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  • Created on: 09-11-16 09:40

Revelation in Philosophy

Revelation refers to any act in which God is revealed to human beings.

There are two views on revelation widely held by religious believers.

1) Propositional revelation

2) Non-propositional revelation 

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Propositional revelation

  • God shows His nature and intentions to us. They are called 'propositions' to indicate that the revelations are statements of fact. 
  • They reveal knowledge from God which is without error or need of reinterpretation. 
  • Jews and Christians would argue that the 10 commandments are a revelation from God to Moses.
  • Aquinas suggested that 'faith' concerns knowledge about God who is transcendent. He argued that even if faith cannot be demonstrated to be true in the same way as science. He believed that faith is based on something factual. But opinions are not and so faith is better than opinions but not as good as scientific knowledge.
  • Propositional revelations are truths revealed by God but they are not demonstrable using human reason.
  • Believers in this view do not reject the use of reason. They believe that God's revelations are not provable through human reason, but God can be revealed through using reain in the world. 
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Evaluation of Propositional revelation

  • Propositional Revelations can be checked against the teaching of the Church. This Apostolic Authority means that although we can't personally verify what went on, we can still be reasonably certain of their validity. We are not basing our belief on pure opinion but rather on our faith that an Apostle wouldn't lie.
  • Propositional Revelations provide Christians with a set of clear, easy-to-use rules. This is because Propositional Revelations are a direct intervention by God and therefore any message revealed is the word of God. This means that the message must be obeyed and that Christians don't have to rely on fallible humans for moral guidance.
  • We cannot check them using reason. This is because Propositional Revelations are often unexplainable by reason i.e. they contradict the laws of physics. For example, when God revealed Himself to Moses He did so through a burning bush which, although on fire, did not damage the bush.
  • We cannot personally check them using our senses. We cannot see whether or not God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses or whether God appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. We have to accept these revelations using our faith.
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Evaluation of Propositional revelation continued..

  • Propositional Revelations could be the result of hallucinations. For example, how do we know that God appeared to Paul on the Road to Damascus? Paul could be mistaken. Paul could have been hallucinating because he felt increasingly guilty about persecuting so many Christians. In modern times, the Yorkshire Ripper thought he was experiencing a Propositional Revelation from God (God revealing what he thought of prostitution) but it just turned out to be a hallucination brought on by schizophrenia.
  • Propositional Revelations could be recorded incorrectly by those who experience them. This is because of how the brain works (i.e. we don't remember well those things that we passively experience). According to this argument we should be wary of accepting Apostolic Authority. This means that not only can we not check Propositional Revelations against reason but we also can't check them against the teaching of the Church.
  • The messages revealed through Propositional Revelations might go against modern laws. For example, God revealed to Moses a set of rules governing the treatment of slaves. Slavery is illegal in the UK today.
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Non-Propositional revelation

  • Refers to the idea that God does not reveal facts or thruths to people; instead the religious believer recognises God acting in human history and experience. 
  • A religious believer may come to see God in a beautiful natural sense.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes was impressed by the beauty of nature

The Sherlock Holmes argument is from beauty that's found in the world. It raises thoughts of the possiblility of God. 

  • For many nature has revealed God to them. (indirectly)
  • According to this view a religious book is a witness and record of how the revelation of God has been understood in history. 
  • People learn about God through the signs Jesus worked (Healing).
  • Faith is about how peopel experience God through everyday life. It's a way of seeing the world.
  • Human beings are free to respond to God's revelation or not. 
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Evaluation of Non-Propositional revelation

  • Possible to personalise ones response to bible and make it apply to them
  • Errors or inconsistency in the bible doesnt affect belief
  • It is possible to have different interpretations of the bible
  • Allows people to keep their faiths without having to beleive all aspects of the bible
  • On the church's eyes it undermines their power
  • Allows people to pick and choose from the bible for the wrong reasons
  • Very subjective
  • As non-propositional rvelations are a result of human understanding and interpretation of events, they do not reveal direct knowledge of God and cannot be considered errorless. Due to this there would be no way of resolving thedological debates.
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The revelation of God through scripture

