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Doctrine of Revelation
Specialist Moderator: Robert Mounce
A theme central to the idea of Christianity, it may be studied in two ways. First, it may be used as a summary or umbrella word and as a theological concept to refer to the trustworthy account of God’s self-revelation in word and deed contained in the Scriptures. To call the Bible the Word of God is to claim that it is the unique and faithful statement of God’s self-revelation to mankind. When used in this way, it usually is supplemented by the concept of inspiration (the work of the
In the NT such words as the verbs apokalyptō, phaneroō, epiphainō, and chrēmatizō, and the nouns apokalypsis, phanerōsis, epiphaneia, and chrēmatismos, together with related words, convey the whole spectrum of ways and means through which God discloses himself, his will, and his purposes to his people. And God reveals himself in order that his people might know, love, trust, serve, and obey him as Lord.
At the center of God’s self-unveiling or revelation is Jesus, the Messiah and Incarnate Son. In the past God spoke to the patriarchs and prophets in many and varied ways, but his complete and final word is given in and through Jesus, the Logos (
Christ revealed God in ancient Galilee and Judea, and Christ will reveal God when he returns to earth to judge the living and the dead. The last book of the Bible, which tells of the last days, is called Revelation (apocalypsis). Paul taught that Christians should look for the glorious appearing (epiphaneia) of their Savior (
Bibliography: G. C. Berkouwer, General Revelation, 1955; G. Moran, Theology of Revelation, 1967; L. L. Morris, I Believe in Revelation, 1976; W. Mundle, NIDNTT, 3:309ff.
A central concept in modern theological discussion, concerned as it has been with questions about how God may be known, about religious authority, and (more recently) about language. The idea of God making Himself known in acts of redemption and judgment and in prophetic, interpretative utterances pervades the Bible. It is not so much a biblical idea, as it is the biblical idea. Man is lost in his sinful ignorance unless and until God discloses Himself. Revelation is therefore gracious. Thus, to think of revelation as being essentially man's response to God, or as his insight into the ways of God, though a dominant viewpoint in much modern theology, is profoundly unbiblical.
God's revelation in history must be understood against the background of general or natural revelation. The Bible itself teaches that God reveals Himself to men generally, in nature, in history, and in their moral consciousness (Ps. 19; Rom. 1). However, such general revelation is rendered ineffectual by sin. Thus God's special revelation is redemptive in character. He reveals Himself, not generally-to all men-but specially-to His own chosen people. It was God's eternal purpose thus to display His glory by revealing His provision of redemption for a rebellious creation.
In the history of Christian thought about revelation, various emphases have been placed on the two aspects of “general” and “special” revelation. For Aquinas, general revelation (and with it the idea of natural theology) is very prominent. Man is able, by the use of his reason, to come to a rudimentary knowledge of God on the basis of God's natural revelation. For Calvin, natural theology is not prominent. A man knows God (and in knowing God knows himself) in Scripture, and true knowledge is conditioned upon inner spiritual illumination. For, revelation is understood in activistic terms-God makes Himself known now, as Scripture is read and preached and received in faith. So Scripture is not revelation, but the vehicle of it.
Special revelation concerns the activity of God in human affairs. It is therefore historical, and it proceeds in stages. The mode of revelation is thus suited to the epoch and the stage of redemptive history, but it has its culmination in “the fact of Christ.” God has spoken, finally, in His Son, in His teaching, His work of atonement, and in the interpretative apostolic testimony. The OT revelation prepares for Christ. Christ does not repudiate the OT, He fulfills it.
The historical character of revelation makes clear its uniqueness. It is not a mere republication of the truths of natural religion, nor is it to be thought of in the same terms as the “revelations” of mysticism or the occult. Further, by calling revelation “historical,” stress is laid on the actuality of the events recorded in Scripture. The events are not simply projections of the religious consciousness onto history. The testimony of the Christian Church is that God revealed Himself in human history, and now, in Scripture-in the very words and propositions of Scripture-God reveals Himself.
J. Orr, Revelation and Inspiration (1910); P.K. Jewett, Emil Brunner's Concept of Revelation (1954); H. Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation (1954); G.C. Berkouwer, General Revelation (1955); J. Baillie, The Idea of Revelation in the Light of Recent Discussion (1956); C.F.H. Henry (ed.), Revelation and the Bible (1959); B. Ramm, Special Revelation and the Bible (1961); H.D. McDonald, Ideas of Revelation (1962).
Revelation is God’s disclosure of Himself through creation, history, the conscience of man and Scripture. It is given both in event and word. There is no technical term for the concept in Scripture; it is spoken of in various ways. Two words are most frequently tr. “revelation” in Scripture: ἀποκαλύπτειη and φανερου̂ν. While there is no evidence to support any sharp difference of meaning in the two words there are perhaps subtle shades of meaning discernible. Apokalupsis may be taken to mean “unveiling,” whereas phaneroun refers to that which is manifested above and beyond the unveiling, or removal of the covering. From these two words it may be stated that revelation has to do with the unveiling, uncovering and manifesting of something or someone previously veiled or covered.
