A few weeks ago, my Old Testament Theology class studied the concept of Biblical revelation. In studying the theology of the Old Testament, one of the primary tasks of the instructor is to affirm that the teaching of the Old Testament is the result of revelation. That which the Biblical writers tried to express in human language was the result of that which was revealed to them through revelation.
In his article on revelation, the late Carl Henry said that revelation is “the disclosure of what was previously unknown” (p. 457). The biblical view of revelation teaches that God revealed to human beings divine truth, that is, “his manifestation of himself or of his will.”
God entered human history and acted redemptively for the salvation of humanity. The redemptive acts of God in history were interpreted by the people who experienced the work of God in their history. The meaning of what God did and said has been recorded in writings and eventually those writings became sacred scriptures.
Christians today must emphasize that God revealed himself in human history. Secular people and many Christians today do not understand the concept of revelation. The faith of Christianity is based on what God has done in the history of Israel and the faith of the church is based on what God has done in Christ. The primary reason secular people reject the teachings of Christianity is because they reject the idea of revelation.
In ancient Israel the idea that God could reveal his will to human beings was taken for granted. In fact, the faith of the people of the Old Testament was based on the fact that Israel affirmed that God had appeared to Abraham and to Moses and revealed his divine will and purpose to them.
Modern society rejects the concept of revelation because of its preoccupation with the things of this world. The rejection of the concept of revelation has resulted in the growth of atheism and the development of a secular society. To secular people, reality is that which can be seen and touched.
One reason modern society rejects the concept of revelation is the influence of human idealism and the spread of scientific knowledge, that is, that which cannot be proved scientifically and verified experimentally cannot be true or cannot be trusted. The concept of revelation contradicts the scientific concept of truth.
The Bible reveals a truth that cannot be proved by science or verified in the laboratory. This is the reason secular people cannot accept the fact that absolute truth is given to human beings by means of divine revelation.
Those who reject the concept of truth given by divine revelation point to the failures of the church in the past as evidence that truth given by revelation is unreliable. In the past the church rejected the views of Galileo and the advancement of scientific knowledge, and has claimed to possess absolute truth. The mistakes of the past are used against Christians to proclaim that biblical faith is irrational and not credible.
But the fact is that biblical revelation teaches us that human knowledge is limited and that deep in the human heart there is a longing for the truth that science and human knowledge cannot provide. Since revelation is the manifestation or the disclosure of something unknown, the revelation of God to human beings is one way of acquiring knowledge that is different from the normal way human beings acquire knowledge.
In revelation God makes himself known to humans. Those who were witnesses and the recipients of this revelation wrote down what they saw and heard. Thus, through these written words God continues to reveal himself to those who seek him.
Revelation is the reason the Bible is important to faith. All we know about God is the result of revelation and through the record of that revelation we are confronted with the claims of a God who revealed himself in the history of Israel and in the life and ministry of Christ.
It is because of this revelation that human beings recognize they live in spiritual bondage. It is because God has revealed himself that human beings recognize that they are separated from God, that they walk in darkness and live in a land of deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2). This bondage affects people’s lives and they cannot reach the potential for which they were created.
When people understand the nature of God’s revelation, they will also understand that God’s purpose in revelation is the redemption of the human race. God has entered human history to restore the original relationship that existed between himself and humanity. He came to forgive those who had rebelled against him and to bring back those who have been banished from his presence.
A secular society must accept the reality of revelation. But the rationalism that prevails in our secular society denies the reality of revelation. Secular people complain that faith suppresses the claims of science and the concerns of reason. Secular society lives in a state of unbelief and this unbelief rejects the truth of revelation.
However, the truth of revelation can bridge the gap between faith and reason. In fact, faith is not the enemy of reason. Human knowledge is the acquisition of facts. The acquisition of facts results in the enlargement of the human intellect. The knowledge acquired through revelation is transformative and restorative. When people meet God in revelation, their lives are transformed and their fellowship with God is restored.
Carl F. H. Henry, “Revelation, Special,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 456-459.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary