A glaring example of this perverse method of handling the Scriptures is Barth’s interpretation of Romans 9. Barth does not come out with the blunt declaration that Paul is wrong in Romans 9, as many of his liberal colleagues do. But, in the face of Paul’s plain teaching that God sovereignly distinguishes between persons by showing mercy to some and hardening others according to an eternal election of some in love and an eternal reprobation of others, Barth comes to the amazing conclusion that Romans 9 teaches that God loves and electsall men. The estimation of Scripture that allows for such a violent distortion of Scripture’s words does not differ from that estimation of Scripture which permits one forthrightly to say that Scripture is wrong in Romans 9. Indeed, Barth’s procedure is more dangerous since he pays lip-service to Scripture’s authority, while in fact he disregards that authority.
Now, it is our contention that Barth’s “explanation” of II Timothy 3:16, and of II Peter 1:19-21, manifests Barth’s’ low conception of Scripture, in that it is no explanation of Scripture’s words at all but a reading into Scripture of Barth’s ideas. He makes II Timothy 3:16 say what he thinks it should say and this is the opposite of what the passage itself teaches.
First, Barth suggests that the word God-breathed (the word translated “given by inspiration of God” in the King James Version) should be rendered “God Godbreathing.” Barth himself does not make very much of this in the Church Dogmatics. He merely includes the idea of “breathing forth God” as part of the meaning of the word theopneustos so that it complements but does not replace the idea of Scripture’s being breathed forth by God. Others, however, carry this further than Barth himself does. They maintain that the meaning of the wordtheopneustos in II Timothy 3:16 is exclusively that of Scripture’s breathing forth God. In this way, they effectively oppose those who maintain that Scripture has a divine origin and, therefore, cannot possibly contain errors. When a defender of Scripture’s infallibility appeals to II Timothy 3:16, the adversary counters by saying that the passage does not teach that Scripture is breathed forth by God but that Scripture breathes forth God, that is, Scripture teaches the things of God and has a kind of divine influence upon men, which it can do and have even though it is full of errors. The reason, of course, for rendering the word, “God-breathing” instead of “God-breathed,” is the aversion of these men to the doctrine of an inspired Bible. That which makes it possible for them to challenge the translation of the King James Version is the fact that the word occurs only once in the Bible, in this passage, so that there can be no comparison of the use of the word here with its use in other passages. Also, scholars tell us that words of this type are occasionally used actively in secular authors.
But the word itself, as used in II Timothy 3:16, and the entire context prove conclusively that the meaning is the one expressed by the King James Version, “God-breathed” or “given by inspiration of God” and that the meaning cannot be “breathing forth God.” Neither are they correct who say that the exclusive meaning is that Scripture breathes forth God, nor is Barth correct, who says that this is partially the meaning. The sole and exclusive meaning is that Scripture is breathed of or by God. The simple truth is that Scripture does not breathe forth God. Scripture indeed testifies of God,speaks of God and objectively reveals. God but this is quite different from saying that it breathes Him forth. The word, theopneustos, is a strong word, a word that refers to a creative activity. To apply this word to Scripture, as if Scripture breathes forth God, would be tantamount to saying that Scripture produces God,creates God, or makes God. This is not only false, it is blasphemy. And when we consider that the wordtheopneustos is made up of the word God and a form of the word spirit, the idea of the text becomes still clearer. The Bible does not “spirit forth” God, even in a loose sense — it lacks such a power. For this reason, it is necessary, as the Reformed Churches have always insisted, that in addition to the Bible there be an activity of the Holy Spirit to apply to our hearts the revelation of God in the Scriptures. On the other hand, it is literally true that God breathes forth the Scriptures, that is, produces them, creates them and makes them. And He did this by the Holy Spirit — He “Spirited” the Scriptures. Scripture is God’s Word and, just as our words are the product of our “outbreathing,” God’s Word is the product of His Divine “outbreathing.” This leads us to note that the statement “Scripture is God-breathed” accords with other passages in Scripture, e.g., II Peter 1:19-21, where Peter states that holy men spoke from God, being moved or carried along by the Spirit, and that this is the reason why it is true that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation, that is, where Peter teaches that the author of the words spoken and written by holy men is God. The same idea is implied in all the passages that refer to Scripture as the Word of God and that quote Old Testament passages as words, not of the human writers but of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:16). Those who adopt the translation, “Godbreathing,” in II Timothy 3:16, weaken the force of this very strong word so that it merely has the figurative sense, “Scripture has a divine influence,” and even then cannot find elsewhere in Scripture a similar statement to back up their explanation of II Timothy 3:16. Nowhere does Scripture teach that the Bible breathes forth God, even in a figurative sense.
This is sufficient to prove that <i>theopneustos has and can only have the meaning, “God-breathed” or “given by inspiration of God.” Those who contend for another meaning are blinded by their stubborn rejection of Scripture’s plain and universal claim to be God’s, and emphatically, not man’s Word. But the context in which the word theopneustos occurs substantiates the meaning, “God-breathed.” In verse 15, Paul calls the Old Testament books “holy scriptures” or “holy writings.” These books are set apart from all other books; they are sacred; they partake of the holiness of God. It is evident that they are holy with God’s holiness because they are the holy words of the Holy God — as He is holy, so are His words holy. Thus, theopneustos, “Godbreathed,” follows the phrase, “holy scriptures,” very fittingly, explaining why Paul has called the scriptures holy. The same harmony holds between theopneustos and that which follows in verses 16 and 17. Paul declares in verse 16 that Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for education in righteousness. Evidently, the reason why Scripture is profitable in these respects is that Scripture is God-breathed. One who takes theopneustos to mean “God-breathing” or “having a divine influence” makes Paul guilty of a redundancy in verse 16. For then Paul says that “Scripture has a divine influence and (what amounts to the same thing -DE) is profitable for teaching” etc.