The twofold aspect.
Theologians generally describe divine revelation in terms of a general (natural) and special revelation. General revelation is God’s witness to Himself toward all men through creation, history, and the conscience of man. It is set forth in such Scripture passages as
Certain basic views on general revelation may be noted. First to be stated is that of the Roman Catholic position, with which many Protestants agree. Those who adopt this view argue that general revelation provides the basis for the construction of a natural theology. (Natural theology refers to the effort to construct a doctrine of God in which His existence is established without appeal to faith or special revelation but solely through reason and experience alone.)
This view maintains that theology is twostoried. On the first level a natural theology is built from the building blocks of general revelation cemented into place by reason. This natural theology includes proofs for the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. It is insufficient for a saving knowledge of God, but it is essential for one who would rise to that level. Admittedly, most men do not arrive at even this first level through reason but by faith; nevertheless it is imperative that the theoretical possibility of such a rationalistic approach be held.
On the second level a revealed theology is built from the building blocks of special revelation cemented into place by faith. This revealed theology includes all the distinctive beliefs of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, etc. Only on this level is one brought to a redemptive encounter with God in Christ.
This approach has led to a rationalistic apologetic and is built upon a largely Arminian theology.
Second to be outlined is the position of. Barth denies both natural theology and general revelation. According to Barth, revelation is given exclusively in the Christevent. The Bible is the fallible but authoritative pointer to Him. From a Scriptural perspective it would appear that Barth overreacted to the exponents of a natural theology and threw out the baby with the bath. This forced him to eisegesis of those Scripture passages which speak of general revelation and brought him to a falling out with his friend Emil Brunner. (See: “Nature and Grace” by Emil Brunner and the reply “No!” by Karl Barth.)
Third, we note the position of
This approach has led to a revelational apologetic and is built upon a largely Reformed theology.
Special revelation is God’s disclosure of Himself in salvation history (revelation in reality) and in the interpretive word of Scripture (revelation in Word). Quantitatively this encompasses more than we have in Scripture.
Neo-orthodox theology maintains that revelation is never propositional; that is, it is not given in words but only in events. The Bible is therefore only a record of revelation; it represents a human attempt to understand and bear witness to the revelatory works of God. For Barth, revelation occurs when God’s disclosure of Himself in the Christ-event is responded to by faith. The Bible is the authoritative pointer to this experience but not revelation itself.
Features of a Biblical concept of revelation.
The ultimate object of all God’s revelation is to bring us to Himself. It is not creedal formulations or doctrinal statements, but personal encounter with God that marks the ultimate goal of His revelation. The Biblical concept of truth is not merely that of detached critical reflection but also of subjective, even passionate involvement with the God of truth Himself. Revelation provides the answer to fallen man’s twofold predicament: (1) his ignorance of God and therefore of himself, (2) his guilt before God. God has revealed Himself in Christ not only to make us knowledgeable but also to make us holy.
Biblical revelation is by divine acts of history. God accomplishes His plan for man in connection with specific, temporal events. The historical skepticism of Bultmann can never gain acceptance by those who maintain a consistently Biblical view of faith. There is no Christ of faith without the Jesus of history. The whole course of Biblical history is the story of what God has done for His people; it is a record of “the saving acts of the Lord” (
Biblical revelation is also divine interpretation of meaning (revelation in word). The Biblical narration of the divine saving events includes the divine communication of the meaning of those events. Specifically, the basis of the NT message is the narration of interpreted events. In the NT the events are mainly recorded in the gospels; the intepretation of these events is found mainly in the epistles. (Note here as an illustration of these two elements; historical event and interpretive word,
The NT account of saving events is integrally connected with the OT by the first Christians. In
All revelatory events, past, present and future, are summed up in one event of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. The God of the future has revealed Himself climactically in His Son; according to
This revelation is brought to man by the Bible. The redemptive acts of God together with their divine interpretation were recorded by the inspired apostles and prophets. The Bible thus becomes the means in conjunction with the inner witness of the Spirit whereby revelation given directly to prophets and apostles becomes revelation to needy sinners of every succeeding generation. The Bible is not only a pointer to revelation but is itself also revelation.
Revelation must be understood in terms of three factors: (1) The revealer—in this case God; (2) The instruments of revelation—in this case the Scripture speaks of various modalities such as vision, dream, deep sleep, urim and thummim, the lot, theophanies, angels, divine speaking, historical event, and the incarnation resulting in a product, namely, the Word of God (the Bible). Up to this point we have revelation only objectively conceived. (3) Finally, we have the receiver—in this case men who respond in faith to the One of whom the message testifies. This is revelation subjectively conceived.
