Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blogging with Barth: 1.1 §5.1-5.3 "The Nature of the Word of God" pp. 125-162

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §5 states: "The Word of God in all its three forms is God’s speech to man. For this reason it occurs, applies and works in God’s act on man. But as such it occurs in God’s way which differs from all other occurrence, i.e., in the mystery of God."

In subsection §5.1 ("The Question of the Nature of the Word of God"), Barth has some 'splainin' to do. Two gentlemen, Gogarten and Siegfried, have raised some objections to Barth's earlier project, the Christian Dogmatics, a project which Barth abandoned to work on his new project, the Church Dogmatics (cf. F. Gogarten, “Karl Barths Dogmatik,” Theol. Rundschau, 1929, p. 70 f.; T. Siegfried, Das Wort und die Existenz, I, 1930, p. 35 f., 250 f.). And at the entrance to a section on the nature of the Word, Barth has chosen to address their objections. Essentially he wants to distance himself from the notion that there is a human way to account for the Word of God. So he does so in a 6-page stretch of small print excursus. Barth suggests that the criticism of his work are based on misunderstandings and he wants to address them broadly in this new project by adding a new section, "The Nature of the Word of God." In the small print, his essential point and critical rebuttal is this: 
If there is one thing the Word of God certainly is not, it is not a predicate of man, even of the man who receives it, and therefore not of the man who speaks, hears and knows it in the sphere of the Church (127).
Thus, Barth sets out in the next three subsections to talk about the three forms in which God's Word is spoken to us--The Word of God as 1) the speech of God, 2) as God's act, 3) as the Mystery of God.  

In subsection §5.2 ("The Word of God as the Speech of God"), Barth states simply, "God's Word mean that God speaks" (132). He then asks, what does it imply for the concept of the Word of God if the Word of God means originally and irrevocably that God speaks? 
  1. First, it means that speech is primarily spiritual (and also a physical and natural event): "The Word of God is primarily spiritual and then, in this form, in this spirituality, for the sake of it and without prejudice to it, it is also a physical and natural event. This particularly is what is meant when in accordance with the three forms in which we hear this Word we call it the speech of God. Speech, including God’s speech, is the form in which reason communicates with reason and person with person. To be sure it is the divine reason communicating with the human reason and the divine person with the human person. The utter inconceivability of this event is obvious. But reason with reason, person with person, is primarily analogous to what happens in the spiritual realm of creation, not the natural and physical realm. The Word of God—and at this point we should not evade a term so much tabooed to-day—is a rational and not an irrational event" (135).
  2. Second, it means that the speech is personal: "God’s Word is not a thing to be described nor a term to be defined. It is neither a matter nor an idea. It is not “a truth,” not even the very highest truth. It is the truth as it is God’s speaking person, Dei loquentis persona. It is not an objective reality. It is the objective reality, in that it is also subjective, the subjective that is God. God’s Word means the speaking God. Certainly God’s Word is not just the formal possibility of divine speech. It is the fulfilled reality. It always has a very specific objective content. God always speaks a concretissimum [something utterly concrete]. But this divine concretissimum cannot as such be either anticipated or repeated. What God speaks is never known or true anywhere in abstraction from God Himself. It is known and true in and through the fact that He Himself says it, that He is present in person in and with what is said by Him" (136-137). Of course, the most personal aspect of God's Word is that God's Son is God's Word!
  3. Third, it means that this speech has a purpose: It is a Word that is directed to us and applies to us. "What God said and what God will say is always quite different from what we can and must say to ourselves and others about its content. Not only the word of preaching heard as God’s Word but even the word of Scripture through which God speaks to us becomes in fact quite different when it passes from God’s lips to our ears and our lips. It becomes the Word of God recollected and expected by us in faith, and the Word which was spoken and will be spoken again by God stands over against it afresh in strict sovereignty. But even in this strict sovereignty in which its true content remains inconceivable to us, it retains its purposiveness, it is the Word that comes to us, that is aimed at us, and as such it is a definite Word determined not by us but by God Himself as the One who aims it at us" (141).
In subsection §5.3 ("The Speech of God as the Act of God"), Barth demonstrates that God's speech is God's act: "The man who has heard God speak and might still ask about the related act is simply showing that he has not really heard God speak" (143; cf. Psalm 33:9). When God’s Word comes to the prophets of the Old Testament, this is denoted by the verb hayah (happen), cf. Jeremiah 1. Barth states:
The distinction between word and act is that mere word is the mere self-expression of a person, while act is the resultant relative alteration in the world around. Mere word is passive, act is an active participation in history. But this kind of distinction does not apply to the Word of God. As mere Word it is act. As mere Word it is the divine person, the person of the Lord of history, whose self-expression is as such an alteration, and indeed an absolute alteration of the world, whose passio [passive experience] in history is as such actio [action]. What God does when He speaks, in exactly the same way as what He says, cannot, of course, be generally defined either by way of anticipation or by that of reproduction. We can refer only to the concretissima [utter concreteness] of the acts which are attested in the Bible and which are also to be expected from God in the future (144).
As an act, Barth contends that God's Word makes history not only once but continuously in a process he calls contingent contemporaneity.
What is meant by this is as follows. The time of the direct, original speech of God Himself in His revelation, the time of Jesus Christ (which was also and already that of Abraham according to Jn. 8:56), the time of that which the prophets and apostles heard so that they could bear witness to it—that is one time. But the time of this witness, the time of prophecy and the apostolate, the time of Peter on whom Christ builds His Church, the time of the rise of the Canon as a concrete counterpart in which the Church receives its norm for all times—this is another time (145).
In other words, the efficacy of the Word of God is not limited to a single time.

