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Revelation Notes

Revelation Notes

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Published by: dusty_badger on Mar 25, 2012
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RevelationFor many religious believers, the surest form of experience is their encounter withGod in scripture, whether in the Christian Bible, the Holy Koran or in some otherrevelatory document. But, if what has been said about religious language is correct,it would follow that the words of scripture are human words, understood in humanways. This would be so, even if, as believers hold, God is communicating truthsabout himself. Whatever he might have to tell us must be communicated in humanlanguage, for that is all we can understand. This thought makes us aware of difficulties. Suppose God is timeless, or, perhaps,outside time. God may be outside time, but we as humans experience life
within
time. For us, our lives are tensed, that is, we have past, present and future. In thepresent we are aware of our immediate present moving into the past, just as ourfuture expectations become present realities, then part of our past. We cannot butexperience ourselves as beings within time. And our language is created by us toreflect that reality as we know it. But if God is timeless, it would not be like that toGod — the grammar of God would be different. God in the Bible looks forward toevents, looks back at others and sometimes becomes angry at a given state of affairs. The God of the writers of Scripture is one who is with his people in the timeprocess. But suppose that God in himself is outside that process. Anycommunications he has with us will be in our grammar, not what Sir MichaelDummett has called the ‘tense of timelessness’. If God wants to communicate withus in sentences, he will have to do so in the language we speak, with humantenses. And the words within those tenses will be human words which we canunderstand. God’s words would not be — could not be — absolutely literal whendescribing God. We understand a word such as ‘love’ on the basis of humanexperience of love — only that can give the word any sense. But, we are told thatGod’s love surpasses human understanding. If he tells us that he loves us, wecannot give just our meaning to the term.
For this reason, even if, as some believe, Scripture is ‘the Word of God’,even the ‘words of God’, we cannot straightforwardly say that its meaningwill be plain. The danger of doing so — in religious terms — would beidolatry, in the sense of making God in our own image.
Biblical Criticism
  This is why scholars of the past were so aware of the dangers. In the MiddleAges, scripture was not taken as literally as it sometimes was in post-Reformation times. Origen, around 200 AD, stressed the allegorical nature of scripture, demonstrating that Genesis could not be literally true, butsignified metaphorically a deep religious truth about the nature of the worldand God’s relationship with it.In the Middle Ages, especially following the growth of Scholasticism, scholarsused a subtle, four-fold technique in their interpretation of the Bible. A fullexegesis involved the following pattern, with the aim of bringing out the fullmeaning of the text:1. The literal sense simply explained the text, especially the ‘historical’accounts.2. The allegorical sense referred to the true spiritual meaning.3. The tropological sense brought out the moral and pastoral meaning.4. The anagogical sense dealt with eschatology (the last things, such as judgment and eternal life) and the nature of the heavenly realities.
 
At its best, this proved a most sensitive way of dealing with the differentdemands of commentary on texts of different intent. By the fifteenthcentury, however, it was often used mechanistically: scholars would try totease each type of meaning not only from passages but from phrases andindividual words. The result was that editions of the Bible tended to beswamped by glossary and commentary.
Scholars such as Erasmus of Rotterdam (c.1466—1536), known as Humanists,argued even in the sixteenth century that Christians were in danger of losing theoriginal meaning of Scripture. A way to think of this is to think of the word ‘house’.Suppose we translate that word into Mongolian or another tongue. The word mighthave the same meaning, but the mental picture of a house would be different for aMongolian in a yurt to someone living in a detached villa in Surbiton. The genius of Erasmus was to recognize that if we wanted to know precisely what Jesus meant,we needed to look beyond what we mean by a word to what Jesus meant by it. Todo this meant trying to retranslate the New Testament from the oldest availablesources to get back to the original meaning. The Reformers saw the Bible as havingbeen falsified in the teaching of the Catholic Church and sought to return to thepurity of earlier time. Their cry was
‘sola fides, sola scriptura’,
which we maytranslate as ‘faith alone, scripture alone’. To many at the Reformation, what was needed was for the believer to engagedirectly with the word of scripture. This was achievable partly through translationinto the vernacular, whether in the great German Bible of Luther or versions suchas those of Coverdale or the later King James Version. This enterprise was madepossible above all by the development of the printing press. Coupled with thedevelopment of private spaces in houses and the habit of silent reading developedfrom the twelfth century, the mechanisms were in place for a faith based on direct,personal encounter with scripture as, for many, the principal way of experiencingthe Word of God. There was not complete agreement between the Reformers on how Scripture mightbe read. Martin Luther believed in close textual reading — he was perhaps theinventor of the printed handout as a teaching tool. He had printed for his studentswide-spaced pages of biblical text, the gaps being for their notes. For him, the keyto religious understanding was — as Catholics did — to see the Old Testament asprelude to the fullness of Christ’s message in the New. Luther did not deny thesignificance of reason or Church tradition, but these were to be in service toScripture and faith. John Calvin, on the other hand, tended to treat the whole Bibleas ‘The Word of God’: each section was equal in its significance. This led to aperhaps more legalistic approach to Scripture (Calvin was by training a lawyer, nota theologian). The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, retained a two—tieredapproach. Scripture was from God, but was mediated and interpreted by theChurch’s teaching authority, on the basis of Jesus’ charge to Peter (‘Thou art Peter,and on this rock I will build my church’).In the nineteenth century, there were huge advances in Biblical interpretation,especially in Germany. Part of this grew out of advances in archaeology. Moreknowledge was available about Biblical times, and this affected understanding. Adeeper knowledge of history created a climate in which it seemed possible to 0behind the words on the page to find a deeper meaning. This led to new types of criticism, principally:
o
 
