Church Dogmatics

6. We believe in and with the Church that Holy Scripture has this priority over all other writings and authorities, even those of the Church. We believe in and with the Church that Holy Scripture as the original and legitimate witness of divine revelation is itself the Word of God. The words “has” and “is” in these two sentences proclaim the same truth. But they need to be explained and delimited rather more exactly. For the sake of perspicuity we must anticipate the result: the “has” and “is” speak about a divine disposing, action and decision, to which when we make these statements we have on the one hand to look back as something which has already taken place, and on the other to look forward as something which has yet to do so. They do not speak, therefore, about a content which we can see clearly or control. They do not say that we have the capacity and competence to ascribe to the Bible this priority, this character as the Word of God, and that this priority and character of the Bible are immediately clear to us. If we venture to make them, we do so in obedience and therefore not on the basis and according to the measure of an a priori* understanding and judgment made by us and applied to this object (as though its holiness were a quality open to our observation and judgment), but in obedience to a judgment of God already made in the light of the object, and in preparation for one which has again and again to be made in the light of it. We venture to do so in thankfulness for what we remember we have already heard in Scripture and in hope of what we may expect to hear again. If we say: the Bible has this priority, it is the Word of God, we must first replace the “has” by a “had” and “will have,” and the “is” by a “was” and “will be.” It is only as expounded in this way that the two words correspond to what we can actually know and say: we who are not in a position to carry through that divine disposing, action and decision or to handle them as though they were ours. But again when we expound the saying in this way—and it does say “has” and “is”—we must not lose sight of, or forget, or (in a superiority and power which demand this exposition but scoff at all exposition) weaken the fact that the truth of this “has” and “is” cannot be denied by dissolving it into a past and future. The life of the “had” and “was” and “will have” and “will be” derives entirely from the centre, the present “has” and “is.” And our explanatory statements about the recollection and expectation, in which alone we can know and say anything about this present, can be genuine exposition only when they are related entirely to this centre, to the present which we do not know, for which we have no word, over which we have no power, of which as such we cannot say anything except this extravagant “has” and “is,” because it is the event of what God Himself decides and wills and does in divine freedom and superiority and power. In the reality and truth of this event nothing is past or only future, nothing is only recollection and nothing only expectation, nothing is doubtful and nothing uncertain, nothing is after or before, nothing has to be repeated and nothing confirmed. It is round this event that the whole doctrine of Holy Scripture circles, and with it all Church dogmatics, and with it, too, preaching and the sacrament of Church proclamation. If our thinking and speaking cease to circle round this event, if we begin to think and speak about the Word of God in Holy Scripture only historically or only eschatologically even, and therefore in one way or another with doubt and uncertainty, we do not think and speak in and with the Church, in faith, we do not think and speak at all about the Word of God in Holy Scripture, but about something else which has consciously or unconsciously taken its place. But when we try to avoid this, we have to be clear that we can only circle round this event; we cannot attain to it of ourselves any more than we can—as we saw earlier—to the unity of Scripture. If it desires and wills to come, taking place within our own encircling exposition—well, it will simply do so, and it will do so the more strongly and gloriously the less we interfere with our clumsy and insolent attempts to attain to it. It is when we are clear that in all our exposition we can only think and explain this event, that we are equally clear that for our part we can never do more than think and explain it. All the possible denials and dissolutions of this present into all kinds of pasts and futures have their source in the fact that this present is not respected as the divine present. It is thought that we can and should turn everything upside down and treat this present as a created human present which we can seize and control. There is no patience to continue circling round that centre, to stick to that faithful exposition and therefore that recollection and expectation which in face of this present—because it is this present—is our place and portion, our task and yet also our comfort. This is the insight which we must now consider and defend in detail.
It will be in place for us to remember first at this point the two important and always much noted statements in which in the New Testament itself there is explicit mention of the priority and character of Holy Scripture as such. Both passages refer primarily to the Old Testament, but according to the fundamental meaning of the two authors in whom they are found, the expressions can and ought and must be applied to all the witness of revelation and therefore to the New Testament witness as well.
