The Bible – The Word of God – Three Views: Part 4

This is part four of “The Bible – The Word of God.” Today we will be looking at the the views of one of the most important 20th century theologians: Karl Bart . We will see how his view of the “Word of God” is similar to a traditional evangelical view, while being distinct in some very important ways. This is part 2 of the subsection “Three Views on What it Means to Say that the Bible is the Word of God.”

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Three Views on What it Means to Say that the Bible is the Word of God

II. Karl Barth

            It’s a well known fact that Karl Barth is a difficult figure to interpret, thus when outlining what it means for Barth to say that the Bible is the Word of God we must admit our interpretation is one voice among a multitude of voices. So in approaching Barth’s position on this subject it is helpful to turn to others who are more versed in the works of Barth, in this case Francis Watson and Trevor Hart. Examining what these two interpreters have to say about the subject will help us understand Barth’s position.

Before we look at what the Bible is for Barth we must first understand what Revelation is for him. During the period in which Barth was formulating his theology, the notion of revelation was going through a considerable crisis. Theologians were questioning whether knowledge of God was even possible. Many theologians including Schlerimacher and Feuerbach concluded that revelation should have a natural basis, that is, it should be relocated within “the sphere of human (natural) rather than divine (supranatural) possibilities.”[1] However Barth disagreed with this position. Barth himself believed that it was impossible for humans to know God on their own. Barth believed that God was holy and humans were sinful therefore their minds were incapable of contemplating upon God. Barth also believed that God is wholly other, God is not an object that can be understood by systems of classification or descriptions. Thus if humans were to know God it would be because the breach between humanity and God would be healed by God himself. So if humans are to know God, it would not be something that could be described a natural process of human effort, it would have to be a miracle done by God himself. For Barth this event is revelation. “Revelation is precisely the event in which (by entering into a particular relation with certain created forms or media) God acts and gives himself to be known.” According to Barth God’s Word is the biblical category most closely corresponding to that of revelation.[2] This understanding of Revelation and God’s Word leads us to believe that the event of making himself known occurs in and through Jesus. Thus Jesus is God’s revelation; Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus, the Word of God, is God himself revealing himself. If we lose track of the fact that for Barth Jesus is the Word of God then we will fail to understand what it means for Barth to say that the Bible is the word of God.

For Barth, the Bible plays a very important role in his theology, in fact it has been said that “Barth’s Church Dogmatics is nothing other than a sustained meditation on the texts of Holy Scripture.”[3] In reading the Church Dogmatics  we notice a “cheerful confidence that God speaks with us in and through the Bible in its testimony to Jesus.”[4] But in what sense does God speak to us through the Bible? And in what sense is it God’s word? Watson believes that for “Barth, the Bible is the ‘Word of God’ in that the Word that God spoke once and for all continues to address us in the word or testimony of the biblical writers.”[5] According to Watson for Barth to say that the Bible is the Word of God is to say that the Bible speaks to us, mediating the event of God revealing himself. Or to phrase this another way, the Bible is God’s word because it is a witness to Jesus, who is the Word of God, God’s self revelation. In the Bible we hear a witness to the living God.

If this is a proper interpretation of Barth’s answer to the question “what does it mean to say that the Bible is the word of God,” then we are correct in saying that Barth takes this phrase in the objective genitive sense. That is, the Bible is the word of God because it is the word about God.


[1] Trevor Hart, “Revelation,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 38.

[2] Trevor Hart, “Revelation,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 45.

[3] Francis Watson, “The Bible,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 57.

[4] Francis Watson, “The Bible,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 58.

[5] Francis Watson, “The Bible,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 61.


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