by Young Oon Kim
The Case For New Revelation
Should Christians look for new revelation which goes beyond the Bible? Has God spoken His final word? Or is a special divine message needed for our present situation? Such questions were seldom asked by earlier Christians because they were satisfied with the ancient Biblical revelation. If there were any new revelatory experiences of God's presence and purpose they were interpreted within the context of the traditional religion. For example, the direct encounters with the supernatural experienced by Francis of Assisi, Ignatius Loyola, Blaise Pascal and Bernadette of Lourdes were incorporated within the ideological structure of the established Christian community. However, in some cases the alleged revelations were rejected by the church-at-large, entailing the formation of new groups: that is, with George Fox, Emanuel Swedenborg, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Helena Blavatsky. 13 In recent years, many have gained greater understanding of these so-called schismatic sects and view them as a necessary reaffirmation of neglected aspects of our faith in God. On the whole, it must be confessed, Catholicism has proved more open to new revelations than the Protestant churches have, possibly because of the Reformation's insistence upon the self-sufficiency of the Biblical revelation.
The situation today is radically different. Organized Christianity is less rigidly structured, so it would be difficult to suppress those who claim to have received a new message from God, On the other hand, a large number of clergy and laity are seeking persuasive contemporary evidence of God's presence and power. Sincere souls are praying for a message from beyond, suitable to the present human condition.
The Bible does not maintain that it is the final revelation, even though many theologians have thought that it did. To understand what the Scriptures actually teach, Christians should first look at the Old Testament. Traditionally many Jewish rabbis considered the Mosaic Torah to be God's complete and everlasting revelation to man. Hence, Jesus aroused the hostility of conservative rabbis and Torah-true Jews for refusing to obey some Mosaic commandments and insisting upon changing others. The later Christian community went even further in abrogating major parts of the revealed Law: those relating to Jewish holy days and the special dietary regulations, for instance.
Even within the Judaic tradition there was not total agreement about the "once-for-all" character of the Torah. First of all, the books of the prophets were accepted as part of the Hebrew canon. Each of the prophets based his work upon a direct encounter with God. Usually these prophets proclaimed, "Thus saith the Lord ' " as if God spoke personally to and through them. What we should remember is that all these Old Testament revelatory experiences took place after the promulgation of the Mosaic Law.
Furthermore, if modern Old Testament scholarship is correct, the Torah was not simply what Moses learned from God at Mt. Sinai. To that revelatory core of divine commandments many additions were made for several centuries. The book of Deuteronomy was attached much later and ascribed to Moses, but probably not written until the time of King Josiah's reform. As for the Torah in its present form, it was likely compiled during the Babylonian exile and made normative Judaism by Ezra. 14
There is also an important passage in the Torah which relates to Jewish belief in continuing rather than completed revelation. In Deut. 18:15, Moses says: "The Lord your God will raise up a prophet from among you like myself, and you shall listen to him." For Orthodox Jews, it is important that the Torah itself predicts the coming of a prophet equal to Moses. Or if we accept the scholarly view that Deuteronomy was written long after Moses death, we should realize that normative Judaism recognized that later prophets would receive revelation.
Next we should look at the New Testament. Until the fourth century, the New Testament had not received its final form. Jesus himself did not give his disciples a written New Covenant to supplement the Old Covenant. According to scholars, none of our New Testament books was written by an original disciple of Jesus. This means that for a considerable period of time the early Christians had no sacred literature apart from the Hebrew Scriptures. 15 They seem to have used the Jewish written revelation primarily to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. As for direct guidance from God, they relied upon communal prayer and inspired utterances of Christian "prophets." About the latter we have very little information.
In the first century A. D., some rabbis taught that the Mosaic Torah would be replaced at the dawn of the messianic age. Matthew's Gospel therefore shows that Jesus Christ came with a new Torah supplanting the old one. Jesus' teachings are arranged in five big sections comparable to the five books of Moses. The key to Matthew's interpretation of Jesus is, "You have heard it said to them of old time ... but I say..." (5:21-22). For that author, Jesus was the second Moses. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was therefore designed to contrast with Moses' revelation on Mt. Sinai.
However, within the New Testament canon, it is clearly taught that Jesus did not come with the complete and final revelation. In the Fourth Gospel, Christ is reported saying: "I have yet many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it unto you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine, and declare it to you" (16:12-15).
These verses provide a foundation for belief in the possibility of continuing revelation. The Fourth Gospel strongly affirms that more truth from God should be expected after the earthly ministry of Jesus. Since the original disciples were unprepared to receive God's total revelation, Christians must await the full truth to be given by the Holy Spirit at a later time. Moreover, the fact is stressed that additional revelation does not demean the status of Jesus. It will originate from the same source as his did. In addition, new revelation will really enhance the glory of Jesus because it will come with his endorsement.
These Johannine verses do not mean that there will be no difference between the original message of Jesus and new revelation. The Fourth Gospel itself is different from the Synoptics. Its author omits important teachings of Jesus (the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, or anything about the kingdom of God, for example). It adds many new sayings and radically reformulates Jesus' message. The Fourth Gospel also alters the sequence of events in Jesus' life, omitting the nativity story, debates with the Pharisees, the Last Supper and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, as well as putting the triumphal entry at the beginning of his ministry. Hence, the freedom with which the author reinterprets the Synoptic Gospels shows how he understood the future revelatory work of the Holy Spirit.