The first passage is in 2 Tim. 3:14–17, where Paul orders Timothy—it is noted that we are almost on the edge of the Canon—to “continue” in the things which he has learned, and received in faith (ἔμαθες καὶ ἐπιστώθης). He is to remember those of whom he has learned them, and that from a child he has known the Holy Scriptures (the ἱερὰ γράμματα) which have the power (τὰ δυνάμενα …) to make him “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” All that he has said so far has been said in clear and express remembrance of the fact that the Scriptures have already played a definite, decisive role in the life of his reader, that they have already given the proof of what they claim to be, that they have already shown their power, the specific power of instruction in the faith which saves him, and, concretely, in the faith which is founded on Jesus Christ, directed to Him, and actual through Him. But then Paul goes on to give the assurance that these same Scriptures will also be profitable to thee “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (all obviously as much for himself as through him for others), “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The same Scriptures have now become the object of expectation. The content of the expectation does not differ from that of the recollection of which he spoke earlier, but all that was previously represented as a gift now acquires the character of a task which has still to be taken up and executed. But the ὠφέλιμος* corresponds exactly with the δυνάμενα*: Scripture was able and it will be able for what is said about its meaning for the life and activity of the reader both before and after. In the middle of these two statements, throwing light both backwards and forwards, there stands the sentence: πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος*, all, that is the whole Scripture is—literally: “of the Spirit of God,” i.e., given and filled and ruled by the Spirit of God, and actively outbreathing and spreading abroad and making known the Spirit of God. It is clear that this statement is decisive for the whole. It is because of this, i.e., in the power of the truth of the fact that the Spirit of God is before and above and in Scripture, that it was able and will be able for what is said of it both before and after. But it is equally clear that at the centre of the passage a statement is made about the relationship between God and Scripture, which can be understood only as a disposing act and decision of God Himself, which cannot therefore be expanded but to which only a—necessarily brief—reference can be made. At the decisive point all that we have to say about it can consist only in an underlining and delimiting of the inaccessible mystery of the free grace in which the Spirit of God is present and active before and above and in the Bible.
The other passage which calls for consideration is 2 Pet. 1:19–21. The author had been speaking (vv. 16–18) about the visual witness to the “greatness” (μεγαλειότης) of Jesus Christ. Side by side with this—and he uses a most remarkable comparative (βεβαιότερον*)—he places the “prophetic word,” calling it “a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the daystar arise in your hearts.” It is said of this word that we have (ἔχομεν) it and that in the future we must take heed thereto (προσέχοντες). Here too, therefore, although not quite so clearly in relation to the “prophetic word” as such, we stand between the two times. The pointing to the coming dawn, which corresponds to the recollection of the visual witness, undoubtedly puts what is said into this framework. And here again, and in fact more clearly than in 2 Tim. 3, the centre is revealed from which we have to look backwards and forwards. The “prophecy of Scripture” is rightly read in the sense of what precedes, it is our light in a dark place, when it is not made the object of an ἰδία ἐπίλυσις*: i.e., when we allow it to expound itself, or when we allow it to control and determine our exposition. This is because, as the text goes on, it is not given “by the will of man,” but in it men spoke as they were “moved by the Holy Ghost,” ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι, they spoke “from God” (ἀπὸ θεοῦ).
The decisive centre to which the two passages point is in both instances indicated by a reference to the Holy Spirit, and indeed in such a way that He is described as the real author of what is stated or written in Scripture. It should be noted that the expressions used in these passages merely confirm what we have already seen concerning the sending and authorising of the prophets and apostles. In their function as witnesses to revelation they speak in the place and under the commission of Him who sent them, that is, Yahweh or Jesus Christ. They speak as auctores secundarii*. But there can be no question of any ignoring or violating of their auctoritas* and therefore of their humanity. Moreover what we experience elsewhere of the work of the Holy Spirit on man in general and on such witnesses in particular, and our recollection of the conceptus de Spiritu sancto* in Christology, does not allow us to suppose that we have to understand what we are told here about the authors of the Holy Scriptures, as though they were not real auctores*, as though in what they spoke or wrote they did not make full use of their human capacities throughout the whole range of what is contained in this idea and concept. Exegetically Calvin was right when in his note on 2 Pet. 1:21 he wrote: Impulsos fuisse dicit, non quod mente alienati fuerint (qualem in suis prophetis ἐνθουσιασμὸν fingunt gentiles), sed quia nihil a se ipsis ausi fuerint: tantum obedienter sequuti sint Spiritum ducem, qui in ipsorum ore tanquam in suo sacrario regnabat* (C.R. 55, 458). Theopneustia* in the bounds of biblical thinking cannot mean