The Bible as Revelation, Part 2

Please read Part 1 first if you missed it.

Is the Bible a record of God’s revelation (as the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message affirms), or is it God’s revelation of himself to humanity (as the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message affirms)? The correct answer to this question is “yes.” I will develop the thesis below that the Bible is both a record of revelation and is revelation itself. However, it is also my contention that to affirm that the Bible is revelation is to include that it is also a record of revelation. Therefore, the 2000 BFM hits the mark, whereas the 1963 BFM is true only insofar as it goes, which is not far enough.

The key to this discussion is to recognize that the concept of “revelation” is a broad one. Christian theology has long distinguished between “general” and “special” revelation. Even within these categories, we could further identify different means of divine revelation. When God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites, he revealed something of himself to them (and we would categorize this as a form of special revelation). When Solomon observed various aspects of the way life works in God’s world and reasoned out his proverbial conclusions, writing them down as instruction for the training of young men, God revealed something of himself (and again, we would identify this as special revelation, even though it overlaps with aspects of general revelation). The parting of the Red Sea and the writing of the book of Proverbs represent two very different events/processes, and yet the same God spoke (and speaks!) through both. We must avoid the error that confines the category of revelation to one particular method or means. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets…” (Heb 1:1). Of course, by “prophets” I believe the author means to include the totality of the Old Testament canon, through which God spoke (and speaks!) in various ways.

And then the author continues, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:2). Jesus Christ is the fullest, definitive revelation of God. He is, indeed, God with us (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23). The framers of both the 1963 BFM and the 2000 BFM would, I believe, stand in agreement on this point. I do not dispute for a moment that the Incarnation/Cross/Resurrection is the supreme event of God’s revelation of himself to humanity, and I applaud the motive of those who seek to jealously guard us from making theological statements that would confuse the record of that event with the event itself.

However, I see no theological reason that we can’t affirm that both the event and its authoritative, divine interpretation recorded in Scripture fall under the category of divine revelation. Nothing compels me to affirm that the Incarnation exhausts the category of revelation, and much compels me to deny that premise. We have already established that God has historically revealed himself in many different ways. If that is the case, then why can’t we affirm that Scripture constitutes revelation without threatening the supreme revelatory event of the Incarnation? When God parted the Red Sea, he revealed himself, and yet the parting of the Red Sea is not the Incarnation (though it does, ultimately, point us to the Incarnation). When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son, God revealed himself, even though the announcement of the Incarnation is not the Incarnation, though it does point to it.

In fact, I would further argue that there is an organic connection between the Christ event and the divine testimony to it, which we know as Scripture. Had I been in the crowd that day when Jesus was crucified, I doubt that I would have looked at this dying man on the cross and concluded that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. The naked event would not communicate much of anything to me. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, I would ask, “How can I understand, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30). Events must be interpreted. Scripture is (in part) the divine interpretation of the revelatory events of history. The Christ event means nothing, indeed reveals nothing until God interprets it to me by his Word and Spirit. This is why I believe the Bible both records revelation (by keeping a record of God’s mighty saving acts) and is revelation (by interpreting those acts for us to understand). The unity of the Son and the Spirit in the economy of redemption points to the necessity of a twofold revelation: the event (accomplished by the Son) and its interpretation (applied by the Spirit through both the inspiration of Scripture and through the illumination of those who read/hear the message of Scripture).

Basically, it boils down to this: I haven’t come into contact with the Incarnate Christ recently, and you haven’t either. If we restrict revelation to the event of the Incarnation, then we restrict the extent of revelation to those who witnessed that event. We leave ourselves with nothing but a fallible record of someone else’s religious experience. This is supposed to ground our faith? Why, then, do we have a canon in the first place? What makes these fallible human books any better than the countless others that were written around the same time and in the subsequent centuries? Holy Scripture exists in a category by itself because it is the inspired Word of God, God’s authoritative interpretation of his great saving events. As such, it constitutes divine revelation. We must, nevertheless, take care that we do not collapse all special revelation into the category of Scripture, for revelation is broader than just Scripture. For all practical purposes, however, the church’s only source of normative special revelation after the time of Christ and the Apostles is Scripture. God has spoken, and his ongoing speech today consists of his Spirit bearing witness to what he has already revealed and applying his revelation in Scripture to new situations.

