Karl Barth on The Lens To Which We Read Holy Scripture

Mark Bowald in describing Karl Barth’s typology of theological hermeneutics cited this helpful quote about the lens of which we should read Holy Scripture:

No one has ever read the Bible only with his own eyes and no one ever should. The only question is what interpreters we allow and in what order we let them speak. It is a pure superstition that the systematizing of a so-called historico-critical theology has such a greater affinity to Holy Scripture itself and has therefore in some sense to be heard before the Apostle’s Creed or the Heidelberg Catechism as a more convincing exposition of the biblical witness. What we have in the historical critical theology is simply the commentary of a theology if not a mythology. The only thing is that this commentary has not been affirmed by a Church, that so far the theology or mythology has wisely hesitated to claim the character of a real decision. Obviously we cannot choose between the biblical text and a Church confession. We are definitely pointed and bound to the text, and not to the commentary. Again, we cannot choose between the possibility of using all available commentaries for and understanding of the text, including that of the historico-critical theology—or that of using only a few more convenient ones, including, of course, the Church confession. But we have the possibility of giving first place among all the voices which have to be heard to that of the Church confession, i.e., to listen to it first on the assumption that it has something particular to say to us as the solemnly gathered deposit of the significant existing experience of the Church with Holy Scripture. We then have to be constantly ready for corrections of its view either by other voices of by our own insight…If we cannot do this, if we have to reject as contrary to Scripture the direction indicated by the confession, we then have to face the difficult problem of an exchange of confessions, that is, an alteration of our ecclesiastical position.”1



  1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.2, 649–51. Quoted in Bowald, Mark Rendering the Word in Theological Hermeneutics pp. 181–182. ↩︎