Trouble with definitions
Using a name for something almost automatically gets you into trouble. If it’s a product or a company or a web site, it’s likely the name has already been used and there is copyright infringement in the future. If it is a name of a childhood activity, somebody grew up doing something else that was entirely different, but using the same name. Taxonomy, naming and organizing different plants and animals in science, help to keep some order in a very diverse world we live in. Copyright issues can be worked out in the courts; different names for childhood activities can be resolved with a laugh; a conflict in names in science can be investigated with the scientific method. But, in the areas of politics and religion, difference in name associations between people can generate some discussions of rather inflated intensity — perhaps because people have their self-image or identity at stake. Maybe it’s like a copyright infringement, but with a political mindset or a person’s relation with God seemingly in danger.
So, which is worse — making up a new name for something, and people don’t like it because they don’t know what the name means, or using an existing name for something, and people don’t like it because they do know what the name means (at least in their opinion). We have already made up a name, “the Unifying Law of Everything in the Universe” — the law of the plan of God that we were created to be like Him (Eph. 4:24). We have also borrowed an existing name from Star-Trek, “the Prime Directive,” in application to the church as in Eph. 4:13. So, we will try to give careful restrictions on certain words to define them according to our opinion. These words include revelation (of God), progressive revelation, continuous revelation, progressive discovery of revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, and truth.
“A man’s gotta realize his limitations”
First, we as humans have to realize that we are trying to understand our Creator, when we have intelligence far less than His, we are finite physical beings whereas He is spiritual, and we have temporal and dimensional limitations which He does not. The revelation of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and eternal God is nothing that fits within the limits of human perceptibility. Second, because of this, we define things according to our sense of understanding, which changes with experience. God’s revelation is almost certainly greater than our discovery of it at any given point in time. Yet, we will use “revelation” to mean new information or understanding that entered into our personal universe. In that use, what is fresh revelation to one person is old news to another. A person can think they have a new innovative idea only to find out that someone else published about it 100 years ago.
Search for “progressive revelation” on the Internet and you get everything from world-faith movements to end times prophecies to charts meshing all world religions into a conglomerate. “Progressive” would suggest that new information builds on the past, so that the revelation of God was made known to humankind over time in more detail and with a greater expanse of coverage. The “more detail” developed as people’s ability to comprehend the information increased by their accumulation of knowledge and experiences as a society. The “greater expanse” developed as the population increased in both spread and density.
Some aspects of the revelation might have been present all along, and it was Man who had to develop sufficiently to understand it. At one point in the past, some bipedal primate presumably picked up a stone and threw it, killing the megarodenticus chompicus that was about to take him apart. So, he got lunch instead of being lunch. If he were smart, he would have remembered that trick the next time one of those vermin critters was coming around. This primate had a revelation in the present tense about using the stones had been there for billions of years. If he forgot the lesson and didn’t prepare his offensive maneuvers fast enough at the next presenting event, perhaps another bipedal, who was with him and observed the discovery, remembered and used the stone trick.
God’s expectation of response from Man increased over time.
One indicator of the extent of revelation and the ability of people to receive and understand is the level of interaction between God and man as well as the expectation from Man that God expected. There is an increasing depth of understanding of God and of His expectations as the story of the people of God progressed from Adam forward throughout the Old Testament.
This increase in complexity of relationship between God and Man is a factor in one’s understanding of the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, of literalness of interpretation of the text, and of the definition of truth. One idea of inspiration is that the Holy Spirit told the writers of the Old Testament exactly what to write down so that every word in the text is to be as exact descriptions of God to be interpreted literally. The problem is that “literal” means interpreted in our translated language, in this case English, using our customs and traditions and cultural understandings. This brings problems with it, such as “Young Earth Creationism,” insisting that Genesis 1 must refer to a creation of life forms as seen in adult form today within a time period of 6×24 hour days. This also brings questions about the difference in God’s interaction with Man in the Old and New Testaments, with a God of anger and punishment presented in the Old and a God of love and grace in the New, although with some wrath coming later on. Could God have allowed the history in scripture to be written through the level of understanding of the person of the time? If we could play a time travel game and put Paul writing Genesis and Moses writing Ephesians and Romans, would the products have sounded the same?
