Revelation, Concept of (in the Bible)

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Primarily, revelation is the act of God, seen in the progressive unfolding of His eternal plan of salvation in Christ, by which He manifests and communicates Himself to people, calls the Church into being, and invites the loving response of assent and obedience; secondarily, it is the body of truth that is made known through God's unfolding plan. The nature of revelation can be seen both in the OT and in the NT.

Revelation in the OT

Under this heading will be considered the hidden God and His revelation of Himself through His word and through His entrance into history.

The Hidden God. God is, above all else, holy (Is6.3), which means that He is entirely "other," exalted above men, transcendent, inaccessible. He dwells in the heavens (Gn 28.1213; Dt 26.15; 1 Kgs 8.30); no one can see His face and live (Ex 19.21; 33.20; Dt 18.16); He is shrouded in darkness in the Holy of Holies and even in theophanies (Ex 20.21; Dt 4.11; Ps 80[81].8; 1 Kgs, 8.12); He is a hidden God (Is 45.15). The NT concurs (see Mt 11.27; Lk 10.2122; Jn 1.18; 6.46; 1 Tm 6.16; 1 Jn 4.12).

The author of Wisdom (1st century b.c.) is the first to assert clearly that men can come to know God through reasonbut he then blames them for not worshiping Him (Wis 13.19). St. Paul, in the NT, argues in much the same way (Acts 14.1517; 17.2231; Rom 1.1832); the Gentile may have the law of God in his heart (Rom2.1415), but all have sinned (Rom 3.23); before the time of revelation in Christ the Gentiles lived in "times of ignorance" (Acts 17.30), for the world did not come to knowledge of God by human wisdom (1 Cor 1.21). Thus biblical authors admit the possibility of a knowledge of God derived by reasoning from creation, but assert that, historically, it had not led to a personal knowledge, i.e., one expressed by worship and moral commitment. Much less was God's particular plan of salvation known through reason; it was somewhat hidden even from the Angels (1 Pt 1.12). The Israelites did, in fact, believe that creation revealed God (Ps 18[19].25; 103[104]), because it was viewed as subservient to His will and as controlled directly by Him: the phenomena of creation were looked upon as acts of God. Thus, a storm could be a theophany (Ps 28[29]); calamities such as famine (2 Sm 21) or plague (2 Sm 24) manifested His anger; a flight of quail (Nm 11.31), a timely wind (Ex 14.21), or a hailstorm (Jos 10.11"the Lord hurled great stones") marked His providential intervention. This approach was valid for the Hebrew who had already met God the Creator and now contemplated Him in His works, even though it did not distinguish between the natural and the supernatural.

Revelation through God's Word. The transcendent invisible God who can be known but imperfectly by reason shows merciful condescension by revealing Himself to man. God's will to reveal is attested by specific texts (Am 3.7; Is 45.19; Nm 12.6; Dt 18.1518; Dn 2.47; Sir 42.19) and by a wide variety of terms and expressions. God uncovers or reveals (gālâ ) some truth or quality (in qal or piel ) or Himself (niphal ); He makes Himself known (niphal of yāda' ) or causes another to know (hiphil ); He appears (is seenniphal of rā'â ) or makes someone to see a fact, His glory, a vision (hiphil ); He causes someone to hear His word, voice, judgment (hiphil of šāma ); He announces (higgîd ); He speaks (dibbēr ); He says (āmar ); His word (dābār ) comes to the prophets. The niphal of the verb often has some divine force or quality as subject, such as word, glory, arm, or salvation.

It is God, acting as a person, who takes the initiative in communicating Himself to men. To seek revelation through divination, necromancy, and other forms of magic was strictly forbidden (Dt 18.914), though one might seek (dāraš, šāal ) an answer from a qualified spokesman of God, such as a priest or prophet.

