October 21st, 2020

The Bible: progressive revelation


By Submitted Article on February 1, 2020.

Chain reactions

Third of three parts

Jacob M. Van Zyl

The growth of knowledge – empirical and revealed – is a chain reaction.

Research has been done and is being done by all disciplines. New data and understanding open new questions for further research. Sometimes new breakthroughs are made, forcing scientists to review old theories and explore new possibilities.

Even theology, working with revealed knowledge, continuously gains new insight into old texts. When new texts are discovered, they are evaluated for authenticity and compared to texts that have been accepted for ages.

The Bible was written by inspired authors over a period of 15 centuries. God made his will gradually known to mankind. This process is called progressive revelation. It was also a chain reaction.

Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, covering Israel’s early history from the patriarchs to the exodus and their wandering in the wilderness. Joshua described their conquest of the Promised Land. The books from Judges to Esther cover Israel’s history for about 800 years till after the exile.

The poetic, prophetic and wisdom literature (from Job to Malachi) was mostly written in the second half of those 800 years of history. These books must be understood in their historical context.

God gradually revealed more of his knowledge in these diverse forms of literature. He made promises about the coming Messiah.

The New Testament is not detached from the Old Testament, but logically and historically flowed from it. The gospels describe the birth and ministry of Christ till his ascension. The Acts of the Apostles give the history of the early church.

The letters of the apostles interpret and apply the gospel to the church. The book of Revelation shows (with visions and symbolism) the moving of the world toward the end-time.

By the end of the third century, the church reached consensus about the canonical books of the Bible: which ones should be included and which not.

Although some Bible books are more popular with readers, like the psalms and the gospels, believers should not neglect the other parts of Scripture – all of them contain revelations that are important to God. As we don’t allow our children to eat only pudding, so we should not only read the “sweet” parts of the Bible.

We have focused on good chain reactions in this series. However, we cannot shut our eyes to the danger of bad chain reactions.

When leaders make ad hoc decisions that are politically expedient, they may set off negative chain reactions for which the population will pay dearly over time.

Ordinary citizens, too, should constantly try to set good chain reactions in motion and avoid the bad ones that will bite them from behind. We must anticipate the consequences of our actions.

Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.

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