Six Questions about DIVINE REVELATION
- What did God reveal?
The short answer is everything that is knowable. From as far back as historians can delve, the human mind has been learning new things. God’s revelation is not static and certainly continues. Religious dominance from the earliest times of shamanism around 50,000 years ago evolved to become institutionalized religions by about 5000 years ago in places such as Egypt. Many shamanistic religions exist among the Australian aboriginals and in much of Africa, Asia and South America as well as remote parts of Europe and North America. Political leaders encouraged the belief that they enjoy direct and unique access to the gods. In Christianity, this access was widened by the teachings of Jesus and even more by the European Reformation.
Philosophy was the instrumental field of learning for thousands of years and astrology was the most important tool of observation, until the arrival of sacred or holy writings. Thus, all institutionalized religions began with philosophers, from Zoroaster in Persia to the many Hindu philosophers and the Buddha in India, to Jesus and Paul in Palestine. All of them were philosophers of the first rank. Some philosophers such as Master Mo, Lao Tze and Confucius of China made significant contributions that made their way into religions. During the Axial Age (800–200 BC), the world’s major religions exploded onto the scene of human thought as if God timed the brain to receive religious revelation. This is a very thin slice of the 300,000-year human history. The scientific discoveries of writing and the technological invention of printing by the Chinese in the 8th century change the method and ease of delivery. Knowledge was now portable and not limited to priests who spoke to gods. Portable knowledge invited a much larger class of information gatherers.
The Christian idea of divine revelation evolved over time and continues to do so. From the Torah, oldest of the Bible books, Christianity inherited a narrative. Around the 14thcentury BC, Moses prince of Egypt first set apart the slaves he led out to the Sinai and there, he formed the People of God called Israel. Later writers identified them in a lineage that goes back to Joseph, Abram of Mesopotamia (Chaldees), to Noah and eventually to Adam (Gen 1–11). Torah describes how God reveal himself as YHWH and gave laws to Moses who passed them on to the Israelites through the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian periods.
The Christian New Testament continued the accounts by including the Greek and Roman empires. And the Church Fathers continued with the Byzantine empire which thrived until the 15th century. From the 17th century onwards, philosophers and religious scholars launched the scientific age. Fueled by a desire to participate in God’s work of bringing relief to human suffering, many of the earliest “scientists” were “men of the cloth” — among them was Gregor Mendel, who discovered the principles of genetics. Today’s Information Age is part of a long line of intellectual evolution that began when the first humans thought, perhaps of God and their place in the world.
Later, the Age of Discovery propelled by navigation (long-distance travel) assisted by astronomy (the cosmos) led to the development of modern physics (particles), chemistry (reactions) and biology (life). The inventions of telescopy and microscopy (invisible things) extended our interest in anthropology (body) to heal, culminating in neuroscience (brain). In my lifetime, computing (cyborgs, robotics, artificial intelligence) and information (the world wide web) have become part of everyday life with the popularity of intelligent fridges and fuzzy logic rice cookers. God will further reveal to us in the future things that we know nothing of today because everything new advance in knowledge is attributable to God. How absolute should the doctrine of revelation be? This has major implications for how we use the Bible in the light of modern science.
2. Where did God reveal?
Different religions privilege different geographies. Most religions, whether Madzaism of Persia, Shinto of Japan, Buddhism of India, Pharaonic of Egypt, or Grecian of Hellas, identify the geographies of their founders at the prime locus for divine revelation. Christianity came out of a Jewish sect from the Egyptian to the Roman periods, so the Middle East takes precedence. According to the New Testament, in Israel region where Jesus began his ministry and in modern Lebanon’s Qana (Cana), south of Beirut, where the first recorded miracle took place. According to the Old Testament, God revealed to Moses in Egypt, to Abraham in Turkey’s SanliUrfa (Ur), to Noah and finally to Adam, in the Garden of Eden located either in Lebanon (Ezekiel) or in Iraq (Genesis). Thus Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel are the geographical locations where God revealed himself to individuals whose testimony later formed the modern Church. Until quite recently, Christian theology did not concern itself with whether God’s revelation extends beyond the Middle East. However, the circumnavigations of the Magellan expedition, of Sir Francis Drake and of Captain James Cook all raised inconvenient questions for the theological presumptions that carried on all the way to the 21stcentury. Today, this is a hot and controversial topic.
3. When did God reveal?
The known universe is 13.7 billion years old, life on Earth is 3.5 billion years old and cognitively modern humans are 50,000 years old. Although the demarcation between plants and animals is no longer clear, for much of history, Christian theology assumes that only humans can receive God’s revelation. It was inconceivable that bacteria, plants or animals can learn from God. The oldest known human fossils were found at Jebel Irhoud, 62 miles west of Marrakesh in Morocco in the 1960. In 2004, Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology revisited the site and discovered fossils of at least 5 individuals.
In 2017 the skulls and stone tools were dated to c. 300,000 years. Biblical Adam refers to the first spiritually conscious cognitively modern humans (CMH) or what I call Homo spiritualis,from about 50,000 years ago rather than the first anatomically modern humans (AMH) of 300,000 years ago. Divine revelation according to biblical Christianity probably occurred in Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and Greece. Adam’s Iraq c. 50,000 BC, Noah’s Iraq c. 2,500–22,000 BC, Abram’s Turkey c. 1800–2000 BC, Moses’ Egypt c. 1400–1250 BC, Jesus’ Lebanon and Israel c. AD 25–30, Paul’s Gentile Mission c. AD 50–65 and John of Patmos Greece c. AD 95. Interestingly, 50,000 years ago also marks the oldest known spiritual culture among the Australian aboriginals, before organized religion emerged around 12,000 years ago in Turkey.