Revelation is accomplished primarily by means of God's "word." Even when God came to man in dream, vision, or theophany, it was still, often enough, His word that clarified the event's meaning (Jer 1.1114; Am7.79; Dn 7.1518; Ex 19.911). Priest, prophet, and sage spoke God's word, but in differing manner and degree (Jer 18.18).

The Word of the Law. The Ten commandments in particular are called words (Ex 34.28; Dt 4.13; 10.4), but the term includes also other legislation (Dt 4.2). By a prophetic experience Moses understood the response that God required of the people He had called out of Egypt, and the laws he mediated were for them a valid expression of God's moral will. Much of the legislation of the Pentateuch came from later times and was evolved in priestly circles, where it continued to develop, in the spirit of the Mosaic legislation, into a law code that would ever more perfectly reveal God's moral will. In this further development, the influence of prophetic teaching was incalculable.

The Prophetic Word. For the Hebrew mind, the word had a dynamic reality (Is 40.68; 55.1011). The word that was spoken by the prophet was the Lord's word (e.g., the formula "the word of the Lord came to X"; Is 38.4; Jer 28.12) and partook of all the might of His will. But how did this word come to them? One should not think of an audible message; much less can it be imagined that the word was literally placed in Jeremiah's mouth (Jer1.9). These expressions indicate the prophet's conviction that he was speaking the message of the Lord. The prophet had experienced the holiness, personality, and will of God in an inexpressible way (Is 6; Jer 1; Ez 12), a way that set him apart from his fellows; he was conscious of having been admitted to the council of God (Jer 23.18,22). It was in the light of this experience that he viewed the concrete historical situation and pronounced God's judgments and promises to the men of his time.

Unlike the word of the false prophet (Jer 23.1632), the true prophet's message cannot be explained as the product of inclination, environment, or political insight. He was a man under compulsion to speak a message not his own (Jer 1.67; 20.79; Am 3.8) to men who would gladly have been rid of him (Jer 26.715; Ez 3.411; Am2.1112; 7.1013) and from whom his vocation cut him off (Is 8.1115; Jer 15.17). If he foretold doom to a naive, optimistic, conscienceless people, it was not that he had less faith than they in the mighty power of the Lord to deliver, but because he knew His will. The objective validity of the prophet's conviction that he spoke the word of God was often established in part, at least, by the criteria that led many to accept his message even in his own day: conformity to a mature and truthful conception of God's nature, His demands, and Israel's own inspired tradition (Dt 13.16), fulfillment of prophecy (Dt 18.1522; Jer 28.59), and, rarely, miracles (1 Kgs 18.3039). The final guarantee of their validity, however, rests on the inclusion of their collected oracles in the canon of inspired Scripture.

The Word of Wisdom. Especially in later passages of the sapiential books, wisdom is seen as something much deeper than mere practical advice and is presented as divinely revealed: it belongs to God alone and is hidden from the eyes of man (Job 28), is given to men as a gift (Prv 2.6; Jb 32.89; Sir 1.1), and has divine qualities (Wis7.2527). Although wisdom, understood in this sense, came to be identified with the Law (Sir 24.22), the development of its meaning owed a great deal to prophetic teaching with which the wisdom writers were deeply imbued. In fact, wisdom was often an application of prophetic teaching (concerned largely with the nation) to the individual.

God's Revelation through History. The secular historian may not feel compelled to admit any special intervention of God in the history of Israel; the escape of slaves, conquest, exile, and restoration are events that can be analyzed and understood, especially since many of the miracles that made them possible are susceptible to naturalistic explanations. The biblical authors, however, believed that in these events the hand of God was revealed. But because such knowledge is by faith, it rests, not upon the events alone, but upon a divinely inspired interpretation of them.

Because the Judeo-Christian revelation is historical in nature, it rests upon the historical event as upon the very material of which it is composed. Yet the external event, no matter how impressive, needs the word before it can adequately reveal God's action and plan; this word is supplied by prophets, i.e., God's spokesmen. The biblical texts in which the events are described already bear the (spokesmen's) interpretation of the events. To describe the deliverance from Egypt as accomplished by the mighty hand of God (Ex 6.1; 32.11) is already an interpretation that refuses to view the events as merely natural phenomena (e.g., the ten plagues). The origin and validity of the interpretation is, of course, all important.

