Barth, Historical-Critical Methodology, and Figural Readings of Scripture

Because Barth was writing for the church, rather than for the academy, his use of historical-critical methodology “could never be an end in itself.” As Craig Carter notes:

“For Barth, the [biblical] text conveys not only the historical effects of God’s actions, but witnesses to God himself because God’s being is in His act. The text itself is Barth’s focus, as opposed to a reconstruction of what supposedly happened behind the text, to which the text allegedly refers, or to the experience of the biblical author…Barth viewed the modern historical critics as being too hasty with Scripture, too ready to impose modern assumptions on the text and not humble enough to sit quietly before the text until it disclosed its own concerns. He tried not to impose a system upon Scripture and then seek proof texts for what is known in advance to be the case. Instead, he sought to develop a theology that organically arises out of the witness of the Bible and that reflects the shape, limits, and preoccupations of the biblical witness, rather than the demands of logic or the prejudice of culture.” the literal sense cannot be reduced simply to the historical sense for Barth is convinced that [the] OT speaks literally about Jesus Christ.” (122-126).

“The difference between pre-modern interpreters and Enlightenment interpreters is that most moderns hold that the literal is nothing more than the historical. This crucial assumption was not held by pre-modern interpreters…In modernity, any attempts to do figurative or spiritual exegesis are left to the department of homiletics and biblical scholars piously avert their eyes at such ‘homiletical embellishments.’ Thus, the theological interpretation of Scripture is disconnected from historical exegesis and a wedge is driven between the scholarly study of the Bible and the ecclesial proclamation of Scripture” (126).

Carter, Craig. “Karl Barth on the Imago Dei: Typology and the Sensus Literalis of Holy Scripture.” In Go Figure!: Figuration in Biblical Interpretation, edited by Stanley D. Walters, 121–36. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008.