Barth on Evangelical Theology’s Relation to Scripture

I’ve had occasion to think lately about how theology relates – or ought to relate – to Scripture. The issue shows up here and there in my dissertation. In any case, I thought that I would share with you all seven points that Barth makes about this topic.

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grover Foley, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963): 30-5.
  1. “[T]heology shares with the biblical prophecy and apostolate a common concern for human response to the divine Word.”
  2. “All the same…theology is neither prophecy nor apostolate. Its relationship to God’s Word cannot be compared to the position of the biblical witnesses because it can know the Word of God only at second hand, only in the mirror and echo of the biblical witness.”
  3. “The position of theology…can in no wise be exalted above that of the biblical witnesses…[The biblical witnesses have] thought, spoken, and written about the revelatory Word and act in direct confrontation with it. All subsequent theology, as well as the whole of the community that comes after the event, will never find itself in the same immediate confrontation.”
  4. “Once and for all, theology has…its position beneath that of the biblical scriptures…If theology seeks to learn of prophecy and the apostolate, it can only and ever learn from the prophetic and apostolic witnesses…For this reason theology must agree to let them look over its shoulder and correct its notebooks.”
  5. “[T]he peg on which all theology hangs is acquaintance with the God of the Gospel. This acquaintance is never to be taken for granted; it is never immediately available; it can never be carried by the theologian in some intellectual or spiritual pillbox or briefcase…Theology becomes evangelical theology only when the God of the Gospel encounters it in the mirror and echo of the prophetic and apostolic word.”
  6. “ Nevertheless…theology confronts in Holy Scripture an extremely polyphonic, not a monotonous, testimony to the work and word of God. Everything that can be heard there is differentiated…[T]he work of theology might be compared to the task of circling a high mountain which, although it is one and the same mountain, exists and manifests itself in very different shapes.”
  7. “Theology responds to the Logos of God…when it endeavors to hear and speak of him always anew on the basis of his self-disclosure in the Scriptures. Its searching of the Scriptures consists in asking the texts whether and to what extent they might witness to him; however, whether and to what extent they reflect and echo, in their complete humanity, the Word of God is completely unknown beforehand…Nowadays, of course, the ‘exegetical-theological’ task is often said to consist in the translation of biblical assertions out of the speech of a past time into the language of modern man. The remarkable assumption behind this project, however, seems to be that the content, meaning, and point of biblical assertions are relatively easy to ascertain and may afterward be presupposed as self-evident. The main task would be then simply to render these assertions understandable and relevant to the modern world by means of some sort of linguistic key…The truth of the matter, however, is that the central affirmations of the Bible are not self-evident; the Word of God itself, as witness to in the Bible, is not immediately obvious in any of its chapters and verses. On the contrary, the truth of the Word must be sought precisely, in order to be understood in its deep simplicity. Every possible means must be used: philological and historical criticism and analysis, careful consideration of the nearer and the more remote textual relationships, and not least, the enlistment of every device of the conjectural imagination that is available. The question about the Word and this question alone fulfills and does justice to the intention of the biblical authors and their writings. And in passing, might not this question also do justice to modern man?”


Phil Sumpter said…
This comment is not directly related to yours, but it is kind of. I just had to let off steam about this somewhere. I was just sitting in a café reading my newly acquired Christuszeugnis des AT by Wilhelm Vischer, which I picked up for free when the Catholic and Protestant libraries merged here in Bonn University a while back. I just noted a handwritten note on the inside cover: "Zum evangelisch-theologischen Seminar im Mai 1946 gestiftet vom Herrn Prof. Barth." Do I own the copy that Barth gave to the faculty when he taught here after the war? How awesome is that?

Sorry for not directly commenting, but I had to say this somewhere.
That's awesome!

Was it the faculty, or students in his seminar?
Phil Sumpter said…
I think he just wanted to give the book to the seminary, presumably because they didn't own a copy. Judging by the condition in which it's been kept, it doesn't look as if too many people have read it.

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