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Searching for the

Cognitive Foundation of
Christian Theology
in a Postmodern World

Fernando L. Canale

Searching for the Cognitive Foundation of

Christian Theology in a Postmodern World

Fernando L. Canale

University Press of America,® Inc.

Lanham· New York· Oxford
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British Library Cataloging in Publication Information Available

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Canale, Fernando Luis.

Back to revelation-inspiration : searching for the cognitive
foundation of Christian theology in a postmodern world /
Fernando L. Canale.
p. cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
I. Revelation. 2. Bible-Inspiration. 3. Knowledge, Theory of
[Religion). 4. Bible-Hermeneutics. 5. Theology, Doctrinal. I. Title.

BS480 .C28 2001 231.7'4--dc21 2001037568 CIP

ISBN 0-7618-2082-5 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Dedicated to Raoul Dederen
Whose sage advice and encouraging humor
Have proven him to be a devoted teacher, scholar, and friend.

Preface vii

Acknowledgements xi

Chapter 1 In Search of New Foundations

Chapter 2 The Ground 35

Chapter 3 Hermeneutical Methodology 49

Chapter4 The Classical Model 75

Chapter 5 The Liberal Model 97

Chapter 6 The Historical-Cognitive Model 127

Conclusion 161

Bibliography 163

Index 175

How do theologians know that what they are saying about God and
religion is correct? Specifically, is Christian theology the product of the
imaginative reflection of holy persons and theologians as Ludwig
Feuerbach argued and posbnodemity confirmed, or is there a cognitive
foundation for Christian theology on which all theologians should
deconstruct their received traditions and rebuild their understanding of
God and religion?
If there is a cognitive foundation for Christian theology, Scripture
must be it. Without Scripture, Christianity would not exist, even in its
imaginative modem and postmodern constructions. Thus, the
epistemological question about the cognitive foundations of Christian
theology becomes primarily the question about the cognitive foundations
of biblical knowledge. Back to Revelation-Inspiration: In Search ofNew
Foundations investigates this question by placing the two leading models
of revelation-inspiration interpretation, which are critical to the
understanding of the formation of the Bible under hermeneutical
criticism. Hermeneutical criticism, thus applied, will help us to discover
the principles that guided theologians in the formulation of the classical
and liberal models of revelation and inspiration of Scripture. Moreover,
it helps us overcome them by stressing their strengths and avoiding their
weaknesses. The result is a new model of interpretation that secures a
cognitive foundation for Christian theology in the twentieth-first century.
Why are current models unsatisfactory? While the classical model
provides a cognitive foundation for Christian theology it does leave
exegetes with many unanswered questions. In other words, theologians
find in the classical model of revelation-inspiration a cognitive foundation
on which to build their theological understandings. Biblical exegetes,
however, find themselves facing an increasing number of persistent
biblical phenomena that cannot be satisfactorily accommodated by the
viii Back to Revelation-Inspiration
classical model of explanation. In their eyes, this situation seriously calls
into question the classical view. As a result, an alternate model of
revelation was developed two centuries ago. This liberal model satisfied
the new scientific-exegetical approach to Scripture, but left theologians
without cognitive foundations for their theologies. In the twentieth
century, the liberal approach to the revelation and inspiration of Scripture
led to the fracturing of Christianity into conservative and liberal camps
across denominational lines.
Is there a way to account for all the features of biblical data to the
satisfaction of biblical exegetes while at the same time providing the
necessary cognitive foundation required by theological formulations?
The argument advanced in this book is that such a way does indeed exist.
How then do we find it? In understanding the path taken by the existing
models, we will come by the pitfalls and dead ends that will make the
need for and direction of the new road more apparent. We need a new
perspective on which to build an approach, which will critically assess
past models of interpretation, while making use of their salient features.
The main theme of this book centers on the temporality of God, which
"open view" theologians are bringing to scholarly attention as a side
product of their criticism of the classical understanding of divine
providence. In writing these pages, I have pledged faithfulness to the
basic scientific principle, according to which we must let our
interpretations of things be determined by the things themselves. In
revelation and inspiration, the "thing" whose origin we want to
understand is Scripture. The plot unravels as we discover that the classical
and modem views of Scripture's origin assume the philosophically
originated notion that God is timeless, while the thing itself, Scripture,
understands God as temporal. The epilog outlines a new way of
understanding revelation and inspiration that, while faithful to the
persistence of biblical data, provides the cognitive foundations for
Christian theology.
Most chapters in this study have been previously published as separate
articles. In order to make them available to a wider scholarly audience
and my own students, I decided to publish them in book format. I have
modified the text of the articles not only to maximize the inner unity of
the chapters but also at times their contents. Chapter I frames the study
of revelation and inspiration as a search for new cognitive foundations
from within a postmodern philosophical setting. Chapter 2 uncovers the
ground required for the hermeneutical criticism of the doctrine of
revelation and inspiration. Chapter 3 briefly presents the hermeneutical-
critical methodology, which I apply in describing the classical (chapter
4) and liberal (chapter 5) models ofrevelation and inspiration. Finally, I
apply the same methodology to the biblical data to envision the broad
Preface ix
contour of a new model (chapter 6) that, in faithfulness to biblical
evidence, may constructively overcome the weaknesses of current models
while maintaining their strengths. In this way, a new cognitive foundation
for Christian theology is secured from within the pages of biblical
Berrien Springs
August 2001

Theology is a search for understanding, which takes place within a

concrete historical community. My community is Andrews University in
Berrien Springs Michigan. Within the Theological Seminary community
many individuals helped me in the formation of the present work. This
book did not come as the result of an intentional plan of mine, but as the
result of a chain of events that led to its writing and its present
Some time during 1991, I received a phone call from C. Raymond
Holmes, who challenged me to make a scholarly presentation evaluating
a recently published book on inspiration by Alden Thompson. Since I
taught a course on revelation and inspiration, I decided to accept the
challenge. As I read Thompson's book I realized that he was dealing
more with hermeneutical problems facing biblical .scholars than with a
proper understanding of the revelation and inspiration of Scripture. So I
wrote a presentation on the need to revise our current view of revelation
and inspiration, which was read in absentia by Carlos Steger Jr. during
the November 1991 meetings of the Adventist Theological Society
meetings in Kansas City.
When I returned from my furlough, I hoped to revise the presentation
into an article. Since the Adventist Theological Society was not interested
in publishing it, I submitted it to Kenneth Strand, the editor of Andrews
University Seminary Studies, for his advice on where to publish it. When
Strand, on his own initiative, sent the text of my presentation for peer
review, the chain of events that generated this book was set in motion. The
peer review recommended the piece should be published as an article and
suggested points that required clarification. During the next three years, I
read and wrote in order to clarify questions presented to me by various peer
reviewers. From one article the initial presentation grew to five articles.
xii Back to Revelation-Inspiration
In this process, I had the great advantage of receiving criticism from
Dr. Raoul Dederen, fonner Dean of the Seventh-day Adventist
Theological Seminary and emeritus professor of theology. Dederen's
probing questions are primarily responsible for enlarging my initial article
to its present form. As Dederen motivated my thinking, Kenneth Strand,
Nancy Vyhmeister, Jerry Moon, and Madelaine Johnston polished my
writing with great patience and professional savvy. My daughter, Silvia
Bacchiocchi, skillfully proofread the manuscript and edited many
passages, helping me to convey my thoughts more cogently and precisely.
Finally, my gifted research assistant, Karen Abrahamson, single-handedly
built up the index, prepared the bibliography, formatted the text
according to the publisher's specifications, and produced the camera-
ready copies for the press on time. My heartfelt gratitude goes to all of
these· individuals for helping me in conceiving, writing, editing,
proofreading, and publishing this book. Special thanks also go to the
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary for its generous research-
quarter policy, without which this study mostly likely would never have
been written.
Finally, I want to praise God for His kindness and mercy to me and
my family and the great privilege He has given me to serve Him in work
and thought. To God be all glory for ever and ever.


1. Conflict of Interpretations
A perfunctory examination of Christian theology reveals that, throughout
the centuries, the revelation-inspiration question has been interpreted in
various ways. This multiplicity of interpretations can be classified under
two main schools of thought, namely, the classical and the liberal. These
trends, which I will characterize and analyze in chapters 3 and 4, are not
mere theoretical exercises disconnected from everyday Christian
experience. On the contrary, they reach the very fabric of Christian belief
and culture to the point of dividing Christianity into two very real and
concrete camps that run across denominational lines.
Explicitly or implicitly, Christian theology seems to acknowledge the
existence of two different models of revelation-inspiration. Is the classical
versus the liberal conflict of interpretation the last word in Christian
theology, or a dead-end alley better left behind? Has this conflict caused
Christian theology to fade back into irreversible twilight? Is there hope
of a new dawn beyond? Should this situation be accepted as irreversible?
Is an ecumenical praxis the only real option still open for Christianity?
Should Christian theology accept this epochal and fateful conflict of
interpretations, or challenge it? Is it possible to rethink the very
foundation on which Christian theology is built without challenging
existing models? My stance is that Christian theology can ill afford to
elude its responsibility by neglecting to question that which is unclear,
ambiguous, and contradictory in the teachings produced by earlier
generations. It is fitting, then, that we question anew the meaning of
revelation-inspiration. If the need should arise to probe further the
unthought ground on which Christian thinking rests, Christian theology
should have sufficient resolve to replace broadly accepted models with
2 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
a new one. This book is an attempt to address this obvious theological
challenge by formulating the question of the meaning of revelation-
inspiration and exploring a possible way for overcoming both the
classical and the liberal models of interpretation.
The need for and nature of such overcoming will become increasingly
clear to the reader as our discussion of the problem progresses. At this
point suffice it to say that the two general models of revelation-inspiration
seem to involve more than a lack of clarity and some ambiguities. The
analysis of the classical and liberal models of revelation-inspiration
undertaken in chapters 3 and 4 reveals that these models are not
complementary, but instead articulate opposite views. These models are
antithetical in a Kantian sense. In other words, they seem to involve "the
self-contradiction of seemingly dogmatical cognitions (thesis cum
antithesi), in none of which we can discover any decided superiority." 1
Uncritically siding with either antithetical pole will hinder rather than
promote the ongoing process of theological reflection and discovery of
truth. Therefore, the theological task of rethinking generally accepted
dogmatic positions becomes unavoidable.
Unfortunately, many theologians and Christian believers have already
settled the issue of revelation and inspiration and moved onto what, in
their minds, appears to be more relevant. Largely, Christian theologians
seem content with the pragmatic approach. They merely choose one out
of the two user-friendly interpretations already available. Despite this
seemingly generalized attitude, I invite all readers, even those with
strongly held theological convictions on revelation and inspiration, to
consider the issue honestly and openly as part of a serious and committed
attitude of searching after truth.
The search into the meaning of revelation-inspiration requires the
following steps. The systematic and methodological contextualization of
our search will be attempted in chapter 1. Chapter 2 will focus on the
ontological ground on which the meaning of revelation-inspiration is to
be explored. Chapter 3 will address the methodology to be used while
chapters 4 and 5 will concentrate on a hermeneutical analysis of the
classical and liberal models, respectively. The last chapter will attempt to
go beyond the classical and modem models of interpretation by
considering the basic hermeneutical foundations for a new "historical
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the grounding nature of the
question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration. I will argue that
addressing the revelation-inspiration question involves a search for a new
theological foundation. In order that the grounding nature implicit in the
revelation-inspiration question might be perceived, a working acquaintance
with the postmodern frame of mind will be necessary. Next, the more
In Search of New Foundations 3
strategic question regarding how the revelation-inspiration phenomenon
could be accessed will be brought up. Then, the mode of analysis will be
explored vis-a-vis the nature of the question of the meaning ofrevelation-
inspiration. The foundational nature of the revelation-inspiration question
will be explored in relation to its priority over the dogmatic question of
theological sources and over the methodological question of hermeneutics.
Finally, the notion of "overcoming" will be briefly examined.

2. Thinking in a Transitional Age

The twentieth century has witnessed a substantial and steady progress in
the area of natural and human sciences. Christian theology has not been
immune to this positive phenomenon. As a new millennium begins,
historians will face the complex task of analyzing and assessing the
unfolding of Christian thought. However, while waiting for the more
nuanced scholarly evaluation of historians, we may attain a preliminary
nontechnical appraisal.
During the twentieth century every discipline of the theological
encyclopedia seems to have made substantial progress. For instance, the
area of biblical exegesis and theology bas undergone a remarkable
development. In the area of theology, names like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich,
Karl Rabner, Carl F. Henry, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Thomas Oden, and
Donald Bloesch come to mind as examples of substantive contributors to
the systematic exposition and interpretation of Christian doctrines. The
field of Fundamental Theology has also gone through a process of steady
growth, especially in the setting and exploration of the hermeneutical
question. 2
In spite of such illustrious accomplishments, during the second half
of the twentieth century a generalized sense of dissatisfaction with the
direction in which Christian theology was being pursued began to be
explicitly felt and expressed. Already crystallized conviction that Western
civilization and, along with it, Christian thinking are in an epochal
process of transition from the modem to a posbnodern era. In a recent
study on the history of Christian theology during the twentieth century,
Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson see twentieth-century theology as
"the story of theology's struggle along with culture through this transition
from modernity to post-modernity."3 Hans Kung underlines the
uncertainty involved in the process of moving from one era to another by
clearly recognizing that "we have reached a crisis that some today would
understand apocalyptically as an 'end time,' while others, unwilling to
abandon all hope, would see as a time oftransition." In the postmodern
era, Western culture and Christian theology appear more certain about
what they disavow than about what they embrace. Such a disquieting
4 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
frame of mind may be a leading reason this new "spirit of the people"
dawning in the West is negatively characterized as a departure from the
modem age, hence the postmodern designation. What is becoming
increasingly apparent is that the classical features present in the
Enlightenment frame of mind are no longer satisfactory as the Zeitgeist.
However, the spirit of postmodern times has yet to fmd a definition.
Kung explains this phenomenon by stating that "today the same word,
'modem,' is often used for an era that is basically over and done with,
while 'postmodern' serves as a code word for an epoch that has only just
begun in this century, a period whose intrinsic value we acknowledge, but
cannot yet quite comprehend."5 Friedreich Nietzsche, a prophet of the
postmodern spirit, might have anticipated its transitory nature when he
wrote: "Here I sit and wait, old broken tables around me and also new
half-written tables.',6 The lack of certainty about the direction that
Western civilization should take has prompted a variety of proposals
outlining the path it, and humanity as a whole, should follow in the
future. For instance, in her introduction to several studies under the
general title, Theology at the End of Modernity, Sheila Greeve Davaney
acknowledges that "there is little consensus about the multifaceted nature
of modernity itself and whether we should hasten its demise or bemoan
its faltering presence; nor is it clear what prospects remain for theology
at this juncture in history. " 7 However, the postmodern age should not be
dismissed as a mere transition between two ages. Coming back to
Nietzsche's metaphor about "broken" and "new half-written tables," we
discover that postmodernity involves two main aspects: Postmodemity
criticizes and rejects both the classical and modern synthesis, while on the
other hand, it goes beyond facile criticism to explore new foundations for
a synthesis yet to come.
In 1946 Martin Heidegger, already perceiving the irreversible nature
of the situation in which Western culture had positioned itself,
rhetorically asked: "Do we stand in the very twilight of the most
monstrous transfonnation our planet has ever undergone, the twilight of
that epoch in which earth itself hangs suspended? Do we confront the
evening of a night which heralds another dawn?"' The change we are
experiencing, then, is not to be understood as being superficial and,
therefore, reaching only the facade of our society or the always fleeting
spirit of the times, but an alteration of the philosophical and theological
foundations on which Western culture has been built. Heidegger's
questions suggest that what Western culture is experiencing at the
beginning of the twenty first century is not a minor transition, but rather
a veritable crisis. And any crisis that manages to reach the intellectual
foundations of Western civilization will inevitably spread throughout the
entire fabric of society. Within this intellectual and cultural context, it is
In Search of New Foundations 5
not swprising to discover that "as none before, this century [twenthieth
century] has given rise to anxiety over humanity's place in the universe,
and anxiety revealed in new searches for transcendence, for a source of
meaning and hope beyond the self-enclosed world described by
Enlightenment science and philosophy. " 9 Under these conditions, it is not
difficult to understand why philosophy and theology must involve
themselves in the trailblazing, epoch-making task of erecting new
foundations on which to build the present and future of humankind.
We should not continue any further without establishing why a
change in the cultural mood of Western civilization is related to the
theological enterprise. In other words, why is Christian theology being
affected by the postmodern phenomenon? The reason that the postmodern
age is making its influence felt in Christian theology is the same reason
why Christian theology was altered by the Enlightenment some centuries
earlier, namely, the conviction that the task of theology can only be
accomplished within the intellectual structure of philosophy. From this
disciplinary link, it follows that philosophical changes directly affect
Christian theology, resulting in necessary adjustments in its conceptual
structure. The postmodern change in the philosophical atmosphere of our
times, then, cannot but be the business of Christian theology. A
preliminary exploration of the relationships existing between philosophy
and theology will be included in chapter 2.
Once the direct relationship existing between philosophy and theology
is recognized, we cannot neglect the influence ofpostmodemism despite
the undisputable fogginess that still covers our understanding of its
contents. We should start by asking why postmodemity has caused such
an epochal upheaval. The reason is simple. Postmodernity involves a
radical change in Western philosophy. Modernism, for instance, did not
renounce the classical tradition, but worked to reinforce it. Neither
Descartes's nor Kant's projects departed from the broad philosophical
foundations of classicism. Descartes's impact on the modern age
included, at least, two facets: the cogito ergo sum, and his methodic
doubt. Modern thought used the latter to build on the former. The modem
project still holds to the classical conviction that universal truth can be
reached with an absolute degree of certainty.
The postmodern spirit, however, no longer shares in the classical and
modern conviction that absolute certainty is attainable. On the contrary,
the skeptical mood ofpostmodemity moves beyond Descartes's methodic
doubt by embracing a sort of systematic doubt. For the first time in the
history of Western civilization, there is a generalized conviction that
neither universal truth nor absolute certainty are achievable. In spite of its
predominantly skeptical mood, some postmodern thinkers are convinced
that some degree of truth is attainable. The many intricacies of searching
6 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
for truth under the new general epistemological conditions adopted by
postmodemity are only beginning to dawn on Western civilization. Of
course, the task of searching after truth within the skeptical bent of the
postmodern spirit complicates the quest in many ways.
At first glance, the critical spirit of postmodemity appears far
removed from the classical task of searching after truth as, for instance,
Descartes systematically attempted. After all, Nietzsche, one outstanding
prophet ofpostmodemity, turned criticism on philosophy itself. Kant's
criticism differs from Nietzsche's in that it attempted to revamp the
classical philosophical project by building it on an epistemological rather
than on an ontological ground. Kant's epistemological grounding of the
classical project, however, did introduce substantial changes, one of
which became pivotal for the liberal model of revelation-inspiration.
Nietzsche's criticism, on the other hand, was more radical in that he
worked to deconstruct the classic Platonic-Aristotelic synthesis, aiming
his darts at the very ideological foundation of Western civilization.
However, not everyone interprets the new ideological and cultural
atmosphere ofpostmodemity in the same way. D.R. Griffin's suggestion
that postmodernism entails both deconstructive and constructive projects
seems accurate. According to Griffin, deconstructive postmodemism
overcomes the modem worldview by way of an "anti-world-view"
philosophy that "deconstructs or eliminates the ingredients necessary for
a worldview, such as God, self, purpose, meaning, a real world, and truth
as correspondence." 10 This trend could also be called "ultramodemism"
because it carries "modem premises to their logical conclusions." 11
Inspired by such thinkers as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and
Derrida, deconstructive postmodemism is truly philosophical in nature.
Inspired by thinkers such as Pierce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and
Hartshorne, constructive postmodemism is also philosophical in nature, 12
yet unlike deconstructive postmodemism it does not seek to overcome the
modem worldview by eliminating the possibility ofworldviews as such,
but rather "by constructing a postmodern worldview through the revision
of modem premises and traditional concepts." 13
But relentless criticism of traditionally held convictions, as is the case
in deconstructionism; or the constructing of a postmodern worldview on
the basis of modem premises are not the only options open for
postmodemity. A closer look at what Griffin denominates deconstructive
postmodernism reveals that some deconstructive thinkers do not estimate
the negative results of criticism as a dwelling, but as the starting point
from which truth is to be sought. Consequently, they become actively
involved in the perennial enterprise of searching after truth. It is well
known that in their search after truth, deconstructive postmodemists use
radically different presuppositions than those operative throughout the
In Search of New Foundations 7
classical and modern periods. They base their search not merely on the
basis of the critical rejection of classical ontological and epistemological
doctrines and their universal claim to absolute certainty, but also on the
basis of a new philosophical beginning, a philosophical beginning
adumbrated by Nietzsche and technically articulated by Heidegger. Allan
Bloom correctly explains that Heidegger went beyond mere critical
deconstructionism. He clearly perceived that "a new beginning was
imperative, and he turned with open mind to the ancients." Yet, in his
turning to the ancients, explains Bloom, Heidegger was drawn "to the
pre-Socratic philosophers, from whom he hoped to discover another
understanding of being [sic] to help him replace the exhausted one
inherited from Plato and Aristotle, which he and Nietzsche thought to be
at the root of both Christianity and modern science." 14
The foundational difference between the classical and modern ages on
one side and the postmodern age on the other ultimately hinges on the
interpretation of Being, an issue I have briefly dealt with elsewhere. is At
this point, suffice it to say that Being is taken here to mean the most
general, universal, and, therefore, primordial concept to which the human
mind has access. According to Heidegger, the question of Being deals with
the general ground on which any being (entity) can be understood. Tiris is
why Being is not to be conceived as an entity among others, but rather as
the no-thing that in its generality and primordiality grounds both the
meaning of entities and the whole of reality. 16 Aristotle understood the
science of Being as the science of the universal which lays the ground and
unity for all other sciences, including theology. 17 The classical reflection on
Being, however, did not start with Aristotle, but with Parmenides, who
advanced a timeless interpretation. 18 On this basis, the universality and
absolute certainty that characterized the classical and modem minds was
It is possible to suggest that the relentless criticism of tradition that
characterizes the postmodern mind has produced an epochal change in the
interpretation of the general nature of ultimate reality. I am referring to
the switch from the classical and modem understanding of Being as
timeless, to its temporal interpretation in postrnodernism. This change
was anticipated by Nietzsche and later became articulated in technical
detail by Heidegger. In his opening statements in Being and Time,
Heidegger gave explicit expression to this new understanding of reality:
"Our aim in the following treatise is to work out the question of the
meaning of Being and to do so concretely. Our provisional aim is the
interpretation of time as the possible horizon for any understanding
whatsoever of Being." 19 The postmodern search for truth, therefore,
presupposes a radically different concept of the ground on which reality
as a whole is to be understood. This primordial presupposition affects not
8 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
only philosophy, but also the whole scientific enterprise, including of
course, Christian theology.
Let us now briefly explore the main ways in which Christian theology
is relating to the posbnodem mind. This will allow us to assess whether
some of them are helpful in our attempt at overcoming the conflict of
interpretations regarding the revelation-inspiration question presently
dividing Christian theology. For this specific purpose, Griffin's general
classification of postmodern theology is most helpful because it presents
the main ways in which Christian theology has reacted to posbnodemity.
According to Griffin, there are three main posbnodem projects in
Christian theology, namely, the restorationist or conservative, the
constructive or revisionary, and the deconstructive or eliminative. In my
view, the first two approaches are able to assimilate only the critical
dimension of posbnodemity while rejecting its new starting point for
searching after truth. The last project not only assimilates the critical
dimension of postmodemity, but also tries to incorporate the new starting
point. In other words, it attempts to build theology on the basis of the new
beginning (interpretation of Being) articulated by Heidegger.
The restorationist-conservative project assimilates postmodern
criticism of modernity while, at the same time, attempting to overcome
it by validating the philosophical structure ofpremodernity, namely, that
of classical Aristotelic-Thomistic philosophy. This approach fits the
needs of conservative trends within Protestantism and, more definitely,
within Catholicism. Avery Dulles's postcritical approach to Catholic
theology seems to provide an example of this trend. 20 Departing from the
classical Platonic-Aristotelic intellectual framework, the constructive-
revisionist project differs from the restorationist-conservative model in
that it builds on the neoclassical version of philosophy mainly by
involving some sort of Process Philosophy. David Ray Griffin and the
early David Tracy can be mentioned as representatives of this program. 21
Finally, the deconstructive-eliminative project is formulated following
Heidegger's and Derrida's philosophies. Mark C. Taylor and Carl A.
Raschke can be quoted as representatives of this trend. 22
These theological schools developed without questioning the meaning
of revelation-inspiration at its foundational, epistemological level. The
restorationist-conservative trend does not feel the need to open up the
question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration anew because it
logically requires the restoration of the classical answers to the revelation-
inspiration question. The constructive-revisionist view follows a similar
track by adopting the liberal answer to the revelation-inspiration question.
Finally, because a deconstructive-eliminative theology builds its
reflection assuming that the transcendent God of classical and modem
theologies is dead, the question of revelation-inspiration is not even
In Search of New Foundations 9
formulated. 21 Although by its very nature, deconstructive-eliminative
theology deconstructs and rejects the classical and modem philosophical
interpretations of God, it does not necessarily eliminate the possibility of
thinking about the transcendent God of Scripture and, therefore, of
formulating the revelation-inspiration question. 24
As will become clearer further into this book, the reason I have
chosen not to follow any of the approaches described above is that the
primordial presupposition (concept of Being) and the hermeneutical
principles of theology (concepts of God, man, world, knowledge, and
articulation) necessary to interpret the question of revelation-inspiration
are not taken from the phenomena of revelation itself, but are borrowed
from humanly originated philosophies. In other words, each approach
mentioned above not only neglects relevant biblical ideas, but goes on to
replace them with nonbiblical ones. Although I share the postmodern
conviction that both the classical and modem systems of philosophy and
theology stand in need of serious ontological and epistemological
criticism, I think that the new intellectual framework ofpostmodemity,
where the process of searching after truth is addressed, allows for the
possibility of a new philosophical interpretation of the ensemble of
hermeneutical presuppositions required for the constitution of Christian
theology. And it is perfectly conceivable that this new interpretation of
the philosophical principles, required by the task of Christian theology,
be grounded not in human philosophy, but on divine revelation as
expressed in Scripture. 25
Let me explain this pivotal point further. Postmodern criticism has
shown that there is no absolute ground for truth. Reason and science are
no longer capable of producing absolute truth. 26 Besides, as Richard
Tamas has perceptively pointed out, deconstructive-eliminative
postmodern criticism has unveiled the long concealed fact that
the fund of data available to the human mind is of such intrinsic
complexity and diversity that it provides plausible support for many
different conceptions of the ultimate nature of reality. The human being
must therefore choose among a multiplicity of potentially viable options
and whatever option is chosen will in tum affect both the nature ofreality
and the choosing subject. 27
Since, according to deconstructive-eliminative postmodern criticism, the
philosophy on which the intellectual enterprise of Christian theology has
been built does not rest on the absolute, unmovable ground of human
reason, but on the hypothetical foundation of human imagination, there
is no reason to hinder Christian theology from searching for a better
ground in divine revelation. According to the general parameters and
criteria of postmodern deconstructionism, then, the attempt to interpret
the nature of ultimate reality on the basis ofbiblical revelation should, in
lO Back to Revelation-Inspiration
principle, be as intellectually sound as any attempt based on either reason
or imagination. If the meaning of the ultimate framework for
intelligibility rests on a human choice, why not choose divine revelation
as available in Scripture?
Christian theologians should realize that, according to the postmodern
mindframe, human knowledge is uncertain and relative to one's own
viewpoint. Consequently, theories, teachings, and doctrines cannot be
proved, but must be explained in both their internal and external
coherence. Therefore, instead of providing apologetic, rational
foundations for one's position, an explanation of the ground and process
through which such a position has been produced should be expected.
The path, then, is clear for Christian theology to build on nontraditional
foundations, namely, philosophy and science. Likewise, the search for the
meaning of the revelation-inspiration question can be approached from
a basis other than reason (the classical) or imagination (the modem and
postmodern options). The quest for the epistemological foundation of
theology is free to find its grounding in divine revelation-inspiration.
Postmodernism, we see, allows us to frame the question of
epistemological origins of theological knowledge in a new intellectual
setting. The revelation-inspiration question is no longer dictated by the
classical conviction that theology springs from the simple need to give
intellectual expression to what is believed in the realm of faith (theology
as fides quaerem intellectum), or on the modem need to provide an
apologetical ground for faith and theology. The postmodern search for the
meaning of revelation-inspiration springs from a sense of dissatisfaction
with answers produced during the classical and modem periods. Sharing
the dissatisfaction characteristic of postmodernity, this essay joins the
ongoing search for new intellectual foundations on which to build the
future shape of Christian theology and, through it, the experience of the
Christian community. 28
An account of the many reasons for dissatisfaction with past
philosophical and theological solutions escape the modest aim of this
investigation. One significant reason, however, can be mentioned at this
point as a preamble to the specific nature of our probe. I am referring to the
fact that past syntheses did not live up to their claims of rendering absolute
truth. One does not need to possess much acumen to understand the simple
fact that, on any given issue, there can be only one absolute truth. For
centuries, however, classical and modern philosophy and theology
produced a variety of contradictory teachings, all of them claiming to be
absolute truth. It was only a matter of time until deep dissatisfaction would
grow from such an awkward situation. Postmodern philosophical studies
suggest that the cause for the multiplicity of teachings produced by
philosophy and theology during the classical and modem periods resided
In Search of New Foundations 11
in the fact that human reason cannot achieve absolute knowledge.
Summing up what has been said in this section regarding the
postmodern mindframe, it can be affirmed that the general
epistemological concentration of postmodern criticism, and the specific
temporal-historical interpretation of Being produced by its
1leconstructionistic school, are instrumental in clearing the pathway that
may help us overcome the limitations and contradictions implicit in the
classical and liberal models of revelation-inspiration. In this book, then,
I will try to explore that pathway in hopes that it may lead us to uncover
11 new foundation for the task of exploring the wide range of issues
involved in Christian theology. Briefly put, the search for a new model
of revelation-inspiration can be achieved by framing the question of the
origination of theological data within the general parameters of the
postmodern criticism of classicism and modernism and the new general
understanding of the question of Being as outlined above. Approaching
the question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration from within the
critical and historical context of postmodemity is not a pretext for
adopting a new philosophical fad, but rather an opportunity to show how
the interpretation of the epistemological origin of theological knowledge
could be attempted on the basis of faithfulness to the so/a Scriptura
principle rather than to a philosophical or scientific teaching. Yet, how
are we to search for the meaning of revelation-inspiration when we have
no direct access to it? This question presents us with the need to identify
the starting point of our search.

3. In Search ofa Starting Point

Why is it important to give special attention to the starting point of
research? How does the issue of the starting point affect the content and
result ofan investigation? The answer to this question is simple. "Starting
point" is a technical way of referring to the data required for undertaking
any intellectual enterprise. Apparently, no research can be done without
data rendering viable and reliable access to the subject under
investigation. If the researcher is unable to fmd relevant data for his or
her investigation, there is no real justification to proceed any further. TI1at
the data finnly ground the investigation and, therefore, are the ultimate
judges regarding the truthfulness of the researcher's conclusions, is a
widely accepted scientific axiom. The methodological importance of
fmding and defining the data for any given research cannot be
overemphasized. The determination of the source of data for any research
is what I call the "starting point." The question for the starting point, then,
refers to the epistemological access to the object under examination.
Let me illustrate the importance of this pivotal point by referring to
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the way Martin Heidegger set the stage for his epochal Being and Time.
The question Heidegger asks in Being and Time is that of the meaning of
"Being."29 The question of revelation-inspiration is different from the
question of Being that Heidegger addressed. For one, the latter is
ontological in nature, while the earlier is epistemological. Additionally,
the revelation and inspiration question is formulated from within the
quarters of Christian theology, rather than from the quarters of
philosophy. The former questions the ultimate ground for the
interpretation of the meaning of reality as a whole. The latter probes into
the ultimate ground for theological discourse. The question of Being
logically precedes the question of revelation. However, from the
viewpoint of the actual process of discovery and research, the revelation
question precedes that of Being. Yet, both questions hold in common not
only their foundational nature, but the fact that their respective objects,
namely Being and revelation, are not immediately apparent to the
researcher's gaze. Consequently, the starting point for questioning their
respective subject matters becomes problematic.
Returning to our illustration, let us consider the way in which
Heidegger raises the question of the starting point from which the
research into the meaning of Being should be accomplished. Heidegger
introduces his search by questioning: "Is the starting-point optional, or
does some particular entity have priority when we come to work out the
question of Being? Which entity shall we take for our example, and in
what sense does it have priority?"30 Obviously, Heidegger is trying to
identify the source of data for his research into the concept of the
meaning of Being. Selection of data is not optional simply because it is
not possible to start searching at any given place and still expect to gain
access to the meaning and truth of the subject matter under examination.
On the contrary, selecting the source of data that will render the most
clear, complete, and explicit access to the issue under investigation is
imperative. The nature of the question Heidegger was addressing required
that from the various kinds of entities available to the researcher a source
of data be chosen. Heidegger chose "Dasein"-the human concrete
existence-as the source of data for his research.
It is necessary to target possible starting points for our research from
which to make a selection. The specific task before us, then, is to decide
the source of data on which to base our inquiry and interpretation into the
question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration.
In the question of Being approached by Heidegger, Being itself is not
directly given to the philosopher's perceptions. On this basis, the
researcher is forced to choose a specific entity, which is readily available
for examination, where the meaning of Being could become subject to
reflection and investigation. Something similar occurs in the process of
In Search of New Foundations 13
revelation. The act of divine revelation itself is not directly given to the
researcher. On this basis, the choice of a starting point or source of data
hccomes problematic. Theologians are given several possible options
from which a starting point could be selected. A criterion for choosing
our starting point from available sources of theological data is necessary.
I suggest that each contender to the starting point role should be judged
on the basis of the clarity and transparency with which it yields itself to
critical reflection on the subject matter of revelation-inspiration. If, aner
careful analysis of each given starting point, it becomes apparent that one
of them yields access to the revelation question with a higher degree of
clarity and specificity than the others, the question of the starting point
would have found its answer.
Christian theologians have recognized the existence of four main
sources of theological knowledge, namely, reason, religious experience,
tradition, and Scripture. 31 At this juncture it is crucial to bear in mind that
we are solely deciding which source will furnish the best starting point
for a careful analysis of revelation-inspiration. The specific nature of our
inquiry, then, does not compel us to deal with the matter of theological
sources at length. A cursory survey of theological sources will help us
discover which source expresses revelation-inspiration with a higher
degree of clarity and cognitive specificity. Besides evincing the process
of revelation-inspiration, the source to be chosen as starting point for our
analysis should be generally recognized by Christian theologians. For that
reason, choosing one from among the four sources already mentioned
seems advisable. With this specific purpose let us consider each source
of theological data, albeit in a very succinct way.
Reason is widely recognized as a source of theology. When a
connection between philosophy and revelation is claimed, as, for
instance, in the classical tradition, its relation to revelation-inspiration is
conceived as an expression of natural-general revelation. 32 Donald
Bloesch points out the fact that "the question of general revelation in
nature and history is inextricably tied to the question of natural
theology."u Theologians usually refer to reason not as a cognitive tool,
but as a source of philosophical and scientific teachings regarding the
natural world (natural-general revelation). 34 No detailed explanation
regarding the generality, ambiguity, and lack of specificity that
characterizes natural revelation and its interpretation as rendered by
philosophy or science is necessary to recognize that human philosophy
cannot be considered as the place where revelation-inspiration lends itself
to theological reflection with the highest degree of clarity and specificity.
Religious experience, specifically the Christian religious experience,
has also been understood by some theologians as entailing divine
revelation. As will be discussed in chapter 4, the liberal model works out
14 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
its interpretation of revelation-inspiration by choosing this source of
theological meaning as its starting point. Because the Christian
experience is associated with the Spirit of God, one might suspect its
having revelatory overtones. Those who do so usually go on to interpret
the relation between Christian experience and revelation within the
boundaries of either special or natural revelation. In other words, when
experience with the divin«r is seen as producing direct, supernaturally
originated information, we are facing a phenomenon analogous to that of
Scripture and, therefore, to the special revelation genre. But, when
experience with the divine is understood to produce a human discourse
that only indirectly originates in a noncognitive religious experience with
God, we are facing a phenomenon analogous to the natural revelation-
theology genre.
In the second half of the twentieth century, German theologian
Wolfhart Pannenberg broadened the traditional concept of natural
revelation-theology. According to Pannenberg, natural revelation includes
not only the cosmic-natural, but also the historical-human order.
Additionally, Pannenberg squarely removed the revelation experience
from the classical interpretation of the supernatural order and placed it
within the natural order. Within the natural order, Pannenberg situates
revelation primarily within the realm of human history. Closely
addressing the issue of the origin of theological knowledge, Pannenberg
asks: "In what objects of experience is God-as a problem-indirectly
co-given, and what objects of experience can therefore be considered as
possible traces of God? The only possible answer is: All objects."35
According to Pannenberg, religious experience is clearly never direct nor
cognitive. In short, religious experience never includes cognition in its
essence. Cognition comes as a second indirect moment in which human
cognition attempts to interpret the religious experience. The cognitive
interpretation of religious experience is tradition. When seen in this light,
religious experience lacks the necessary cognitive specificity clearly
required for the starting point. Besides, Pannenberg's view implies that
the starting point for theology in general and the study of revelation-
inspiration in particular embraces not only nature, but universal history.
Human history is not conceived at the level where the scientific
determination of historical facts in their objectivity is attempted
(Historie), but it is essentially tied to the level where the process of
historical experience takes place and the interpretation ofbistorical events
is formulated (Geschichte). 36 On this basis, "history" becomes the history
of the transmission of traditions not only in the realm of religions and the
humanities, but also in the realm ofnatural science. 37 If this interpretation
of Pannenberg's position is correct, the epistemological origins of
philosophy, science, and theology are the same. They all use the same
In Search of New Foundations 15
loot~. namely, reason and imagination, to reflect on the same general
pool of data, namely, history and nature. They differ only in relation to
lheir specific subject matters. Thus, whenever religious experience is
conceived as noncognitive, it shares the same generality, ambiguity, and
luck of specificity that also disqualifies reason as a possible starting point.
In the end, the Christian religious experience can be connected with
lhe epistemological origin of either special or general-natural revelation.
When religious experience is understood as cognitive and, therefore,
directly and essentially connected with the epistemological origin of
11pecial revelation, it refers to a supernatural event similar to the classical
inlerpretation of the origin of Scripture. In this case, the starting point for
lhe search for the meaning ofrevelation-inspiration in Christian theology
becomes clear, namely, Scripture. However, if religious experience is
understood as noncognitive and, therefore, only indirectly and
occidentally connected with the epistemological origin of special
revelation, it refers to a natural-historical revelation as conceived by
Punnenberg. In this case the starting point for searching for the meaning
of revelation-inspiration in Christian theology shares the characteristics
11nd limitations we have already pointed out in the discussion of reason
11s the starting point. In Pannenberg's proposal the starting point
originated by religious experience also includes the characteristics and
limitations proper to tradition.
In both the classical and liberal schools, tradition has been considered
11 necessary source of theology by most Catholic and Protestant
theologians. Tradition's connection with the Holy Spirit and, therefore,
with special revelation, has also been maintained. Recently, Avery Dulles
described the connection between tradition and revelation in the
following way: "Tradition is 'divine' insofar as it is aroused and sustained
by God; it is 'apostolic' insofar as it originates with the apostles; it is
'living' insofar as it remains contemporary with every generation." 38
Moreover, many aspects of tradition reach a high level of cognitive
specificity. In this respect, tradition has a clear advantage overreason and
experience. So, why not choose tradition as our starting point? After all,
tradition seems to fill all the conditions of clarity and specificity for
which we are searching in a starting point. Let us more closely consider
the issue of clarity.
As a contender for the role of starting point, tradition has an unrivaled
characteristic, namely, the sheer complexity and inner contradictions that
it continues to produce. Even if the guidance of the Holy Spirit is claimed
to be present in tradition, its inner systematic and programmatic
contradictions seriously cloud the epistemological clarity we expect to
find in the starting point. This factual feature prevents tradition from
exhibiting the necessary epistemological transparency required for
16 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
piercing into the meaning of revelation-inspiration as the origin of
theological meanings.
Because of such a lack of transparency, a search into the meaning of
revelation-inspiration that begins with tradition would become entangled
by the inner conflicts produced by the fact that tradition embraces a
variety of schools and trends. Furthermore, tradition lacks universality.
The absence of universality seems apparent in the fact that talking about
one single tradition is impossible. If tradition is to be considered as a
reasonable contender for the role of starting point for the probe into the
meaning of revelation-inspiration, the issue of its inner unity should be
addressed. Arguing in favor of using tradition as the starting point for
questioning the meaning of revelation-inspiration may cause some to
contend that beyond the superficial contradictions there is a deeper, inner
unity. However, the inner unity of concrete traditions is a very difficult,
precarious, and fleeting phenomenon. 39 The notion of a universal tradition
faces even greater difficulties and can be conceived only as a speculative
concept with no real correlate in historical reality. Moreover, even those
that may espouse tradition as the proper starting point for probing into the
meaning of revelation-inspiration may not necessarily agree in the
specific tradition to be utilized, nor the meaning in which the concept of
tradition should be understood. 40 An epistemological search after the
meaning of revelation-inspiration attempted on the basis of a starting
point that is not universally accepted is self defeating, because it will be
unable to render a potentially valid interpretation for all Christians.
Finally, even proponents of what could be labeled as a "high view" of
tradition recognize that another source qualitatively exceeds tradition in
its connection with revelation-inspiration. As a representative of this
"high view" of tradition, Dulles explains that "thanks to this divine
source, tradition is of equal dignity with Scripture. It is temporally
antecedent to, concomitant with, and subsequent to Scripture.
Nevertheless, it falls short of Scripture insofar as it is not available in
inspired and canonical texts.',.. 1 I believe Dulles is correct in pointing out
that some traditions have only temporal priority over Scripture, whereas
Scripture, because of its inspired and canonical status, has qualitative
priority over tradition as a whole. This recognition clearly shows that the
quality of"inspiration" we are questioning is adjudicated to Scripture and
not to tradition. It seems, then, that Scripture should be chosen over
tradition as the starting point for searching for the meaning of revelation-
The analysis of the various sources of theological meanings, which
have been and continue to be entertained by various theological trends
within Christian theology, directs our search in only one direction,
namely, that the starting point for the epistemological criticism of
In Search of New Foundations 17
1evclation-inspiration must be the Christian canonical Scripture.
Since Scripture is universally recognized by all Christian traditions as
huving been produced by revelation-inspiration it appears to be the place
where the phenomenon under critical scrutiny is accessible in the highest
level of transparency and epistemological specificity. Christian
theologians may disagree on the meaning of revelation-inspiration in
relation to Scripture, or what it might mean in relation to the other
,murces of theological data, yet they would hardly address the revelation-
inspiration question on a starting point other than Scripture. That some
may do otherwise is possible, but difficult to imagine. It is in Scripture,
then, that we find the starting point for an epistemological criticism of the
origination of theological data for Christian theology.
Now that the starting point for our probe into the meaning of
revelation and inspiration as the question regarding the origination of
theological data has been identified as Scripture, we can focus our
ollention on the nature of our investigation.

