If anyone of a theological background reads this that also knows me and my (chastened) appreciation for Karl Barth, I figure the title might sound shocking. But rest assured, I am not in writing this to abandon the concept of revelation in a theological sense, but rather to present a couple
Firstly, there is no singular technical term for revelation in the New Testament. There are two verbs that refer to what we might call an act of revelation: φανερόω and ἀποκαλύπτω. While these two terms are synonyms, which a comparison of Mark 4.22 and Matthew 10.26 would show, they are not exact synonyms, but function a bit differently in the contexts in which they are used.
Secondly, revelation is often used in one of two senses: 1) a general class of events or 2) a single, all-encompassing event. However, while the usage of φανερόω and ἀποκαλύπτω is used to refer to multiple different events (contra #2), one can not draw any generalization about understanding about these events apart from the a)
In regards to the first problem, I would contend that φανερόω and ἀποκαλύπτω refer to two different aspects of “revelatory” events. ἀποκαλύπτω is used in contexts where some people are let in on something that was not previously publicly accessible and known.1 While not every use must be force fit into this exact description, at stake with ἀποκαλύπτω is the notion of privileged access as God “uncovers” it to them. On the other hand, φανερόω gets used more to describe what is actually seen and understood.2
Romans 16.25-26 is evidence of this difference, as the noun ἀποκάλυψις is used in reference to a previously non-accessible mystery, whereas φανερόω refers to what is made known in the Gentiles. Furthermore, what this passage suggests is that an act of ἀποκαλύπτω is a once-for-all event in a point of history whereas an act of φανερόω occurs repeatedly from that point onwards. That is to say, that once an “unveiling” (ἀποκαλύπτω) has been specifically made, it then becomes accessible through the testimony of the one(s) to whom it has been “unveiled.” Hence, this is why in 1 Cor 2.1-13, Paul will refer to specific teachers receiving an “unveiling” from the Spirit, but then in 14-15 speak of those who hear it, and say that those who accept it are said to be Spiritually discerning it. The “unveiling” is a non-repeatable event that then has lasting epistemic implications through testimony to others.
This is not to suggest that an action of φανερόω that is not traceable to an “unveiling” it is simply a product of testimony and the persuasiveness of the testimony. It is only to suggest that something can be “disclosed” (φανερόω) even if it is not being “unveiled.” That is to say, God can and does act to disclose something about His will and purpose, even if it is not really a secret. Thinking historically here, what can we say about Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith. I would not call it an “unveiling” as it was something contained in the Scriptures, but it was “disclosed” to Luther.3
I bring this up as a concept by which we can understand the possibility of revivals. It would be problematic, if not even dangerous, to suggest that revivals are somehow containing some sort of unveiling of something new. While I don’t want to exclude the possibility of God doing such a new unveiling, it would be dangerous to expect that revivals will entail such. However, I do think it is helpful to think of revivals as a fresh disclosure of what God has already unveiled. We might think of this as the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
The implications of this distinction
However, we do believe such an event that has changed ethical understanding as happened in the history of God’s relationship to Israel and the world: in the person of Jesus Christ. While Jesus never nullified the Torah, with the advent of Christ and a new covenant, revelations were made to the apostle that lead to the conclusion that the Torah obedience was not necessary for the Gentiles. Something dramatic necessitated the people of God move to a new ethical understanding. However, this revelation did not occur in a vacuum, but it occurred as part of what was happening in the person of Jesus Christ; Paul refers to his own ministry to the Gentiles coming from God who was “please to unveil his Son to me.” (Galatians 2.16).
Thus such a change and move in regards to sex would need to be more than just simply a “disclosure” but an “unveiling” on a similar manner to what happened in the early Church. However, firstly, on what basis is such a revelation made? The change from the Torah was made in light of what happened in the person of Jesus. Who has come in the name of the Lord to necessitate such a change in understanding today? Or in what way has the Spirit demonstrably made Himself known that there is a clear unveiling of this new truth?
Secondly, the thing about “unveiling” is this: it is not accepted by others in virtue simply of the testimony, but there is something inherently demonstrable in what gets “unveiled.” An “unveiling” makes itself apparent to those who are able and willing to receive it. But if people outside the Christian circles are more willing to receive it whereas there is greater resistance inside the Church, this means the outside world is more open to this truth. Thus, this has been continued to be “veiled” to many Christians but not to those on the outside. While it is certainly possible, to claim that this has been “unveiled” would certainly seem to suggest leaving behind those who refuse to accept it, just as the early Christians did not seek to persuade all the Pharisees, and form a community on the basis of such a conviction if it is that absolutely necessary condition of one’s faith.
Thirdly, such an “unveiling” does not entail any prior progression or development to the idea, lest it becomes something that was accessible but overlooked, but it arrives without precedent, even if one can after the fact see it pointed to from what has already been given to know.
In other words, no sensible reading of the Bible would disclose a change in the views about sex and
However, nevertheless, such a change is certainly within the purview of possibility. Why? Because we can not derive any sense of pattern about God’s unveilings and disclosures that would give us some advance knowledge and notice about specific unveilings in the future. Revelation is not a science by which we analyze past revelations to determine the shape of future revelations. They are given as is, we learn from them as they are, but we are not given a sneak-peek into further revelation in virtue of them. God’s act of unveiling does not give us the ability to unveil anything further in virtue of any disclosure already given to us. We are still left with the same epistemic dependence upon God’s actions for historically new disclosures to be made, which includes the possibility of new unveilings. However, we can look from God’s past disclosures and find some sense of understanding of future disclosures that are not conditioned upon a new unveiling, as this is taking what is already given to discover afresh more about what has been given.
So while we can accept the possibility of a new “unveiling” from God, we can not anticipate it nor specifically prepare for it in advance. The most that can be done is, like John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the Lord in repentance. But this still relies upon what has been disclosed, with
To summarize, the problem with revelation is that it as a concept on its own is ill-equipped for us to construct a theological epistemology for the matters of Christian life and faith that coheres with the witnesses of the New Testament. Rather, a two-fold understanding of “unveiling” and “disclosure” where the two are intrinsically related but are not phenomenologically the same thing, can allow us to insights into the nature of revivals or historically unprecedented changes in teaching and how we should approach such.
As for me, while I can accept the possibility of new unveilings I see no reason to think such has been given, but I can anxiously expect and look forward to the possibility of fresh disclosures for the Church in the West.