Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §19.1 "Scripture as a Witness to Divine Revelation" pp. 457-472

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §19 states: "The Word of God is God Himself in Holy Scripture. For God once spoke as Lord to Moses and the prophets, to the Evangelists and apostles. And now through their written word He speaks as the same Lord to His Church. Scripture is holy and the Word of God, because by the Holy Spirit it became and will become to the Church a witness to divine revelation."

In section §19 ("The Word of God for the Church") and in subsection §19.1 ("Scripture as a Witness to Divine Revelation"), Barth moves to the third major chapter in his Church Dogmatics - this time exploring the theme of 'Holy Scripture.' We are still in volume I/2. In this subsection, Barth begins with a discussion of the importance of scripture:
The theme of dogmatics (cf. Dogm. 1 §7, 1) is the question of the Word of God in the proclamation of the Christian Church, or, concretely, the question of the agreement of this proclamation with Holy Scripture as the Word of God. To answer this question as such we had first to investigate that form of the Word of God which precedes both proclamation and Holy Scripture, i.e., the revelation of God. It is because God has revealed Himself, and as He has done so, that there is a Word of God, and therefore Holy Scripture and proclamation as the Word of God, and therefore a relation and correspondence between the two, and therefore the possibility and necessity of this question of their agreement. We have already answered the question of the concept of revelation presupposed in both these other forms of the Word of God. We have not sought or found this answer at random. We have taken it from the Bible. For the Bible is a sign which, it cannot be contested, does at least point to a superior authority confronting the proclamation of the Church. In contrast to Roman Catholicism and Protestant modernism, we felt that we ought to take this sign seriously. For that reason, at every decisive point we took our answer to the question of revelation from the Bible. And the Bible has given us the answer. It has attested to us the lordship of the triune God in the incarnate Word by the Holy Spirit. But in so doing it has answered that question concerning itself which we have not yet asked. We now know to what extent it points to a superior authority confronting the proclamation of the Church: obviously to the extent that it is a witness of divine revelation (457).
Now that the content of the biblical witness is before us, we see better than we did that the actual recognition of this witness and the willingness to follow it will always be something which takes place miraculously and very simply, without any special claim. If the biblical witness is obeyed in the Church, it happens quite unassumingly, without the adornment of special grounds and reasons, or any appeal to a prophetic mission or experience or illumination. Looking back on the content of this witness, we can now say that the lordship of the triune God has shown itself to be a fact. If this is so, if therefore obedience to this witness is also a fact, if therefore the proclamation of the Church is actually subjected to and measured by and executed according to this witness, then we will not ask: why the Bible? and look for external or internal grounds and reasons. We will leave it to the Bible itself, if we are to be obedient to it, to vindicate itself by what takes place, i.e., to vindicate the witness to divine revelation which we have heard in it, to repeat itself in such a way that it can again be apprehended by the obedient man and everyone else (458). 
Barth notes the importance of scripture in Protestantism in general in a small print section beginning on 459:
We have now reached the point which, confessionally and doctrinally, the Reformation Churches of the 16th century found it so important according to their own conscience and experience expressly to fix and emphasise, as against the Roman Church on the one hand, and fanatics on the other, that it soon became the rule, and an increasingly strict rule, to introduce the official explanations of the Confession, and then theological expositions of Evangelical teaching, with an exposition of this very perception: the perception with regard to the character and significance of Holy Scripture (459).
Barth's most basic statement upon the doctrine of scripture (in harmony with Church tradition) is that it stands as a witness to divine revelation:
The basic statement of this doctrine, the statement that the Bible is the witness of divine revelation, is itself based simply on the fact that the Bible has in fact answered our question about the revelation of God, bringing before us the lordship of the triune God. Of course, we could not have received this answer, if as members of the Church we had not listened continually to the voice of the Church, i.e., if we had not respected, and as far as possible applied the exposition of the Bible by those who before and with us were and are members of the Church (462).
 In concert with the definition of the doctrine, Barth now turns his analysis to the term "witness." This term denotes a limitation of scripture which we must account for in our doctrine:
When we examine this statement more closely, we shall do well to pay attention to the particular determination in the fact that we have to call the Bible a witness of divine revelation. We have here an undoubted limitation: we distinguish the Bible as such from revelation. A witness is not absolutely identical with that to which it witnesses. This corresponds with the facts upon which the truth of the whole proposition is based. In the Bible we meet with human words written in human speech, and in these words, and therefore by means of them, we hear of the lordship of the triune God. Therefore when we have to do with the Bible, we have to do primarily with this means, with these words, with the witness which as such is not itself revelation, but only—and this is the limitation—the witness to it (463).