The Bible as the product of God’s revealing activity is the means whereby the redemptive work of Christ is communicated to fallen man, though communication is ultimately achieved only when there is a response of faith on the part of the receiver. Thus, revelation must be subjectively appropriated. The objective side of the divine work of revelation (terminating in a record) needs to be supplemented by an internal subjective work of the Spirit. This inner work of the Spirit has classically been spoken of as illumination (estimonium). The point here is well illustrated by the experience of Samuel: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (
The authority of the Bible is derived from its divine inspiration. The Bible is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness because it is God-breathed (
An adequate view of revelation will also recognize that the Bible must be rightly interpreted. There must be a proper methodology employed in an effort to understand the Scriptures. Hermeneutics is a crucial area of concern today. Traditionally a conservative hermeneutic maintained that the proper approach to the study of the Bible was that of a historical-grammatical one. More recently, in what is called the “New Hermeneutics,” we discover the idea that the primary task of the interpreter is that of a tr. of the Biblical message into contemporary terms, often, it seems, at the expense of the original message itself. A consistently Biblical view of revelation cannot condone any hermeneutic which in the name of relevancy relieves the interpreter from a responsible handling of the text.
Whenever one approaches the Scripture to ascertain its message the first aim must be to understand what the author is intending to say to his readers. In other words, one must first listen. One must be very cautious so as not to read his own existentially laden views into the text of Scripture. If this danger is not continually guarded against one may hear a false address. In other words individual understanding and experience must not only be seen as possible exegetical aids but also as possible sources of error.
After one has carefully ascertained what the original message was, he must then go on to ask how that message may relate to himself and contemporary man. The ultimate goal of exegesis is only fully achieved when the NT faith is appropriated, but this is the second step, not the first.
Revelation must be carefully differentiated from two other concepts: inspiration and illumination. Whereas revelation has to do with the communication of information as regards what God has done for and said to fallen man; inspiration has to do with that act whereby God through His Spirit employed men to record authoritatively this information. Revelation has sometimes been defined in such a way as to suggest that although all of Scripture is inspired not all is revelation. It would seem preferable however, to view all of Scripture as revelation, as giving to men that information which is deemed divinely essential for man’s good and God’s glory.
Illumination has to do with the work of the Spirit whereby the reader is enabled to understand the record (
These three concepts form essential steps in God’s communicating to man. Revelation has to do with what is communicated; inspiration with how it is communicated; illumination with why it is communicated.
G. C. Berkouwer, General Revelation (1955); J. Baillie, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (1956); C. F. H. Henry, ed. Revelation and the Bible (1958); J. G. S. S. Thomson, TheView of Revelation (1960); B. Ramm, Special Revelation and the Word of God (1961); F. G. Downing, Has Christianity a Revelation? (1964); J. I. Packer, God Speaks to Man (1965); W. Pannenberg., ed., Revelation as History (1968); M. C. Tenney, ed., The Bible—The Living Word of Revelation (1968); C. H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation (1971).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. THE NATURE OF REVELATION
1. The Religion of the Bible the Only Supernatural Religion
2. General and Special Revelation
(1) Revelation in Eden
(2) Revelation among the Heathen
II. THE PROCESS OF REVELATION
1. Place of Revelation among the Redemptive Ac of God
2. Stages of Material Development
III. THE MODES OF REVELATION
1. The Several Modes of Revelation
2. Equal Supernaturalness of the Several Modes
3. The Prophet God’s Mouthpiece
4. Visionary Form of Prophecy
5. "Passivity" of Prophets
6. Revelation by Inspiration
7. Complete Revelation of God in Christ
IV. BIBLICAL TERMINOLOGY
1. The Ordinary Forms
2. "Word of Yahweh" and "Torah"
3. "The Scriptures"
I. The Nature of Revelation.
1. The Religion of the Bible the Only Supernatural Religion:
The religion of the Bible, thus announces itself, not as the product of men’s search after God, if haply they may feel after Him and find Him, but as the creation in men of the gracious God, forming a people for Himself, that they may show forth His praise. In other words, the religion of the Bible presents itself as distinctively a revealed religion. Or rather, to speak more exactly, it announces itself as the revealed religion, as the only revealed religion; and sets itself as such over against all other religions, which are represented as all products, in a sense in which it is not, of the art and device of man.
