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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: False Views of Scripture

Don Stewart :: What Is the Encounter View of the Bible’s Authority? (Barthian, Neoorthodox)

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Question 7

What Is the Encounter View of the Bible’s Authority? (Barthian, Neoorthodox)

There is an inadequate view of the Bible’s authority known as the “encounter view,” the “Barthian” or the “Neoorthodox” view. This theory comes from the late Swiss theologian Karl Barth. This complex view of the Bible’s divine inspiration has become popular among many people. It can be summed up as follows:

Claim: the Bible Becomes God’s Word When Personally Encountered

The Bible is not God’s written Word as such. It is only when an individual personally encounters Jesus Christ does the Bible become the Word of God for them. Accordingly, there is no such thing as an objective written Word of God.

The Bible Is like Other Books

The encounter view sees the Bible as similar to other books. What makes the Bible unique is the ability of the Holy Spirit to reveal truth for those who read it. In that sense, individual people, as well as churches, encounter God through the Bible by means of the work of the Holy Spirit. According to the encounter view, divine inspiration is an ongoing process since God continues to reveal His truth to all of those who read the Bible. Consequently, the Bible becomes revelation at the time the person or church is reading it.

The Bible Becomes God’s Word When Christ Is Personally Encountered

This view teaches that the Bible is not the Word of God, but only becomes the Word of God through a special encounter when God speaks to a person in some kind of subjective religious experience. In other words, the Bible only witnesses to the Word of God, but it is not the Word of God. Those who hold this position are constantly looking for the Word of God behind the words of the Bible.

According to the encounter view, it is possible that the Bible contains some historical errors. The recorded history in Scripture may be inaccurate at a number of points. But this is not really important. For example, from this perspective, whether or not Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead in time and space is not relevant. The important thing is the divine encounter with God that is possible when one reads about the risen Christ.

A Special Encounter with God Is Needed

Therefore, what is needed is this special encounter with God. Only then can a person experience what God intended for them. The written Word, apart from this encounter, is without real meaning or substance.

Response to the Encounter View

There are a number of major problems with the “encounter view” of Scripture. We can summarize them as follows:

  1. With This View, There Is No Ultimate Authority in Scripture

    This type of Bible has no ultimate standard of authority. Divine revelation, instead of being something objective, is reduced to a personal experience or encounter with God through Jesus Christ. However, the Apostle Paul made it clear that his actual writings were the Word of God ? Scripture did not merely become the Word of God when someone encountered it. He wrote to the Thessalonians:

    For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NKJV)

    Scripture is God’s authoritative Word. It is the starting point of all discussions of Christian doctrine. It is often written in forms of propositions or statements of truths. It does not merely become true when someone reads it or has it read to them. When one accepts the encounter view of Scripture and rejects the orthodox view, then it is only a matter of time when other central beliefs are abandoned. Thus, the encounter view, when logically followed, can actually lead a person to unbelief in Jesus.

  2. This Is Not Jesus’ View of Scripture

    Those who hold the encounter view claim to accept the authority of Jesus Christ rather than the authority of Scripture. However, in doing so, they actually reject the authority of Jesus who held a high view of Scripture. He said the following about Old Testament Scripture:

    Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. Heaven and earth may disappear. But I promise you that not even a period or comma will ever disappear from the Law. Everything written in it must happen. (Matthew 5:17-18 CEV)

    Jesus assumed the Scripture was true in its written form. He never made the distinction between what is written and what is encountered in the written word. Consequently, the encounter view is not Jesus’ view.

  3. We Only Know about Christ Through the Written Word

    While all believers should desire to make Christ central in their lives, there must be some way of knowing who He is and what He actually said. Without an accurate record of His words and deeds we cannot be certain that we know His exact identity or what He wants from us. What is necessary is an authoritative and accurate revelation from God. This revelation must be in a permanent written form. This written word should be our only standard of authority.

    Thus, a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ comes from reading or hearing His Word, and then acting upon what was said.

Summary - Question 7
What Is the Encounter View of the Bible’s Authority? (Barthian, Neoorthodox)

The encounter view of divine inspiration (also known as Barthian or Neoorthodox view) basically treats the Bible as other books. It argues that the Bible has no authority in and of itself. Scripture contains myths, legends and historical inaccuracies.

The unique feature of the Bible is its ability to testify to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Individuals, as well as entire churches, may encounter the living God through the Bible when Scripture is read. Thus, the Bible becomes revelation at the time anyone is reading it, but it is not to be considered a record of divine revelation. Consequently, the divine inspiration of the Bible is an ongoing process. God continues to reveal His truth to all of those who read the Bible.

There are many problems with this perspective. For one thing, it rejects the biblical idea that Scripture is the record of God’s divine revelation. However, this is the view which the written word has of itself. The Bible is the record of God acting and speaking to humanity.

This view also finds errors in Scripture—something the Bible does not promote. Historical truth is important from a biblical perspective since it records God acting in history. Scripture teaches that people encounter Jesus Christ through reading the Bible because it is God’s objective and authoritative Word. The encounter view removes all of the authority from Scripture.

Indeed, the encounter view is not Jesus’ view of Scripture. He made no distinction between the words of Scripture and what is encountered when these words are read. To Jesus, the words of Scripture, as they stand, are the words of God. This is true whether or not someone has an encounter with these words.

What Is the Illumination Theory of the Authority of Scripture? ← Prior Section
What Is the Mythological View of the Bible’s Authority? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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