The Bible is the concrete means by which the Church recollects Godís past revelation, is called to expectation of His future revelation, and is thus summoned and guided to proclamation and empowered for it.

Today is the final installment of Barth’s Threefold view of Scripture.  the previews two topics were God’s word Preached and Written.  In this post, we are looking at God’s Word Revealed.

I must admit, this section of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (CD) has me a little confused. I am not 100% certain of what he is trying to say. The following summary is based more on instinct then pure understanding of his words.

From what I read, Barth has a very high view of Scripture and its importance in the life of the church.  Everything we do, and all that we are, depends upon the Bible and the church’s interaction with it.  Where Barth gets into trouble with some readers is when he makes statement like the following that seem to diminish the inspired or revelatory nature of the Bible.

What we have in the Bible are in any case human attempts to repeat and reproduce this Word of God in human words and thoughts and in specific human situations, e.g., with reference to the complications of the political position of Israel as a buffer between Egypt and Babylon, or with reference to the errors and confusions in the Christian Church at Corinth between A.D. 50 and 60.

Barth’s words seem to undercut his initial assertion that the Bible is the revelation of God, but I think his goal here is to emphasize that The Bible is not just a document from the past.  The words are based on specific events in history, but what makes them God’s Word is that living breathing act of Divine intervention that goes on even today.  In other Words, Barth is arguing against the static view of Bible that limits God to a past reality, and he argues for a dynamic view of reality which recognizes God’s is at work in the Bible for today, and for the future.

Quotes like the following one show why Barth is confusing to read…

These are two different things. And precisely because they are not two things but become one and the same thing in the event of the Word of God, we must maintain that it is by no means self-evident or intrinsically one that revelation should be understood primarily as the superior principle and the Bible primarily as the subordinate principle.

Two different things that are the same.. huh???

Okay, here is my best educated guess.  What is most important to Barth is that we do not limit God’s Word to just the written text of the Bible.  The Bible, according to Barth, is only one part of God’s revelation, but not all of revelation.  Therefore, in his words, it is subordinate to the larger concept of God’s Word.

If I am right, Barth is saying that when we speak about the Word of God we must divide it into three; Jesus Christ; the Living Word, the Bible; the Written Word, and the Holy Spirit; the Spoken Word–who speaks even today.

Yet while the Word is more than just the Bible, Barth continues to emphasize the power of unity in all of God’s revelation.

When the Bible itself is revelation in this way, it establishes the Church and makes its proclamation necessary and possible. The unity of revelation guarantees the unity of the biblical witness in and in spite of all its multiplicity and even contradictoriness. The unity of the Bible guarantees the unity of the Church in and in spite of the difference in the proportion of faith in which the Bible becomes revelation to this man and that man and to this man and that man to-day and to-morrow. On this basis the unity of the Church guarantees the unity of proclamation.

Barth’s assertion, it would seem, is that the unity of the Bible with all of God’s revelation is the assurance we have that the church exists in unity–even if our unity is not always experienced in our speech or actions.  In other words, unity is not based on our own words or actions, but on the word of God and the action of God as revealed in the Bible–specifically the person of Jesus Christ.   And if this is what Barth is saying, then I agree with him on this point because the Scripture makes clear that the Holy Spirit is the one who is our unity and our mission is to live in unity, not create it.

Finally, what I appreciate about Barth’s approach is the emphasis upon the living and active nature of God’s Word for today and for the future.

And we have said the same of the Bible: It must continually become Godís Word. The reference of this ìcontinually,î of course, is not to human experience, as though our reaction to this event or our attitude to it could be constitutive for its reality and content. The reference is to the freedom of Godís Word.

Certainly there is room to misinterpret Barth’s phrase that the Bible must continually “become” God’s Word, but he makes it clear that the “becoming” is not based on human action or human understanding.  The Bible is continually becoming God’s Word as God Himself, though the work of the Holy Spirit, makes the Written Word come alive in the world today.


* all quotes from Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics, Volume I The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, Translation of Die kirchliche Dogmatik.; Each pt. also has special t.p.; Includes indexes., 2d ed., 113-120 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004).

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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