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Revealed In The Bible?

Open Bible

I regularly see the phrase, “revealed in the Bible”, and it pulls me up short. Sure, maybe some people are using the phrase “revealed in the Bible” as shorthand for something akin to “revealed by God and recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in one of the books of the Bible”. To be clear, I am totally comfortable and affirming of such a longer statement.

But there are those, it seems to me, who treat the Bible as THE revelation. They claim God’s revelation is identical to, is congruent to, the Bible. In Maths symbols, for them “The Bible God’s revelation”. And that just makes no sense to me.

This latter, reductionist, ‘the-Bible-is-THE-revelation’ position diminishes the three legged stool of Scripture-Tradition-Reason to basically one leg: scripture. Reason, for this position, is nothing more than thinking about the Bible. And Tradition becomes merely the history of reflection on the Bible.

It negates historical understanding. The-Bible-is-the-revelation position holds, then, that there was no revelation until the Bible was completed and acknowledged as we have it. Or, at the very least, that this completion and acknowledgement of the Bible as we have it superseded any previous revelation. At worst, then, we would have the claim that there was no revelation in Christ. Or the slightly less absurd claim that the Bible supplanted the revelation in Christ. Those who hold to such sola scriptura approach often counter that we cannot know Christ except through the scriptures. True, the scriptures are a wonderful, inspired way of getting to know Christ, and for growing in our relationship with Christ. But that there were a number of ways to know Christ until the moment when the ink was dry on the Fourth Gospel, and from that moment only the Bible was the revelation, appears a rather bizarre position.

There is an inconsistent variety of Christian Bibles. Which Bible would be THE revelation? The 66-book Protestant Bible? The Anglican Protestant+Apocrypha Bible? The 73-book Roman Catholic Bible? The varying-numbers-book Eastern Orthodox Bibles?

Holding the Bible is THE revelation results in a multiplicity of conflicting positions. This reality is quickly illustrated by one example; more could easily be found. Near the top of any online search for the phrase “revealed in the Bible”, one encounters How Is God Revealed in the Bible? This is a page produced by the sola-scriptura United Church of God, a denomination that denies the Trinity. Denying the Trinity would, for most Christians, lead to employment of the little-used-on-this-site “H” word. But, we need to be clear, denying the Trinity (a word which doesn’t even occur in the Bible but is part of Christian Tradition in the non-sola-scriptura sense) is a fair reading of the often-inconsistent Bible documents.

Holding the Bible is THE revelation often draws on and encourages petitio principii and circulus in probando logical fallacies. “How do you know that the Bible is inspired? Because the Bible says it is inspired.” Actually, “the Bible” (singular) as a concept is not present in the Bible – because the concept of binding books/scrolls into one unit is anachronistic to its writing. Furthermore, the nearly-worn-out prooftext 2 Tim 3:16 “All scripture is inspired by God” πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος, may actually refer to “All scripture inspired by God is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” and, furthermore, may refer to the Hebrew scriptures (and which particular scrolls then, may also be up for discussion).

None of this denies the value or inspirational quality of the Scriptures, their place in the life of the Church, and of individual Christians. I love the Scriptures. A day does not go by but I read and reflect on them, and pray with them. But I do not make them what they are not.

What do you think?

This post follows the one on Christian Reason.

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5 thoughts on “Revealed In The Bible?”

  1. What would happen if I said: First there was a bunch of blokes writing stuff; then one reads it; then one might feel inspired; revelation is not an attribute of the text but a highly subjective experience in the reader ?

    Does the bible anywhere claim to be the one & only revelation? Does it anywhere adopt an exclusivist position regarding other potential sources? (Do I need to restrict that to the NT?)

    Sadly, my [NET]bible directly counters the alternative rendering of 2Tim3:16 in a footnote. In the absence of knowing ancient Geek I can’t make further intelligent comment about that, however.

    1. Thanks, Tim.

      Your “receptionist” understanding of the Scriptures is fascinating. It would make any text hold the possibility of being inspired in this receptionist approach. I think you are pointing where this leads – “revelation [as] a highly subjective experience”.

      My point, possibly not clear in the post, is that the Bible does not have the concept of “the Bible” – because books, in the bound sense that we are used to them, hadn’t been invented yet 🙂

      Be assured that the translators of the Revised Standard Version of 1881, The American Standard Version of 1901, The New English Bible, and the footnote of The New Revised Standard Version knew at least as much Greek and grammar as those of the NET Bible, and they all think the alternative rendering of 2 Tim 3:16 valid.


      1. I think that’s the first time of trying to put “receptionist” into my own words… thanks for bearing with me.
        It’s probably not that revolutionary if one comes from positions of acknowledging the role of interpretation in reading, coupled with a low contrast between the divine and the mundane. If embuing scripture with too much weight, especially as a moral authority, leads to sola scriptura, then moving the revelation into the reader makes for an easier understanding of aggregation/clustering of views within the area of subjectivity.

        No disagreement about there not being a “the Bible” in the Bible’s times. Symmetrical flip-side: did the author of 2Tim3:16 know that 2Tim3:16 was going to be numbered as 2Tim3:16 and treated as scripture? One must be mad to think so 🙂

  2. Thanks again Bosco for another extremely illuminating post. There is a lot of biblical fundamentalism around, and it’s just wrong. An alternative online Bible that might be considered useful in light of this discussion would be that put out by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (http://usccb.org/bible/index.cfm). Any good, do you think?

    1. Thanks, Chris. I generally start with NRSV. I would need some considerable time to review the version you point to – but, you may notice, prior to reading your comment I prepared today’s post in which I use this very version to illustrate one way the text is read 🙂 Blessings.

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