The second element of Barth’s explanation of II Timothy 3:16 consists of the notion that Paul merely teaches that the human writers of the Bible were especially obedient so that they wrote down a relatively accurate and reliable account of God’s revelation, although they certainly included in their writings many errors. Now it is a puzzle that the Bible can be accurate and reliable on the one hand and filled with mistakes on the other hand. This is the queer, illogical “faith” we are solemnly called to exercise not only by Barth but also by all proponents of a fallible Bible. We are no longer to regard only the truth as reliable but also falsehood. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that we have no “Bible” or appendix to the Bible that lists the errors. What we are concerned with now, however, is this statement of Barth as an explanation of II Timothy 3:16. Then, it strikes us that, although Barth lays all the emphasis upon the writers of the Bible and their special obedience, the text says absolutely nothing about the human instruments at all. We do not read that Moses, David and Isaiah were inspired but that all scripture is inspired or “God-breathed.” As far as the test is concerned, it makes no difference what means God used to produce the Scriptures. The statement of the text is a statement about the finished product, about the 39 books of the Old Testament — they have the attribute of being breathed of God. The text says that the Bible, the whole Bible and by implication every part of the Bible, is, as such, the product of the breathing forth of God, that the Bible fell from God’s lips. When Barth offers the explanation of this plain phrase, that human writers were especially obedient, he deliberately ignores the main point made by the text. Barth must not say something about the writers, at least, he must not stop with the writers, but he must say something about the product, about the 39 books of the Old Testament. He must say they are God-breathed, inspired, so that, as far as the holiness, the authority, the reliability, the accuracy, the infallibility and the inerrancy of these books are concerned, it is as if God wrote these books with His own finger. To talk merely about the human writers is to ignore the words of the text. But to go on to say, as Barth does, that the product of the efforts of the human writers is full of errors is to drag into the text a most violent (and disobedient) contradiction of what the text itself declares. For this is to maintain that Scripture is, at least in part, man-breathed. And this the text denies: “All scripture is God-breathed.” If Scripture is breathed forth by God, it is free from errors no matter what means God used to have it written down. Again, our conclusion can only be that Barth pays no attention to what the Bible says of itself but feels free to ignore and distort and impose his own notions upon the words of Scripture.
The third element of Barth’s explanation of the phrase, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” is the claim that the inspiration of the Bible consists not only of the inspiring of the human writers to write but also of the human readers to read with understanding. This also is a claim that lacks a shred of evidence in the passage. The passage teaches, to be sure, that the Bible, as an inspired book, is also profitable for teaching and the rest but it does not say that inspiration itself includes the element of our reading the Bible in faith. The Bible rather is inspired apart from anyone’s understanding it or not understanding it. If no one in the world believed it, the Bible would still be inspired. Because the Bible is inspired, the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of the elect to accomplish in them a right reading and a right understanding of Scripture, so that they become wise unto salvation. But this right reading is not inspiration; it is revelation. Inspiration refers to the origin of the Bible and, in connection with this Divine origin, to the Bible’s character as the Holy Word of God. Barth imposes on the text his notion that inspiration includes our believing reading of the Bible, by this notion disagrees with all Reformed theology, and muddles two distinct activities of God simply because he rebels against the truth of an inspired book.
If the highly influential champion of the “new orthodoxy” and the outstanding spokesman of the movement to “advance” the Reformed faith fails so miserably in his “Doctrine of Scripture,” we will expect to find consequences in all his theology. Nor are we surprised. Put on guard by his wrong view of Scripture, the standard and source of the faith of the Church, we discover that he does not carry on the principles of Luther and Calvin, purified and developed, but rather adulterates them. On the subject of creation, on the subject of redemption, on the subject of the last things, alien notes are struck and foreign chords are sounded. For all his genius and for all the appealing elements in his theology, Barth does not represent the Reformation nor carry on its principles. And he does not, in large part because he will not, with Luther, Calvin and the genuine sons of the Reformation acknowledge all Scripture to be God’s Word and God’s Word only.
This is sad, bitterly sad for everyone who loves the Reformed faith, the faith of Scripture, the truth of the glorious Jesus Christ in its richest and fullest manifestation. How powerfully might not Barth have been used by Christ for the firming up of the Reformed faith and for its development in Reformed Churches which are losing the first love, for the stimulation of others who become weary, and for the effective witnessing of the Reformed faith in all churches across the world. How mighty an instrument he might have been with his incredible learning and scholarship, his creative genius, his forceful expression, his large spirit, and his dauntless courage. On the contrary, he attacks our foundations and must be resisted in the Name of Jesus Christ.
Would that he had listened, on the doctrine of Scripture, to H. F. Kohlbruegge, to whom Barth is otherwise respectful:
“The holy men of God were borne by this Spirit personally, not only to bring forth the acts but also to give every single word, just the way it is recorded. This is a truth which every one who knows it by experience would not hesitate to seal with his own blood. What a presumption and want of understanding, what lack of attention, what deplorable blindness and ingratitude is manifest when a person questions the verbal inspiration by the Holy Spirit.” (I Believe in the Holy Spirit)