In part 3, I intend to conclude this series by interacting more specifically with the Neo-orthodox doctrine of Scripture in an attempt to demonstrate its inadequacies.

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3 Responses to “The Bible as Revelation, Part 2”

  1. Luke Smith Says:

    Aaron,
    I do not think I really disagree with you at all. However there are a few clarifications that I would offer with which I suspect you would agree. The incarnation is the full revelatory event. While our knowledge of this event is revealed through the scriptures it is not the case that the scriptures are needed to reveal this event. It simply did not happen that way. There was not a cannon that once accepted affirmed this foundational belief. When you suggest this approach you are affirming the idiocy of the Da Vinci code. The cannon became cannon only in so far as it faithfully pointed back to the incarnation. It was the incarnation that gave authority to the canon. It is also important to recognize the importance of the incarnation for the Old Testament. The New Testament writers had a Bible. They copiously cited the Old Testament in understanding and explaining the incarnation. The incarnation gave the full explanation of the Old Testament. Again I do not think we disagree at all. I simply offer this to emphasize that the canon is the canon because of the incarnation.

    blessings

    Luke Smith

  2. Aaron Says:

    “While our knowledge of this event is revealed through the scriptures it is not the case that the scriptures are needed to reveal this event.”

    No, I think the Scriptures are needed to reveal the event, because the Scriptures (which are simply the record of Apostolic testimony) interpret the event for us. The work of redemption was accomplished by the Son, but it is applied by the Spirit. The Son is particularly associated with the event itself, while the Spirit is particularly associated with the proclamation of that event through Scripture.

    Imagine, if you will, that we are discussing not the issue of revelation but of soteriology (in the end, these two topics are really not so far apart anyway). Soteriologically speaking, the Son accomplishes redemption, but the Spirit applies the Son’s accomplishment. Without the Spirit’s work of application, the accomplished redemption would never reach anyone, because the Spirit’s work is necessary to bring sinners to faith. In the same way, I believe the Incarnation, as the event of revelation, would not actually reach the world without the Spirit’s work of inspiring, preserving, and testifying to Scripture, which is, as I said, the written form of Apostolic testimony. This testimony is necessary to interpret the event of the Incarnation for us, whether it involves the writing down of Jesus’ own words or the words of his closest followers.

    I think what I am offering here is a full-fledged, Trinitarian model of revelation.

    As to the rest of what you wrote, I agree that the canon derives its authority from the Incarnation, not vice versa. I don’t think this negates anything I have said. This does not contradict my contention that the canon is necessary to interpret the Incarnation for the church.

  3. Luke Smith Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    Your speculation reminds me of Luther’s answer to his students question what was God doing before he created the world? Luther’s answer, he was making switches for people who ask silly questions. I am not saying that because God revealed himself fully in the Incarnation that we do not need the scriptures. Revelation does not depend upon the scriptures I am simply affirming the obvious. The people of God had faith long in the LORD long before they had written scriptures. The early church confessed Jesus as Lord before they had written scriptures. I would in no way suggest that we should or that we are sufficient to understand the incarnation apart from the record preserved by the work of the Holy Spirit. I think this is significant especially in light of all the gospel of Judas hype. The authority of the scriptures does not come the authority of the church, the authority comes from their witness to the Incarnation. As you mentioned I think we are in complete agreement on this point. I think that there is a tendancy in Fundamentalist circles to elevate the words of scripture above the witness to Christ. I do not liken this to idolatry, but i think it is misinterpretation. One area this often happens is with regards to women in ministry. A passage in Genesis and a passage in 1 Timothy functionally serve as the window through which all statements about life in the church are interpreted. It is an attending to the letter but missing the purpose.

    blessings,

    Luke Smith

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