Advent with Barth: Revelation and Dogma


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It is this mystery of Christmas which is indicated in Scripture in church dogma by reference to the miracle of Christmas.

This miracle is the conception of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost or His birth of the Virgin Mary.

By taking up this reference and so making confession of this dogma as a statement grounded in Holy Scripture, we do not by any means show disinterested respect for the fact that it is a dogma after all, and that up to the present day it has been a dogma which Catholics and Protestants have on the whole believed and taught unanimously as a matter of course.

The respect paid in the Church to this dogma cannot be sufficient reason in itself for us to adopt it as our own.

In dogma as such we hear merely the voice of the Church and not revelation itself.

If we make it our own and affirm it as the correct Church interpretation of revelation, this can be done only because we realize its necessity, and this realization will have to be substantiated in an attempt to understand it.

As regards the necessity of the dogma, we must begin with the admission that both in extent and form the grounds for the dogma in the statements of Holy Scripture are not at first sight so strong or so clear as one might wish for such a dogma in the strict sense of the term.

Decision as to the necessity of the dogma cannot ultimately be made on the ground where such questions are to be raised and answered.

No one can dispute the existence of a biblical testimony to the Virgin birth.

The questions to be raised and answered are literary questions; they are concerned with the tradition, the age and the source-value of this testimony.

The final and proper decision is whether in accordance with the demands of Church dogma this testimony is to be heard, and heard as the emphatic statement of the New Testament message, or whether in defiance of Church dogma it is not be heard, i.e., only to be heard as a sub-statement of the New Testament message which is not binding.

This decision can be supported by answering the literary questions in one sense or the other.

But it does not stand or fall with the answer to these questions.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 173-174, 176

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