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No. 30 Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons December, 1996

 

Twelve Fundamental Avenues of Revelation (Part 1)

by James B. Jordan

 

Theologians often speak of "special" and "general" revelation, or of "natural" and "supernatural" revelation, or of "word" and "deed" revelation. While there are many worthwhile insights in these discussions, particularly in the discussions in Cornelius Van Til’s Introduction to Systematic Theology, I have not found any that satis_ed my quest for a full picture of revelation grounded in the doctrine of God and creation – by which I mean that I have my own concerns and agendas as a theologian and what I have read from others has not supplied what I have needed, or at least has not supplied it in the form in which I needed it.

For those who are interested, this essay is part of the general series of studies in "Through New Eyes," which supplement my book by that title, and which will form the second volume of a series under the same title. In this "second volume," we are interested in uncovering a trinitarian view of history, and part of doing that is to expose a trinitarian view of revelation that is suited to our purposes. By no means do I intend the present essay to say all that should be said about the subject of God’s self-revelation to and through the creation. My purposes, as stated, are (a) to provide for myself and others a useful general conceptual grid, and (b) to provide a framework that is useful in discussing the unfolding of God’s plan and glory in human and cosmic history.

That said, let me begin by pointing out that almost without exception, discussions of this topic seek to divide revelation into two kinds, such as "general" and "special," or "verbal" and "non-verbal." As a trinitarian schooled at the feet of such men as John M. Frame and Vern S. Poythress (who should be credited for much that is worthwhile in this essay, but who should not be held accountable for such infelicities as are doubtless present), I am disinclined to follow. God has revealed Himself in three ways, in three Persons, and we should expect there to be three irreducable avenues of revelation from Him.

The tendency to reduce everything in theology to pairs, or dyads, such as two kinds of revelation, or two testaments, or "body and soul," etc., is, I submit, a holdover from Greek philosophical ways of thinking. For the Greek philosophers, the universe is not created by a living God, but is self-creating, an emergent manifestation of "being." Accordingly, the universe consists of two things: "being" and "non-being," or "form" and "matter" as it is also put. Since the universe is god, or somehow embraces god, then the "good high stu_" is divine while the "bad low stu_" is non-divine or even anti-divine. In Christian thought, this dyad played strongly into the division between "nature" and "grace."

If, however, we start strictly from the genius of Biblical revelation, the very Word of God, we come up with a di_erent scheme. The only true duality is that of the creature and the Creator. It is this duality that the various Greek and Greek-modi_ed schemes point to, though without su_cient clarity. God Himself, however, exists in three Persons, each with unique properties. The creation adds a fourth "person" to this community, so that the creation exists in four directions or aspects, as revealed symbolically in the four faces of the cherubim. That is, creation displays the three Persons/aspects/properties of God as well as her own unique non-divine aspect/property. History is structured in such a way that the three Persons of God are revealed in order, and such that any fourth period of creation history is also the _rst of a new cycle of three. We have discussed this in brief in previous essays in the "Through New Eyes Part Two" series (see Biblical Horizons 22, 57, 58, 61, 63, 69, 80, and Rite Reasons 31-36).

For the Christian, unlike the Greeks, God unfolds Himself to us in history, progressively, from glory to glory; from Father to Son to Spirit in a repeating spiral, each of which takes His Daughter-Bride to a new level of maturity. For the Christian, unlike the Greeks, God is a person, and so He communicates by language. Hearing rather than sight is the primary mode of revelation, as one person speaks with another.

Trinitarian Revelation

God reveals Himself as Person, Word, and Energy (Power, Movement). In another sense, each of these is a Person (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but the particular property of each is di_erent. Thus the Father is the Ultimate Person and the Archetype of personhood. The Son, as a divine Person, is the Image of the Father, and the Spirit is the Image of Father and Son.

The Son’s property is language, for He is the Word. He is "spoken" by the Father as well as "begotten" by Him.

The Son also speaks back to the Father, and this requires not just "thought" but "breath" (motion, energy) so that the Holy Spirit enables the Son to speak back to the Father. The Spirit is the Energy that enables the Word to leave the mind of God and to go forth. Thus, the Spirit energizes the Word in the _rst place, from the Father, acting almost as a mother to the Son; and the Spirit energizes the Word back to the Father, acting almost as a bride to the Son.

There is, however, no true feminine in God, for God is creator over against the creation. The creation is the feminine. Accordingly, it is the Spirit who comes into the creation at the beginning and continually moves alongside the creation, alongside creation’s apex, humanity, to enable humanity, and through us the creation, to converse back with God.

This triune communication of intra-trinitarian revelation is the ground of revelation to the creation. Thus, we have revelation through three modes: persons, language, and movement. It is an error to speak of only two kinds of revelation, such as word and deed, for there is also revelation through persons. It is an error to speak of only two aspects of the church, word and sacrament, for the community of persons is a third. It is wrong to speak of only two "means of grace," word and sacrament, for persons are means of grace to one another (John 7:38-39; cf. 3:8).

