Here’s Barth on resurrected life in 1924 from his commentary of 1 Corinthians entitled Resurrection of the Dead. In his reading of Paul, Barth grounds the resurrection of the human being in the central reality and revelation of meaningful existence — the resurrection of the man Jesus Christ (even here Barth has yet to speak of resurrection largely in terms of salvation history, though he does use the term some). In III/2 (1948), Barth is clear that the end of life for the human creature is concretely the creature’s ending time. Humans live in the resurrection of Christ and come to themselves and the reality of their resurrected existence as the Spirit comes to them ever-again and ever-a-new. There is not a continued time, post-temporal, or afterlife life for the human creature in III/2. But in 1924, prior to III/2’s release, Barth is not as clear. In his exposition of 1 Cor 15, Barth expounds a notion of “re-predicated” corporeality. He grounds this “re-predication” of human corporeality (as a post-death reality?) in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, though this is by no means his primary emphasis. So Barth:
The corruptibility, dishonour, and weakness of man is, in fact, that of his corporeality. Death is the death of the body. If death be not only the end—but also the turning point, then the new life must consist in the repredication of [Jesus’] corporeality. To be sown and to rise again must be then applied to the body. The body is man, body in relation to a non-bodily, determined, indeed, by this non-bodily, but body. The change in relationship of the body to this non-bodily is just the resurrection. Not, therefore, some transition of man to a merely non-bodily existence. Of such Paul knows nothing whatever. The persisting subject is rather just the body… . This re-predication is the “resurrection of the dead,” (191-2).
With this, Barth eschews all views related to the immortality of the soul, or even the immortality of a body. Both are highly speculative and concerned with an ideal, not the recreation for authentic existence in Jesus’ resurrection. Furthermore, the re-predication of corporeal reality in the resurrection of Jesus and our contingent resurrection living-ness is not distinct from worldly existence. This radical affirmation of resurrected corporeality is a rejection of both escapism and materialism. But does he really confirm an “afterlife” of any sort, meaning a time after the body ceases to function and begins the process of decay? I’m not sure he cares to answer:
Exactly as I am, shall I and will I be God’s. Not in passing: the immortality of the soul is placed in dispute by what Paul says here. Instead of the human soul, The Spirit of God appears in the resurrection. That which persists is not the soul (the latter is the predicate, which must give place to something else), but the body, even that, not as an immortal body, but in the transition from life in death to life. It is not that, however, which Paul wants to indicate here, but the positive aspect. Exactly in the place of that which makes me a man, the human soul, is set that which makes God, God, the Spirit of God, that is the complete sovereignty of God, this the Resurrection of the Dead. But exactly in this place! To wish to be to be God’s without the body is rebellion against God’s will, is secret denial of God, (201).
Barth’s time-eternity dialectic is not the only dialectic underscoring his reading of Paul. There is also his Adam-Christ dialectic, first majestically expounded in Romans
and referenced here again (1 Cor 15.22). Barth is curtailing any illusions of grandeur we might have about ourselves in our present state affairs or projecting our human subjectivity of the now into the glory of a final “all and in all,” which necessarily excludes the dialectic that defines human existence now.
He who recognizes himself in Adam and Christ no longer, in fact, asks: With what body shall we come again? as if it were a marvellous fairy-tale which he must “believe.” He knows that what is in question is this, his body (but the resurrection of this body), and gives God the honour in fear and trembling, but also in hope, (203).
[T]his man — that is to say, this body as such — without this last hope is definitely and entirely outside the Kingdom of God. Within this life of the body as such there exists no possibility of inheriting the Kingdom, to do which one must be the Son coming from heaven, the Lord from heaven (verses 47 et seq.), or one of his own (in the future resurrection).
If within this life — the life of the Adam-Christ dialectic — there is no possibility of inheriting the Kingdom, but there is a change in relationship between the body [time] and the non-bodily [eternity], what does it mean to hold for a “last hope” or “future resurrection?” What is the Kindgom? What relevance does it have for us now, in Barth’s logic at this point in time?
Also, the problem of general bodily resurrection, of the “re-predication” of human corporeality as a post-death possibility remains. In a 2003 issue of the IJST
, Katherine Grieb seems to suggest that Barth was at least indicating some kind of teleology — a general bodily resurrection of the dead. One article over, David Fergusson indicates just the opposite. In fact, Fergusson thinks Barth completely neglected the the issue of teleology and the general resurrection of the dead and was mistaken in doing so.
I’m not too sure what to make of it, however. It seems Barth’s comments on 1 Cor 15 could be read both ways, though, given the history, it would seem to me that Fergusson’s take is probably closer to the truth.