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I am not an honest man

I am not an honest man.
It is the honest man who speaks
in frank and often shocking ways.
It is the honest man who speaks
the truth you’ve thought but haven’t
had the words to say.
It’s provocative and resonant.
He is both entertainer and prophet.
It’s empowering.
In the company of his words
it is indeed you who are thinking.
And you join the rally cry for that
ambiguous thing, change.
I have great respect for the honest man,
the honest woman.
I too hear their call and I too accept it.
Yet,
I am not the honest man.
I don’t speak the truth, because
I’m confused at the fundamental level.
I’m angry
and it clouds my judgement.
I’m sad and I cannot offer
hope.
I keep company with Job and Qohelet,
the disciples on that lonely Saturday,
Christ, of course, on that godforsaken cross, with
faith as small as half a mustard seed.

I read up on Barth’s doctrine of Scripture so you didn’t have to! Here are some of things I found possibly relevant. I have provided comment here and there to put the quotes in context.

Two places in the Church Dogmatics that Barth makes extended comment on the doctrine of Scripture are I/1, §4 and I/2, §19. The bulk of CD I/1 is devoted to the doctrine of revelation, which also provides the context for Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity. That is because the doctrine of the Trinity is an answer to the question “Who is God in his revelation?” (297). Before this, though, Barth provides a preliminary comment on the doctrine of Scripture. He will treat this more extensively in CD I/2, on which I will write a separate post, only after he has detailed the doctrine of the Trinity. Traditionally, Protestant dogmatics addresses the doctrine of Scripture before the doctrine of the Trinity. However,

“The reason why we diverge from this custom is this. It is hard to see how in relation to Holy Scripture we can say what is distinctive for the holiness of this Scripture if first we do not make it clear (naturally from Holy Scripture itself) who the God is whose revelation makes Scripture holy” (300).

“The doctrine of the Trinity itself is threatened by the same danger, the danger of irrelevant speculation, if we state it only at a later stage and do not give it the first word as that which gives us information on the concrete and decisive question: Who is God?” (301).

Barth begins CD I/1 with sections on the task of dogmatics and the prolegomena (§§1-2). He then addresses proclamation of the gospel, the central calling of the church:

“Proclamation is human speech in and by which God Himself speaks like a king through the mouth of his herald, and which is meant to be heard and accepted as speech in and by which God Himself speaks, and therefore heard and accepted in faith as divine decision concerning life and death, as divine judgment and pardon, eternal Law and eternal Gospel both together” (52; cf. 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Cor 2:17; 1 Pet 4:11).

Nonetheless, proclamation is not made proclamation by virtue of human beings proclaiming. God does not even need proclamation, though he chooses to use this. Proclamation is an act of obedience to the commission of God and where he chooses he makes it his own in such a way that speaks to people’s hearts:

“It is always and always will be man’s word. It is also something more than this and quite different. When and where it pleases God, it is God’s own Word. Upon the promise of this divine good-pleasure it is ventured in obedience. On this promise depend the claim and the expectation. But proclamation both as preaching and sacrament does not cease to be representation, human service” (71-2).

Barth includes the sacraments (as a Reformed theologian, baptism and the eucharist) alongside proclamation as the central calling of the church. He does not provide much comment on them here though because the context is revelation. Both proclamation and sacrament are related in that they are at once a fully human work and a work of God. Barth draws on the incarnation here to elucidate this. Just as Jesus is completely human and completely God, none of these being compromised in his being but rather upheld, so too are proclamation and sacrament human works in which God also works.

After addressing proclamation in §3, Barth goes on to address the doctrine of Scripture in §4, “The Word of God in Its Threefold Form.” The event of revelation is God with us, in Christ. This both proclamation and Scripture attest. In his work in proclamation, God directs his hearers back to himself in the person of Christ, by which he made himself known to human beings (revelation here also has a future element in which God will be fully revealed with the coming of the kingdom. Barth’s focus here though is on this retrospective aspect).

The middle term of revelation, Scripture, differs from proclamation:

“The distinction of the Head from the body and the superiority of the Head over the body find concrete expression in the fact that proclamation in the Church is confronted by a factor which is very like it as a phenomenon, which is temporal as it is, and yet which is different from it and in order superior to it. This factor is Holy Scripture” (101).