4. The Turn to the Subject

An expedited clarification of the nature of the search for the meaning of
revelation-inspiration requires a brief detour in order to consider the
intellectual context within which the revelation-inspiration question is
formulated. Interpreters of the history of Western thought generally agree
in assessing its classical period, broadly spanning from the Greeks to the
Renaissance, as an era during which the human spirit undertook the
gigantic enterprise of interpreting reality as a whole. The classical mind
was paramountly concerned with the interpretation of reality and not with
the patterns of its own functioning and its inherent limitations.
Technically speaking, the classical mind ranked ontological and
metaphysical concerns over epistemological ones. This feature of the
classical period must not be construed as a primordial gigantic oversight
of critical analysis, but recognized as its unavoidable destiny. On this
regard I agree with Kant when he recognized that "it is, indeed, the
common fate of human reason in speculation, to finish the imposing
edifice of thought as rapidly as possible, and then for the first time to
begin to examine whether the foundation is a solid one or not.',.. 2 The
critical analysis of the characteristic of modernism and postmodernism
assumes the existence of an interpretation to criticize. The classical period
was a necessary condition for the onset of critical analysis.
Christian theology did not escape this historical dynamic. During the
classical period theologians developed various views on the
epistemological origin of Scripture. As we will see in chapter 3, during
the classical age, the topic of revelation and inspiration was neither an
18 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
issue of concern nor of disagreement. However, theologians were aware
of the epistemological nature of the revelation-inspiration question and
some of them addressed and explained it in technical detail. Thomas
Aquinas's works are a major example of the way in which the revelation-
inspiration issue was addressed during the classical period.
Within this historical and philosophical context, the modem age
appeared as a "turn to the subject." Modernism does not start by
interpreting reality as a whole (ontological emphasis), but by interpreting
the thinking individual. Reasons for this change are many. An analysis of
them, however, will lead us away from the specific purpose of this
exploration. Within the tum from interpreting reality as a whole to the
interpretation of the human subject that characterizes the modem age, a
very important dimension is often overlooked, particularly in relation to
the issue of revelation and inspiration. Early in the seventeenth century,
Rene Descartes, dissatisfied with the philosophic and scientific synthesis
produced during the classical period, turned his attention to the
foundations on which the classical synthesis had been conceived,
formulated, and transmitted. 43 By the end of the eighteenth century,
Immanuel Kant argued that "philosophy stands in need of a science which
shall determine the possibility, principles, and extent of human knowledge
a priori.,...,. Kant did more than argue in favor of this new science, he helped
epistemology reach independence among philosophical disciplines.
This new independent discipline set for itself a very specific task: the
critical assessment of the main tool employed in the development of
Western thought, namely, reason. The modem search for truth was no
longer motivated by the classical question: What do we know? The
question became: How do we know what we know? Without forsaking
the classical desire to know the truth about reality, the spirit of the
modem age became ignited by the passion for ascertaining how we know
what is true. This led modernism to a careful analysis of the instruments
and procedures used in the search for truth. In short, the spirit of the
modem age started questioning the validity, appropriateness, and ground
for the cognitive procedures required in the search for truth.
We should bear in mind that the modem "tum to the subject" involved
two poles, namely, the ontological and the epistemological. The ontological
pole is the best known. It refers to the modem tendency to build the whole
edifice of truth on the ontological reality of the human subject. Notable
representatives of this trend in philosophy are Cartesian rationalism,
Kantian transcendentalism, and German idealism. Wolfhart Pannenberg is
a representative of this trend in theology .45 Emphasis on the ontological pole
ofJhe modem "tum to the subject" allowed the modem age to continue with
the classical enterprise of interpreting reality as a whole, while focusing on
the subject rather than the world as its source of certainty.
In Search of New Foundations 19
In my opinion, a positive and enduring contribution of the modem age
to the enterprise of searching after truth can be appreciated in connection
with the much-neglected epistemological pole of the modem age's "tum
to the subject." The epistemological facet of the modem "tum to the
subject" refers not to the construction of truth on the basis of the subject
os ultimate ontological ground, but to the critical investigation of the
grounds and methods on which any teaching about reality as a whole (i.e.,
realism. idealism, materialism. evolutionism) is constituted. The
epistemological enterprise is known under a variety of names, for
instance, Criticism and Epistemology. The epistemological pole of
modernity continues to play a major role in postmodern times thus setting
the intellectual stage for a postmodern approach to the revelation-
inspiration doctrine.

5. Approaching Revelation-Inspiration
After this too-brief reference to the history of Western thought, let us
return to the issue under discussion, namely, the nature of our search into
the meaning ofrevelation and inspiration. Revelation and inspiration have
generally been approached within the rules and limitations of the
dogmatic, historical, exegetical, and apologetical areas of theological
research. Both the classical and liberal models of revelation and
inspiration have been formulated within these areas and the approaches
that they involve. In other words, both existing models are explanations
motivated by the spirit and passion of classical Western thought, namely,
the search for truth. However, as I previously explained, the contents of
the two models produced by this general approach are contradictory in
the Kantian sense. Because of this contradiction, it would be advisable to
explore the possibility of overcoming the classical and liberal models by
concentrating our search on the epistemological area of inquiry proper to
the interest and passion of the modem and postmodern Western mind.
Another reason for recommending that an assessment of the
revelation-inspiration question be conducted within the epistemological
area springs from the nature of the issue. Let us ask ourselves: What is the
subject matter or issue demanding clarification in revelation-inspiration?
The answer is simple. The issue demanding clarification under the label
of revelation-inspiration is the question about the possibility and origin
of theological knowledge. The subject matter studied, then, also calls for
an epistemological investigation. 46 Clearly the epistemological nature of
the subject matter demands an epistemological analysis. Our discussion
so far has shown that the epistemological nature of the inquiry into the
revelation and inspiration issue ensues from at least two important
20 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
considerations, namely, the subject matter of revelation-inspiration, and
the conflict of interpretations that its study has generated within Christian
The epistemological nature of the revelation-inspiration question has
been recognized by many Christian theologians. Chapters 4 and 5 deal
with the way in which influential Christian authors have answered the
epistemological question ofrevelation-inspiration. As already anticipated,
this analysis will reveal that the answers so far produced by Christian
theology have rendered two opposite models. Thus, the task facing
Christian theology at the beginning of the twenty-first century consists
not only in searching for answers to the epistemological question
regarding the origin of theological knowledge, but also in trying to
overcome the conflict of interpretations we have inherited from previous
generations. The study of this implicit challenge also falls within the
epistemological area and becomes an additional reason for pursuing our
inquiry into the revelation-inspiration issue from an epistemological

6. Priority of the Revelation-Inspiration Question over

The Dogmatic Definition of Theological Sources
At this point, let us consider the route our investigation will take. Are we
to deal with the revelation-inspiration issue only at the theoretical level
without any direct relation to the concrete level in which the revelation-
inspiration process expresses itself through its alleged results? It appears
to me that a purely theoretical look at the issue of the epistemological
origination of Scripture from the viewpoint of the doctrine of Scripture
as presented by Scripture and a theoretical interpretation of revelation-
inspiration are not only possible, but necessary. However, when the
question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration is formulated
epistemologically it becomes necessary to follow a broader approach. A
comprehensive account of the epistemological origination of Scripture
has to include both the doctrine and the phenomena of Scripture. The
doctrine of Scripture involves all the claims that Scripture makes about
its origin and nature, whereas the phenomena of Scripture embrace all the
concrete characteristics of Scripture as a written work.
During a considerable part of the classical period Christian theology
labored under the general working assumption that Scripture was not self-
sufficient Theology needed to incorporate nonbiblical data not only to
complement scriptural data, but also to gain access to the meaning of the
biblical data themselves. 47 This complementary role was usually played
by a combination of philosophy and tradition. During the Reformation
period, the sola Scriptura principle was heralded as the ground for
In Search of New Foundations 21
( '.hristian theology. Theoretically, the so/a Scriptura principle involved,
111 least, a foundational, twofold self-sufficiency. First, Scripture was
thought to be a self-sufficient source of theological data. 49 This implies
that Christian theology does not need to draw doctrines from any of the
other alternative sources, namely, philosophy, experience, or tradition.
The second connotation in which Scripture was meant to be self-
1mfficient according to the so/a Scriptura principle is the conviction about
the c/aritas Scripturae, and that Scriptura Scripturam interpretatur. so
According to the second connotation, Scripture is sufficient in the sense
that its meanings are clear and that the process of interpretation does not
need to draw principles and categories from extrabiblical sources. In my
opinion, the second sense holds the key to the first sense and to the
viability of the so/a Scriptura principle. As will become apparent
throughout this investigation, the workability of this second sense will
play a substantial role in overcoming the classical and liberal models of
During the modem and posbnodem periods, Christian theology held
the classical view that Scripture is not self-sufficient. Consequently,
modem and posbnodem views regarding the sources of theology continue
to include, in addition to Scripture, the classical ones: philosophy,
religious experience, tradition, and science. This view, combined with the
new philosophical and scientific teachings of modernity and
posbnodemity sets the stage for the contemporary conviction that the
so/a Scriptura principle is in crisis. This crisis, explains Pannenberg,
comes as a direct result of applying historical research to the study of
Scripture. "The development of historical research led to the dissolution
of the Scripture principle, at least as seventeenth-century orthodoxy held
it. The result is the crisis in the foundations of Christian theology which
has become more and more acute during the last hundred years." 51 The
crisis Pannenberg underlines is real and should not be belittled. However,
Pannenberg shows the crisis of the so/a Scriptura principle as taking
place within the area of methodological foundations of theological
sources and not in relation to the starting point in the search for the
meaning of revelation-inspiration.
At this point I am not arguing the issue of theological sources.
Consequently, I am not arguing about whether or not Christian theology
should be built on the foundation of the so/a Scriptura principle.
However, I am suggesting that the search for the meaning ofrevelation-
inspiration must be examined on the basis of the faithful and consistent
application of the so/a Scriptura principle. After clarifying the question
of revelation-inspiration we will be in a position to deal with the issue of
theological sources and with the question of whether Christian theology
could be built on the basis of the so/a Scriptura principle. This procedure
22 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
flows from the hermeneutical priority of the revelation question over the
issue of theological sources.
Again it is necessary to recognize that the question of revelation-
inspiration directly relates to the ongoing discussion of the nature and role
of theological sources. It is not my intention in this book to address the
foundational issue of sources of Christian theology, instead let me briefly
underline the relation that exists between revelation-inspiration and the
sources of theological data.
The investigation of the epistemological origin of Scripture, namely
the question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration, holds logical
priority over the issue of theological sources. Let me explain.
Theologians assess the nature and function of theological sources based
on an explicit or implicit theory of revelation-inspiration. When any
source is considered for a theological role, answers to the revelation-
inspiration question are assumed. Only on that basis can a source be
classified as theological. The question of the meaning of revelation-
inspiration does not require the interpretation of theological sources. Only
the selection of a starting point from among universally accepted
contenders to the role of sources of theological data is required. The
revelation-inspiration issue, then, hermeneutically precedes the question
of theological sources.
Karl Barth recognized the priority of the question of revelation over the
question of theological sources. ' 2 Yet, Barth failed to formulate the question
of revelation epistemologically. Instead, he approached the question of
revelation within a threefold strategy. Fiist, he disconnected the question of
revelation from the epistemological question of revelation-inspiration we are
formulating here. Second, he formulated the question of revelation within the
ontic level. And third, Barth subordinated the question of the origin of
Scripture to the ontic question of the faith-experience of the believer. 53 Thus,
the priority in the theological inquiry shifted from the epistemological to the
ontological-existentialist level. The problem with this approach is that
foundational theological concepts are being defined prior to the critical
investigation regarding the origin and nature of the data (sources) involved.
In so doing, Christian theology is bound to uncritically assume or create
answers for the epistemological question of revelation-inspiration and for the
question of theological sources. In short, theology is built in absence of a
critical analysis of its epistemological foundations. Thus, failing to formulate
the epistemological question of revelation-inspiration at the beginning of the
theological enterprise does not mean that Barth is not already assuming a very
specific interpretation of both the·question of revelation-inspiration and the
question of theological sources."' It only means that he builds a theological
corpus, in which the epistemological foundations have not been critically
In Search of New Foundations 23
The basic reason for underlining the logical and hermeneutic priority
of the question of revelation-inspiration over the question of theological
Nources becomes apparent when one realizes that the revelation-
inspiration search into the epistemological origination of Scripture
uddresses the very ground on which any claim to the status of theological
11ource for Christian theology could be entertained. If a direct connection
between the epistemological origin of a source of data and the subject
matter which Christian theology attempts to clarify cannot be established,
it becomes superfluous and misguided to affirm such a source on
historical, apologetical, or dogmatical grounds. Thus, the decision about
which theological sources Christian theology should build its teachings
on assumes an interpretation of the meaning of revelation-inspiration. In
the end, what qualifies any source of data is the possibility of detecting
its origination from the same subject matter selected in the scientific
search for truth. In Christian theology the study and interpretation of such
foundational epistemological origination are concrete tasks of the
revelation-inspiration doctrine.
Many possible options are open to the theologian in regard to the
subject matter of Christian theology. All theological traditions seem to
share one common denominator, namely, that the subject matter of
theology includes, at the very least, the idea of God. If the knowledge of
God and His will is the subject matter of theology, the process of
establishing the connection between the source of data and the subject
matter holds not only logical and chronological priority over the issue of
theological sources, but also becomes the necessary condition for
determining the issue of theological sources. Neither historical,
apologetical, nor dogmatical arguments will suffice in the attempt to
decide the epistemological issue of theological sources.
Let us return now to the revelation-inspiration question. From what
has been said so far, concluding that the interpretation of the revelation-
inspiration doctrine holds priority over the issue of theological sources
seems reasonable. The epistemological description dealing with the
classical and liberal models of revelation-inspiration to be undertaken in
chapters 3 and 4 will reveal that both models share two very important
methodological characteristics. Neither of them was conceived assuming
the so/a Scriptura principle. In other words, these models have been
conceived without regard for the so/a Scriptura principle and closely
depend on philosophical and scientific systems. Moreover, neither model
recognizes the priority of the epistemological approach to the revelation-
inspiration issue over the determination of the sources of theology on
historical and apologetical grounds. Since the tangible outcome of sharing
such common methodological traits has played a significant role in
causing the present state of division and decadence found in Christianity
24 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it seems advisable to start
with theological reflections that consciously revisit the revelation-
inspiration issue. Overcoming the limitations and inadequacies of the
classical and liberal models calls for a revision and revertion of these two
methodological convictions. This investigation, consequently, will probe
into the epistemological origination of Scripture from a methodological
retrieval of the so/a Scriptura principle, specifically in the sense that
Scriptura Scripturam interpretatur, and concomitantly, by accepting the
logical priority of the revelation-inspiration question to the theological-
sources issue.

7 . Disciplinary Priority of Revelation-

Inspiration over Hermeneutics
Critical reflections during the last two centuries have made it clear that
the role of Scripture in theology is connected not only to the revelation-
inspiration issue, but also to the bermeneutical problem. 55 At the close of
the second millennium, the issue of revelation and inspiration was
overshadowed by the discussion of hermeneutics. Heidegger, Gadamer,
Ricoeur, and Betti56 were philosophers who broke new ground in the
study of hermeneutics during the twentieth century and exercised a
decisive and growing influence in the area of theological studies. As a
result, theologians have become aware that hermeneutics addresses a
foundational question that directly or indirectly relates to human
cognition and, therefore, to Christian theology in general and to the
understanding of revelation and inspiration in particular. Therefore, we
must discover whether the question of hermeneutics bolds methodological
priority over revelation-inspiration in Christian theology.
Without revelation and inspiration there would be nothing to interpret
in the area of Christian theology. Hermeneutics is the science that studies
the dynamics of communication in humanly originated meanings and
their interpretation. The issue that hermeneutics investigates assumes the
existence of meanings in communication. The origin of theological
meanings is the subject matter of revelation and inspiration. Therefore,
it seems reasonable to conclude that in the realm of Christian theology the
question of revelation-inspiration has methodological priority over the
question of hermeneutics. Although this is neither the time nor the place
to discuss the complex relationship that exists between revelation-
inspiration and hermeneutics in the methodology and practice ofChristian
theology, it is necessary to briefly state the sense in which revelation-
inspiration has priority over hermeneutics.
Revelation-inspiration has methodological priority over hermeneutics
because the latter can only work on the basis of the contents produced by
In Search of New Foundations 25
lhe former. However, the discussions and conclusions of hermeneutics
will rest on the nature and particularities of its object, namely, the
meaning that is being communicated. Consequently, theological
henneneutics must rest on the meanings given to it for interpretation to
occur and, consequently, on the process that originated them.
'lbe methodological priority of revelation-inspiration over hermeneutics
IIKRumes the intrinsic interdependence that exists between them in the
constitution and formulation of any Christian doctrine. As the various
interpretations of revelation-inspiration are attempted, herrneneutical
p11tterns are necessarily assumed.

8. Overcoming Theological Models

Poul Ricoeur has correctly underlined that the interpreter suddenly
arrives, "as it were, in the middle of a conversation which has already
hegun and in which we try to orientate ourselves in order to be able to
contribute to it. " 57 The inquiry into the meaning of the epistemological
origin of the cognitive contents of Scripture cannot be properly
undertaken unless earlier attempts are given careful consideration. This
iN the reason why serious consideration should be given to the classical
1111d liberal models. Yet, how should we insert ourselves into the ongoing
conversation on revelation-inspiration? How should we relate to previous
attempts at interpreting this issue? Should we analyze both models with
the purpose of choosing one? Or should we become aware of the reason
why we must reject both?
It appears that the concept of "sublating" that Hegel described in
,~·ncyclopaedia ofthe Philosophical Sciences5 8 and Science ofLogic 59 and
the concept of "overcoming" which he employed in relation to the
problem of metaphysics60 are helpful in describing the basic strategy
required when the question of the meaning of revelation-inspiration is
explored historically. In this analysis, the historical dimension is required
because we insert our reflection within an ongoing discussion. Nicolai
llartmann explains that the Hegelian concept of sublating (Aujheben)
includes a double meaning. 61 The idea of overcoming, as used in this
inquest, concurrently involves a critical suppression of specific aspects
of previous theories and a complementary and rather conservative
movement of preserving other definite aspects present in both
traditionally received models of revelation-inspiration. Thus, the
procedure I will follow is neither critical nor deconstructive in a negative
sense, but rather involves a critical and constructive methodology that
calls for a discriminating integration of definite aspects underlined by
previous models of revelation-inspiration.
In a broad sense, it could be argued that the classical and liberal
26 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
models of revelation-inspiration stand in dialectical opposition. Frank
Ramsey explains: "It is a heuristic maxim that the truth lies not in one of
the two disputed views but in some third possibility which has not yet
been thought of, which we can only discover by rejecting something
assumed as obvious by both the disputants. " 62 Therefore, the true
meaning of revelation-inspiration is not found in either the classical or
liberal models because of an assumption that both implicitly and
uncritically adopt. This bring us to Heidegger's concept of overcoming:
"To overcome [ Oberwinden] does not mean to dispose of, but to have at
one's disposition in a new way .'"'3 The overcoming, then, means to see,
or interpret, the same in a new way. The new interpretation springs from
thinking the truth of the ground of that which is overcome. 64 In our case,
the overcoming of the classical and liberal models of revelation-
inspiration requires that we should think, even briefly, about the truth of
its ground. In the quest for the truth of the ground of revelation-
inspiration we will find the common assumption that both models took
for granted, and that will give us the necessary basis for suppressing and
preserving features included in both the classical and liberal models.
Thus, the conflict of interpretations regarding the meaning of revelation-
inspiration will be overcome by a new understanding springing from the
truth of its ground.
In order to avoid the twin dangers of being arbitrary, and producing
an eclectic juxtaposition of ideas without any clear intellectual unity, it is
necessary to begin by examining the ground from which the suppressing
and preserving in the overcoming may be attempted. The ground will be
addressed in chapter 2. Consequently, the starting point to determine the
ground of our search must be Scripture. The process of overcoming the
classical and liberal models will result in the proposal of a new model that
I have chosen to call the historical-cognitive model of revelation-
inspiration. The first step will be to set the ground for the overcoming of
the classical and liberal models. Second, the issue of methodology will be
explored. Third, the classical and liberal models will be considered.
Finally, the historical-cognitive model will be outlined.
The overcoming of the classical and liberal models by way of the
historical-cognitive model has repercussions for the task of theology in
general and for theological methodology in particular, specifically in the
area of Fundamental Theology. The final chapter will explore some ways
in which the historical-cognitive model impacts upon the task of Christian
In Search of New Foundations 27
Immanuel Kant, Critique ofPure Reason, trans. J.M.D. Meiklejohn (Buffalo,
NY: Prometheus, 1990), 238.
Regarding advances in the area of Fundamental Theology see for instance
Randy L. Maddox, Toward an Ecumenical Fundamental Theology (Chico, CA:
Scholars Press, 1984); Francis Schilssler Fiorenza, Foundational Theology: Jesus
and the Church (New York: Crossroad, 1984 ); and Johannes B. Metz, ed., The
Development of Fundamental Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1969).
Regarding the development ofhenneneutics, see the contributions of Hans-Georg
Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, trans. David E. Linge (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1976); Paul Ricoeur, Essays on Biblical
l11terpretation, ed. Lewis S. Mudge (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); idem, From
Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II, trans. Kathleen Blarney and John B.
Thompson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991 ); idem,
Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus ofMeaning (Fort Worth: Texas
Christian University Press, 1976); idem, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-
disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert
Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1977); idem, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on
Language, Action and Interpretation, ed. and trans. John Thompson (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1981 ); Edgard V. McKnight, Meaning in Texts: The
1/istorical Shaping of a Narrative Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978);
and G. B. Madison, The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity: Figures and Themes
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).
Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the
World in a Transitional Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterV arsity, 1992), 10.
Hans Kilng, Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View, trans.
Peter Heinegg (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 4.
Ibid., 3.
Friedreich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Thomas Common (New
York: Random House, w/d), 56, l.
Sheila Greeve Davaney, Theology at the End of Modernity (Philadelphia:
Trinity, 1991), l.
'Martin Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn a/Western Philosophy,
trans. David Farrell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi (New York: Harper Collins,
1975), 17.
Grenz and Olson, l 0.
°0. R. Griffin, W. Beardslee, and J. Holland, Varieties of Postmodern

Theology (Albany: State University of New York, 1989), xii.

See David Ray Griffin et al., Founders of Constructive Postmodern
Philosophy: Price, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1993).
28 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
uGriffin, Varieties of Postmodern Theology, xii.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon &
Schuster, I 987), 310.
See my A Criticism of Theological Reason: Time and Timelessness as
Primordial Presuppositions (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press,
1987), 66-84, 115-130.
Martin Heidegger asks: "How did it come about that beings take precedence
everywhere and lay claim to every 'is' while that which is not a being is
understood as Nothing, though it is Being itself, and remains forgotten?" (''The
Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysics," in Philosophy in the Twentieth
Century, ed. William Barret and Henry D. Aiken (New York: Random House,
1962), 218. Heidegger further clarifies that the Nothing that is Being "is neither
an object nor anything that 'is' at all. Nothing occurs neither by itself nor 'apart
from' what-is, as a sort of adjunct. Nothing is that which makes the revelation of
what-is as such possible for our human existence. Nothing not merely provides
the conceptual opposite of what-is but also an original part of essence (Wesen).
It is in the Being (Sein) of what-is that the nihilation ofNothing (das Nichten des
Nichts) occurs" ("What is Metaphysics?" in Existence and Being, ed. Werner
Brock [Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949], 340.
"Metaphysics, 11.1,3,7.
Parrnenides stated: "Being has no coming-into-being and no destruction, for
it is whole of limb, without motion, and without end. An it never Was, nor Will
Be, because it Is now, a Whole all together, One, continuous." (Fragments 6, 7
in Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers: A Complete Translation of the
Fragments in Diels, "Fragments der Vorsokratilcer," ed. Kathryn Freeman
[Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1948], 43).
Martin Heidegger, Time and Being, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward
Robinson (New York: Harper and Collins, 1962), 1. In the same general line of
thought Jean-Paul Sartre affirmed the "monism of the phenomenon," which
departs from the classical and modem dualism between appearance and reality.
According to Sartre, then, "the dualism of being and appearance is no longer
entitled to any legal status within philosophy. The appearance refers to the total
series of appearances and not to a hidden reality which would drain to itself all
the being of the existent. And the appearance for its part is not an inconsistent
manifestation of this being" (Being and Nothingness: An Essay on
Phenomenological Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes [New York: Philosophical
Library, 1956], xiv).
Avery Dulles, The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System (New York:
Crossroad, 1992), 3-15.
David Ray Griffin, God and Religion in the Postmodern World: Essays in
Postmodern Theology (Albany: State University of New York, 1989), 13-27; and
David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (San
Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 172-191. In his more recent Plurality and
In Search of New Foundations 29
Ambiguity David Tracy seems to lean more toward the deconstructive-eliminative
project (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 28-65.
Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1984); idem, Deconstructing Theology, vol. 28, American
Academy of Religion Studies in Religion (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982); and
Carl A. Raschke, The Alchemy ofthe Word: Language and the End of Theology
(Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979).
Taylor, 19-33, 97-120.
Mark C. Taylor recognizes that his "Ntheology is, in large measure, a
critique of the notion of the transcendent God, who is 'self-closed, all-
repelling"'(ibid., 104).
Facing the challenge of postmodernity will necessarily bring Christian
thinkers back to their sources. For instance, J. Richard Middleton and Brian J.
Walsh suggest that "without a renewed rooting in the Scriptures, Christians will
have nothing to say to postmodemity and no basis for living as Christians in a
postmodern culture. So the first indispensable step we need to take is to immerse
ourselves in the Bible as the nonnegotiable, canonical foundation of our faith"
(Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age
[Downers Grove, IL: lnterVarsity, 1995], 173-174). However, very little will be
accomplished if Christians, immersing themselves in the nonnegotiable
foundation of Scripture, persist in understanding it in various and contradictory
ways. A serious answer to postmodemity, then, must question the basis of biblical
interpretation, and the hermeneutical question must search to establish its ground
on the meaning of revelation-inspiration. If the question for the meaning of
revelation-inspiration is not asked and answered from within biblical philosophy,
Christian thinkers will continue to use Scripture from the fragmentation of their
own personal cultural perspectives instead of thinking from the inner logic of
biblical thought.
Richard Tamas, The Passion ofthe Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas
That have Shaped Our World View (New York: Ballantine, 1993), 398-399.
lbid., 406.
See, for instance, Davaney, I.
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 19.
fbid., 26.
For a brief introduction to the traditional approach to the sources of
theology, see Thomas C. Oden, The Living God (New York: HarperCollins,
1992), 330-344. John Macquarrie speaks of six formative factors, namely,
"experience, revelation, scripture, tradition, culture, reason" (4).
nThe First Vatican Council, agreeing with Thomas Aquinas, "teaches that
God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the
natural light of human reason from created things" in its "Dogmatic Constitution
concerning the Catholic Faith" (Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic
30 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari [Saint Louis: B. Herder, 1957], 1785); see also the
Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," 1.6, in
The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, trans. and ed. Joseph
Gallagher [New York: America Press, 1966], 114).
Donald Bloesch, A Theology of Word and Spirit: Authority and Method in
Theology (Downers Grove, IL: lnterVarsity Press, 1992), 159-160.
For this reason it is possible to find thinkers who, like Diogenes Allen,
straightfoiwardly affirm "the two main sources of Christian theology are the
Bible and Hellenic culture, especially Greek philosophy" (Philosophy for
Understanding Theology [Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1985], I). The ways in which
Protestantism employs philosophy in the theological task does not evince the
consistency or explicitness characteristic of Catholicism. In general Protestantism
tries to limit the role of reason to a methodological function. Richard Muller
concludes that "the Protestant scholastic use of reason derives not from a desire
to create a synthesis of theology and philosophy but rather from a clearly
perceived and enunciated need to use the tools of reason in the construction of
theological system" (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. I, Prolegomena
to Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987], 248).
Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the Philosophy of Science, trans.
Francis McDonagh (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 302.
"History," explains Pannenberg, "is not composed of raw or so-called brute
facts. As the history of man, the history of revelation is always bound up with
understanding, in hope and remembrance. The development of understanding is
itself an event in history. In their fundamental givenness, these elements are not
to be separated from history; history is also the history of the transmission of
history. The natural events that are involved in the history of a people have no
meaning apart from the connection with the traditions and expectations in which
men live" ("Dogmatic Thesis on the Doctrine of Revelation," in Revelation as
History, ed. Wolfhart Pannenberg, trans. David Granskou [New York: Macmillan,
1968], 152).
See ibid., 303 and ff.
Dulles, I 03.
Delwin Brown recognizes the plurality and ambiguity of each concrete
tradition. In order to avoid the chaos, sheer change, and fragmentation, generated
by the historical nature of tradition, Brown proposes that tradition should be
understood as the "cultural negotiation of identity that takes place within, and
with, a canon" (Boundaries of Our Habitations: Tradition and Theological
Construction [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994], 67). More
explicitly: "Tradition is cultural negotiation circumscribed by a canon, a more or
less explicit field of play formed in history" (ibid., 77). Thus, there can be no one
single tradition, but a plurality of traditions (see ibid., 90). Brown introduces the
idea of"cultural canon" not to ground a universal or permanent tradition, but to
allow concrete cultural phenomena a momentary pull of identity that may open
a "space for the existential quest" (ibid., 84).
In Search of New Foundations 31
When the concept of tradition is closely analyzed the result is by no means
monolithic. See, for instance, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London:
Sheed and Ward, 1975); and Brown.
Gadamer, 103-104.
Kant, 6.
"See Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, trans. Laurence J. Lafleur (New
York: Liberal Arts Press, 1960); and idem, Meditations, trans. John Veitch (La
Salle, IL: Open Court, 190 I).
"Kant, 4.
See Wolfhart Pannenberg, Metaphysics and the Idea of God, trans. Philip
Clayton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 43-68.
Within the Theological Encyclopedia the study of revelation-inspiration
falls within the scope ofFundarnental Theology. Among the many facets included
within the broad area covered by Fundamental Theology the assessment of
theological data is included (Maddox, I 06); see also John Macquarrie, Principles
of Christian Theology, 2d ed. [New York: Scribner's, 1977], 84-103).
Undoubtedly the issue of theological sources includes more than the
epistemological origin of Scripture. For instance, within the Catholic tradition
questions regarding the way in which the resurrection of Christ and the institution
of the church are placed at the very epistemological foundation of theology (see
Fiorenza, 42-46, 170-171 ). Due to its adherence to the so/a Scriptura principle
the Protestant tradition correctly places the epistemological origination of
Scriptures at the very foundation of theological data. Clarification of the
revelation-inspiration issue, as well as the herrneneutical issue of logical and
methodological, preceeds the understanding of resurrection and ecclesiological
During the medieval period Scripture was understood in sensu patrum.
"Exegesis became almost synonymous with tradition, for the good commentator
was the scholar who handed on faithfully what he had received" (Robert E.
McNally, The Bible in the Early Middle Ages [Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press,
1959], 29). According to Avery Dulles, "Scripture is formally insufficient. In
other words, tradition is needed for a sufficient grasp of the word of God, even
though it be assumed that all revelation is somehow contained in Scripture"
(Dulles, 97).
"See also John Calvin, Institutes, I. 7. I; Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An
Introduction to His Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), 96, 97.
Ebeling suggests that for Luther "theology consisted of the interpretation of
the holy scripture. This task was completely identified in his mind with the question
which constantly pursued him of his standing in the sight of God. For he never
doubted that the will of God was revealed and comprehensible to men solely though
the holy scripture" (96). See also Alister McGrath, The /ntel/ectual Origins ofthe
European Refonnation (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 148; and Stanley J. Grenz,
Theology for the Community of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994).
32 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Martin Luther states: ''The Holy Scripture must needs be clearer, easier of
interpretation and more certain than any other scripture, for all teachers prove their
statements by them, as by clearer and more stable writings, and wish their own
writings to be established and explained by them" ("An Argument in Defense of all
the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roma Bull," in Works
of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Castle, 1930], 3: 16). For an exposition of the
claritas Scripturae concept see Martin Luther, The Bondage ofthe Will, trans. J. I.
Packer and 0. R. Johnston (London: James Clarke, 1957), 2. 3; 3. 4, 5; see also LW,
32, 217. The so/a Scriptura principle also requires and includes the idea of self-
sufficiency. Paul Althaus finds that Luther's view on the authority of Scripture
"precludes the possibility that the standard ofits interpretation could somehow come
from outside itself. It also includes the fact that it interprets itself; and this self-
interpretation is therefore the most certain, most easy, and most clear interpretation"
(The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz [Philadelphia: Fortress,
1966], 76). For a brief historical introduction to the Protestant so/a Scriptura
principle, see Frank Hase!, "Scripture in the Theologies ofW. Pannenberg and D.
G. Bloesch: An Investigation and Assessment oflts Origin, Nature, and Use" (Ph.D.
Dissertation, Andrews University, 1994), 17-59.
Wolfhart Pannenberg, "The Crisis of the Scripture-Principle in Protestant
Theology," Dialog 2 (1963): 310.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. T. Thomson, 4 vols. (Edinburgh:
T. & T. Clark, 1936), 1/1, 339.
lbid., 339-340.
1n chapter 5, I deal with Barth's interpretation of the epistemological
dimension of revelation-inspiration.
For an introduction to hermeneutics, see Josef Bleicher, Contemporary
Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics as Method, Philosophy and Critique (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980); and Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the
Philosophy of Science, 156-224.
Regarding contributions made by Hans-Georg Gadarner and Paul Ricoeur
see fn. 4 above. The contributions ofEmilio Betti can be appreciated in his Teoria
Generate de/la /nterpretazione (Milano: Dott. A. Giuffre Editore, 1990), and
"Hermeneutics es the General Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaften," in
Contemporary Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics as Method, Philosophy and Critique,
ed. Josef Bleicher (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).
Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, l 08.
Hegel explains that the German word aujheben has a double meaning: "to
clear away, or annul," as well as "to keep, or preserve" (Encyclopaedia of the
Philosophical Sciences, part I: The Logic, 3d ed., trans. William Wallace
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975], I. 7. §96).
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Science ofLogic, ed. H. D. Lewis, trans. A.
V. Miller, (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1969), 106-107 [I. I. C. 3].
In Search of New Foundations 33
Martin Heidegger, The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New
York: Harper & Row, 1973), 84-110. A concise explanation of the way
Heidegger's thought developed in regard to the specific issue of overcoming
metaphysics has been presented by Dominique Janicaud, "Overcoming
Metaphysics," in Heidegger: From Metaphysics to Thought, ed. Dominique
J1micaud and Jean-Fran~ois Mattei, trans. Michael Gendre (Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1995), 1-13.
Nicolai Hartmann, La Filosofia de/ Jdealismo Aleman, trans. Emilio Estiu
(Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1960), 2:233.
Frank Ramsey, The Foundations ofMathematics and Other Logical Essays,
ed. R. 8. Braithwaite (Paterson, NJ: Littlefield Adams, 1960), 115-116.
According to M. J. Inwood, this the best definition of Hegel's aufheben (Hegel
[London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 536, n. 59).
Martin Heidegger, "Phenomenology and Theology," in The Piety of
Thinking, trans. notes and commentary James G. Hart and John C. Maraldo
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), 18. To define Oberwinden
Heidegger refers to Hegel's concept of sublating (aufgehoben).
Martin Heidegger applies the concept of overcoming to metaphysics: "When
we think of the truth of Being, metaphysics is overcome" ("The Way Back into
the Ground of Metaphysics," in Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, ed.
William Barret and Henry D. Aiken [New York: Random House, 1978), 208).


The quest for understanding the epistemological origination of Scripture

requires a starting point from which the meaning of revelation-inspiration
can be explored. The starting point from which the origin of Scripture
will be examined in this chapter is Scripture itself. The main reason for
such a choice has been discussed in our first chapter. Scripture is the
place where the phenomenon of Christian revelation is made available to
the researcher in the highest level of specificity and clarity. In Scripture
we find both the claims of Scripture about itself and the phenomena of
Scripture. Both need to be integrated in any theory of revelation-
inspiration. The search for the meaning of revelation-inspiration,
however, requires more than a specific starting point. A hermeneutical
ground from which the question should be explored needs to be defined
and systematically applied. The purpose of this chapter is to identify such
a ground. The overcoming of the classical and liberal models can be
attempted only on the basis of a new starting point and ground for
interpretation. With this in mind, I will proceed to identify the ground on
which the classical and liberal models of revelation-inspiration have been
constructed and the ground on which the overcoming of both models
could be explored.
It seems clear that according to Scripture itself, both revelation (e.g.,
Dan 2:28; Gal 1:12; Eph 1:17; and Rev 1:1) and inspiration (e.g., 2 Tim
3:16 and 2 Pet 1:21) are acts of God. Without attempting at this point to
define these terms precisely, we can say that revelation involves God's
action in the process of generating ideas in the mind of the prophet,
whereas inspiration involves God's action in the process through which
the prophets wrote down the revealed ideas and produced the Bible. It
follows that any interpretation of the revelation-inspiration process will
be conditioned by the prior understanding of God and human beings that
36 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
theologians consciously or unconsciously assume in discussing the origin
of the Scriptures.
When students of theology are able to realize that the natures of the
two agents involved in the revelation-inspiration doctrine-God and the
human spokesperson-are interpreted in diverse ways, they will have
discovered why so many different, and mutually exclusive interpretations,
of the very same process have been produced by theological reflection.
The ground on which the meaning of revelation-inspiration can be
explored is to be found at the level of the interpretation of the two agents
that were necessarily involved in the production of Scripture. Briefly
stated, a new theological model about the origin of Scripture is possible
if the ground or basis for understanding God and the human spokesperson
can be distinguished from previously existing models. The new model
must at the same time be biblical in its interpretation of these two agents.

