Has God Spoken? Not according to some recent biblical scholars. Revelation, they think, is an outworn idea, and we may as well discard it. It belonged to a pre-critical age. Now we know better.

There have always, of course, been people who denied the reality of revelation. Opponents of Christianity have taken up this position as a matter of course. Most of them have simply denied any possibility of relevation (how can a non-existent God reveal anything?). Some have been willing to accept the idea that revelation is possible but deny that Christians have it in the Bible. There is nothing new in the idea that Christians have no revelation.

What is new is that now some Christians are saying it. Up till recently Christians have disagreed about the nature of revelation and sometimes about its extent. They have differed about whether revelation is propositional or whether we should think of it as the revelation of a person. They have wondered whether the whole Bible is revelation or whether we should accept only part of it. They have argued about whether we should transfer the concept of inspiration from the book to the authors (thus thinking of inspired men doing their imperfect best rather than an inspired book to be accepted as it is).

But with all their differences they have agreed that there is such a thing as revelation. No matter how they have differed over the extent to which the Bible can be trusted, in the end almost all Christians have been ready to say: “This is what God has said.”

It is thus a new thing when people make a firm Christian profession but deny that there is any such thing as revelation. And, since any new idea must be given a fair hearing, it is worth our while to turn aside and see this strange sight.

People who take up this kind of position point out that the Bible says very little about revelation. We have to look hard to find the topic; by no stretch of imagination can it be said to be one of the subjects that preoccupied the writers of the biblical books. The inference is that it need not be important for us and that those who have spent so much time examining and defining the topic have been largely wasting their time (to say nothing of that of their readers).

I think it must be conceded that revelation is not a frequent topic in Scripture. But I doubt whether the right inference is being drawn from it. A man may be very sure that God has made a revelation, and even that God has revealed something to him, without feeling obliged to engage in a general discussion of the concept of revelation. The prophets cheerfully announce “Thus saith the Lord” without taking time off to propound a theory of revelation. But it is more than difficult to maintain that throughout their prophecies they are doing no more than give their best thoughts on topics of the day. As plainly as words can do it they say they are passing on a message they have been given.

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A further objection to the whole idea of revelation is the fact that the followers of Jesus have understood the Bible (or should we say “misunderstood”?) in so many ways. Interpretations have varied from time to time and from place to place. This is thought to be very strange indeed if God has in fact made a revelation. The meaning of “revelation” is “a making clear,” and no one wants to accuse God of bungling. If God did decide to make a revelation, such scholars say, the very least he would have done would have been to speak so plainly that there would be no possibility of misunderstanding. People might reject what God said. But they would be clear about what it was they were rejecting.

To this more than one thing could be said. One is that it involves a piece of a priori reasoning that must be rejected. It lays down in advance the kind of revelation God must make. It is a much better plan to see what in\fact he has done (if anything—I do not want to prejudge the case). All too often, conservatives have been accused of this error. They have, it is said, made up their minds that the Bible must have such and such characteristics. It must be without error and so forth. Now it would seem some radicals are making the very error they accuse the conservatives of. There seems no particular reason why God should not make the kind of revelation that makes people think if they are to penetrate to the depths of its meaning. And if he were to do this, it would not be surprising if some people saw more than others and if some got it wrong.

Other possibilities could doubtless be thought of. It is too facile altogether to say that if there is revelation there is only one way it could happen and that all men must read the same thing out of it.

Exponents of the new approach often make a good deal of the fact that the Bible is culturally conditioned. Every writer, they point out, is subject to the limitations imposed on him by the culture in which he lived. He could not possibly break free from it any more than we can cease to think and live like twentieth-century men. Scholars ask why we with our very different culture should pay any particular attention to what has been said by a few men whose whole world was so very different from ours. The climax is reached when it is urged that we must understand Jesus himself as no more than a child of his time, subject to all the limitations of his day. His background was ancient Palestine, and it is asked why a modern Westerner (or for that matter, a modern Easterner) should regard him as ultimately authoritative.

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Cultural differences are certainly real. But they are no barrier to the effectual communication of important truths as the great literature of every nation amply attests.

And when we come to Jesus we can say that few people, even among non-Christians, have up till now been ready to say that he was no more than a child of his times. What he said and did has relevance far beyond Judea of old.

This raises the not unimportant question, “What is the meaning of ‘Christian’?” It seems elementary that if we are to call ourselves by the name of Christ we should base our position on his. And on this matter of revelation there can be no doubting where he stood. He appealed to the Bible constantly, and he appealed to it as decisive. It is not easy to see why his followers should disavow him here.

There is an unexamined assumption behind the new position, namely, that God has never acted differently from today. Today there is no miracle, no incarnation, and therefore there never was. But we are entitled to ask, Why not? It is the Christian claim that the incarnation was unique, and that God made a once-for-all revelation. We need more than an easy assumption before we abandon this basic position.

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