Karl Barth Quotes

Karl Barth

Karl Barth (May 10, 1886 – December 10, 1968) (pronounced “bart”) a Swiss Reformed theologian, was one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the 20th Century, Barth spent his childhood years in Bern. From 1911 to 1921 he served as a Reformed pastor in the village of Safenwil in the canton Aargau. In 1913 he married Nelly Hoffman, a talented violinist. They would have four sons and a daughter. Later he was professor of theology in Göttingen (1921–1925), Münster (1925–1930) and Bonn (1930–1935) (Germany). While serving at Göttingen he first met Charlotte von Kirschbaum, who became his long time secretary. He had to leave Germany in 1935 after he refused to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Barth went back to Switzerland and became professor in Basel (1935–1962).

Barth was originally trained in German Protestant Liberalism under such teachers as Wilhelm Herrmann, but reacted against this theology at the time of the First World War. His reaction was fed by several factors, including his commitment to the German and Swiss Religious Socialist movement surrounding men like Hermann Kutter, the influence of the Biblical Realism movement surrounding men like Christoph Blumhardt and Søren Kierkegaard, and the impact of the skeptical philosophy of Franz Overbeck.

“In general terms, service is a willing, working, and doing in which a person acts not according to his own purposes or plans but with a view to the purpose of another person and according to the need, disposition, and direction of others. It is an act whose freedom is limited and determined by the other’s freedom, an act whose glory becomes increasingly greater to the extent that the doer is not concerned about his own glory but about the glory of the other…It is ministerium Verbi divini, which means, literally, “a servant’s attendance” may call to mind the fact that the New Testament concept of Diakmos originally meant “a waiter”. We must wait upon the high majesty of the divine Word, which is God himself as he speaks in his action.”

-Karl Barth

“Look once again to Jesus Christ in his death upon the cross. Look and try to understand that what he did and suffered he did and suffered for you, for me, for us all. He carried our sin, our captivity and our suffering, and did not carry it in vain. He carried it away. He acted as the captain of us all. He broke through the ranks of our enemies. He has already won the battle, our battle. All we have to do is to follow him, to be victorious with him. Through him, in him we are saved. Our sin no longer has any power over us. Our prison door is open…when he, the Son of God, sets us free, we are truly free.

-Karl Barth

“The Gospel falls upon man as God’s own mighty Word, questioning him down to the bottom of his being, uprooting him from his securities and satisfactions.”

-Karl Barth

“Not man’s word about God, but God’s word about man.”

-Karl Barth

“We must read the Bible through the eyes of shipwrecked people for whom everything has gone overboard.”

-Karl Barth


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