“With its acknowledgment of the presence of the Canon the Church expresses the fact that it is not left to itself in its proclamation, that the commission on the ground of which it proclaims, the object which it proclaims, the judgment under which its proclamation stands and the event of real proclamation must all come from elsewhere, from without, and very concretely from without, in all the externality of the concrete Canon as a categorical imperative which is also historical, which speaks in time” (101).

That is, if Scripture is just another form of proclamation then there is nothing by which the church can measure the validity of its proclamation. Not only would the proclamation of the church be disputable but Scripture itself. God would not have spoken. Moreover, Barth contends that the nature of Scripture as writing is essential to its role in relation to proclamation. An oral tradition, for example, lacks this same concreteness and can too easily be manipulated by successive generations. But the written word maintains a relative consistency from which it can confront the limits of proclamation. Anticipating the critique I had in mind here, that a written Scripture is as much open to abuse as an oral one, Barth writes,

“Nor will one banish the danger, but only conjure it up properly and make it acute, by making correct exposition dependent on the judgment of a definitive and decisive teaching office in the Church or on the judgment of a historico-critical scholarship which comports itself with equal infallibility. If we assume that one or other of these authorities is worthy of the Church’s highest confidence, then either way the Church goes astray in respect of the Bible by thinking that in one way or the other it can and should control correct exposition, and thereby set up a norm over the norm, and thereby capture the true norm for itself. The exegesis of the Bible should rather be left open on all sides, not for the sake of free thought, as Liberalism would demand, but for the sake of a free Bible. Here as everywhere the defence against possible violence to the text must be left to the text itself, which in fact has always succeeded in doing something a purely spiritual and oral tradition cannot do, namely, maintaining its own life against the encroachments of individual or total periods and tendencies in the Church, victoriously asserting this life in ever new developments, and thus creating recognition for itself as a norm” (106).

This is a necessary inference. If God works in proclamation such that he really does reveal himself in the midst of human words, then it is true here also with Scripture. Amid the vicissitudes of human interpretation, the written word maintains a kind of constancy against its interpretations which God brings to light again and again to call the church back to its roots in revelation.

Like proclamation, nonetheless, Scripture is human words through which God speaks. It is a witness to revelation, which is Christ. Of John the Baptist’s witness to Christ, then, Barth writes,

“Why and in what respect does the biblical witness have authority? Because and in the fact that he claims no authority for himself, that his witness amounts to letting that other [revelation] itself be its own authority. We thus do the Bible poor and unwelcome honour if we equate it directly with this other, with revelation itself” (112).

Yet this does not mean a denigration of Scripture. Rather, Barth seems to be reluctant to go anywhere which would effectively equate Scripture with God. He maintains, however, that it really is God’s Word:

“To hear the Bible as God’s Word means, therefore, that then and there, in the undoubtedly very modest, changing, perhaps increasing but possibly also decreasing compass in which it is true at any given time for an individual, we hear the human words of the Bible as the bearers of this eternal Word, based on this centre and having it in view again in everything they say. When the Bible itself is revelation in this way, it establishes the Church and makes its proclamation necessary and possible. The unity of revelation guarantees the unity of the biblical witness in and in spite of all its multiplicity and even contradictoriness” (116-117).

At the end of the section Barth asserts the unity of revelation in its threefold form.

It is useless to attempt to “understand the three forms of God’s Word in isolation. The first, revelation, is the form that underlies the other two. But it is the very one that never meets us anywhere in abstract form. We know it only indirectly, from Scripture and proclamation. The direct Word of God meets us only in this twofold mediacy. But Scripture too, to become God’s Word for us, must be proclaimed in the Church” (121).

Following on from yesterday’s post, and this has probably been said before, scepticism is an unstable methodological principle. I’m thinking specifically of the anti-metaphysical scepticism to which I subscribed in the previous post. If scepticism confronts all metaphysics, for confronting’s sake, then it is inconsistent if it does not return this confrontation to the basis from which it springs (whether there is a distinct “basis” or the scepticism itself is the basis). By making an implicit distinction between critical questioning and the propositions which are questioned, a sceptical methodology posits itself as somehow outside of or apart from those propositions. It decries the illegitimacy of the propositions but does not question the legitimacy of its own questions. “What is truth?” is legitimate to the extent that it also asks, “to what extent is ‘What is truth?’ legitimate?” This inevitably leads to an “infinite” string of questions, as the basis for the question of the question must also be questioned. In short, insofar as scepticism is made a central methodological principle it can only be undertaken ignorantly or ironically.