Israelite tradition named Moses as the great leader and first prophet through whom the new faith was mediated, for it was he who explained to the chosen people the significance of the events of the Exodus and even of the fiery theophany on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19.321; 20.1821; Dt5.2227). What was affirmed in the accounts of Moses' ascent into the mountain (Ex 19.3, 20; 24.1218) and his intimate association with the Lord (Ex 33.723; Nm 12.68; Dt 34.10) was the religious experience that enabled Moses to know and to communicate to the chosen people the significance of what the Lord had done for them. The prophets, in their interpretation of events, were led by God in the same path trodden by Moses. They gave interpretation not only of events past and present but even of those they confidently predicted. From the whole there emerged God's plan of salvation, to be completed only in the NT.

Prophetic interpretation of Israel's history of this kind was incorporated into the historical books of the Bible (see 2 Kgs 17.723; 21.1015). The fact that revelation proceeded by way of God's unfolding plan meant that revelation itself was a progressive thing and that there was a constant, objective increase in its content. This included an ever deeper awareness of God's nature, of His mercy, power, wisdom, and justice. Individual elements of the plan already foreshadowed the whole, e.g., the Exodus, which began the constant theme of deliverance through God's mighty acts (Is 10.2527; 40.3;41.1720; 43.1621; Jn 8.12; 1 Cor 10.112; Rv 15.23). The action was irreversible, not cyclical, and would move to a climax understood as "the Day of the Lord" by the prophets (Is 11.11; 12.1; Am 9.11; Jl 3.15; Is 26.2027.13); it would mark the establishment of the kingdom of God on Earth.

Revelation in the NT

God's word in Christ, the Spirit of truth in the Apostles, and human response, referred to in the NT, give further insight into the nature of revelation.

The Word of God in Christ. God, who had formerly spoken through the prophets now spoke through His Son (Heb 1.12), whom God sent in the fullness of time (Gal 4.4) and in whom all the promises found their "Yes" (2 Cor 1.20). With the coming of Christ the final age is initiated, the redemptive act of God is accomplished. In His person and work Christ is the perfect revelation and supreme condescension of the transcendent God. It is He whom the prophets foretold (1 Pt 1.1012).

In the Synoptics. Christ is presented as prophet and as Son of God, whose coming both heralds and inaugurates the kingdom of God, the final age in God's plan of salvation. His exorcisms and cures indicate that the dominion of Satan has been brought to an end and has given place to that of God (Mt 12.2528; Mk 3.2326; Lk 11.1720), while His preaching and parables reveal the nature of the kingdom (Mt 57; 13.151). His true nature is known only to the Father, who reveals it to the humble, particularly to the Apostles; and the Father is in turn revealed by Jesus (Mt 11.2527; 16.17; 17.15). He foretells His death, Resurrection (Mk 8.3133; Mt 16.2123; Lk 9.22), and return in glory (Mk 14.62) and interprets the meaning of His work (Mk 10.45; Lk 24.2527, 44).

In St. Paul. As in the Synoptics, the advent of Christ marks the final age in God's plan of salvation, but Paul is more concerned with the "mystery" of Christ than with His visible earthly career. By the term "mystery" (μυστήριον) Paul means the unfathomable truth of salvation in Christ, a truth formerly hidden, though foretold by the prophets, and which has now been revealed by God (Rom 16.2526; 1 Cor 2.7, 10; Eph 1.910; Col 1.26; cf. 1 Pt 1.1012). Basically it refers to God's saving act in Christ and can be equated with Paul's gospel (Eph 6.19), though often it is applied to partial aspects of it (1 Cor 15.51; Eph 3.46; 5.32). It is identified with the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1.2325; 2.7; Col 2.23).