anything but the special attitude of obedience in those who are elected and called to this obviously special service. The special element in this attitude of obedience lay in the particularity, i.e., the immediacy of its relationship to the revelation which is unique by restriction in time, and therefore in the particular nature of what they had to say and write as eyewitnesses and ear-witnesses, the first-fruits of the Church. But in nature and bearing their attitude of obedience was of itself—both outwardly and inwardly—only that of true and upright men. In particular, it did not mean any abolition of their freedom, their self-determination. How could their obedience be obedience unless it was rendered freely? But if it was rendered freely, we can only say that they themselves and of themselves thought and spoke and wrote what they did think and speak and write as genuine auctores*. They did so individually, each within his own psychological, biographical and historical possibilities, and therefore within the limits set by those possibilities. Their action was their own, and like every human action, an act conditioned by and itself conditioning its temporal and spatial environment. That as such it acquired this special function, was placed under the auctoritas primaria*, the lordship of God, was surrounded and controlled and impelled by the Holy Spirit, and became an attitude of obedience in virtue of its direct relationship to divine revelation—that was their theopneustia*. In order to understand this biblical concept we cannot make any essential distinction between the thinking and speaking of the prophets and apostles and their writing, either in the sense in which many attempts have been made recently to limit inspiration to their thinking and speaking, or even to the prophetic experience which precedes and underlies their thinking and speaking, or in the sense that it rests distinctly in their writing. What we are told of it in the Old and New Testaments generally, and especially in 2 Tim. 3 and 2 Pet. 1, gives us no cause to adopt either of these explanations. As men, who lived then and there and not here and now, the prophets and apostles do, of course, exist for us only in what they have written. But in what they have written it is they themselves who do exist for us. In what they have written they exist visibly and audibly before us in all their humanity, chosen and called as witnesses of revelation, claimed by God and obedient to God, true men, speaking in the name of the true God, because they have heard His voice as we cannot hear it, as we can hear it only through their voices. And that is their theopneustia*. That is the mystery of the centre before which we always stand when we hear and read them: remembering that it was once the case (the recollection of the Church and our own recollection attest it) that their voice reproduced the voice of God, and therefore expecting that it will be so again. The biblical concept of theopneustia* points us therefore to the present, to the event which occurs for us: Scripture has this priority, it is the Word of God. But it only points us to it. It is not a substitute for it. It does not create it. How can it, seeing it is only a description of what God does in the humanity of His witnesses? But as it occurs in these two passages, it points us to what Holy Scripture was and will be. Yet even by this circuitous route it points to what it is. Therefore if we are to read and understand and expound Holy Scripture as the Word of God, it will always have to be a matter of taking the road which Scripture itself lays down for us.
In the statement: we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we must first emphasise and consider the word “believe.” Believing does, of course, involve recognising and knowing. Believing is not an obscure and indeterminate feeling. It is a clear hearing, apperceiving, thinking and then speaking and doing. Believing is also a free human act, i.e., one which is not destroyed or disturbed by any magic; but, of course, a free act which as such is conditioned and determined by an encounter, a challenge, an act of lordship which confronts man, which man cannot bring about himself, which exists either as an event or not at all. Therefore believing is not something arbitrary. It does not control its object. It is a recognising, knowing, hearing, apperceiving, thinking, speaking and doing which is overmastered by its object. Belief that the Bible is the Word of God presupposes, therefore, that this over-mastering has already taken place, that the Bible has already proved itself to be the Word of God, so that we can and must recognise it to be such. But when and where there is this proof, it must be a matter of the Word of God itself. We must say at once, that of itself the mere presence of the Bible and our own presence with our capacities for knowing an object does not mean and never will mean the reality or even the possibility of the proof that the Bible is the Word of God. On the contrary, we have to recognise that this situation as such, i.e., apart from faith, only means the impossibility of this proof. We have to recognise that faith as an irruption into this reality and possibility means the removing of a barrier in which we can only see and again and again see a miracle. And it is a miracle which we cannot explain apart from faith, or rather apart from the Word of God in which faith believes. Therefore the reality and possibility of it cannot be maintained or defended at all apart from faith and the Word. Nor can there be any assurances of it apart from faith and the Word. It is not only that we cannot attribute to ourselves any capacity or instrument for recognising the Word of God either in the Bible or elsewhere. It is also that if we are serious about the true humanity of the