Choice Quotations: George Hunsinger on Karl Barth on Scripture

George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (Oxford:OUP, 1991).

The biblical narratives, as Barth understood them, functioned as “witnesses.” Their imaginative, legendary form – far from being damaging (as literalists feared and historical critics readily assumed) – was actually intrinsic to their theological content. The form was appropriate to the subject matter, because the subject matter was beyond ordinary depiction. Events like the creation, incarnation, and the resurrection were, by virtue of their legendary narration, aptly and profoundly depicted for what they actually were claimed to be: events real though inconceivable and inconceivable though real. The work of divine inspiration in the formation of the narratives was not precluded by the work of human imagination, nor did the inventiveness involved in the work of human imagination necessarily preclude divine inspiration. Human imagination, disciplined by the mystery of the subject matter (in and with the history of the transmission of the traditions), was construed as the source from which the narratives were proximately produced. The narratives did not refer to historical “facts” as conceived by modernity, nor did they merely express emotive “experiences.” They bore “good enough” witness to the living divine subject, by whom revelatory events had been enacted, for whom their scriptural depictions functioned as identifying descriptions, through whom the depictions themselves had been shaped, and by whose grace they served as a means of personal address to those who received them in the present. The narratives were thus understood to have been created for kerygmatic purposes, the divine self-witness taking place through the medium of a disciplined and imaginative human narrational response. The authoritative and referential aspect of the narratives was not so much the literal details as the underlying patters and structures (although the details were the carriers of the patterns and thus could not be dispensed with). The mode of reference, furthermore, was once again conceived to be analogical. The narrative patterns stood, both historically and theologically, in analogical relation to their subject matter, regardless of the results or the limits of modern critical methods. At once historically grounded, humanly imagined, and divinely inspired, the narratives bore appropriate analogical witness to the kerygmatic presence of the risen Christ and the living God.

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