Additionally, the Word of God has the power to rule:
God’s speech is His action in relation to those to whom He speaks. But His action is divine. It is the action of the Lord. It is thus His ruling action. When and where Jesus Christ becomes contemporaneous through Scripture and proclamation, when and where the “God with us” is said to us by God Himself, we come under a lordship (149).
As a ruling power, God's Word accomplishes change in bringing about a "new man,"
It is the transposing of man into the wholly new state of one who has accepted and appropriated the promise, so that irrespective of his attitude to it he no longer lives without this promise but with it. The claim of the Word of God is not as such a wish or command which remains outside the hearer without impinging on his existence. It is the claiming and commandeering of man. Whatever may be his attitude to God’s claim, man as a hearer of His Word now finds himself in the sphere of the divine claim; he is claimed by God (152).
Barth goes on the suggest that power of the Word of God to rule extends not only to the individual but to the human cosmos in general (154). The Word of God will effect what it says whether in individual men and women, in the Church, or in the whole world.

Finally, the Word of God is decision, not just an event. Barth states,
The fact that the Word of God is the act of God means ... that it is decision. This is what distinguishes an act from a mere event. Considered in itself a mere event is an occurrence subject to some higher necessity. It is occasioned by a cause. Beside it all the other events in whose nexus it occurs help to condition it. It is a cause because it is caused and as other things cause and are caused along with it. This is true of events in nature and also of those in the individual and corporate life of man. It is a mere hypothesis to call an event a deed, a decision, an act of free choice. At all events this predicate is not intrinsic to the concept of event. This must be remembered when the concept of the Word of God is connected with that of history. No doubt this must be done. According to all that we have said about the contingent contemporaneity of the Word of God and its power of rule, the Word of God is also historical, temporal event. But if it were only event, its character as act or decision would be as hypothetical as is the case with all the other things we usually allege to be such. The Word of God is not to be understood as history first and then and as such as decision too. It is to be understood primarily and basically as decision and then and as such as history too (156).
The fact that the Word of God is the act of God and is thus a choice that takes place, a decision that is made, a freedom that is exercised, has the following concrete implications:
  • The fact that the Word of God is the act of God and is thus a choice that takes place, a decision that is made, a freedom that is exercised, has the following concrete implications; 
  • Because the Word of God, unlike created realities, is not universally present and ascertainable, and cannot possibly be universally present and ascertainable, therefore, as decision, it always implies choice in relation to man. 
  • As divine decision the Word of God works on and in a decision of the man to whom it is spoken.