Bible, we obviously cannot attribute to the Bible as such the capacity—and in this it is distinguished, as we have seen, from the exalted and glorified humanity of Jesus Christ—in such a way to reveal God to us that by its very presence, by the fact that we can read it, it gives us a hearty faith in the Word of God spoken in it. It is there and always there as a sign, as a human and temporal word—and therefore also as a word which is conditioned and limited. It witnesses to God’s revelation, but that does not mean that God’s revelation is now before us in any kind of divine revealedness. The Bible is not a book of oracles; it is not an instrument of direct impartation. It is genuine witness. And how can it be witness of divine revelation, if the actual purpose, act and decision of God in His only-begotten Son, as seen and heard by the prophets and apostles in that Son, is dissolved in the Bible into a sum total of truths abstracted from that decision—and those truths are then propounded to us as truths of faith, salvation and revelation? If it tries to be more than witness, to be direct impartation, will it not keep from us the best, the one real thing, which God intends to tell and give us and which we ourselves need? But if it does not try to do this, if it is really witness, we must understand clearly what it means and involves that in itself it is only witness. It means the existence of those barriers which can be broken down only by miracle. The men whom we hear as witnesses speak as fallible, erring men like ourselves. What they say, and what we read as their word, can of itself lay claim to be the Word of God, but never sustain that claim. We can read and try to assess their word as a purely human word. It can be subjected to all kinds of immanent criticism, not only in respect of its philosophical, historical and ethical content, but even of its religious and theological. We can establish lacunæ, inconsistencies and over-emphases. We may be alienated by a figure like that of Moses. We may quarrel with James or with Paul. We may have to admit that we can make little or nothing of large tracts of the Bible, as is often the case with the records of other men. We can take offence at the Bible. And in the light of the claim or the assertion that the Bible is the Word of God—granting that the miracle of faith and the Word does not intervene—we are bound to take offence at it. But this is a miracle which we cannot presuppose. We can remember it. We can wait for it. But we cannot set it up like one chessman with others, which we can “move” at the right moment. Therefore we are bound to take offence at the Bible in the light of that claim. If we do not, we have not yet realised the importance of that claim. Only the miracle of faith and the Word can genuinely and seriously prevent us from taking offence at the Bible. But the theopneustia* of the Bible, the attitude of obedience in which it is written, the compelling fact that in it true men speak to us in the name of the true God: this—and here is the miracle of it—is not simply before us because the Bible is before us and we read the Bible. The theopneustia* is the act of revelation in which the prophets and apostles in their humanity became what they were, and in which alone in their humanity they can become to us what they are.
In the De servo arbitrio Luther made the important assertion: Duae res sunt Deus et scriptura Dei, non minus quam duae res sunt creator et creatura Dei*. (W.A. 18, 606, 11). And again: “Thus Scripture is a book, to which there belongeth not only reading but also the right Expositor and Revealer, to wit, the Holy Spirit. Where He openeth not Scripture, it is not understood” (Pred. üb. Lk. 24:13f. 1534, according to Rörer, E.A. 3, 334). But whoso knoweth not Christ, may hear the Gospel or hold the book in his hands, but its import he doth not have, for to have the Gospel without understanding is to have no Gospel. And to have the Scripture without knowledge of Christ is to have no Scripture, and is none other than to let these stars shine and yet not to perceive them (Pred. üb. Mt. 2:1–12, Kirchenpostille 1522 W.A. 101, 1, 628, 3). According to Augustine there is only one reason why Scripture is not understood: Nam dicere ut est, quis potest? Audeo dicere fratres mei, forsitan nec ipse Joannes dixit ut est, sed et ipse ut potuit! quia de Deo homo dixit: et quidem inspiratus a Deo sed tamen homo. Quia inspiratus, dixit aliquid; si non inspiratus esset, dixisset nihil; quia vero homo inspiratus, non totum quod est, dixit, sed quod potuit homo dixit*. (In Joann. tract. 1, 1). Augustine was here pointing to something which the older Protestant orthodoxy almost completely overlooked, especially with its doctrine of the perspicuitas* and perfectio* of Holy Scripture. We know what we say when we call the Bible the Word of God only when we recognise its human imperfection in face of its divine perfection, and its divine perfection in spite of its human imperfection. In relation to the obvious uncertainty of the traditional Canon, whether in respect of its compass or of its textual form, this could be conceded by many writers. F. Burmann, for instance, could say in this respect: Doctrina ipsa et hoc verbum Dei vivum sese ipsum ostendit et cordibus electorum per operationem Spiritus sancti potenter insinuat, non obstante defectu vel vitio quocunque in organis istis externis. Non enim ab illis fides vel salus nostra pendet sed a doctrina ipsa iis contenta.… Doctrina sacra vi sua propria pollet et defectum organorum superat et licet per homines fallibiles praedicata, tamen plenam sui fidem in cordibus fidelium facit*. (Syn. Theol., 1678, I, 5, 21). This very distinction between inspiration and therefore the divine infallibility of the Bible and its human fallibility has now to be carried through more radically.