Higher Criticism,
associated with — among others — Fried rich Schleiermacher(1768—1834), Ludwig Feuerbach (1804—72) and David Friedrich Strauss (1808—74). The concern of this was largely to bring a rational approach to scripture, to
 
understand its nature as a body of human texts. Such an approach is offensive tomany believers.
o
 
Historical Criticism
looks to the historical method of dating a specific piece of writing, attempting to understand the background against which a book of theBible was written. Such knowledge is designed to deepen understanding, by, forexample, showing the significance of events described in the text and makinguse of archaeological discoveries.
o
 
Literary Criticism
considers the forms, structures and themes in Scripture,asking whether something should be understood as poetry or narrative etc. itfunctions in much the same way as any other type of literary criticism, looking atdevices such as symbol, tone and patterns of language. This often involvesconsiderable linguistic skill, looking at the original grammar and forms.
o
 
Source Criticism
deals with the sources of scripture. ft asks what collections of writings a scribe might have used.
o
 
Form Criticism
uses both historical and literary criticism, looking at the literaryforms used by the writers to determine the intention of the writers. They will payattention to how a particular text recurs throughout the Bible, perhaps recast inslightly different forms. Famous exponents include Hermann Gunkel (1862—1932) and Sigmund Moinkel (1 884—1965).
o
 
Tradition.
Criticism considers how different traditions are passed down throughthe centuries during which the Bible was written.
o
 
Redaction Criticism
considers how a given part of the Bible reached its finalform — it considers in depth questions of how texts were edited.
o
 
Textual Criticism
— sometimes called
Lower Criticism
— concentrates onquestions of the meaning of original wording a scripture. Hebrew is an ambiguouslanguage, largely because of a lack of vowels in its written form, and we lackoriginal copies of the books of the Bible. Miscopying happens, and individualcommunities sometimes adapted passages to fit their own needs. The concern of the textual critic is to recover as closely as may be the original text. These different forms of criticism led to attempts to discover what the Christ of history might really have been like: this was the effort of Albert Schweitzer (1875—1965) in
The Quest of the Historical Jesus
(1906), in which, based on the synopticGospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke, called
synoptic
because they are assumed to bebased on a common collection of sources, mainly recalled sayings of Jesus, usuallyknown as
Q,
or
Queue
— which, in German, means ‘source’ or ‘spring’), he arguedthat Jesus came only gradually during a short ministry of less than a year torecognize himself as Messiah. To save his followers from the evils of the last days,he permitted himself to suffer the Passion. This view remains controversial.We saw, in our consideration of myth, how Rudolf Bultmann developed BiblicalCriticism in demythologizing the Bible. His pupil, Fritz Bun, has gone even further.Where Bultmann argued that we need to strip away the layers of myth to reach the
kerygma,
the true message of Jesus, Bun has argued for dekerygmatizing thescriptures. This, critics argued would leave us with no more than that Jesus livedand died. Indeed, for Bun, there was little specifically Christian in religious faith.Such approaches led some to a denial of Biblical scholarship. Most significant wasthe rise of Fundamentalism, a twentieth-century development which can be seen asa denial not only of new scholarly methods but also of the challenge to faith posedby modern science. The new Fundamentalism insisted on the literalness andinerrancy of the Bible in ways not previously encountered in scholarship. The term‘Fundamentalist’ came first from the Niagara Bible Conference (1878—97) whichdefined certain notions as ‘fundamental to faith’. A set of 12 books published in1910 by Milton and Lyman Steward was known as ‘The Fundamentals’, and the1910
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church,
an American body, declared

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