I wanted to continue to write and think about last weeks section about scripture. I think Barth’s understanding of scripture is important to consider because he attempts to hold together the fact that scripture is truly a canon-the authoritative source of the church’s proclamation and the reality that scripture is God’s revelation in the form of a human event. Scripture is the recording of past revelation.
I think Barth outlines the concerns the drive him at the front of this section. Barth is deeply worried that the church does not conceive that knowledge of God can originate from some internal connection that humanity has with God (99). Barth fights against the notion that we can know divinity through a rational and inward gaze as both the ancient philosophers (Plato, Seneca, Epictetus) and protestant liberals taught. There are only two alternatives for Barth: 1. knowledge of God comes from the recollection of past revelation through the mediation of the Holy Spirit or 2. we are making it up (This phrase is borrowed from Douglas Campbell). How authoritative does Barth think scripture is? He states that (the Canon), “constitutes the working instructions or marching orders by which not just The Church’s proclamation but the very Church itself stands of falls, which are not in any circumstances, not even hypothetically, to be lost to view, and which are not in any circumstances, not even hypothetically, to be replaced by others, if proclamation and the The Church are not to be lost in view” (102). It is clear that Barth does not intend to for his doctrine of scripture to limit the Bible’s authority in its written form in favor of subjective experience. In fact, his doctrine of scripture intends to uphold the Bible’s authority against subjective experience (whether it is the subjective experience of the lay person or the scholar with the “correct” exegetical tools). If Barth’s fails to uphold the Bible’s authority, he has failed the task he set out for himself.
For Barth, God’s self-revelation is an event which is based on God’s past revelation with the promise of God’s future revelation. Barth is careful to maintain God’s transcendence over humanity and over the church. Equating the Bible with revelation compromises God’s transcendence because it makes the Bible something that men can grasp. Barth believes that the Bible becomes revelation “when it grasps men.” When the Bible accomplishes its purpose in God’s grace for the church. Barth seems to accept that the Biblical authors were inspired. Scripture’s writing was a revelatory event. But, here is the catch, the writings are now past revelation and are not authoritative in their own right but, are now pieces of a Canon (entirety of the OT and NT). Past revelation is the criterion for future revelation but, can’t be revelation itself because its immediate circumstances have past.
I think practically what this means for Barth is that God’s revelation only comes as a result of God’s gracious intervention and not a result of any human endeavorer, no matter how sophisticated, to understand the biblical text. For Barth, the “is” in the phrase “The Bible is God Word” is “becomes.” The Bible becomes God’s word. The “is” for Barth represents God’s gracious word to the church through the Holy Spirit. The fact that there is a distance between the Bible and the accomplishment of the Bible’s purpose for the church (Barth would call this revelation. I use this phrase because it could mean: correct interpretation, obedience of the believer, knowledge of God’s grace, conviction of sin-anything that we would expect the bible to do) seems to me to be self-evident. The equation of the Bible with God’s revelation is functionally worthless because that proposition doesn’t ensure that we understand the text correctly. If Barth is wrong in how he understands this “is,” (intervention of the Holy Spirit) what is the alternative. Is the Bible God’s Word by correct exegetical interpretation, the correct theological hermeneutic, or church tradition? It seems that these alternative place a human criterion on the correct understanding of the Biblical text thus potentially limiting its authority. I am not saying that I am in full agreement with Barth but, whats the alternative? I don’t ask this as a rhetorical question, I am still trying to figure this out.