First, there is the truism that we cannot expect or demand a compendium of solomonic or even divine knowledge of all things in heaven and earth, natural, historical and human, to be mediated to the prophets and apostles in and with their encounter with divine revelation, possessing which they have to be differentiated not only from their own but from every age as the bearers and representatives of an ideal culture and therefore as the inerrant proclaimers of all and every truth. They did not in fact possess any such compendium. Each in his own way and degree, they shared the culture of their age and environment, whose form and content could be contested by other ages and environments, and at certain points can still appear debatable to us. Quod potuit homo dixit*. This means that we cannot overlook or deny it or even alter it. In the biblical view of the world and man we are constantly coming up against presuppositions which are not ours, and statements and judgments which we cannot accept. Therefore at bottom we cannot avoid the tensions which arise at this point. We must reckon with the fact that this may be possible in points of detail, and we must always be ready for it. Instead of talking about the “errors” of the biblical authors in this sphere, if we want to go to the heart of things it is better to speak only about their “capacity for errors.” For in the last resort even in relation to the general view of the world and man the insight and knowledge of our age can be neither divine nor even solomonic. But fundamentally we certainly have to face the objection and believe in spite of it!
Not for all ages and countries, but certainly for our own, it is part of the stumbling-block that like all ancient literature the Old and New Testaments know nothing of the distinction of fact and value which is so important to us, between history, on the one hand, and saga and legend on the other. We must be clear that we cannot attach any final seriousness to this distinction and therefore any final difficulty to the objections to which it gives rise. But if we cannot deny that this distinction is now part of our apparatus of apperception, we cannot try to suppress or artificially to remove the doubts arising from it. We have to face up to them and to be clear that in the Bible it may be a matter of simply believing the Word of God, even though it meets us, not in the form of what we call history, but in the form of what we think must be called saga or legend.
But the vulnerability of the Bible, i.e., its capacity for error, also extends to its religious or theological content. The significance of a fact which was known to the early antiquity weighs on us more heavily to-day than formerly: that in their attestation of divine revelation (from the standpoint of the history of religion) the biblical authors shared the outlook and spoke the language of their own day—and, therefore, whether we like it or not, they did not speak a special language of revelation radically different from that of their time. On the contrary, at point after point we find them echoing contemporaries in time and space who did not share their experience and witness, often resembling them so closely that it is impossible to distinguish between them. Not only part but all that they say is historically related and conditioned. It seems to be weakened, and therefore robbed of its character as witness to revelation, by the fact that it has so many “parallels.” That they speak of Yahweh and of Jesus Christ, and not of other entities, is something we have laboriously to work out and prove from their usage as compared with that of their environment—and we can never do it with unimpeachable evidence, but in the last resort only on the presupposition of our faith. It amounts to this, that, as we see it, many parts, especially of the Old Testament, cannot be accepted as religious and theological literature, but only as documents of secular legislation and history and practical wisdom and poetry, although the Synagogue and later the Church claimed to find in them witness of revelation. It amounts to this, that not one of the biblical authors has done the Church and us the pleasure of giving his witness to divine revelation the form of a more or less complete and thorough-going theological system, that even in relation to the theology of a St. Paul and St. John we can only arrive later and by dint of much laborious construction at a certain hypothetical scheme. It amounts to this, that the biblical authors wrote with all the limitations imposed by their most varied possible historical and individual standpoints and outlooks, so that the content of their writing as a whole, for all the “harmony” upon which we touched earlier, does not in any sense constitute a system. But depending on how we can and want to look on them, there are distinctions of higher and lower, of utterances which are more central and peripheral, of witnesses which have to be understood literally and symbolically. There are obvious overlappings and contradictions—e.g., between the Law and the prophets, between John and the Synoptists, between Paul and James. But nowhere are we given a single rule by which to make a common order, perhaps an order of precedence, but at any rate a synthesis, of what is in itself such a varied whole. Nowhere do we find a rule which enables us to grasp it in such a, way that we can make organic parts of the distinctions and evade the contradictions as such. We are led now one way, now another—each of the biblical authors obviously speaking only quod potuit homo*—and in both ways, and whoever is the author, we are always confronted with the question of faith. Again, we must be careful not to be betrayed into taking sides into playing off the one biblical man against the other, into pronouncing that this one or that has “erred.” From what standpoint can we make any such pronouncement? For within certain limits and therefore relatively they are all vulnerable and therefore capable of error even in respect of religion and theology. In view of the actual constitution of the Old and New Testaments this is something which we cannot possibly deny if we are not to take away their humanity, if we are not to be guilty of Docetism. How can they be witnesses, if this is not the case? But if it is, even from this angle we come up against the stumbling-block which cannot be avoided or can be avoided only in faith.