These questions affect one’s understanding of the message of scripture over the time in which it was recorded– does the content reflect progressive revelation from God or progressive understanding of God? This question can affect the application of the scripture to life today — does a given passage reflect God’s will for the time of writing as well as God’s will for today (God is the same yesterday …..), or does the passage just reflect a man’s limited understanding of God at the time with little relevance to today? And how does one know the difference? To what passages does the “this is just his opinion” apply? Why not all of it? Why not the New Testament, too?
This quickly gets into pretty complex and even dangerous territory, but it gets worse. These open questions of interpretation have been opportunities for people’s traditional thinking to fill the gaps, so the “literalness” of interpretation may actually be vacancies stuffed with one’s own doctrinal presuppositions. That creates circular thinking among groups and lateral arguments between groups over whose thinking is right and whose is wrong.
“Continuous revelation” is both similar to and different from progressive revelation. Continuous means that revelation continued throughout history and hasn’t stopped. The revelation from God after the close of the accepted canon is as inspired and perhaps even more important than the Bible because the new revelation is more relevant to us, today. These types of revelations have been given primarily to one person who wrote them down and formed a new religious following. There are numerous examples — the most prominent example probably being Joseph Smith and the extra-Biblical books of the Mormon Church.
What is there to be done?
In answer to the reporter’s question, General Schwarzkopf looked straight at him and said, “Have you ever been in a minefield?”
Yes, it is the minefield of opinions about Biblical interpretation. How do we navigate? Is there a “right way?” Do we have to find it? Will God look at our debates over scriptural interpretation and decide who wins? Does our salvation depend on not getting blown up? Could this be the “narrow way” that Jesus talked about? The “wide way” leads to destruction. Hmmm.
Nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9)
This can’t be a revolutionary new idea, but it just doesn’t seem to have been implemented very well. The idea is to interpret everything in the scripture in a time-forward direction, looking toward the fulfillment of the plan, designed and foreordained before the creation of the world, that we should be transformed into the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness, in preparation for an eternity of fellowship with God.
Everything in history from the big bang onward points to this moment in time. Are we being transformed into the likeness of God at the maximum possible rate, or not? Are we totally submitting to the sanctification by the Holy Spirit, or are we too busy arguing with other Christians about the meaning of Genesis 1, or about predestination, or about the end times, or about some point of doctrine that we must defend? Are we part time followers of Christ and full time defenders of our opinion? When the Master returns, if He will expect the 5 talents to have grown into 10, what will he say if we show Him only 7 talents? See, Lord, we invested 2 talents and now have 4. We knew you would be upset if we corrupted our legalistic doctrine, so we protected 3 talents so that other Christians wouldn’t slip in and contaminate them.
How’s that logic going to work for us? What if a person’s degree of fellowship with God throughout eternity was proportional to the extent to which that person became like God in this life. It’s not a matter of how much punishment; it’s a matter of how much divine fellowship is missed. Could someone be 20% like God and another by 40% like God and another be 60% like God? What is the remainder percentage — if one is fellowship what is the other percentage called? If 40% is in the presence of God and 60% is not, would that 60% be considered separation from God? What’s that the definition of? Hell? Does that sound far-fetched? If I max out becoming like God and if the above percentage plan is really far-fetched, then I am okay. If it isn’t far fetched, I’m still okay, because I have pulled out all the human fleshly roadblocks and have grown to be like God at the maximum possible rate.
Two initial points to consider
The first point of this idea is that the plan of God is of supreme importance. Fulfillment of the plan of God trumps everything else in priority. Argue about 6 day creation or 16 billion year evolution? — don’t have time. The important thing is that it happened and we are here. Come on, are you growing to be like God, or not? Argue about the identity of Adam and original sin and about an apple or another fruit or a whale of a big fish? — don’t think so. Argue over whether or not God really got angry and stormed around in the Old Testament and threatened to kill everybody or that image was the human perception of the writer or the way it needed to be expressed for the understanding of the people of the time? Not if it detains the trip toward being like God. We are not being transformed into the image of the God depicted in the Old Testament, whichever way it was described. We are being changed progressively from glory to glory into the behavior characteristic of true righteousness and holiness and not transported in a retrograde direction over 3000 years. We are not restored to being like Adam.
The second point is to ask when considering any interpretation of scripture, “How does this fit into the fulfillment of the predestined plan of God?” “How does this interpretation help me grow into the likeness of God?”
