Notes and quotes, Part 2: Barth’s Dogmatics

Open the eyes of my heartYou might remember a few weeks back I wrote some thoughts about my start with Barth, where I highlighted a few things that stood out to me as significant. (If you missed it you can read that post here)

Since then I have made some good progress and have found the journey  to be much more enthralling than I had initially anticipated. One thing is for certain, while there might be some dense parts which slow down the reading pace, Barth is far from boring to read.

Among the many good things Barth has to say that bridge the gap between my last reflection and this one, a few recent statements stand out and as such are worth sharing.

Under the heading of ‘God in His Revelation’ Barth sets out to tackle the issue of the historicity of the Biblical witness. He points out that:

‘When the Bible gives an account of revelation it means to narrate history…it is to tell of an event that takes place in a specific time and place between God and humanity. It is a very specific event and as such is incomparable and cannot be repeated (326)…

Important to note is that, when discussing historical criticism, Barth prefers to use the terms ‘saga and legend’ as opposed to ‘myth’. This is because the former terms are more appropriate, given the form and content of events by which the biblical authors claim to be primary witnesses.

Barth argues that: …’saga or legend does not have to be an attack on the biblical witness…since even saga or legend is in any case meant to be history and can thus be heard as a communication of history irrespective of the “historical” judgement (327).Whereas ‘the verdict that a biblical story is to be understood as a myth is necessarily an attack on the substance of the biblical witness’ (327) because myth ‘pretends to be history’ (327).

The following statement was what motivated this post.

…’one might ask whether the verdict “myth” as applied to the biblical texts is not even from the purely “historical” standpoint a mistaken verdict because it can perhaps be made only when there is a failure to hear what the real biblical texts are trying to say and do say if we read them as we actually have them, in their narrower and broader context, as biblical texts’ (328).

Barth’s words echoed loudly in an error I made when I answered a wounded brother in Christ, and told him, in haste, that while Genesis is a theological narrative one could see elements of both ”myth and science”  present within the text. What I should have said, and what would have been more in line with my own theological sympathies is that one could see elements of “saga/legend and scientific observations within the theological narrative” that is Genesis.

Some may ask, is this just semantics?

Barth doesn’t think so and I tend to agree. As stated above this is because ‘even saga or legend is in any case meant to be history and can thus be heard as a communication of history irrespective of the “historical” judgement (327).

Most important of all is Barth’s words:  ‘Is not the question of faith in revelation, of the acceptance of the God with us? (318)…The History of His acts is a history of ever renewed beginnings’ (322). That God chooses to be with us is gravity enough to hold me for hours of reflection on the possibilities of His presence. I cannot deny the change in my own life, brought about by His willingness to dynamically-be-for-us-awaiting-our-reply. Regular readers will know I come from a broken place. In no way can I claim a privileged beginning or to have inherited a religious silver spoon. Still here in Barth’s words there is a reminder that the God of the Bible, Yahweh, Jesus the Christ and His ongoing presence, ordained and given through the present activity of the Holy Spirit is one of Hope, restoration, promise and ultimately fulfilment.

I find strength in this and today, I hope you do also.

Pax Vobiscum.


Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics 1.1: The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers


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