Let us now examine a text which is often used to prove that the New Testament represents God's final revelation. The last chapter in our Bible contains this warning: "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book" (Rev. 22:18). This implies that revelation has been completed and that God will curse anyone who seeks additional revelation.
To understand this verse correctly, we must recognize that our New Testament is a compilation of twenty-seven separate books, written at different times and circulated as individual scrolls or booklets. Revelation is one such separate book. According to most scholars it was written about 95 A. D. by an unknown Christian "prophet" named John. 16 The author was not the apostle John nor the writer of the Fourth Gospel. As a visionary, this early Christian did not want anyone to tamper with his prophecies concerning the End-time. Revising and updating apocalyptic literature was a common practice for both Jews and Christians. The book of Revelation had a difficult time getting accepted as scripture, prior to the closing of the canon in the fourth century. However, when it was finally approved, it was made the last book, so that the Christian Scriptures would begin with the story of creation and conclude with the promise of the consummation of history. Several other New Testament books were written after Revelation. 17 So, the early Christians did not feel that Rev. 22:18-19 referred to anything but that book. There is no reason for us to think otherwise.
In spite of Roman Catholics who stated that "outside the Church there is no salvation" and Protestants who claimed that the Bible contains God's final revelation, there have always been Christians who treasured the promise of new truth from God, as the Johannine Gospel taught. Let me mention three examples.
Joachim of Fiore, the abbot of a monastery in southern Italy during the mid-twelfth century, believed that he had received God's revelation for restoring mankind. 18 History can be divided into three parts. The first age covers history from Adam to John the Baptist. During that time men were governed by God the Father in whom they were expected to have unquestioning faith. The second period in history was guided by God the Son. It would be a time for Christianity to be planted and to flourish. Men would be inspired by hope for the coming kingdom of righteousness, peace and heavenly bliss. But there is a third age still to arrive. This new age will be blessed by the Holy Spirit and all mankind will be filled with love.
Abbot Joachim added that man's relationship to God naturally varies according to the period in which he lives. During the age of the Father, men will strive to be loyal servants of God. During the age of the Son, the Christian era, they will be able to rise to a higher level, becoming children of God, as Jesus taught. Then in the consummation of history, men will be elevated to the noblest position of all. Because their lives will be infused with the Holy Spirit, men will become "friends of God." Joachim thus believed in a progressively inspired revelation of God which would enable men to create successively improved human societies.
About five hundred years after Joachim, a group of Congregationalists came to America on "The Mayflower." Their minister John Robinson, who stayed in Holland, preached a farewell sermon to the departing Pilgrims. As a bit of final advice, Pastor Robinson said, "Remember, do not be afraid to go beyond Luther or Calvin because God has always more light to shed from His Word." When the Pilgrims established churches in New England, they remembered their minister's words. Hence, in their covenants of church membership Congregationalists pledged to obey God's will, "made known or to be made known." For more than three hundred fifty years, that faith in more Light has been a reassured part of the Congregational-Christian heritage. 19
Finally, Eastern Orthodoxy has also not completely ignored the Johannine belief in new revelation. In the last half of the 19th century, the Russian religious philosophers of the Slavophile movement taught that Christianity would pass through three stages of development. Roman Catholicism represents the Christianity of St. Peter, stressing obedience. Later, Protestantism appeared-the Christianity of St. Paul, stressing faith. In time a new and greater form of Christianity will develop. It will come out of the Eastern churches. St. John, "the beloved disciple," will be its guiding inspiration. Its distinctive feature will be the unity of God and man as well as man with man in the 20 experience of love.
In the opinion of the Slavophiles, Catholicism over-emphasizes obedience, causing the church to become oppressive and dictatorial. Protestantism correctly reacted against these, but went to the opposite extreme. Protestants became too individualistic, too divisive. Thus, the new Christianity must come from the East where mystical theologians can point the way to a synthesis of order and freedom, loyalty and personal faith in a unified fellowship based on love.
The followers of Joachim, the New England Pilgrims and the Russian Orthodox philosophers show that at least a minority of Christians have always looked forward to a New Age faith superior to anything yet experienced. And today no one knows how many individuals and groups are waiting for new light from God.
13 Cf. C. S. Braden, These Also Believe (1970); 1 Roszak. Unfinished Animal (1975),
14 G. Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament (1968), pp. 190-192.
15 W. G. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament (1975), pp. 475-503; W. Marxsen, The New Testament as the Church's Book (1972).
16 Cf. N. Perrin, The New Testament, An Introduction (1974), pp. 80-82; R. M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (1972), pp. 235-240.
17 1 and 11 Peter, Hebrews, I and 11 Timothy, Titus, possibly 11 Thessalonians, Ephesians, the Gospel and Epistles of John. The Coptic Church of Ethiopia seems to have accepted in its canon everything that any Christians at any time considered part of Scripture. Hence, the Coptic New Testament has thirty-five books, many post-dating Revelation.
18 M. Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future (1976).
19 Cf. W. S. Hudson, Religion in America (1973), pp. 28-29.
20 The Slavophiles included the philosophers Soloviev and Khomiakov and the novelist Dostoievski. Their ideas were important in the writings of the 20th-century thinker Nicolai Berdyaev (d. 1948).
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