This post is an attempt to draw out some of my implicit beliefs on the nature of reality. My main sources are my experience of the world, which consists in an ever-developing and reveloping, exveloping and enveloping faith in the God of Jesus to whom the Bible attests; my piecemeal reading of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Buber, all of whom in their irreducibly individual ways helped me see the validity of individual experience as a scientific category and all sciences as experiential categories; and every blessed contribution, intentional or no, from the conversations I’ve participated in in person, on the Internet, or passively through reading Wikipedia articles and book reviews on Amazon. I have not read the relevant literature, something which is neither to be celebrated nor can it be avoided.

The nature of language and comprehension is often highlighted in discussing the limits of our ability to interpret the world around us. We might say that (A) I have my own thoughts, which (B) I write up in a blog post, and then (C) my audiences interpret according to their own categories. Effectively, everyone is perpetually misunderstood. Between A and B I need to translate my metarational, metalinguistic experience of an idea into the rational, linguistic vernacular. Already something of the idea is lost because it is translated into that which is not the idea. At the most basic level, A is related to B but not identical to it. The “same” happens between B and C. A static text is comprehended in different ways by different people according to their histories of experiencing various words, word combinations, genres, etc. No one comprehension of an “etc” is the same. They are all related in that we could say a similar comprehension is happening, wherever it happens, but everyone interprets their “etc”s in the context of their history of having read “etc”s and the various places in which those “etc”s have appeared. To comprehend an “etc” is to call to mind a whole history of comprehension in which other “etc”s have occurred.

This is simple and indisputable. But it is too simple. For example, A, B, and C do not exist as discrete stages, instances, etc. This is an interpretation of a common occurrence. But it does not take into account (1) what takes place before A and after C, (2) the further infinite divisions between A, B, and C, and (3) the connections, sameness, and basic unity of the instances A, B, and C. I have deliberately posited another three with which to engage to hint to the ultimate arbitrarity of isolating anything. 1 is patent. The origin of a text stretches infinitely before an author and continues infinitely after them. There is no need here for recourse to a deterministic understanding of cause and effect, nor even a linear one. Regardless of the truth of such understandings, here we can at least see that A-B-C, in whatever way, is fundamentally related to that which occurs, exists, etc, outside of A-B-C so that our identification of A-B-C is again arbitrary. 2 follows the same insight. If we can isolate A, B, and C, then we can isolate say Ai, Aii, and Aiii — maybe three discrete thoughts which contribute to an idea. We can also say that every moment, which again is just an interpretation and does not exist, destroys the unity of the thing so that a text is not the same in one moment as it is the next moment because it occurs in an infinitely different world. Nonetheless, this discretion is infinite. This leads easily to 3, which requires a clarification of infinity. 3 means not only that A-B-C take place in a wider, “infinite,” context, but that their basic discretion, and the discretion of “parts” within A, B, and C, threatens the truth that they constitute a single whole (within a whole). “Infinity” is thus invoked to underscore the paradoxical (?) nature of unity and distinction with reference to any thing. Everything is related to another thing. There is something common they share, which might be called being because they all be. They are thus finitely related. But because no thing which we identify is the same, all things take place in infinity ((in)finity?). That is, all difference is infinite difference.

Moreover, all difference manifests in identity and all identity manifests in difference. In light of the foregoing, this, to me, appears paradoxical. We might ask what the relationship between the categories of identity and difference is — what identity do they share? However, we would soon find that whatever identities these categories, and the infinite particularities and generalities which they represent, share, these identities are compromised by difference. The uncovered fossil in the dormancies of deep earth is infinitely different from the “same” fossil which it is three seconds later. It occurs in time, a time in which everything is constantly changing so that, despite the fossil’s basic sameness its relation to every around it, including that of which it is made up, consists in infinite difference. Conversely, we might ask what the distinction between the categories of identity and difference is. But we would soon find that there is too much the same between the fossil and itself, the fossil and itself a year ago, a century ago, centuries ago, its infinite past in the food it ate and the genes it shared, and its infinite future in the renewal of all being. Identity and difference thus become two opposed categories with which we need to make reference to understand the infinity of being.

