The 6th and final post on Karl Barth’s Biblical Hermeneutics
Conclusion: Barth in our Context
Barth’s overall approach is consistent in that faith in the possibility of God’s working in Revelation validates the hermeneutic of trust which is central to his theological exegesis. The former legitimises the latter. Like Wright’s Critical Realism, Barth is honest about the role of presuppositions. For both it is the fact that there is a guiding story; of a God who sent his Son to a far country to bring back a people to himself. Barth’s key strength is his commitment to this story of a God who precedes anything that we might do to find him. It is fitting that Barth’s yes to God’s centrality in Revelation should in turn give a no to the legitimacy of those modern hermeneutical methods that are underpinned by presuppositions that are hostile to this possibility.
In some ways Barth’s approach to biblical interpretation anticipates some recent developments in hermeneutics. However, this is not to say that Barth simply affirms them but rather that his approach makes decisions about the issues underlying the methods and thus their legitimacy, or otherwise. Four examples must suffice:
- Barth’s understanding of Revelation naturally emphasising the unity of the Biblical books, against ever more sophisticated competing attempts to reconstruct their textual evolution and origin.
- In a similar way, Barth’s approach affirms the unity of the biblical corpus legitimising an approach which would in many ways be analogous to a variety of methods termed Canonical approaches.
- Barth recognises the role of the reader in bringing something to the text (see above) though he places objective truth with a God who reveals in freedom, contra radical reader-response approaches.
- Barth’s hermeneutic of trust stands in opposition to the underlying assumptions of all explicitly deconstructionist approaches to biblical texts.
We would do well to follow Barth’s central interpretative agenda, in making ‘an attempt to read the Bible differently . . . more in accordance with its subject-matter, content, and substance, focusing with more attention and love upon the meaning of the Bible itself’. Such a call to the task of biblical interpretation sounds like a voice calling in the wilderness of a plethora of rival hermeneutical approaches. Yet Barth’s decision as to the necessity of committed, rather than neutral, knowledge of the Bible gives confidence in the possibility of a straight path in this wilderness.
 Burnett, Theological Exegesis, p.277.
Baillie, John, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought, London: Oxford University Press, 1956.
Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics, I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God, editors: G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translator: G. W. Bromiley, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975.
Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics, I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, editors: G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translators: G. T. Thomson and Harold Knight, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1970.
Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics, II/1: The Doctrine of God, editors: G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translators: T. H. L. Parker, W. B. Johnston, H. Knight and J. L. M. Harie, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1964.
Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics, IV/3ii: The Doctrine of Creation, editors: G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translators: Harold Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid and R. H. Fuller, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968.
Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics, IV/4: The Doctrine of Reconciliation – Baptism as the Foundation of the Christian Life, editors: G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translator: G. W. Bromiley, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1969.
Barth, Karl, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th edition, Translator: Hoskyns, E. C., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933.
Barth, Karl, ‘The Strange New World Within the Bible’, pp.28-50 in The Word of God and the Word of Man, Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1928.
Barth, Karl, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24, editor: Ritschl, D., translator: Bromiley, G. W., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.
Barth, Karl, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, new edition, London: SCM Press, 2001.
Biggar, Nigel, ‘Barth’s Trinitarian Ethic’, pp.212-227 in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, editor: John Webster, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Burnett, Richard E., Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis: The hermeneutical principles of the Römerbrief period, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.
Busch, Eberhard, The Great Passion: An introduction to Karl Barth’s theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.
Colwell, Promise and Presence: An exploration of sacramental theology, Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2005.
Fackre, Gabriel, ‘Revelation’, pp.1-25 in Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and divergences, editor: Sung Wook Chung, Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2006.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, second revised edition, translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, London: Continuum, 2004.
Gorringe, Timothy J., Against Hegemony: Christian theology in context, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Gunton, Colin E., A Brief Theology of Revelation: The 1993 Warfield Lectures, London: T&T Clark, 1995.
Gunton, Colin E., Becoming and Being: The doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth, new edition, London: SCM Press, 2001.
Gunton, Colin, E., The Barth Lectures, edited: Brazier, P. H., London: T&T Clark International, 2007.
Gunton, Colin E., Holmes, Stephen R. and Rae, Murray A. (editors), The Practice of Theology: A reader, London: SCM Press, 2001.
Hart, Trevor, ‘Revelation’, pp.37-56 in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, editor: John Webster, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Hunsinger, George, ‘The Mediator of Communion: Karl Barth’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit’, pp.177-194 in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, editor: John Webster, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Henry, Carl F. H., God, Revelation and Authority: Volume 2: God who speaks and shows part 1, Waco: Word, 1976.
Henry, Carl F. H., God, Revelation and Authority: Volume 4: God who speaks and shows part 3, Waco: Word, 1979.
McCormack, Bruce L., Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its genesis and development 1909-1936, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Neill, Stephen C. and Wright, Nicholas T., The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1986, new edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Osborne, Grant R., The Hermeneutical Spiral: A comprehensive introduction to biblical interpretation, Downers Grove: IVP, 1991.
Torrance, Thomas F., Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical theologian, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990.