§1.4.2- Let the Bible Protect the Bible

Jason Micheli —  April 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

1101620420_400Favorite Quotes from §1.4.2 Barth’s CD:

‘…in Holy Scripture, too, the writing is obviously not primary but secondary. It is itself the deposit of what was once proclamation by human lips.’ (pg 99)

     In other words:

Barth contradicts those who treat the biblical texts themselves as the infallible, literal Word of God. They are instead the ‘deposit’ of the prophets and saints. I love Barth’s use of the word ‘deposit.’ It connotes well the notion of something precious worth saving.

‘Exegesis (interpretation of scripture) is always a combination of taking and giving, of reading out and reading in. Thus exegesis…entails the danger that the bible will be taken prisoner by the Church.

All exegesis can become predominantly interposition rather than exposition and to that degree it can fall back into the Church’s dialogue with itself.’ (pg 103) 

In other words:

It’s called ‘hermeneutics of suspicion.’ It’s biblical studies jargon implying that interpreters must always be wary of the assumptions, values, expectations, perspectives that they bring to the biblical text and often impose upon the text.

For example, even if you believe the bible is the infallible, literal word of God, you’re still a sinner and can’t possibly presume to appropriate scripture’s meaning free of error or ego.

Barth’s humility of interpretation no doubt owed much to his experience of watching German Christians unquestioningly underwriting a nationalism that was idolatrous.

But think even today of the debate around marriage and homosexuality. Just from reading Facebook posts of friends on both sides of that question, it’s clear that all of us are guilty from time to time of reading our own inclinations into scripture and reading out of scripture what we want to read. One side of the debate cites Leviticus holiness codes or Romans 1 while another side cites the boundary-breaking, outcast-embracing ministry of Christ or the Genesis 1 stipulation that we’re made in God’s image.

It’s when we forget or refuse to admit to ourselves that we’re constantly reading in and reading out that the bible becomes a prisoner to the whims of the Church.

‘The exegesis of the bible should rather be left open on all sides, not for the sake of free thought, as Liberalism would demand, but for the sake of a free Bible…the defense against possible violence to the bible must be left to the bible itself.’ (pg 104)

In other words:

Stop worrying about protecting God, protecting the bible, protecting ‘Christian’ values. Let God worry about God. You just worry about you.

‘The Church’s recollection of God’s past revelation has the Bible specifically as its object because in fact this object and no other is the promise of future divine revelation…’ (pg 104). 

In other words:

Here Barth skillfully navigates a middle way through thinking about scripture and revelation.

Against liberals, who affirm the presence of revelation apart from the Word of God, Christ, as testified to in scripture, Barth reasserts the bible as the sole, specific object of our thinking about God’s revelation.

Against conservatives, who often treat God’s revelation as closed and confined to the pages of scripture, Barth argues that one of the primary reasons scripture is important is that its our only reliable clue as to what God is doing in the world today and will do in the future. That is, it’s only by knowing what God has done that we can faithfully know what God will do.

‘Holy Scripture is the the word of men who yearned, waited, and hoped for this Immanuel and who finally saw, heard and handled it in Jesus Christ. Holy Scripture declares, attests and proclaims it.’ (pg 105) 

In other words:

I think this is a great summary statement for the Old and New Testaments, as longing for Immanuel (Old) and testimony of Immanuel (New).

‘The statement that the Bible is God’s Word is a confession of faith, a statement of faith which hears God himself speak through the biblical word of man.’ (pg 107)

In other words:

Quoting bible verses at a non-Christian or making appeals to God’s eternal decrees to persuade an unbeliever are ultimately a fool’s errand. It’s not God’s word until it is received as such.

The Wesleyan in me (Barth would roll his eyes now) would argue that Barth’s point gets at the need for Christians to embody the Gospel in our lives before we can ever persuade someone to hear the Gospel as the Word of God.

And again, thinking that ‘the Bible is God’s Word’ is confession of faith (which, of course, semantics aside we all know is true…it is a faith statement) begs the question: To what extent can Christians impose their biblical values, through legislation, upon a culture which shares not their beliefs about the bible.


Jason Micheli


2 responses to §1.4.2- Let the Bible Protect the Bible

  1. Really did not want to ask any Barth questions; I was hoping to quietly check out some books, and sort it out on my own. I figure somewhere in those 6 million words, all the questions of the universe must be answered. But, in case I die before I finish it, and because FCPL has no decent Barth books, and reading reviews of books about Barth on Amazon made me want to cry, and because there is no way in hell that I’m going to spend one more minute with him than I’ve already committed to, I’m going to go ahead and ask for clarification on something. I don’t actually expect an answer (why start now?), but I think I’ve been going off the rails for a number of pages already, and may be starting to totally derail, and it’s too soon for that, so I’m going to concatenate and use your posts instead of Barth’s words. Sorry, it’s long and messy,

    You said “the revelation of the Word of God is a mediated revelation. Our access to the Logos comes to us only by way of scripture and the Church. Scripture therefore is not revelation.” The Word has to be received, but, ultimately it must be received by the individual through the Holy Spirit. Why is the individual not capable of receiving the Word through the Holy Spirit outside the context of the Church? At an earlier point in the book, Barth essentially (I think) argued that, in the way they think of the Eucharist, the Catholic church takes grace out of God’s hands and puts it into human hands, within the power of the Church to dispense, as opposed to within God’s power to dispense, the church becomes the “dispenser of grace,” undermining the freedom of God’s grace. How is it any different to say that the (Protestant) Church is the mediator for the individual’s access to the Word? How is this not undermining the freedom of God’s grace? Not saying that the individual is “better” (chillax Lillian Daniel). Furthermore, since “At the same time, one’s testimony is never identical with the person of whom one testifies. Scripture’s testimony can only partially and provisionally capture the mystery of the eternal Word.” So, why play “grapevine” if it can be direct? I very much sympathize with Barth’s/ Feuerbach’s caution, and finding the answer to that is possibly the main reason I’m reading this, but if the final answer, after 13 volumes, is going to come down to “trust your pastor because you’re too stupid to figure it out on your own” I’m not gonna be happy. I’m still waiting for your experience of psychodelia and lost virginity. Is that coming?

    • Jason Micheli April 8, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      A very good question couched in hilarious, intelligent observations. To answer simply, I’d say you’d not find much overlap in what Barth’s after and what Lillian Daniel’s point is trying to make. I think it may be helpful when Barth uses the word Church to think of ‘community/fellowship of believers’ and/or ‘the historic (consensus) teaching of the saints’ rather than thinking of Church as an institution or a local congregation. I think Barth’s trying to avoid the radical individualism of liberal modernity (think: the Jefferson Bible) while also saying that because it’s a mediated revelation we can only understand/apply it by listening to how others have understood/applied the Word. I also don’t think anyone who watched most of his colleagues sign on to German nationalism (2x even) would ever have naive illusions about the sanctity of congregations or their pastors.

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