It is not, however, implied in this exclusive claim to revelation--which is made by the religion of the Bible in all the stages of its history--that the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that in them is, has left Himself without witness among the peoples of the world (
2. General and Special Revelation:
It is quite obvious that there are brought before us in these several representations two species or stages of revelation, which should be discriminated to avoid confusion. There is the revelation which God continuously makes to all men: by it His power and divinity are made known. And there is the revelation which He makes exclusively to His chosen people: through it His saving grace is made known. Both species or stages of revelation are insisted upon throughout the Scriptures. They are, for example, brought significantly together in such a declaration as we find in
These two species or stages of revelation have been commonly distinguished from one another by the distinctive names of natural and supernatural revelation, or general and special revelation, or natural and soteriological revelation. Each of these modes of discriminating them has its particular fitness and describes a real difference between the two in nature, reach or purpose. The one is communicated through the media of natural phenomena, occurring in the course of nature or of history; the other implies an intervention in the natural course of things and is not merely in source but in mode supernatural. The one is addressed generally to all intelligent creatures, and is therefore accessible to all men; the other is addressed to a special class of sinners, to whom God would make known His salvation. The one has in view to meet and supply the natural need of creatures for knowledge of their God; the other to rescue broken and deformed sinners from their sin and its consequences. But, though thus distinguished from one another, it is important that the two species or stages of revelation should not be set in opposition to one another, or the closeness of their mutual relations or the constancy of their interaction be obscured. They constitute together a unitary whole, and each is incomplete without the other. In its most general idea, revelation is rooted in creation and the relations with His intelligent creatures into which God has brought Himself by giving them being. Its object is to realize the end of man’s creation, to be attained only through knowledge of God and perfect and unbroken communion with Him. On the entrance of sin into the world, destroying this communion with God and obscuring the knowledge of Him derived from nature, another mode of revelation was necessitated, having also another content, adapted to the new relation to God and the new conditions of intellect, heart and will brought about by sin. It must not be supposed, however, that this new mode of revelation was an ex post facto expedient, introduced to meet an unforeseen contingency. The actual course of human development was in the nature of the case the expected and the intended course of human development, for which man was created; and revelation, therefore, in its double form was the divine purpose for man from the beginning, and constitutes a unitary provision for the realization of the end of his creation in the actual circumstances in which he exists. We may distinguish in this unitary revelation the two elements by the cooperation of which the effect is produced; but we should bear in mind that only by their cooperation is the effect produced. Without special revelation, general revelation would be for sinful men incomplete and ineffective, and could issue, as in point of fact it has issued wherever it alone has been accessible, only in leaving them without excuse (
(1) Revelation in Eden.
Only in Eden has general revelation been adequate to the needs of man. Not being a sinner, man in Eden had no need of that grace of God itself by which sinners are restored to communion with Him, or of the special revelation of this grace of God to sinners to enable them to live with God. And not being a sinner, man in Eden, as he contemplated the works of God, saw God in the unclouded mirror of his mind with a clarity of vision, and lived with Him in the untroubled depths of his heart with a trustful intimacy of association, inconceivable to sinners. Nevertheless, the revelation of God in Eden was not merely "natural." Not only does the prohibition of the forbidden fruit involve a positive commandment (
(2) Revelation among the Heathen.
Certainly, from the gate of Eden onward, God’s general revelation ceased to be, in the strict sense, supernatural. It is, of course, not meant that God deserted His world and left it to fester in its iniquity. His providence still ruled over all, leading steadily onward to the goal for which man had been created, and of the attainment of which in God’s own good time and way the very continuance of men’s existence, under God’s providential government, was a pledge. And His Spirit still everywhere wrought upon the hearts of men, stirring up all their powers (though created in the image of God, marred and impaired by sin) to their best activities, and to such splendid effect in every department of human achievement as to command the admiration of all ages, and in the highest region of all, that of conduct, to call out from an apostle the encomium that though they had no law they did by nature (observe the word "nature") the things of the law. All this, however, remains within the limits of Nature, that is to say, within the sphere of operation of divinely-directed and assisted second causes. It illustrates merely the heights to which the powers of man may attain under the guidance of providence and the influences of what we have learned to call God’s "common grace." Nowhere, throughout the whole ethnic domain, are the conceptions of God and His ways put within the reach of man, through God’s revelation of Himself in the works of creation and providence, transcended; nowhere is the slightest knowledge betrayed of anything concerning God and His purposes, which could be known only by its being supernaturally told to men. Of the entire body of "saving truth," for example, which is the burden of what we call "special revelation," the whole heathen world remained in total ignorance. And even its hold on the general truths of religion, not being vitalized by supernatural enforcements, grew weak, and its knowledge of the very nature of God decayed, until it ran out to the dreadful issue which Paul sketches for us in that inspired philosophy of religion which he incorporates in the latter part of the first chapter of the.
II. The Process of Revelation.
Meanwhile, however, God had not forgotten them, but was preparing salvation for them also through the supernatural revelation of His grace that He was making to His people. According to the Biblical representation, in the midst of and working confluently with the revelation which He has always been giving of Himself on the plane of Nature, God was making also from the very fall of man a further revelation of Himself on the plane of grace. In contrast with His general, natural revelation, in which all men by virtue of their very nature as men share, this special, supernatural revelation was granted at first only to individuals, then progressively to a family, a tribe, a nation, a race, until, when the fullness of time was come, it was made the possession of the whole world. It may be difficult to obtain from Scripture a clear account of why God chose thus to give this revelation of His grace only progressively; or, to be more explicit, through the process of a historical development. Such is, however, the ordinary mode of the Divine working: it is so that God made the worlds, it is so that He creates the human race itself, the recipient of this revelation, it is so that He builds up His kingdom in the world and in the individual soul, which only gradually comes whether to the knowledge of God or to the fruition of His salvation. As to the fact, the Scriptures are explicit, tracing for us, or rather embodying in their own growth, the record of the steady advance of this gracious revelation through definite stages from its first faint beginnings to its glorious completion in.