J. God and Theology

One's understanding of God directly affects one's conception of the
manner and l?rocess of the divine action involved in revelation and
inspiration. Paul Synave and Pierre Benoit, commenting on Thomas
Aquinas's interpretation of revelation (lumen prophetiae), correctly
remark that Aquinas's solution is "based on a different conception of the
concurrence of divine and human causality."2 What Synave and Benoit
do not say, because of its obviousness, is that Aquinas's conception of
both divine and human causality is determined by his conception of God
and the human being-in other words, by what may be identified as the
components of the systematic structure of revelation-inspiration. It is
important to remember that God's being has been interpreted in various
ways throughout the history of Christian thought. However, one basic
commonality to most, if not all, of these interpretations is that God's
being and activity are characterized less on the basis of biblical concepts
than on concepts produced by human philosophy-more specifically,
Greek philosophy. 3
Because of its overarching hermeneutic and systematic functions, the
doctrine of God is central not only to the revelation-inspiration doctrine,
but also to the entire system of Christian theology.4 The pivotal
hermeneutic and systematic roles that the understanding of God plays in
Christian theology is broadly recognized. Wolfhart Pannenberg explains
that "in theology, the concept of God can never be simply one issue
among others. It is the central issue around which everything else is
organized. If you take away that one· issue nothing would be left to justify
the continuation of that special effort that we call 'theology.'"5 John
Macquarrie also underlines the systematic role of our understanding of
The Ground 37
God when he states that in Christian theology the doctrine of God "has a
central place" that ''underlies all the other doctrines," and he further
explains that this "doctrine of the triune God already contains in nuce the
whole Christian faith, so that reflection upon it will provide us with a
center to which we can relate all the other doctrines as we pass through
them. " 6 Thomas Aquinas went a step farther when, referring to the
concepts of being and essence assumed in the understanding of God, he
pointed out that "a small mistake in the beginning is a great one in the
end. " 7 If a variation is introduced concerning the interpretation of God's
being and activity, the whole theological structure will be affected. This
is exactly what has happened concerning the doctrine of revelation and
inspiration. For one thing, both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions
have tended either to openly reject or covertly belittle the ideological
content of the OT. In recent times it appears that often even the NT is no
longer considered normative.
Instead of basing its theology squarely on Scripture, the Christian
church in earlier ages began to adopt Greek philosophical concepts as
useful tools for interpreting the meaning of God's being, His
transcendence, and His actions in history. It may be said that Greek
philosophical ideas tended very much to displace OT thought from its
proper role in Christian theology.
In relationship to God's being and activity, one foundational
difference between Greek philosophy and the Bible is that the former
interprets ultimate reality to be timeless, whereas the Bible considers
reality to be temporal and historical. Especially during the medieval and
modem periods of Christian history, the church has fostered a trend in
Christian theology whereby a timeless interpretation of both the being
and transcendence of God bas been adopted. Indeed we may well suggest
that the timeless interpretation of God's being is very common in
Christian theology, both in its classical and liberal traditions. 8
The idea of timelessness in philosophical and theological discussion
is a technical one. For the purposes of this chapter a concise explanation
will suffice. Timelessness is the conception that reality in general and
God in particular are essentially and necessarily voided of, and
incompatible with, time and space. 9 Consequently, a timeless conception
of reality necessarily eliminates from the realm of genuine reality
anything that may be considered as historical or analogical to what we
call history.
It is important to point out, further, that the technical sense in which
timelessness is used in philosophy and theology must not be confused
with common connotations usually connected with it. The technical sense
of timelessness should not be identified with such ideas as, for instance,
"having no beginning or end," "not restricted to a particular time or date,"
38 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
and "not affected by time: ageless." 10 In the technical philosophical view,
the historical arena does not properly belong to reality. The timeless
understanding of God means, consequently, that His reality is
nonhistorical and incompatible with human history. Moreover, since God
is considered to be the highest being, He is viewed as representing the
highest level of timeless perfection. Therefore, God's actions cannot be
conceived as His personal, historical involvement and operation within
history, but rather as historical manifestations of His one eternal act
outside of history. 11
Thomas V. Morris explains the way in which a timeless God may be
seen as "acting" in history:
There is one eternal divine act outside of time that has a great number of
different effects in time, at different times. One effect of this eternal divine
act is the world's coming into being. Another is Abram's hearing certain
words at a particular time. Still another effect of this same act is Moses'
hearing of different words at a later time, and so forth. The single eternal act
of God has a bewildering variety of effects with respect to his temporal
creation. But from the evident truth that those effects take place at different
times, it may not legitimately be inferred that they are effects of distinct
actions which also take place at different times. 12
When the conception of timelessness for God's activity is adopted, the
historical aspect of the divine manifestation becomes reduced from its
proper biblical sense of true reality (ontic-theological level) to the human
cognitive awareness (epistemological level) of "God for us." In other
words, the historical acts of God portrayed in the Bible are interpreted not
as belonging essentially to God's being, but rather as belonging
essentially to our human way of knowing-a capacity of perceiving and
knowing which is obviously historical and limited. u
A timeless God, moreover, cannot be thought of as achieving the
work of atonement through a historical act involving contingency and real
risk. Therefore, when the timeless nature of God is asswned, the divine
atonement at the cross has to be reinterpreted. This is done, for instance,
by suggesting that what occurred at the cross was purely the
manifestation of our salvation fmding its ground in the eternal
unchangeable being of God, notably in His eternal love.

2. God in the Bible

Biblical thinking about reality in general and about God in particular
posits that reality is essentially temporal and historical. 14 This historicity
of biblical thought is self-evident and constitutes the presupposition for
very important theological ideas concerning God's being and His eternity.
In Christ and Time, Oscar Cullmann uncovers the temporal
conception of eternity that NT writers had. Cullmann underlines that
The Ground 39
"eternity, which is possible only as an attribute of God, is time, or, to put
it better, what we call 'time' is nothing but a part, defined and delimited
by God, of this same unending duration of God's time." He adds that
"time and eternity share this time quality. Primitive Christianity knows
nothing of a timeless God. The 'eternal' God is he who was in the
beginning, is now, and will be in all the future, 'who is, who was, and
who will be' (Rev. 1:4)."" This implies that real things, including God's
being and activities, exist and occur in space and in time. 16
One may regret that Cullmann has employed the historical conception
of God's eternity as only a framework for his own interpretation of
salvation history, without going more deeply into the implications that
such a foundational idea has for the entire structure of systematic
theology in general and for the doctrine of inspiration and revelation in
particular. 17 Indeed, the implications of following either of the two
possible interpretations of eternity are momentous for the understanding
of the being of God and for the understanding of the whole system of
theology. The basic theological structure of Roman Catholicism and
Protestantism, in both conservative and liberal forms, has leaned toward
the timeless view. In fact, it may be said that this theological structuring
has been produced on the assumption of a timeless, nonhistorical
interpretation of the being of God and of reality as a whole. 18

3. God and Revelation-Inspiration

From what has been considered thus far, it is possible to understand why the
doctrine of revelation and inspiration has been developed assuming this
timeless, nonhistorical interpretation of God's being, His transcendence, and
His acts. The most influential present-day models of revelation-
inspiration-such as the Thomistic thought-inspiration, the encounter-
existential, and the various varieties of the dictation-verbal---can be seen as
stemming from some form of a timeless conception about God's being and
activity. 19
One way in which the doctrine of revelation-inspiration is affected
when the timeless perspective is replaced with a historical one can be
perceived, for instance, when the status of Scripture as a source of
theological data is considered. When God is conceived as acting within
a timeless realm, the theological content of Scripture (which is brought
into being by God) will also pertain to the timeless realm. In this case, the
historical side of Scripture is considered to belong not to its divine cause,
but rather to the human condition necessary for the expression of its
divinely (timelessly) originated content. Thus, the Scriptures are said to
be "historically conditioned." On the contrary, the concept that God is
capable of acting genuinely in history (that is, "historically") leads to a
40 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
conception of the biblical writings as being "historically constituted."
According to the former view, the historical side of Scripture is external
and incidental to its religious and theological contents; according to the
latter view, the historical side of Scripture belongs to the very essence of
its divinely revealed and inspired contents.
In conclusion, when substantial changes in the interpretation of God
are introduced, substantial changes in the understanding of the revelation-
inspiration process are also to be expected and do indeed occur. Since the
Bible's conception of God's being and activity in history is clearly
different from that of theological tradition in general, a critical
reevaluation of the theological interpretation regarding the origin of
Scripture is unavoidable.

4. Human Nature and Theology

The constitution of theological doctrines not only presupposes an
interpretation of God but also an interpretation of human nature. Basic
anthropological concepts, therefore, appear as presuppositions which are
involved in various and different ways in the development of major
Christian doctrines. For instance, Millard J. Erickson explicitly mentions
the connection between anthropology and the doctrines of God, Christ,
atonement, regeneration, justification, and ecclesiology. 20 He also
explains that the conclusions reached in anthropological studies "will
affect, if not determine, our conclusions in other areas of doctrine." He
goes on to say:
What man is understood to be will color our perception of what is needed
to be done for him, how it was done, and what his ultimate destiny is. If
our conception of human nature is presupposed in our study of other
doctrines, and if presuppositions have a significant influence upon
conclusions, then the effort expended here is well worth it, for here the
issues are overt and thus can be dealt with openly and consciously. 21
Let us consider the way in which anthropology becomes a presupposition
for the revelation-inspiration doctrine. As we have seen, besides God, the
other agent involved in the revelation-inspiration process is the human writer.
The action of God i s ~ to and localiz.ed in this writer. Both revelation
and inspiration, as acts of God, occur within the human nature of the writer.
As a human being, the writer can be said, therefore, to be the "place" or
"locus" where the revelation-inspiration process occurs. 1bis means that in
this human being, the ideas, data, and information written in the Bible were
originated as the result of God's revelational activities, and that lilcewise, in
the human process of writing, the divinely originated contents were recorded
through the process of inspiration.
The importance of this human component cannot be overemphasized,
The Ground 41
insofar as it determines not the content, but both the cognitive mode of
revelation and the linguistic mode of inspiration. Human knowledge and
language can be considered not only in relation to their content, but also
in relation to their general characteristics, thus revealing their cognitive
and linguistic "modes."
The "content" dimension of human knowledge pertains to the various
scientific enterprises undertaken by human beings. The "mode"
dimension comes into view when either knowledge or language is
considered in relation to its main characteristics aside from any reference
to specific, concrete content. The interpretation of knowledge and
language as "modes" uncovers the main general characteristics that were
involved as God originated Scripture through the agency of human
beings. In other words, the theological doctrine of revelation and
inspiration presupposes a theory of knowledge and a philosophy of
The technical task of interpreting the main characteristics that belong
to human knowledge and language as modes ofrevelation and inspiration
has been traditionally undertaken by the philosophical disciplines known
as "Theory of Knowledge" and "Philosophy of Language." It should not
be forgotten that the task of uncovering the main characteristics of human
knowledge and language is itself an interpretation that can only be built
on the foundation provided by a specific interpretation of human nature.
In other words, the theological doctrine of revelation and inspiration
presupposes a theory of knowledge and a philosophy oflanguage, which
themselves presuppose an interpretation of human nature.
In short, since the doctrine of revelation and inspiration involves
human knowledge and language as its cognitive and linguistic modes, it
assumes a theory of knowledge and language. 22 This consequently
assumes an anthropology that, in tum, assumes a philosophical
ontology. 23 The structural connection between each of these stages is
unavoidable. Human philosophy has produced a variety of interpretations
regarding human nature that are invariably conditioned by the ontological
views of the various schools of philosophy concerned. Variety in the
presuppositions (i.e., doctrine of God and doctrine of man) will necessarily
produce a variety of results regarding the doctrine of revelation-inspiration.
Is there a way to avoid the uncertainty and plurality of theological
explanations without rejecting the structural connection of the stages
involved? This is a question that requires a new answer regarding the
philosophy-theology relationship. I will explore this matter in a future article;
suffice it here to say that a new approach to the study of revelation and
inspiration is essentially connected to the possibility of interpreting ontology,
anthropology, knowledge, and language on the basis of biblical
42 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
In conclusion, I would summarize by stating that a theological study
of the revelation-inspiration process requires not only a clear conception
of God, but also a correct view of the cognitive and linguistic capabilities
of the human "prophet" (God's spokesperson in a broad sense, who is not
limited to foretelling the future). Thus, the technical understanding of the
prophet's own nature and being (anthropological and ontological studies)
and of the prophet's knowledge and language (epistemological studies)
plays an important role in the theological formulation of any doctrine
about the origin of the Scriptures.

5. The Human Being in Theology

Changes in our interpretation of the presuppositions will also determine and
influence our interpretation of the revelation-inspiration process. As was the
case concerning the concept of God's activity, the interpretation of the being
of the hwnan prophet and of that prophet's cognitive capabilities and
linguistic characteristics has also been the object of various and differing
conclusions throughout the history of Western philosophy. 24 It is not
surprising, therefore, that a great variety of theories about the origin of
Scripture have been produced by Christian theology.
Traditional approaches, both in Roman Catholic and Protestant
theological traditions, have, however, usually adopted a timeless
interpretation of the being and knowledge of the human entity as an
immortal soul or as "having" an immortal soul. Such a view is consistent
with the timeless interpretation of the reality of God that these interpreters
have also espoused. Man's timelessness, however, is not considered to be
absolutely perfect. Timelessness reaches its perfect expression only in
God's being. In fact, in various ways, different philosophical and
theological approaches have merged human timelessness with undeniable
human temporality without eliminating either the timelessness or the
temporality. 25 More recently, however, some liberal approaches have
embraced a temporal understanding of the human being and,
consequently, also of the human being's cognitive and linguistic
capabilities. 26

6. The Biblical View ofHuman Nature

In the early nineteenth century, a theological revolution took place. Stemming
from faithfulness to biblical concepts, it has worked consistently on the basis
of a historical interpretation not only of God, but also of human reality. In
some circles, the timeless-soul-substance idea of the human being that derives
from a Platonic-Aristotelian heritage has been replaced by the biblical
historical-relational understanding. This can be perceived, for instance, in the
historicist approach to prophetic interpretation.27
The Ground 43
Under the biblical model, this essence is seen as the actual historical-
concrete reality of the individual, who holistically opens to the "other"
and the world. Consequently, the human cognitive mode that is involved
in revelation-inspiration should also be understood in a historical way.

1. Human Nature and Revelation-Inspiration

A change in anthropological interpretation requires a change also in the
interpretation of the main characteristics of human knowledge and language
that are always assumed in a study of the doctrine of revelation-inspiration.
The historical interpretation of man set forth in the Bible requires a historical
interpretation of the cognitive and linguistic modes. Such an interpretation
must replace the classical one wherein human cognition is based on the
timeless understanding of the human soul as it was conceptualiz.ed under the
Aristotelian agent, "intellect "29 In its classical, Aristotelian interpretation, the
cognitive mode presents human reason as reaching general (universal)
timeless concepts by elimination of the historical and material aspects of
reality. The biblical view, on the contrary, understands the cognitive mode as
obtaining knowledge historically, by way of the conscious gathering and
integration of all the data provided by concrete, historical events.
Some contemporary approaches have rejected the classical doctrines of
the immortality of the soul and of the Aristotelian agent, intellect. However,
since these approaches do not base their new interpretations of either God or
man on the biblical data, they tend to integrate many facets of the old views.
Thus, they fall short of perceiving the historical conceptuality assumed by
biblical thinkers.
Since the doctrine of revelation and inspiration assumes an
interpretation of the nature of knowledge that is produced and
communicated in the Scriptures, a proper understanding of the cognitive
and linguistic modes appears to be of paramount importance. It seems
reasonable to assume that the biblical approach to the interpretation of the
cognitive and linguistic modes, originating from the biblical conception
of man, should be favored.
In the historically and scripturally conceived interpretation of human
nature and its cognitive and linguistic modes, two concepts that appear to
carry special significance for a new approach to the revelation-inspiration
doctrine are freedom and limitedness. Indeed, hwnan freedom appears to
play an important role in the conception of the human cognitive and
linguistic modes in which the Scriptures were produced. This freedom is
not to be thought of as the mere capacity to choose among externally
produced possibilities, but rather it is an expression of the very way in
which human beings exist and are active in the world, creating their own
possibilities and points of view. Thus, the human component in both
44 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
revelation and inspiration may be readily understood as playing not
merely a passive role, but also an active one.
The obvious temporal and spacial finitude ofhuman beings translates into
modes of knowing and language that, as they are temporally constituted, are
themselves limited and incomplete. The cognitive and linguistic modes in
which both revelation and inspiration have been given, refer to general
characteristics of human thinking and writing that, when historically
understood, include features such as limitation, multiplicity of perspectives,
variety and heterogeneity of forms, and incompleteness.
The distinction between modes and content should not be forgotten or
ignored. Cognitive and linguistic modes should not be confused with the
actual content of either knowledge or language as found in Scripture. Yet the
content, if it is to be communicated and understood by human beings, must
adopt modes which cannot be separated from the biblical data themselves.

8. Conclusion
The ground that has been uncovered in this chapter as a basis for the doctrine
of revelation-inspiration is really very simple. It consists of taking seriously
the so/a Scriptura principle, seeking in Scripture the presuppositions that
necessarily condition theological teachings.
Among the various presuppositions that condition not only the
formulation of the doctrine of revelation and inspiration, but the whole of
Christian teachings, we have specifically dealt with the two basic agents
involved in revelation-inspiration: God, and the human being who serves as
the transmitter ofdivine knowledge. When reinterpretation adopts the biblical
perspective in place of the philosophical ''timeless" model concerning these
two agents, a basis or ground has been laid for searching for the meaning of
Once the basis or ground has thus been laid, the methodological question
still remains: How should we formulate the doctrine of revelation-inspiration
itself? The manner in which the issue ofrevelation-inspiration as a theological
problem should be approached will be explored in my next chapter.
The Ground 45
Herein I speak of revelation in its specific and technical sense that refers to
the process by which Scripture originated. For a discussion of the broader range
of meaning involved in the biblical concept of revelation and a summary of
additional aspects involved in this biblical concept, see Wolfhart Pannenberg,
Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1991), 1:198-214.
Paul Synave and Pierre Benoit, Prophecy and Inspiration: A Commentary
on the Summa Theologica II-llae, Questions I 7/-/ 78, trans. Avery R. Dulles and
Thomas L. Sheridan (New York: Desclee, 1961 ), 93.
See, for instance, Edwin Hatch, The Influence ofGreek Ideas on Christianity
(New York: Harper, 1957), 238-282.
'The systematic centrality of the doctrine of God has been broadly recognized
by both philosophers and theologians. Among the philosophers we find, for
instance, Aristotle (Metaphysics, 6.1.10, 11) and Martin Heidegger ("The Onto-
theological Constitution of Metaphysics," in Identity and Difference, ed. Joan
Stambaugh [New York: Harper and Row, 1969], 59, 60). Among biblical
theologians, see Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the
Cu"ent Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), I 00; see Anders Nygren,
Meaning and Method: Prolegomena to a Scientific Philosophy of Religion and
a Scientific Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 357; and Tracy, Blessed
Rage/or Order, 146-147.
swolfhart Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 21.
Macquarrie, 187.
Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, trans. Armand Maurer (Toronto:
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949), 25.
'The difference between theology and religious experience should be drawn
here. Many individual Christians, who faithfully submit to the clear meaning of
Scripture, are unaware of systematic-theological positions about God and
Scripture. I am convinced that there is a distinct dichotomy between what
theology tends to set forth in this respect and the understanding and experience
of Christian believers in general. However, it must also be remembered that
theology directly determines the doctrines of churches and denominations, thus
influencing the content of teaching and preaching. When specific beliefs are not
drawn from the Bible, but rather from tradition, even biblically oriented
Christians are not always able to rid themselves ofnonbiblical understandings of
vital issues.
Augustine had a timeless understanding of the being of God. He did not
develop it technically at length, but his position is clear when the issue of God's
bi;ing and works is addressed. For instance, Augustine affirms, "At no time,
therefore, did you [God] do nothing, since you had made time itself. No times are
coetemal with you, because you are permanent, whereas if they were permanent,
they would not be times" (Confessions 11, 14, 17). Thomas Aquinas describes the
46 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
meaning of timelessness in the following way, as he uses it to portray the idea of
God's eternity: "Those beings alone are measured by times that are moved. For
time, as is made clear in Physics IV, is 'the number of motion.' But God, as has
been proved, is absolutely without motion, and is consequently not measured by
time. There is, therefore, no before and after in Him: He does not have being after
non-being, not non-being after being, nor can any succession be found in His
being. For none of these characteristics can be understood without time. God,
therefore, is without beginning and end, having His whole being at once. In this
consists the nature of eternity" (Summa contra gentiles, trans. Vernon J. Bourke
[Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956], 1.15.3).
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-
Webster, 1991), s.v. "timeless."
For further information about the technical meaning of timelessness, see Nelson
Pike, God and Tunelessness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), 6-16.
Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical
Theology (Downers Grove, IL: lnterVarsity, 1991 ), 131-132.
By the term "historical acts" of God in history I mean divine acts in which
God Himself, experiencing the created temporal sequence (i.e., past, present, and
future), but not limited to it, is a historical agent within the continuous flux of
history. The definition of the so-called "historical acts" (or "act") of God in the
timeless model is, of course, diametrically opposed to this.
For an analysis of the way Exod 3: 14-16 reveals a historical understanding
of the ultimate reality of God Himself, see Canale, 349-374.
0scar Cullmann, Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of
Time and History, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964), 62-63.
Contemporary philosophy has developed a temporal-historical interpretation
ofBeing, yet no acceptable interpretation of God's temporality has been produced
thus far (cf. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, prologue; and see also idem,
"The Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysics," 3:213-214). The dipolar
solution of panentheistic "Process Philosophy" is not satisfactory because,
relating God's time univocally to our human time, it actually identifies our world
and time with a pole or component of God's being, thus destroying the possibility
of personal relations with human creatures as presented in the Bible. Concerning
this, see Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology
(New York: Macmillan, 1929), 521-524; and Charles Hartshorne, The Divine
Relativity: A Social Conception of God (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
1948), 88-92. Working from within a Heideggerian background, John Macquarrie
also sees time in univocity to our human time and thus is unable to conceive
Being or God as an entity existing in time and history (208). The same can be said
of Pannenberg's position (Metaphysics and the Idea of God, 76-78; and
Systematic Theology, I: 401-410). Pannenberg is specifically critical of
Heidegger and of Process Philosophy (Metaphysics and the Idea of God, 8-14,
74-75, 113-129). The biblical conception of God involves a specific analogical
understanding of time as a dimensionality of His very nature.
The Ground 47
As far as I know, Cullmann never gave specific analytical thought to the issue
of revelation-inspiration. Rather he limited his comments about time to the
discipline of NT history, shying away from both dogmatic and philosophical
reflection. In Christ and Time, he states: ''The message of the New Testament is
most lucid within the framework of linear time, and until another is given which
yields a greater understanding without adversely influencing the essentials of that
message, I shall adhere to this framework. But it is no more than a framework." In
the same place he goes on to affirm that ''the task of the dogmatic theologian is far
more difficult than that of the NT scholar, in so far as the latter is required to show
only what the NT teaches. He does not need to solve the difficulties arising in the
teaching, nor wrestle with its basic presuppositions. But it is his bounden duty to
keep within the limits of his work, for which the dogmatic theologian is thankful
because only in this way can he rely on the results of the exegete's labor" (12). In
Salvation in History, Cullmann expands the vision that he briefly presented in Christ
and Time, again without furnishing any systematic treatment of the doctrine of
revelation-inspiration. He does, however, make some brief statements about
revelation, suggesting basically that the Bible was originated by a combination of
event and interpretation ([London: SCM, 1967], 88-97).
Donald Bloesch correctly perceives that "we are living in an era of the
confusion of tongues. We are confronted by the rise of theological schools that
no longer share a common parameter, that are disturbingly incapable even of
engaging in meaningful dialogue with one another because of the wide disparity
in criteria and goals" (33). The affirmation of timelessness over the historicity of
God's being and actions, entails the concept that biblical language should be
understood as indirect metaphoric or symbolic utterances in need of philosophical
interpretation. If the timelessness of God is incorporated into theological
methodology as a presupposition which determines the nature of God's actions,
the so/a Scriptura principle cannot be applied, even though it might be
theoretically affirmed.
This is not the place to discuss these theories. It should be noted, however, that
it is hardly possible or proper to speak of the view popularly called ''thought
inspiration" without assuming at the same time a technical definition of''thought."
°Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983 ), 84,
85, 456-457.
1bid., 457. Working within a quite different theological system, Pannenberg
also recognizes the general function of anthropology as a theological
presupposition when he remarks that "the most general foundations of systematic
theology will therefore have to come from anthropology" (Theology and the
Philosophy of Science, 422).
For an introduction to the various ways in which the phenomenon ofhuman
know ledge has been interpreted, see Johannes Hessen, Erkenntnisstheorie (Berlin:
Ferd Dilmmlers, 1926); Thomas E. Hill, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge
(New York: Ronald, I 961 ); John L. Pollock, Contemporary Theories of
Knowledge (London: Hutchinson, 1986); and William Pepperell Montague, The
Ways of Knowing: Or the Methods of Philosophy (London: George Allen and
48 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Unwin, 192S). For an introduction to the various ways in which the main
characteristics of language have been studied by philosophical research, see
J.M.E. Moravcsik, Understanding Language: A Study of Theories of Language
in Linguistics and in Philosophy (The Hague: Mouton, 197S); Sidney Hook, ed.,
Language and Philosophy: A Symposium (New York: New York University
Press, 1969); Franz von Kutschera, Philosophy of Language (Dordrecht: D.
Reidel, 197S); William P. Alston, Philosophy of Language (Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964); and Jack Kaminsky, Language and Ontology
(Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969).
"For an introduction to the various ways in which the human being has been
interpreted, see Michael Landmann, Philosophical Anthropology, trans. David J.
Parent (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974); and Leslie Stevenson, Seven Theories
of Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974).
See, for instance, Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology,
trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1939), 40-S3; Reinhold Niebuhr,
The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (New York:
Scribner's, 1941 ), I: 1-92; and Johannes Hessen, Erkenntnisstheorie.
For an introduction to the understanding of the way in which a timeless
interpretation of the nature of human beings as soul-substance determines the
"mode" of human cognition according to Thomas Aquinas, see Canale, 189-19S,
and also Macquarrie, 362-363.
See Rudolf Bultmann, Essays: Philosophical and Theological (New York:
MacMillan, 19SS), 80, 83, 271; idem, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York:
Scribner's, 19S8), 46,47, S6; idem, Faith and Understanding (New York: Harper
and Row, 1964), S6, 187.
See Richard Davidson, "In Confirmation of the Sanctuary Message," JATS
2 (1991): 100-101.
0scar Cullmann has demonstrated on exegetical grounds that the biblical
teaching regarding the nature of man clearly contradicts the Greek philosophical
conception about the immortality of the soul (Immortality of the Soul or
Resurrection ofthe Dead? [New York: Macmillan, 19581).
A philosophical interpretation of human knowledge as historically
constituted is, in fact, a very recent occurrence in the history of Western
epistemology. Some seminal thinkers in this area are, among others, Edmund
Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein.


In chapter 2 we explored the ground on which a new approach to the

doctrine of revelation and inspiration could be eventually developed. In
this chapter I will consider the method by which a new approach to
revelation-inspiration as a theological problem may be developed.
The method that I will follow for clarifying the epistemological origin
of Scripture is the hermeneutical methodology utilized by systematic
theology. However, this methodology must be adjusted to the historical
nature of the ground uncovered in the preceding chapter.

1. Beyond Biblical Scholarship

A consistent commitment to the so/a Scriptura principle 1 led us to
uncover a ground that Christian theology has forgotten and neglected,
namely, the historical conception of both God and human nature. On the
basis of such a ground we should examine anew not only the doctrine of
revelation, but also the whole range of Christian teachings. The
exploration of such a possibility, however, requires the possession not
only of untrodden ground, but also of an appropriate and working
methodology that would lend itself to the processing of pertinent data in
the search for ever-growing knowledge about the subject matter under
scrutiny, namely, the origin of Scripture.
The question before us is then: How should Christian theology
proceed to defme a theological position about the origin of Scripture that
is able to integrate all the pertinent data provided by Scripture itself? I am
aware that such a question may seem superfluous to Christians who
adhere to the so/a Scriptura principle. For them, the mere asking of such
a question may suggest a suspicious lack of confidence in the Bible as the
ground and norm of all doctrine and practice, or even a lack of genuine
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conversion. Christians who uphold what they call a "high view" of
Scripture seem to have no doubt about the methodology to be
followed-a technical interpretation of the origin of Scripture can only
be obtained by going to the Bible itself. In other words, exegesis and
biblical theology should deal with the issue of revelation and inspiration
on the sure foundation of biblical revelation.
The obvious limitation of the exegetical-biblical methodology in relation
to the exploration of the doctrine of revelation and inspiration is that the Bible
does not provide a technical explanation of its epistemological origin.
Scripture merely states that it was produced by God without specifically
addressing the issue of the process through which it came into being. 2 Even
though biblical teachings about Scripture clearly state its divine origin, no
theory about revelation and inspiration is found in either the OT or the NT.
Consequently, the exegetical-biblical approach that consetvative Protestant
theology usually follows in developing its doctrines may not suffice for
rendering a satisfactory interpretation of revelation-inspiration. 1 Persistence
in addressing the issues involved in the doctrine of revelation and inspiration
only from a biblical-exegetical perspective will confirm its essential
limitation. It is likewise possible to affirm that since the biblical doctrine of
Scripture does not include a theoretical clarification of its epistemological
origin, the discipline of biblical scholarship and its proper methodology seem
to be of little help when the interpretation of the doctrine of revelation and
inspiration is attempted exclusively from a biblical perspective. 4 One must
move, then, beyond the exegetical-biblical methodology as currently defined
by scholarship, into a biblical redefinition of the hermeneutical approach. 5

2. Beyond Apologetics
When the mindset of the Enlightenment and its critical approach to history
became influential within liberal Christian circles, the supernatural role of
God became almost obliterated from the epistemological explanation of the
origin of Scripture. The consetvative wing of evangelical theology,
however, did not welcome the new conception of Scripture because it was
considered to be a serious programmatic departure from orthodox Christian
teachings. 6 In order to defend their traditional theological conceptions,
evangelicals reaffirmed the classical understanding of the origin of
Scripture, turning it into an apologetical approach. The traditional doctrine
of the supernatural origin of Scripture was reaffirmed as an apologetical
tool against modem and postmodern interpretations of Scripture. 7
According to conservative evangelicalism, God is the author of Scripture
and, consequently, no error is to be found in it. Scripture is infallible and
true because of its supernatural, divine origin. Not only is the Bible without
error, but its truth is grounded a priori, by reason of its origin. It logically
Hermeneutical Methodology 51
follows that no a posteriori verification of its contents is necessary.
Just as modem philosophy developed out of the epistemological problem
of the origin of knowledge, modem theology appears to have begun in a
similar way by questioning the supernatural origin of Scripture. The
apologetical context within which conservative evangelical reflection on the
epistemological origin of Scripture has been pursued has brought a veritable
stagnation in the search for a theory about revelation-inspiration that may
account for both the phenomena of Scripture and the biblical doctrine of
In this respect, James Barr may be correct when he considers the
theological creativity of conservative evangelical theology as "stodgy,
apologetic, uncreative," and monumentally dull. 8 Yet, in relation to the
specific interpretation of the epistemological origin of Scripture, he
himself seems to fall into the same theological stagnation. Modem and
postmodern schools of Christian theology seem to not have advanced
much beyond Schleierrnacher's interpretation. 9 In regard to the origin of
Scripture, contemporary theology seems to be caught between two
alternatives: the classical interpretation that overemphasizes the role of
the divine agency and the modem-postmodern trend, which, since
Schleiermacher, has almost obliterated the divine agency from the
constitution of biblical writings. Neither of the two, however, is able to
satisfactorily integrate all the pertinent data. These positions and their
limitations will be discussed later.
The bracketing out of the apologetical approach from the area in
which the doctrine of revelation and inspiration is to be discussed
becomes, therefore, a necessary methodological step to uncover the
subject matter to be interpreted, namely, the epistemological origin of the
Bible. It follows that an investigation into the way in which the Bible was
originated should be carried on within the epistemological realm of
investigation rather than within the realm of apologetics, as traditionally
done: 0 Moreover, as the issue of revelation and inspiration is explored,
apologetical concerns should not be entertained. Finally, the doctrine of
revelation and inspiration should not be utilized as the a priori verification
of the content of Christian revelation, 11 but rather as the explanation of
the way Sacred Scripture came into existence.

3. Systematic Theology and Philosophy

Beyond the exegetical-biblical and apologetical methodologies there is
another way, that of systematic theology. The systematic way, however,
presents challenges and difficulties of its own, which, unless recognized and
adequately solved, lead to theories about revelation and inspiration at odds
with both the biblical doctrine of Scripture and Scripture itself. 12 These
S2 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
difficulties derive from the way in which the relation between theology and
philosophy is conceived. 13 Because systematic theology as a scholarly
discipline of Christian theology bas been openly dependent on philosophical
methods, contents, and traditions, 14 it is necessary to deal, albeit briefly, with
the way systematic theology and philosophy relate to each other. At least
since the time ofJustin's Apologies,'' philosophical concepts have been called
to assist the constitution of Christian theology, particularly within its
systematic field. 16 In the writing of influential theologians, such as Origen of
Alexandria or Augustine of Hippo, philosophy was already playing an
important role in the shaping of Christian theology. 17 Philosophy has been
called to provide the intellectual framework or ensemble of hermeneutical
presuppositions required for the task of doing theology, particularly
systematic theology." Even today, most of Christian theology is built on this
unchallenged working asswnption. The specific school of philosophy that
theology may choose to employ may change, yet the general consensus
among theologians seems to indicate that philosophy is still considered to be
the provider of the hermeneutical presuppositions including the "system" of
systematic theology. The Roman Catholic tradition has openly recognized the
need to use human philosophical concepts in the task of doing theology and
for determining the dogmas of the church. 19 Conservative Roman Catholicism
bas developed on the basis ofAristotle's philosophy as interpreted by Thomas
Aquinas and scholasticism. Contemporary Roman Catholicism is challenging
the traditional incorporation of Aristotelic-Thomistic philosophy by exploring
other philosophical schools, for instance, process philosophy. 20
Since the time of Luther, Protestantism has been known for its rather
explicit denunciation of philosophy as a contributor to the task of
theology,2 1 which must be grounded solely on Scripture. 22 However, a
certain sector of Protestantism has understood that Scripture is not to be
conceived as "the only guide," but rather the "ultimate guide" for the
church. 21 As a cursory look at Protestant orthodoxy at its best reveals, the
denunciation of philosophy did not imply, even for this sector, an
absolute rejection of its traditional role. Because tradition, in which
philosophical concepts played a constitutive role, was not rejected but
rather accepted by Christian theology, 24 the actual possibility of a
theological usage of human philosophical concepts is neither condemned
nor eliminated. Bruce Vawter is of the opinion that
most of the early Protestant theologians had been trained as a matter of
course in the scholastic system and accepted its dialectical principles
virtually without question. However much, and however often with great
justice, Martin Luther ridiculed the · language and conclusions of
scholasticism, there was always far more that connected him with its
method and presuppositions than separated him from them. 25
Vawter further explains that the reformers "did not substitute another
Hermeneutical Methodology 53
system of thought for the scholastic. That they did not is amply
demonstrated by the quite rapid transition of the Reformation into a
Protestant orthodoxy of rigid scholasticism."26 Philosophy, then, still
appears as the main provider of the "system" or intellectual framework
for the development of Protestant theology. 27
On the other hand, other sectors within the broad spectrum of
Protestant theology, inspired by the so/a Scriptura principle, try to
minimize the influence of human philosophy on theology by reducing the
latter to the disciplines of biblical exegesis and biblical theology to the
almost total neglect of systematic theology as an independent discipline
within Cluistian theology. 28 Even this more biblically oriented sector,
however, sooner or later employs nonbiblical, philosophical concepts as
it ventures into the scholarly world of theological reflection. 29
It would appear that, by and large, the Protestant tradition of Christian
theology has denounced human philosophical ideas selectively and used
them pragmatically. Thus, philosophy is not used when it contradicts the
basic doctrine of justification by faith, but it is accepted as long as it
supports it. Protestant denunciation of philosophy, then, has not involved
a total rejection of humanly originated philosophy. On the contrary,
Protestant theology30 stands on the basis of principles derived from
classical philosophy.
Generally speaking it seems that mainstream Protestant theology has
rejected philosophy as a source while at the same time accepting it as a
tool for theology. For instance, according to Robert Preus, Lutheran
dogmaticians of the seventeenth century considered Scripture to be the
only source of Christian theology. 31 However, they found no overlap
between the realm of theology ( supernatural) and the realm of philosophy
(natural). 32 Thus, "reason used passively is necessary for gaining and
understanding information. In this sense it is a mean (principium quo), for
only through his reason, or intellect, does man understand. " 33 Within this
sector of Protestantism theology is considered possible and works, as did
classical theology, from hermeneutical presuppositions and systems
provided by humanly originated philosophy. Precisely in this way
philosophy becomes a "tool."
In the more biblically oriented sector of Protestantism, however,
emphasis on the so/a Scriptura principle, according to which theology,
mission, and life are grounded in the Bible,34 seems to militate against the
very existence of systematic theology as a necessary theological
discipline. Grant R. Osborne may be taken as an example of such a trend
when he assigns to systematic theology only the task of contextualizing
and organizing biblical theology in current thought patterns for the
contemporary situation. 35 The proper task of theology is thereby reduced
to communicating biblical truth to the contemporary mind. Osborne
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allows systematics to have a say in what the Bible means in the
contemporary setting,36 but systematics has no role in the constitution of
truth. Truth is simply and directly found in the Bible and retrieved by
exegetical and biblical theologies. In Osborne's understanding "dogmatic
theology collects the material generated by biblical theology and restates
or reshapes it into a modem logical pattern, integrating these aspects into
a confessional statement for the church today." 37 Osborne seems to
believe that the retrieval of biblical truth does not require the adoption of
a system and, therefore, does not need the role of systematics as a
theological discipline.
From this perspective two basic reasons appear to recommend the
dismissal of systematic theology as an independent theological discipline.
First, it seems obvious to this sector of Protestantism that if the Bible is
the source of theology, exegesis and biblical theology constitute the only
required methodology to reach Christian truth. Moreover, since
systematic theology has always derived its hermeneutical presuppositions
including its "system" from some form ofhuman philosophy, the strong
suspicion that systematic theology ofnecessity violates the sofa Scriptura
principle cannot be avoided.

