Is God’s revelation to humans an on-going process? In ages past slavery was considered a given. Those who questioned slavery were directed to passages in the Bible (Onesimus) that appeared to justify, or at least condone, slavery. We as modern people do not accept slavery.. Do same-sex relations fall into that same category of modernity informing our understanding of Scripture? And does that equate to God revealing Himself to us according to our ability to understand ourselves and the natural world in ways our ancestors could not?
Good questions emailed from an old friend. Except “yes” would put the human (sin-corrupted) mind in control of God’s revelation. Think: if God revealed himself “according to our ability to understand ourselves and the natural world”, God’s revelation could never be any greater than our natural mind could grasp. We, not God, would be the masters of divine revelation.
Good questions except they presuppose that our “ability to understand” is evolving upward. Perhaps that’s true when it comes to the sciences or technology, but theology and morality and spirituality ? Given the violence and sexual perversity and weird belief systems we see all around us, are we really smarter or wiser than our ancestors?
THE SCRIPTURE. In the Bible’s last chapter, the apostle John issues an alert: “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 . . . ” (Revelation 22:18). This warning applies to the book of Revelation, of course. But positioned where it is at the end of the Bible, it may very well apply it to the entire Scripture. If so, it warns us not to tack “ongoing revelation” on to God’s Word.
The apostle Jude wrote, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b). Why? Because ” . . . certain people . . . pervert the grace of our God . . . and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Notice: the faith (that is, the revelation of God fulfilled in the revelation of Jesus Christ) was “once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude’s language is plain: no ongoing delivery! Anything that purports to be “new revelation” perverts God’s grace and denies the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE BIBLICAL CANON. John MacArthur’s comments about canonicity argue strongly against ongoing revelation.
We must understand that the Bible is actually one book with one Divine Author, though it was written over a period of 1,500 years through the pens of almost 40 human writers. The Bible began with the creation account of Genesis 1,2, written by Moses about 1405 b.c.,and extends to the eternity future in the account of Revelation 21,22, written by the Apostle John about a.d. 95. During this time, God progressively revealed Himself and His purposes in the inspired Scriptures. But this raises a significant question: “How do we know what supposed sacred writings were to be included in the canon of Scripture and which ones were to be excluded?” Over the centuries, 3 widely recognized principles were used to validate those writings which came as a result of divine revelation and inspiration. First, the writing had to have a recognized prophet or apostle as its author (or one associated with them, as in the case of Mark, Luke, Hebrews, James,and Jude). Second, the writing could not disagree with or contradict previous Scripture. Third, the writing had to have general consensus by the church as an inspired book. Thus, when various councils met in church history to consider the canon, they did not vote for the canonicity of a book but rather recognized, after the fact, what God had already written.
With regard to the Old Testament, by the time of Christ all of the Old Testament had been written and accepted in the Jewish community. The last book, Malachi, had been completed about 430 b.c. Not only does the Old Testament canon of Christ’s day conform to the Old Testament which has since been used throughout the centuries, but is does not contain the uninspired and spurious Apocrypha, that group of 14 rogue writings which were written after Malachi and attached to the Old Testament about 200-150 b.c. in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX), appearing to this very day in some versions of the Bible. However, not one passage from the Apocrypha is cited by any New Testament writer, nor did Jesus affirm any of it as Scripture. He recognized the Old Testament canon of His era (cf. Luke 24:27,44). By Christ’s time, the Old Testament canon had been divided up into two lists of 22 or 24 books respectively, each of which contained all the same material as the 39 books of our modern versions. In the 22 book canon, Jeremiah and Lamentations were considered as one, as were Judges and Ruth.
The same 3 key tests of canonicity that applied to the Old Testament also applied to the New Testament. In the case of Mark and Luke/Acts, the authors were considered to be, in effect, the penmen for Peter and Paul respectively. James and Jude were written by Christ’s half-brothers. While Hebrews is the only New Testament book whose authorship is unknown for certain, its content is so in line with both the Old Testament and New Testament, that the early church concluded it must have been written by an apostolic associate. The 27 books of the New Testament have been universally accepted since ca. a.d. 350-400 as inspired by God.
God has completed his written revelation. Jesus is his “last word”(Hebrews 1:1). Our role is not to consider so-called “ongoing revelation” but to go on learning and submitting ourselves to what God has once-for-all revealed—even when it leads us to stand against the popular culture, even when that popular culture purports to speak for God.