bible christianity theology

progressive revelation

Progressive Revelation is the theological/biblical (and Judaeo-Christian) understanding of the process of God’s increasing self-revelation over time. The only other understandings of divine revelation are a) denial of divine revelation (deists, atheists, pantheists, etc.) or b) some kind of mass-download-ish ‘instant’ revelation.

9 replies on “progressive revelation”

Would this help explain why the Jews thought they had to sacrifice animals to please God and how that practice gradually faded away as God revealed more of himself? (i.e. he doesn’t really need people to sacrifice animals to him)

Yeah, that’s the understanding of the NT authors (most strikingly the author of Hebrews – saying that “it is impossible that the blood of goats could take away sins”).

However, interestingly, the OT prophets/psalmists questioned the emphasis on sacrifice:

Ps 40:6 “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not asked.”

Micah 6:6-8 – “With what shall I come before Jehovah, to bow myself before God the Most High? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does Jehovah require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”

Amos 5:22-25 “Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your food offerings, I will not be pleased. Nor will I regard the peace offerings of your fat animals. Take the noise of your songs away from Me; for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Have you offered sacrifices and offerings to Me forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?”

and my personal favourite…

Isaiah 1:11-17 ” To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? says Jehovah; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this at your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more vain sacrifice; incense is an abomination to Me; the new moon and sabbath, the going to meeting; I cannot endure evil and the assembly! Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me; I am weary to bear them. And when you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor. Judge the orphan, plead for the widow.”

(sorry for the flurry of quotes)

So why do you think that God was so insistent on sacrifices in other books of the bible (i.e. Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)? Or do you think that perhaps there might have been a bit of false attribution going on back then?

That is the question to ask. I think the story of Abraham and Isaac and the halted sacrifice provides a clue. Abraham would have spoken/thought in whatever Semetic or pre-Semetic language he spoke/thought in, and would have breathed the air of pre-monotheism (animism/polytheism/etc.) and normative child/first-born sacrifice. So, then, it was most fitting/proper for God (as opposed to speaking to him in, say, Maori or Spanish – and rather than zapping him with understandings which came centuries later) to reveal himself (and his will/desire) progressively, bit-by-bit, starting with where Abraham was (as opposed to where he wasn’t). So in the story of Abraham and Issac, then we see not only a halting of that particular child-sacrifice, but we also hear God’s ‘Stop!’ to child sacrifice in general.

Having said that, OT experts have long recognised a duality between the pro-temple -and thus pro-sacrifice- books/voices and the anti-temple -and thus anti-sacrifice- books/voices. ((same with pro/anti king books/voices)) The prophets (right up to John the baptist and Jesus, of course) were characteristically ‘anti-temple’ so to speak.

but yeah, ‘false’ (or perhaps I’d prefer ‘fuzzy’) attribution would be a fair assessment I think – and I suppose the New Testament authors agree here.

Yeah I think the OT sacrifices/practices in general were upheld in Judaism not because God required those specific protocols or items (such as blood). But because God was sharing abstract ideas with humanity like holiness, redemption, forgiveness etc.
And because these ideas are abstract, to communicate them you need to speak the ‘language’ or communicate in a significant way, culturally, to the people.
These people had traditions that were culturally significant to them (significant in the way that they accurately communicate ideas/feelings) and God used the language of sacrifice (which was embedded in their culture) to teach them his values, rather than having them adopt a less gory (in our eyes) practice that wasn’t meaningful/significant/communicative/accurate for them.
For instance, if God sent a prophet to set up pews, confessionals, and the eucharist somewhere in the middle east at that time, people wouldn’t have understood, I don’t think. Because its not the cultural language of the people.

Sorry that’s a poor example. I simply mean God wanted to communicate clearly with people and so had to bend to their cultural values, not in order to set up or entirely embrace traditions, but just for them to understand.

Gospel is the story, culture is the language that it is spoken in. Culture varies, so the gospel will appear different, even though it is the same story. But then I guess you must ask whether God’s story can actually transcend through all cultures or will it meet a culture which is so alien that the native story of the gospel and all its references and values are lost in translation.

Thanks Laban,
Totally agree – except for a picky point that ‘holiness, redemption, forgiveness etc.’ are rather ‘down to earth’ things, and not really ‘abstract’ :) Good comment though :)

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