God Himself reveals the mystery of Christ: cf. the use of ποκαλύπτειν (to revealEph 3.5) and ποκάλυψις (revelationRom 16.25; Eph 3.3), used always with God as the agent, or in the passivea reverential way of indicating the divine activity. Other verbs are used in a sense close to that of ποκαλύπτειν (sometimes with the Apostles as grammatical subject, as God's agents): γνωρίζειν (to make knownEph 1.9; 3.3; 6.19; Col 1.27); φωτίζειν (to enlightenEph 3.9); φανερο[symbol omitted]ν (to manifestCol 1.26).

This revelation takes place in two stages that mark the beginning and end of the final age, which is now present: the beginning, known by the elect through faith, is accomplished in the Passion and Exaltation of Christ (Rom 1.1617; 3.2122; Gal 1.16; Eph 3.3, 5; Col 1.26; 2 Tm 1.10); the end will be manifest to all in the parou sia (παρουσία, ποκάλυψις, πιφάνεια), which will be preceded by the revelation of antichrist (2 Thes 2.3, 6, 8). This "Day of the Lord," expected by the prophets, will reveal Christ's glory and the glorious salvation of the faithful (Rom 8.18, 23; 2 Cor 4.1314; Col 3.4; 1 Thes 4.1418; 2 Thes 1.10) as well as God's wrath against sinners (Rom 2.5, 8; 1 Thes 1.10)realities that in fact are already present in a partial and hidden manner.

The conception of revelation as a deposit (παραθήκη) that is to be guarded is found also in 1 Tm6.20; 2 Tm 1.14; see also the insistence on "sound doctrine" in 1 Tm 1.1011; 6.3; 2 Tm 1.13.

In St. John. Although St. John does not use ποκαλύπτειν except in an OT citation, many other significant terms do occur. He presents Christ as the visible revelation of the invisible Father and makes significant use of φανερο[symbol omitted]ν (to manifestJn 1.31; 2.11; 3.21; 9.3;17.6), φ[symbol omitted]ς (light), φωτίζειν (to enlighten1.9), γνωρίζειν (to make known15.15; 17.26).

God has never been seen (Jn 1.18; 6.46; 1 Jn 4.20); it is precisely to reveal Him that Christ has come (1.18;17.23where knowledge of the Father is identified with eternal life, the gift Jesus has come to confer). Jesus is able to manifest the Father because, divine and preexistent with Him (1.12, 18), He came into the world (1.9;3.2, 19, 31; passim ), having been sent by the Father (4.34;5.23; passim ). The mission of Christ is attested by the witness of John the Baptizer (1.7, 15, 3234; 5.33), by His own works (5.36), by the Scriptures (5.39), and especially by the Father (5.37; 8.18). Christ is able to bear witness to Himself (8.14, 18) and to the truth (18.37), and the words He speaks are God's words (3.34; 7.17; 8.26, 28, 38, 40). He reveals the Father because He is the visible embodiment of God's work. He sees the works of the Father, works when He works, and, just as the Father does, He gives life and He judges (5.1722, 27; cf. 9.3). His miracles are signs because of the deep meaning they carry (2.11, 23; 4.54; passim ). His glory is the very glory of the Father (1.14, 51; 2.11; 12.41; 17.5, 22, 24). So fully is He the manifestation of God among men that all must honor Him as they do the Father (5.23). To see Him is to see the Father (14.9), for He and the Father are one (10.30). So perfectly does He reveal the Father that He can be called simply "the Word" (1.1, 14; 1 Jn 1.1).

