Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §8.1-8.2 "The Revelation of God" pp. 295-333

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §8 states: "God’s Word is God Himself in His revelation. For God reveals Himself as the Lord and according to Scripture this signifies for the concept of revelation that God Himself in unimpaired unity yet also in unimpaired distinction is Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness."

It's important to orient yourself as a reader in the second section of the CD to what exactly Barth is doing in this part of I,1. Bromiley's introduction is very helpful on this account. He writes: 
Barth divides his analysis of the revealed Word into three parts: Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit. Since each of these is too bulky for a section, but all need to be kept together under the heading of divine revelation, he adopts an arrangement unique in the Dogmatics and interposes three subdivisions, each provided with its own sections and subsections. The first of these comprises the rest of Volume I,1, while the lengthy I,2 contains the second two. By dealing comprehensively with the Word of God in his prolegomena, Barth solves the problem of a starting point which has been much debated in theology. Instead of having to choose between an ontic beginning in God and a noetic beginning in scripture, he combines the two, since the Word of God in its threefold form calls for a discussion of both God and holy scripture as well as proclamation. God, of course, is finally both the on tic and noetic basis; thus, the theology of revelation must being with the Word revealed.
In subsection §8.1 ("The Place of the Doctrine of the Trinity in Dogmatics"), Barth begins by reminding us of what Bromiley summarized above - that the doctrine of revelation begins with the doctrine of the Triune God. Three inseparable questionsthe nature of the revelation, how revelation comes about, or what its result is, are shaped by the fact that God is the content of revelation:

"It is the revelation of Him who is called Yahweh in the Old Testament and θεός or, concretely, κύριος in the New Testament" (295). As the sole subject and object of scripture"God reveals Himself. He reveals Himself through Himself. He reveals Himself. If we really want to understand revelation in terms of its subject, i.e., God, then the first thing we have to realise is that this subject, God, the Revealer, is identical with His act in revelation and also identical with its effect. It is from this fact, which in the first instance we are merely indicating, that we learn we must begin the doctrine of revelation with the doctrine of the triune God" (296).

Barth admits that by placing the doctrine of the Triune God "at the head of all dogmatics" he might be in an "isolated" position in dogmatic history (300; though he notes, it is not an unprecedented move; cf. Peter Lombard's Sentences and Bonaventura's Breviloquium). If course, Barth thinks it strange that this is not the normal circumstance for dogmatics, citing Roman Catholic and Modernist (Protestant) moves which undermine this way of doing dogmatics:

"Even Melanchthon and Calvin, and after them Protestant orthodoxy in both confessions, followed this pattern in a way that was strangely uncritical, and similarly none of the later movements in Roman Catholic and Protestant theology has led to the taking of a different path at this point. The reason why we diverge from this custom is this. It is hard to see how in relation to Holy Scripture we can say what is distinctive for the holiness of this Scripture if first we do not make it clear (naturally from Holy Scripture itself) who the God is whose revelation makes Scripture holy. It is also hard to see how what is distinctive for this God can be made clear if, as has constantly happened in Roman Catholic and Protestant dogmatics both old and new, the question who God is, which it is the business of the doctrine of the Trinity to answer, is held in reserve, and the first question to be treated is that of the That and the What of God, as though these could be defined otherwise than on the presupposition of the Who" (300-301).

Thus, the controlling factor in revelation is the Triune God: "In giving this doctrine a place of prominence our concern cannot be merely that it have this place externally but rather that its content be decisive and controlling for the whole of dogmatics. The problem of the Trinity has met us in the question put to the Bible about revelation. When we ask: Who is the self-revealing God? the Bible answers in such a way that we have to reflect on the triunity of God. The two other questions: What does this God do and what does He effect? are also answered primarily, as we have seen, by new answers to the first question: Who is He? The problem of the three answers to these questions—answers which are like and yet different, different and yet like—is the problem of the doctrine of the Trinity. In the first instance the problem of revelation stands or falls with this problem" (303).

In subsection §8.2 ("The Root of the Doctrine of the Trinity"), Barth begins by reminding us that "according to Scripture God's revelation is God's own direct speech which is not to be distinguished from the act of speaking and therefore is not to be distinguished from God Himself, from the Divine I which confronts man in this act in which it says Thou to him. Revelation is God speaking in person (Dei loquentis persona)(304)

The Word is directly identical with God: "God's Word is identical with Himself. Among the three forms of the Word of God this can be said unconditionally and with strictest propriety only of revelation. It can be said of Holy Scripture and Church proclamation as well, but not so unconditionally and directly. For if the same can and must be said of them too, we must certainly add that their identity with God is an indirect one. Without wanting to deny or even limit their character as God’s Word we must bear in mind that the Word of God is mediated here, first through the human persons of the prophets and apostles who receive it and pass it on, and then through the human persons of its expositors and preachers, so that Holy Scripture and proclamation must always become God’s Word in order to be it (304). And God reveals himself as the Lord (306). Without revelation man does not know that there is a Lord, that he, man, has a Lord, and that God is this Lord (306). God's being with us is the event of revelation (307).

That God reveals himself as Lord is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. Revelation is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. "The statement, understood thus, that God reveals Himself as the Lord, or what this statement is meant to describe, and therefore revelation itself as attested by Scripture, we call the root of the doctrine of the Trinity (307). The statement about God's Trinity is not identical with revelation - it is a work of the Church - a record of the the Church's understanding of the Object - God Who has revealed Himself as Lord (308). As Barth states, "We arrive at the doctrine of the Trinity by no other way than that of an analysis of the concept of revelation (312).