(John Frame, in class lectures on the doctrine of the Word of God, has shown that each of these forms of revelation is also a form of the Word of God, which is self-expressive [person-revealing], meaningful [linguistic in itself], and powerful [energetic]. Thus, the Son [Word] reveals the essence of the Father and the essence of the Spirit, while the Father and the Spirit also reveal themselves directly.)

The replication of this triune revelation is seen at the level of human persons, in that we are priests, kings, and prophets. We must correct Calvin and the theological tradition at this point, because the modes of revelation that the Bible sets forth for these three are not quite those we _nd in the standard literature. The priest primarily reveals personhood, so that his dress and position are most important. The king primarily reveals language, for he speaks laws and rulings and gives direction to society. The prophet is primarily the man of action, for he goes places and performs dramatic actions, blown by the Spirit. Of course, all three aspects are found in all three persons, as we shall discuss in due course.

For now, in summary:

Father – Personal revelation

Son – Language revelation

Spirit – Action revelation

Three Modes in Four Spheres

When theologians speak of "special" and "general" revelation, they usually mean something like on the one hand the particular revelation of God directly through the Word together with the special history recounted in the Bible, and on the other hand the general revelation of God through the created world, which cannot help but reveal its Maker and Sustainer. Yet any theologian will have to distinguish between "general" revelation

GOD A. Father B. Son C. Spirit

Person Language Act

From outside

the creation:

1. Divine Theophany Speech Covenant history

Scripture

 

CREATION Particle Field Wave

Matter Space Time

Through the

creation:

2. Human People Language Deeds

(Father)

3. Covenantal Rulers Direction Interaction

(Son)

Church Preaching Sacrament

4. Cosmic Angels Relations Activity

(Spirit) Things

 

A1 Theophanous Revelation

B1 Personal Revelation

C1 Personal Covenantal Revelation:

C1a Through Church

C1b Through Rulers

D1 Object Revelation

A2 Word Revelation

B2 Linguistic Revelation

C2 Linguistic Covenantal Revelation:

C1a Through Preaching

C1b Through Judgments

D2 Relational Revelation

A3 Special Historical Revelation

B3 General Historical Revelation

C3 Dynamic Covenantal Revelation:

C3a Sacraments

C3b Acts of Power

D3 Dynamic Cosmic Revelation

through human life and history on the one hand, and through the lower creation on the other. From what we have seen thus far, this vague distinction between "special" and "general" does not _ow from the nature of God and the creation. In addition to a triad of what is being revealed, we also need a triad of spheres through which it is being revealed, and that gives us nine avenues of revelation. When we add God Himself to the three created spheres of revelation in which He discloses Himself, we come up with twelve avenues of revelation. For reasons that will be explained in due course, one of these must be divided, for a full total of _fteen avenues.

I must add that "special" revelation is usually considered the redemptive revelation God provides to man after our fall into alienation, while "general" revelation is said not to contain redemptive content. I think that this bifurcation is open to serious question. The present essay will not, however, address this distinction. We are at this point concerned only with avenues of revelation, and we shall set aside the question of redemptive versus non-redemptive content.

The best way for us to proceed is to set this out in a scheme, and then discuss it. In that way, the proof of the pudding will be in its eating, so to speak.

I believe that these twelve categories, being a (3-fold) revelation of the Trinity in the (4-fold) creation, can summarize all the various avenues of revelation, exposing to view several that are extremely important and generally overlooked.

Immediately we must make an extremely important point, which is this: In the opera ad extra of God (i.e., God’s works outside of Himself, in the creation) each Person of God is involved, yet so that one Person is more prominent than the other two. To use the popular phraseology: All of God does all that God does. Thus, Theophany is not a revelation of the Father apart from the Son and the Spirit, but in Theophany the Personhood, and therefore the Fatherhood, of God is preeminent, while word and glory (energy) are also present. We shall explore these revelational relationships as we proceed.

 

1. Revelation Through Persons.

God comes into creation Himself. He comes through various other things, but He also comes directly, in the Divine Person, Word, and Power (Energy). That is, we can distinguish (if not always separate) between God’s Person, Word, and Power over the creation and God’s Person, Word, and Power through the creation. Here we are concerned with the former.

A1. Theophanous Revelation. A Theophany is an appearance of God. The various times God appeared in the time before the incarnation of the Son anticipate His _nal and full Theophany in Jesus Christ. John 1:18 says that no one has seen God (the Father) at any time, so that with a few exceptions all appearances of God in history are appearances of the Son. The Spirit occasionally becomes visible, as when He gave forth light on the _rst day of creation, and when He appeared as a Dove at Jesus’ baptism.

Theophanies are always accompanied by words and actions of power (miracles), so that the linguistic and energetic aspects of God’s self-revelation are also present, but the aspect of theophany as such is personal. Thus, it is preeminently associated with the Father, even though it is the Father’s Image (the Son) that is the particular Person present in the theophany.

(to be continued)