With this article, we conclude our study of Barth’s doctrine of Scripture. In the August 1, 1966, issue of the Standard Bearer, we took note of Barth’s explanation of the classical, Biblical passages on inspiration, an’explanation that centered on the phrase in II Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is God-breathed.” We saw that the main elements of Barth’s explanation of this crucial phrase include:
1) The suggestion that the word God-breathed (in the Greek: Theopneustos) should be translated “God-breathing” so that the passage does not state what Scripture is but what Scripture does, namely, breathe forth God.
2) The insistence that the meaning of the statement, “Scripture is inspired,” is that the Spirit made the writers of Scripture especially obedient to God’s revelation so that they wrote down a fairly reliable account of spiritual things. That Scripture is inspired does not mean that Scripture, a book, has the quality or attribute of “inspiredness.” In other words, inspiration refers to what once happened to the writers and not to the product of their writing.
3) The claim that the truth of inspiration has two parts: a) The inspiring of the writers to pen the Scriptures. b) The inspiring of readers to believe and understand Scripture.
This interpretation of II Timothy 3:16, and of II Peter 1:19-21, which Barth explains similarly, gives full support to Barth’s view of Scripture as a fallible, human book that can be called the Word of God, not because of what it is but because of what God can and does accomplish through it.
When the elements of this explanation are examined, however, it becomes clear not only that the interpretation is wrong but also that the interpretation does not take seriously the words of Scripture in the passage at issue. Barth is controlled in his explaining of the passage by his dogmatic presuppositions so that he does not set forth what II Timothy 3:16 says but rather pours into the passage his own erroneous notions. This distortion of Scripture’s words and imposition upon Scripture of notions alien to the text is nothing other than a consequence and a manifestation of Barth’s low view of Scripture as the word of men. If Scripture is the word of fallible men, one may handle Scripture as Barth handles, it here. Only a lively regard for Scripture as the Word of God will keep the interpreter from such wresting of Scripture’s words. Nor is this an isolated instance. Barth’s treatment of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, from creation to the last things, is characterized by the same deliberate ognoring or twisting of the plain words of Scripture in order to “interpret” the text as he pleases. Seldom does Barth come out with the blunt declaration that Scripture errs, on this or that point. This fact, combined with the equally obvious fact that Barth demands that the Church be Biblical and constantly appeals to and works with the Bible himself, could be deceiving. For someone might say that Barth’s un-Reformed doctrine of Scripture, that is, his teaching of a fallible Bible, makes no practical difference — Barth still esteems Scripture highly, works with the text of Scripture in his preaching and in his theological study and seldom if ever criticizes a passage. In fact, some of Barth’s liberal colleagues in Germany have accused him of orthodox tendencies in his view of Scripture (a devastating accusation in German, scholarly circles!) because he refrains from out rightly criticizing any passage in Scripture. Especially, they have assailed him, for not condemning and dissociating himself from the doctrine of reprobation taught in Romans 9. The fact is, however, that Barth’s heretical conception of Scripture bears bitter fruit in all of his study of Scripture. The fruit is not, to be sure, that Barth scoffs at Scripture nor that he frequently criticizes definite, Scriptural passages but rather that he willfully ignores the teaching of Scripture in a given passage and imposes upon the text his own notions.
(to be continued)