At this point, this affirmation and denial must be transferred to human interpretation. Our interpretation of the world is an interpretation. Numbers do not exist. They arise from our wonder, fear, greed, and love for the world, among infinite other things. Other species probably have their own use of some kind of numbers or meta-numbers but that should be no surprise because we share a common origin with them and a common world. Yet, numbers and every interpretation exists. Everything is true in the sense that every interpretation of the world arises within the world, as a product of the world, and in response to the world. The world is such that it responds to itself. Even falsities must be affirmed as truths because they are true insofar as they are related to that which they falsely attest and perform particular functions in the world. To say that human beings are faster than cheetahs is to, while obviously untrue according to the whole, affirm the truth of the concept “human beings,” “faster than” and “cheetahs.” To say the opposite, while obviously true according to the whole, is to rely on the false concepts of “human beings,” “faster than,” and “cheetahs.” Which human beings, which cheetahs? Which measure of speed and which definition of speed does this rely on? Such a statement inevitably excludes the whole world in which they categories take place and open-endedness of all categories, however stubborn they may be. It is true then, but only in the sense that it functions in a particular context, a function it will never be able to fulfil “perfectly,” that is with complete, one-sided identity, because such perfection does not exist. Numbers are true in this sense, then, that they make reference to the world (i.e., themselves), in a particular way and fulfill a particular function in the world (again in relation to themselves), but are utterly false and depraved in the sense that they attempt to swallow all being in one humanistic, hubristic movement which purports to attest to the eternal unalterable “truths” of the world. Yet they are also completely true in that they arise in response to particularities in the world.

That’s all for now. I need to get back to study and this post is probably more for my own benefit than for others’. These are thoughts which are still developing and ones I would like to explore further when I have time.

Note on NIV missing verses

I’ve from a few people heard something along the lines that the NIV can’t be trusted because it takes verses out of the Bible. Just letting you know that that’s rubbish :) It’s true that the NIV, along with other modern translations such as the ESV and NLT, does not publish some verses. But this is a necessary consequence of good biblical scholarship. You can be sure that while all modern Bible translations will have their respective problems, these problems are typically minor. There are hours of prayer, hard work, and critical discussion which go into modern translations. If you only ever had access to one then you would still be set.

First, on versification, the original manuscripts did not have chapter or verse numbers, let alone punctuation or spacing (the original Hebrew didn’t even contain vowels, which makes it even more difficult to read in some places). Jews and Christians went without these for centuries until different versification traditions developed and eventually enjoyed widespread adoption in the 16th (!) Century. I say this because some people might find it off-putting when they read verse 42 and it goes straight to 44. No worry, a verse that was thought to be authentic in the 16th Century is no longer thought to be so, which leads me to the next point.

Second, as new manuscripts are discovered, as new technologies for reading manuscripts are developed, and as biblical scholars hone their highly critical methods, we learn more about the original oral and written sources from which we derive our modern day Bible. We have access to no original manuscripts. Every one we do have is a copy, and often an incomplete copy. We need to consult hundreds (thousands, I think but not sure) of manuscripts to get a still incomplete picture of the biblical text. As these texts were copied, variations were introduced. There are many possible reasons for this. I will name a few. Sometimes scribes made errors like omitting letters, words, or sentences, accidentally altering words by recording the wrong letter, or even inserting words through, for example, seeing a word written earlier in a sentence and accidentally reproducing it again later in a sentence, or just trying to hold too much in their head at a time and then recording a slightly altered sentence, etc.

