QOTD: Karl Barth on Exegesis and His Der Römerbrief

“My sole aim was to interpret Scripture.  I beg my readers not to assume from the outset–as many in Germany have assumed–that I am not interpreting Scripture at all, or rather, that I am interpreting it ‘spiritually’.  In this context the word ‘spiritually’ is used, of course to convey a rebuke.  It may be however, that the rebuke turns back most heavily upon those who launch it so easily against me.  The publication of this book in English may perhaps lead to a fresh formulation of the problem, ‘What is exegesis?’  No one can, of course, bring out the meaning of a text (auslegen) without at the same time adding something to it (einlegen).  Moreover, no interpreter is rid of the danger of in fact adding more than he extracts.  I neither was nor am free from this danger.  And yet I should be altogether misunderstood if my readers refused to credit me with the honesty of, at any rate, intending to ex-plain the text.  I must assure them that, in writing this book, I felt myself bound to the actual words of the text, and did not in any way propose to engage myself in free theologizing…”

– Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (sixth edition, p.ix)

2 thoughts on “QOTD: Karl Barth on Exegesis and His Der Römerbrief

  1. I am not a Barth scholar but I tend to think the key is that Barth thinks in terms of God speaking through Scripture to particular people at very particular moments now. Thiselton argues that in a single parable many speech acts are performed. Further, he suggests that reading in different contexts can shift the priority of those speech acts. But in Barth’s view we don’t merely encounter a text about a Subject but rather we encounter the Subject who is now doing something through the text. If God is now speaking then in some sense one’s contemporary context becomes one of the central interpretive contexts. In other words, in contrast to Thiselton’s view it is not the reader’s act that is crucial as much as the divine act. To critical biblical scholars that don’t share Barth’s theological conviction it seems like eisegesis. And to evangelicals who don’t share the conviction it looks like he is simply interpreting and then applying the text.


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