Monday, November 12, 2012

Barth's non-scientific reading of Genesis

In discussing the first few chapters of Genesis Karl Barth suggests a balance must be found. One has to be wary of "historical", non-historical, and scientific readings. The texts need to be allowed to speak for themselves and kept in the larger context of the Old Testament.
The exegesis of these passages has ... to be on its guard against two errors to which easy access is far too often conceded. 
First, it must not overlook or explain away the fact that these texts deal with genuine events and not with timeless, metaphysical, or physical explanations of the world. It is true, of course, that God is the only actively operative Subject of these events, and that they include the beginning of time in which they also take place. This clearly distinguishes them from the later biblical histories. They are very definitely pre-historical. But this does not alter the fact that here too we have narratives, that no timeless truth is presented or proclaimed, but that accounts are given of once-for-all words and acts. 
If we will not accept this fact, then in respect of these passages we may well become entangled in the dilemma in which Augustine obviously found himself towards the end of his Confessions (XI, 3; XII, 18, 23, 31), so that he finally had to assume that these passages have many different senses, one of which may well be identical with that which according to his Neo-Platonic metaphysics he regarded as a true description of the timeless relationship of God to His creature. And if we take the same view, but like Basil and Ambrose (in their Hexaemera), and many modern apologists we are more interested in physics than metaphysics, we shall think it necessary to help the narratives by clothing what we think are the far too naive and scanty words of the Bible by the fulness of our own natural science with which we seek to harmonise them, as is also the case in qu. 65-74 of the Summa theologica I of Thomas Aquinas. But either way the biblical history of creation, which claims to be concrete history, is quite unable to say what it wants to say and thus to mediate any profitable perception. 
The other mistake which has to be avoided is that of a lack of attention to the connexion between the biblical histories of creation and what follows in the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.1: The Doctrine of Creation, page 64

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