1. Place of Revelation among the Redemptive Ac of God:
So express is its relation to the development of the kingdom of God itself, or rather to that great series of divine operations which are directed to the building up of the kingdom of God in the world, that it is sometimes confounded with them or thought of as simply their reflection in the contemplating mind of man. Thus it is not infrequently said that revelation, meaning this special redemptive revelation, has been communicated in deeds, not in words; and it is occasionally elaborately argued that the sole manner in which God has revealed Himself as the Saviour of sinners is just by performing those mighty acts by which sinners are saved. This is not, however, the Biblical representation. Revelation is, of course, often made through the instrumentality of deeds; and the series of His great redemptive acts by which He saves the world constitutes the pre-eminent revelation of the grace of God--so far as these redemptive acts are open to observation and are perceived in their significance. But revelation, after all, is the correlate of understanding and has as its proximate end just the production of knowledge, though not, of course, knowledge for its own sake, but for the sake of salvation. The series of the redemptive acts of God, accordingly, can properly be designated "revelation" only when and so far as they are contemplated as adapted and designed to produce knowledge of God and His purpose and methods of grace. No bare series of unexplained acts can be thought, however, adapted to produce knowledge, especially if these acts be, as in this case, of a highly transcendental character. Nor can this particular series of acts be thought to have as its main design the production of knowledge; its main design is rather to save man. No doubt the production of knowledge of the divine grace is one of the means by which this main design of the redemptive acts of God is attained. But this only renders it the more necessary that the proximate result of producing knowledge should not fail; and it is doubtless for this reason that the series of redemptive acts of God has not been left to explain itself, but the explanatory word has been added to it. Revelation thus appears, however, not as the mere reflection of the redeeming acts of God in the minds of men, but as a factor in the redeeming work of God, a component part of the series of His redeeming acts, without which that series would be incomplete and so far inoperative for its main end. Thus, the Scriptures represent it, not confounding revelation with the series of the redemptive acts of God, but placing it among the redemptive acts of God and giving it a function as a substantive element in the operations by which the merciful God saves sinful men. It is therefore not made even a mere constant accompaniment of the redemptive acts of God, giving their explanation that they may be understood. It occupies a far more independent place among them than this, and as frequently precedes them to prepare their way as it accompanies or follows them to interpret their meaning. It is, in one word, itself a redemptive act of God and by no means the least important in the series of His redemptive acts.
This might, indeed, have been inferred from its very nature, and from the nature of the salvation which was being worked out by these redemptive acts of God. One of the most grievous of the effects of sin is the deformation of the image of God reflected in the human mind, and there can be no recovery from sin which does not bring with it the correction of this deformation and the reflection in the soul of man of the whole glory of the Lord God Almighty. Man is an intelligent being; his superiority over the brute is found, among other things, precisely in the direction of all his life by his intelligence; and his blessedness is rooted in the true knowledge of his God--for this is life eternal, that we should know the only true God and Him whom He has sent. Dealing with man as an intelligent being, God the Lord has saved him by means of a revelation, by which he has been brought into an evermore and more adequate knowledge of God, and been led ever more and more to do his part in working out his own salvation with fear and trembling as he perceived with ever more and more clearness how God is working it out for him through mighty deeds of grace.
2. Stages of Material Development:
This is not the place to trace, even in outline, from the material point of view, the development of God’s redemptive revelation from its first beginnings, in the promise given to Abraham--or rather in what has been called the Protevangelium at the gate of Eden--to its completion in the advent and work of Christ and the teaching of His apostles; a steadily advancing development, which, as it lies spread out to view in the pages of Scripture, takes to those who look at it from the consummation backward, the appearance of the shadow cast athwart preceding ages by the great figure of Christ. Even from the formal point of view, however, there has been pointed out a progressive advance in the method of revelation, consonant with its advance in content, or rather with the advancing stages of the building up of the kingdom of God, to subserve which is the whole object of revelation. Three distinct steps in revelation have been discriminated from this point of view. They are distinguished precisely by the increasing independence of revelation of the deeds constituting the series of the redemptive acts of God, in which, nevertheless, all revelation is a substantial element. Discriminations like this must not be taken too absolutely; and in the present instance the chronological sequence cannot be pressed. But, with much interlacing, three generally successive stages of revelation may be recognized, producing periods at least characteristically of what we may somewhat conventionally call theophany, prophecy and inspiration. What may be somewhat indefinitely marked off as the Patriarchal age is characteristically "the period of Outward Manifestations, and Symbols, and Theophanies": during it "God spoke to men through their senses, in physical phenomena, as the burning bush, the cloudy pillar, or in sensuous forms, as men, angels, etc. ..... In the Prophetic age, on the contrary, the prevailing mode of revelation was by means of inward prophetic inspiration": God spoke to men characteristically by the movements of thein their hearts. "Prevailingly, at any rate from Samuel downwards, the supernatural revelation was a revelation in the hearts of the foremost thinkers of the people, or, as we call it, prophetic inspiration, without the aid of external sensuous symbols of God" (A.B. Davidson, Prophecy, 1903, p. 148; compare pp. 12-14, 145 ff). This internal method of revelation reaches its culmination in the period, which is preeminently the age of the Spirit. What is especially characteristic of this age is revelation through the medium of the written word, what may be called apostolic as distinguished from prophetic inspiration. The revealing Spirit speaks through chosen men as His organs, but through these organs in such a fashion that the most intimate processes of their souls become the instruments by means of which He speaks His mind. Thus, at all events there are brought clearly before us three well-marked modes of revelation, which we may perhaps designate respectively, not with perfect discrimination, it is true, but not misleadingly,
(1) external manifestation,
(2) internal suggestion, and
(3) concursive operation.
