THE MIRROR & THE TELESCOPE, PART II: THE NEED FOR REVELATION ABOUT HUMANITY TO HUMANITY
[Part I available here]
Before delving into the issue of how we may make distinctions between claims about the divine and human subjects of Scripture, we must address the question of why we would need to have revelation about humanity, particularly since part of the intrinsic concept of revelation is that it is “the disclosure of what was previously unknown.” (Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, 1031) It is obvious that we need God to reveal himself to us because he is outside of our common experience, his nature and being are not evident to us, and as YHWH himself says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8). In contrast, we have a great deal of understanding about humanity: we ourselves are humans, we see evidence and examples of humanity all around us, and we have created our own reflections on the human race in philosophy, history, and cultural artifacts. So why would we need for God to write down an inspired account of humanity for us in the Scriptures?
First, we tend to lie to ourselves about ourselves. The prophet Jeremiah declares, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). The apostle Paul asserts that in our human wickedness, we have suppressed the truth, become futile in our thinking, and our minds were darkened (Romans 1:18-21). Though Paul specifically refers in this passage to deceiving ourselves about God’s person, it seems reasonable to believe we do the same with our own self-knowledge (cf. 1 John 1:8). We need revelation about the human subject because we need God to show us hard truths about ourselves that we are often unwilling to acknowledge.
Second, revealing the truth about humanity, particularly our sinfulness and inability to fully obey his commands, ultimately exposes our deep need for the Gospel and for holistic transformation. In this light, an accurate anthropology both plays a part in the overall biblical story of redemption, as well as offering an unvarnished portrait of fallen humanity to which we can relate (for we do not only see examples in Scripture of perfectly holy people who do not make the same errors to which we seem prone). This reason for revelation about humanity would explain the presence of lies, wickedness, and bad theology cited in our introduction.
Third, and more positively, disclosing the truth about humanity reveals occasions where persons do respond in faith and obedience, which we may imitate, as well as many other instances where God still chooses to use and bless people who are living contrary to his desires, which demonstrates his love, patience, and grace toward his creation.
All of these reasons make the inclusion of humanity as a subject of revelation a somewhat non-controversial addition to our understanding of Scripture. What is more problematic, and likely more unsettling for the conservative, is the question of how to distinguish which parts of special revelation are about God and which are about humanity in the biblical texts. The difficulty of parsing between theological claims in Scripture that reflect humanity’s perspective on God (such as Job’s friends) and those that accurately reflect Divine truth becomes a daunting proposition. Indeed I. Howard Marshall despairs at the attempt:
The books of the Bible contain what are clearly regarded as the words of human actors telling about human actors and on occasion reporting what people said to God. They also contain what are identified as the words of God [including divine communication to humans and prophetic announcements]. In many cases it would be hard to decide just where God stopped speaking and the human author took over—and indeed meaningless and futile to try to do so. How could one distinguish between the more personal expressions of Paul’s emotions and his more direct statements of what he believed to be divine revelation? (Biblical Inspiration, 21)
This reticence on Marshall’s part may be due to his feeling that if one begins to identify human aspects in Scripture, then the “inspired” notion of the Bible becomes unintelligibly bifurcated into some parts human and some parts divine. Clark Pinnock is more comfortable with dividing Scripture into levels of revelation: “In the so-called ‘Writings’ of the Hebrew Bible…there are far fewer claims of divine revelation [than in prophetic works], only occasional references at best.” Pinnock goes on to assert that “in the Old Testament collection there are different kinds of literature, some that make a powerful claim to divine origin and others that do not, some that stand on the high ground of revelation and others that occupy a little lower position.” (The Scripture Principle, 62)
While Marshall is reluctant to potentially split the inspiration in Scripture, Pinnock is willing to sort between “kinds and degrees of inspiration” (64) in biblical revelation; however, the approach I am proposing contends that indeed all of Scripture remains inspired, it simply reveals inspired truth about different subjects. What we must distinguish is between the Divine or human subjects of revelation and not whether the things written in Scripture are fallible human statements or inerrant divinely inspired words of God through human authors. We cannot limit ourselves to Donald Bloesch’s approving citation of the notion of a biblical “double truth” that must be held when he says, “the Bible is both God’s testimony about himself and the human writers’ inspired testimony about God.” (Holy Scripture, 67) We must instead say that the Bible is both God’s testimony about himself and humanity, and the human writer’s inspired testimony about God and their fellow humans.
In a simple example of distinguishing between the two, we can clearly tell that the fool who says “There is no God” in Psalm 14:1 is an instance where a human perspective of bad theology is accurately and truthfully revealed in the biblical text, thereby evidencing that humanity is the subject of this portion of revelation. However, when Moses says, “Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” in Deuteronomy 6:4, we may be sure that it is not Moses’ human opinion that is evident, but rather an instance of an inspired truth claim regarding the Divine subject. We trust that Scripture provides us with some tools to distinguish between a fool and a prophet of YHWH. Unfortunately, it is not always as easy to distinguish as in these two examples! Indeed, we must face a greater deal of the complexity in the hermeneutical enterprise this position advocates, which we will do in Part III by looking to several passages from the Psalms.