Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blogging with Barth: 1.1 §4.2-4.4 "The Word of God In Its Threefold Form" pp. 99-124

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §4 states: "The presupposition which makes proclamation proclamation and therewith makes the Church the Church is the Word of God. This attests itself in Holy Scripture in the word of the prophets and apostles to whom it was originally and once and for all spoken by God’s revelation."

In subsection §4.2  ("The Word of God Written"), Barth opens this second subsection with an analysis of the written Word--which is the second form of the Word (see analysis of the first form here). This section blows me away. Barth reminds us that proclamation does not begin anew in each new act, but that there is also a ground for proclamation rooted in the memory of the Church (or Tradition) which was once an event too. The event we call the biblical canon--scripture:
The distinction of the Head from the body and the superiority of the Head over the body find concrete expression in the fact that proclamation in the Church is confronted by a factor which is very like it as a phenomenon, which is temporal as it is, and yet which is different from it and in order superior to it. This factor is Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture is the concrete form of the reason why the recollection on the basis of which we expect God’s revelation cannot be recollection of a timeless being of the Church. It is the bolt which in fact shuts out Platonic anamnesis* here. It does so in the first instance simply because it is there and tells us what is the past revelation of God that we have to recollect. It does so in the first instance simply by the fact that it is the Canon (101).
Not only is scripture a recollection of the past events of God, it is constitutive for the church today as an apostolic witness itself, one which drives the Church's current proclamation. Barth writes in the excursus on p. 102:
Luther had a good grasp of this relationship. On the one hand: “The Gospel simply means a preaching and crying out loud of God’s grace and mercy merited and won by the Lord Christ with His death. And it is properly not what stands in books or is made up of letters, but rather an oral preaching and lively word and a voice that rings out in the whole world and is publicly cried out loud that it may be everywhere heard” (Ep. S. Petri gepredigt und ausgelegt, 1523, W.A., 12, p. 259, l. 8). On the other hand: “For we have John Baptist’s word and spirit, and we parsons and preachers are in our time what John Baptist was in his time. We let John Baptist’s finger point and his voice sound: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world’; we deliver John Baptist’s sermon, point to Christ and say: This is the one true Saviour whom you should worship and to whom you should cleave. Such preaching must endure to the last day, even though it abide not in all places, all the time, alike, yet must it abide” (Sermon on Mt. 11:2f., E.A., 1, p. 159). 
In this similarity as phenomena, however, there is also to be found between Holy Scripture and present-day proclamation a dissimilarity in order, namely the supremacy, the absolutely constitutive significance of the former for the latter, the determination of the reality of present-day proclamation by its foundation upon Holy Scripture and its relation to this, the basic singling out of the written word of the prophets and apostles over all the later words of men which have been spoken and are to be spoken to-day in the Church. If what we have said is true, if the Church is not alone in respect of its proclamation but finds itself in a concrete confrontation in which it is mindful of the past revelation of God, and if the concrete form of its opposite is really the biblical word of the prophets and apostles, then obviously the latter must have fundamental distinction in relation to it. If the vicariate of Church proclamation is authentic, i.e., if the Church in its proclamation does not find its basis secretly in itself but in the Other who is its Lord without the Church ever becoming His lord, then the concrete form of vicariate must be succession (102).
So our later proclamation can not just "do its own thing." It must follow closely in the footsteps of the apostolic witness. Tradition cannot go rogue, it is tethered to scripture. Thus one should never speak of the "dead word" of the bible and the "living voice" of Tradition. Tradition forms no substitute apart from scripture. Further, the Church must take care as it engages scripture. Here, one of my favorite passages from this section:
If, then, apart from the undeniable vitality of the Church itself there stands confronting it a concrete authority with its own vitality, an authority whose pronouncement is not the Church’s dialogue with itself but an address to the Church, and which can have vis-à-vis the Church the position of a free power and therefore of a criterion, then obviously in its writtenness as “Bible”it must be distinguished from and given precedence over the purely spiritual and oral life of ecclesiastical tradition. It is true that this real, biblical Canon is constantly exposed to absorption into the life, thought and utterance of the Church inasmuch as it continually seeks to be understood afresh and hence expounded and interpreted. Exegesis is always a combination of taking and giving, of reading out and reading in. Thus exegesis, without which the norm cannot assert itself as a norm, entails the constant danger that the Bible will be taken prisoner by the Church, that its own life will be absorbed into the life of the Church, that its free power will be transformed into the authority of the Church, in short, that it will lose its character as a norm magisterially confronting the Church (106).
Wow! The Bible should be free to stand over and against the Church--free scripture demands free exegesis! Why is this so? Because:
The prophetic and apostolic word is the word, witness, proclamation and preaching of Jesus Christ. The promise given to the Church in this Word is the promise of God’s mercy which is uttered in the person of Him who is very God and very Man and which takes up our cause when we could not help ourselves at all because of our enmity against God. The promise of this Word is thus   p 108  Immanuel, God with us—with us who have brought ourselves, and continually bring ourselves again, into the dire straits of not being able to be with God. Holy Scripture is the word of men who yearned, waited and hoped for this Immanuel and who finally saw, heard and handled it in Jesus Christ. Holy Scripture declares, attests and proclaims it. And by its declaration, attestation and proclamation it promises that it applies to us also and to us specifically. The man who so hears their word that he grasps and accepts its promise, believes. And this grasping and accepting of the promise: Immanuel with us sinners, in the word of the prophets and apostles, this is the faith of the Church (107-108).
It seems to me that Barth is saying scripture is normative because itself being event, we realize it is a proclamation from men to the act of God revealing Himself in Jesus Christ. It stands as witness and it bolsters our proclamation to that same Jesus Christ in our time. As Barth says,
And this grasping and accepting of the promise: Immanuel with us sinners, in the word of the prophets and apostles, this is the faith of the Church. In this faith it recollects the past revelation of God and in this faith it expects the future revelation that has yet to come. It recollects the incarnation of the eternal Word and the reconciliation accomplished in Him, and it expects the future of Jesus Christ and its own redemption from the power of evil. Thus Scripture imposes itself in virtue of this its content (108).
Yes! And of course, as Barth is always quick to remind us, God is free in making the Bible God's Word: "The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be His Word, to the extent that He speaks through it" (109). In this event we accept it in faith as God's Word. Of course, "It does not become God’s Word because we accord it faith but in the fact that it becomes revelation to us" (110).