III. The Modes of Revelation.
1. Modes of Revelation:
Theophany may be taken as the typical form of "external manifestation"; but by its side may be ranged all of those mighty works by which God makes Himself known, including express miracles, no doubt, but along with them every supernatural intervention in the affairs of men, by means of which a better understanding is communicated of what God is or what are His purposes of grace to a sinful race. Under "internal suggestion" may be subsumed all the characteristic phenomena of what is most properly spoken of as "prophecy": visions and dreams, which, according to a fundamental passage (
2. Equal Supernaturalness of the Several Modes:
On a prima facie view it may indeed seem likely that a difference in the quality of their supernaturalness would inevitably obtain between revelations given through such divergent modes. The completely supernatural character of revelations given in theophanies is obvious. He who will not allow that God speaks to man, to make known His gracious purposes toward him, has no other recourse here than to pronounce the stories legendary. The objectivity of the mode of communication which is adopted is intense, and it is thrown up to observation with the greatest emphasis. Into the natural life of man God intrudes in a purely supernatural manner, bearing a purely supernatural communication. In these communications we are given accordingly just a series of "naked messages of God." But not even in the Patriarchal age were all revelations given in theophanies or objective appearances. There were dreams, and visions, and revelations without explicit intimation in the narrative of how they were communicated. And when we pass on in the history, we do not, indeed, leave behind us theophanies and objective appearances. It is not only made the very characteristic of Moses, the greatest figure in the whole history of revelation except only that of Christ, that he knew God face to face (
3. The Prophet God’s Mouthpiece:
4. Visionary Form of Prophecy:
It is possible, no doubt, to exaggerate the significance of this. It is an exaggeration, for example, to insist that therefore all the divine communications made to the prophets must have come to them in external appearances and objective speech, addressed to and received by means of the bodily eye and ear. This would be to break down the distinction between manifestation and revelation, and to assimilate the mode of prophetic revelation to that granted to Moses, though these are expressly distinguished (
5. "Passivity" of Prophets:
What this language of Peter emphasizes--and what is emphasized in the whole account which the prophets give of their own consciousness--is, to speak plainly, the passivity of the prophets with respect to the revelation given through them. This is the significance of the phrase: `it was as borne by the Holy Spirit that men spoke from God.’ To be "borne" (pherein) is not the same as to be led (agein), much less to be guided or directed (hodegein): he that is "borne" contributes nothing to the movement induced, but is the object to be moved. The term "passivity" is, perhaps, however, liable to some misapprehension, and should not be overstrained. It is not intended to deny that the intelligence of the prophets was active in the reception of their message; it was by means of their active intelligence that their message was received: their intelligence was the instrument of revelation. It is intended to deny only that their intelligence was active in the production of their message: that it was creatively as distinguished from receptively active. For reception itself is a kind of activity. What the prophets are solicitous that their readers shall understand is that they are in no sense coauthors with God of their messages. Their messages are given them, given them entire, and given them precisely as they are given out by them. God speaks through them: they are not merely His messengers, but "His mouth." But at the same time their intelligence is active in the reception, retention and announcing of their messages, contributing nothing to them but presenting fit instruments for the communication of them--instruments capable of understanding, responding profoundly to and zealously proclaiming them.