To all this, however, we must still add as an independent matter something the importance of which the Church has only begun to recognise in our own day, although it has actually exercised a definite effect in every age. The Bible as the witness of divine revelation is in its humanity a product of the Israelitish, or to put it more clearly, the Jewish spirit. The man who in these Scriptures has said quod potuit* is homo Judaeus*. This is true—and no devices can avail us, for it is so closely bound up with the content—of the whole of the Bible, even of the whole of the New Testament Bible. It is once and for all the case that the content of these writings is the story of the divine election and calling and ruling of Israel, the story of the founding of the Church as the true Israel. And it is Israelites—and since, as we were told, the witnesses of revelation belong to the revelation themselves, it is necessarily Israelites—who attest all this to us in these Scriptures. If we want it otherwise, we will have to strike out not only the Old but all the New Testament as well, replacing them by something else, which is no longer a witness of divine revelation. The cry of dismay which is heard so strongly to-day is quite justified: we and the men of all nations are expected by Jews not only to interest ourselves in things Jewish, but in a certain and ultimately decisive sense actually to become Jews. And we may well ask whether all the other offences which we may take at the Bible, and will necessarily take if we are without faith, are not trifles compared with this offence. We may well ask whether there is any harder test of faith than the one which we see here. For the Bible itself does not hide the fact, but shows relentlessly that this is a hard demand, that the Jewish people is a hard and stiff-necked people, because it is a people which resists its God, the living God. It is characterised as the people which in its own Messiah finally rejected and crucified the Saviour of the world and therefore denied the revelation of God. It is in this way that the Bible is a Jewish book, the Jewish book. What has later Anti-Semitism to say compared with the accusation here levelled against the Jews? And what can it do compared with the judgment under which they have been put at the hand of God Himself long ago? But in all its folly and wickedness Anti-Semitism, which is as old as the Jewish nation itself, is not based, as its liberal critics think, upon an invincible and therefore recurrent arbitrariness and caprice, which can be kept in bounds by occasional pleas for humanity. Anti-Semitism is so strong to-day that it can hammer out a whole racial theory which claims to be a science, but in the last resort is naively directed against the Jews. And on this basis, which is ultimately an anti-Jewish basis, it can fashion a state. But this Anti-Semitism sees and intends something real which liberalism has never actually seen. This real thing is not, of course, identical with what it accuses and attacks. If it knew what it is, it would not accuse and attack it, for it would know—this is not the only reason, but one reason—that no power in the world can match what confronts it here. Modern German Anti-Semitism is concerned about Jewish blood and Jewish race. At best, these are signs of the real thing which encounters humanity unperceived and uncomprehended. But the real thing itself is the one natural proof of God adduced by God in the existence of the Jewish nation amongst other nations. It is hardly seen by Anti-Semites and liberals, but here a part of world-history gives the most direct witness to the biblical witness of revelation, and therefore to the God who is attested in the Bible. To this very day Israel confronts us as the people of God rejected by God. To this very day Israel shows us that it is only in judgment that God exercises grace and that it is His free decision that He exercises grace in judgment. Israel reminds the world that it is the world, and it reminds the Church from what it has been taken. And because it is this people, the other nations are constantly enraged by its existence, revolting against it and wishing its destruction. Because it is this people, something hostile arises in all non-Jews against every Jew without exception, even the best and finest and noblest of Jews—and this quite apart from ethical or biological feelings and considerations. We cannot attribute the hostility simply to foreign blood