Thus, biblical divine revelation to humans like us would have taken place after 50,000 years ago. . If God also reveal to non-humans, revelation for all life forms would have started 3.5 billion years ago, revelation for the inorganic planet Earth some 4.5 billion years ago, and revelation for the quarks of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago.
4. Who revealed God’s revelation?
Every religion claims that they and often they alone are the prime recipients of divine revelation. In the Christian biblical tradition, whenever the narratives are taken to be historically and scientifically reliable, God’s revelation was made to the minds of three categories of life — angels, humans and animals. Whether Jesus himself and the Holy Spirit are subjects or also objects of revelation remains Christological and Pneumatological debates that persists to this day.
Divine revelation includes primary, secondary, modern and future sources. Within most Christian traditions, the primary sources of revelation are limited to the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The secondary sources of revelation include angels (“messengers” who may be mortals or immortals), prophets (true, false and lying) and talking animals, Eden’s serpent (Gen. 3) and Balaam’s ass (Num. 22). Much of these secondary sources of revelation have been codified into the various canons of the Bible. Modern sources of revelation include inspired speeches, prophetic sermons and predictive prophecies. Each congregation decides whether to grant such claimants the status of divine inspiration but in practice, many congregants make decisions as if such claims are true. Indeed, every interpretation of the Bible in sermons and Sunday school classes often introduce novel ideas that effectively serve as alternative and modern sources of revelation.
Future sources of revelation will arise with the rapid advances in the natural sciences. Can God reveal through the collective work of humans who do not themselves claim to be a source of divine authority? Can God use unwitting media to convey his message? This raises the issue of original and repeated revelation, not to mention undiscovered or misinterpreted revelation.
5. Why did God reveal?
We shall never know the mind of God. But this does not stop theologians from claiming they do. In the Christian tradition, divine revelation to creation is necessary both physiologically and spirituallly. As biological life forms, our survival depends on our ability to learn how to avoid suffering and to find sources of food and shelter. As social creatures, we thrive on emotional interaction with others. As spiritual beings, we are curious about our origins and our fate upon death. Humans depend on God’s revelation to survive and thrive.
Perhaps the single most important question we ultimate ask is the meaning of life and the prospects for a conscious postmortem existence. Divine revelation provides relief to these anxieties of the human mind. We are born curious to know, to learn and to wonder. When we stop learning, we perish. This is made more obvious as we peer into the histories of science, technology, and medicine, including pharmacology and surgery. Most of us alive today would not be around if not for these advances that extend our capacities and abilities by first extending our knowledge (scientia). God revealed in order for us to live.
6. How does God reveal?
The short answer is, through our brain. Does God reveal by supernatural disclosure or natural discovery. This was the debate for much of the 18thcentury with the Age of Enlightenment. Many Christians felt their assumptions threatened while other Christians welcomed relief from the Church’s abuse of power. Both sides felt that discovery and disclosure are mutually exclusive. The rise of modern archaeology showed that all other Near Eastern religions use a similar religious vocabulary to that of the Bible — that divine revelation is transmitted supernaturally. This religious use of spiritual vocabulary worked very well during prescientific times. “Supernatural” was shorthand for “no need for any rational explanation” and protected institutionalized claims of authority.
By the 21stcentury, neuroscience identified activated brain regions and claims of ‘supernatural’ transmissions decreased significantly. The brain is the only instrument to receive information. God reveals to human minds through their brains. This natural manner of receiving revelation in no way diminishes the wonder and beauty of God. The irreducible quality of thought expressed in brain functions remains unchallenged by any theological doctrine. This is why no church would permit a brain damaged person to deliver a sermon.
The Brain in the Body: Human bodies are colonies of some 100,000,000,000,000 cells, around 250 types discovered so far. They include muscle, bone, blood, skin, eye, hair cells and cells of the central nervous system, which includes the brain. The brain is the central processing unit for the entire body. It receives all eternal data and generates an internal narrative for our conscious being. Everything that we know through the five natural senses or any spiritual insight is delivered via the brain. A brainless person cannot receive knowledge or revelation from God because brainless humans are typically dead humans. Now whether brain-dead humans can communicate with God is a different matter of cognition. We must remain open to the possibility that God can communicate to brain-dead beings.
The Left Brain’s Interpreter. How did the first humans qua humans (humans like us) learned anything? As humans evolved from prehuman primates, our brains developed a consciousness that could interpret complex data to reconcile the past with the present. Neuropsychologists call this mass of cells on the left hemisphere of our brains, “The Interpreter” first described by Michael Gazzaniga and Joseph LeDoux, based on experiments on split-brain patients by Gazzaniga. The interpreter convinces us that memories of the past can and must be reconciled to experiences of the present. This conciliation is justified by interpretation. This process is crucial in learning new information by revelation. The brain’s interpreter justifies the mind’s conciliation of the past with the present to preserve sanity. We ought to expect God to use his created physical universe to convey lessons to us. In the past, it was called knowledge from testimonies in sacred texts.
Today, we happen to call it knowledge from science. The more interesting question to ask is about Future Revelation. With advances in Artificial Intelligence especially that highlighted by the movie Blade Runner 2049, will our reliance of memory shaped by the Left Brain Interpreter change the what we think of revelation?Will God reveal through non-human cognition?Will we discover new methods of divine revelationary transmission? How will this change Christian beliefs about the doctrine of revelation?