There is, no doubt, a not unnatural hesitancy abroad in thinking of the prophets as exhibiting only such merely receptive activities. In the interests of their personalities, we are asked not to represent God as dealing mechanically with them, pouring His revelations into their souls to be simply received as in so many buckets, or violently wresting their minds from their own proper action that He may do His own thinking with them. Must we not rather suppose, we are asked, that all revelations must be "psychologically mediated," must be given "after the mode of moral mediation," and must be made first of all their recipients’ "own spiritual possession"? And is not, in point of fact, the personality of each prophet clearly traceable in his message, and that to such an extent as to compel us to recognize him as in a true sense its real author? The plausibility of such questionings should not be permitted to obscure the fact that the mode of the communication of the prophetic messages which is suggested by them is directly contradicted by the prophets’ own representations of their relations to the revealing Spirit. In the prophets’ own view they were just instruments through whom God gave revelations which came from them, not as their own product, but as the pure word of Yahweh. Neither should the plausibility of such questionings blind us to their speciousness. They exploit subordinate considerations, which are not without their validity in their own place and under their own limiting conditions, as if they were the determining or even the sole considerations in the case, and in neglect of the really determining considerations. God is Himself the author of the instruments He employs for the communication of His messages to men and has framed them into precisely the instruments He desired for the exact communication of His message. There is just ground for the expectation that He will use all the instruments He employs according to their natures; intelligent beings therefore as intelligent beings, moral agents as moral agents. But there is no just ground for asserting that God is incapable of employing the intelligent beings He has Himself created and formed to His will, to proclaim His messages purely as He gives them to them; or of making truly the possession of rational minds conceptions which they have themselves had no part in creating. And there is no ground for imagining that God is unable to frame His own message in the language of the organs of His revelation without its thereby ceasing to be, because expressed in a fashion natural to these organs, therefore purely His message. One would suppose it to lie in the very nature of the case that if the Lord makes any revelation to men, He would do it in the language of men; or, to individualize more explicitly, in the language of the man He employs as the organ of His revelation; and that naturally means, not the language of his nation or circle merely, but his own particular language, inclusive of all that gives individuality to his self-expression. We may speak of this, if we will, as "the accommodation of the revealing God to the several prophetic individualities." But we should avoid thinking of it externally and therefore mechanically, as if the revealing Spirit artificially phrased the message which He gives through each prophet in the particular forms of speech proper to the individuality of each, so as to create the illusion that the message comes out of the heart of the prophet himself. Precisely what the prophets affirm is that their messages do not come out of their own hearts and do not represent the workings of their own spirits. Nor is there any illusion in the phenomenon we are contemplating; and it is a much more intimate, and, we may add, a much more interesting phenomenon than an external "accommodation" of speech to individual habitudes. It includes, on the one hand, the "accommodation" of the prophet, through his total preparation, to the speech in which the revelation to be given through him is to be clothed; and on the other involves little more than the consistent carrying into detail of the broad principle that God uses the instruments He employs in accordance with their natures.
No doubt, on adequate occasion, the very stones might cry out by the power of God, and dumb beasts speak, and mysterious voices sound forth from the void; and there have not been lacking instances in which men have been compelled by the same power to speak what they would not, and in languages whose very sounds were strange to their ears. But ordinarily when God the Lord would speak to men He avails Himself of the services of a human tongue with which to speak, and He employs this tongue according to its nature as a tongue and according to the particular nature of the tongue which He employs. It is vain to say that the message delivered through the instrumentality of this tongue is conditioned at least in its form by the tongue by which it is spoken, if not, indeed, limited, curtailed, in some degree determined even in its matter, by it. Not only was it God the Lord who made the tongue, and who made this particular tongue with all its peculiarities, not without regard to the message He would deliver through it; but His control of it is perfect and complete, and it is as absurd to say that He cannot speak His message by it purely without that message suffering change from the peculiarities of its tone and modes of enunciation, as it would be to say that no new truth can be announced in any language because the elements of speech by the combination of which the truth in question is announced are already in existence with their fixed range of connotation. The marks of the several individualities imprinted on the messages of the prophets, in other words, are only a part of the general fact that these messages are couched in human language, and in no way beyond that general fact affect their purity as direct communications from God.
6. Revelation by Inspiration:
A new set of problems is raised by the mode of revelation which we have called "concursive operation." This mode of revelation differs from prophecy, properly so called, precisely by the employment in it, as is not done in prophecy, of the total personality of the organ of revelation, as a factor. It has been common to speak of the mode of the Spirit’s action in this form of revelation, therefore, as an assistance, a superintendence, a direction, a control, the meaning being that the effect aimed at--the discovery and enunciation of divine truth--is attained through the action of the human powers--historical research, logical reasoning, ethical thought, religious aspiration--acting not by themselves, however, but under the prevailing assistance, superintendence, direction, control of the Divine Spirit. This manner of speaking has the advantage of setting this mode of revelation sharply in contrast with prophetic revelation, as involving merely a determining, and not, as in prophetic revelation, a supercessive action of the revealing Spirit. We are warned, however, against pressing this discrimination too far by the inclusion of the whole body of Scripture in such passages as
7. Complete Revelation of God in Christ:
It is supposed that all the forms of special or redemptive revelation which underlie and give its content to the religion of the Bible may without violence be subsumed under one or another of these three modes--external manifestation, internal suggestion, and concursive operation. All, that is, except the culminating revelation, not through, but in, Jesus Christ. As in His person, in which dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, He rises above all classification and is sui generis; so the revelation accumulated in Him stands outside all the divers portions and divers manners in which otherwise revelation has been given and sums up in itself all that has been or can be made known of God and of His redemption. He does not so much make a revelation of God as Himself is the revelation of God; He does not merely disclose God’s purpose of redemption, He is unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. The theophanies are but faint shadows in comparison with His manifestation of God in the flesh. The prophets could prophesy only as the Spirit of Christ which was in them testified, revealing to them as to servants one or another of the secrets of the Lord Yahweh; from Him as His Son, Yahweh has no secrets, but whatsoever the Father knows that the Son knows also. Whatever truth men have been made partakers of by the Spirit of truth is His (for all things whatsoever the Father hath are His) and is taken by the Spirit of truth and declared to men that He may be glorified. Nevertheless, though all revelation is thus summed up in Him, we should not fail to note very carefully that it would also be all sealed up in Him--so little is revelation conveyed by fact alone, without the word--had it not been thus taken by the Spirit of truth and declared unto men. The entirety of the New Testament is but the explanatory word accompanying and giving its effect to the fact of Christ. And when this fact was in all its meaning made the possession of men, revelation was completed and in that sense ceased. Jesus Christ is no less the end of revelation than He is the end of the law.