Biblical studies have been more productive as we have gotten away from reading the King James Version and saying, “It means what it says.” In addition to studying the text using the original languages and the oldest manuscripts, comparative analysis, word searches and many other methods can be done using the Internet and computer software. We are learning to use archeological and historical discoveries to help determine the culture in which the particular texts were written and received, to help us understand the interpretations through the eyes of the people of the time. This gives a different definition to “literal.” A literal interpretation is not a word-for-word-what-does-this-mean in English, but rather an understanding of the text as the people to whom it was written would understand it.
Even so, many of our interpretations of passages are “local,” meaning the interpretation is centered around one area, such as the meaning of Adam and Eve and the introduction of sin or the meaning of Genesis 1 in the creation story. But everything in the Bible should be interpreted in light of the Unifying Law — bringing about the fulfillment of the plan of God. Everything that happened and that was recorded projects forward into the ultimate purpose for the creation of the world — that we would be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Everything must be interpreted in the light of forward projection.
Nothing new under the Son
God interacted within the physical realm during various times as recorded in the Old Testament when certain modifications of the natural process seemed to occur. But there was no time recorded in scripture when God’s presence was more directly involved with mankind in the physical realm and in a physical way than during the 33 years when Jesus Christ was on this earth between His birth and His ascension. The method of interaction between God and humankind changed the moment of arrival of the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God revealed His nature and the culmination of His plan in the life, teachings, example, fulfillment of prophecy, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no indication in scripture that there will be more information to be revealed in the future. But there would be a continuation of the discovery and application of the nature of God that had been revealed by Jesus. The truth had been revealed, the Holy Spirit would guide us into it (John 14:26; 16:13).
Revelation from God in the Old Testament was progressively given to people as the developed sufficient social and spiritual maturity to receive it. There are New Testament references to the law being a schoolmaster bringing us to Christ, the law setting the stage to show the need for Christ, Old Testament prophets and authors writing about things they wished they could see, but never would (at least physically on this earth). The law was a training ground for people not yet sufficiently mentally, spiritually, emotionally, or socially mature to receive the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost.
This is what Paul described to Timothy:
But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Tim.1:8-10
The purpose of God that we should live a holy life was planned before time began, including the grace given to us through Jesus Christ. The gospel, good news of Christ, conquered death and brought immortal life, beginning in this present life and extending into eternity. This plan would not have become established until the perfect conditions had developed (evolved) in human culture.
Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia:
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Gal. 4:1-7
When the time had fully come, the people of the world had developed sufficient mental, social, behavioral, and spiritual understanding to be able to recognize sin and to see the need for a way out of sin’s bondage and to see the people who had made that decision growing into the likeness of God. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because the world can see the love of the Father in the unity of believers; and the Holy Spirit empowers the church to follow the Prime Directive and grow into the fullness of Christ.
The development of the religious and spiritual background and the awareness of God that served as preparation for the revelation of God through Christ came through the Jewish people. In this sense, Christianity was born from out of Judaism, which was part of the plan that was carried out by God. But Judaism was so entrenched in preserving its preparation for the Messiah that it could not recognize its own theological progeny when it arrived. The change was too much; the Jewish people were too set upon their own fulfillment under their own preconceived conditions of what would be counted as righteousness for them. They had sufficiently evolved religiously to theologically birth the concepts that Jesus brought, but they couldn’t recognize their own need to accept them. The Gentiles, however, had a different background — they didn’t have the theological preparation of the Jews through history, but they could recognize their need to be saved from their sin. So the Jews provided an incubator for the plan of God to be slowly revealed over some thousands of years, but when they final revelation came to earth, as God the Son in the form of a human, the Jews had gone beyond the point of any recognition of the Messiah, because they had defined the plan of God as being solely through them, which is what it had been. The response of the religious institution of Judaism to Christianity was jealousy, from His birth through the spread of the church.
So the Holy Spirit could convict the world of sin and of the need of a savior, but the Jews essentially exempted themselves from this model, because they were still a proud, stiff-necked, and rebellious people. Their religion was in their self-righteousness, which they set up as rituals and rules and customs of a protected and defended doctrine of legalism. They said that they could obey these laws, but they could not, and their self-righteousness was not from God. Even if they kept their minor laws, they had lost the perspective of the revelation of God that had been given to them at the beginning.
