Bloesch on Scripture

I have been perusing some of Bloesch’s thoughts on Scripture and wanted to offer a quote for some interaction. I’m quoting from volume 1 of his Essentials of Evangelical Theology in the section where he is railing against rationalism. He states, “The Bible is not directly the revelation of God but indirectly in that God’s Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality” (76). This comment is the result of the incarnational analogy Bloesch develops with worries of Christological heresies applies analogously to the various views of Scripture. Bloesch continues by grounding the conversation in his broader analysis of revelation:

Revelation is better spoken of as polydimensional rather than propositional in the strict sense, in that it connotes the event of God speaking as well as the truth of what is spoken: this truth, moreover, takes various linguistic forms including the propositional. Objective intelligible truth is revealed (though not exhaustively), but the formulation in the Bible is one step removed from this truth even while standing in continuity with it. The truth of revelation can be apprehended through the medium  of the human language which attests it but only by the action of the Spirit. Those who reduce the content of revelation to declarative statements in the Bible overlook the elements of mystery, transcendence and dynamism in revelation” (76).


9 thoughts on “Bloesch on Scripture

  1. I’m not too convinced that the instrumentality of human language necessarily renders the Bible “one step removed” from objectively intelligible truth. If all he’s saying is that one needs the Spirit’s illumination, then he’s not saying anything that Carl Henry wouldn’t have said. But if he’s implying some inadequacy to human language itself, he’d have difficulty squaring this away with the activity of God recorded in Scripture. God has no problem with human words (Deut 18:18).

    As long as we don’t reduce its declarative content, propositions, to rationalistic statements whose primary importance is precise coherence with reality, then we can appreciate that the many communicative activities of Scripture are given in propositional form. (cf. Vanhoozer, First Theology, 156).

    Bloesch’s analogy may be too Christological at the expense of not being Trinitarian enough, though I’d have to read him myself to be confident in such a charge.

  2. Bloesch has some fantastic insights into constructing a doctrine of scripture, I think. For all its clumsiness, the speaking of the “indirectness” of language can go quite far provided it’s put in an Christological and pneumatological context.

    @Wittman: Doesn’t Deut 18:18 support Bloesch’s point, that God will place His words in the prophet’s mouth? Isn’t there a kind of “movement” from God to the prophet that requires us to understand it as indirect? And, if we understand this coming Prophet to be the messiah, is there not some kind of identity between God’s Word and God’s Word-via-medium, even as the latter is an indirect reflection of the former (cf. Heb 1:3)?

  3. I generally like Bloesch’s work on Scripture, although I must say it is hard to quote small portions of his work without leaving misleading impressions. Not unlike Barth his presentation approaches a topic from various angles that need to be viewed together.

    Any conversation about revelation and Scripture will ultimately tend toward a discussion of “authority.” Consider the following from Bloesch’s Holy Scripture (1994) in which you see the same basic trajectory you note be carried out (which might address Tyler’s worry about trinitarianism?):

    “The authority of scripture rests finally not on the inspired record but on God speaking to us through this record. That brings the Bible to life is the personal encounter with Jesus Christ, who is its pivotal center and culmination. Its authority rests not on the scientific verification of its statements but on the forcefulness of its precepts and promises. The key to inspiration is not whether the text is perfect from a human standpoint but whether we hear the Word of God in the text” […]

    The Scriptures were recorded by human beings but inspired by the Spirit of God. In them the Spirit continues to speak to people today and every day. We should not adore Scripture, because Scripture is not in and of itself divine, but we should respect, even reverence, Scripture as the divinely appointed medium by which God chooses to reveal himself to us” (125, 129).


  4. Kent, I suspected it might be difficult to simply quote Bloesch since he drank so deeply from Barth.

    I completely agree that the ‘authority’ of Scripture is only and ever the authority of God. I agree with all of what Bloesch says there, with one exception. Since I believe the identity thesis is yet tenable, I would eschew the language of mediation.

    God reveals himself in word and deed. I don’t deny that both are found ultimately in Christ (Heb 1), but that doesn’t sully the written Word or make it any less the Word of God. Because God’s words are deeds – that’s the fulcrum for me.

    The reference to Deut 18:18, like those found in Jer 1:9 and elsewhere, served to make the point that God does put his words in human words. I take the “prophetic word” Peter mentions (1 Pet 1:19) as the “tesimony of Jesus” (Rev 19:10). But it’s precisely because of this that Peter is willing to say that the prophetic word in the ‘graphes’ is vindicated. However we interpret this, the surety of the written record was emphasized by the earliest community.

    Further, Peter says that the “prophetic word” of the Scriptures (and he has Paul’s letters in mind, too; cf. 3:16) serves as a lamp shining in a dark place, instrumental in the “morning star” arising in their hearts. The coterminacy of revelation with reconciliation, especially in Paul’s letters, should help to underscore the “forcefulness” of God’s words in these particular texts.

    I’m more inclined towards Vanhoozer’s treatment of Barth and the identity thesis than I am of the arguments I’ve read to date that equate Scripture with a medium (and of course, the notion preceded Barth). Vanhoozer’s treatment is most succinctly laid out in the DTIB article, “The Word of God.”

  5. The word “angel,” comes from the Greek “angelos”; it means simply, “messenger.”

    Angels in effect, were the messengers that relayed the word of God to us. However, note that in the Bible itself, even angels are not entirely reliable. Angels sometimes rebelled against God; and we are told not to bow down to them.

    By the way, our word “evangelical,” is derived from this etymological history; evangelicals present themselves in effect, as messengers or angels from God.

    But again, the medium, the messenger, is often not entirely reliable.

  6. God often speaks it seems, authoritatively through one person or another. But he also warns – in the passage right after Deut. 18.18; Deut. 18.20-22 – that there are also many voices that speak falsely for God; that say false things in the name of God.

    As was clear in Jeremiah as well, there are many who claim to speak for God, who tell us “God said” this or that; but who are speaking falsely. They are “false prophets,” bad priests, etc.. In that situation, how do we know which of the many voices that depict “God”saying this or that, are right? And which are false? Deut. 18.20-22 tells us how. It is not by blind faith.

    God no doubt occasionally speaks authoritatively through some figures; but which ones? Deut. of course never mentions Jesus by name, or probably any of the disciples, and we cannot be entirely sure that any reference to a good “prophet” might be. It might even be to Jesus; but then we have the problem of guessing which of the many interpreters of Jesus in turn, were the accurate ones. And which were the false ones.

    In any case, the bottom word regarding language,”words” attributed to “God,” is that some of them are authentic … and some of them are not.

  7. Is there a God? Is even Jesus himself reliable? These are questions that can be asked hypothetically, in an academic forum.

    Surprisingly, the Bible itself at times warned of false prophets – even from Jeruslaem, Israel. While Jesus questioned himself at times; and assumed that God had abandoned him, in the end. While the Catholic Church does not seem to embrace Jesus as much as Protestants so. Then there is the famous Isa. 22.16-25, when the most secure “peg” and rock on which all was hung, itself gives way.

    Today the average Christian assumes that Jesus was the foretold Christ, and even “fully” delivered all that the Christ was to deliver. At the same time though, many Christians more or less intuit, that many of the things promised for us are not yet entirely delivered or complete; nowhere on earth is quite as good as the full “kingdom” promised.

    For that reason – as a sort of compromise between belief and unbelief? Or overselfconfidence and modesty? – we might say that many believe that Jesus was a representative of God; but that still somehow, something has been lacking. So that yet another, Second coming, will be necesssary before all the old promises are fulfilled.

    Which would mean that some rather dramatically new things must happen, before the Bible comes true.

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