“Scripture Is The Only Valid Form Of Revelation” Discuss (35 Marks)
A revelation is often referred to as “a divine disclosure, whereby God reveals Himself in some way to a person”. Christians claim that God reveals himself to us in many ways namely; through nature: the universe with its vastness and complexity gives testimony to God and His glory, He is also revealed through our conscience: all societies have a certain moral code built into them in which stealing, lying, murder, and such are universally condemned. Humanity’s sense of right and wrong testifies to God’s existence as it is a sign of His goodness, they also believe that the work of Jesus reveals God: Jesus Himself testified that He had come to earth to reveal the will of God the Father. All of these revelations have come from the Christian scripture.The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humankind. The Scripture says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof for correction, for instruction in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16).The Bible is humankind’s source for the knowledge of God and His plan. In this essay I will outline different types of attitudes towards Christian scripture and evaluate the claim that “Scripture Is the Only form of Revelation”.
In philosophy, there are two different ways in which people understand the idea of revelation from God; propositional revelation and non-propositional revelation. Propositional revelation is often understood as God revealing truths about His nature to people.The revelations are made up of non-debatable statements of facts and the information given reveals inerrant knowledge which is without need of interpretation. An example of a propositional revelation is the ten commandments, given to Moses.
Many people criticise this view as it suggests that the receiver of the revelation is passive. However, psychologically, the human mind does not passively receive information, it actively receives it, for example when you learn something, you remember it. Additionally, when trying to learn, we can make memory errors, this means propositional revelations of God may not have been recorded accurately as humans are not infallible. To add, many people claim that the zealous after effects of a revelation can act as proof of the genuineness of the revelation however, this is not the case. There is no direct way to prove that a propositional revelation has happened. Furthermore, different religions, claim to have received propositional revelations, yet sometimes truth claims from different religions conflict. This could mean that all revelations are limited by the ability of receivers to interpret the revelation into their own religion, making it an interpretation, not a statement of fact.
Various Christians take a propositional view when approaching the Bible. As they believe it is the absolute word of God. These people are traditionally known as fundamentalists as they oppose liberal approaches who interpret the Bible, often doubting miracles and the creation story. They also believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it is therefore infallible. To them, the Bible is an authoritative book that reveals God’s will to His people through historically accurate documents. Fundamentalism is limited in that it does not aid you in interpreting the Bible which can be deemed uninspirational. Their view is also subjective and only accepts one way of interpreting the Bible without knowing of it is the correct way.
Moreover, many fundamentalists use the term “verbal inspiration” to describe how God gave His word to the people. “Verbal Inspiration” refers to the divine origins of every word in the Bible. It claims that God dictates the books of the Bible through divine inspiration, this means that every word of the Bible should be respected in the Bible as you will therefore be following God’s absolute words. This means you can consult the Bible for guidance about moral dilemmas and problems in life, and your answers will be found in the Bible. This view is highly criticised as of the Bible is followed this way, believers must accept harsh punishments like the death penalty for many offences. This is seen by many as barbaric and cruel as this would mean women who commit adultery and who are not virgins before they get married should be stoned to death. Similarly, the idea of how creation happened is highly disputed among all Christians as many liberals do believe in the theory of evolution. To add, of the Bible is divinely inspired then disobeying the Bible in any way is a rejection of God’s commands so a fundamentalist should agree to the stoning of women even though it would be shunned in our society today.
The other way in which people understand revelation from God is through the non-propositional approach. This refers to the idea that religious believers recognise God’s revelation through his action in human history and through experience. The role of the receiver is therefore crucial in this instance as God’s revelation will be a subjective experience. This approach means that humans are free to respond to God’s revelation or not to since the receiving of the revelation is active. An example of a non-propositional revelation is noted by the author Arthur Cohen through his character of Sherlock Holmes, he argues for the existence of a God from the beauty in the world. William Paley also stated that the structure of the eye is so meticulously designed that is must have had a creator. Other examples of non-propositional revelations are the gospels as the are an account of what was revealed through Jesus’ life as His apostles understood it. From reading the Gospels we can form an image of what Jesus’ was like and decipher what this means for us today.
Many people criticise this view as the claim that non-propositional revelations do not reveal direct knowledge of God, nor can they be considered as infallible. This means there is no way of resolving theological debates apart from appealing to one’s own experience. Additionally, the content of a non-propositional revelation is a matter of interpretation. It is equally possible to be amazed by the beauty and nature of the world without experiencing a non-propositional revelation. Dawkins also argues that we have evolved through our genes and are now able to understand a little of our place in the universe and in the process of evolution. Through the development of the prefrontal cortex we can admire art and socially interact. Non- propositional revelations simply attribute a level of consciousness that we have developed from the process of evolution to God. To add, another criticism is that a believer in this approach cannot claim absolute certainty about their belief systems the way a propositional believer can as they have no factual evidence to support them.
Furthermore, people who apply the non-propositional approach to the Bible, will also believe that the Bible is a record of human experiences of God. The inspiration of God makes the author write down their experiences and understanding of God’s action in the world. The author of the Bible is not divinely dictated to but uses their own skills and understanding to record their revelation of God. They tend to coin the term “divine inspiration” to describe how the Bible came about. This refers to the belief that God inspires the writers of the books of the Bible. This view is criticised as there is a discrepancy over what the specific instructions from God are, as of the book is divinely inspired, then the revelation of God is within the text but identifying the exact nature of the revelation would be problematic. Additionally, the instructions in the Bible are difficult for some to come to terms with for example, no divorce for women and men in abusive relationships. To add, some passages in the Bible conflict with modern attitudes. This is evident in St Paul’s patriarchal view of women’s roles in Churches as they are somewhat oppressive and anti-feminist. Many people would argue that scripture is culturally relative and time bound and so is not relevant today.
Others would argue that scripture is the only valid form of revelation as they hold so much authority. This is due to the fact that after the early Church, leaders could not directly refer to the first apostles for guidance and so developed a new authority. This was based on the rule of faith and the Bible. The rule of faith encompassed traditions, teachings of leaders and beliefs of Christians that had been passed down from the time of the apostles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is also a form of literary authority as it is written by apostolic teachings and by previous popes who hold papal succession. This stems from the belief that Jesus gave the apostles authority as they were witnesses of His work. Bishops and popes are therefore successors of the apostles and hold the same authority, this means their writings are infallible. The Bible is also seen by many people as the law and should be followed, this has been stated by Maurice Willes. This however poses many problems as laws are seen to be constructs of social order for the time they are created in. This could mean that because the Bible was written over 2000 years ago, its laws and instructions are outdated and need to be in accordance with todays society in order to maintain relevance for the people. It would be plausible to suggest however that Christians would claim the Bible is transcendent as it is divine.
In conclusion, I believe Scripture is the only valid from of revelation as many other forms of revelation stem from it. This is evident in the revelation of God through Jesus as his works are described to us in the Bible.Our sense of morality and conscience can also be taken from the Bible for example, in the beatitudes, revealing God’s expectations of us. Additionally, through reading the Genesis and the creation story we are given an answer to the beauty of the world and therefore can attribute nature’s cause, to God.