The Gentiles who accepted Jesus as Savior were adopted into the family of God and called heirs and sons of God. Now, should the Gentiles get the theological “big-head” and think they are cool dudes compared to the Jews, since they have Christ and the Jews just have themselves? No, Paul addresses that in many places, particularly in Romans and Galatians. He essentially says that the Jewish nation served a special purpose and that God made unconditional promises to them that He would keep. God will take care of the Jewish nation under God’s sense of justice, so the Gentiles should just worry about their relation with God and stay on track toward Jesus, or else they could fall into self-righteousness as well. Keep perspective with the perfection of Jesus not the imperfection of one another. Help one another in love to grow to be like God, and receive the promised multiplied return of spiritual blessings toward your own spiritual journey to God.
The plan of God made before the creation of the world and set into place through Christ on the Day of Pentecost has been revealed. All of Christ’s work has been completed. In that sense, the revelation of the mystery has been made known. The complete revelation is here, but that doesn’t mean it has totally penetrated through our dense calcified human craniums and the gift of the Holy Spirit has been fully accepted as our spiritual DNA. Is the revealed plan of God, made before the creation of the world, that we should grow into His likeness, greater than our capacity for understanding? Have we humans evolved so much physically, socially, spiritually, and religiously that we are equal, or even greater, that the revealed plan of God? How do we act about this? Are we continuing to search and dig and pray and discover the truths the Spirit has to offer us so that we can grow more and more to be like God? Or have we stopped digging and begun protecting — protecting our doctrine, protecting our religious investments, protecting our competitive advantage, protecting our earthly established religious institution, protecting our prideful self-righteousness?
Shall we make up our own interpretations, even assembling the writings into books to be called “latter revelation” which blend our human ideas with the revelation of the plan of God? Before pointing fingers, how many religious groups do that by having a person or group be the holy representatives of God, Himself? How many groups have a set of doctrinal beliefs stemming from a human (a very smart human, but a human nonetheless) centuries ago who thought in a rather revolutionary fashion for his day? How many groups are bent on protecting their humanly derived doctrine rather than setting aside everything that besets and running toward being like God?
The revelation of God, as received and understood by people, did seem to increase in theological depth, in breadth of application, and in expectation of human response throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps this could be viewed as a “progressive revelation,” because more information about the plan of God was being made known. The remainder of the plan, to be fulfilled in Christ, remained “hidden” or a “mystery” until the coming of Christ.
The plan of God, that we should be transformed into His likeness by the expression of the spiritual genes of God, was brought into completion with the fulfillment of the promise of the Father, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost. With that, the revelation of the plan and the mechanism of implementation of the plan was complete. That was the beginning of “the last days” or “the third age,” which was the age of spiritual evolution. Like physical and social/religious evolution, spiritual evolution involved a gradual transformation within the lifespan of one person that was carried over into the next generation, so that the next generation could start on a higher level of spiritual awareness than the previous. In this way every member of the body grows more to be like God as they transfer their knowledge and understanding to others in the body, so that the entire body of Christ grows together. So the plan of God has been revealed, but it is to increase in its implementation in at least three ways:  individual Christians growing into the likeness of God,  the church growing into the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ,  the spread of the gospel throughout the world — until such time as referred to in “present every person mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28), “when the perfect shall come” (1 Cor. 13:10), and “when we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4;13).
The term “progressive discovery of completed revelation” may be an expression that best reflects the time post-Pentecost. Revelation of the mystery in Christ — of the plan foreordained before time began — has been completed as far as God is concerned — what we need to know has been said, modeled, and recorded (John 20:30-31). What remains to be done is from the human perspective — we must continue to discover the depths of God’s plan as we grow more and more into the image of the Creator.
The church is not continuing to “progressively discover” God’s revelation. The church is too busy protecting its finite level of accomplishment. “Maintenance mode” does not yield a growth into the likeness of God. The church has taken its mission of showing the wisdom of the plan of God to the world and exchanged it for a mission of self-perpetuation. It is “trying to find its life and preserve it” (Matt. 10:39); therefore, it will lose what it is trying to protect in the flesh. Newton’s laws of motion, the equal but opposite reaction, will test the church, and that which is build on the sand will not last (Matt. 7:24-27).
What about false discovery, or “partial” discovery that is taken as complete?
Over the past 2000 years many groups representing themselves as the church have made what was considered a “discovery” of truth. Is the discovery really truth? Jesus gave some criteria for evaluating the truth in a “discovery.” These criteria will be discussed in a following post. This is an important topic, because the church is full of “partial discovery” groups who are protecting their turf.
Do we need a new approach to understanding the function of the church?