Having accounted for the limitation, he says that the doctrine positively affirms that scripture is in unity with revelation as it comes to us in human words from the apostles and prophets:
But the concept of witness, especially when we bear clearly in mind its limiting sense, has still something very positive to say. In this limitation the Bible is not distinguished from revelation. It is simply revelation as it comes to us, mediating and therefore accommodating itself to us—to us who are not ourselves prophets and apostles, and therefore not the immediate and direct recipients of the one revelation, witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet it is for us revelation by means of the words of the prophets and apostles written in the Bible, in which they are still alive for us as the immediate and direct recipients of revelation, and by which they speak to us. A real witness is not identical with that to which it witnesses, but it sets it before us. Again this corresponds with the facts on which the truth of the whole proposition is founded. If we have really listened to the biblical words in all their humanity, if we have accepted them as witness, we have obviously not only heard of the lordship of the triune God, but by this means it has become for us an actual presence and event. If we want to think of the Bible as a real witness of divine revelation, then clearly we have to keep two things constantly before us and give them their due weight: the limitation and the positive element, its distinctiveness from revelation, in so far as it is only a human word about it, and its unity with it, in so far as revelation is the basis, object and content of this word (463).
Because scripture is a witness to divine revelation in its human form...its human must be read and understood and expounded historically (464).
We must not ignore it any more than we do the humanity of Jesus Christ Himself. We must study it, for it is here or nowhere that we shall find its divinity. The Bible is a witness of revelation which is really given and really applies and is really received by us just because it is a written word, and in fact a word written by men like ourselves,   p 464  which we can read and hear and understand as such. And it is as such that we must read and hear and understand it if this is to happen at all and there is to be any apprehension of revelation. The demand that the Bible should be read and understood and expounded historically is, therefore, obviously justified and can never be taken too seriously (463-464).
Understanding then the bible as a "human word" Barth moves to explain what he means when he says the word must be studied historically.
The fact that we have to understand and expound the Bible as a human word can now be explained rather more exactly in this way: that we have to listen to what it says to us as a human word. We have to understand it as a human word in the light of what it says. Under the caption of a truly “historical” understanding of the Bible we cannot allow ourselves to commend an understanding which does not correspond to the rule suggested: a hearing in which attention is paid to the biblical expressions but not to what the words signify, in which what is said is not heard or overheard; an understanding of the biblical words from their immanent linguistic and factual context, instead of from what they say and what we hear them say in this context; an exposition of the biblical words which in the last resort consists only in an exposition of the biblical men in their historical reality. To this we must say that it is not an honest and unreserved understanding of the biblical word as a human word, and it is not therefore an historical understanding of the Bible. In an understanding of this kind the Bible cannot be witness. In this type of understanding, in which it is taken so little seriously, indeed not at all, as a human word, the possibility of its being witness is taken away from the very outset. The philosophy which lies behind this kind of understanding and would force us to accept it as the only true historical understanding is not of course a very profound or respectable one. But even if we value it more highly, or highest of all, and are therefore disposed to place great confidence in its dictates, knowing what is involved in the understanding of the Bible, we can only describe this kind of understanding of the reality of a human word as one which cannot possibly do justice to its object. Necessarily, therefore, we have to reject most decisively the intention of even the most profound and respectable philosophy to subject any human word and especially the biblical word to this understanding. The Bible cannot be read unbiblically (466).
Studying historically and hearing the bible rightly means hearing what the bible has to say about itself. And he cites Calvin on this point approvingly, who says while expounding 2 Tim. 3:16ff...
Let us note well that in the passage, St Paul does not say, in order to demonstrate that we must hold Holy Scripture to be indubitable, that Moses was an excellent man. He does not say that Isaiah had admirable eloquence. He claims nothing about men in order to legitimate them in their persons. Rather, he says that they have been instruments of the Spirit of God, that their tongues have been conducted in such a way that they have done nothing on their own. In fact, it is God who has spoken through their mouths; he says that we must not reckon them as mortal creatures, but that we should know that the living God is using them, and that finally we should conclude that they have been faithful stewards of the treasure which has been committed to them. And if that had been well noted, one would not have fallen into such a terrible confusion as those poor papists are still in. For what is their faith founded upon, if not upon men? … Granted, they certainly claim the name of God. And yet they give priority to their dreams and fantasies, and then that is all. Against them, St Paul tells us that it is necessary to hold to Holy Scripture. So much for that. On what grounds? Because it is there that God speaks, and not men. We see then as he excludes all human authority, that it is necessary that God have His pre-eminence above all His creatures, and that large and small alike must subject themselves to Him, and that no-one should presume to interfere by saying, ‘I will declare that…’ (Calvin, Serm. on 2 Tim. 3:16f., C.R. 54, 286).
Thus, a faithful hermeneutic, according to Barth, will take into account that scripture seeks to be heard as the word of God:
It is not only not an abuse or violation either of the human word of the Bible in particular or of human words in general, but it has importance as an example when the Christian Church bases its understanding of this word, or of the two humanly composed and selected collections which we call the Bible, not only in relation to the hearing but also in relation to the exposition of it, upon what is said in this word. That it derives this hermeneutic principle from the Bible itself, i.e., that the Bible itself, because of the unusual preponderance of what is said in it over the word as such, enforces this principle upon it, does not alter the fact that this principle is necessarily the principle of all hermeneutics, and that therefore the principle of the Church’s doctrine of Holy Scripture, that the Bible is the witness of divine revelation, is simply the special form of that universally valid hermeneutic principle (468).
In the next section, Barth will have much more to say about scripture as the word of God. Stay tuned.