illum oportet crescere
me autem minui
In subsection §4.3  ("The Word of God Revealed"), Barth unpacks the third form of the Word--the revealed Word. "The Bible is the concrete means by which the Church recollects God’s past revelation, is called to expectation of His future revelation, and is thus summoned and guided to proclamation and empowered for it" (111). The Bible is not past revelation, but it bears witness to God's past revelation. "Witnessing means pointing in a specific direction beyond the self and on to another" (111).

It might strike some folks, depending on their understanding of what scripture is and how it functions, as ludicrous to separate revelation and the Bible in this way. But that is what Barth is saying, and he's going to be honest about the differences between them. First, revelation is an act, and the Bible (scripture) is a witness to that act, not the act itself (113). Further, revelation is God's Word and scripture is human words that are a witness:
Literally, and this time really directly, we are thus concerned with God’s own Word spoken by God Himself. What we have in the Bible are in any case human attempts to repeat and reproduce this Word of God in human words and thoughts and in specific human situations, e.g., with reference to the complications of the political position of Israel as a buffer between Egypt and Babylon, or with reference to the errors and confusions in the Christian Church at Corinth between A.D. 50 and 60. On the one hand Deus dixit [God said], on the other Paulus dixit [Paul said]. These are two different things (113).
And further...
And precisely because they are not two things but become one and the same thing in the event of the Word of God, we must maintain that it is by no means self-evident or intrinsically one that revelation should be understood primarily as the superior principle and the Bible primarily as the subordinate principle (113).
And further...
Jesus Christ, this absolute event in relation to which every other event is not yet event or has ceased to be so, this “It is finished,” this Deus dixit* [God said] for which there are no analogies, is the revelation attested in the Bible. To understand the Bible from beginning to end, from verse to verse, is to understand how everything in it relates to this as its invisible-visible centre (116).
Barth closes the section by considering three ways in which God's Word "holds" scripture (117-118):
  1. “held up on high,” singled out, made visible and familiar, to the degree that the Bible seeks to bear witness to this event and proclamation seeks to repeat this attestation, to the degree that in the Bible and proclamation this event is what is really meant in the human talk; 
  2. “held in place,” relativised, limited, to the degree that this event is also the boundary of what proclamation and the Bible can try to accomplish in and of themselves, the boundary which we obviously cannot think is set aside by what men wanted and want to say; and 
  3. “held in store,” preserved, secured, to the degree that this event is the confirmation and ratification, the fulfilment of what proclamation and the Bible achieve in and of themselves, the presence of what is meant in the human word of the Bible and proclamation.
Finally, Barth reminds us that the Word in the most absolute sense is the Incarnation--Jesus made flesh. Scripture and proclamation both proclaim and witness to this Word (120).

In subsection §4.4  ("The Unity of the Word of God"), Barth closes §4 with a really fun little reflection on the threefold-form of the Word and its one-ness:
We have been speaking of three different forms of the Word of God and not of three different Words of God. In this threefold form and not otherwise—but also as the one Word only in this threefold form—the Word of God is given to us and we must try to understand it conceptually. It is one and the same whether we understand it as revelation, Bible, or proclamation (120).
There is only one analogy to this doctrine of the Word of God. Or, more accurately, the doctrine of the Word of God is itself the only analogy to the doctrine which will be our fundamental concern as we develop the concept of revelation. This is the doctrine of the triunity of God (121).
What a wonderful way to end §4!