Barth on the Trinity and the Bible

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After 350 pages, Barth is finally heating up. These first two weeks into reading Church Dogmatics have been filled with an extensive background full of methodological and epistemological questions. Finally, Barth is addressing his doctrine of God. He wanted to begin studying the Word of God, but he decides first needs to ground his doctrine within the tri-unity of God. I’m going to embed some quotes with some commentary.

“God reveals Himself. He reveals Himself through Himself. He reveals Himself. If we wish really to regard the revelation from the side of its subject, God, then above all we must understand the subject, God, the Revealer, is identical with His act in revelation, identical also with its effect. This is the at [sic] first merely indicative act from which we get the hint to begin the doctrine of revelation with the doctrine of the Triune God” (CD, I/1, 340).

“Thus to the same God who in unimpaired unity is Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness, is also inscribed in unimpaired variety In Himself precisely this threefold mode of being. Only, by consideration of the unity and variety of God in His revelation attested in Scripture – and also really by that – we are confronted with the problem of the doctrine of the Trinity” (CD I/1, 344).

This is a great summary of Barth’s theology. Revelation reveals to us God Himself. The irruption of the Word of God is God’s incoming to man. Barth is a theologian of freedom. God comes when God comes. He reveals on His own time without conditions.

“The Bible can as little explicitly contain other dogmas of the Trinity as it explicitly contains the other dogmas…There is no reasonable way in which we could or can contradict either [like] Schleiermacher or Tillich directly out of the Bible, as though their false doctrines were already contradicted there…On the contrary for dogmatic decision in the temporary concerns of the various periods we may and must argue on the basis of Scripture which must be discovered afresh from time to time…From this it follows that the proof of the truth of dogma, which as such “is not in the Bible,” is not led by the fact that it is now a dogma once for all, but only by the fact that we may and must regard it as a just interpretation of the Bible” (CD I/1, 356).

This was my favorite part of today’s reading. Barth is addressing the question that many raise about the Scriptural basis of the Trinity. He does not mince words. He simply recognizes that the Bible never explicitly reveals this to be the nature of God. We have to interpret what the Scriptures bear witness to in the event of the Word of God. He attacks Schleiermacher and Tillich because they are un-Trinitarian theologians. That is to say neither of them made the Trinity central to their theological systems. Schleiermacher notoriously addressed the Trinity at the very end of his work The Christian Faith because the Trinity was speculative metaphysics that did not directly relate to man’s religious consciousness. Likewise, the Trinity plays a minimal role in Tillich’s Systematic Theology. I also like this idea that just because something was once decided on as dogma does not make is sacrosanct. Theologians need to remain faithful to the tradition and God’s self-revelation. However, all we can do is offer faithful interpretations of the Bible. We have to continue wrestling with these questions. The best dogmatics will be the one that can help unite scripture and remain faithful to God’s revelation of Himself.

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3 Responses to “Barth on the Trinity and the Bible”

  1. Dave Mesing Says:

    Just commenting to say thanks for the posts, and keep them coming. I’ve been reading, but way more involved with school than I thought, so I haven’t had much time to post.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    Thanks for reading. Good luck with your last semester.

  3. irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert Says:

    It is interesting that the glory of both Catholicism & Orthodoxy is no doubt their central Trinitarian life & witness. And here we find Barth also. And T.F. Torrance too. We cannot leave out Luther, who was always Nicene.

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