Sunday, August 17, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting the Dialectical Movement [Part 1 of ?]

The first step in understanding is to understand which question(s) to ask. In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates says, “My way toward the truth is to ask the right questions.” The learning process unavoidably involves questions. If one studies the life of Jesus Christ recorded in the gospels, it is clear that He employed the use of questions often. Questions are intended to stimulate thinking. And thinking is the process by which we move through discovery to the answers for our questions. However, not all questions are created equal. Some questions are better than others. The real key to understanding an issue, in many cases, begins with the ability to understand the underlying question regarding the issue at hand. The question this paper seeks to answer is simply this: “What is the relationship between divine revelation and human reason?”

There is a vital distinction between the diverse forms that revelation takes, and the human reason that is required to understand it. I am going to argue in this paper that the relationship between divine revelation and human reason are both critical components of understanding Christian truth. It is the contention of this author that Christian doctrine, properly understood, asserts that without both, divine revelation and human reason, understanding, at least in the proper sense, is impossible. Hence, when I ask the question, “What is the relationship between divine revelation and human reason?” I am asking the epistemological question, “How do human beings experience knowledge of their world?”


Since it is my view that divine revelation is logically prior to human reason, it follows that an analysis such as this should begin with a clear understanding of divine revelation. There are two fundamental questions bound up in this discussion: 1) what is the nature and form of revelation? 2) Why is revelation necessary? The answer to the latter is indelibly related to the answer we arrive at for the former.

One of the most interesting verses concerning the Greek word apokalupsis appears in Paul’s letter to the Christian Church at Galatia. Paul writes, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”[1] Paul informs the Christians in this community that he received the gospel of Jesus Christ by way of a “revelation” of Jesus Christ. One lexicon says this about the word: to uncover, to take out of hiding,’ not occurring in the NT) to cause something to be fully known—‘to reveal, to disclose, to make fully known, revelation.’[2] The idea bound up in the concept of revelation is that of “hidden information, or facts.”

B.B. Warfield explains the aim of revelation as salvation. “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 of its own sake, but for the sake of salvation.”[1] Revelation is the tool by which God seeks to impart the kind of knowledge that leads to salvation. Once again, this assertion implies that some information, indeed, some very significant information is missing, hidden, veiled so to speak. Understanding the process by which ‘hidden’ facts becomes ‘known’ facts begins by understanding revelation. Revelation then is disclosure.

In Deut. 29:29, the Lord says that the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever. The Hebrew word translated “revealed” is gala. The “things revealed belong to us and they belong to us for a very specific reason: so that we may observe the law of God. It is difficult to miss the perlocutionary intent attached to the activity of revelation. “The goal of the uncovering is this not distant observation, but entrance to the most intense form of encounter which can involve the individual person.”[2] From this it would seem that revelation has a surprisingly personal nuance associated with it. To be sure, revelation is indeed a movement. It reflects the idea of motion. One cannot help but inquire about the type or motion involved in this very curious phenomenon. Revelation it seems then is an active movement of facts hidden to facts disclosed or publicized.

While it seems clear at this point that Christian doctrine points to the idea of an active unveiling or disclosure as the nature of revelation, the next question that concerns us is the shape that such revelation has been known to take throughout history. What are the modes of revelation to be studied in order to understand the concept of revelation?

[1] B.B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1932), 12.
[2] W. Mundle, The New International Dictioinary of New Testament Theology, 3rd ed., s.v. "Revelation."

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ga 1:11–12.
[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 338.

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