§4. The Word of God in its Threefold Form
- Context: §3-7, “The Word of God as the Criterion of Dogmatics” – Related readings
- Editions: Henderson ed. vol. 1; Study Edition vol. 1.
(More on editions, Volume-Parts, § = “paragraphs”, Leitsatz, pagination, structure.)
- Volume-Part: I.1, §4, pp. 88-124.
Leitsatz: “The presupposition which makes proclamation proclamation and therewith makes the Church the Church is the Word of God. This attests itself in Holy Scripture in the word of the prophets and apostles to whom it was originally and once for all spoken by God’s revelation.”
Questions for discussion:
- Read the Leitsatz for this paragraph aloud.
- Which phrases did Barth develop with greatest care?
- Which phrases are most interesting, significant, or meaningful to you?
- How does Barth’s discussion of this paragraph relate to your life?
- Which of the Reading Questions is most interesting to you?
- Did any of the quotations relate to, or illuminate, Barth’s text for you?
- Did any reading guides (e.g., Mangina or Bromiley) or other related readings throw light upon Barth’s text for you?
Questions for reading:
1. The Word of God Preached (pp. 88-99)
- Barth asserts that proclamation must ever and again become proclamation. How is this similar to the way in which the elements of the Lord’s Supper must ever and again become what they were not before?
- How is the Word of God the commission upon whose givenness proclamation rests?
- How is the Word of God the object or theme of proclamation?
- How is the Word of God the judgment of proclamation?
- How is the Word of God the event in which proclamation becomes proclamation?
- How is Barth’s account of the Word of God as an event of proclamation consistent with his “not only… but also” critique of transubstantiation?
2. The Word of God Written (pp. 99-111)
- Holy Scripture is similar to Church proclamation in that both are witnesses, like John the Baptist’s pointing finger (p. 102). Explain.
- How is Scripture dissimilar to Church proclamation? (102)
- Why is the apostolic succession to be understood spiritually rather than institutionally, mechanically or legalistically? (103-104)
- Why is it important for the Church to be confronted by an authority outside itself, by a criterion that cannot be dissolved into the Church? (104-106)
- Why does Barth argue that the Bible constitutes itself as the Canon, rather than the Canon being constituted by the Church? (107-110)
- Why is the promise of Immanuel, God with us sinners, an ultimate word that imposes itself upon us? (107-108; cf. quotes below by Godsey and Hart)
- Beyond the text: How would Barth’s view of Scripture qualify the Church’s use of creeds, new revelations (e.g., The Book of Mormon) or other extra-canonical writings?
3. The Word of God Revealed (pp. 111-120)
- What is a witness? (111)
- Kierkegaard distinguished between the apostles and geniuses. How does Barth affirm this distinction to elucidate the concept of revelation? (112)
- Excursus, p. 112: Read James E. Davison’s discussion of Matthias Grunewald’s painting, “The Crucifixion,” which hung on the wall above Barth’s desk as he was writing the Church Dogmatics (cf. Mangina, p. 12). Examine Grunewald’s Crucifixion at the Paris WebMuseum, especially Grunewald’s depiction of the finger of John the Baptist.
- Why does Barth assert that “we do the Bible poor and unwelcome honor if we equate it directly” with revelation (p. 112)?
- In what four senses does revelation engender the Bible (p. 115)?
- What is the content of revelation (pp. 115-116, 119), and why does this lead to a Christ-centered interpretation of the Bible?
- How does revelation reflect the freedom of God’s grace (p. 117)?
- “Revelation in fact does not differ from the person of Jesus Christ nor from the reconciliation accomplished in him” (p. 119). Explain.
- Barth concludes this section by referring to revelation as the first form of the Word of God, the condition of the other two. Why does proclamation through preaching and Scripture occur ubi et quando visum et Deo (“where and when it pleased God”), in contrast to revelation, which occurs illic et tunc (“there and then”)? (cf. quote by Baxter, below)
- Beyond the text: How does Barth’s view of revelation contrast with the Islamic understanding of the revelation, transmission, and translation of the Qu’ran?