The propositional view holds that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God

  • People who take this view that the bible is a propositional view of God acknowledge this by stating that the Bible is the 'word of God'.
  • They believe the role of the authors is limited. Since the Bible is God's reveation. 
  • The inspiration of every book in the Bible is divine.
  • Among fundamentaliist Christians the term 'verbal inspiration' is used to indicate the divine origins or authorship of every word in the Bible. 
  • According to this view God effectively dictates the Bible so a believer in dvine dictation would hold that the Bible is inherant. 
  • However, while many believe the Bible is divinely inspired not all believer in 'verbal inspiation' BUT all those who believe the Bible reveals propositions about God are true.
  • As the Bible is propositional you can consult to it about moral dilemmasa nd guidance. 
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The revelation of God through scripture pt2

A Non-propositional view holds that the Bible is a record of human experiences of God.

  • Interpretists would describe the Bible as a 'record of human beings' experiences of God. (A collection of accounts and stories about peoples experiences of God in history)
  • In this sense the Bible would be considered as a non-propositional revelation of God. Revealing God indirectly.
  • They still believe the Bible is divinely inspired, but the inspiration of God makes the author write down their experiences and understanding of God and God's action in the world. 
  • A non-propositional view of the Bible understands that the biblical scriptures as presenting pictures and images of God's revelation. 
  • This view is often associated with that has been called liberal biblical interpretation-Schleiermacher.
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The Authority of Scripture Origin of Bible

The solution to gaining a new source of authority was to appeal to two sources of authority.

1) Rule of Faith

2) Bible 

Rule of faith

Referred to the traditions, teachings of believers and beliefs of Christians that had been passed on in Christian communities from the time of the Apostles. Bishops of the second century drew up lists of Christian writings that they felt truly refelcted and represented Christian beliefs, values and teachings. An important aspect of these books is the claim that they had a direct link with the apostles of Jesus. 


The Bible is the source of authority for Christians. The old testiment comes from Judaism believeing it 'proclaimed Christ to come'. The new testiment 'proclaimed Christ in fact'.

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Authority of the Bible

  • For an agnostic or athiest the Bible may be historically important in text. It may help inform one about the society and beliefs of the people who lived 2,000 to 3,500 years ago. BUT this doesn't mean it's an authortative text.
  • For a Christian believer the Bible is a document that certainly is authoritative. Calling the Bible a 'scripture' imples exactly this. If the Bible has authority it should be listened to. 
  • Wiles points out that authority may have more than one sense. When referring to the Bible as authoritative. 
  • 1) Hard sense- Implies something has a status of law.
  • 2)Soft sense- It is a statement about the way a person speaks on a subject. They may not always be correct. 
  • Usually the Bible is referred to as authoritative in a hard sense. 
  • However, despite this 'laws' can at times require classification or interpretation to meet new issues. Christians disagree, if the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant it should not need reinterpretation as the laws should be timeless and unlike human laws. 
  • This implies saying the Bible is authoritative means the Bible requires interpretation, and that what it reveals about God is not always clear.
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Authority of the Bible issues

What if the Bible is divinely inspired?

1) Verbal inspiration

If the Bible is verbally inspired, every word comes from God, and the implication is that every word should be respected and followed as it is God's word. This means that things may be disputed.

  • The Bible instructs that the death penalty be used as punishment for many offences, and for many punishments in the Jewish scriptures appear to be harsh to modern readers for example the execution of any woman who commits adultery or who is not a virginwhen she marries in Leviticus.
  • The meaning of the Genesis story is disputed among Christians.
  • Can the Bible be disobeyed? If it were a divinely inspired revelation from God, then disobeying any instruction in Bible would be a rejection of God's revealed commands.
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Authority of the Bible Issues pt2

2) Divine inspiration

This also raises questions about the way in which the Bible is to be read an interpreted.