4. Toward a Biblical Philosophy

The working and unexpressed presupposition behind the view that sees
an unavoidable contradiction between the sola Scriptura principle and the
existence of a systematic approach to theology is the axiom that
systematic theology cannot be produced without the essential contribution
of some form of humanly originated philosophy. 31 If such an assumption
were true, I agree, no systematic theology or systematic approach to
Christian theology would be possible while holding, at the same time, the
so/a Scriptura principle. 39 In this context, my proposal for a hermeneutic
approach to the study of revelation and inspiration could be understood
as a surreptitious attempt to utilize humanly originated philosophy at the
detriment or plain rejection of the sola Scriptura principle following the
classical, modem, and postmodern trends in Christian theology. My
proposal, however, does not attempt such a thing.
Evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch has correctly identified the
relation between theology and philosophy as "probably the single most
important issue in a theological prolegomenon. ,,40 However, whenever
this relationship is understood to mean that only human philosophy can
provide hermeneutic presuppositions for systematic theology, 41 or that
human philosophy provides the tools for conceptual analysis and schemes
that lead to a deeper understanding of Christian truths,4 2 or that human
philosophy supplements theology by helping to produce a rational
Henneneutical Methodology 55
reformulation of biblical truths in order to address the current situation; 3
that divine revelation in Scripture is relegated to a secondary role.
Moreover, even the suggestion that an a priori and grounding faith
encounter of grace "purifies" our natural reason from sin and allows us
to use it for theological purposes.... is not enough to prevent philosophical
ideas from distorting biblical revelation. Any of these ways of
understanding the philosophy-theology relationship will prevent us from
searching for the meaning ofrevelation-inspiration from the starting point
we discussed and selected in chapter l, namely Scripture.
While it should be recognized that neither systematic nor biblical
theologies are independent from philosophical issues, they may be
developed in independence from human philosophical interpretations.
Therefore, a momentous methodological distinction needs to be
decisively drawn between philosophical issues and their interpretation.
The human discipline we designate as philosophy involves both issues
and interpretations. Issues are the problems to be addressed, for instance,
God, man, reality as a whole, reason. Interpretations are the way in which
these issues have been understood by various philosophical schools
throughout the history of philosophy. 0 Human philosophy provides
solutions to the issues on the basis of natural information and the use of
human reason and imagination. 46
Both biblical and systematic theologies need to interpret4 7 the same
issues as philosophy interprets (i.e., God, human nature, reality, reason). 48
Thus, the issues cannot be dismissed. However, theology does not need
to follow any humanly conceived interpretation. On the contrary, if
biblical thinking is taken seriously, theology should develop an
understanding of these issues on the basis of-and in full harmony
with-the interpretation they receive in Scripture.
The importance of this point cannot be overemphasized. I am not
referring to the kind of study which, for instance, Claude Tresmontant has
developed regarding biblical metaphysics. Tresmontant is correct about
some general issues, such as that the "absence de certains termes
metaphysiques n'irnplique pas une carence metaphysique,"49 that
irreconcilable opposition exists between biblical and Greek metaphysics, 50
and that the created world is temporal in nature. 51 However, he does not
follow biblical thinking in the interpretation of reality. On the contrary,
Tresmontant follows a methodology which, starting from the
identification of some biblical concepts, uses them in a second step as
justification for adopting a previously existent metaphysical position as
if it were the metaphysics of Scripture. The identification of the temporal
nature of the phenomenal world of creation allows him to claim that
Teilhard de Chardin's evolutionary cosmology is the inner metaphysical
structure of created beings. 52 While I agree with Tresmontant in regard to
56 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
his view that the Bible speaks to philosophical issues in a way that
radically departs from traditional philosophical interpretations, I go
beyond him in suggesting that the grounding philosophical problems have
already received specific solutions in the Bible. Thus, for instance,
Tresmontant does not go to the Bible for the interpretation of issues such
as Being, man, knowledge, or history. However, as argued in my second
chapter, it is only through a biblical understanding of these issues that the
doctrine of revelation-inspiration, as well as the understanding of the
entire range of Christian doctrines can fmd firm ground. Unfortunately,
even evangelicals like Carl Henry, who claim that "divine revelation
rationally interprets an objective revelational history," 53 who believe in
cognitive propositional revelation, 54 and hold a verbal plenary doctrine of
inspiration, 55 still do not explore the philosophical conceptuality of
Scriptures in order to interpret the philosophical issues and systematic
presuppositions necessary for doing theology.
In the attempt to think about the meaning of revelation-inspiration
and to avoid any possible theological distortion, the identification of the
starting point and the subject matter of our inquiry is not enough. It is
also indepsensible that humanly originated ideas be dismissed in the
definition of the herrneneutical presuppositions and system to be adopted
by Christian theology. Of course, consistency requires that the same
approach be applied to the understanding of the entire theological corpus.
The historical way in which the Bible interprets the issues of God and
hwnan nature, which play a foundational presuppositional role in the
formulation of any theological discourse, has been fatefully forgotten for
nearly two millennia. Since then, the philosophical formulations on which
Christian theology has been cast often depart from the biblical interpretation
of the issues. When these formulations are discarded, a new and exciting
system comes into view, not only for approaching the origin of Scripture, but
also for the constitution of the whole theological enterprise. 56
Scientific faithfulness to the so/a Scriptura principle should replace
any humanly originated interpretation of philosophical issues by one of
biblical origin. Thus, it becomes possible to envision a systematic
theology which, while fully integrating the necessary philosophical issues
required for its disciplinary development, may, at the same time, work
independently from any human philosophical principles and in total
faithfulness to biblical ones.

5. The Hermeneutical Method:

Identifying the Subject Matter
The hermeneutical methodology I am suggesting here involves three
major components: data, subject matter, and presuppositions or principles
Henneneutical Methodology 57
of interpretation. When applied, this methodology processes the data from
the perspective provided by the assumed principles of interpretation in
search of a better understanding of the proposed subject matter. As we
discussed in chapter 1, the data best qualified to shed light on the
exploration of the origin of Scripture come from Scripture itself. And
since such a fact agrees with the so/a Scriptura principle that provided the
ground for questioning anew the meaning of revelation and inspiration,
it now seems necessary to clarify the subject matter to be investigated and
the main components of the hermeneutical principles as they relate to the
subject matter itself.
The subject matter of systematic theology differs from the exegetical
one in that the latter is text-oriented while the former is issue-oriented. In
other words, the subject matter that the biblical approach tries to clarify
is the text of the Bible and its message, while the systematics try to clarify
an issue that belongs to reality itself.
Consequently, when the study of the doctrine of revelation and
inspiration is approached energetically and biblically, the biblical
teachings that have been produced in relation to the doctrine of Scripture
come into view. The result of such an enterprise is an organized
exposition of the biblical doctrine of Scripture. 57 On the other hand, when
the doctrine of revelation and inspiration is approached hermeneutically,
the problem regarding the epistemological origin of Scripture comes
under scrutiny. It seems, then, that in order for a hermeneutical
methodology to be applied to the doctrine of revelation and inspiration,
it is necessary to have a clear picture of the problem, issue, and subject
matter to be clarified.
The subject matter in question appears to include the two interrelated,
mutually complementary components we call revelation and inspiration.
When the word "revelation" is utilized as a technical term, 58 it refers to
the cognitive process 59 through which the Bible and its manifold contents
were originated. When "inspiration" is utilized as a technical term, it
refers to the linguistic process through which the content originated by
means of the revelation process as expressed in oral or written forms. The
definition of inspiration as the process of"inscripturization" is systematic
rather than exegetical. A study of the biblical words theopneustos and
pheromenoi (2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet 1:21) reveals that these words, which,
following their Latin translation, have been traditionally rendered as
"inspiration," do not convey the technical meaning that we are
suggesting. Rather they include both what we technically defme as
"revelation" and what we technically defme as "inspiration."
In short, the subject matter of the revelation-inspiration doctrine
appears as the twofold, complementary process by which, first, the
contents, ideas,60 information, and data of Scripture were originated; and
58 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
second, the process through which they are transmitted either orally or in
a written form. 61 In other words, revelation appears as the issue, or
problem, to be concretely interpreted by any theory of revelation. Thus,
it is possible to say that the formal subject matter of revelation appears as
the divine-human encounter, which may be epistemologically interpreted
by any possible doctrine ofrevelation. 62
The creation of the Bible as a written work required a process which
would be complementary to revelation; one by which ideas and
information, originated through revelation, were put into writing. The
process of putting revealed ideas and information into writing is by nature
a linguistic enterprise and is designated as the process of inspiration. As
is the case in the process of revelation, the process of inspiration also
involves both divine and human dimensions. It seems clear that, except
in very specific cases, Scripture was actually written by human agents.
Since I am still describing the formal subject matter that is to be
interpreted by any possible theoretical account of the origin of Scripture,
no doctrine of inspiration is assumed. To say that inspiration is the
process by which revealed ideas and information are put into writing
means that the process by which the writing occurs is different from the
process by which the meaning and content of Scripture first came into
existence in the mind of the prophet or holy writer.
The act of revelation as a cognitive process in which both God and
human agencies are involved appears as an a priori condition to the act
of inspiration ( in which also divine and human agencies are involved). In
other words, without the cognitive-revelation process, the linguistic
process of inspiration is empty: it has nothing to transmit in either written
or oral form. Without inspiration, on the other hand, the cognitive process
of revelation would be fruitless; producing nothing to be communicated
in writing or spoken words, it would, therefore, wither away along with
the prophet. Revelation and inspiration, then, are complementary
processes always necessarily involved in the theological explanation of
the origin of Scripture.63 Furthermore, any interpretation of the
revelation-inspiration process finds its ground in the understanding of
revelation rather than of inspiration. This formal "subordination" of the
process of inspiration to the process of revelation is due to the inner
articulation of the subject matter itself: revelation originates the contents
that inspiration puts into writing. The production of the Bible, then,
assumes and requires both processes. In this sense, it is possible to say
that the whole Bible is revealed and the whole Bible is inspired.
Usually a technical distinction between revelation and inspiration has
not been considered as a necessary methodological step to be followed in
the investigation of the origin of Scripture. 64 Consideration of both
processes under the general designation of inspiration has produced
Hermeneutical Methodology 59
interpretations which, building on the general concepts of divine
authorship and human instrumentality, are unable to account properly for
the variety of biblical phenomena uncovered by exegetical studies. It
follows that complexity and variety in the effect suggest complexity and
variety in the cause. Scripture does not draw a technical distinction
between revelation and inspiration, as I am suggesting. Scripture tends to
speak generally rather than analytically regarding its own origin. Thus,
in 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet 1:21 there is no explicit technical distinction
between revelation and inspiration as the subject matter of an
epistemological search. Nonetheless, the cognitive process by which
knowledge and information were originated in the mind of the prophet
and the linguistic process by which the revealed knowledge and
information were put into written form are assumed. Since each process
is different and includes different kinds of activities in which both God
and man are involved, it is of paramount importance to approach the
analysis of each separately. Establishing a distinction between the process
ofrevelation and inspiration, therefore, may prove useful in the task of
probing into the way in which Scripture was produced.
A third related stage may be added to the revelation and inspiration
processes, namely, illumination. As a technical term, illumination refers
to the process through which God communicates to the individual
believer on the basis of already existent oral or written revelation. 65 Since
illumination is a process that assumes the existence of oral or written
revelation and, consequently, does not contribute to its production, it will
not be considered in this chapter.

6. The Hermeneutical Method: Identifying

the Presuppositional Structure
In order to complete the methodology needed to formulate a new
interpretation of the revelation-inspiration doctrine, the philosophical
issues involved in the hermeneutical principles need to be identified. As
the philosophical issues necessarily involved in the understanding of the
doctrine of revelation and inspiration are identified, the hermeneutic
structure on which any interpretation of the doctrine stands will become
apparent. The task before us, then, consists in identifying the
philosophical issues to be presupposed and systematically applied in any
possible interpretation of the origin of Scripture.
Consideration, therefore, needs to be given not only to the issue of the
subject matter to be clarified, but also to the inner systematic structure that the
revelation-inspiration phenomenon itself presupposes. By "systematic
structure" I am referring to the presuppositions that are necessarily involved
in understanding the way in which the Bible was epistemologically originated.
60 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
It is suggested in the preceding section, the systematic structure
involved in the revelation process is rather simple. If revelation is the
process by which God communicates Himself to the holy writer, the
systematic structure that revelation involves appears to include the
interpretation of God and human nature. Thus, whether the revelation
process is to be understood as existential, cognitive, mystical, or
otherwise is an issue that depends correct interpretation of the
hermeneutical principles presupposed by the revelation process. In other
words, any doctrine about the way Scripture originated includes a
specific, concrete interpretation of the hermeneutical principles, namely,
an interpretation of the two agents involved in the revelation process:
God66 and man. Since the inspiration process also involves the same two
agents who are involved in the revelation process, it follows that any
possible interpretation of the inspiration process involves the same
hermeneutical presuppositions that are required by the revelation process,
namely, a specific interpretation of God and human nature. 67
Furthermore, the hermeneutical principles assumed by the revelation-
inspiration process include a complex ensemble of related concepts,
which necessarily play a constitutive role in the understanding of the
revelation-inspiration process. Some of these concepts are, for instance,
the interpretation of human cognition and language as well as the
understanding of divine activity.
Briefly put, the presuppositional structure that is uncovered by the
phenomenological analysis of the fonnal subject matter of the doctrine of
revelation and inspiration includes: first, an interpretation of God and His
acts; and second, an interpretation of human nature along with its
cognitive and linguistic functions. 68 Once these ideas are given actual
content by way of interpretation, they become the "principles" that are
required by hermeneutical methodology to process the biblical data in
search of a clarification of the subject matter itself, that is, of the
revelation-inspiration process that originated Scripture.
Different theological schools, sharing different interpretations of the
presuppositional structure employed by the hermeneutical method, are
bound to render diverse theories about the revelation-inspiration process,
some of which are mutually incompatible. Hence the vast differences that
may be found in the various doctrines of revelation and inspiration that
have been developed so far by Christian theology.
The hermeneutical method, then, proceeds by clarifying its subject
matter from the point of view of principles that play the role of
organizing presuppositions. In the classical, modem, and postmodern
schools of Christian theology, the principles that serve as organizing
presuppositions are taken from various traditions of human philosophy.
Finally, it is important to notice that the uncovering of the
Hermeneutical Methodology 61
presuppositions assumed by the revelation-inspiration process shows that
the interpretation of the doctrine of revelation and inspiration is not the
ultimate ground for theological discourse. The ultimate ground for
theological discourse is provided by the biblical interpretation of the
presuppositional structure itself as was suggested in the second chapter.

7. Toward a New Model for the Doctrine of

Revelation and Inspiration
In the second chapter of this book the ground on which a new approach
to the revelation-inspiration doctrine should be explored and formulated
was uncovered. The ground consisted of the biblical interpretation ofboth
God and human nature, which in this chapter were identified as the very
components of the hermeneutical principles involved in the study of the
revelation-inspiration of the Bible. These principles, presupposed in the
hermeneutical methodology, must be utilized in the investigation of the
subject matter, the epistemological origin of Scripture.
As argued in the second chapter, the biblical interpretation of the
systematic structure of revelation-inspiration radically differs from the
philosophical interpretation assumed by classical and liberal theologies.
Therefore, a hermeneutical methodology, which could-beyond the
limitations of biblical theology and apologetics-be useful in exploring
the origin of Scripture, in search ofa new model ofrevelation-inspiration,
seems to be possible. On the basis of the discussion of the starting point
(chapter I ), the ground (chapter 2), and methodology (present chapter)
required in the interpretation of the epistemological origin of Scripture,
the possibility for and the way in which a new interpretation could be
formulated has come into view. In these chapters, some important,
specific points were made evident. Let us review them briefly.
First, it was shown that any interpretation of the revelation-inspiration
process by which Scripture was originated necessarily presupposes a
previous understanding about God and man. Since due to the flaw of the
systematic structure of the revelation-inspiration event, these
presuppositions cannot be avoided, their understanding become necessary
principles conditioning the interpretation of the epistemological origin
of Scripture. Second, the main hermeneutical principles required in the
conception of theories regarding revelation-inspiration have been
understood in various ways by Christian theological traditions, thus
producing a variety of explanatory models. Third, in spite of their
divergences, the already existent doctrinal models of revelation and
inspiration ( thought, verbal-dictation, and encounter-existential theories)
work on the methodological assumption that the components of the
systematic structure should be interpreted by humanly originated
62 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
philosophy, and that, on such a basis, the being and activities of God and
man should be conceived as timeless. Fourth, the critical clarification of
the various possible models in which the origin of Scripture have been
and could be interpreted requires the methodological disassociation of the
epistemological and apologetical levels of theological analysis. The
traditional lack of proper distinction between these two levels bas led to
an overemphasis of the apologetical approach. The origin of Scripture
should be approached first from an epistemological perspective; and only
then, when a proper understanding of it has been achieved, should
theology move into the apologetical realm. Fifth, the so/a Scriptura
principle, on which a sector of Protestant theology is built, requires that
the interpretation of the systematic structure in question be produced from
within biblical conceptuality without resorting to extrabiblical
philosophies. Sixth, when the so/a Scriptura principle is consistently
applied to the interpretation of the systematic structure of revelation and
inspiration, the biblical conception about God and human nature as
temporal-historical realities capable of direct interrelation replaces the
classical and liberal traditions, which do not allow for such a dynamic
understanding of God's being and actions.

8. Conclusion
From the perspective gained through the preceding analysis, the
methodology for a new approach to revelation and inspiration, to be
developed in faithfulness to biblical conceptuality, has been uncovered.
Moreover, the presuppositional, systematic structure that conditions the
formulation of any revelation-inspiration model has been exposed. The
possibility that such a systematic structure could be interpreted otherwise
than Christian theology has thus far chosen to do bas also become
The possible new interpretation of the revelation-inspiration doctrine,
made feasible by the starting point, the ground and methodology pointed
out so far, is not to be generated by the creative imagination of daring
theologians, but rather by the patient and scientific hearing of the
available data, namely, by hearing what Scripture says about itself and
humankind. In a time when Christian theology is searching for new
paradigms that may better help to understand and express the Christian
identity to the world, a critical examination of the ideas that have
preconditioned Christian theology for centuries and a search for yet-
undiscovered treasures of biblical truth seem to provide a way full of
theological promise, not only for the specific doctrine of revelation-
inspiration, but for the entire system of Christian theology as well.
A practical question remains. Is it really necessary for Christian
Henneneutical Methodology 63
theology to involve itself in the area of hermeneutical principles and
system so far studied by philosophy in order to produce another
interpretation of revelation and inspiration? Moreover, does the way one
interprets the origin of Scripture make a real difference in one's
theology? Is it not acceptable to adopt any theory as long as one is able
to maintain the full authority of the Bible? The possibility that Christian
theology could approach the study of revelation and inspiration in search
of a model yet to be theologically and technically formulated seems to
follow from our analysis of both the ground and the methodology
involved in thinking and clarifying the many issues in the epistemological
inquiry about the origin of Scripture. The question of the practical
necessity for undertaking the task of thinking the meaning of revelation-
inspiration anew requires the analysis of the main ways in which this
issue has been and continues to be understood by Christian thinkers.
64 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Wolfhart Pannenberg considers that the attempt to develop Christian
theology on the basis of so/a Scriptura was an "illusion" ("The Crisis of the
Scripture-Principle in Protestant Theology,"308). He explains that "the
development of historical research led to the dissolution of the Scripture-
Principle, at least as seventeenth-century orthodoxy held it" (ibid., 310).
Pannenberg may be right as long as he is describing an accomplished historical
fact. Yet from a theological viewpoint, there is no reason why biblical scholarship
should uncritically accept a method that looks for realities and meaning "behind"
the text (ibid., 311,313).
Benjamin B. Warfield's attempt at deriving the theory of verbal plenary
inspiration from the biblical doctrine ofScripture has been criticized, according to Peter
M. van Bemmelen, because it "is an unwammted deduction negated by testing that
doctrine by the biblical phenomena" (Issues in Biblical Inspiration: Sunday and
Wa,jie/d[Berrien Springs, Ml: Andrews University Press, 1988], 308). Van Bemrnelen
concludes that this criticism "does not nCCCS&lrily mean that the doctrine of inerrancy
is unbiblical, but it certainly does raise the question whether a Biblical doctrine of
inspiration in regard to its mode, extent, and especially in regards to its effects can be
derived by means of a purely inductive method" (ibid.).
The epistemological origin of Scripture is not the only issue that cannot be
satisfactorily addressed by means of an exegetical-biblical approach. The full
range of doctrines also appears as theological subject matter (though clearly
beyond the natural range of exegesis and biblical theology) and properly belongs
to the field of systematic theology.
For instance, within the Adventist tradition, recent discussion on revelation-
inspiration has moved mainly within the limits of biblical scholarship, historical
research, and apologetics. Alden Thompson's proposal seems to stem from the
limitations required by biblical scholarship (Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest
Answers [Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1991 ]). The theological
discussion that Thompson's proposal generated seems to work within the same
general parameters; see Frank Holbrook and Leo Van Dolson, eds., Issues in
Revelation and Inspiration (Berrien Springs, Ml: Adventist Theological Society,
1992). An exception to this general trend appears in Raoul Dederen, "The
Revelation-Inspiration Phenomenon According to the Bible Writers" (ibid., 9-29),
where the systematic approach is also present.
By going beyond biblical scholarship into systematics and hermeneutics, I
am referring to the methodology that is required for appropriately dealing with
theological issues and not to the replacement or complementation of Scripture by
other sources of theological data.
See Norman L. Geisler, "Philosophical Presuppositions ofBiblical Errancy,"
in lnerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 307-334.
See Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, trans. Helen I.
Needham (Chicago: Moody, 1969), 304-305.
James Barr, The Scope and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1980), 72, 73.
Hermeneutical Methodology 65
Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, trans. and ed. H. R.
Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1948), §3, §4, §5, the
postscript to§ I 0. James Barr, who properly criticizes fundamentalism for its lack
of creativity, exhibits the same deficiency as he deals with the authority and
function of the Bible in Christian theology. Only Barr defends the
Schleiermacherian conception of the origin of Scripture, particularly the
historical-critical methodology that corresponds to it (30-58).
'°Carl Henry's massive enterprise, God, Revelation, and Authority, is a clear
example of a reflection on revelation and inspiration undertaken within the area
of apologetics (6 vols. [Waco, TX: Word, 1976-1983)).
For most Protestants and evangelicals the authority and truthfulness of
Scripture is decided a priori in the affirmation of its divine inspiration; see
Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, I: 26-35, 48. Pannenberg suggests
that the truth of dogmatics is a question that cannot be decided in advance of
systematic reflection, but as a result of it ( I :50). Without denying the connection
between divine origin and authority, we should not, for that reason, eliminate the
need for a posteriori theological verification of biblical teachings as a whole as
the proper task of apologetics. Prior to that, however, the tasks of epistemological
foundation, exegetical-biblical research, and systematic reflection should be
performed, otherwise there would be nothing to verify or defend.
For instance, Klaas Runia has pointed out that Karl Barth, recognizing the
essential limitation of the biblical-exegetical method, went on to impose a
dogmatic criterion upon the biblical texts so "that the texts themselves are not
allowed to speak first" (Karl Barth's Doctrine ofHoly Scripture [Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1962), 13 7). In other words, Runia is convinced that "the concept of
inspiration is not derived [by Barth] from Scripture itself, but Scripture is read in
the light of a preconceived criterion" (ibid.).
1n "The Idea of Systematic Theology" 8. 8. Warfield does not address this
foundational issue (John Jefferson Davis, ed., The Necessity of Systematic
Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 131-165). Perhaps this is the kind of
approach Winfried Corduan had in mind when he pointed out that evangelical
theologians too frequently carry out the theological task ''without taking the
proper philosophical roots into account" (Handmaid to Theology: An Essay in
Philosophical Prolegomena [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981 ], 11 ).
See, for instance, Gerhard Ebeling, The Study of Theology, trans. Duane A.
Priebe (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 53-58; Macquarrie, 21-25; and Bernard
Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Seabury, 1972), 335-340.
While Justin did not "mean to bring Christians and philosophers more
closely together" (Adolf Harnack, History ofDogma, [New York: Dover, 1961 ],
2: 188), his conception ofan essential continuity between Plato's ideas and those
of the OT (Hortatory Address to the Gree/cs 29) and his idea that Christ was the
fullness of the same reason used by Socrates (Apology 2.10) seem to represent a
clear movement away from Paul's warning against "deceptive philosophy" (Col
2:8). Sharing the same apologetical role, Aristides did not hesitate to present
66 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
himself as a philosopher to the Athenians (Harnack, 2: 177). The apologists of the
second century A.D., however, represent only the initial stage (see Justo L.
Gonzalez, A History ofChristian Thought [Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), I: I 09-
110) of what would become a substantial and systematic role in the School of
Alexandria, notably in the writings of Clement (Stromata, 6.5; see also Gonzalez,
1: 197) and Origen (see G. W. Butterworth, "Introduction" to Origen 's On First
Principles [Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1973 ), lvii). The role of philosophy as
constitutive of the theological task also has its antecedent in the Judaism of
Alexandria, in which Philo became the most notable exponent of a thoroughgoing
attempt "to interpret Jewish theology in terms of Hellenistic philosophy" (J.N.D.
Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 4th ed. [London: Adam & Charles Black,
1968), 18-19). Richard Kroner expresses the rather debatable idea that specific
contents of Greek philosophical speculation are already present in the Gospel of
John (Speculation and Revelation in the Age of Christian Philosophy
[Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 23-24; cf. Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of
John: A Commentary, trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray ([Oxford: Basil Blackwell,
1971 ), 19-36).
For a brief synthesis of the progressive way in which philosophy was
utilized by Christian theology, see Johannes Hirschberger, The History of
Philosophy, trans. Anthony N. Fuerst (Milwaukee, WI: Bruce, 1958), I: 290-
The history of the way philosophy has been permanently related to the
development of Christian theology has been analyzed and evaluated by Kroner,
among others.
Avery Dulles explains that "it is impossible to carry through the project of
systematic theology without explicit commitment to particular philosophical
options" (119).
Ibid., 119-133; Kilng, 104-106, 182-186. Catholicism is challenging the
traditional incorporation of the Aristotelic-Thomistic philosophy by exploring
other philosophical schools, for instance, process philosophy (see Tracy, Blessed
Rage for Order, 172-203).
See Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order, 172-203.
Early in his career, Martin Luther strongly denounced philosophy,
especially that of Aristotle as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas (Sigbcrt W. Becker,
The Foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther
[Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern, 1982), 4-7). However, Becker points out that
Luther did not dismiss the function of human philosophy per se within the realms
of theology, but rather its Aristotelic-Thomistic interpretation as adopted by
scholasticism (ibid., 7-8). For a contemporary example of rejecting philosophy
as source of theology, see Pache, 19-20. In his well-balanced evaluation of
Calvin's relation to philosophy, Charles B. Partee reports that "Calvin accepts
some of their [classical philosophers'] views and rejects others" (Calvin and
Classical Philosophy [Leiden: Brill, 1977], 15). Calvin's use of philosophy as an
aid to the theological exposition of Scripture (ibid., 21 ), then, appears selective
Henneneutical Methodology 67
rather than comprehensive (ibid., 18). Calvin, concludes Partee, selects
philosophical ideas for theological purposes "when he feels they serve the truth
of Scripture" (ibid., 22).
In 1576, the Fonnula of Concord stated that "we believe, teach, and confess
that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the OT and NT are the only rule and
nonn according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and
judged" (The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 464).
Even though the Fonnula of Concord uplifts the theological role of Scripture as
the source of theology, it seems to lean more towards a prima Scriptura rather
than so/a Scriptura qualification of its theological role since it clearly remarks
that "other writings of ancient and modem teachers, whatever their names, should
not be put on a par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be
subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no
further than as witness to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and
apostles was reserved in post-apostolic times" (ibid., 464-465); see also Clark H.
Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology [Chicago:
Moody, 1971), 156.
Kem Robert Trembath, Evangelical Theories of Biblical Inspiration: A
Review and Proposal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 4.
See The Book of Concord, 465, 503-506.
s8ruce Vawter, Biblical Inspiration (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 76.
This is not the place for a detailed comparison of the ways in which the
system is provided in classical and Protestant theologies. Suffice it to say that a
foundational component of the Protestant theological system is drawn not from
philosophy, but from divine revelation. Justification by faith, the doctrine on
which the church stands or falls, is called to play a central systematic role,
together with other components that the classical system of theology derived from
philosophy. Thus, Anninius is able to develop an intellectualistic version of
Protestantism very close to Thomism, and Nonnan Geisler is able to call Aquinas
"a mature evangelical" (Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal [Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1991 ], 21-23).
Evangelical theologian Millard J. Erickson represents this sector. He
considers the goal of systematics as "pure biblical theology contemporized" (25)
whereby "unchanging biblical teachings which are valid for all times" (ibid., 24)
are put into an analogical "model that makes the doctrine intelligible in a
contemporary context" (ibid., 74-75). Erickson also says that contemporizing is
a "major part of the work of systematic theology" (ibid., 75). Another role
assigned to systematic theology is to "fonnulate a central motif' (ibid., 77) to
unify each theologian's system. According to Erickson, the central motif,
however, only "enables us to perceive a landscape more accurately" and "must
never determine our interpretations of passages where it is not relevant" (ibid.).
Moreover, the task of systematics also includes the arrangement of theological
68 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
"topics on the basis of their relative importance" (ibid., 78). Thus, systematic
theology is not conceived as being essentially involved in the discovery of truth,
but rather in the process of its communication. According to Erickson's view,
Christian theology should not engage in constructive intellectual activities, but
rather should concentrate on the mimesis (exegetical and biblical theologies) and
translation (systematics) of biblical texts. The rules for the discovery of truth are,
consequently, the rules of exegesis and biblical theology, which render a
descriptive summary of the theological ideas and positions presented by
exegetical theology. This view does not allow systematics to develop ideas other
than those produced by exegetical and biblical theologies.
Erickson clearly states that "in making the Bible our primary or supreme
source of understanding we are not completely excluding all other sources" (ibid.,
37). He goes on to clarify that such additional sources "will be secondary to the
Bible" (ibid.). The weakness of Erickson's position is to be found only when it is
implemented. In other words, Erickson sets biblical primacy together with the input
from other sciences. How the primacy of the Bible is supposed to work out in the
practice of doing theology is not sufficiently explained. It is likely that sooner or
later the avowed primacy of biblical data will be surrendered to ideas coming from
other sources. Erickson clarifies that philosophy may be used, but no single system
is to be followed (ibid., 53). Philosophy's role in theology is conceived as
sharpening our undemanding of concepts, finding and evaluating presuppositions,
tracing implications of ideas, and as a tool in apologetics (ibid., 56-57). What
Erickson seems to forget is that there is no "neutral" philosophy. Each philosophy
and its methodology involve interpretations of foundational principles. Additionally,
Erickson still understands presuppositions as if they related only to communication
of truth rather than to content. This situation opens a vacuum that sooner or later is
filled by a humanly originated philosophical content. For instance, Greek
philosophical ideas seem to be ultimately behind Erickson's understanding of the
immortality of the soul (ibid., 1183-1184), God's eternity (ibid., 274-275),
predestination (ibid., 35~20), and providence (ibid., 394-401).
°We are referring here to the technical level of theological reflection and not
to the way in which the believer experiences theological teachings. At the level
of the local church the influence of human philosophy on doctrinal content often
seems to be nonexistent or even totally absent. To ascertain the degree in which
humanly originated philosophy conditions the constitution of doctrines at the
level of individual local churches would require a major statistical study.
Robert Preus, The Inspiration ofScripture: A Study of the Theology of the
Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Dogmaticians (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd,
1957), 1-4.
Ibid., 10-1 I.
Ibid., 9.
Clark H. Pinnock, "How I Use the Bible in Doing Theology," in The Use
ofthe Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options, ed. Robert K. Johnston (Atlanta:
John Knox, 1985), 18-19.
Hermeneutical Methodology 69
Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive
Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1991 ),
lbid., 268-269.
lbid., 268.
8This ''unthought" presupposition is explicitly reflected upon and expressed by
Winfried Corduan, who introduces his rehabilitation of philosophy as handmaid to
theology by remarking that "philosophy permeates systematic theology. The
theologian cannot ever get away from the fact that philosophical thinking is an
integral part of the way that we understand and disseminate revealed truth. Certain
philosophical points need to be made prior to beginning actual theology. But that
does not mean that once they are made we are done with philosophy. On the
contrary, wherever we tum in theology we are confronted with the need for clear
philosophical categories. Thus, even when we enter the arena ofsoteriology we have
not outgrown the need for philosophy" ( I 0). I agree with Corduan 's description of
the hermeneutic function of philosophical presuppositions. I disagree with the
seemingly universally accepted idea that the philosophy to be used in Christian
theology cannot be grounded in and derived from biblical thought. Corduan follows
the generally accepted procedure of selecting the human philosophy that theology
will adopt from the starting point ofbiblical pointers (see, e.g., ibid., 41-59). Thus,
the creative philosophical reflection that the discovery of a biblical philosophy
requires is methodologically avoided.
For instance, authors, who allow human philosophy to play a "minimal," yet
important role in the task of doing theology, are forced to reinterpret the sola
Scriptura principle as involving only the idea of a "superiority of the Bible to
other authorities, including ecclesiastical officers, church councils and previous
doctrinal formulas" (Richard Rice, Reason and the Contours ofFaith [Riverside,
CA: La Sierra University Press], 93). Thus, the so/a Scriptura principle is
abandoned (ibid.). In practice, tradition and the experience of the church are
added to the Bible as sources of theology. Rice concludes that "the essential task
of Christian theology is that of biblical interpretation, in view of the authoritative
status of the Bible in the church. But it also involves careful attention to
interpretations that have developed in the course of the church's history and to the
dynamic experience of the concrete Christian community" (ibid., 98). Rice seems
to be correct in claiming that the Reformers' practical usage of theological
sources amounted to the prima rather than sola Scriptura principle (ibid.).
B)oesch, I :35.
This is the position of classical theology, of which Thomas Aquinas is a widely
recognized representative. Within the neoclassical tradition, Pannenberg recognizes
that philosophy cannot prove the existence of God, "but it still retains the critical
function of the natural theology of antiquity relative to every form of religious
tradition, i.e., that of imposing minimal conditions for talk about God that wants to be
taken seriously as such" (SystemaJic 'Ineology, I: I07). Within the classical and
neoclassical system of theology, biblical language is considered to be symbolic and
70 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
metaphoric, but may nonetheless contain some conceptual contents. Due to the hidden
conceptual element in the metaphorical language of the Bible, this language must be
subjected to a "conceptual analysis," which may allow theologians to identify the
concepts hidden in the metaphorical language. It is easy to see that within this kind of
theological project, philosophy is called upon to determine what "concept" and
"metaphor" mean. Philosophy also determines what are the concept and conceptual
analysis of metaphoric language. The minimal results of applying reason to the
contents of faith entail a major reinterpretation of the literal meanings of the Bible.
Nomian L. Geisler, who agrees with the basic philosophical view of classical
theologian Thomas Aquinas (see Thomas Aquinas), and David Tracy, who, agreeing
with the classical function of philosophy, replaces the Aristotelian metaphysics of
Aquinas with his own understanding o f ~ philosophy (Blessed Rage for Order,
146-203), can be considered as belonging, respectively, to the classical and neoclassical
theological traditions.
See, for instance, Vincent Brummer, Theology and Philosophical Inquiry:
An Introduction [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982), ix). Kevin J. Vanhoozer,
correctly recognizing that both philosophy and theology "are in the business of
constructing worldviews," goes so far as to state that "ultimately, we are led to
view philosophy and theology themselves as competing research programs
working on the problem of life's meaning" ("Christ and Concept: Doing
Theology and the 'Ministry' of Philosophy," in Doing Theology in Today's
World, ed. J. D. Woodbridge and T. E. McComiskey [Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
I991 ), 135). But competing does not mean conflicting. According to Vanhoozer,
"the philosopher plays the role of Aaron next to theology's Moses, providing the
language with which to communicate the Word of God to a wondering people"
(ibid.). At the end, however, philosophy is given at least the traditional minimal
role of "conceptual analysis" and "the pedagogical function of leading
unbelievers and believers alike to a deeper understanding of Christ and the
implications ofa Christian worldview" (140).
0sborne, 296-297. Through the mediation of theological tradition,
"deductive reasoning utilizes logic to establish theological models that can be
verified on the basis of evidence" (ibid., 298). According to Osborne, in doing
theology the philosophical deductive models interact with the inductive data
produced by biblical exegesis. This constitutes what Osborne calls a "spiral"
through which concepts are refined and brought under the norm of Scripture.
Bloesch, 58.
Thus, I agree with Paul Tillich when he states that "philosophy and theology
ask the question of being" (Systematic Theology [Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1951 ), l: 22), thereby implying that both share the same subject matter. I
disagree with Tillich, however, when he goes on to say that "philosophy deals
with the structure of being in itself; theology deals with the meaning of being for
us" (ibid.), thus implying that philosophy and theology do not share the same
subject matter after all, but rather have very different, though mutually
complementary, objects of study.
David Tracy has suggested the replacement of the Thomistic understanding
Hermeneutical Methodology 71
of reason as agent intellect by a less ambitious "analogical imagination" as the
appropriate tool for the constitution of systematic theology (The Analogical
Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York:
Crossroad, 1981 ], 421, 429-438). This replacement of reason by imagination
reveals the extent of Kant's influence on modern and postmodern theological
epistemology. The role of imagination in theology and its relation to the
Schleiermacherian feeling of absolute dependence stems from Kant's third
critique (see The Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith [Oxford:
Clarendon, 1928], I: 1-3; 2: 49).
Tracy summarizes the contemporary view of knowledge by remarking that
"to understand at all is to interpret" (Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics,
Religion, Hope, 9). The idea that biblical revelation involves both historical fact
and interpretation has been recognized by Oscar Cullmann (Salvation in History,
88-97). Hans Kung, basically agreeing on this point with Cullmann, goes even
further and affirms that "every experience already brings elements of
interpretation with it" (Theology for the Third Millennium, 109).
See, for instance, Kroner, 13.
Claude Tresmontant, Etudes de metaphysique biblique (Paris: J. Gabalda,
1955), 32-33.
°Ibid., 34-35.
lbid., 122.
lbid., 95, 164.
Carl Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 3:255, 260.
fbid., 3:248, 259.
Ibid., 4: 160.
6This point is not yet clearly perceived by many within the Protestant
evangelical tradition, who still think that Calvin's eclectic choice of philosophical
ideas in service of biblical theology (see fn. 22) is the proper solution to the
philosophy-theology relationship (see Bloesch, 264-265).
For an introduction to the biblical doctrine on Scripture, see Alan M. Stibbs,
"The Witness of Scripture to Its Inspiration," in Revelation and the Bible:
Contemporary Evangelical Thought, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker,
1958), 107-118; Pierre Ch. Marcel, "Our Lord's Use of Scripture," in Revelation
and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical Thought, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1958), 121-134; Wayne A. Grudem, "Scripture's Self-Attestation
and the Problem ofFormulating a Doctrine of Scripture," in Scripture and Truth,
ed. D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 19-59;
John W. Wenham, "Christ's View of Scripture," in /nerrancy, ed. Norman L.
Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 3-36; and Edwin A. Blum, "The
Apostles' View of Scripture," in /nerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 39-53.
72 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
'The technical usage of the terms "revelation" and "inspiration" does not
derive from biblical exegesis. Their meanings are, however, not unrelated to
biblical concepts. Thus, revelation is connected with the idea of contents that are
communicated from God to men while the biblical idea of inspiration is related
to the production of Scripture.
9Thomas Aquinas considered revelation (prophecy) to be cognitive (Summa
Theologica la Ila 171. I). However, he did not make a technical distinction between
revelation and inspiration; cf. Claude Tresmontant, Le problemede la revelaJion (Paris:
Editions du Seuil, 1969), 79-98. I use the word "cognitive" in its broadest sense.
Liberal Schleiermacherian approaches to revelation, even when recognizing the
existence of an original "event" or divine-human "contact" at the root of revelation, do
not consider such an "event'' in itself to be cognitive. Yet, because it is precisely the
revelatory "event" that prompts the writing of Scriptures it can be loosely described as
"cognitive." According to the liberal view, then, revelation, in spite of its noncognitive
nature, may be included in our general definition of revelation as cognitive because of
it prompts the writing of the Bible.
1n this chapter I am not using the word "idea" in its Platonic sense, to refer
only to the "general, universal, and necessary features" of reality and language.
I use the term to indicate the cognitive status of the information. "Idea" refers to
and includes any and all possible contents that, once produced in the mind of the
writer, may later on be inscripturized in the Bible.
Taking their lead from the biblical claim of God as the author of Scripture,
the Fathers understood such an authorship in rather literalistic terms under the
broad category of inspiration (Vawter, 25-28). Obviously, this broad conception
of inspiration also included the idea of origination of contents, and therefore, of
revelation per se. Evangelical theologian Carl Henry distinguishes between
revelation (God, Revelation, and Authority, 3:248) and inspiration (ibid., 4: 129)
in the technical sense suggested here (see also Ronald Nash, The Word of God
and the Mind ofMan [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982], 50). On the other hand,
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix conceptualize the origin of Scripture by
a general understanding of inspiration that includes revelation (A General
Introduction to the Bible [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], 38-42). When the
technical distinction between revelation and inspiration is not utilized as a tool for
analysis, the tendency seems to be to conceive the origination of the Bible with
God as principal agent and the human author as instrument.
Divine-human encounters may include a variety of forms. For instance,
salvation is to be understood in the context of a divine-human encounter or
relationship. In other words, God encounters men and women with different
purposes, one of which is to originate Scripture. In this chapter, I refer to
"encounter" only in the latter sense.
Consequently, there is no such a thing as portions of Scripture that are only
inspired and not revealed. The origin of all ideas and information as they relate
to God must be accounted for before the process of writing (inspiration) is
addressed. Thus, the distinction made by Roman Catholic Leonard Lessius ( 1554-
1662) between "textos profeticos o de revelecion y textos no-profeticos o de
Hermeneutical Methodology 73
simple inspiraci6n hagiografica" is insufficient because it reduces the idea of
revelation to a prophetic model. It is clear, however, that God has revealed
Himself in various ways (Heb I: I), which certainly include more than the
prophetic model (Antonio M. Artola, De la revelacion a la inspiracion. [Bilbao:
Ediciones Mensajero, 1983], 119).
Unfortunately theologians have often dealt with the issue of the origin of
Scripture without clearly defining the terms or the hermeneutic and systematic
issues involved (see I. Howard Marshall, Biblical Inspiration [Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1982], 31-47; and Trembath, 3-7). Artola points out that within the
Roman Catholic tradition prior to Vatican I, the terms "revelation" and
"inspiration" were not satisfactorily defined (120). The same lack of precision
seems to appear in Preus's evaluation of Lutheran dogmaticians in the
seventeenth century (29-30). The systematic distinction I am suggesting is drawn
within a Thomistic tradition by Paul Synave and Pierre Benoit (110).
For a recent interpretation of inspiration as illumination, see Trembath (5-6,
~ e presuppositional systematic function of the theological-philosophical
interpretation of God is widely accepted in theological circles. For instance, we
find Gordon D. Kaufman underlining the methodological function of the doctrine
of God in Christian theology. He remarks that "the word 'God' appears to
designate the last or ultimate point of reference to which all action, consciousness
and reflection can lead" (An Essay on Theological Method [Missoula, MT:
Scholars, 1975], 11).
The involvement of"two minds in the process of inspiration, a divine Actor,
and a human Scriptor" in the inspiration of Scripture has been pointed out by
John Henry Newman ("Inspiration in Its Relation to Revelation," in On the
Inspiration of Scripture, ed. J. Derek Holmes and Robert Murray [Washington,
DC: Corpus, 1967], 115).
The hermeneutic function of the notions of God and man in theology is
universal. As components of the systematic structure of theology, their interpretation
becomes a condition for the understanding ofmost theological ideas and doctrines. The
hermeneutic extent of the idea of God as a presupposition of theological thinking is,
however, broader than the hermeneutic extent of the idea of man.


