Karl Barth on the Historicity of the Bible

I came across this in my reading today, and just had to put it out here for everyone to see. An astringent dose for liberals and conservatives! The last part, where he talks about the difficulty of drawing the line between saga and history in the bible, reminds me strongly of our doctrine of the incarnation, and the meeting of divinity and humanity in Christ:

Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics III.1, The Doctrine of Creation. Bromily and Torrance, ed.s, T & T Clark, London, 2004.

Sect. 41. Pg 82

"…the idea that the Bible declares the word of God only when it speaks historically is one which must be abandoned, especially in the Christian church. One consequence of this misunderstanding was the great uncertainty of faith which resulted from an inability wholly to escape the impression that many elements in the Bible have the nature of saga, and an ignorance where and how to draw the line which marks off what is finally historical and therefore the true word of God. But in other cases it led to a rigid affirmation that in the Bible, as the Word of God, we have only “historical” accounts and no saga at all – an affirmation which can be sustained only if we either close our eyes or violently reinterpret what we see. In other cases again it resulted in an attempt to penetrate to a “historical” kernel which is supposed to give us the true, i.e., “historical” word of God – the only trouble being that in the process it was unfortunately found that with the discarding of saga we do not lose only a subsidiary theme but the main point at issue, i.e. the biblical witness. We have to realise that in all three cases the presumed equation of the Word of God with a “historical” record is an inadmissible postulate which does not itself originate in the Bible at all but in the unfortunate habit of western thought which assumes that the reality of a history stands or falls by whether it is “history.” It was when this habit emerged and asserted itself (at the close of the seventeenth century) that developing theological Liberalism began to be preoccupied with the thought of a “historically” purified Bible, and declining theological orthodoxy took its stand on the theory that the Bible contains nothing but “history” and is therefore in its entirety the Word of God. Both Liberalism and orthodoxy are children of the same insipid spirit, and it is useless to follow them. For after all, there seems no good reason why the bible as the true witness of the Word of God should always have to speak “historically” and not be allowed also to speak in the form of saga. On the contrary, we have to recognise that as holy and inspired scripture, as the true witness of God’s true Word, the bible is forced to speak also in the form of saga precisely because its object and origin are what they are, i.e., not just “historical” but also frankly “non-historical.” It would not be the bible if it did not do this, and if it did not usually do it by mingling the two elements – and that in such a way that a dividing line can only be drawn with the greatest difficulty[r1] . Undoubtedly it is not by this dividing line that it can be deduced that it is God’s revelation and must be believed. The decision about its nature as revelation, the confirmation of its reality as the Word of God, is reached by the fact that in its “historical” parts and also particularly and precisely in its “non-historical” (or sagas) – although always in connection with the former – at attests the history of the great acts of God as genuine history, and that this witness is received and accepted through the power of the Holy Spirit."

[r1]See Chalcedonian definition of Christ here – “two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;”

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