Objective Readers and Expositors of Scripture

Brian LePort and Bryce Walker have been having a fascinating conversation about the nature of Biblical studies. Being a theologian, and not a Biblical scholar means that I have little to add or contribute to the conversation. But, in the course of writing my paper on Barth’s theological use of John 1:14, I came across this, and I thought in was interesting in light of the ongoing conversation:

If we want to be truly objective readers and expositors of John’s Gospel, however, we will not want to free ourselves from the fact that we are baptized, that for us, then, John’s Gospel is part of the canonical scripture of the Christian church. It was not written and does not exist as anything other. Canonical scripture, however, means scripture to which we stand in that relation from the very first, a Word that is spoken to us from the very first in the name of God and with the claim that it is saying something radically new, a Word which even before we could hear it has opened a dialogue with us, a dialogue which, because it is conducted in the name of God, we cannot escape. “From the very first,” I say and therefore not on the basis or in the form of ordinary experience, nor on the basis or in the form of our faith, but on the basis and in the form of our life in the church of Christ as baptism attests to it. As we recall this life of ours under the sign of baptism and therefore in the sphere of the church of Christ, we do not indulge in the kind of presuppositions that we have to suspend or repress (perhaps at least provisionally) for the sake of the scientific investigation of a matter, as though the character of the Gospel as an authoritative address were perhaps based on our apprehension or experience of its content; as though we stood in some better relation to the Gospel, as though fundamentally it could be told us in some other way than in the strict form of that “from the very first” in which it is told us in our baptism; as though the fact that we are baptized and in the Christian church were not originally and inescapably related to the witness of the prophets and apostles to the revelation of God, and hence to the true Gospel of John that applies to us. What does the church mean, or baptism, or God, if we have the possibility, if we can even reckon with the possibility , of abstracting away from it, of suspending our life in this nexus – if this presupposition is not validly grounded in an objectivity compared to which all other objectivity, e.g., historical objectivity, can be regarded only as a secondary, derived, or loaned objectivity?

Karl Barth, Witness to the Word: A Commentary on John 1, pg 5.

  • http://www.bryce-walker.com Bryce Walker

    “…as though the character of the Gospel as an authoritative address were perhaps based on our apprehension or experience of its content…”

    I like how he is pushing back against an anthropocentric view of religious study that (seems to me) to continue to exist as a baseline presupposition for most academic engagement of religion – and Christianity in particular. I think this view, brought about by Hobbes, Kant, Rousseau, et al, needs to continually be questioned. Thanks for posting this.