The starting point, ground, and methodology on which a new approach

to the question of revelation and inspiration can be developed have
already been explored. The question now before us is whether a new
theoretical interpretation of the epistemological origin of Scripture is
necessary. Would it not be more practical and effective to choose one of
the many available interpretations? 1
Dissatisfaction with available interpretations has been present among
theologians, particularly during the last three centuries. For instance,
William J. Abraham states that "it is no exaggeration to claim that
contemporary Evangelical theology faces a crisis as regards its doctrine
of inspiration. For some time it has been felt that its account has been
inadequate."2 Abraham faces the evangelical crisis of understanding the
origin of Scripture by developing what he calls a "genuine alternative"
that is "intellectually viable and religiously valuable." 3 Still within the
general parameters of the evangelical tradition,4 Abraham's proposal
attempts to make room for a consistent application of the historical-
critical method of biblical interpretation, which he considers "well
established as an academic discipline and too relevant to our recovery of
the past to be ignored or rejected." 5 Abraham is correct in perceiving the
inadequacy of existing theories, but his proposal does not go beyond
either the classical evangelical or liberal models already in existence. On
the other hand, a great number of evangelical theologians, pastors, and
laypersons find no reason to question anew the meaning of revelation-
inspiration. As far as this sector of the theological population is
concerned the final answers have already been reached.
Clearly, the question about the meaning of revelation-inspiration cannot
stand on a mere reference to scholarly dissatisfaction. An analysis of the
models already in existence is required. It is necessary to become
76 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
acquainted with the broad characteristic of existing models in order to
assess their contents and capability to account for both the claims of
Scripture about itself and the phenomena of Scripture. Moreover, are the
models of revelation-inspiration that Christianity is presently assuming
complementary or contradictory? In this chapter, my purpose is to provide
an epistemological description of the classical model of revelation-
inspiration. The liberal model and an evaluation of both models will be
explored in the next chapter.

1. Theological Models
At the outset a word is in order regarding the nature of models considered as
technical tools for the analysis and comparison of ideas. Models, says Ian
Barbour, are "imagined mental constructs invented to account for observed
phenomena"; they are used ''to develop a theory which in some sense explains
the phenomena.' 16 Avery Dulles and David Tracy not only have worked very
effectively with theological models, but also have clarified what these are.
Models, explains Dulles, attempt to uncover "structural features of systems,"
and are ideal, simplified, and schematic accounts of a much more complex
reality. 7 Tracy explains that "a widely accepted dictum in contemporary
theology is the need to develop certain basic models or types for
understanding the specific task of the contemporary theologian. "8 In theology
the essence of models-that which makes their usage worthwhile--<:onsists
in showing the structural articulation of the main components involved in the
interpretation of any given doctrine.9 Thus, models are useful tools that help
to identify the general characteristics of any theological position, schoo~ or
Models have their limitations, however. For instance, they do not
"provide an exact description of particular historical phenomena." 10 And,
furthermore, their truth status cannot be proved. 11 No particular theologian,
therefore, will fit exactly the type or model that he or she represents. 12
Moreover, some theologians are very difficult to classify as representing
any given model; others even mix components that belong to several
It is extremely important to distinguish properly between "herrneneutical
principles," ''paradigm," and "model" so as to give precision to the analysis
and avoid unnecessary confusion. "Hermeneutical principles" refer to the
undergirding presuppositional structure that I explored in the previous
chapter. "Paradigm" refers to the methodology that any discipline needs in
order to function properly as science. 14 . Finally, the concept of "model"
refers to the specific way in which a theological doctrine is articulated in its
essential features. Thus, any particular model necessarily presupposes a
scientific paradigm and philosophical hermeneutical principles.
The Classical Model 77
Since there are various ways in which both the presuppositional
philosophical principles and the scientific methodological paradigm can be
interpreted, models for theological doctrines can also be conceived in
sundry ways. 15 For instance, Robert Gnuse speaks about strict verbal,
limited verbal, nontextual, and social theories of inspiration, 16 whereas Carl
Henry refers to evangelical, liberal, and neoorthodox approaches. 17
Speaking specifically about revelation rather than inspiration, Dulles
distinguishes five different models: doctrinal, historical, experiential,
dialectical presence, and new awareness. 18 Also speaking about revelation,
Mii.kka Ruokanen notes three models: propositional, nonpropositional, and
nonpropositional with new divinely originated information; 19 he also
discerns two models of inspiration, namely, the direct-instrumental and the
integrated-content theories. As a final example, we may note that Abraham
recognizes four models of inspiration: dictation, natural intuition,
illumination of human natural powers, and dynamic control of the free
human agent by the Holy Spirit. 20
In the task of identifying the most dominant models of revelation-
inspiration produced throughout the history of Christian thought and of
presenting a broad description of my suggested new model, I will use as
analytical tools the methodology discussed in my third chapter and the
interpretations of the ground (the presuppositional structure or
hermeneutical principles) presented in my second chapter.
A model of inspiration-revelation should provide as clear an
explanation as possible of the issue at hand, namely, the epistemological
origin of Scripture. Specifically, it should supply an understanding of the
way in which God and man interacted in the construction of meaning and
information, or in other words, how they originated the total content of
Scripture. It should also supply an understanding of the process of putting
that content into the form of a written text. The description of a
theological model, then, includes the following: first, an examination of
the underlying philosophical principles of interpretation; second, an
analysis of revelation as the epistemological origin of the content of
Scripture; third, an examination of the linguistic process of
inscripturization; and fourth, an evaluation of the results when applied to
Scripture as the source of theological data.

2. Presuppositional Structure of the Classical Model

The presuppositional structure of the classical model encompasses the
general metaphysical and epistemological principles of Greek philosophy
as developed by Plato and Aristotle and adapted to Christianity by
Augustine and Aquinas. 21 Concretely it includes metaphysically the
principle of realism, and epistemologically the principle of"illumination"
78 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
(Augustine's terminology) 22 or "intellectualism" (the Aristotelian-
Thomistic expression).
Aquinas's position differs from idealism, transcendentalism, and
materialistic realism. In it the basic characteristic of reality is
changelessness, which is at the center of the reality of things in what is
called the second ousia. Johannes Hirschberger explains that in addition
to concrete reality (first ousia), "St. Thomas recognized second
substance, which denotes that which in many individual things is found
to be identical, the common nature (natura communis). This coincides
with the species or genus. St. Thomas prefers, however, to call it essence
or quiddity (essentia, quidditas)."23 Here again Aquinas "is entirely at
one with Aristotle, and by this theory, he along with Aristotle makes it
possible for a portion of Platonism to continue to live on. " 24
Moreover reality is conceived not only as independent from the
cognitive subject, but also as timeless in nature. In the classical thought
timeless (ultimate) reality is conceived to be analogical. Consequently, the
characteristic of timelessness pertains properly to God, and only in various
degrees of analogy to the rest of reality."Aquinas put it in the following
way: "Eternity, in the true and proper sense, belongs to God alone, for
eternity, we said, follows upon unchangeableness (immutabilitatem ), " 26 and
eternity is timeless. 27
In intellectualism knowledge of reality is produced by the "agent
intellect" (intel/ectus agens). The agent, which is located in the timeless
soul, has the capability to abstract the timeless essence (second ousia) from
the concrete reality in which it is given to us (first ousia). All human
knowledge is structured this way. Sensory perception is considered to be the
starting point of knowledge, but is always of the timeless essence, never the
temporal-historical reality. 21
In this model, divine activity belongs to a world of timelessness;
divine and human knowledge, likewise, pertain to the same world of
timelessness. Even when the intellect is "active" in abstracting or seeing
the independent timeless reality that is given to it within the concrete
temporal reality, it nonetheless is passive in regard to the content of the
knowledge that it achieves. Intellectualism (and much more so
Augustine's "illumination") conceives of knowledge as basically caused
by the presupposed timeless reality or essence that determines the
scientific content formed in the human mind. The Fathers' view of
Scripture was influenced not only by the Hellenistic culture, but also by
Palestinian Judaism, which had already assimilated Greek culture. 29 In
this regard Vawter concludes that "the ·fact remains that it was among
men with very little of the Biblical sense of historical religion that the
Church's doctrine of inspiration was destined to be discussed." 30
Thus, the classical model of the origin of Scripture, built on the basis
The Classical Model 79
of this philosophical structure, was already generally accepted during the
Patristic period, and is still shared by both conservative Roman Catholic
and Protestant traditions. 31

3. Revelation in the Classical Model

As indicated above, the process of revelation has two components: divine
activity and human activity. At this juncture we must consider their function
and use within the "classical model" and what, in said model, constitutes
their essence and content.

Divine Activity
The concept of revelation as the origin of biblical content was hardly an
overnight development. Thomas Aquinas's synthesis brought to technical
expression the basic trend of classical thought. 32 For him, revelation was
the result of God's action on the human intellect, by which God might
"disclose new ideas or species to the mind of the prophet by direct action
upon the senses, the imagination, or by reordering existing ideas or
species in an original way, or by direct action upon the intellect."33 In
other words, revelation "is normally communicated to the prophet by the
supernatural gift of representations ( sensible, imaginative, or intelligible),
accompanied by an illumination of the judgment enabling the mind to
understand and exploit them." 34
Thus, revelation requires two actions of God upon the prophet or
writer. First, He has to generate the content; and second, He has to enable
the prophet to think (judge) at a higher-than-natural level of reason
demanded by the supernatural content itself. 35 Such enabling, when given
to the active intellect, does not destroy it, but rather elevates it. 36
Degrees of revelation are recognized, however, since some of the
means through which God reveals His transcendent truth are more
effective and excellent than others. 37 This, in tum, leads proponents of
this model to the conclusion that most of the Bible's contents have
originated not from supernatural revelation, but rather from the human
writers, whose active intellects were especially enabled or illuminated to
judge properly the kind of things accessible to every person. 38

Human Activity
In the formation of the actual content of revealed truth, the classical model
assigns to the human participant a passive, receptive role. Aquinas, again,
states this characteristic with unmistakable clarity. Since revelation is an
action of God directed to the prophet's intellect, it, as recently stated, does
not destroy that intellect; rather it elevates and utilizes it, so that the human
80 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
involvement in revelation actually occurs within the prophet's intellectual
faculty. 39 It seems clear that at this point, Aquinas's system or
presuppositional structure takes over, for he views the intellectual activity
of the hwnan recipients as contributing nothing to the creation of the
content of the revealed truths. These truths are caused only and totally by
God, who in various ways and degrees impresses them on the minds of the
prophets. 40 In order to receive these truths, the prophet's intellectual
capabilities are ontologically heightened by a supernatural act of God. In
fact, without such heightening, the normal intellect of the prophet would be
unable to receive the supernatural, timeless truths that revelation conveys.

The Essence or Nature ofRevelation

By now, the essence or nature of revelation according to the classical model
has become apparent. Revelation is cognitive. As stated by Aquinas:
"Prophecy first and chiefly consists in knowledge.',4 1 But although truth is
timeless, it is given to hwnan knowledge within concrete temporal realities
that are initially processed through sensory perception. If, in this life, natural
truth is to be abstracted by the active intellect from the data provided by
sensory perception, this process is even more evident in the case of
supernatural revelation, which is supposed to convey divine timeless truth.
It should be observed, however, that inasmuch as sensory perception works
on natural data provided by concrete realities existing in space and time, the
abstractive function of the intellect, in order to communicate the eternal
truths of natural or supernatural revelation, must eliminate the historical
aspects and concentrate only on the timeless ones.

The Content of Revelation

According to the classical model, the specific content of the supernatural
knowledge generated by God in the intellect of the prophets bas been
interpreted in various ways. Aquinas, for instance, considered that the
content of revelation potentially includes the total sum of absolute truth as
it eternally exists in God. In the divine intellect, he says: "Originally and
virtually, all being preexists as in its first cause,',4 2 and "the principle of
things pertaining to supernatural knowledge, which are manifested by
prophecy, is God Himself.',43 Prophetic knowledge, under the form of
teaching, is a likeness of the eternal timeless knowledge of the divine
intellect. Thus, Thomas specifically isolates God as the actual content of
Theology, by Augustine's definition, however, deals only with that part
of eternal truth that is not accessible through sensory perception and the
natural intellect. In other words, revelation is properly predicated of those
aspects of divine knowledge that we cannot access through our natural
The Classical Model 81
reason (our sensory perception and active intellect). Furthermore, theology
deals with either natural or supernatural truths insofar as these relate to
divine salvation. "It was necessary for the salvation of man, that certain
truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine
revelation," says Aquinas, who then immediately goes on to explain that it
was also indispensable that truths which are necessary for salvation should
be revealed by God. This is so, even when such truths may be accessible to
human reason; for reason is able to discover truth about God only "after a
long time, and with the admixture of many errors.'""'
Thus, the content of revelation is knowledge about salvation, and this
pertains to divine things, that in their nature and fullest meaning, are
timeless. It would seem to follow, therefore, that not all parts of Scripture,
having been written within a historical frame of thought, are relevant as
sources for theology. Moreover, since supemature is defmed as timeless by
the presuppositional structure, history cannot be, in itself, the content of
revelation. It is, at best, revelation's vehicle in via.
In this context, it is important to notice that history is not considered by
Aquinas as being even a means of revelation. He clearly summarizes his
view about the means by which God conveys supernatural knowledge to the
heightened intellect of the prophet by saying that "prophetic revelation
takes place in four ways, namely, by the infusion of an intelligible light, by
the infusion of intelligible species, by impression or co-ordination of
pictures in the imagination, and by the outward presentation of sensible
images. "45 Thus, actual history is not considered by Aquinas as a vehicle of
revelation, much less as a source of it.
John Henry Newman, agreeing with Aquinas' concept of theology as
the supernatural science of salvation, and taking seriously the statements
about the origin of Scripture made by The Council of Trent (1545-1563)
and the first Vatican Council ( 1870), seriously maintained that the content
of inspiration reached only things that pertained to "faith and moral
conduct.',46 This statement is broader than the more specific position by
A variation within the classical model is presented by the more recent
theory of propositional revelation championed by the conservative wing of
American evangelicalism.47 Carl F. H. Henry stresses that God reveals
Himself verbally and historically. 48 However, when speaking about the
verbal and historical features of revelation, it is evident that Henry refers to
means rather than to content. Like Aquinas, Henry believes that the essence
of revelation is cognitive. "Revelation in the Bible," he declares, "is
essentially a mental conception: God's disclosure is rational and intelligible
communication. Issuing from the mind and will of God, revelation is
addressed to the mind and will of human beings.',49
For Henry the content of revelation is God Himself, especially His
82 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
salvific purposes for humankind.'° This supernatural knowledge is given to
human beings within human history through the means of nature, historical
events, internal divine disclosure to conscience and reason (elements of
general revelation), and Jesus Christ (the consummation of special
When Henry speaks of the Logos, he views the historical Jesus of
Nazareth as only the vehicle through which the eternal Logos, who is equal
to God, is revealed to human knowledge.
The central and unifying element in the biblical doctrine of the Logos of
God is transcendent divine communication mediated by the eternal Christ.
The word of God is personal and rational, and the truth of God, whether
given in general or in special disclosure, including the climactic revelation
of the Logos in Jesus ofNaz.areth, can be propositionally formulated. All
divine revelation mediated to man is incamational, inasmuch as it is given
in human history, concepts and language. 51
Henry's understanding of this "incamational" or historical nature of
revelation is further clarified by his remark that "justification by faith, or
any other scripturally revealed truth, is historical revelation, in the sense that
it was divinely revealed at a certain place and time." 52
It seems clear from the foregoing quotations that for Henry historicity
does not belong either to the essence or to the content of what is being
revealed, namely, supernatural divine truths. It should be added, however,
that he, like Aquinas, believes that natural reason needs to be elevated in
order for it to be able to receive these supernatural truths. 53
The Bible, says Henry, presents both natural and supernatural
revealed truths. And once again he sets forth his view in language that
recalls of Aquinas:
Special scriptural revelation normatively sets forth the propositional content
of general revelation, and does so as the framework of God's saving
revelation. Scripture confronts fallen man objectively and externally with
a divinely inspired literary deposit that states the intelligible components of
God's ongoing general revelation in nature and history, and conveys as well
the propositional content of God's redemptive revelation.S4
Thus, for Henry, what the prophet receives from God through historical
means are "cognitive truths" and these he puts into propositional form as
Scripture is written. But biblical statements as a whole must not be
identified with propositional revelation, for what Scripture contains is,
rather, "a body of divinely given information actually expressed or capable
of being expressed in propositions."55
Henry is well aware that the Bible presents a God, who freely and
actively intervenes in human history. 56 He is correct in affmning that
Jesus' cross and resurrection must be understood as belonging to human
spatio-temporal history. 57 But, one may ask, bow can an eternal (timeless)
The Classical Model 83
transcendent being act in history and time? According to Henry, "the
answer given by biblical theism is that God acts by predestination."58 In
this context one should not forget that within the content of Henry's
theological tradition, predestination involves "more than simply a
temporal and historical election." 59 Instead, "what the Bible affirms is
God's pretemporal, superhistorical eternal election. ,'60 In other words, the
existence of the universe is grounded "on the eternal plan of the
unchanging God who is free to decree as he pleases and who in his 'good
pleasure' decrees a space-time matrix that by his willing becomes as
necessary as God himself."61 Moreover, since "God's decree is preceded
logically by his intrinsic self-knowledge, unless it be the case that his
decree and his self-knowledge are identical or that the decree is part of his
self-knowledge," and "the external universe is itself God's
implementation of his purpose,"62 it follows that Henry agrees with
Plato's basic ontological structure according to which historical reality is
the temporal duplication of the eternal one. The order of divine causes
and activities, then, are not performed from within the temporal order, but
rather from the timeless one. Through the interpretation of the actions of
God within the general framework of the Reformed interpretation of
providence, the classical philosophical system finds its way into a
theological reflection that is consciously trying to be faithful to Scripture.
Henry and many other Protestant theologians make a conscious effort to
develop a biblical understanding of revelation-inspiration. However, the
classical philosophical system under which they consciously or
unconsciously operate does not make room for the biblical understanding
of a God that acts historically in history as we proposed in the second
chapter. This systematic fact hinders them from accomplishing the goal
ofunderstanding the meaning of revelation-inspiration in faithfulness to
the so/a Scriptura principle.
Thus, Henry's thesis attempts to integrate the historical activity of God
and the historical Jesus Christ as presented in Scripture with the theoretical
structure of the classical model of revelation. As a result, Jesus Christ is
called to play a central role, but only as a means of making eternal truth
accessible to human cognitive limitations. Since Henry shares the classical
presuppositional structure, the full force of the biblical conception of reality
is still shackled in his system.
Ronald Nash holds a more moderate view of propositional revelation
since he recognizes that "some revelation is propositional, that some
revelation conveys cognitive information." Moreover, he also points out that
"some revelation is personal and noncognitive." Nash, then, appears as an
example of a theologian who mixes views belonging to two main models,
namely, the classical and the liberal (the latter of these, as will be seen in
chapter 5, emphasizes a noncognitive personal ground for revelation). 63
84 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
4. Inspiration in the Classical Model
The interpretation of revelation-the way in which the contents of
Scripture are espistemologically originated-is not enough to explain the
origin of Scripture. The linguistic process of writing, or inscripturization,
must also be addressed. Consequently, the classical model developed, in
addition to a doctrine of revelation, an interpretation of inspiration.
An analysis of the classical model of inspiration requires at least three
procedures. These are: first, the examination of the specific divine and
human involvement in the process of inscripturization;64 second, the
characterization of the essence of such a process; and finally, a brief
mention of the main theoretical variations regarding the content and
scope of inspiration.

The Role of Divine Activity in Inspiration

The classical model of revelation-inspiration has interpreted God's
involvement in the writing of Scriptures by following one of three
possible patterns, namely, dictation, primary causality, and creation-
The dictation pattern has been advocated since early in the history of
Christian theology. 65 According to this pattern, God is the writer of the
entire Bible, which "is deposited ready-made in the mind of the human
writer. "66 The latter needs "only understand the words materially and be
able to write them correctly, nothing more." 67 Very few theologians,
however, seem to have understood God's involvement in the writing of
Scripture in this extreme form of mechanical dictation. 68
The primary-causality pattern takes inspiration to be a divine action
ad extra, with Aquinas as its classical exponent. It views God's action of
inspiration as a supernatural charismatic gift by means of which the
"Holy Spirit moves and elevates the faculties of the sacred writers of the
Bible. " 69 As a consequence of this theory the Bible results from "God [as]
the principal author and man [as] the secondary or instrumental author. " 70
The precise theological explanation of God as the principal author is
made by way of"the philosophical principles of instrumental causality," 71
and this primary-secondary cause pattern involves a sort of coordination
between God as the primary agent and the prophet as his instrument.
Forestell explains, in less technical terms, the concept of instrumentality:
An instrument, such as a saw or a trumpet, cannot produce any effect
unless it is used by a carpenter or a musician. When so used, it produces
an effect proper to its own nature; a saw is designed to cut wood, a
trumpet to make music. The effect, however, surpasses the proper
causality of the instrument even though the latter receives and conditions
the action of the principal agent. 72
The Classical Model 85
In the writing of Scripture, the human instrument "does not act on his own,
but in virtue of an action communicated to it by the principal agent. ..n
In this model, the prophet is God's passive instrument not only "in
regard to the internal, mental conception of the writing, but in regard also
to the literary form and external expression of the book." 74 But even
though this pattern emphasizes God's authorship of Scripture, the notion
of human instrumentality may account for the existence of biblical
imperfections. This pattern thus has room for certain imperfections,
including literary defects, because they "are not ascribed to God, but to
the human authors ofScripture."75 The imperfections and literary defects
are caused by the limits proper to the essence of the human instrument.
The foregoing pattern has been adopted officially by the Roman Catholic
church. 76
The providence pattern is utilized to explain God's activity in the
writing of Scripture as a specific case of His sovereign providential
government of the world. On the basis of this pattern, modem
evangelicalism rejects the mechanical dictation pattern of divine action
in inspiration.n Millard Erickson states that even in what B. B. Warfield
regarded as the most diluted form of Calvinism, it is possible to maintain
that God became the author of Scripture by carefully "directing the
thought of the writers, so that they were precisely the thoughts that he
wished expressed. " 71 According to this view, which Erickson shares, God
renders certain, but not necessary, the outcome of any free action by
determining the external circumstances that influence them. 79 Kenneth S.
Kantzer points out that Calvin's view of divine activity in inspiration does
not make the prophet "an instrument which simply passes on words
mechanically given to him. Rather, because of God's sovereign control
of his being, he is an instrument whose whole personality expresses itself
naturally to write exactly the words God wishes to speak. Only in this
large and comprehensive sense are the words of Scripture dictated by

The Role of Human Activity in Inspiration

In the classical model, human contributions are kept to the most minimal
level possible. Not only in the origination of truth, but in the very writing
of Scripture, God is the main or principal overshadowing cause or author. 11
The activity of the Holy Spirit is experienced by the writer as a gift that
heightens the natural capabilities and transforms the prophet into a suitable
instrument for the specific activity of writing Scripture. 82 Most classical
thinking allowed no active role or specific contribution on the part of the
human element in the instrument. This human agent was conceived
essentially as a passive tool, used by the Holy Spirit in the historical process
86 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
of writing Scripture. The passivity of the human instrument refers to the
total dependence of the human agent on the divine cause, entailing no
material absence of human activity in the actual process of writing.
There is, however, a track of classical thinking that allows hwnan
activity a small amount of room in the formation of the sacred text, such as
in gathering material and conceiving the literary plan of the book. 84 Of
course, even these tasks are viewed as being performed under the direct
influence of the Holy Spirit, a matter that I have already explained. The
passive nature of the human role in the process of inspiration is, in fact, a
basic feature in all subvarieties of the classical model of revelation-

The Essence of Inspiration

The essence of inspiration is difficult to identify. In general terms, however,
I would suggest that inspiration is the connection that occurs between God's
power, will, and knowledge and man's limited cognitive, volitive, and
literary capabilities in order to produce a verbal or written account of divine
revelation. "Inspiration is a supernatural influence upon divinely chosen
prophets and apostles," declares Henry, ''whereby the Spirit of God assures
the truth and trustworthiness of the oral and written proclamation."85
On this ontological basis, the relationship between divine and human
activities in the writing of Scripture is described, for instance, as
"concursive," "simultaneous," "confluent," and/or "harmonious. " 86
Defining the essence of inspiration in terms of such concepts eliminates
dictation, thus allowing room for consciousness and freedom on the part
of the writer. However, the classical understanding of the essence of
inspiration is unable to overcome two fundamental shortcomings: first,
that God as author and primary cause in the production of Scripture
reduces the human contribution to its minimal possible expression; and
second, that the relationship between divine and human activities occurs
in a more or less mechanical and nonpersonal mode.

The Content of Inspiration

It should not surprise us that there are many and subtle variations of
opinion regarding the actual content of inspiration. In general, however,
it is possible to identify interpreters as following one or the other of two
main patterns. Some affirm inspiration for the totality of Scripture while
others limit the scope of inspiration to some portions of Scripture. The
first pattern, affirming full plenary verbal inspiration, is espoused by
persons who tend to explain the epistemological origin of Scripture by
way of a theory of inspiration. The second pattern, affirming limited
verbal inspiration, is advocated by persons who are inclined to connect
The Classical Model 87
inspiration with the classical model of revelation.
It should also be noted that both the dictation and the plenary-verbal
theories of inspiration affum that inspiration reaches the totality of
Scripture. They differ in the interpretation of the way in which the divine
activity in inspiration is conceived. The former supports dictation, and the
later adopts either the primary-cause or the sovereign-providence pattern. 87

5. Implications/or Theology
The interpretation of revelation-inspiration is not inconsequential for the
development and constitution of Christian theology. On the contrary, after
it is theologically formulated, the interpretation of the revelation-inspiration
doctrine plays the foundational role of being the epistemological
presupposition that defines the scope and nature of Scripture as theological
data. But in what way does the classical model determine the scope and
nature of the biblical writings as theological data? On this question there
appear to be two views. One emphasizes the process of writing
(inspiration), and the other emphasizes the process by which supernatural
ideas are originated in the mind of the prophet (revelation).
When the epistemological origin of Scripture is primarily understood
in reference to the writing process, the full verbal plenary theory of
inspiration affums the whole Scripture to be the word of God at face
value. Consequently, all the words of the Bible are equally considered as
supernatural revelation from the timeless and changeless God. 88 The
entire scope of Scripture is inerrant supernatural revelation not only in its
spiritual or doctrinal-salvific content, but in every historical detail. Gouse
puts it this way:
The words of Scripture may be considered absolute truth and used without
fear for the articulation of theology and Church practice. The treatment of
textual statements in this fashion implies that the text is propositional
revelation from God to man. For if God is truthful, and Scripture is revealed
by God, then it must be true in all its parts. If God is perfect, and God is
revealed in the Bible, the Bible must be perfect Since not lying entails total
and absolute accuracy, and common sense tells us that the accuracy is the
same for all people everywhere, then Scripture must be accurate in all its
details. 19
Thus, Scripture in its entirety qualifies as a source of theological data.
The nature of Scripture in this role, however, is determined by the timeless
omnipotence of God, who through the Holy Spirit overshadows the human
agency and overrides all human limitations, errors, and sins. Consequently,
in this view of divine inspiration, Scripture is viewed as having divine
objectivity, perfection, accuracy, and inerrancy. The approach is structurally
flawed, of course, in that it is doubtful that a proper account of the
epistemological origin of Scripture can be rendered without direct and
88 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
explicit reference to the origination of ideas and infonnation.90
When the epistemological origin of Scripture is primarily understood in
reference to the cognitive process by which supernatural ideas were originated
in the minds of the biblical writers, Scripture is conceived to include both
supernatural and natural contents (limited verbal inspiration).91 Timeless
truths are incarnated in temporal hwnan words. 92 The whole of Scripture is
inspired,93 but only part of it is revealed. 94 Revelation is that intellectual
timeless truth that God reveals to the charismatically empowered reason ofthe
prophet, who, with the additional supernatural assistance of inspiration,
consigns such truth into verbal or written form In this view, only those
portions of Scripture that are at the same time revealed and inspired are
considered proper sources oftheology.95 Unfortunately, due to the historical
constitution of biblical thinking, this view, as Scullion points out, recognizes
that "precious little of what a writer records has been revealed to him, much
is of purely human origin." And thus revealed, supernatural teaching "will not
be expressed in every sentence the sacred author writes. Indeed, the greater
part of what he writes will not be revelation in the strict sense at all." The
"idea, the judgment, the doctrine, that God wishes to convey will emerge from
a thousand phrases of minimal importance. And it is this that merits their
being considered revelation in the broad sense.''96
One important epistemological-methodological consequence of doing
theology under the second view in the classical model of revelation and
inspiration, then, is that a very reduced portion of Scripture qualifies as the
source for theological reflection. Thus, the so/a Scriptura principle, if
maintained, cannot be qualified by the tota Scriptura principle, and a
"canon within the canon" is necessary to determine which specific portions
of Scripture can play the role of sources for theology. The selection will be
determined, of course, by the actual content of the specific concepts that
each classical-model tradition happens to choose as central for the
constitution and defense of the doctrinal convictions of the community.
The question about whether the formulation of a new model for the
explanation of the epistemological origin of Scripture is necessary requires,
as a first step, the exploration of existing, generally accepted models. In this
chapter, I have described from an epistemological perspective the broad
characteristics of the classical model. The epistemological description of the
liberal model of revelation-inspiration and the evaluation ofboth the classical
and liberal models will be treated in the next chapter.
The Classical Model 89
'For an introduction to the many theories produced throughout the history
of Christian theology see Avery Robert Dulles, Revelation Theology: A History
(New York: Herder and Herder, 1969); James Tunstead Burtchaell, Catholic
Theories ofBiblical Inspiration since I 8 I 0: A Review and Critique (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1969); James I. Packer, "Contemporary Views of
Revelation," in Revelation and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical Thought,
ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958); Van Bemmelen; Rene
Latourelle, Theology ofRevelation: Including a Commentary on the Constitution
"Dei verbum" of Vatican II (Staten Island: Alba, 1966), 87-309, William J.
Abraham, The Divine Inspiration of Holy Scripture, 111-113; Avery Robert
Dulles, Models of Revelation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992), 21; Robert Karl
Gnuse, The Authority ofthe Bible: Theories of Inspiration, Revelation, and the
Canon of Scripture (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 6-62; and Vawter.
Abraham, I.
lbid., 109; see also 9, 58-75.
Ibid., 7, 109-118.
lan G. Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms(New York: Harper & Row,
1974), 300.
Dulles, Models ofRevelation, 25, 30.
'Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order, 22. For further literature on models, see
Frederick Ferre, Language, Logic and God (New York: Harper, 1961); Ian
Ramsey, Models and Mystery (London: Oxford University Press, 1964); and
idem, Christian Discourse (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).
9Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order, 23.

"Dulles, Models of Revelation, 29.

