Original Research

Worship as primary ethical act: Barth on Romans 12

Marthinus J. Havenga
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a5824 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.5824 | © 2020 Marthinus J. Havenga | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 September 2019 | Published: 19 March 2020

About the author(s)

Marthinus J. Havenga, Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


Following the centenary year of the publication of the first edition of Karl Barth’s Der Römerbrief, this article attempts to look at what a contemporary South African audience could potentially learn from Barth’s reading of Romans 12. This article begins with a few preliminary remarks on the reading of Barth in both apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, and asks whether his theology still has any role to play in current theological and ethical discourses (amidst calls that theology should be decolonised). After arguing that Barth might still have ‘a’ contribution to make (as we further develop our own theologies), this article provides an in-depth exposition and analysis of Barth’s reading of Romans 12. Here it is shown how, in his commentary on this chapter (under the heading ‘The Problem of Ethics’), Barth maintains that worship, that is, the offering of our bodies as ‘living sacrifices’ to God, should be seen as the primary ethical act, which precedes and renders possible all other secondary ethical conduct. This is then followed by the last section of this article, which explores the possible meaning and relevance of Barth’s insights for life in present-day South Africa.


Karl Barth; Der Römerbrief; worship; ethics; South Africa


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