  • Disobeying biblical instructions- Disobeying specific instructions from God when verbally inspired is problematic. If the bbook is divinely inspired but not verbally inspired, then the revelation of God is within the text. Identifying the exact nature of the revelation could be probematic. 
  • Many Christians today have difficulty accepting some of the laws abput moral behaviour from both the New and Old testaments. Eg, Jesus states divorce is wrong but many churches permit divorce. 
  • Some of the passages found within the Bible conflict with many Christian's views today. Eg Paul's statements about women do not fit very well with modern ideas of equality. 

If Christians believe that the Bible is divinely inspired but is expressed in the laanguage and culture of the times in which the Bible books were written, then the problem for any reader of the Bible is to identify the knowledge revealed about God in the Biblical books.

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  • Jim Packer, a fundamentalist refers to the Bible as: "The authoritative word of God" And states that: "The origin of scripture is divine"

Packer argues that God controls exactly what is said, either through dictationor inspiration. . However, this view is perhaps more closely linked to the Qu'ran than the Bible, and as a belief itself is no longer very popular. The Bible may also be inspired, Packer argues. This means that even if writers inject little bits of their own writing style or personality into scripture, it's still the word of God - it is still inerrant.

  • The argument from infallibility, as held by Marshall, is the belief that the Bible is reliable but still has mistakes. Marshall states that the Bible is inspired for the purposed that God made it, but accepts that the Bible is not a scientific or historical document. There are minor errors, but these are not errors that makes the Bible any less reliable or relevant.

Marshall argues that there is too much emphasis on God, and states that since humans are fallible, there are bound to be minor errors in the Bible. People write stories and get information from different sources, so not everything is going to turn out 100% accurate. However, Marshall still agrees with Packer that the Bible is the word of God.

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  • Karl Barth differs slightly from Marshall, and argues that the Bible becomes revelation when you realise it for yourself - it is the means to revelation, not immediately revelation in itself. Marshall criticises this view, arguing that Barth is talking about the Bible as if it is illumination, when it is in fact inspiration.
  • Paul Achtemeier argues that the Holy Spirit brought the Bible together - the process is inspired, but the final copy isn't - a view that contradicts Marshall's argument.
  • W. Abraham goes down a similar route to Marshall, arguing that God inspires people to write and that while God is infallible, the Bible is not - the writers are inspired, not the readers (this is where he and Marshall differ - Marshall argues that the reader is also inspired).
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Continued.. Again

  • W. Abraham goes down a similar route to Marshall, arguing that God inspires people to write and that while God is infallible, the Bible is not - the writers are inspired, not the readers (this is where he and Marshall differ - Marshall argues that the reader is also inspired).
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge accepts that there are mistakes and errors in the Bible, stating that he would not: "lie for God"

A popular criticism of inerrancy and infallibility is the redaction criticism. Redaction criticism states that writers included their own beliefs in the Bible, and that the stories merely reflect the views of the writers. So when Jesus says: "I am the bread of life" This is simply a case of someone taking the act of communion and mentioning it in the Bible to give it more credibility and stress its importance.

  • A. N. Wilson holds a similar view, stating that Christianity was started by Paul, and that the Bible is simply based on Paul's teachings.
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Example Questions.

'God is the most clearly revealed to humanity through scripture' Discuss. (35Marks)

Compare scripure with another way God is revealed (eg. Nature) One view that clearly reveals God is scripture, so nclude didvine inspiration. Evaluate the strenths/weaknesses of the propositional view of the bible. Use weaknesses to suggeest God is not clearly revealed in scripture. 

Critically assess propositional and non-propositional revelation. (35Marks)

Explaination in detail. Evaluation of... Include propositional view of the bible being divinely inspired(fundamentalist view). and non propositional(Liberalist view). 

To what extent can God reveal himself through sacred writings? (35Marks)

Add extent to which scripture can be seen as ‘the word of God’. Use knowledge of propositional and non views on faith and scripture. Point out that the propositional approach can be seen as ‘Belief that…such and such a proposition is true, whereas non-propositional faith is Belief in…’ Include liberal and fundamentalist approaches. EVALUATE

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