4. The Unity of the Word of God (pp. 120-124)
- Barth argues that there is no distinction of degree or value between the three forms of the Word of God, nor may they be known in isolation from one another. How does his understanding of the threefold form of the Word of God thus echo the doctrine of the Trinity?
- How does Barth’s understanding of the threefold Word of God relate to the homoousion, the doctrine of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ?
- Excursus, pp. 121-124: How can a theory of biblical inspiration paradoxically lead to a situation where the Church forgets, or neglects, that God Himself speaks? What dangers is Barth here warning the Church about? (cf. quote by Deddo, below)
- Has Barth established his Leitsatz for this paragraph?
What others say:
- “Unlike most Protestant dogmatics, we do not begin with the doctrine of Holy Scripture, but with the Incarnation itself. Here we see that the ‘revealed Word,’ which has happened once and for all time in the historical event of Jesus Christ, must be given a prior and determinative position above and beyond the ‘written Word’ and the ‘preached Word,’ which must ever again become God’s Word. Thus the Bible can never become a ‘paper pope,’ but retains its basic character as witness.” John Godsey, Karl Barth’s Table Talk, p. 5.
- “If we think in terms of the order of our knowing, then it is with preaching that the church must begin. We hear the gospel expounded or proclaimed from the pulpit, or in some other context. Behind such preaching lies the given text of Scripture with which the preacher must wrestle, and the meaning of which she must seek to unpack for her hearers. But the text is not, in this sense, the ultimate referent of her words. For there is another more ultimate authority to which Scripture itself points, which lies beyond its words, and which engendered and called forth those words of witness in the first place. This other reality is, of course, the event in which God acted decisively for our salvation in the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. It is this which is the real object of Christian preaching. Thus the ontic order, the order of being, is the precise reverse of the noetic. It begins with Christ whose saving economy in due course calls forth Scripture as a witness, and this in turn leads to the preaching ministry in the church.” Trevor Hart, “The Word, the Words, and the Witness: Proclamation as Divine and Human Reality,” in Regarding Karl Barth: Toward a Reading of His Theology (Wipf and Stock, 1999), pp. 32-33.
- “The manner of God’s making Scripture theologically reliable is in a double act of revelation. The first is in giving Himself to be known, objectively, for example in the person of Jesus, and subjectively in the giving to the apostles the capacity to know Him. The first ‘act’ of revelation thus straddles objectivity and subjectivity and engenders the record known as Scripture. The second act of revelation is God giving Himself to be known, objectively in the Scripture record, which is wholly about Jesus, and subjectively in the giving to the readers the capacity to know Him. This second ‘act’ of revelation equally straddles objectivity and subjectivity, and is never completed or finished for the relationship between God who is giving Himself to be known, and the reader who is receiving the capacity to know God is a continuing relationship: it has to be ‘new every morning’ or it is not knowledge of God at all. Although the apostles witness to this, neither they nor the written words of Scripture, still less the readers of Scripture ‘possess’ this revelation: – it is the free gift of a sovereign God.” Christina A. Baxter, “The Nature and Place of Scripture in the Church Dogmatics,” in John Thompson, ed., Theology Beyond Christendom: Essays on the Centenary of the Birth of Karl Barth, May 10, 1886 (Pickwick Publications, 1986), pp. 33-62 (quote on p. 35).
- “So, all of our obedience, including studying Scripture, reading Scripture, listening to the Scripture preached, then, is done by faith in the actual living God as if this God was present and real and active today. Because what Barth saw is, when the German church separated Scripture from the living God, they manipulated that Bible to serve the needs and the desires and even the ideals of Nazi Germany. So they became lords over the Bible and used their methods, you see, to move it around to fit their needs and ideals. And the only way, Barth saw, is we have to bring back in the sovereignty of God which is the active living grace of God present in our lives to overcome our resistance to the grace of God that we might really hear his Word again to do that. So yes, Barth’s view of Scripture is: Scripture is connected to the Living Word and that’s what makes the Bible the Bible, and if you separate them, the Bible becomes nothing – we become lords over it. So yes, I don’t think that’s a low view of Scripture. It’s a high view of God and his Word.” Gary Deddo, You’re Included video (Grace Communion International; more)