Skip to comments.Karl Barth’s “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know….” Answer: Can Anyone Verify It?
Posted on 01/03/2013 8:02:12 AM PST by SeekAndFind
Most Christians have heard it as a sermon illustration. Ive heard and read many variations of the story.
According to the story, Karl Barth was fielding questions from the audience after a lecture in Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University Chicago in 1962. A student stood and asked him if he could summarize his lifes work in theology in one sentence. According to the story a gasp went up from the audienceresponding to the students perceived audaciousness. Also, according to the story, Barth didnt skip a beat. He said (paraphrasing) Yes. In the words of a song I learned at my mothers knee: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
But did it really happen?
Theres a category of folklore called evangelegends. Many have been collected, published and interpreted by the chronicler and interpreter of urban legends Jan Harold Brunvand. Is the Barth story an evangelegend?
I dont believe it is. It sounds like one, but I once met a man who said he was there and claimed the story is substantially correct. He was a retired theology professor of one of the seminaries near the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, I dont remember his name.
And theres part of the problem. Urban legends always come in that formI once met a man who said that this really happened! But what makes an urban legend, including an evangelegend, a legend is the total lack of proof. In most cases urban legends could have happened. But if there is any proof of one actually having happened it ceases to be an urban legend and becomes historical event.
Recently someone challenged the truth of the Barth story (after I told it). He claimed its legend, not fact. One reason for discounting its factual nature is that the recordings of the question and answer session after Barths Chicago lecture does not contain it. However, there is some question about whether the recording contains the entire Q & A session. And that particular question and answer may have been cut out by the editors of the recordings.
Some years ago I saw a one frame cartoon in a Christian magazine that showed Barth sitting behind a desk saying to a student Okay, so you ask me if I can summarize my whole lifes work in one sentence . In other words, the cartoonist thought the event may have happened but that it was a set up.
The theologian who challenged the story (to me) said it is highly unlikely that Barth would even know of the childrens song Jesus Loves Me as he grew up in Switzerland and lived in Germany and only traveled to the U.S. oncein 1962. However, I remember hearing German children singing Happy Birthday to you in English in a backyard next to our house in Munich. We knew the family; they were our neighbors for a year. The parents spoke English; the children didnt. But all the children at the party, all German children, sang the song in English.
So, its possible (however unlikely) that Jesus Loves Me is known in Germany and Switzerland. Perhaps its been translated into German and Barth learned it in German but was simply translating it back into English. The whole story is so unlikely as to seem, on its face, to be invented. But it has taken on legendary status. Most people accept it at face value as true. I didntuntil I met the theologian who was there and confirmed to me that he heard it. Again, I so wish I had kept his name in my memory.
So, I believe it really happened on the basis of that persons testimony. He was a reliable witness, as far as Im concerned. But, of course, I cant expect others to take his/my word for it.
Does anyone have more solid information about this? Can anyone verify it as more than legend with documentary evidence? What would count as that? First, what would be best would be a recording. Lacking that, second best, would be the identity of a living person who was there who can verify that it happened. Third, possibly not solid, a written record left behind by someone who was there.
This blog gets thousands of views monthly. Im hoping someone who visits can confirm (or disconfirm) the Barth story as fact. Please dont comment unless you have some verifiable information about the incidentthe existence of a recording that includes the question and Barths answer (or a transcript of such a recording), a living eyewitness or his/her written or recorded testimony about it, etc.
That is a little kid’s Christian song.
RE: That is a little kids Christian song.
Yes, written in 1862. The great Swiss Theologian Karl Barth used the lyrics of that song to summarize his lifes work in theology in one sentence.
Edit to add: But is the story true or not?
I suspect that more people know that “quote” from Barth than any of the millions of other words he wrote and spoke. Unfortunately, I have never been able to pin it down either. I believe it is completely within his character to have said that, but it’s an American song from the 1860s making it unlikely (but not impossible) that his mother would have sung it to himhe was born in 1886.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so ...
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.
It’s still a very popular song today. I wonder how popular it was then.
Barth’s a heretic in that he denies the divinity of Jesus. (and, don’t get me started on Braaten and Jensen!)
IOW, who the flip cares?
Bradbury (d. 1868), who wrote music for such hymns as "My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast" (1862) and "He Leadeth Me" (1864) was a prominent figure in the world of American sacred music in the 1850's and '60's.
Thanks for this post. I don’t know or care where this story originated, but if anybody ever asks me that same question I’ll have the perfect answer . . .
RE: Barths a heretic in that he denies the divinity of Jesus
According to this site:
The true divinity of Christ is affirmed again and again by Barth. Jesus is very God of very God, he argues. He was possessed even in his earthly life, even as a baby of Bethlehem, even in his death on the cross, of all the divine attributes. Never at any moment did the person of Christ cease to be God or limit in any way the fullness of his deity.
RE: Its still a very popular song today. I wonder how popular it was then.
Jesus Loves Me is a Christian hymn set to words by Anna Bartlett Warner.
The lyrics first appeared as a poem in the context of a novel called Say and Seal, written by Susan Warner and published in 1860.
The tune was added in 1862 by William Batchelder Bradbury who found the text of “Jesus Loves Me” in this book, in which the words were spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child. Along with his tune, Bradbury added his own chorus “Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus Loves me...” After publication the song became one of the most popular Christian hymns in churches around the world.
A position of convenience that let him stay within the church catholic.
I don’t have Dr. Scaer’s “Christology” with me at work but, as Barth derives and divides the humanity and divinity of Christ, his logical conclusion is to deny Jesus his God-position (Atahansian Creed).
Just because he never continues to the logical conclusion of his “philosophy” doesn’t mean he does not teach/deny Christ’s divinity (theology/sin of omission).
(Ping to Chaz who is probably sitting in his office with the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series at his fingertips.)
In come all the academic theologians, looking all smart and spiffy and carrying the New York Times and briefcases.
In comes Rahner, a little late, wearing those knee-high rubber rain boots --- galoshes? We called them "4-buckle arctics" --- with the boot-flaps open and the buckles kind of clinking and jingle-jangling together. Rahner sits down at his place on the stage, and while the preceding speakers are nattering on about genre-criticism and the uses of Bronze Age Semitic myths and relevant progressive socio-politiical contexts, he pulls a rosary out of his pocket, closes his eyes, leans back, and starts fingering the beads, his lips moving silently.
< Dorothy left quite early, before Rahner even spoke. Her friends asked her why. Her answer? She didn't care for the other speakers. And as for Rahner? She knew he'd do OK, he's "One of us."
“Evangelegends” are fine as long as they don’t come in my email with the tag:
“IF YOU AREN’T ASHAMED OF JESUS, SEND TO 10 PEOPLE.
IF YOU ARE ASHAMED OF JESUS, JUST DELETE”.”
I find that insulting beyond words. As if The Salvation and Grace bought by the Blood of Jesus, by His Suffering, Death on the Cross, and Resurrection, depends upon me forwarding an unsolicited email!
I have deleted so many of these that satan is preparing a special NEW Circle of hell for “Email Deleters”.
The Book of Ephesians, Chapter 2 Verse 8.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Christians do not go about seeking verification of that which they have accepted by faith and grace.
Bump for later read