INTRODUCTION We must concern ourselves, in this and subsequent articles, with “contemporary theology.” The divisions within Protestantism since the 16th century make this subject not only vital and fascinating but also overwhelmingly extensive. At the outset, some limitation of the subject is in order, even though this limiting will be rather arbitrary. One ought not bite off more than he can chew.
In The Word of God and the Word of Man, Barth remarks on the so-called “formal principle” of the Reformation, the principle of the sole authority of the Bible, and, in one statement, shows his deep disagreement with the historic, Reformed estimation of Scripture: The Reformers “had the courage to allow so accidental, contingent, and human a thing as the Bible to become a serious witness of the revelation of God, to allow a book which was in itself profane to becomeHoly Scripture” (in the chapter entitled, “Task of the Reformed Churches.”).
Barth’s thorough-going criticism of the doctrine of an infallible Bible proceeds from his conception of the Word of God. The Word of God has three important forms. They are Church proclamation, Scripture, and revelation. Of these three forms of the Word of God, Church proclamation and Scripture are the Word of God only conditionally. “They are God’s Word, by from time to time becoming God’s Word” (CD, I, 1, p. 133). “The Bible is God’s Word so far as God lets it be His Word, so far as God’s speaks through it” (ibid., p. 123).
Although there is a sense, carefully circumscribed by Barth, in which Barth. maintains that the Bible neither claims nor possesses authority—it is “merely” the witness to Christ, who possesses all authority—he would vehemently deny the validity of the criticism we raised against his view of Scripture in the preceding article. That the Bible is the words of men, even to the extent of being their fallible words, does not mean, according to Barth, that the Bible cannot be the Word of God. In fact, this error-prone book is the Word of God.
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:
The Scriptural Basis (continued) 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.
The doctrine of an infallible Bible, Barth labels “Docetism.” At the same time, he maintains that the church escapes this heresy only by acknowledging Scripture to be an error-prone book. One’s first reaction to the charge is to ask what “Docetism” can possibly have to do with the doctrine of Holy Scripture. Docetism is the heresy of denying the humanity of Jesus Christ.
Stigmatizing the doctrine of verbal inspiration as a “mechanical” view of inspiration does not originate with Barth. This tactic is hoary with age and worn with use. But Barth joins the ranks of those who attack, in this way, the doctrine of God’s having infallibly inspired the very words of Scripture. This attack consists of the claim that verbal inspiration necessarily implies mechanical inspiration.
Two matters remain to be treated in this investigation and critical analysis of the doctrine of Holy Scripture held by Karl Barth. These matters concern two main grounds advanced by Barth in support of his view of Scripture. Barth appeals, in defense of his position, to the teaching of the Reformers, especially, to the teaching of Luther and Calvin, and to the teaching of Scripture itself.