IV. Biblical Terminology.
1. The Ordinary Forms:
There is not much additional to be learned concerning the nature and processes of revelation, from the terms currently employed in Scripture to express the idea. These terms are ordinarily the common words for disclosing, making known, making manifest, applied with more or less heightened significance to supernatural acts or effects in kind. In the English Bible (the
In the Old Testament, the common Hebrew verb for "seeing" (ra’ah) is used in its appropriate stems, with God as the subject, for "appearing," "showing": "the Lord appeared unto .... "; "the word which the Lord showed me." And from this verb not only is an active substantive formed which supplied the more ancient designation of the official organ of revelation: ro’eh, "seer"; but also objective substantives, mar’ah, and mar’eh, which were used to designate the thing seen in a revelation--the "vision." By the side of these terms there were others in use, derived from a root which supplies to the Aramaic its common word for "seeing," but in Hebrew has a somewhat more pregnant meaning, chazah. Its active derivative, chozeh, was a designation of a prophet which remained in occasional use, alternating with the more customary nabhi’, long after ro’eh, had become practically obsolete; and its passive derivatives chazon, chizzayon, chazuth, machazeh provided the ordinary terms for the substance of the revelation or "vision." The distinction between the two sets of terms, derived respectively from ra’ah and chazah, while not to be unduly pressed, seems to lie in the direction that the former suggests external manifestations and the latter internal revelations. The ro’eh is he to whom divine manifestations, the chozeh he to whom divine communications, have been vouchsafed; the mar’eh is an appearance, the chazon and its companions a vision. It may be of interest to observe that mar’ah is the term employed in
The most common vehicles of the idea of "revelation" in the Old Testament are, however, two expressions which are yet to be mentioned. These are the phrase, "word of Yahweh," and the term commonly but inadequately rendered in the English Versions of the Bible by "law." The former (debhar Yahweh, varied to debhar ’Elohim or debhar ha-’Elohim; compare ne’um Yahweh, massa’ Yahweh) occurs scores of times and is at once the simplest and the most colorless designation of a divine communication. By the latter (torah), the proper meaning of which is "instruction," a strong implication of authoritativeness is conveyed; and, in this sense, it becomes what may be called the technical designation of a specifically divine communication. The two are not infrequently brought together, as in
Now, this aggregated revelation lay before the men of the New Testament in a written form, and it was impossible to speak freely of it without consciousness of and at least occasional reference to its written form. Accordingly we hear of a Word of God that is written, (
3. "The Scriptures":
More distinctly still, "the Law" comes to be thought of as a written, not exactly, code, but body of Divinely authoritative instructions. The phrase, "It is written in your law" (
Herman Witsius, "De Prophetis et Prophetia" in Miscell. Sacr., I, Leiden, 1736, 1-318; G. F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, English translation, Edinburgh, 1874, I, part I (and the appropriate sections in other Biblical Theologies); H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek(2), I, Kampen, 1906, 290-406 (and the appropriate sections in other dogmatic treatises); H. Voigt, Fundamentaldogmatik, Gotha, 1874, 173 ff; A. Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, English translation, New York, 1898, Division III, Chapter ii; A. E. Krauss, Die Lehre von der Offenbarung, Gotha, 1868; C. F. Fritzsche, De revelationis notione biblica, Leipzig, 1828; E. W. Hengstenberg, The Christology of the O T, ET2, Edinburgh, 1868, IV, Appendix 6, pp. 396-444; E. Konig, Per Offenbarungsbegriff des Altes Testament, Leipzig, 1882; A. B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903; W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, New York, 1905; James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, 1893, as per Index, "Revelation," and Revelation and Inspiration, London and New York, 1910. Also: T. Christlieb, Modern Doubt and Christian Belief, English translation, New York, 1874; G. P. Fisher, The Nature and Method of Revelation, New York, 1890; C. M. Mead, Supernatural Revelation, 1889; J. Quirmbach, Die Lehre des h. Paulus von der naturlichen Gotteserkenntnis, etc., Freiburg, 1906. Benjamin B. Warfield