lbid., 29.
'4Thomas S. Kuhn has called attention to the term "paradigm" by using it as
a tool to help him interpret the historical development of factual sciences.
According to Kuhn, paradigm "stands for the entire constellation of beliefs,
values, techniques, and so on shared by the members ofagiven community" (The
Structure ofScientific Revolutions, 2d ed. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1970), 175). Hans Kilng applied Kuhn's idea of paradigm to the study of
theological development (123-226). See also idem, "Paradigm Change in
Theology: A Proposal for Discussion," in Paradigm Change in Theology: A
Symposium for the Future, ed. Hans Kilng and David Tracy, trans. Margaret Ktihl
(New York: Crossroad, 1991), 3-33. Unfortunately, the concept of paradigm as
used by both Kuhn and Kilng does not properly distinguish between the
philosophical foundations of the sciences and their methodological structure. In
90 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
other words, no distinction is made between hemeneutical principles and
Dulles, Models of Revelation, 26-27.
Gnuse, 22-23, 34-41, 42-49, 50-68, respectively.
Carl Henry, "Divine Revelation and the Bible," in Inspiration and
Interpretation, ed. John Walvoord (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 256-269.
Dulles, Models of Revelation, 27-28.
Miikka Ruokanen, Doctrina Divinitus Inspirata: Martin Luther's Position
in the Ecumenical Problem of Biblical Inspiration (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola
Society, 1985), 19-23.
Abraham, 3.
1 am aware that this is a simplification and generalization of a much more
complex historical development. Such simplification and generalization is
required here, however, by my purpose of outlining the main features of a model,
in this case the classical model.
Hirschberger presents three main ways in which Augustine's illumination
has been understood ( l :316-317). It is interesting to notice that Aquinas
considered Augustine's position as compatible with his more elaborate
intellectualism (Summa Theologica, 1.84.5). See also Annand A. Maurer,
Medieval Philosophy (New York: Random, 1962), 10-12.
Thomas Aquinas, The History of Philosophy, 2 vols., trans. Anthony N.
Fuerst (Milwaukee, WI: Bruce, 1958-1959), I :417.
See Canale, 185, n. I.
Aquinas, Summa theologica, 1.10.3.
Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 1.15.3; Summa theologica, 1.10.2 ad 3;
1.10.4; 1.10.4 ad 2 and 3; 1.10.3; 1.10. l. For a commentary on Augustine's timeless
conception of God, see William Thomas Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 5
vols., 2d ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969-1975), 2:88-93.
For an introduction to Aquinas's intellectualism, see Hirschberger, l :435-439;
Guillenno Fraile, Historia de la Filosofta, 3 vols. (Madrid: B.A.C., 1965-1966), 2:979-
1005; and Norman L. Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 86-90. For an introduction to
intellectualism as a general epistemological theory ofknowledge, see Johannes Hessen,
Teoria def Conocimiento, 9th ed. (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1969), 61-64.
Vawter, 35-36.
Ibid., 36. Origen appears to have shared the classical view about two centuries
earlier than Augustine. According to Enrique Nardoni, Origen believed that revelation
(he called it "divine illumination") "operates in a double way. On the one hand, it
"energizes the natural faculties of the prophets"(''Origen's Concept of Biblical
The Classical Model 91
Inspiration," The Second Century 4 [1984): 14). "On the other hand, it operates by
offering an apprehensible aspect of the divine mystery" ( 15).
Ibid., 76. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to describe the specific views
of sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, a topic that would require a complete
study in its own right. I should point out, however, that Ruokanen 's volume about
Luther (seen. 20, above) is instructive on the subject. In this article the Protestant
tradition will be represented by the views of certain present-day conservative
Christian scholars, especially Carl F. H. Henry.
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a2ae, 171-174.
BJ. T. Forestell, "Bible, II (Inspiration)," New Catholic Encyclopedia (New
York: McGraw Hill, 1967), 2:384; see also John Scullion, The Theology of
Inspiration (Notre Dame, IN: Fides, 1970), 36. For an in-depth study on
Aquinas' doctrine ofrevelation, see Paul Synave and Pierre Benoit; Pierre Benoit,
Aspects of Biblical Inspiration, trans. J. Murphy-O'Connor and S. K. Ashe
(Chicago: Priory, 1965), 44-64. According to Charles Joseph Costello, Augustine
conceived that truths were communicated to the prophets "either through their
sense faculties, or directly through the intellect" (St. Augustine's Doctrine on the
Inspiration and Canonicity of Scripture [Washington, DC: Catholic University
of America Press, 1930), 11 ); see also Vawter, 40.
8enoit, 44.
Aquinas, Summa Theologica 2a-2ae, 171.1, ad 4. Scullion points out that,
for Aquinas, this elevation of the mind was inspiration and that consequently,
"Thomas did not discuss scriptural inspiration as we understand it" (36).
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a-2ae, 171.2.
Ibid., 2a-2ae, 174.2.
Ibid., 2a-2ae, 174, ad 3; also see Benoit, 44.
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a-2ae, 173.2; see also fn. 32 above.
Ibid., I. 79.2. The passive understanding of man's activity in revelation was
already present in Origen. Nardoni remarks that the communication involved in
revelation "is made by 'a spiritual impression' on the spiritual sense of the
prophet's mind. This impression stimulates the spiritual sense and determines the
character of whatever the prophet has perceived" (15).
Aquinas, Summa theologica, 2a-2ae, 171.1.
Ibid., I. 79.2.
Ibid., 2a-2ae, 171.2.6.
Ibid., I. I. I.
Ibid., 2a-2ae. I 73.3; 2a-2ae. I 74. l.
John Henry Newman, On the Inspiration ofScripture, ed. J. Derek Holmes
and Robert Murray (Washington DC: Corpus, 1967), 108-109. For an overview
92 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
of Newman's thought and his influence on Catholic thought, see J. D. Holmes
and R. Murray, "Introduction," in ibid., 3-96.
The evangelical theory of propositional revelation belongs to the classical
model because the presuppositional structure on which it stands is borrowed from
classical Catholic thinking.
Henry, God, Revelalion, and Authority, 3:261-271, 480. Henry specifically
agrees with the classical realism-intellectualism of Augustine and Aquinas (ibid.,
3: 168-169).
Ibid., 3:248; see also I :200.
°Ibid., 3: 170, 269.
(bid., 3: 173.
lbid., 2:321.
See, for instance, ibid., 1:201, 3:171, and 4:119.
lbid., 3:460.
)bid., 3:457.
1bid., 2:251.
lbid., 2:289, 321.
lbid., 6:48.
(bid., 6:78.
Ronald Nash, "Southern Baptists and the Notion of Revealed Truth,"
Criswell Theological Review 2 ( 1988): 3 76-377.
See, for instance, Newman, On the Inspiration of Scripture, 115, and
Abraham, 2.
For a good historical survey of advocates of the dictation pattern, see Luis
Alonso Schtikel, The Inspired Work: Scripture in the Light of language and
Literature, trans. Francis Martin (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965), 66-72.
John Barton, "Verbal Inspiration," in A Dictionary of Biblical
Interpretation, ed. R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden (Philadelphia: Trinity Press
International, 1990), 720.
Schokel, 68.
Within the Roman Catholic tradition notable proponents of mechanical
dictation are Dominic Bai\ez and C. R. Billuart; within the Protestant tradition,
the Formula Consensus Helvetica, Johann Gerhard, and Quenstedt (see Sch6kel,
The Classical Model 93
68-69). However, according to Forestell, "no one today would hold that God
dictated the words of Scripture in an audible manner to the ear of the sacred
writer" (2:384).
Charles H. Pickar, "The Bible," in The Summa Theologica, 3 vols., by
Thomas Aquinas, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York:
Benzinger, 1948), 3:3105.
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2:383-384.
lbid., 3:3105.
Ibid., 3:3107 and 3105. Also Aquinas, Summa theologica, 2a-2ae, 173.4; 3.62.2
ad I.
Pickar, 3:3105.
1n its third session on 24 April, 1870, the First Vatican Council promulgated the
"Dogmatic Constitution concerning the Catholic Faith," which in its second chapter
states that the Roman Catholic church holds the Bible as authoritative "not because,
having been put together by human industry alone, they were then approved by its
authority; nor because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been
written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and, as such,
they have been handed down to the Church itself' (Denzinger, 1787). On 18
November, 1965, the Second Vatican Council promulgated its ''Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation," upholding the traditional view ofTrent and other
authorities, and which states that "in composing the sacred books, God chose men and
while employed by Hirn they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Hirn
acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything
and only those things which He wanted." Therefore, "since everything asserted by the
inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it
follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly,
faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings
for the sake of our salvation" (Walter M. Abbott, ed. The Documents of Vatican ll,
trans. and ed. Joseph Gallagher [New York: Guild, 1966], Dei Verbum, 3: 11 ).
See Abraham, 4.
Erickson, 216,359.
lbid., 357-359.
°Kenneth S. Kantzer, "Calvin and the Holy Scriptures," in Inspiration and
Interpretation, ed. John F. Walvoord (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 141.
For a study of human involvement in inspiration written from within the
conservative evangelical tradition, see Gordon R. Lewis, "'The Human Authorship of
Inspired Scripture," in Ine"ancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1980), 229-264.
94 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
See, for instance, Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a-2ae, 174.2 ad 3; cf.
Eugene F. Klug, "Revelation and Inspiration in Contemporary Roman Catholic
Theology," The Springfielder 26 (1962): 17-18.
See Barton, 720; also Abraham, 3.
See Costello on Augustine's remarks on the human activity of man (220-
222). Costello, however, clarifies that Augustine tended to emphasize either the
divine or the human activities without providing proper ways to put both concepts
together in a harmonious theological theory (18), and he portrays Augustine as
affirming that God wills the order of the book. This, then, transforms the activity
affirmed for the human agent into something superfluous. According to Schakel,
Roman Catholic theological manuals (it seems he is speaking of late theological
developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) move further away from
even Augustine's most generous statements regarding man's activity. These
manuals affirm, for instance, that the process of writing Scripture was "not under
a special supernatural influence," but was "carried out with the aid of a certain
divine assistance which guarantees that the terms are apt and that there is no error.
This assistance does not consist in a physical motion acting directly on the
executive faculties" ( 180). Though leaning somewhat toward the classical model
ofrevelation this relatively recent development seems to be a clear departure from
the essentials of the classical model of inspiration.
asHenry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4: 129.
Various of these terms are used interchangeably by evangelical scholars, but
"concursive" is often identified with J. I. Packer, who says: "We are to think of
the Spirit's inspiring activity, and, for that matter, of all His regular operations in
and upon human personality, as (to use an old but valuable technical term)
concursive; that is, as exercised in, through and by means of the writer's own
activity, in such a way that their thinking and writing was both free and
spontaneous on their part and divinely elicited and controlled, and what they
wrote was not only their own work but also God's work" ("Fundamentalism"
and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1958], 80); Costello, 18; and Randall Basinger and David Basinger, "Inerrancy,
Dictation and the Free Will Defence," EQ 55 (1983): 178. Regarding the meaning
and significance of the various terms, see also R. A. Finlayson, "Contemporary
Ideas of Inspiration," in Revelation and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical
Thought, ed. by Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 223.
For an introduction to the dictation theory, see Vawter, 59-6 I; Forestell,
385; Klug, 15; Kantzer, 137-139; Gnuse, 49; Abraham, 116; Packer,
"Fundamentalism" and the Word of God," 95; Barton, 721; and Costello, 12-16.
Regarding the Verbal Plenary theory, see Gnuse, 10-1 I, 27; Klug, 14, 16;
Newman, 150; Trembath, 8-27; Barton, 720-722; Nash, "Southern Baptists and
the Notion of Revealed Truth," 381; and Henry, "Divine Revelation and the
Bible," 257. For information on the limited verbal inspiration approach, see, for
instance, Gnusc, 34-41; Scullion, 27-28; Finlayson, 223-224; Ruokanen, 9-17,
33, 35-36; 72-74; 115; Costello, 27; and Dulles, Models of Revelation, 41.
The Classical Model 95
See Gnuse, 23, and Forestell, 386. The latter points out that "in the 20th
century, apart from some fundamentalist sects, the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy
is generally abandoned because of modem Biblical criticism. Where inspiration
is still mentioned, no attempt is made to ellplain its nature or its effects" (ibid.).
Gnuse, 25.
!IOR_egarding the need to integrate the accounts of revelation and inspiration
in any model that may properly set forth the epistemological origin of Scriptures,
see, for instance, Finlayson, 223-224.
Limited verbal inspiration is the position traditionally maintained by the
Roman Catholic Church: Council of Trent (1546) (Denzinger, 783), the First
Vatican Council ( 1870) (Denzinger, 1787), and the Second Vatican Council
( 1965) ("Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," 2: 11, in The Documents
of Vatican II, 118-119); see also Newman, 150-151.
Carl Henry states: "Historic Evangelical Christianity considers the Bible as
the essential te!ltbook because, in view of this quality [inspiration], it
inscripturates divinely revealed truth in verbal form" (God, Revelation and
Authority, 4: 129); see also Schakel, 87.
Carl Henry states: "No distinction of inspiration e!lists between parts of the
Bible. All are inspired, although not for the same immediate purposes" ("Divine
Revelation and the Bible," 257).
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a-2ae, 173.2; Klug, 16; Scullion, 40;
Schokel, 55; Forestell, 384.
Aquinas opens his Summa Theo/ogica by clearly stating that "it was necessary
for the salvation ofman that certain truths which ellceed human reason should be made
known to him by divine revelation," and he closes his first article by concluding that
"it was therefore necessary that, besides philosophical science built up by reason, there
should be a sacred science learned through revelation" (I.I). We must study
"Scriptures," explained Augustine, "which adapt themselves to the backwardness of
infants, whom they nourish in the first place by humble belief in the historical deeds
accomplished in the temporal order for our salvation, end subsequently strengthen in
order to lift them up to the sublime understanding of things eternal" (ibid.).
Consequently, "a men who is resting upon faith, hope end love, and who keeps a firm
hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures e!lcept for the purpose of instructing
others" (On Christian Doctrine, 1.39.43).
Scullion, 30, 39.


The purpose of this chapter is to describe the broad characteristics of the
liberal model of revelation-inspiration as it relates to the epistemological
origin of Holy Scripture and evaluate it along with the classical model
described in the previous chapter. The question before us is still the same
one that prompted the analysis of the classical model: Is a new theoretical
interpretation of the epistemological origin of Scripture necessary?
Would it not be more practical and effective to choose one of the many
available interpretations? Should we question anew the meaning of
Philosophical and cultural developments of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries led to the formulation of a new approach to biblical
interpretation, namely, the historical-critical method. The historical-
critical method of biblical interpretation was a product of the
Enlightenment. 1 The lµstorical-critical method in the surface seems to be
only the attempt to proceed scientifically in the exegesis of Scripture.
However, the historical-critical method is more than just neuteral
scientific analysis allowing a more complete and accurate access to the
ideas and teachings of Scripture. The historical-critical method entails a
new model of revelation-inspiration departing from the classical one.
Critical evaluation of the historical-critical method, therefore, should take
into account the liberal model of revelation-inspiration and the
philosophical presupposition on which it builds. To note, as did Eta
Linneman, that the method works "as if there were not God," bringing the
Bible to the same level as other human literary productions, or that it lets
everyday experience determine what is reality and what is not, cannot
suffice. 2 These characteristics, true though they may be, stand on the basis
of carefully developed philosophical principles and on a new way of
understanding revelation-inspiration. If the historical-critical method is
98 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
to be challenged, more is required than a mere return to the classic
interpretation of the presuppositional structure and a moderate view of
verbal inspiration. 3
Norman L. Geisler identifies and discusses Francis Bacon, Thomas
Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant as
contributors in the development of the new philosophical ideas that lie at
the basis of the liberal conception of revelation-inspiration. 4 William Nix,
working with trends rather than philosophers, identifies pietism, deism,
materialism, naturalism, skepticism, agnosticism, romanticism, idealism,
and existentialism as ideological trends that lead to liberal theology.' He
concludes that "between the early seventeenth and early twentieth
centuries a series of changes in the climates of opinion gradually prepared
the ground for a direct and open confrontation between religion and
science over the issues of revelation, inspiration and the authority of
Scripture. " 6
According to Gerhard Ebeling, this method, along with its
corresponding model of revelation-inspiration, attained "well-nigh
undisputed dominance" already during the second half of the nineteenth
century. 7 This I referred to earlier as the "liberal" (encounter-existential)
model. We must now tum our attention to its presuppositional structures
and the specific elements that characterize it.

J. Presuppositional Structure of the Liberal Model

During the Enlightenment period new philosophical trends began to
criticize, challenge, modify, and replace some of the basic principles on
which the classical interpretation of the presuppositional structure were
grounded. Following Rene Descartes' tum to the subject, classical realism
was rejected and replaced by different forms of idealism. More
significant, however, was epistemology's radical departure from
intellectualism. Reason was reinterpreted by limiting its reach to the
space-time continuum.
Immanuel Kant, reinterpreting reason, argued that the intellect did not
have the capability ofreaching into the timeless nature ofultimate reality
(essence or second ousia).8 Since for classical theology ultimate reality
in nature and supemature was timeless, Kant's limitation of reason's
power to the realm of spatio-temporal reality deprived the classical model
of revelation-inspiration of its basic ground. As stated by Hendrikus
Berkhof, Kant's foundational work also constituted "a radical new
beginning for evangelical theology. As a result of its appearance,
orthodox scholasticism, rationalism, and supernaturalism found that in
one single stroke, the road forward had been blocked." Furthermore,
Kant's philosophical structure required "the modem way of posing
The Liberal Model 99
questions, and modem methodology, in theology." His philosophy
includes, on one hand, the timeless nature of God and His truth, which is
still uncritically accepted, and on the other hand, the limitation of man's
reason to the spatio-temporal realm that does not allow for cognitive
contact between man's reason and a timeless or supernatural object. The
result of Kant's epistemological revolution was the conclusion that
cognitive revelation of supernatural truths is impossible. Moreover,
neither natural theology nor metaphysics, with their proofs of God's
existence, could be fitted into this new philosophical interpretation of the
presuppositional structure. Briefly put, the "Copernican revolution"
produced by Kant occurred within the epistemological rather than the
ontological realm. The classical view regarding the existence of God and
of the human soul are maintained as is the timeless interpretation of their
natures. What is disavowed in Kant's epistemological revolution is the
possibility for a cognitive communication between God and man. 10 The
acceptance of this aspect of Kant's epistemology plays a foundational
role in the liberal model of revelation-inspiration.

2. Revelation in the Liberal Model

Kantian epistemology, when accepted, seems to render impossible any
attempt to explain revelation. Since Christian theology has, rather
uncritically, assumed that the role of extrabiblical philosophy in theology
is to provide the interpretation of the presuppositional structure required
for its development, Kant's revolution became a challenge that Christian
theology sooner or later had to evaluate. The problem basically consisted
of the fact that philosophy was criticizing and reinterpreting its classical
Christian theology is still faced today with the same question: Which
interpretation of the presuppositional structure should be chosen? The
choice cannot be made on rational absolute grounds, but rather in terms
of preferences or traditions. Those who still believe that the classical
interpretation of the presuppositional structure is to be chosen become
"conservatives"; those who believe that the Kantian interpretation should
be chosen become "liberals."
The first questions that a liberal theologian must answer regard
whether revelation-inspiration is possible and what is its nature.
Moreover, the place of Scripture as the source of theology also needs
clarification. Is it possible, then, to accept the new Kantian definition of
the presuppositional structure and at the same time to claim the possibility
and existence of divine revelation?
Friedrich Schleiermacher, "the fatherofmodem theology," undertook
the difficult task of creating a new conception of revelation on the basis
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of Kant's rejection of classical intellectualism. 11 Schleiermacher not only
provided the new model, but also developed it in a technical fashion that
is still at the foundation of the many ways in which revelation has been
interpreted within the tradition of liberal theology. 12 On the foundation
laid by Schleiermacher, other theologians contributed both to the
formulation and increasing popularity of the liberal model of revelation
and inspiration, among them notably Rudolf Otto, Martin Buber, Emil
Brunner, and Karl Barth. 13 We must now query what the main features of
the liberal model of the epistemological origin of Scripture as expressed
by Schleiermacher, Otto, Buber, Brunner, and Barth are. No attempt is
here made to develop in depth the doctrine of these representatives of the
liberal model; our search is rather for the basic structure of the model that
they all represent. 14

Divine Activity
The liberal model of revelation-inspiration does not challenge or change
the classical understanding of God. 15 God is still conceived to be
"absolutely timeless." 16 Divine activity, consequently, is understood to
operate within the timeless level of reality. "By the Eternity of God,"
Schleiermacher states, "we understand the absolutely timeless causality
of God, which conditions not only all that is temporal but time itself as
well." 17 The way in which the Bible presents God's causality within
history cannot be integrated by the presuppositional structure of the
liberal model. This is why Schleiermacher remarks that "divine causality
is only equal in compass to the finite in so far as it is opposite to it in
kind, since if it were like it in kind, as it is often represented as being in
anthropomorphic ideas of God, it too would belong to the sphere of
interaction and thus be a part of the totality of the natural order." 11 Yet,
divine activity "extends as widely as the order of nature and the finite
causality contained in it." Applying this concept of divine activity
rigorously, Schleiermacher concludes that God's creation "must be
represented as the event in time which conditions all change," yet must
do so without making "the divine activity itself a temporal activity." 19
Consequently, any idea that may suggest a temporal sequence in God's
activity must be consistently eliminated. 20 This is the kind of divine
activity that generates revelation.
Rudolf Otto strengthened Schleiermacher's view by emphasizing the
otherness of the reality causing revelation in man. This objective reality,
which tradition calls God, Otto designates as the "numinous."21 This
"numinous" objective reality "outside the self' is qualified as "Mysterium
Tremendum." 22 "Mysterium" means in a pure negative sense "that which
is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar. " 23
The Liberal Model IOI
"Tremendum" means "absolute unapproachability" and "absolute
overpoweringness." 24 Moreover, the "numinous" is characterized as the
"'wholly other,' whose kind and character are incommensurable with our
own. " 25 Otto and Barth understand the divine as that reality which
absolutely differs from nature and humanity. In so doing, they not only
assume the traditional conception of the timelessness of God, but bring
it to its most extreme expression. As in the case ofSchleiermacher, Otto's
"numinous wholly other" cannot act historically in history, but only as the
transcendent cause of human religious experiences.
Buber interprets the whole of reality in relational terms. I-it refers to
the nomelational world of things in nature and history. 26 I-thou refers to
the world of relations. 27 "The world of It is set in the context of space and
time. The world of Thou is not set in the context of either of these."28
Knowledge and words belong to the world of lt. 29 What man in the world
of It (knowledge) calls God, Buber identifies in the world of reality
(ontology) as the Eternal Thou. 30 Buber not only affirms the timeless
nature of the Eternal Thou, but, agreeing with Otto and Barth,
understands Him as the absolutely transcendent wholly other. 31 This God
does not act historically in history. To act historically in history
corresponds to Buber's nonpersonal world of It. God's action is directly
consummated in our own I through the mediation of the Thou of all
beings. 32 In other words, God acts "personally" in the timeless dimension
of the Thou. As will be seen below under the essence of revelation,
"personal'' refers to something that occurs logically on an existential
(ontic), noncognitive level prior to its presence on the cognitive level of
which it is the objective cause.
Emil Brunner, following Buber's analysis, also understands God as
"pure 'Thou, "'33 as "absolute Subject. " 34 Even though rejecting a timeless
interpretation of God in a Platonic sense, Brunner is still unable to
overcome the traditional timeless interpretation of God's eternity. 35 For
God, says Brunner, "the temporal-the separation into past, present, and
future--do[es] not exist."36 In this context God's revelatory activity is
conceived to have "always and everywhere the character of a sudden
event. It stands out from all ordinary happenings, from the 'normal'
course of development, and is a kind of 'incursion from another
dimension. "'37
Barth understands God's being as act rather than essence. 38 But act is
not to be understood as something analogous to our human actions. 39
God, conceived as act or event, expresses the idea that God is an ontic
reality grounded not in an eternal essence, but rather in His eternal
decision to be what He is. 40 This act or event includes at the same time
God's being and His works. 41 The concept of revelation in Barth is
necessarily tied to the concept of God as act. "God is who He is in the act
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of His revelation.''4 Because He is an act, God is a person who realizes
and unites in Himself "the fullness of all being.''4 1 In a very real sense,
then, God's act includes and causes not only Himself, but also the entire
universe of nature and history. 44 In short, "God exists in His act. God is
His own decision. God lives from and by Himself.''4' In a true systematic
fashion Barth immediately adds that "whatever else we may have to say
must always correspond to this first definition.',46
Furthermore, according to Barth, this act or event which is God in His
revelation has been "executed once for all in eternity.''47 Barth has
wrestled extensively with the issue of God's eternity. He has attempted,
as has Brunner in a less technical and detailed way, to bring time into the
eternal act that is God. Barth is aware that an explanation of the
historicity of the cross is to be provided while at the same time leaving
undisturbed the traditional idea of God's timeless eternity. He discusses
the issue extensively. 48 Barth's position is only a minor modification of
the traditional, timeless conception of God embraced notably by Boethius
and Thomas Aquinas. 49 He declares that eternity is not simplicity that
excludes the complexities and manifoldness of time (past, present, and
future) and space, but on the contrary, it includes in itself the complexity
of time but in a simultaneous way.'° The succession of time (past, present,
and future), therefore, is still denied to the being and act of God and His
revelation. Thus, the basic ontological feature that characterizes the very
essence ofa timeless interpretation of God's being is still maintained by
Barth. God's act of revelation, therefore, will not occur in the order of
succession of our time, but rather in the order of the simultaneity of His
eternity. As we will see later under the content of revelation even the
central event of Jesus Christ actually occurs in God's (simultaneous time)
rather than in our time.
At this point variations between these main representatives of the
liberal model seem minimal. They do, however, set the stage for more
significant variations at the level of human activity and the content of

Human Activity
The main reason for the existence of a liberal model of revelation-
inspiration is epistemological (interpretation of reason) rather than
ontological (interpretation of the being of God or man). The liberal model
of revelation replaces the classical interpretation of reason as being the
active intellect capable, with supernatural help, of reaching into the
timeless level of eternal divine truth, for, with Kant's interpretation,
reason is limited to the temporal-spatial realm. Truth about God, says
Schleiermacher, "could not proceed outwardly from any fact, and even
The Liberal Model 103
if it did in some incomprehensible way come to a human soul, it could
not he apprehended by that soul, and retained as a thought; and if it could
not be in any way perceived and retained, it could not become
operative." 51 It must also be remembered that Kant's interpretation of
human reason did not allow for the natural use of the active intellect.
Thus, it follows that if Kant's transcendentalism is accepted, no room is
allowed for the human intellect to be elevated in order to reach the
timeless divine truth at a supernatural level. On the basis of this
epistemological switch, revelation cannot be said to occur in the cognitive
realm. Yet, both Kant and Schleiermacher claim that, besides being
capable of reason and action, the human soul has the capability of self-
consciousness, that is, of a conscious awareness of itself. 52
Kant, speaking about aesthetics and art, defines feeling regarding sensory
experiences as an iMer modification in consciousness of the cognitive subject
(self) about itself. The feeling experience gives rise to contents of pleasure and
displeasure, and these form the basis for "a quite separate faculty of
discriminating and estimating, that contributes nothing to knowledge. 53
Schleiermacher and the liberal model of theology take Kant's concept
of feeling and consider it as the technical, formal expression of the
religious idea of piety. Specifically, religious feelings are said to occur in
the area of human self-consciousness, which differs from knowledge in
that it is totally passive.s.c This is the area of the self in which religion and
revelation occur, taking place when God, the Eternal, enters into an
immediate relationship with the human being, thereby originating piety
or the feeling of absolute dependence within human self-consciousness. ss
Otto, basically agreeing with Schleierrnacher, points out that there
must be a mental predisposition for revelation in man himself,
"potentially present in the spirit as a dim or obscure a priori cognition. " 56
However, this a priori required to contact the numinous wholly other is
not reason but feeling, which Otto designates as '"creature-
consciousness' or creature-feeling."57 The latter is basically defined as
"the emotion of a creature, abased and overwhelmed by its own
nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures." 58
Martin Buber analyzes the receptivity of man from the ontic rather than
the epistemological perspective considered by Schleiermacher and Otto.
Perception, knowledge, feeling, and imagination, according to Buber, belong
to the realm of It, that is, to the realm of things in space and time. 59 The I-
Thou world of timeless relation involves nature, men, and intelligible forms.6()
Consequently, human beings possess the ontic capability for the existential
encounter at the timeless level of the Eternal Thou.61 Feelings play the same
epistemological role, but only as a "mere accompaniment to the metaphysical
and metaphysical fact of the relation, which is fulfilled not in the soul but
between/ and 11wu."62 The ontic receptivity of human existence emphasized
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by Buber with the epistemological receptivity of feelings
suggested by Schleiennacher and Otto.
Emil Brunner identifies "faith" as the human reception ofrevelation. Faith
is "first of all an act ofknowledge.',63 However, we are far from Aquinas'
conception of faith residing in the intellect 64 According to Brunner, reason
fi.mctions within the "I-It," nonpersonal dimension., while faith works "in the
'I-Thou' dimension., as a perception of the way in which love is recogniz.ed
in love, and not in any other way.',65 So faith that receives revelation is an act
of knowledge not in the intellectual rational sense, but rather in the timeless,
existential personal sense. Brunner, then, understands faith as the human side
of the divine-human existential personal encounter. "In faith I do not think,
but God leads me to think; He does not communicate 'something' to me, but
'Himself.",66 So faith is knowledge, but of a different kind (personal-
existential) that works within its own timeless leveL whereas reason works
within the space-temporal dimension and the subject-object structure ofthings
("I-It''). 67 Brunner disagrees with Schleiermacher, Otto, and Buber in seeing
human reason, rather than feeling, as the cognitive capability that translates
the personal existential content of revelation into knowledge and speech.61 It
should be noticed here that Brunner seems to understand reason within the
limits of Kant's epistemology rather than according to the interpretation of the
Aristotelic-Thomistic tradition.
Barth's position develops at great length and with detailed technical
analysis a view that is, in generaL similar to that of Brunner. However, he
goes beyond Brunner in clearly rejecting the existence of an a priori natural
capability of man for the reception ofrevelation.69 Barth affirms that God's
act of revelation requires logically and necessarily a corresponding capability
for such an act in rnan. 70 However, in Barth's view, God's act of revelation
by itself simultaneously and miraculously creates in man the receptivity for
revelation, namely, faith. 71 lbis existential and timeless encounter affects the
whole being of man, including his "will and conscience and feeling and all
other anthropological centers."n
It seems clear that, according to the liberal model, the human reception
of God's timeless revelatory activity is displaced from reason to a supposed
timeless depth of man's being. This existential (ontic) encounter indirectly
also affects man's consciousness (epistemological level), either in the area
of feeling and imagination or even in the realm of reason, understood within
the temporal limits expressed in Kant's epistemology.

The Essence or Nature of Revelation

Revelation, according to Schleiermacher, is a "divine and therefore
eternal act." 73 Within a Kantian interpretation of the presuppositional
structure, it is impossible to accept that God's revelatory activity
The Liberal Model 105
operating "upon man as a cognitive being" can become an important
central feature of the liberal model of revelation-inspiration. Ifrevelation
cannot occur on the cognitive level, the only possible way to argue in
favor of both the possibility and reality of divine revelation is to find in
man a realm other than reason in which revelation would be possible.
This is precisely the key to the liberal model suggested by
Schleiennacher. Divine revelation operates within the realm of man's
feelings (piety) conceived as a faculty besides reason (science) and action
(morals)." It can be clearly perceived that if God's eternal revelatory
activity reaches human feelings rather than human reason, then it cannot
conununicate divine truths or propositions. According to the liberal
model, divine revelation is possible and real. Yet, it produces no
knowledge, information, meaning, or propositions, but rather a feeling of
absolute dependence. God's action, then, appears only as the "whence"
and the "codeterminant" of such a feeling. Schleiermacher has clearly
summarized the liberal position regarding the essence of revelation and
inspiration by remarking that "revelation is only to be assumed when not
a single moment but a whole existence is determined by such a divine
conununication, and that what is then proclaimed by such an existence is
to be regarded as revealed." 77
Otto follows Schleiermacher's epistemological approach, rather than
exploring the ontic existential foundation of such an epistemology of self-
consciousness as the feeling of absolute dependence. According to Otto,
the essence of revelation consists in the human experience of the
"numinous." As was already pointed out, the "numinous" is
"mysterious." That the "numinous" we experience is "mysterious" means
that it
is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our
knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come
upon something inherently ''wholly other" whose kind and character are
incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in
a wonder that strikes us chill and numb. 71
lbis experience, as in Schleiermacher, cannot produce knowledge, but
only "creature-feeling.''19 In a clear sense, then, Otto's view also
proposes a noncognitive origin of revelation.
According to Buber, revelation occurs as an existential encounter in
the mutuality of the "I-Thou" relation. The essence of this encounter is
that it connects the existence of God with the existence of man. That
encounter occurs in the timelessness of the "I-Thou" relation.
Consequently, in the encounter of revelation, "man receives, and he
receives no specific 'content' but a Presence, a Presence as power." 80
However, in the personal encounter, "there is the inexpressible
confirmation of meaning. Meaning is assured. Nothing can any longer be
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meaningless." Yet, this meaning received in the encounter cannot "be
transmitted and made into knowledge generally current and admissible." 12
Buber's conception of the essence of revelation as a noncognitive,
existential encounter is clearly visible in the following passage:
That before which, in which, out of which, and into which we live, even
the mystery, has remained what it was. It has become present to us and
in its presentness has proclaimed itself to us as salvation; we have
"known" it, but we acquire no knowledge from it which might lessen or
moderate its mysteriousness. 13
In no uncertain terms, Brunner agrees that, in essence, revelation is a
noncognitive, nonhistorical, existential event that takes place at the "1-
Thou" level. For instance, Brunner explains that "in dealing with genuine,
primary faith, i.e., when God reveals Himself to me in His Word, we are
not then concerned with a 'something.' In His Word, God does not
deliver to me a course of lectures in dogmatic theology, He does not
submit to me or interpret for me the content of a confession of faith, but
He makes Himself accessible to me. " 14
Karl Barth is also convinced that divine revelation is essentially a
divine, personal, noncognitive, nonhistorical event in the order of
everyday temporal succession. 15 However, Barth goes a step further in
claiming that the "Eternal Ac,:t of His Word" as it is spoken also includes
and generates a historical "correspondent" in the created realm that
always is cogiven or accompanies the inner grounding revelatory spiritual
act. 16 This historical correspondent to the "Eternal Act of the Word of
God," however, is not to be identified with the essence ofRevelation. 87
Barth seems to introduce this variation in order to make room, within the
liberal model of revelation, for the biblical claim that Jesus Christ is "the
objective reality of revelation," in other words, that "according to Holy
Scripture God's revelation takes place in the fact that God's Word
became a man and that this man has become God's Word. The
incarnation of the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, is God's revelation." 11 This
historical correspondent plays a significant role in Barth's position on the
content of revelation, which is discussed in our next section.
By now, the fact that the essence of the liberal model of revelation and
inspiration does not belong to the realm of knowledge, but rather to the inner
realm of a personal, noncognitive encounter with God has become clear.
Thus, the divine-hwnan encounter, which constitutes the essence of
revelation, takes place within the realm of man's self-consciousness and
feeling, and in that realm it originates in the environment of a noncognitive,
timeless, existential, and personal encounter.89 In the preceding section, it has
been shown that man has a passive capability to be acted upon by the timeless
divine activity, which grounds the personal encounter structure.
The Liberal Model 107
The Content of Revelation
Because in the liberal model the content of revelation is the noncognitive,
divine-human encounter, it follows that no idea, information, or words
are originated by the divine activity. The event of revelation
communicates neither timeless nor temporal historical truths. The way in
which this content is "translated" into historically conditioned ideas and
words will be dealt with later under the section on inspiration. But before
we move on to consider the way in which the liberal model conceives the
way in which Scripture was written down, it is necessary to ask whether
the historical-temporal existence of Jesus of Nazareth plays any role as
the source of biblical content or whether it is only the product of the
religious imagination of the community.
Otto criticizes Schleiermacher's position because he conceives Christ
only "as the supreme divining subject, not as the object of divination par
excellence. " 90 Otto asks whether it would be possible to conceive Christ
in harmony with Christianity's claim that in His own person He is
"'holiness made manifest,' that is, a person in whose being, life, and
mode ofliving we realize of ourselves by 'intuition and feeling' the self-
revealing power and presence of the Godhead."91 Otto's proposal is
worked out in Kantian terms. Against Schleiermacher, Otto suggests that
divination is not a universal faculty shared by every human being. Only
some holy men and prophets have the capability to experience the
numinous and express it in their own lives, acts, and words. In this way,
these men become objective revelations of holiness made manifest. We
are able to recognize these men, notably Christ, as objective impressions
of the numen on us because a priori, in our own inner consciousness, we
possess an "element of cognition, comprehension, and valuation,"
namely, the category of the holy. Thus, the numinous "impression" made
by Christ in us is not the result of everyday, historical occurrences, but
rather of the a priori category of the holy that allows us to discover in the
man Jesus' divination His objective experience of the numinous. 92 In this
indirect sense, then, it could be said that Jesus is also the content of
Brunner seems to go further than Otto. He boldly states that a person
"in space and time, is himself the Word. The Word of God, because it is
a personal word, is present as a person. This is what the Christian calls
revelation; 'the Word was made flesh and we have seen his glory. '"91 Yet,
Brunner hastens to qualify this statement by warning us that the
revelation of the Word in space and time is not direct, and consequently
should not be confused with "miraculous theophanies."94 The revelation
of the Word in space and time, explains Brunner, is indirect. "Thus, the
historical appearance of the human personality of Jesus is not, as such,
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revelation; it is revelation only in so far as in this historical, human
personality the eternal Son of God is recognized. The incognito of his
historical appearance can be pierced only by the eye of faith. " 9' It is
difficult to see how either Otto's or Brunner's positions could take the
historical Jesus as a direct source of revelation. It seems that only the
timeless, noncognitive, existential, divine-human encounter and its
salvific experience is the content of revelation.
Barth's articulation of the content of revelation is more elaborate. He
certainly agrees that the existential encounter produced by the "Eternal Act of
the Word" in man is the content of revelation to which the Bible writers are
witnesses. As does Brunner, Barth also attempts to go beyond the existential
encounter to include Christ as the content ofrevelation. Consequently, it is not
infrequent to read statements to the effect that revelation is equal with Jesus
Christ. For instance, early in his Church Dogmatics, Barth affirms that
"revelation in fact does not differ from the Person of Jesus Christ, and again
does not differ from the reconciliation that took place in Hirn. To say
"revelation" is to say 'the Word became flesh." 196
However, Barth also identifies Jesus Christ with the eternal,
nonhistorical act of God's Word, which is the core of revelation as
existential encounter. Barth's scheme requires three levels of "time" or
"history" to explain the phenomenon of the revelation of the Word of
God in the man Jesus of Nazareth. First, he speaks of God's own being,
not as timeless, but rather "historical even in its eternity."97 This
"historicity" of God is conceived to be the very source of time. 98 This
historical eternity, however, is conceived by Barth as simultaneity, where
the proper succession that belongs to the essence of time does not exist. 99
On the contrary, simultaneity logically and traditionally describes the
very essence of timelessness. Furthermore, Barth speaks of the mutually
corresponding times of creation and redemption. 100 This time is grounded
in grace and "is constituted by God's own presence in Jesus Christ in the
world created by Him." 101 The description of this time of grace, the time
of the incarnation, is made by Barth in temporal terms that clearly assume
the absence of temporal succession, that is, the time of the incarnation is
still not time but eternity . 102 Finally, Barth speaks of "fallen time" that is
our time. "It is the time whose flux has become a flight." Barth
recognizes that this "is our only time." 103 When Barth turns to the issue
of historicity, he affirms that the historicity of creation and grace is
nonhistorical in the historicist sense. Historicist history is our real history
in the order of succession. Creation, redemption, and, therefore,
revelation occur in the nonhistorical part of what Barth also calls
"prehistory." It seems clear, then, that the encounter of revelation and the
act of the revelation in the incarnation of Jesus Christ belong to the
nonhistorical side, closer to the eternal act of God.
The Liberal Model 109
Here Barth works on the basis of the idea that, in its essence, the act of
revelation creates its external correspondent in the world of space and time.
These external correspondents are called "signs." He points out that "among
the signs of the objective reality of revelation we have to understand certain
definite events and relations and orders within the world in which revelation
is an objective reality and, therefore, within the world which is also our world,
the world of nature and bistory." 104 In this way, Barth explains the historical
facts (fallen, historicist history) in Scripture including Israel's history, Jesus
of Nazareth, and the Christian church. 105
Ontologically, natural and historical phenomena become signs
because they are chosen by the eternal act of God to play that role. The
eternal "choosing" is explained by Barth in the case of the historicist
humanity of Jesus Christ as an eternal assumptio, which amounts to an
eternal adoptionism in which the historicist human nature of Jesus of
Nazareth is assumed in the eternal act that is God. 106 In short, for Barth
the Johannine egeneto amounts to the eternal adoption of the man Jesus
ofNazareth. 107 By virtue of that adoption the historical Jesus can be the
external form of the Word of God that remains always the same.
The historicist meaning of nature or history has nothing to do in the
choosing. As a matter of fact, Barth clearly states that the whole of signs
contained in biblical history "might equally well have been quite different" 108
Moreover, epistemologically, between the external sign (historicist time) and
the internal reality of the Word of God (eternal time of God and grace) there
can be only a correspondence ofcontradiction. Barth specifically clarifies that
''the place where God's Word is manifest is, objectively and subjectively, the
cosmos in which sin rules. The form of the Word of God is, therefore, really
that of the cosmos which stands in contradiction to God. It has as little in it the
capacity of revealing God to us as we on our part have the capacity for
knowing God in it." 109
Here we face a clear ontological and epistemological duality in the
Platonic and Kantian traditions. In their being chosen by God, the signs have
a reality and meaning (eternal time, time of grace) different and contradictory
to the reality and meaning that correspond to them in the real world of space
and time. 110 The duality between timelessness and temporality stems from the
Platonic tradition; the rejection of analogy between the two orders sterns from
the Kantian tradition. Truly, signs, including Scripture, are sacraments. Their
meaning, always given not by the external form but by the internal, spiritual
act of the Word of God, is always one and the same "iusti.ficatio or
sanctificatio hominis." 111
By way of conclusion on the content of revelation we can suggest that
Barth clearly teaches that the ultimate content of Scripture is always the
existential encounter produced via sacrament by the "Eternal Act of the
Word of God." In this he agrees with the liberal model. On the
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ontological side, however, his conception of the omnipotence and
sovereignty of the eternal act of God seems to suggest that biblical writers
were also given some "signs" or "forms" in historicist history by God.
These could be considered as the "content" of revelation, though of a
different and lower kind than the real revelation in the Word. These signs
would include basically the history of Israel and the life of Jesus of
Nazareth. From the epistemological point of view, however, the one in
which this chapter is interested, Barth's explanation that God assumed the
historicist history of the sign, which is worked out not by him directly,
but by the human agent, seems to suggest that biblical authors were able
to identify God's signs, the external form of his Word, only on the basis
of their personal, noncognitive encounter with God. Either way, it seems
that Barth has made an effort to suggest that the content of revelation
attested by the biblical writers also includes natural and historical
phenomena chosen by God, mainly the history of Israel and the life of
Jesus Christ. Yet because of his clear emphasis that the real content of
revelation consists not in its external form (sign), but rather in the
noncognitive, nonhistorical existential encounter in which God meets
human beings, Barth evidently works within the liberal model of
It seems clear that, according to the hberal mode~ the ideas, information,
concepts, and data we find in Scripture have been epistemologically
originated by hwnan cognitive activity without any contribution from God.
The entire content of Scripture, then, is human and historically conditioned.
Thus, the hberal model of revelation juxtaposes the divine and the human in
such a way that the contact between them does not involve any direct
communication of truth or information, but rather provides an indirect
stimulus to write (within historical limitations) about that which properly
belongs to the timeless level of reality, namely, God and the religious
The liberal model includes a variety of submodels that identify revelation
with a specific kind of divine activity; 112 yet these submodels always work
within the epistemological parameters drawn by the liberal model of
revelation. Thus, Avery Dulles's classification of models of
revelation--"Revelation as History," "Revelation as Inner Experience,"
"Revelation as Dialectical Presence," and "Revelation as New
Awareness"-appears to set forth variations or submodels of the hberal
model. 113

3. Inspiration in the liberal Model

The liberal model maintains that the process of writing down Scripture is
essentially "an exclusively human activity." 114 The human writer of
The Liberal Model 111
Scripture worked only with historically conditioned contents. No special
divine charisma is claimed to have assisted biblical writers. However,
there is a way in which this model traces religious discourse back to God:
the inner, timeless encounter of absolute dependence is considered to be
the ultimate cause that motivates the origination of all religious discourse,
including, of course, the Bible.
Schleiennacher connects the feeling of absolute dependence with the
origin of biblical and dogmatic writings by claiming that human self­
consciousness includes two inseparable, interconnected levels, one sensible
and the other absolute. Consequently, he speaks of an absolute and a
sensible self-consciousness or feeling.115 Absolute self-consciousness is able
"to manifest itself in time, by entering into relation with the sensible self­
consciousness so as to constitute a moment."116 Thus, since within human
self-consciousness the feeling of absolute dependence ( originated by a
timeless God) always cooccurs with feelings of pleasure and pain
(originated by sensory temporal experiences), the feeling of absolute
dependence is invariably linked to the content of the sensible self­
consciousness through which it expresses itself. In the very instant of its
origination, this content becomes the content of its external historical
manifestation, and when the feeling of absolute dependence is linked to it,
the result is emotion.117 Even when emotions express the feeling of absolute
dependence they are not knowledge, however, for they belong to the
precognitive level of inner self-consciousness. Consequently, the writing
down of religious literature becomes "the attempt to translate the inward
emotions into thoughts. " 118 Biblical teachings, and Christian doctrines as
well, are "nothing but the expressions given to the Christian self­
consciousness and its connexions."119
As we have already pointed out, Otto, following Schleiermacher's lead,
speaks of a hwnan faculty of divination that allows some to genuinely cognize
and recognize ''the holy in its appearances." 120 These cognitions, however, are
not identified with rational knowledge, but rather with intuitions of the eternal
beyond the temporal, which "in tum, assume shape in definite statements and
propositions, capable of a certain groping formulation, which are not without
analogy with theoretic propositions, but are to be clearly distinguished from
them by their free and merely felt, not reasoned, character."121
The process of writing down the existential content of revelation is for
Buber a process of translation or transmutation between two incompatible
orders: the "I-Thou" order of the eternal encounter and the "I-It" order of
spatio-temporal objectivity and knowledge. The writer needs "to grasp as an
object that which he has seen with the force of presence, he will have to
compare it with objects, establish it in its order among classes of objects,
descnbe and analyze it objectively. Only as It can it enter the structure of
112 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Brunner explicitly rejects the classical theory of verbal inspiration. 123
However, he explicitly affinns the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the
Bible writers (inspiration), but in a way that does not rule out "human
search, human weakness, and the possibility of mistakes in action and in
behavior." 124 The real problem, however, in Brunner's doctrine of
inspiration is determined by his previously formulated concept of
revelation as a timeless, nonhistorical, noncognitive existential encounter
within the "I-Thou" order. After such an encounter, the Bible writer
"speaks about God, about his Lord, Christ; God is now the Object of his
proclamation." 125 Clearly following the same general pattern established
by Buber, Brunner cla~ that the written "word of the Apostle through
preaching stands, as mediator, between the 'Thou-word' through which
he became an Apostl~, and the 'Thou-word' through which the 'other'
becomes a believer, through which the Christian community, the Church,
comes into being." 126 Obviously, this same structure applies to the written
word in Scripture. The written word is the It that, as a sacrament,
mediates between the two divine actions in the apostle and the believer.
The content, of course, comes from the Eternal Thou of God and not from
the written form or content of the It order of human language.
Barth also clearly rejects the seventeenth-century doctrine of
inspiration "as false doctrine." 127 Instead, he holds that the process by
which Scripture was written is a purely human process of"witnessing to
revelation." 128 As witnesses to revelation, human authors created by their
own agency the formal, temporal, external, cognitive "correspondent" or
"written sign" to the eternal, spiritual, existential, noncognitive Act of the
It is quite impossible that there should be a direct identity between the
human word of Holy Scripture and the Word of God, and therefore
between the creaturely reality in itself and as such and the reality of God
the Creator. It is impossible that there should have been a transmutation
of the one into the other or an admixture of the one with the other. This
is not the case even in the person of Christ where the identity between
God and man, in all the originality and indissolubility in which it
confronts us, is an assumed identity. 129
Barth goes on to draw an analogy between the incarnation of the
Word in the humanity of Christ and the humanity of Scripture.1 30 As
discussed earlier in this chapter, in both cases the human part is eternally
chosen, assumed, or adopted by God's eternal decision. Ontologically,
then, it can be said that God is the ultimate cause of the external form or
sign. Epistemologically, though, that is regarding its actual content and
meaning, it is entirely caused by the temporal, historical, historicist nature
of the human being and reason. 131 Thus, the human element does not
cease to be human, as well as fully and totally historically conditioned. 132
The Liberal Model 113
It necessarily follows that errors are contained in Scripture. Ill
As we already pointed out, the content of revelation according to
Barth consists in the internal, timeless, nonhistorical, "Eternal Act of His
Word" and the external correspondent of historical and natural signs,
including the history oflsrael and the life of Jesus ofNazareth, willed and
assumed in the very self-same act. It is easy to see how biblical writers
acting within their natural and, therefore, fallible cognitive capacities may
have gathered historical information from their own witnessing of facts
or through a process of oral or written tradition. Yet, were they also able
to talk about the real content of revelation, the nonhistorical, noncognitive
encounter with the Word of God? Barth answers in the affmnative. The
activity of speaking about the Word of God is characterized, in good
liberal terms, as divination, while the language produced by divination is
characterized as saga. Thus, divination is the cognitive process by which
the unaided human intuition attempts to translate the timeless existential
content of the encounter into the contradictory realm of time and space
thus producing a written account under the category of saga (poetry). 134
It should be remembered that such a translation is made between
incompatible, nonanalogical levels; that in the first level we not only have
no space and time but also no knowledge as we know it; and that the
intuition and linguistic expression is made by fallen men without any
supernatural aid. 135 According to Barth, then, Scripture is a humanly
conceived and produced document that is generally a mixture of history
and saga, with some exceptional occurrence of either pure saga (as in the
creation accounts) or pure history. 136 No divinely originated, cognitive
contents are to be found in the whole of Scripture. Scripture itself is one
of the many external historical signs that God uses sacramentally in
connection with which God may choose to produce the existential
encounter in the believer. 137
Finally, if inspiration may still refer to a divine influence on the
writing of Scripture, the liberal model, following Schleiermacher's lead,
seems to favor a switch regarding the locus where such activity might be
recognized from the individual to the social level. 138 Accordingly,
inspiration would work not on the writers, but rather on the entire
community that historically conditions the contents of emotions,
knowledge, and words utilized by these writers. This "social" view of
inspiration, however, does not change the fact that the epistemological
origin of Scripture is human.
It is possible to say, then, that the liberal model of inspiration has no
place for direct divine activity in the cognitive-linguistic process of
writing Scripture. The writing of Scripture was achieved by the power of
human imagination, which replaces reason. In essence, moreover, the
process of writing Scripture was historical and, therefore, fallible and
114 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
limited. Borrowing from the terms utilized by the classical model, it is
possible to suggest that according to the liberal model, the reach of
human activity in the writing of Scripture is full and plenary. By the same
token, the divine activity seems to be eliminated fully and completely.