and the like. If all the foreign blood which meets us every day in the welter of nations in the modern Western world were to give rise to this hostility, we could never escape it. By being hostile to Jewish blood, the world simply proves that it is the world: blind and deaf and stupid to the ways of God, as they are visibly before it in the existence of this people. And if the Church tries to co-operate in this hostility to Jewish blood, it simply proves that it too has become blind and deaf and stupid. In fact in the Jew, the non-Jew has to recognise himself, his own apostasy, his own sin, which he himself cannot forgive. And in the Jew he has to recognise Christ, the Messiah of Israel, who alone has made good his apostasy and pardoned his sin. Confronted in this way by the divine severity and goodness, he is necessarily alienated by the existence of the Jew, and it is devilish madness if instead he abandons himself to a biological and moral alienation, working out his perverted hostility—as all perversions necessarily work themselves out—in accusations and attacks upon the Jews because of their national alienation. In this way he persists in his own apostasy. He acts as though he could forgive his own sins. In rejecting the Jew he rejects God. But that means that in this perversion we have to do not only with a real thing, but with the most real thing of all. And it is no accident if at the point where we have to do with this most real thing, in the Bible, we are asked point blank whether we are guilty of this perversion or not. For the Bible as the witness of divine revelation in Jesus Christ is a Jewish book. It cannot be read and understood and expounded unless we openly accept the language and thought and history of the Jews, unless we are prepared to become Jews with the Jews. But that means that we have to ask ourselves what is our attitude to the natural proof of God adduced in worldhistory by the continuing existence of the Jews, whether we are ready to accept it or to join the wolves in howling against it. And once we are clear that the liberal solution, i.e., the liberal evasion of the Jewish problem cannot help us, this question will necessarily be a very hard one. We may not always be alienated by the goodness and severity of God. But the Jew brings this alienation right into national and social life to-day, even in the Bible. Salvation means alienation, and “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). And because man will not be alienated, even for his own salvation, he rolls away the alienation on to the Jew. In that way it all becomes so simple. We can find so many grievances against the Jew. Once we have raised even our little finger in Anti-Semitism, we can produce such vital and profound reasons in favour of it, and they will all apply equally well to the Bible, not only to the Old but also to the New Testament, not only to the Rabbi Paul but also to the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth of the first three Gospels. And we have to ask: What offence that we can take at the Bible is more pressing and goes deeper and is more general than the offence which it offers here? For if the liberal solution, which is no solution, collapses, how can we not be Anti-Semitic? At this point we need the miracle of the Word and faith if the offence is to cease, the perversion to be overcome, the Anti-Semitism in us all eliminated, the word of man, the Jewish word of the Bible, heard and accepted as the Word of God.
We started with Luther’s saying: Duae res sunt, Deus et scriptura Dei*. We have learned from Augustine the one reason why this is the case. Luther is right, because the Bible is vulnerable. At every point it is the vulnerable word of man. Luther did not stop at this saying. For faith, God and Holy Scripture are not two things but one. We believe that Scripture is the Word of God. But when we say that, we say more than we can say in view of our own present: in recollection and expectation we look to the present of an event which God alone can bring about. It is not only in regard to the ultimately harmless question of tradition, but at every point, that the saying is true which points us to the miracle of God which we cannot bring about: Doctrina sacra vi sua propria pollet et defectum organorum superat el licet per homines fallibiles praedicata, tamen plenam sui fidem in cordibus fidelium facit*. Nothing else, or less, can lead to the decision which has to be made here.
