel: gospel and law for
Barth, symbolizes the YES of God to humanity — a YES that will impact Barth's
entire approach to ethics.
As all of humanity is under the realm of redemption, so too, is ethics. This
placing of ethics within the sphere of redemption creates problems for Barth such
as absolutism and subjectivism. Reinhold Niebuhr provides a helpful launching
point for our own critique of the Barthian ethic, as seen through its response to
communism in Hungary in the 1950s. This work will, therefore, not only examine
the development of Barth's doctrine of revelation and ordering of gospel and law,
but will also discuss the implications of these two subjects for Barth's ethics. In
so doing, we will conclude that while interesting, Barth's ethic falls short in daily
affairs because of Barth's view of history, church and state, his rejection of norms,
and his neglect of the role of the Spirit within ethics. Had Barth been willing to
accept a revised form of norms held under the sovereignty of God, we believe his
ethics would have had the possibility of making a greater impact on humankind.