4. Implications for Theology

A study of the far-reaching implications of the acceptance of the liberal
model of revelation-inspiration for the constitution of Christian theology
cannot be probed in this book. But the importance of such a study cannot
be overstated, since the liberal model seems to have been accepted in the
theological circles of a vast majority of Christian denominations. 140
Therefore, it is appropriate to outline some of the results of applying the
liberal model of revelation-inspiration to Scripture as the source of
theological data in order to have a better understanding of the full
theological significance of this model. First, it should be noted that since
according to the liberal model the contents and words of Scripture are not
produced by human reason but by human imagination 141 Christian
theology is left without objective cognitive foundations. Theological
pluralism becomes an unavoidable result of the liberal model of
revelation-inspiration. 142 Second, since biblical words and meanings are
wholly human, biblical exegesis is to be undertaken with the same tools
and procedures utilized by the historical and literary sciences. 143 Third,
liberal theology has felt free to use Scripture as historical and literary
resources for doing theology. Because the content of theology in the
liberal model is not historical but rather transcendent and timeless, it is
claimed that such play has no direct bearing on the constitution and
determination of the contents of Christian theology. And fourth,
philosophy, science, tradition, and experience are called by the liberal
model to play a grounding role as sources of theology, a role that
properly belongs to Scripture.

5. Conclusion
In my previous chapter, the classical model was explored. In this one,
with the description of the most common general features of the liberal
model, we have completed our historical journey in search of the general
characteristics of the models by which the explanation of the
epistemological origin of Scripture has been formulated throughout the
history of Christian theology. As the reader may have noticed, my
purpose was not and is not to criticize either model. It is my personal
opinion that one has to recognize that both models have been developed
with a high degree of inner coherence and that both are theoretically
The Liberal Model 115
possible. The purpose for describing both the classical and liberal models
was to provide the necessary context to help us to see whether a proper
explanation of the epistemological origin of Scripture may require a new
model or whether Christian theology can still attempt its proper task by
utilizing various versions of the existing models.
From the brief analytical description of the classical and liberal
models of revelation and inspiration it seems possible to draw at least the
following general conclusions.
Otherwise, the consequences of both models are briefly considered,
it becomes apparent that, in practice, great portions of Scripture (classical
model) or the whole content of Scripture (liberal model) are rendered
irrelevant as sources of theology. As a result, Christian theology is driven
to draw the contents for its doctrines more from science, philosophy,
experience, and tradition than from Scripture.
Only when inspiration is understood as revelation in the classical
model or, to put it in another way, when theologians explain the
epistemological origination of Scripture by using only the classical model
of inspiration disconnected from the doctrine of revelation, can the whole
of Scripture become theoretically authoritative as a source of theology in
its entirety. Second, the formulation of the liberal model of revelation and
revelation was required by epistemological changes produced within the
presuppositional framework that contradicted the presuppositions utilized
by the classical model. Accordingly, human consciousness came to be
conceived as limited to the historical realm and, therefore, unable to have
cognitive contact with a nonhistorical, nontemporal reality, namely God.
Third, both models seem to have difficulties integrating the two main
types of data that should be accounted for in any doctrine of revelation-
inspiration. These main types of data are: what Scripture says about itself
(biblical doctrine about itself), and what Scripture is (phenomena of
Scripture). The classical model seems to have difficulties in properly
accounting for the phenomena of Scripture while the liberal model
appears to fmd greater difficulty in following what Scripture says about
Fourth, both models seem to be incapable of providing an explanation
of the epistemological origin of Scripture in which both the divine and the
human agencies are properly recognized in their specific contributions to
the constitution ofbiblical contents and words. Again, the classical model
has difficulties accounting for the contributions of the human agency
while the liberal model is unable to properly include the divine as
depicted in Scripture.
Fifth, it seems clear that the difficulties presented so far are the result
of the presuppositional structure on which these models are built. The
common denominator shared by these two models comes into view when
116 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
their conviction that God's nature and activities are to be interpreted as
timeless is uncovered. The analysis of these two models, then, seems to
indicate that a timeless interpretation of the divine being and its activity
is the structural cause of the shortcomings each model appears unable to
Sixth, the reason why both models follow a timeless interpretation of
God lies in the fact that neither of them follow the methodological
principle of so/a Scriptura, but rather build their views utilizing
extrabiblical philosophical principles and methodologies.
Finally, in their departure from the so/a Scriptura principle both
models follow a procedure that is essentially unscientific. A methodology
that interprets an object according to categories that are alien to it seems
to ignore the basic scientific principle according to which any object of
scientific inquiry should be allowed to express itself freely and fully. A
scientific approach to the study of the epistemological origin of Scripture,
then, can neither follow the classical nor liberal models of revelation-
inspiration because they apply to the object of study presuppositions that
are alien to it. A scientific approach to the investigation of the
epistemological origin of Scripture should be built on the basis of a total
commitment to the so/a Scriptura principle from which both the
presuppositional structure and the data for a new model of revelation and
inspiration must flow.
These brief suggestions regarding the common characteristics shared
by the classical and liberal models of revelation-inspiration seem to
indicate the necessity not only for the formulation of a new model, but
also, once built, that its theological consequences be followed. Such a
new model should be built on the basis of the starting point selected in the
first chapter, the biblical ground uncovered in the second chapter, and
following the methodology discussed in the third. Once the possibility,
methodology, and need for the development of a new model of revelation
and inspiration have been explored, we may dedicate attention to the
actual formulation of the basic structure of the new model. The actual
development of a full-fledged theory of revelation and inspiration that
may discuss in a detailed way all the issues that are, in one way or
another, related to the epistemological origin of Scripture will then
The Liberal Model 117
See Gerhard Hase!, 18-23.
Eta Linneman, Historical Criticism ofthe Bible: Methodology or Ideology?
(Grand Rapids: Balcer, 1990), 84, 88.
1bid., 144.
Eta Linneman, "Philosophical Presuppositions of Biblical Errancy," in
Jnerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 312-327.
William Nix, "The Doctrine of Inspiration since the Reformation, Part II:
Changing Climates of Opinion," JETS 27 (1984): 441-456.
Gerhard Ebeling, Word and Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963), 18.
'Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 54.
Hendrilcus Berkhof, 7wo Hundred Years of Theology: Report of a Personal
Joumey, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 1-2. For an introduction
to Kant's thought specifically written for theologians, see Royce Gordon Gruenler,
Meaning and Understanding: The Philosophical Framework for Biblical
Interpretation, vol. 2, Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation Series (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1991 ), 35-45; Grenz and Olson, 26-31; and Berlchof, 1-18.
°Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 46. "Kant, the greatest philosopher of the
movement, denied the very possibility of factual knowledge concerning a super-
sensible order, and this appeared to seal the fate of the historic doctrine of
revelation" (Packer, "Contemporary Views of Revelation," 92); see also Henry,
"Divine Revelation and the Bible," 261, 267.
For an introduction to Schleiermacher's thought, see Richard R. Niebuhr,
"Friedrich Schleiermacher," in A Handbook of Christian Theologians, enlarged
ed., ed. Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), 17-
35; idem, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion (New York: Scribner's, 1964);
and Keith Clements, Friedrich Schleiermacher: Pioneer of Modern Theology
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987).
2The central role played by Schleiermacher as the founder of the liberal
model of theology is underlined, for instance, by Gnuse, 9; William J. Abraham,
"Inspiration, Revelation and Divine Action: A Study in Modem Methodist
Theology," Wesleyan Theological Journal 19 (1984): 47; and Packer,
"Contemporary Views of Revelation," 92.
1am aware that in his Church Dogmatics (CD), Barth consciously attempted
to depart from liberal theology as conceived by Schleiermacher. For instance,
Barth explicitly rejected the specific way in which Schleiermacher explained
some aspects of the human contribution in the epistemological origin of Scripture
( CD, 1/1, 126). His theological approach departs from Schleiermacherian liberal
theology in substantial aspects and properly deserves the designation Neo-
orthodox. However different Barth's and Brunner's general approaches to
theology may be from those of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberal
118 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
theologies on the issue of the epistemological origin of Scripture, the differences
do not seem to reveal a different model, but rather a more complete and explicit
formulation of the liberal model originated by Schleiermacher.
Regarding the way in which the idea of "theological model" is utilized in
this chapter see chapter 4, §I.
Plato's two-world theory can be detected at the base of the liberal model of
theology. Regarding Plato's influence on Schleiermacher's thought, see, for
instance, Terrence N. Tice, "Introduction," in On Religion: Speeches to Its
Cultured Despisers, by Friedrich Schleiermacher, trans. Richard Crouter
(Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1988), 25.
'~ere is no doubt that Schleiermacher subscribed to the absolute
timelessness of God. In this regard, see his brief but clear and well-articulated
presentation (The Christian Faith, §52, 1-2 and postscript.
7Ibid., §52.
Ibid., §51.1.
Ibid., §41.
See, for instance, ibid., §42.1-2.
Rudolf0tto, The Idea ofthe Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor
in the Idea ofthe Divine and Its Relation to the Rational, trans. John W. Harvey
(London; Oxford, 1923), 11.
Ibid., 11-13. 7
Ibid., 13.
Ibid., 20.
2.Sibid, 28.
Martin Buber states; "As experience, the world belongs to the primary word
I-it" (I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith [New York: Scribner's, 193 7), 6; sec
also 37).
Martin Buber states: "The primary word I-Thou establishes the world of
relation" (ibid., 6). According to Buber, the I-Thou world of relations includes
three spheres: nature, humankind, and intelligible forms (ibid). God, being the
Eternal Thou, does not belong to the world of relation but as the Wholly Other
is the transcendent cause of all relations and the world of "It" as well.
Ibid., 33 and I00.
Ibid., 40-41.
Ibid., 75-76.
Ibid., 79. This absolute transcendence of God's being includes the closeness
of real immanence to the point that panentheistic overtones seem to be at least
implied in Buber's concept of God as Eternal Thou.
The Liberal Model 119
Ibid., 75.
Emil Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter, trans. Amandus W. Loos
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1943), 87.
4..But God is not a Person, but Person, absolutely; not a Subject but absolute
subject" (Emil Brunner, Revelation and Reason: The Christian Doctrine ofFaith
and Knowledge, trans. Olive Wyon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1946], 24).
Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, trans. Olive Wyon
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1949), 266-270.
lbid., 270. It should be noticed to his credit, however, that Brunner's
concept of God's eternity comes very close to the biblical historical-temporal
concept. However, the specific rejection of temporal succession of past, present,
and future in the divine life contradicts Scripture and flows from the Platonic
tradition he is trying to overcome. Systematically, however, Brunner seems only
to modify rather than overcome the timelessness of the classical conception of
God's being and eternity.
Brunner, Revelation and Reason, 30.
ncD II/I, 257-272.
Ibid., 264.
°Barth states: "The fact that God's being is event, the event of God's act,
necessarily (if when we speak of it, we tum our eyes solely on His revelation)
means that it is His own conscious, willed and executed decision" (ibid., 271).
Ibid., 260.
Ibid., 257.
Ibid., 268.
4,41bid., 260.
lbid., 272.
lbid., 27 I.
See, for instance, CD, II/I, 608-677.
lbid., 610-61 l.
°Barth states: "The being is eternal in whose duration beginning, succession
and end are not three but one, not separate as a first, a second and a third
occasion, but one simultaneous occasion as beginning, middle and end. Eternity
is the simultaneity of beginning, middle and end, and to that extent it is pure
duration. Eternity is God in the sense in which in himself and in all things God
is simultaneous, i.e., beginning and middle as well as end, without separation,
distance or contradiction. Eternity is not, therefore, time, although time is
certainly God's creation or more correctly, a form of His creation. Time is
120 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
distinguished from eternity by the fact that in it beginning, middle and end are
distinct and even opposed as past, present and future" (ibid., 608).
Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, §IO postscript.
"Self-consciousness" is the technical term Schleiermacher uses to refer to
feeling and piety (The Christian Faith, §3, 2), yet it is not synonymous with
them. Specifically, Schleiermacher uses the term "self-consciousness" to avoid
any use of"the word 'feeling' in a sense so wide as to include unconscious states"
(ibid.). See Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 44.
!JKant, The Critique ofJudgement, 42.
l-4Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, §3, 3.
This happens directly in one's self-consciousness without the intervention
of sensory perception or cognitive reason and, moreover, the "self-identical
essence of piety is this: the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or,
which is the same thing, of being in relation to God" (see ibid., §4, 3).
0tto, 164.
nRudulf Otto states: "We said ... that the nature of the numinous can only
be suggested by means of the special way in which it is reflected in the mind in
terms of feeling. 'Its nature is such that it grips or stirs the human mind with this
and that determinate affective state"' (ibid., 12).
lbid., 10.
Rudolf Otto states: "I perceive something. I am sensible to something. I
imagine something. I will something. I feel something. I think something. The life
of human beings does not consist of all this and the like alone. This and the like
together establish the realm of It" (ibid., 4).
lbid., 6.
Rudolf0tto states: "The Thou meets me through grace--it is not found by
seeking. But my speaking of the primary word to it is an act of my being, is
indeed the act of my being. The Thou meets me. But I step into direct relation
with it" (ibid., 11).
Ibid., 81.
Brunner, Revelation and Reason, 34.
Aquinas, Summa Theo/ogica 2a-2ae, 4.2.
Jbid., 36 .
.wiBrunner, The Divine-Human Encounter, 85.
Emil Brunner states: "Revealed knowledge is poles apart from rational
knowledge. These two forms of knowledge are as far from each other as heaven
is from earth" (Brunner, Revelation and Reason, 16).
lbid., 15-17.
The Liberal Model 121
9There is no human awareness corresponding to the divine utterance (CD 1/1,
149). "Where God speaks, it is meaningless to cast about for the corresponding
act" (ibid., 162,224).
Ibid., 220.
Barth explains "that the possibility of knowing corresponding to the real
Word of God has simply come to him, man, that it sets forth a quite inconceivable
novum in direct contrast to all his ability and capacity, and is only to be regarded
as a pure fact, like the Word of God itself' (ibid., 222).
2Ibid., 231.
Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith,§ 13.1.
Ibid., §IO postscript. Here Schleiermacher's acceptance of Kant's
epistemological theory can be detected. Religion does not belong either to the
scientific or ethical realms (On Religion, 77). Nash is correct in labeling this
position ''theological agnosticism" ("Southern Baptists and the Notion of
Revealed Truth," 374), which is certainly a result of Kant's agnosticism.
However, considering that agnosticism is the limitation of knowledge to a certain
area rather than the total absence of knowledge, one could argue that the liberal
model embraces an absolute form of theological agnosticism which amounts to
systematic theological skepticism.
Schleiermacher, On Religion, 89-90.
Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, §4, 4. The consensus of liberal
theologians during the last two centuries, that "God has not spoken, and indeed,
cannot speak" (Nash, "Southern Baptists and the Notion of Revealed Truth,"
3 73 ), seems to be a consequence ofSchleiermacher's interpretation of revelation.
Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, § I0, postscript.
lbid., 28.
0tto posits that for "creature-feeling" to arise "there must be something
'numinous', something bearing the character of a 'numen', to which the mind
turns spontaneously" ( 11 ).
' Buber, 110.
2tbid., 111.
Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter, 84, cf. 87, 89; see also idem,
Revelation and Reason, 8, 27, 2830-31; and idem, Theology of Crisis, (New
York: Scribner's, 1929), 32-35.
Barth believes that in its ultimate sense, "God's Word is not a thing to be
described, nor is it a concept to be defined. It is neither a content nor an idea. It
is not 'a truth,' not even the very highest truth. It is the truth because it is God's
122 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
person speaking, Dei loquentis persona. It is not something objective. It is the
objective, because it is the subjective, namely, God's subjective. God's word
means God speaking" (CD, 1/1, 155). God's speech is equal to His eternal act,
that is equal to who He is. In other words, Barth is not contradicting himself when
he talks about Dei loquentis persona because the loquentis is equal to His eternal
act and does not belong to the level of history nor, therefore, of reason,
imagination, feeling, and action.
Ibid., 151.
Barth himself explains that since "the Word of God is itself God's act," "it
has nothing to do with the general problem of historical understanding. Of course
the question of some sort of historical understanding always arises when the
Word of God is manifest to us in its contemporaneousness. But it is not that sort
of historical understanding as such which signifies the hearing, and is the basis
of the proclamation, of the Word of God. Where the Word of God is heard and
proclaimed, something happens which in spite of all interpretative skill cannot be
brought about by interpretative skill" (CD 1/1, 168).
"CD 1/2, I; see 1-44.
In his On Religion, Schleiermacher had already stated that the divine
encounter "is not really a separate moment at all. The penetration of existence
within this immediate union ceases as soon as it reaches consciousness. Then a
vivid and clear perspective arises before you, like the image of an absent mistress
in the eyes of her young lover; or feeling works its way out from deep within you
and spreads over your whole being, like the blush of modesty and love over a
young girl's face." He concludes "that what we have to do with here is beyond
time and yet, precisely because of this, is rightly placed at the apex of all things
0tto, 159. Otto defines divination as the faculty "ofgenuinelycognizing and
recognizing the holy in its appearances" (ibid., 148).
Ibid., 159.
Ibid., 160-165.
Brunner, The Theology of Crisis, 34.
lbid., 34.
Ibid., 35.
Barth, CD 1/1, 134.
Ibid., Ill/I, 66.
Ibid., 111/1, 67.
Ibid.; see the detailed discussion on God's eternity in 11/1, 608-677.
IOO(bid., IIJ/J, 75.
' 'Ibid., III/I, 73.
The Liberal Model 123
lbid., Ill/I, 73-74.
lbid., Ill, I, 7.
Ibid., 1/2, 223. ''The fact that God's revelation is also a sign-giving is one
side, the objective side, as it were, of its subjective reality" (1/2, 224 ).
IOSlbid., 1/2, 224-227.
1bid., 1/2, 155.
lbid., 1/2, 159-171.
IOllbid., 1/2, 225.
1bid., 1/1, 189-190.
lbid., )/2, 223.
lbid., 1/2, 230; see also 228-232.
For the existence of different levels of models and paradigms, see, e.g.,
Kilng, "Paradigm Change in Theology," 134-135.
Dulles, Models of Revelation, 53-114; see also 27.
Nix, 456; see also Nash, "Southern Baptists and the Notion of Revealed
Truth," 375; and Lewis, 231-233.
Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, §5, 4-5.
lbid., §5, 4.
lbid., §5, 5.
Ibid., §13, postscript.
1bid; see also § 16, postscript.
0110, 148.
Ibid., 150-151.
Buber, 40.
merunner, Revelation and Reason, 127-130.
1bid., 128.
lbid., 120.
Ibid., 121.
Barth, CD 112, 525.
}bid., 1/), ) 25-126.
lbid., 1/2, 499.
llOlbid., 1/2, 500-50).
124 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
For a discussion of Barth's analogy between Christ and Scripture, see
Frank Hase\, "The Christological Analogy of Scripture in Karl Barth," '/Z 50
(1994): 41-49.
Talking about the human authors of Scripture, Barth remarks that ''their
action was their own, and like every human action, an act conditioned by and
itself conditioning its temporal and spatial environment" (Barth, CD 1/2, 505).
"Not only part but all that they say is historically related and conditioned" (ibid.,
•nBarth states: Prophets and apostles "even in their office, even in their
function as witnesses, even in the act of writing down their witness, were real,
historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their action, and capable and
actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word" (ibid., 1/2, 529).
Regarding the nature of human language about the objective revelation
produced by the Word of God, Barth argues that "in addition to the 'historical'
there has always been a legitimate 'non-historical' and pre-historical view of
history, and its 'non-historical' and pre-historical depiction in the form of saga"
(Barth, CD, III/I, 81 ). Saga is clearly defined as "an intuitive and poetic picture
of a prehistorical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the
confines of time and space" (ibid.). The cognitive process by which the intuitive
translation of the nonhistorical to the historical is understood by Barth as
divination, which "means the vision of the historical emergence which precedes
'historical' events and which can be guessed from that which has emerged and in
which 'historical' history takes place" (ibid., Ill/ 1, 83 ). In short, divination "looks
to the basic and impelling occurrence behind the everyday aspect of history,
where the latter is not only no less history than on this everyday aspect but has
indeed its source and is to that extent history in a higher sense" (ibid.).
That is why Barth comments that divination "looks to the point where from
the standpoint of'history' everything is dark, although in fact it is only from this
point that 'history' can emerge and be clear" (ibid.).
\bid., III/I, 82.
lbid., l/2, 532-533.
msee Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, § 130.
Consequently, the liberal model of revelation-inspiration allows for errors
to be found not only in biblical expressions, but also in biblical teachings.
Moreover, the task of theology includes the discovering and elimination of such
"°Its outreach is said to include, among others, Roman Catholicism (SchOkel,
218) and most Southern Baptist seminaries and colleges (Nash, "Southern
Baptists and the Notion of Revealed Truth, 34). Gordon Lewis has studied the
case ofBerkouwer, who began with the classical model of revelation-inspiration,
but later switched to the liberal model (236). This case should not be considered
an isolated one, however.
The Liberal Model 125
The role of imagination in the constitution of theology has been given
extensive analytical and technical consideration in Tracy, The Analogical
See Schleiennacher, The Christian Faith, § 10, postscript.
See ibid., §27, 3, §130, 2.


This chapter attempts to sketch in broad strokes a preliminary outline of

a revelation-inspiration model which, developed in faithfulness to the
so/a Scriptura principle, might yield a viable alternative to the classical
and liberal models discussed in previous chapters. My preceding
assessment has shown that in addressing the epistemological origin of
Scripture, the classical and liberal models do not properly integrate
biblical claims with the phenomena of Scripture. Let me underline, once
again, that I am not challenging the internal coherence or viability of
either the classical or the liberal models. They provide coherent
explanations of the epistemological origin of Scripture. Their
shortcomings surface in relation to the external coherence of the fact that
they try to explain, namely, Scripture itself. The classical model has
difficulties integrating the phenomena of Scripture while the liberal
model finds it impossible to accept the claims of Scripture on divine
revelation and inspiration literally.• In this respect, both models seem to
fall short of formulating a theoretical explanation of the epistemological
origin of Scripture in which the full scope of the claims of Scripture about
itself-the so-called doctrine of Scripture-and the phenomena of
Scripture-actual characteristics of Scriptures as they are given to
us-are properly accounted for without contradiction.
Because of this and other reasons presented in the concluding remarks
of my previous chapter, it seems that in spite of the almost unchallenged
authority that the classical and liberal models exercise today over
Christian theology, there is room for yet another model. Christian
theology does not need to feel imprisoned or predetermined by traditional
views. A new explanation for the epistemological origin of Scripture may
still be explored, developed, and evaluated. The possibility of such an
alternate interpretation will be examined on the basis of the starting point
128 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
selected in the first chapter, beginning with the ground discovered in the
second chapter, and following the methodology delineated in third, which
I also adopted in the analysis of the classical and liberal models. Because
of the subject matter under consideration, this chapter will follow the
style of a critical essay, appropriate to the task of theological inquiry.

1. The Nature of the Issue

As the exploration of an alternate model of revelation-inspiration is
undertaken, it should be brought to mind that the issue under scrutiny is
the epistemological origin of Scripture and not its veracity, accuracy,
inerrancy, or interpretation. The goal that an epistemological theory of
revelation and inspiration strives to achieve is precise and modest. The
epistemological investigation of the origin of Scripture seeks to uncover
the a priori conditions under which the cognitive origin of the
phenomenon under scrutiny can be properly and coherently conceived as
possible. 2
Scripture is a given fact. We have direct access to it. The question is
not about the existence, veracity, or accuracy of its statements, or even
the defense of the biblical claim that its words are the words of God (2
Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21; 1 Thess 2:13). The difficulty, rather, is whether
Scripture's claim to be the concepts and words of God is possible. lbis
is the problem to be clarified by an epistemological approach to
revelation and inspiration.
Our endeavor raises, first of all, the issue of method: How should the
matter be examined and on what basis could we arrive at viable
conclusions? As already argued in my third chapter, the method to be
followed here is hermeneutic. The hermeneutic method basically involves
the identification of the subject matter to be clarified and the
presuppositions required for its clarification. I have already recognized
the subject matter of our inquiry as the study of the conditions of the
possibility that the words of man which we find in Scripture may be at the
same time the words of God. Next, the presuppositions that condition the
interpretation of the epistemological origin of Scripture need to be
ascertained from the contents of Scripture, thus following the so/a
Scriptura principle. On that basis, a determination regarding whether the
biblical claim is possible or impossible, as well as a working description
of the general design of the model, could be made. 3 Specifically, the
conditions for the possibility of Scripture's claim that its humanly uttered
words are in their entirety the words of God (2 Tim 3: 16) depend on the
interpretation of the presuppositional structure. In short, the possibility
and the actual configuration of an alternate model of revelation and
inspiration are determined at the level of the presuppositional structure.
The Historical-Cognitive Model 129
After the Kantian epistemological revolution at the root of modernity
and postmodemity, the question before us regards the possibility of
conceiving the whole cognitive content of Scripture as originated in God.
Is it possible to affirm that the cognitive contents of Scripture are the
word of God without automatically subscribing to the classical model and
its limitations vis-a-vis the sola Scriptura principle?4 Or should Christian
theologians capitulate to the uncritical assumption that the only viable
alternative is the acceptance of the liberal conviction, according to which
the epistemological origination of Scripture sterns from human

2. Presuppositional Structure of the

Historical-Cognitive Model
It is impossible to address revelation and inspiration as an epistemological
problem if one maintains, against the testimony of Scripture, that human
beings alone are the originators of its cognitive contents. God's activity
is the necessary condition that must be assumed for revelation-inspiration
to become an issue in need of theological clarification. The
epistemological question already pointed out consists in whether God's
activity could be conceived as cognitively reaching human beings, thus
making possible Scripture's claim regarding its own origination. Once
God's cognitive activity is considered, the essential characteristics of the
cognition involved in the origination of Scripture must also be elucidated.
The answer to the question about the possibility of cognitive
revelation-inspiration receives a negative answer in the liberal model. 6
The classical model, on the contrary, gives a positive answer: Cognitive
revelation is possible. 7 A problem with the answer of the classical model
lies in the way the essence of cognition is conceived. As God's activity
and man's cognitive capabilities, necessary for receiving God's
revelation, operate in the realm of timelessness, the practical outcome is
a restricted and ambiguous theory of revelation-inspiration. The limitation
can be seen in the fact that according to the classical model of revelation
most biblical contents are originated by man, very few by God
(revelation). The ambiguity can be observed in relation to inspiration,
which comes to the rescue of the limited range of revelation. When the
human writer puts into words contents that have not been originated by
God (revelation) the classical theory maintains that God, in one way or
another, through the Holy Spirit, controls the human process of writing
(inspiration), miraculously turning it into his own cognitive verbal
expression. God must supernaturally inspire Scripture without interfering
with human freedom and initiative. So, according to the classical model,
God does not originate all the contents of Scripture (revelation), but on
130 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
the other hand, God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, originates
the entire content of Scripture. This is not the time to analyze these
problems and the unabated attempt to answer the many ways in which the
limitations and ambiguities of the classical model continue to surface. I
basically agree with the answer provided by the classical model to the
question about the possibility of revelation, but I feel uncomfortable with
the intellectual foundation on which it is built, namely, the timelessness
of God's actions and human cognition. For this reason, I suggest the need
to overcome this source of limitations and ambiguities. To do this
requires nothing less than a foundational reinterpretation of the
understanding of the presuppositional structure.
The ground for suggesting a new model, therefore, rests on the
possibility that the presuppositional structure may be interpreted in a
different way. Such a reinterpretation should be instrumental in yielding
not only a positive answer regarding the question about the possibility of
revelation-inspiration, but also a new understanding of the essence of the
cognition involved in revelation-inspiration. Only then could the
limitations and ambiguities of the classical model be overcome. The
ground I am referring to has already been uncovered in our exploration
of the ground in chapter 2. Briefly, it consists in replacing the timeless
conception of God's nature and actions with a temporal-historical one. 8
The temporal-historical conception of God's being and actions
radically departs from the classical and the liberal models. In accordance
with Scripture, this component of the presuppositional structure entails
God's ability to relate to humankind in general and biblical writers in
particular directly and univocally within space and tirne. 9 I am not
implying that it is possible to conceive the being of God as univocal to
our space and time. 10 Equivocity and analogy are also needed. 11 Here I am
only maintaining that when, following Scripture, one conceives God to
be a historical-temporal transcendent being, then God is at least able to
relate to human history and cognition univocally, that is, directly within
the level of reality and cognition, which properly belongs to human
beings, namely, to our time and space. 12 On the ground laid by this
interpretation, there appear to be no impediments to think of God, along
the lines presented in Scripture, as able to talk, speak, and act directly
within the sphere of space and time. On this base, a positive answer to the
question about the possibility of revelation-inspiration can be formulated
and a model for understanding the epistemological origination of
Scripture built.
The second component of the presuppositional structure, namely,
humanity and its cognitive capabilities, is also to be conceived temporally
and historically. Thus, another fundamental condition for the possibility
of revelation-inspiration is met. The divine-human process through which
The Historical-Cognitive Model 131
the contents of Scripture were generated demands that the originating and
receiving minds meet and work within the same level ofreality. 11 In what
pertains to the human component of the presuppositional structure, the
historicist interpretation of knowledge followed by most modem and
posbnodem scholars comes closer to the biblical way of thinking. The
limitation and inadequacy of the liberal model is not due to its conception
of reason, but rather to its inability to get rid of the timeless conception
of a God that, being unable to act historically in human history, is also
incapable of acting within the cognitive and linguistic levels of
humanity. 14
In summary, the liberal model conceives human nature in a way that
comes closer to Scripture than the classical understanding. At the same
time, however, liberals specifically deny the possibility of a cognitive
interpretation of revelation-inspiration. This denial logicaUy stems from
simultaneously adhering to a temporal-historical conception of hwnan
cognition and to the classical, timeless conception of God. It is not
difficult to realize that if God and humanity are placed in different,
incompatible levels of reality, cognitive communication between them
becomes logicaUy and ontologically impossible.
Consequently, the historicism of modernity and posbnodemity allows
room only for human and natural agents to work and interact within the
closed continuum ofhistory. According to this trend of thought, the basic
ground of meaning and understanding is supplied by history, which is
conceived as the material expression of the formal category oftradition. 15
Recently, Delwin Brown has formulated a posbnodem conception of
tradition that he calls "constructive historicism," the process through
which human traditions are transmitted and modified. 16 This position
directly results from the negative answer to the possibility of revelation
and inspiration upheld by the liberal model and, consequently, is
incompatible with the model I am proposing.
The model grounded on the historical-temporal understanding of
God's being and cognitive acts of revelation and on the temporal-
historical view of the human agent as cognitive receptor of the divine
activity could be designated as the "historical-cognitive model" of
revelation-inspiration. The model I am suggesting is "historical" because
the ontological nature of the agents involved in the generation of
Scripture, namely God and man, is temporal-historical. Likewise, the
essence of the knowledge produced by the revelation-inspiration process
is also temporal-historical. The model I am outlining is "cognitive"
because the historical interpretation of the ontological and
epistemological levels of the presuppositional structure provides the
necessary condition for knowledge to be generated by the divine being
and received by the human agent. On this account, the historical-
132 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
cognitive model overcomes the limitations of the liberal model, which
does not allow for a divine origination of cognitive contents, and of the
classical model, which allows only for a timeless origination of revealed
contents. Starting at the level of the presuppositional structure, therefore,
the historical-cognitive model of revelation-inspiration decidedly departs
from both the classical and the liberal models.

3. Revelation in the Historical-Cognitive Model

Earlier in this book it has been argued that the task of interpreting the
epistemological origin of Scripture involves the exploration of: the
process by which contents were originated in the mind of the biblical
authors, and the process through which these contents were expressed in
either oral or written forms. It has also been asserted that within this
process, revelation corresponds to the origination of biblical contents
while inspiration corresponds to their oral and written expression.
However, the actual detailed configuration of a model of revelation-
inspiration rests on the interpretation of revelation made possible by the
interpretation of the presuppositional structure. Within this
methodological context I tum now to the description of how the main
features of revelation would be understood according to the historical-
cognitive model.

