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Revelation

In monotheistic religions, revelation is the term used to describe the process in which God makes Himself, His will, and/or other information known to mankind.

The recipient of revelation is commonly referred to as a prophet, and sometimes is termed a messenger. Readers of this article are encouraged to read the parallel article on prophets, as the term has a number of meanings and interpretations, even among those within the same religion.

There are a number of ways that religious thinkers have traditionally approached this topic; many widely differing views have been proposed. Generally speaking, one can find all of the following viewpoints in varying segments of Judaism and in varying groups within Christianity.

Table of contents

Verbal revelation

Some people hold that God can communicate with man in a way that gives direct, propositional content: This is termed verbal revelation. Orthodox Judaism and traditional Christianity hold that the first five books of Moses were dictated by God in such a fashion.

Aristotelian rationalism

The neo-Aristotelian philosophers of the medieval era held that revelation was the discovery of absolute truths about God, man, and man's place in God's universe, as discovered through logical philosophical inquiry. A prophet's connection to God was held to be the only way that a person could reach such a state of pure reason.

A subset of this category is natural revelation. Some believe that God reveals himself through His Creation, and that at least some truths about Him can be learned by studying Nature, physics, cosmology, etc. This view is evidenced by Biblical verses such as "The heavens declare the glory of God" .

Non-Verbal propositional revelation

One school of thought holds that revelation is non-verbal and non-literal, yet it may have propositional content. People were divinely inspired by God with a message, but not in a verbal-like fashion.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has written that "To convey what the prophets experienced, the Bible could either use terms of descriptions or terms of indication. Any description of the act of revelation in empirical categories would have produced a caricature. That is why all the Bible does is to state that revelation happened; How it happened is something they could only convey in words that are evocative and suggestive." ["God in Search of Man"]

God's will as revealed through a people's historical development of their faith

Some believe that given God's non-anthropomorphic nature, the above listed forms of revelation are, by definition, impossible. Thus, God's will is revealed through the interaction of man and God throughout history.

For instance, Rabbi Louis Jacobs proposes that by viewing how the Jewish people have understood God's will throughout history, we see how God has actually influenced the development of Jewish law; it is this process that we should recognize as revelation.

One part of the Talmud declares rabbinic interpretation superior to biblical prophecy: "Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, the prophetic gift was taken away from the prophets and given to the Sages. Is a Sage not also a prophet?" The question is rhetorical, the answer clearly is "yes". The Talmud goes on to say: "What Rabbi Abdimi meant to say was this: although it has been taken from the prophets, prophecy has not been taken from the Sages. Amemar said: A Sage is even superior to a prophet, as it says "And a prophet has the heart of wisdom" (Psalms 90:21) Who is usually compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater?" (Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 12A)

[Similar texts from other religions would be good to add here!]

Existentialism

In the 20th century, religious existentialists proposed that revelation held no content in of itself; rather, they hold that God inspired people with His presence by coming into contact with them. In this view the Bible is a human response that records how we responded to God.

For information on the last book of the New Testament see the entry on the Book of Revelation.

Revelation or information from a supernatural source is of much lesser importance in some other religious traditions. It is not of great importance in the Asian religions Taoism, and Confucianism but similarities have been noted between the Abrahamic view of revelation and the Buddhist principle of Enlightenment.



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