Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The irreducible character of revelation

Revelation provides an example of a theological concept (and reality) that is not simply reducible to history, scripture, culture, religion, or sociology. God cannot be described and understood in purely human terms.

Barth states, “Revelation in the Bible means the self-unveiling, imparted to men, of the God who by nature cannot be unveiled to men.” He then expounds [Church Dogmatics I/1, pp. 315, 320, 324] this statement from three points of view, with a particular emphasis on the significance of the name of God, YHWH and of Jesus. God is Himself both in concealment and “in manifestation, i.e., in the form of something He Himself is not.” Anthropomorphic concepts such as:

“His arm, His right hand….. are not just [all too human] descriptions and representations of the reality of Yahweh; they are themselves the reality of Yahweh…. He has objectivity for those to whom He is manifest. Religious science usually defines concepts used in this way as hypostases, i.e., realities of the one God which are both distinguishable and yet also indistinguishable from Him.”

“this revelation of the name (Exodus 3:13ff.) is in fact, in content, the refusal to give a name, for “I am that I am” can hardly mean more than that “I am He whose true name no one can utter.” …But under this name, God does reveal himself to His people, i.e., He begins, as Exodus 3 instructively shows, to have dealings with Israel through the announcing by Moses of its deliverance out of Egypt.”

“the picture which the New Testament itself sets before us is that of the self-disclosure of this Father in which He is not the Father but the Son, the historical figure of this Man on His way from Bethlehem to Golgotha, the ‘name’ of Jesus. Again, the concreteness and actuality of the self-unveiling of God for man, and the enigma of the self-distinction in God Himself which makes this self-unveiling possible, has not just increased quantitatively here in comparison with the Old Testament.”

Hence, Revelation cannot be reduced to a historical event. In Revelation we find at the same time the greatest identification and the greatest difference between the person of God and the event of revelation.

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