The Spirit of Truth and the Apostles. Only by the preaching of divinely commissioned agents can people enter by faith into the saving work of Christ (Rom 10.1415). Yet even at the time of the Ascension the Apostles were far from understanding the true nature of the kingdom established by Christ that was still to be evolved to its full stature (Acts 1.6). Their baptism by the Holy Spirit sent by Christ was needed before they could begin the work entrusted to them (Acts 1.5, 8; 2.141). As Christ had promised (Jn 14.26; 16.13), by the guidance of the Spirit the Apostles took important new steps (Acts 10.1948; 13.23) whose significance they fully understood through the Spirit's enlightenment (Acts 11.1518; cf. 1 Cor 2.1016; Eph 3.36). By the sending-forth of the Apostles directed by the Holy Spirit, witness was given to enable people to believe (Acts 5.32; cf. Jn 15.2627); by it, too, the Church was established to carry on the same work for all time and to make universal the revelation that until then had been confined to one nation (Mt 28.1920; Mk 16.1920).

Man's Response. God does not speak in a vacuum but to human beings, and a response is expected. If God "makes to hear" and "makes to know," then we are expected to "hear" and to "know"but in the biblical sense of these words. "To hear" is not restricted to audition; it includes loving obedience as well (Ex 3.18; Is 28.12; Jer 11.10; Ez 2.5; Mt 18.17; Lk 16.31). "To know" is a word that summarizes biblical spirituality and includes love and election on God's part, love, obedience, and faithful adherence on man's (Is 19.21; Jer 31.34; Hos2.2122, 13.4; Am 3.2 "favored"; Jn 10.1415; 17.3;

Phil 3.10; 1 Jn 2.3). This response of loving assent and obedience is termed "faith." It is a challenge that faces each generation, each individual (Dt 5.3); the choice is free but is by no means presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis (Dt 30.19; Is 7.9; Jn 6.2950; 8.24). The clearest example of what is meant by the challenge of revelation and the response of faith is St. Paul's conversion. When the mystery of Christ was revealed to him (Gal 1.1516), he considered that he had been "laid hold of" by Christ and pressed on to lay hold of the divine prize (Phil 3.1214).

See Also: dream; mystery (in the bible); necromancy; oracle (in the bible); prophetism (in the bible); salvation history (heilsgeschichte); urim and thummim; word of god.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 204046. m. vereno and r. schnackenburg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 7:110409. s. h. hooke, Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Pattern of Revelation (London 1961). w. pannenberg, ed., Offenbarung als Geschichte (Kerygma und Dogma, Beiheft 1; Göttingen 1961). w. bulst, Revelation, tr. b. vawter (New York 1965). h. d. mcdonald, Ideas of Revelation: An Historical Study A.D. 1700 to A.D. 1860 (London 1959); Theories of Revelation: An Historical Study, 18601960 (London 1963). j. baillie, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (New York 1956). h. schulte, Der Begriff der Offenbarung im Neuen Testament (Munich 1949). h. w. robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, rev. l. h. brockington and e. a. payne (Oxford 1946). c. h. dodd, The Bible Today (Cambridge, Eng. 1947) 98121. h. e. brunner, God and Man, tr. d. cairns (London 1936) 103135. j. j. o'rourke, "Romans 1, 20 and Natural Revelation," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 (1961) 301306. r. e. brown, "The Pre-Christian Semitic Concept of 'Mystery,"' ibid. 20 (1958) 417443. e. o'doherty, "The Organic Development of Messianic Revelation," ibid. 19 (1957) 1624. j. l. mckenzie, "The Word of God in the Old Testament," Theological Studies 21 (1960) 183206. o. g. loretz, Die Wahrheit der Bibel (Freiburg 1964). j. j. collins, "Natural Theology and Biblical Tradition: The Case of Hellenistic Judaism," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 60 (1998) 115. d. patrick, The Rhetoric of Revelation in the Hebrew Bible (OBT; Minneapolis 1999). l. g. perdue, "Revelation and the Problem of the Hidden God in Second Temple Wisdom Literature," Shall Not the Judge of All the World Do What Is Right? Studies in the Nature of God in Tribute to James L. Crenshaw, ed. d. penchansky and p. l. redditt (Winona Lake, Ind. 2000) 201222.

[j. jensen]