Overlooking Details in Biblical Literature

Photograph of Karl Barth
Photograph of Karl Barth via Wikimedia Commons

In commenting on the “onesideness” inherent in Martin Luther’s law-gospel contrast as it applies in various biblical corpora, Karl Barth reflects:

In all these cases the failure to recognise the unity of Scripture involved sooner or later, and inevitably, a failure to recognise that it is Holy Scripture. For when we have such arbitrary preferences, we do not read even the parts which we prefer as Holy Scripture. The same is true of any preference, even the most detailed. This criterion ought to be applied to the most commonly accepted doctrine of the Church, even that which we find in the confessional documents. And particularly should it be applied to individual teachers, even the greatest of them. For fundamentally, whenever anything which is “written” is overlooked in the exposition of Scripture, whenever for the sake of the exposition we are forced to weaken or even omit what is written, there is always the possibility that the exposition has really missed the one thing which Scripture as a whole attests, even when it thinks that it has found it. (Church Dogmatics 1.2, 485; underlining added).

To be sure, it is important to be able to see a really viable argument through apparent difficulties. But, at the same time, when interpreting biblical literature, one must always be alert to a sense of the text’s starting to “present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against [our] own fore-meanings” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 282).

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