But now in order to see the full acuteness of the problem, we must also emphasise and consider the concept “Word of God” in the statement: We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. What we have said so far cannot mean that the miracle just mentioned consists in our having to believe in a sort of enthusiastic rapture which penetrates the barriers of offence by which the Bible is surrounded. Of course, the whole mystery of this statement rests on the fact that faith is not for everybody, and that even if we have it, it is a small and weak and inadequate because not a true faith. Therefore the miracle which has to take place if the Bible is to rise up and speak to us as the Word of God has always to consist in an awakening and strengthening of our faith. But the real difficulty of the statement does not rest in the side which concerns us men, but in that which concerns God Himself. It does not rest, therefore, in the severity of the offences caused by the humanity of the Bible. Although the question of faith of which we have just been speaking is central, it is only the secondary form of the question which has to be decided at this centre. Faith can in fact only be obedience and cling to the Word as a free human decision. And it can do so only because the Word has come to it and made and introduced it as faith. Therefore faith cannot simply grasp at the Bible, as though by the energy of its grasping, perhaps that highest energy which may even rise to enthusiasm, the Word of God would come to it in spite of all the offences (which are therefore overcome by the enthusiasm). Rather, the energy of this grasping itself rests on the prior corning of the Word of God. Faith does not live by its own energy and therefore not even by its arousing and strengthening by the Word of God. It lives by the energy of the movement in which the Word of God in Holy Scripture has come to us in spite of all the offences which we might take at it, and has first created our faith. Whether this has happened or not is the objective mystery which confronts and precedes the question of faith, the mystery of the statement that “the Bible is the Word of God.” In the statement that “the Bible is the Word of God,” we cannot suddenly mean a lesser, less potent, less ineffable and majestic Word of God, than that which has occupied us in the doctrine of the Trinity and in the doctrine of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. There is only one Word of God and that is the eternal Word of the Father which for our reconciliation became flesh like us and has now returned to the Father, to be present to His Church by the Holy Spirit. In Holy Scripture, too, in the human word of His witnesses, it is a matter of this Word and its presence. That means that in this equation it is a matter of the miracle of the divine Majesty in its condescension and mercy. If we take this equation on our lips, it can only be as an appeal to the promise in virtue of which this miracle was real in Jesus Christ and will again be real in the word of His witnesses. In this equation we have to do with the free grace and the gracious freedom of God. That the Bible is the Word of God cannot mean that with other attributes the Bible has the attribute of being the Word of God. To say that would be to violate the Word of God which is God Himself—to violate the freedom and the sovereignty of God. God is not an attribute of something else, even if this something else is the Bible. God is the Subject, God is Lord. He is Lord even over the Bible and in the Bible. The statement that the Bible is the Word of God cannot therefore say that the Word of God is tied to the Bible. On the contrary, what it must say is that the Bible is tied to the Word of God. But that means that in this statement we contemplate a free decision of God—not in uncertainty but in certainty, not without basis but on the basis of the promise which the Bible itself proclaims and which we receive in and with the Church. But its content is always a free decision of God, which we cannot anticipate by grasping at the Bible—even if we do it with the greatest faith of which we are capable, but the freedom of which we will have to recognise when we grasp at the Bible in the right way. The Bible is not the Word of God on earth in the same way as Jesus Christ, very God and very man, is that Word in heaven. The being of Jesus Christ as the Word of God even in His humanity requires neither promise nor faith. The act in which He became the Word of God in His humanity requires neither repetition nor confirmation. But in His eternal presence as the Word of God He is concealed from us who now live on earth and in time. He is revealed only in the sign of His humanity, and especially in the witness of His prophets and apostles. But by nature these signs are not heavenlyhuman, but earthly- and temporal-human. Therefore the act of their institution as signs requires repetition and confirmation. Their being as the Word of God requires promise and faith—just because they are signs of the eternal presence of Christ. For if they are to act as signs, if the eternal presence of Christ is to be revealed to us in time, there is a constant need of that continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and to its members which is always taking place in new acts. If the Church lives by the Bible because it is the Word of God, that means that it lives by the fact that Christ is revealed in the Bible by the work of the Holy Spirit. That means that it has no power or control over this work. It can grasp at the Bible. It can honour it. It can accept its promise. It can be ready and open to read and understand and expound it. All these things it can and should do. The human side of the life of the Church with the Bible rightly consists in all these things. But apart from these things, the human side of its life with the Bible can consist only in the fact that it prays that the Bible may be the Word of God here and now, that there may take place that work of the Holy Spirit, and therefore a free applying of the free grace of God. Over and above that: the fulfilment of this prayer, that the Bible is the Word of God here and now in virtue of the eternal, hidden, heavenly presence of Christ—that is the divine side of the life of the Church. Its reality cannot be doubted: the fulness of the reality of the life of the Church with the Bible lies in this its divine aspect. Also the certainty of the perception of it cannot be doubted: it is mediated to us in the promise, it can be grasped in faith. But the very fact that this happens, that the promise speaks to us and that we are obedient in faith, is always before us as the question which has to be answered again and again by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the event we look to, if—here on earth in the Church non-triumphant, but militant—we confess that the Bible is God’s Word. For in doing so we acknowledge God and His grace, and the freedom of His grace.

Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics, Part 2, vol. 1, 512–514.