Though he doesn't insist on it, Barth suggests that we do "find revelation itself attested in Holy Scripture in such a way that in relation to this witness our understanding of revelation, or of the God who reveals Himself, must be the doctrine of the Trinity" (312). For Barth this is not just a matter of hunting out direct trinitarian references in the Bible (though he exposits a number of these texts on pg. 313), it's a matter of acknowledging that the Trinitarian work of God's people has been happening for some time - not just that time after the period covered by the Old and New Testaments: "We have agreed that we need not expect to find the doctrine of the Trinity expressly in the Old Testament or the New. But in view of the presence of these explicit references (listed on pg. 313) we cannot deny that the problems that developed later in the doctrine of the Trinity are not alien to the Bible but are at least prefigured in it" (314). In the end, "God reveals Himself as the Lord; in this statement we have summed up our understanding of the form and content of the biblical revelation" (314).

Our very real knowledge of God is made real by the action of the triune God. The Father reveals (as 'Revealer'), the Son is that revelation ('Revelation'), and the Spirit makes it effectual ('Revealedness') (314ff.). But then Barth notes something important about the doctrine of the Trinity:

"Historically considered and stated the three questions answered in the Bible, that of revealer, revelation and being revealed, do not have the same importance. The true theme of the biblical witness is the second of the concepts [Jesus Christ] , God’s action in His revelation, revelation in answer to the question what God does, and therefore the predicate in our statement. Within this theme the two other questions, materially no less important, are answered. Similarly the doctrine of the Trinity, when considered historically in its origin and development, is not equally interested in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Here too the theme is primarily the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, the deity of Christ" (314-315).

What Barth means is that the history of the doctrine of the Trinity is the history of coming to terms with the deity of Jesus Christ: "Within this framework of the question of Christ’s deity, but claiming equal weight both logically and materially, the other two questions then arose in the first instance as a necessary counterpart to the question of the Son, namely, the question of the Father on the one side and that of the Spirit of the Father and the Son on the other (315).

The Man Jesus is vitally important because "no matter who or what else the self-revealing God may be, it is beyond dispute that in His revelation according to the biblical witness He takes form, and this taking form is His self-unveiling" (316).

Continuing on, Barth suggests... "It is now relatively simple to see the fundamental concern in the New Testament. God a second time in a different way is obviously the point here too, but in a manner incomparably more direct, unequivocal and palpable. It is so much more direct that even the hypostases of the Old Testament are weak in comparison; to use the well-known metaphor of Hebrews, they appear only as shadows. It is so much the more direct that especially the notable position and significance of the name of Yahweh may be regarded quite simply and yet at the same time quite meaningfully, as the Church has always maintained against Judaism even if only from this standpoint, as a prophecy of the fulfilment present here. Into the place, not of Yahweh on Sinai or in heaven, but of the name of the Lord which finally dwells very really in a house of stone in Jerusalem, there now comes the existence of the man Jesus of Nazareth" (318).


"It is thus of the very nature of this God to be inscrutable to man. In saying this we naturally mean that in His revealed nature He is thus inscrutable. It is the Deus revelatus [revealed God] who is the Deus absconditus [Hidden God], the God to whom there is no path nor bridge, concerning whom we could not say nor have to say a single word if He did not of His own initiative meet us as the Deus revelatus [revealed God]. Only when we have grasped this as the meaning of the Bible do we see the full range of its statement that God reveals Himself, i.e., that He has assumed form for our sake" (321).

Barth closes with a summary of the section as a whole, which I found very helpful because of the dense nature of this subsection:

"We have been asking about the root of the doctrine of the Trinity, its root in revelation, not in any revelation, not in a general concept of revelation, but in the concept of revelation taken from the Bible. We have been asking whether revelation must be understood as the ground of the doctrine of the Trinity, whether the doctrine of the Trinity must be understood as having grown out of this soil. And after a side-glance at the passages in the biblical witness which directly reflect the doctrine of the Trinity, we have enquired what revelation means in the Bible, asking, but asking concretely with reference to the biblical texts, whether the statement that God reveals Himself as the Lord really has a threefold meaning and yet a simple content in these texts. If we have been right to emphasise in the biblical witness to revelation the three elements of unveiling, veiling and impartation, or form, freedom and historicity, or Easter, Good Friday and Pentecost, or Son, Father and Spirit; if we have rightly characterised these elements in detail; if we have set them in a right relation to one another; if our threefold conclusion that God reveals Himself as the Lord is not, then, an illicit move but a genuine finding; if in this statement we have really said the same thing three times in three indissolubly different ways, then we may now conclude that revelation must indeed be understood as the root or ground of the doctrine of the Trinity" (332).


Sometimes in my work with Barth's Church Dogmatics, I stumble upon the funniest things. For example, tonight there was this near the end of subsection 8.2: "The doctrine of the Trinity with its implications, distinctions and synopses is concerned with a problem that is really and very centrally posed by the biblical witness to revelation...It is not, as we may now say already, an arbitrarily contrived speculation whose object lies elsewhere than in the Bible. Any child knows that it uses some of the philosophoumena of declining pagan antiquity." Um, I'm not sure sure every child knows that, Dear Karl ... but I still love you and your CD.