Of the four possible foundations for the doctrine of election detailed thus far, the final two excite Barth’s interest for in their own way they identify—inadequately to be sure—the elected man and the electing God. “Because of their incorrect form we must reject them as answers to the question of the basis of the doctrine, but we must keep their substance in so far as it indicates the two poles of the problem, God on the one side and man on the other” (52).
It is the name of Jesus Christ which, according to the divine self-revelation, forms the focus at which the two decisive beams of the truth forced upon us converge and unite: on the one hand the electing God and on the other elected man. It is to this name, then, that all Christian teaching of this truth must look, from this name that it must derive, and to this name that it must strive (59).
When Barth asks about the election he insists that “from first to last the Bible directs us to the name of Jesus Christ” (53):
If we would know who God is, and what is the meaning and purpose of His election, and in what respect He is the electing God, then we must look away from all others, and excluding all side glances or secondary thoughts, we must look only upon and to the name of Jesus Christ, and the existence and history of the people of God enclosed within Him (54; cf. 58-59).
To ground the doctrine of election and to speak of elected humanity, Barth turns to the Old Testament, using a narrative and typological approach which shows God’s electing work as God continually narrows his choice from amongst all people to the particular person who is the elect—Jesus Christ. His treatment moves from Adam to Jacob to David to Jeconiah to Zerubbabel and finally to Jesus; four movements in the Old Testament in which each individual named is intended to function as a witness to Jesus Christ who is the fulfilment both of God’s judgement and the promise of God’s grace (55-58).
The Word—that Word which created Israel, and accompanied and directed it as prophetic judge and comforter—the Word itself became flesh. The Word Himself became the Son of David. Now at last there had come the special case for which there had had to be all those others from Adam to Zerubbabel, and for which Israel had had to be separated out from the whole race, and Judah from Israel. This coming was to the detriment of Israel. Face to face with its Messiah, the Son of David who was also the Son of God, Israel knew no better than to give Him up to the Gentiles to be put to death on the cross. In so doing, they confirmed the rightness of God’s dealings with them from the very first, when He cut them off and destroyed them. And yet because the righteousness of God stands fast like the mountains against the unrighteousness of man, this coming was also to the benefit of Israel, and of the Gentiles, and of the world. In the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the world was shown to be a co-partner in guilt with Israel, but only in order that it might be shown a co-partner in the promise with Israel. … Jews and Gentiles were in the same guilt of disobedience. But now they could hear the same words: You, my people; I, God, in the person of David’s Son, your King. Those who are called by this King, and hear this King, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, constitute the people whose existence was envisaged throughout the whole of that long history (57-58).
Barth finds this Christocentric focus of election in the New Testament, especially in Ephesians 1:4, though he also cites Ephesians 1:11 and 3:10, and Romans 8:29: “all these statements show us quite plainly that when we have to do with the reality indicated by the concept of election or predestination we are not outside the sphere of the name of Jesus Christ but within it and within the sphere of the unity of very God and very man indicated by this name” (60). So, too, the Reformers and their followers rightly focussed on Jesus Christ “as a bright, clear mirror of the eternal and hidden election of God” (Calvin; 61). We see in Christ, the mirror of our own election, the ground, prototype and essence of all election. Thus,
The elect must look always to Jesus Christ in matters of the election because whoever is elected is elected in Christ and only Christ. But if this is so, then it is settled conclusively that no one can ever seek the basis of election in himself, because no one is ever elected in himself or for the sake of himself or finally of himself. … It is not in man himself or in the work of man that the basis of election must be sought. It is in this other person who is the person of God himself in the flesh. It is in the work of this other person: a work which comes to man and comes upon man from without; a work which is quite different from anything that he himself is or does. Man and his decision follow the decision which is already made before him, without him and against him; the decision which is not made in himself at all, but is made concerning him in this wholly other person. And as he recognises this, he recognises in truth the meaning and nature of the divine election: that it is the essence of divine favour. He recognises, too, the meaning and nature of the doctrine of election: that it is the sum of the gospel (62-63).
This section is of particular interest, not only because Barth pre-empts his later discussion of Arminianism. His biblical orientation and hermeneutics are on clear display in his discussion of the Old Testament, and in his interaction with and extensive citation of the Reformers Barth skilfully identifies the main lines of the tradition, affirming where he can and also setting the framework for the critical question and observation he will go on to make.