Doctrine of Revelation and the Hebrew Bible

Revelation can broadly be described as God’s self-disclosure to humanity. Brevard Childs states that the goal of God’s self-disclosure is so that all may see and know him.[1] Thus, God’s revelation proceeds from his activity and to understand his actions is to know God.[2] In the Hebrew Bible, God’s revelation comes in different variety of media: fire, thunder, a whisper, a donkey but these often are related to and initiated through his spoken word, in turn bringing upon some type of action.[3] Two examples that I think this can be seen is through creation and covenant.

In the creation story, God’s word is portrayed as the actor. The Psalmist states that it was by God’s word that creation came forth (Psalm 33:6, 9). In God’s self-disclosure to humanity in Genesis 2:17, God commands Adam to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This command has an implicit promise that if Adam and Eve refrained from eating of the tree they would continue to live in the blessings of the garden and an explicit promise that if they did eat they would die. For Adam and Eve, because of their disobedience, God’s word of judgment becomes actualized. Their knowledge of God and his action of one who blesses and provides in the garden now include a God who judges and is more concealed outside the garden.

Another significant high point in the Hebrew Bible is the Abrahamic covenant. In Genesis 12:1-3 God establishes a relationship with Abram through the utterance of a promise—heir, land, nation, and international blessing.[4] God commits himself to Abram and to Abram’s family. God reveals himself to be loyal and will bless his family. God’s act in revealing himself again begins by establishing a particular relationship through his word. Likewise, it seems that God’s disclosure is initiated freely by himself, but is actualised by Abram believing by faith.

It seems that from the perspective of these examples of the Hebrew Bible that God’s self disclosure has a tight relationship to the obedience and faith of his people. I think this brings an interesting perspective to Christian theology which rightly understands God’s initiative in revelation, but what role does the idea of understanding, listening, and obedience play in this self-disclosure?


[1] Brevard S Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 43-44.

[2] Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 45.

[3] Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 21.

[4] Paul R House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 75.

Further Reading

Barr, James. The Concept of Biblical Theology, 468-96

Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament, 333-358

Balentine, S. The Hidden God 

Childs, Brevard. Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 20-59.

Ward, Timothy. Words of Life: Scripture as Living Active Word of God.

Ward, Timothy. Word and Supplement Speech Acts, Biblical Texts, and the Sufficiency of Scripture.

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3 thoughts on “Doctrine of Revelation and the Hebrew Bible

  1. Great question. I’ve been looking at this a lot lately, and most contemporary hermeneuticians tie the readers’ response to the interpretive process. Historic theologians like John Owen also defined understanding the text as not just an intellectual process but also an applicational one. Owen argued that understanding is not complete until one has properly responded to the text.

    I think this is corroborated by the biblical witness. Adam, Abraham, and Israel all do not listen well, and they are therefore cast out (in Adam and Israel’s case permanently, in Abraham’s case temporally). Christ listens perfectly and then gives us his Spirit so that his people can listen and obey. The beauty of Pentecost…

    • Thanks Matt. I think you are right. Scripture is always highlighting not only that God speaks but the response of humanity to his disclosure. I’m thinking I need to dive into Briggs’ “Virtuous Reader” and Pennington’s “Reading the Gospels Wisely.” Any other suggestions? Where in Owen?

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