Sometimes scribes intentionally changed the manuscript. This happens a lot with manuscripts of the first three Gospels. Scribes see Matthew using one word in a parallel passage where Luke uses another word and choose one over the other in order to harmonise. This extends to “correcting” details in the accounts so that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all witness to a particular event or detail in exactly the same way. Another common intentional change is editing the manuscript to accord with a particular theological position. The doctrine of the Trinity proper arose in the 4th Century and there is no direct “proof” for it in the New Testament (though there are good reasons to develop such a doctrine on the basis of New Testament theology). Nonetheless, in the King James Version can be found the “comma johanneum,” 1 John 5:7-8. This blatant affirmation of the Trinity appears in no Greek manuscript, and no church father makes reference to it, which makes no sense if the verses are original. It would have been unquestionable proof of the biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. It is found in some Latin manuscripts, where it was likely added to derive biblical support for the doctrine of the Trinity. Two other examples of intentional changes are the two endings of Mark (16:8b and 16:9-20) and the beloved “pericope adulterae” (John 7:53-8:11). Manuscript variations (with Mark) and obvious language and theological differences between these passages and their respective Gospels indicate that they are not original. What is interesting with John’s, however, is that it would fit well in Luke’s Gospel, and some have said that it was an independent oral (or otherwise) tradition that was preserved and added into John at a later date. The basic point is that we have access to a lot of manuscripts and as we learn more about their original contexts then some verses will be removed from the Bible (or referred to in footnotes), and the translation of other verses or passages will change in subtle or major ways. This is to be celebrated.

Finally, a short theological reflection. I think the fearmongering around this (even some conspiracy speak of people “altering the Bible” – no, scholars will always have different opinions and we are better off for it) stems from an unhealthy understanding of the Bible’s role in the church. Jesus told his disciples, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Nonetheless, “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Faith is not based on some flawless set of manuscripts but on the Christ to whom these point. The Bible is not an end in itself nor can it be. Throughout history it has been used and still is used not to point to Christ but to legitimate whatever ungodly thing the wielder has in mind, intentional or not. Strive to ask what it reveals about the person of Christ and how the person of Christ leads his church to read Scripture, ever fragmented and ever being made new.

I am full poetry

I am full poetry
I am excess busting combustation
tainted love righteous lust and still going
seven of everything true and real
every ironic reclaimed feigned Americanism
every neostic neologism coinage
combs of honey-eyed
eagle eyes memories and memoires
notepadded notorities refluxing
fluctuating presently amamnesis in continuity
of the beautiful…

I am again full poetry
comforts miserable memorable melancholia
sucking inhaled swallowed sorrows at no
extra cost (to health body mind soul
spirit)! but pure joyful joyed elastic
sable ecstasy unstable regarding
consistency stable regarding
handling and the purity opposites reconciled
in history in some faux (logic!) line or
“reconciled” in pure maintenance of their own
opposition

I am full poetry
I never myself acted though am I
acted upon and thereby disembodied
disemsouled in the disinterested open
“freedom” of the plummeting it
disrupts ruptures the oesophageal Riccarton
as of yet not disembowelled Sumner
the Burwood the Halswell Quarry
dictating adulthood a dull thood

I am finally again will ever be full poetry
posing posies bless
you hallowed self and other other and self
shelved in the open All
surprised by some beautiful true Beyond
layer on layer on layer on blessed layer
in some eternal vineyard some anything of everything
propelled and completely present past
and completely to come
upon the restoration of all things!
upon the source – the literal Lamb!
onwards! and withwards – everything “good”!

there was no analogy no
precedent to prepare
just the thereness of her
presidence transcendent
purple pleasantness lightening and
ember amber and fright me quieten me she evokes
beneath my underscalp behind my backchest
scalpel sacred chapel laketown 3am cometskies within me
above me come at me dove (i.e., kōtuku) love
above me all manner of numerical
contradiction, “souls” and “minds,” contraband
fine sands the absolutely new outside
the dialectic inside the inconsequential the
“individual” divided heart divided undividables
we take exception to the only exception and she (!)
evokes a holy terror clearer cleaner terra firma! everything
which is not me is so intense
extensive even intending on extending inverting
my own all part piece of the whole and naming it
subtlety peace in “in” the new not the ever new
yet the “new” as disruption the path less
often taken always blatantly overgrown unkempt
confesses its own boredom etc conformity
and the like thus the new which is true truly new (?)
the authentic the real the conveniently finite
this is it
if only such sudden trembling could accompany
every sweet idolatry I do literally then
the irreducibly future though it encompasses already
every ready all it could come to terms
with her and her cosmological implications
but it is really nothing more
than glorified glowing resplendent nothingness in
both senses of the word that is according
to our origin and my own subtlety I become
finite inside fine night fire-honey sulphur-blizzard
rain (reign?) singe cinch my countless
spiritual intestines you already do are have done
thus the necessity of distance lol
star queen ocean mantis oak being
if anything were to eventuate we would both curdle
at each other’s weakness! (i.e., smallness)