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Progressive revelation?

In response to Love and faith, Philip U. wrote:


I have a problem with the concept of the developing revelation of God through the Hebraic times. Apart from being too close to the humanist concept of the evolution of religion, it doesn’t make sense. Of all people, it is Adam who had intimate knowledge of God. Abraham and Adam knew God and knew His promise of salvation. The prophets over many hundreds of years had a more intimate and lived experience with revelation than we could ever hope for. How then can we say that revelation then ‘progressed’? Jesus did not bring new revelation but fulfilled that which was already expected (by those with ears to hear). The Hebrews looked forward to Jesus whereas we look back. The difference is semantic.

Lita Sanders responds:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interact with your thoughts. Scripture itself indicates that our knowledge of God revealed through Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Old Testament saints. Peter says,

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10–12).

Hebrews 1:1–2 states,

“Long ago, at many times in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.”

If we can agree that Christ in the flesh is a fuller revelation of God than the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, we agree that revelation is progressive. That is, God has revealed more of Himself to people as He was working out His plan of salvation.

Think about this: When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a human sacrifice, he had no idea that child sacrifice was abhorrent to God. Slitting the throat of your firstborn son might be something Yahweh wanted him to do. God told Moses, and hence every person who would read Leviticus, that child sacrifice was abhorrent to Him (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2–5). We know that far from requiring us to sacrifice our sons to be in a relationship with us, God sacrificed His own Son for us (John 3:16).

What differentiates this from the evolution of religion? First of all, we believe in the existence of God as an objective, necessary truth, not a sociological fiction. Second, the Yahweh who walked in the Garden with Adam, appeared to Moses in the midst of a burning bush, who Isaiah saw enthroned between the cherubim, and who spoke to Christ as His baptism are all the same God. The evolution of religion would suggest that people started by worshipping the sun and the rain, and then by personifying forces behind the sun and the rain, and then seeing one force behind all the phenomena they couldn’t explain, and then becoming atheistic as they developed science and thought that physics explains everything (except the existence of physics). What I am suggesting is much more like getting to know someone better and better as you know them longer.

Abraham, Adam, and the prophets all experienced God in ways that many Christians envy. We can only imagine what it was like to walk alongside God in Paradise before sin entered into creation. We don’t speak with God face to face as Moses did. But they could not imagine being indwelt by the Holy Spirit as every Christian today is, looking back on Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice for sin, or having the complete Scriptures available to them.

Published: 30 May 2020

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