The Bible Can Stand and Witness Against Us

I am, to say the least, geeked out and other wise excited about this week’s #Barthtogether reading on the Bible as the word of God.

Here are a couple of teaser quotes.

    “[Scripture] does not seek to be a historical monument but rather a Church document, written proclamation.”

    “Exegesis… entails the constant danger that the Bible will be taken prisoner by the Church.”

    “after any exegesis… [the church] has to realise afresh the distinction between text and commentary and to let the text speak again”

That section of the reading (§1.4.2) was the highlight for me.

As I read through this section on the word of God written, I was gripped by Barth’s refusal to equate revelation with anything “within” us. I hear Barth’s voice as prophetic for today in a manner analogous to what he needed to say in his own day. The notion of written revelation is an after-the-fact confession that God has, in fact, acted; God has, in fact, revealed.

Revelation is not timeless truth, it is the act of God. And, we might add, what is revealed is not timeless truth, but the acts of God–Barth would say, I think, the act of the eternal God revealing himself to us in Jesus Christ.

This section made my heart sing because Barth does such a nice job of holding together the acts of God and historical contingency–something that we in our modern contexts too often find impossible, sliding to one side or the other. On the right, people slide off toward “God,” minimizing history; on the left, folks slide off toward the contingent, minimizing the word and act of God.

Barth also resonates with me here because of his insistence that the Bible be always free to stand over against the church, that it must always be freed afresh from the constraints of our exegesis so that the text might be at liberty again to confront us as a surprising revelation of God. My hesitancy to corral the Bible by the “rule of faith” and other confessional expressions found a perhaps unwitting ally here.

I did have a couple of quibbles. You know–those places where a biblical scholar reading a theologian talking about the Bible made me nervous.

The account of Bible as canon was as good as I think we can do: the Biblical books we have pressed themselves as word of God upon the early church. But then, the history of canonization is messy, and the biblical books don’t depict themselves as scripture for the most part.

And I could have entirely done without the claim at the end that word as revelation, proclamation, and scripture parallels and find its confirmation in the Trinity. To the paralleling of one’s theological thoughts with the Trinity there is no end. And I cannot imagine that many of theme approximate the reality of how God truly is at work in the world or left marks of God’s triunity within it.

On the level of a professional New Testament scholar, the reading raised interesting questions about how to conceptualize the handling of the Bible outside the church. If the Bible is word of God as it is testimony to God’s revelation, and the confirming testimony to the church’s proclamation, then what do we say about the Bible when it is read for what it said in history, when it is read outside the church, when it is talked about to describe it rather than to invite obedience?

Lingering questions…

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