Karl Barth on the Trinity, Dogma, Scripture, and Revelation
Take, as another instance, the following excerpt. Barth is here speaking about the relationship of the doctrine of the Trinity to dogma, scripture, and revelation. He expands on what he says here with a small print section that immediately follows, but I won’t go through the trouble of typing that all. You can look it up if you’re interested. It is really good stuff, though. The basic point is that doctrine must be done on the basis of scripture, but that doctrine is always a fundamentally imperfect attempt to say what the biblical text has said in a way that makes sense in our own time. I find it fascinating, and highly significant, that Barth felt the need to make this point with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity given the way that some folk make so much out of (what I consider to be a rather abstract version of) the doctrine.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1, 308. As always, emphasis is mine.
The statement or statements about God’s Trinity cannot claim to be directly identical with the statement about revelation or with revelation itself. The doctrine of the Trinity is an analysis of this statement, i.e., of what it denotes. The doctrine of the Trinity is a work of the Church, a record of its understanding of the statement or of its object, a record of its knowledge of God or of its battle against error and on behalf of the objectivity of its proclamation, a record of its theology and to that degree of its faith, and only to that extent, only indirectly, a record of revelation. The text of the doctrine of the Trinity, whether we have in view one of its dogmatic formulations by the Church, or our own or some other theologic-dogmatic explication of the Church dogma, is not, then, identical with one part of the text of the biblical witness to revelation. The text of the doctrine of the Trinity is at every point related to texts in the biblical witness to revelation. It also contains certain concepts taken from this text. But it does this in the way an interpretation does. That is to say, it translates and exegetes the text. And this means, e.g., that it makes use of other concepts besides those in the original. The result is that it does not just repeat what is there. To explain what is there it sets something new over against what is there. We have in view this difference from revelation and Scripture, which the Church and theology must be aware of in their own work.