Divine Activity
The question at this point is: How did God proceed in the origination of
the cognitive contents we presently find in Scripture? The key to the
answer, resounding from Scripture, is given to us in the introduction to
Hebrews: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets
at many times [1to.hµeptiJc;) and in various ways [1tolu,p61twc;]" (I: I,
NIV). 17 The phenomenological analysis of the phenomena of Scripture
clearly confirms the variety of biblical revelation. 18 Variety, then, is a
main characteristic of the historical-cognitive model. Allow me to
underline this point by way of a brief reference to the classical and liberal
models in relation to their corresponding presuppositional structures.
When God is conceived of in a timeless way, variety in the mode of
communication cannot be properly predicated of His action. Neither can
the divine action be conceived as occurring "in parts," involving both
division and temporal succession. 19 For this systematic reason, the
classical and liberal theories of revelation conceive Scripture in its
entirety as produced by the same kind of divine activity. No variation in
the divine mode of acting is contemplated, since variation is only a
human reality. The same applies to the classical understanding of
inspiration: God always proceeds in the same way, without variation.
The Historical-Cognitive Model 133
Unlike this conception, the temporal-historical view of God's Being and
actions allows the historical-cognitive model to conceive of God as acting
and communicating directly throughout human history in a variety of
ways, at different times. Briefly put, the variety of Scripture is not merely
due to the actions of the human agent, but primarily generated by the
sundry activities of the divine one. The historical-cognitive model of
revelation and inspiration recognizes that God was capable of acting in
various patterns as He engaged in the process of generating Scripture.
What are some of the ways, modes of action, or patterns that God
used in the epistemological constitution of Scripture? The classical model
recognizes only one pattern of revelation: the intellectual disclosure of
knowledge. God's activity was reduced to the cognitive level,
intellectually conceived according to the Platonic-Aristotelic tradition.
According to this pattern of revelation, God allowed eternal, timeless
truth to be intellectually grasped by biblical writers. That action
constituted the ground and content of propositional revelation. This
position entails the view that not all contents of Scripture were
epistemologically originated by God's action. On the contrary, large
portions of Scripture were generated through the normal, human process
of intellection. Recognizing that not all excerpts of Scripture are revealed,
inspiration is needed to safeguard the divine character of Scripture as a
whole. Scripture would be partially revealed and totally inspired. The
liberal model also recognizes one pattern or mode of divine revelation.
Revelation is the existential, noncognitive, divine-human encounter. Its
content is always the same. Variety comes only from the human side. The
whole content of Scripture is generated by human beings. Of course,
these human beings have been "supernaturally touched." Yet, God's
divine touch happens in the existential rather than cognitive or linguistic
level. God does not originate nor provide the contents of Scripture. In this
specific epistemological sense, then, the liberal model recognizes that no
section of Scripture is either revealed or inspired.
God's revelation, as it pertains to the cognitive origin of the contents
of Scripture, belongs to the area of communication between two minds.
According to Emilio Betti, the mind that originates the communication
produces a variety of "meaning-full fonns. " 20 When the human mind
initiates the origination of meaning-full forms, these may include "from
fleeting speech to fixed documents and mute remainders, from writing to
chijfres and to artistic symbol, from articulate language to figurative or
musical representation, from explanation to active behavior, from facial
expression to ways of bearing and types of character." 21 Since in
revelation the divine mind is capable of functioning not only according
to the patterns proper to its own divinity, but also according to the lower
ontological and epistemological levels of the intended recipient, it is
134 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
logical to assume that any meaning-full form that can be produced by a
human mind can also be created by the divine mind. 22 Furthermore,
because of His divine nature, God is able to create meaning-full forms in
patterns that fall outside the range of human cognition and action. Even
then, however, God produces these forms of cognitive communication
within the realm in which human cognition works: historically within
space and time. Thus, revelation assumes God's condescension and his
ability to work directly within the lower level of human, historical
cognition. 23
Human perception of God's activities and their patterns ofmeaning-
full forms will always be limited, both for the original prophet24 and for
any subsequent interpreter of prophetic utterances. Thus, it is impossible
to reach full awareness of all the patterns in which God is able to act or
has already acted in the epistemological origination of Scripture.
Likewise, any attempt to determine with precision and finality which
divine actions have contributed to the generation of the contents of each
portion of Scripture seems futile. However, a proper understanding of
revelation-inspiration requires the acknowledgment that diverse divine
activities may contribute to the origination of any passage of Scripture.
The identification of the main patterns utilized by God in the
generation of Scripture cannot be rationally deduced from His nature, but
rather described from the phenomena of Scripture. 25 Some of the
meaning-full forms utilized by God in the generation of Scripture are
explicit in Scripture. For instance, we discover God presenting Himself
in history to human beings (theophanies; Exod 3:1-15; John 1:1-14),
writing (Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10), speaking (Exod 20:1; Rev 19:9; Gen
15:1; 20:3), giving visual representations (Isa 6: 1-3; Ezek 43:3; Dan 7:2;
Acts 10:9-17; 16:9; Rev 9:7), historically acting in history (Isa 43: 18-19;
46: 11; Dan 2:21 ), and acting in relation to the life experience of an
individual (Lam 3: 1; Prov 1:7; Eccl I: 12; 17). 26 All these divine activities,
produced historically in history, are meaning-full forms that
communicated cognitive contents from the mind of God to the mind of
the biblical author or prophet. These meaning-full forms are the
epistemological origin of the ideas, contents, and information supplied to
the mind of the biblical writer in the process of revelation, and also of the
content of what he expresses in oral or written form.
From what has been described thus far, it seems reasonable to infer
that God's production of meaning-full forms as depicted in Scripture
allows for at least five main patterns of revelation. In order of decreasing
cognitive specificity these are: theophanic, direct writing, prophetic,
historical, and existential. 27 No single pattern can, by itself, account for
the richness and manifoldness ofbiblical revelation. Moreover, it is likely
that in producing Scripture, God employed additional patterns that could
The Historical-Cognitive Model 135
be discovered through a careful phenomenological analysis of Scripture.
Let me reiterate, variety in Scripture is not primarily caused by limitations
in the human agent, but rather intentionally produced by the various
patterns of divine revelatory activity. 28 The multiplicity of patterns
utilized by God in producing meaning-full forms allows the historical-
cognitive model ofrevelation-inspiration to extend the divine activity of
revelation to the whole range of Scripture.

Human Activity
God's generation of meaning-full patterns does not per se originate either
the actual contents or the letter of Scripture. Meaning-full patterns are
concrete vehicles utilized to communicate divine meaning, a
communication 01iginiated by God and received by the prophet. The
reception of meaning is performed by the human nature of the biblical
writer, notably involving his cognitive capabilities. For the
communication of meaning to occur, both communicator and receptor
must work within the same cognitive parameters. After this necessary
condition for the possibility of revelation is met, the role of the human
receptor can be ascertained in relation to the constitution of the received
To achieve cognitive communication, it is necessary that both the
originator and the recipient of the meaning-full forms work within the
same ontological and epistemological level. There can be no timeless
agent intellect capable of reaching the realm of timeless truths as in is
assumed by the classical theory. Scripture in no way supports the idea of
a timeless substance (i.e., soul) in which the rational capabilities are
grounded, 29 instead it supports the concept of a temporal and historical
human nature. Therefore, the presuppositional structure of the proposed
historical-cognitive model understands human capabilities to be
essentially, as is biblically advanced, temporal and historical. In this
respect, the historical-cognitive model is more akin to the liberal model
in that it comes closer to the scriptural view of human nature than does
the classical model.
Therefore, since God is capable of originating and constituting the
meaning-full forms and patterns of revelation historically in history, this
is, within the very same realm in which human reason normally functions,
the basic condition for the cognitive communication between originating
and receiving mind is met.
From this an important consequence follows. In the reception of the
divinely originated meaning-full patterns, the reason of the receiving
agent, the prophet, does not require the supernatural elevation of its
powers. The historical-cognitive model of revelation-inspiration, then,
136 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
does not require the charismatic elevation of reason's faculties by the
supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit.
Even though in general terms it agrees with the liberal model on the
understanding of human cognition, the historical-cognitive model differs
from it even more than from the classical model because here a cognitive
communication is accepted, whereas in the liberal model no cognitive
communication is even possible. Departing from both the classical and
liberal views, however, the historical-cognitive model accepts the biblical
conception, according to which the communication involved in
revelation-inspiration occurs not only within the cognitive, but also
within the temporal-historical level of reality, thereby not requiring a
supernatural elevation of human reason either in revelation or inspiration.
Let us now briefly tum our attention to the role that the human
receptor plays in the process of revelation. Is the process of reception
totally passive, thus adding or contributing nothing to the meaning-full
patterns received? Or is the reception also active, contributing to the very
generation of the revealed ideas or contents? If the prophet's mind is
active not only in receiving, but also in contributing to the understanding
of what then is being transmitted. what is the nature of his contribution?
Once the historical characteristics of the human receptor are
recognized, a pivotal feature of the function of human cognition comes
into view, namely, the content and origination of the rational a priori. A
phenomenological description of the role of human cognition reveals that
the apprehension of any given object involves not only a receptive,
passive function, but also a creative, active one. Jo The same dynamics are
present in the reception of meaning-full forms created by another human
mind.J 1 Both the receptive and creative operations of reason are related
to the a priori categories brought by the cognitive agent to the event of
revelation. Without a priori categories, the human mind cannot receive
and process any meaning-full form. Thus,, it is not a matter of whether
the prophet had a priori categories, but rather of identifying their nature,
origination, and content.
As we established in the classical model, a priori categories are
timeless possessions of the nature of reason. They are not originated in
history. Their content is formal rather than material; not provided by the
life experience of the individual (Lebenswelt), it is rather an ensemble of
general abstract principles on the basis of which human reason is able to
function. J2
In the historical-cognitive model, however, the a priori categories are
not grounded in timeless being or reason, but rather in the historical
experience of the prophet with God's previous revelations in the
Lebenswelt. 3J These previous revelations may include what other biblical
prophets have said and written and even personal revelations given by
The Historical-Cognitive Model 137
God to the prophet in his or her past experience. 14 The a priori categories
necessary for the reception and interpretation of the given object or
meaning-full form come from the past into the present and future. 35 This
movement corresponds to the flow of meaning in temporal reason. 16 It is
interesting to note that contrary to the past-to-present-and-future
movement of historical reason, the historical-critical method of exegesis
interprets the past in terms of the present. 37
In other words, the a priori categories that the prophet needs in order
to understand what is being communicated by way of the meaning-full
forms created by God originate in the past life experience of the prophet.
This past experience is directly instrumental in enabling the prophet to
receive the meaning God is communicating in the present by way of the
meaning-full patterns ofrevelation. 38 The historical content of prophetic
a priori categories, which the prophet brings to the cognitive event of
revelation, does not originate from changing human culture as is done in
the liberal model.
Since concrete human experiences are never identical, the actual
content of the a priori categories in the mind of biblical authors vary
greatly. This brings up the issue of whether theological pluralism is to be
recognized at the very inception of biblical contents. 39 Were the meaning-
full forms originated by God interpreted by cultural, historically
conditioned categories as maintained by the liberal model? As I will
return to the concept of historical conditionality of biblical writings in the
next section, suffice it now to say that the historical-cognitive model of
revelation-inspiration does not see the historical generation of the
prophet's a priori categories as leading either to a theological pluralism
or an acceptance of the historical conditionality of biblical writings.
The concrete history of the biblical author chronologically and
logically precedes the process of revelation-inspiration. History shapes
both who the prophet is and the content of his or her cognitive categories.
However, the historical existence and experience of the prophet is always
chronologically and logically preceded by divine revelation already in the
possession of the community of faith either in a oral or written form. 40 In
other words, the category-fonning history of the prophet is not
independent, but rather dependent on God's previous revelation. 41 It is not
by chance that Isaiah, seemingly working within the historical-cognitive
model, clearly stated that in evaluating claims to supernaturally originated
discourse, the criteria are unmistakable: "To the law and to the testimony!
If they [mediums and spiritists) do not speak according to this word, they
have no light of dawn" (8:20). The assumption, very logical indeed, is
that God does not contradict Himself in the communication of revelation
through His prophets. In other words, an accurate evidence that a prophet
is introducing privately originated ideas becomes apparent when his or
138 Back lo Revelation-Inspiration
her spoken or written words contradict previously stated divine
A God who is able to act historically in history is, for that precise
reason, also able to influence the historical development of the prophet
and his or her cognitive categories without overriding freedom and
independence. The prophet experiences providential, divine guidance in
the development of his or her a priori cognitive categories. This divine
education-a concrete, historical form of education, understood in the
broadest possible meaning of the word--embraces the whole life span of
the prophet. On this ground, it is possible to understand that even when
no two prophets interpret the divinely originated meaning-full forms with
the same a priori categories (life experience), no theological pluralism
follows because the variety in the content of their a priori experiences is
not systematic or doctrinal, but rather cultural and personal.
Some theologians working within the liberal model of revelation-
inspiration perceive the manifoldness of biblical thinking as involving a
plurality of contradictory positions. Hans Kung, quoting Ernst
Kiisemann's view that in the NT "we have to confirm the presence not
just of considerable tensions but often too of irreconcilable theological
contradictions,',..2 recognizes the existence of a "partially manifest
incompatibility of the theological positions in the New Testament.',.. 3
James Dunn seems to come close to this same position as he concludes
that a comparison of thought patterns in the NT reveals that they by no
means "always complemented each other; on the contrary, they not
infrequently clashed, sometimes fiercely."44 Without in any way denying
the diversity that Kiisemann, Kung, and Dunn perceive in Scripture, one
wonders whether viewing theological contradictions and clashes in
Scripture is not due to replacing the biblical interpretation of the
presuppositional structure with philosophical and scientific principles.
Conversely, when theology is interpreted on the basis of the biblical
interpretation of the presuppositional structure, it is possible to see how
the diversity present in Scripture does not result in clashing cacophony of
theological viewpoints, but serves to add color and harmony to the
unfaltering melody of biblical doctrine.
A specific distinction between the kinds of a priori categories the
prophet brings to the event of revelation needs to be drawn. The historical
experience of any human being includes a variety of different facets,
which cannot be compressed into an undifferentiated whole. Among the
many aspects included in the life experiences of any human being, five
play a decisive role in the cognitive process. In order of importance, the
five levels always present in the prophet's a priori are: presuppositional
structure, doctrinal conceptions, sociocultural idiosyncrasies, personal life
experiences, and individual personal traits. All of them are always present
The Historical-Cognitive Model 139
in the constitution of meaning, including the specific act in which the
prophet receives and interpretes divinely originated, meaning-full forms.
Because of the logical and chronological priority of revelation over
the life experiences of the prophet and the historical involvement of God
in the development of the prophet's historically generated a priori
categories, it is reasonable to assume that biblical writers developed,
through the divinely guided historical process of education, a common
understanding of the first two facets of the a priori: the presuppositional
structure and doctrinal teachings. At the same time, they differed greatly
at the sociocultural and personal levels. In this way, we can explain the
general theological harmony throughout Scripture and, at the same time,
the rich diversity of concepts and manners of expression present in
Scripture. Thus, the a priori condition for the understanding of God's
historically generated meaning-full forms was developed not in isolation
from God, but rather under His direct and pervasive influence.
Awareness that the human agent was not only a passive receptor, but
also an active contributor in the generation of the revealed content as
explained above might have been one reason for Peter's somewhat
enigmatic clarification that 1tciaa: 1tpo<t,1)'tE.ia: ypa:<t,fic; i6ia:c;
tm.tuae.wc; ou yive.'ta\ (2 Pet I :20). 45 Although the human agent is
actively involved not only in receiving but also in interpreting the
divinely originated meaning-full form of revelation, Peter makes clear
that such a contribution does not involve the private, independently
originated, subjective opinions of the biblical writer. As already
explained, the a priori categories through which the prophet received and
interpreted the meaning-full patterns generated by God are grounded in
previously given and consciously accepted revealed contents.

The Essence of Revelation

According to the historical-cognitive model, the essence of revelation is
cognitive. Revelation is the communication of knowledge from God to
humankind through the prophet. In this general sense, the historical-
cognitive model agrees with the classical model. Yet, the former departs
from the latter in the way the essence of knowledge is interpreted.
According to the historical-cognitive model, the nature of the cognition
involved in revelation is temporal and historical.
The temporal-historical understanding of cognition is not restrictive,
but rather inclusive of all human experiences, including personal feelings
and moods (see Heidegger's discussion of mood as state-of-mind).46
David Tracy describes the broad sense in which I utlize the word
"cognition" here. To know (cognition) is to understand, and to understand
is to interpret. In its broad sense, interpretation includes experience,
140 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
understanding, deliberation, judgment, decision, and action. 47 Thus
interpreted, human cognition is able to include the personal and
existential aspects of the divine-human encounter. The sometimes-called
"incamational" understanding of revelation does not happen without, but
rather within the general realm of human experience; and human
experience is never independent from knowledge.
The historical-cognitive conception of the essence of revelation
logically follows from the preceding interpretation of the divine and
human activities involved in the process of revelation outlined above. It
seems clear that the essence of revelation as cognition corresponds to the
essence of human rather than divine cognition. The lower is not capable
of the higher, but the higher is capable of the lower.
The traditional concept of God's condescension applies here.
Adaptation to the parameters of human cognition is possible because,
according to the historical-cognitive model, God is able to act directly
within the lower level of space and time. Through His condescension, He
is able to enter into and share directly in the characteristics of space and
time, both ontologically and epistemologically. God's revelation, then, is
produced by acquiescing to the main characteristics of human cognition,
as it is interpreted historically. At the same time, this entry of God into
the lower level of human cognition becomes the very ground for the
essence of revelation as cognitive event. As Heidegger puts it, human
cognition originates when past experience and openness to the future
coalesce into a moment ofvision. 48 In the case of the prophet, God, by
His continuous and direct historical presence and activity within the
spatial temporal parameter of human history, sets the concrete historical
content of the prophet's past recollection and future openness. Thus, in
the moment of vision the prophet, through the possession of previously
originated categories, receives and interprets the meaning-full forms
created by God.
It follows that the mode of cognition involved in the epistemological
origination of Scripture is not divine and, therefore, absolutely perfect,
but rather human, including all the limitations and imperfections of the
human mode of cognition. 49 It is important to underline that here I am
referring to the mode of the revealed contents and not to the contents
themselves. Neither the truth nor the divine origination of biblical
contents is contradictory to the affirmation of the human mode of
cognition through which biblical revelation was generated.
If one accepts that the mode in which the epistemological origination
of biblical contents took place is that of human cognition as historically
interpreted, a further departure from the classical and liberal models is
inevitable. The process of revelation that brought Scripture into existence
can no longer be conceived as historically conditioned. The essence of
The Historical-Cognitive Model 141
revelation rather resides in its historical constitution. Thus, I come back
to a rather complex issue mentioned in the second chapter. A rigorous
exploration of its intricacy would lead us far beyond the pwpose and
limits of this essay. However, since this distinction belongs to the essence
of revelation, according to the historical-cognitive model, a preliminary
clarification is in order.
Since the Enlightenment, the historical consciousness that developed
in Western philosophical and scientific circles has influenced Christian
theology to the point that without much technical explanation, the
historical conditionality of Scripture came to be regarded as an irrefutable
fact by both classical and liberal theologians. When the contents of
Scripture are seen as historically conditioned, the historical-critical
method is regarded as a better tool for biblical interpretation a
scientifically sound and theologically rewarding reading of Scripture.
What, then, is meant by the term "historical conditionality," and how
does it affect our interpretation of Scripture?
The classical and liberal models view the contents of Scripture as
historically conditioned. The understanding of what "historically
conditioned" means requires an awareness of the epistemological
configuration of both models. After defining the term "condition," we
will briefly revisit our earlier description of the classical and liberal
models. On this basis, a brief explanation describing the theological
position encapsulated in the "historically conditioned" qualification of
Scripture may suffice for comparison with the "historical constitution" of
Scripture espoused by the historical-cognitive model.
A condition differs from a cause in that the latter has the positive sense
of being that on the basis of which something happens or comes into being,
while the former has the negative undertone of being that without which
something would not come to pass. 50 This definition means that both the
cause and the condition need to be present to produce a given result.
Classical and liberal models of revelation-inspiration designate the
temporal-historical level of reality as condition while the timeless activity
ofGod----<:ognitive or existential-is given the role of cause. The classical
Platonic dualistic epistemology is here at work, setting the parameters of
this distinction. Plato, in a very subtle way, is still exercising his influence
on classical and liberal theology by surreptitiously determining the
interpretation of the presuppositional framework of both models. In these
models, the temporal and historical do not belong to the essence of
revelation-inspiration, but only to the process of its expression, which
does not form part of the content ofrevelation. s, Viewing Scripture in this
light requires that the historical level be methodologically disregarded in
order to accede to the imagined ultimate cause or meaning that always
stands beyond the historical realm. Sl
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In conceiving the essence of revelation-inspiration to be historically
constituted, the historical-cognitive model departs from the viewpoint that
Scripture is historically conditioned. The historical constitution ofbiblical
thinking and biblical contents logically follows from the interpretation of
divine and hwnan activities. To put it briefly, when historically
interpreted, meaning is constituted, generated, and originated within the
parameters proper to the nature of hwnan thought. When the essence of
the mode of knowledge in which the epistemological origination of
biblical thinking came to pass is understood historically, exegetes and
theologians do not need to look beyond the apparent historical meanings
of biblical words by imagining the existence of a timeless referent beyond
the text and thereby replacing interpretation with imagination.
In summary, we understand that the historical constitution of meaning
came to pass as God, in His wisdom and love, making use of His power
reached into the lower level of human historical reality and cognition
(divine condescension). Once within this level, God originated meaning-
full forms that were grasped by the historical cognition of the prophet,
which included his or her a priori categories. From the conjunction and
contribution of both divine originator and human receptor, the content of
revelation came to existence in the mind of the prophet. The result was
a historically constituted revelation which, through the additional process
of inspiration (see below), became a historically constituted text. The
referent of a historically constituted text is always found within the
general parameters of space and time. All the intelligibilities captured
within the historically constituted text, including the limitations and
contributions of the human agents, are the content of revelation and the
source of theological data.

The Content of Revelation

The historical-cognitive model of revelation maintains that the
epistemological origination of biblical contents was produced by the
conjunct activity of God and man. God originated various patterns of
meaning-full forms within the historical parameters proper to human
existence and knowledge. Chosen men and women received and
simultaneously interpreted the God-given meaning-full forms by means
of the necessary a priori categories, which were historically generated and
shaped by the prophet's willful reception of God's priorrevelations. Thus
conceived, revelation is at the inception of all biblical contents. The
whole content of Scripture is revealed by God.
This affirmation is possible when the idea of God's cognitive
activities is broadened from one fixed pattern to include a variety of
patterns, which in their ampleness are able to account for the divine
The Historical-Cognitive Model 143
origination of all of Scripture. At the same time, the idea of variety in
revelatory patterns entails variety in revealed contents and ideas. It is not
difficult to see that the historical-cognitive model calls for a broad variety
in the thought content and issues addressed in Scripture. The content of
Scripture, therefore, cannot be understood in the singular, but in the
plural. We do not have "a content," but rather an amazingly rich "variety
of contents." Likewise the contents of Scripture do not refer to eternal
timeless truths or existential encounters, but rather address the historical
reality of God in direct relation to creation and sinful human history.
Notably, the contents of Scripture include the multifarious aspects of the
truths God conveyed in biblical revelation, including the whole historical
development, unfolding from creation to new creation.
Finally, the written content of revelation, which coincides with the
entire extent of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, is to be seen as a
brief summary of revelation. The classical and liberal models view
Scripture as an exaggerated enlargement of an otherwise very simple and
succinct essential cognitive or existential content. According to these
theories, much of Scripture does not directly belong to the essential
content of revelation. John seems to disagree with these theories. At the
end of his Gospel he states the obvious: "Jesus did many other things as
well" (John 21:25). These many other things are not recorded in John's
Gospel, but were known either by John or other the disciples. John
understood that the range of meaning-full forms created by the
theophanic-historical pattern of Jesus' life overflowed the capability of
thinking and writing of all possible writers. John continues: "If every one
of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would
not have room for the books that would be written." Undoubtedly, these
books would include both the "acts and words of Jesus," which
constituted the meaning-full forms given to the disciples and the
interpretation unavoidably originated by their reception. Scripture is,
therefore, a compact synthesis of revelation. Instead of searching for an
essential meaning behind the words of Scripture, openly disregarding the
compressed summary of revelation given in the whole of Scripture,
theologians and believers should be attentive and submissive to its whole
content as historically generated, conceived, and expressed.

4. Inspiration in the Historical-Cognitive Model

Throughout our search for the meaning of revelation and inspiration,
inspiration has been defined as the process tluough which the contents
generated by revelation were given an oral or written formulation. The
fact that human authors were directly involved in the production of
Scripture is uncontestable. However, Peter reminds us that into
144 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
1tveuµai:o<; cxyiou ct,epoµEVO\ UciA,T}OUV CXltO 6eou civ0pw1tO\ (2 Pet
1:21 ). Totally agreeing with Peter, Paul reaffirms the basic Christian idea
that God did not leave the prophets to write by themselves. On the
contrary, because 1tftaa ypact,it 0e61tveuai:o<; (2 Tim 3:16; cf. 2 Pet
1:21 ), God is to be recognized as directly involved in the writing of
Scripture. Since the term "God-breathed" involves a general concept,
which "does not imply any particular mode of inspiration," the mode or
pattern of divine intervention in the writing of Scripture remains open to
theological inquiry. 53

Divine Activity
The interpretation of the role played by the divine agency logically and
methodologically depends on the previous grounding of the revelation
process. In other words, according to the historical-cognitive model, the
interpretation of inspiration is founded on the process of revelation rather than
on a direct intervention of God in the process of writing, which would thus
bypass or minimize revelation. The process of inspiration is subordinated to
the process of revelation and its cognitive outcome. Thus, God's role in
inspiration is never His fust and sole intervention in the process of generating
Scripture. The process of wtjting is not one through which contents are
originated, but rather are communicated to a larger audience. Inspiration
releases revelation from the cognitive confines of the mind of the prophet into
a new ontological reahn, namely, that of the written word. 54
Having restated this working distinction, I must point out that the process
of writing simultaneously involves the process of thinking. It is impossible to
write, without at the same time being engaged in thinking. The thinking that
occurs while one writes is not always memory driven, but involves also the
creation and generation of new ideas and contents. Consequently, it seems
that it is not always possible to draw a clear line of demarcation between
revelation and inspiration. In other words, sometimes revelation and
inspiration may occur simultaneously. Yet, the essence of their processes is
different: that of revelation is cognitive while that of inspiration is linguistic.
Because the historical-cognitive model acknowledges God's direct
involvement in the generation of the contents of Scripture as a whole, the
process of writing does not need to add, modify, or upgrade what has
already been constituted through the process of revelation. On the
contrary, God's contributions to the process of writing may be conceived
as including two main patterns: a general historical supervisional pattern
embracing the whole of Scripture, and an occasional, remedial,
corrective, historical-intervention pattern.
Through His onmiscience and onmipresence, God is directly aware of
everything, including the thought process and linguistic activities of the
The Historical-Cognitive Model 145
prophets. Divine awareness and specific knowledge of what is going on in the
mind of the prophet and in his or her linguistic operations correspond to the
general historical supervisional pattern of God's inspiration. It represents a
nonintrusive, yet direct overview, of the entire process of the writing of
Scripture. This pattern is the necessary condition for the various occwrences
of the occasional direct remedial-corrective pattern.
God's specific historical interventions in the process of proclaiming
divine revelation in both oral and written forms are designed to ensure three
things: that the prophet remains God's representative, not replacing God's
contents with his or her own interpretations or ideas; that the prophet is
assisted in finding the most fitting way to communicate revealed truth; and
that, on the basis of the simultaneity of writing and th.inking, new ideas are
originated during the actual process of writing. Only in notable circumstances
did God's occasional intervention totally overrule the prophet's
Generally, however, God's occasional interventions had the purpose of
enhancing the linguistic expressions of the prophet
Because of the absence of biblical reflection or examples of the way
biblical prophets experienced divine guidance in the moment of writing, it
seems advisable that caution should be exercised in what we affirm on this
issue. Because of this fact, it seems logical to conclude that any attempt to
analyze the biblical text with the purpose of identifying God's historical
interventions in the process of inspiration as well as the occasions on which
they took place will render only ftuitless speculative results. Additionally, it
is probable that even the prophet was not specifically aware of God's
occasional, supernatural intervention in situations that might have been
perceived from the hwnan viewpoint as natural occurrences in the process of
writing, for instance, remembering something, understanding an already
possessed information in a new light, or even coming up with a specific,
pivotal expression in the flow of thought.
God's occasional, direct remedial-corrective interventions, however,
should not be conceived as ways by which God overrode the essential
characteristics of the human modes of cognition and language so as to
eliminate their limitedness, indeterminacy, ambiguity, impreciseness, or
inaccuracy. Overriding the essential characteristics of the modes of
human cognition and language would render impossible God's willful
condescension to communicate within human parameters.
On the basis of the grounding process through which God generated
the whole content of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21) and of the two
interrelated patterns of God's contributions to the process of
inspiration--God' s permanent historical supervision and occasional direct
historical interventions-the historical-cognitive model maintains that the
whole of Scripture is revealed and inspired.
As in the case of revelation, inspiration also results from God's
146 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
multifarious historical activities. In proposing that God's involvement in
the process of writing Scripture followed at least two major patterns, the
historical-critical model departs from the classical model, which
conceives inspiration under only one pattern of divine activity, a unifonn,
constant, and charismatic intervention intended to elevate the linguistic-
cognitive capabilities of the writer.

Human Activity
The process of writing Scripture followed all the general modes and
patterns proper to human speech and language, thus harmoniously
corresponding to the cognitive essence, modes, and patterns ofrevelation.
Additionally, the actual writing of Scripture necessarily integrated the
characteristics corresponding to the specific languages employed. Not
only did divine activities cover the entire scope of the literary production
of Scripture, but direct and constant human activity was also continuously
present throughout the same process. Thus, the historical-cognitive model
of revelation-inspiration maintains that the inspiration of Scripture is, in
its entirety, a divine-human process. It is possible to state, then, that
Scripture is fully divine and fully human. 56
As in the case of revelation, the historical-cognitive model of revelation-
inspiration does not require a charismatic supernatural elevation of hwnan
writing capabilities to make prophets "super writers," thus overcoming the
normal limitations of human language and writing. God speaks to us directly
in hwnan language and by means of a human book. The words of the
prophets, in their entirety, are the words of God. Yet, the words in which God
speaks to us are hwnan and, therefore, involve the limitations of the human
modes oflanguage and writing. God speaks to us in various ways, all of them
embedded within the characteristics and limitations of human thought and
language. That is precisely the only way in which He could and can speak to
us. The production of Scriptw'e required that the divine intelligence,
belonging to a higher ontological level and working within a higher
epistemological mode, should enter the lower level in which the recipient of
the divinely originated process of communication functions. Therefore, the
thought patterns ofGod and His divine, transcendent, perfect language are not
represented in Scriptw'e. 57 However, due to the fact that God generated
Scriptw'e through the interrelated process of revelation-inspiration, in spite of
their humanly limited modes, the historically originated contents ofScriptw'e
are directly, in their plain historical meaning, the word of God.

The Essence of Inspiration

The essence of inspiration consists in the historic-linguistic process by
means of which the cognitive contents generated by the divine-human
The Historical-Cognitive Model 147
process of revelation were put into writing. Consequently, the essence of
inspiration also involves the harmonious working together of the divine
and human agencies. This "working together" of God and prophet,
present in both revelation and inspiration, is to be conceived along the
lines ofhistorical interrelations or, in biblical terminology, "KO\ vwvia. "58
In the working together of inspiration, the human author does the
writing while the divine author supervises the entirety of the process,
occasionally intervening in order to avoid flagrant distortion, as in
Salaam's case, or in order to assist the human writer. In the process of
writing Scripture, then, divine and human authors perform different yet
complementary activities. lbis complementary working together replaces
the sovereign overruling of the human agency by the divine one.
Moreover, inspiration, according to the historical-cognitive model, does
not involve the transposition of the human mode of writing into a perfect
divine mode. God's involvement in the writing process does not divinize
Scripture into an otherworldly level of perfection and accuracy.
This personal, historical understanding of the way in which the divine
and human agents work in the inspiration of Scripture significantly
departs from the supernatural charismatic conception of the classical
model. It is true that, by way of conceiving inspiration as the
"concursive," "simultaneous," "confluent," and/or "harmonious" coming
together of divine and human activities, the classical model did its best to
recognize and accommodate the contribution of the human agency.
However, the sovereign-predestinational mode in which the divine
activity was understood, herrneneutically affects the claims made
regarding inspiration. A timeless God who is conceived to
act-inspire-according to the general pattern of sovereignty-
predestination or primary cause unavoidably reduces the real scope of
human contribution in inspiration to its minimal possible expression and,
at the same time, practically eliminates the personal nature of the
"working together" proposed by the historical-cognitive model.

The Content of Inspiration

According to the historical-cognitive model, inspiration is coextensive
with revelation. Since inspiration is defmed as the process of
inscripturization, its content corresponds to the content of revelation. The
content of inspiration, therefore, involves the whole of Scripture and the
words in which they are expressed. It follows, then, that all the words of
Scripture are the direct result of the combined and interrelated process of
revelation and inspiration. All the words of Scripture are revealed and
inspired. In this way the historical-cognitive model understands Paul's
conviction that mxoa yp«4>TJ 6e61tveuo-roc; (2 Tim 3: 16).
148 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
5. Implications for Theology
The historical-cognitive model has broad consequences for the way in
which Scripture should be understood as the source of theological data.
Some of the most salient implications relate to the nature, scope,
exegetical methodology, theological interpretation, and subordinate and
limited role of extra biblical sources of theological data.
The nature of theological data is linguistic-cognitive and historical
because God is understood to communicate directly within the level of
general and personal history. In other words, the nature of Scripture as the
source of theological data is linguistic-cognitive and historical because
God, acting historically in human history, has generated its cognitive
content utilizing the modes, characteristics, and limitations of human
cognition and language.
The first implication leads to the affirmation of the Iota Scriptura
principle as the second ramification of the historical-cognitive model.
This repercussion refers to the scope of theological data vis-a-vis the total
content of Scripture. Since God is directly involved in the entirety of the
processes of revelation and inspiration, it follows that Scripture, in its
entirety, becomes cognitively and linguistically the source of data for the
constitution ofChristian theology. Besides, the historical-cognitive model
provides no foundation for any attempt to differentiate between levels,
hierarchies, or degrees of inspiration or revelation within Scripture. There
are no privileged or "more authoritative" sections of Scripture.
Consequently, no canon within the canon is to be allowed to produce an
a priori, dogmatic selection of relevant theological data. Any canon
within the canon directly violates the Iota as well as the so/a Scriptura
principles. 59 Variety of content and literary form becomes an integral part
of the biblical data on which theology is to be built.
The first two consequences require the formulation of an exegetical
methodology that would allow Christian theologians to access the
historically constituted meaning of the whole Scripture. The historical-
grammatical and historical-critical methodologies depend on the same
interpretations of the presuppositional structure that are at the foundation
of the classical and liberal models, respectively. Therefore, they are ill-
prepared to process the entirety of scriptural data in their historically
constituted essence. A new exegetical methodology should be conceived
in harmony with the presuppositional structure of the historical-cognitive
model. Therefore, it should be built along the lines of a historical,
phenomenological approach to the text of Scripture.
This methodology needs careful discussion. It necessarily includes
going to the facts on which theology is to be built. Edmund Husserl calls
these facts "things." Among the various facts that are given to us he
The Historical-Cognitive Model 149
includes human products, which involve henneneutics. In the case of
theology the facts are the products of revelation-inspiration, namely, all
the words and meanings of Scripture. Besides going to the facts
themselves-Scripture, exegesis, and theology-we have to take a second
step: philosophical-scientific btox,i. 61 In this phase of data interpretation,
exegetes and theologians cancel out all previously inherited theories that
could prove to be hindrances to the understanding of Scripture. This
second facet leads to a third, which allows the exegete and theologian to
discover and describe the general presuppositional structure assumed by
the biblical writers. 62 This third step is needed for the development of
exegesis and theology as sciences.
A phenomenological approach to biblical exegesis requires that the
historical-granunatical and historical-critical methods be demoted from
methods to procedures because the presuppositional structure on which they
have traditionally functioned has been reinterpreted. A distinction between
methodology and procedure is to be drawn. Historical-grammatical and
historical-critical procedw-es are necessary to reach the meaning of the text,
but do not determine it by themselves. Due to the reinterpretation of the
presuppositional structure from a timeless to a temporal-historical ground, the
historical-critical method is not only demoted to the lower level of procedure,
but it also suffers a reinterpretation of its reach and purpose. In dealing with
history, the guiding ground is the historical activities of God in history as
interpreted by Scripture and not the scientific, hypothetical reconstruction of
the cultural milieu. Thus, the method turns into procedure. And as the
procedure works on a different interpretation of the intellectual ground. the
secular study of history does not become the criterion for the historical
interpretation of Scripture. It is probable, then, that it would be best to talk
about a historical-scholarly procedure rather than historical-critical procedure.
This is not the place to formulate or even sketch this necessary,
alternate exegetical methodology. Suffice it to say that to recognize or
even accept the historical-cognitive model ofrevelation-inspiration will
make no noticeable change in Christian theology if the exegetical
methodology is not reformulated.
The development of Christian theology necessitates not only the
possession of revealed and inspired data and the appropriate exegetical
methodology to interpret them, but also the formulation and utilization of
a priori categories, which in this book I have identified as the
presuppositional structure. Inner coherence should drive Christian
theology to conceive and formulate its presuppositional structure
employing a biblical rather than philosophical or scientific
interpretation. 63 If biblical authors utilized a biblically originated
interpretation of the presuppositional structure rather than depending on
extrabiblical religious, philosophical, or scientific conceptions, why
150 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
should we do otherwise? In determining the general hermeneutical
patterns for the interpretation of Scripture (exegesis and biblical theology)
and the system for the development of Christian teachings (systematic
theology), it would be advisable to employ the same biblical
presuppositional structure. The paradigmatic shift from a philosophical
or scientific interpretation to a biblically grounded interpretation of the
presuppositional structure entailed in the historical-cognitive model of
revelation-inspiration makes possible the development of Christian
theology on the basis of the so/a Scriptura principle. Only this
paradigmatic shift at the presuppositional-structure level can answer or
even reverse Pannenberg's assessment that the Scripture principle is in
crisis, and that a theology "concerned only with the special aspects of
revelation and thus only with the interpretation of Scripture, regardless of
the results attained by other sciences from their presuppositions," is an
Finally, an additional implication of the historical-cognitive model
affects the roles that related sciences-such as philosophy, factual and
human sciences, and tradition-may be called to play in Christian
theology. A secondary, subordinated role is directly called for by the so/a
and tota Scriptura principles and can be designated as the prima
Scriptura principle. Briefly stated, philosophy, science, and tradition are
not to be conceived as data on which Christian theology should be built
or its methodologies and presuppositional structure determined.
Extrabiblical sources are to be approached critically. 65 Aristotle expressed
the need to be critical of tradition by politely stating that "piety requires
us to honour truth above our friends.',66 In a secondary sense, however,
there may be times and opportunities in which some facts resulting from
the activities of philosophy, science, and tradition might become useful
for the theological task. Yet, the utilization of such information must
always be subordinated to a criticism and reinterpretation of its meaning
by way of the application of the so/a and tota Scriptura principles. In the
development of Christian theology, then, extrabiblical materials can be
incorporated only on the basis of the prima Scriptura principle, which
builds on the so/a and tota Scriptura principles.

6. Conclusion
In this exploration of the epistemological origin of Scripture, I have
purposely attempted to be concise. Consequently, I could not address all
the related issues in the length and detail that a full development of the
revelation-inspiration doctrine requires. My purpose has been to probe the
main characteristics involved in the principal models of revelation-
inspiration developed throughout the history of Christian theology in
The Historical-Cognitive Model 151
order to explore the possibility for and profile of an alternate approach.
Two models, very carefully and technically developed, have already
been formulated. Generally speaking, Christian theology seems satisfied
with these commonly accepted models. At the same time, these divide
Christian theology into classical and liberal camps. Our brief
consideration of each model pointed out that neither is able to coherently
and completely reconcile and include the basic data for any doctrine of
revelation-inspiration, namely, the claims of Scripture about its divine
origin and its obvious humanness as revealed by the phenomena of
I initiated this study designed to explore the issue of revelation and
inspiration from an epistemological perspective by asking whether
theological scholarship should be satisfied with already existing theories
about revelation and inspiration, or whether there would be room for the
development of a new understanding of the way in which the Hebrew-
Christian Scriptures were originated.
Our probing into the issue seems to provide the following answer:
Aside from the already existent classical and liberal models ofrevelation
and inspiration, there is room for an alternate model, namely, the
historical-cognitive model. The possibility and framework of an alternate
model resides in what had already made possible the existence of the
other two competing models: the fact that the presuppositional structure
on which theological models are constructed can be interpreted in
different ways. The classical and liberal models differ in the philosophical
bases chosen for the interpretation of their respective presuppositional
structures. The historical-cognitive model, departing from the classical
and liberal, defines the interpretation of its presuppositional structure
from biblical thought. This step leads to a viable integration of the various
patterns of biblical revelation and inspiration. 67
As the specific contour of the historical-cognitive model was roughly
depicted in this chapter, some readers may be wondering what is "new" in it
They may find themselves thinking that what has been presented as a ''new
approach" is only the old traditionally held belief. I am not claiming
originality in suggesting a historical-cognitive model. I have not created the
model, but only recognized it in Scripture. Many others might also have
recognized it simply because it is there. I hope, however, that a careful
reading of this essay might have led such sympathetic readers to the
realization that there is a broad theological difference between what many
believe when they read Scripture and go to church and the technically
conceived and formulated content of the classical and liberal models. The
historical-cognitive model, in faithfulness to Scripture, basically tries to
express, in the technical realm of epistemology, the belief that follows from
a consistent, phenomenological, prescientific reading of Scripture.
152 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
The succinct presentation of the epistemological possibility and
characteristics of the historical-cognitive model does not suffice to draw
viable conclusions regarding the issue of inerrancy or accuracy of
Scripture. Unfortunately, recent emphasis on the issue of scriptural
inerrancy has taken precedence over the investigation of issues that need
prior clarification. For instance, additional development of the model-as
well as grounding reflection on the nature of truth, error, accuracy, and
exactness-is required before any attempt at even exploring this issue can
be undertaken.
The issue of in errancy of Scripture is epistemological. It questions the
truth and accuracy of Scripture. Dismissing inerrancy on the perfunctory
basis that it requires the harmonization of Scripture (thereby conflicting
with exegesis), that it carries with it the danger of bibliolatry, that it is
pastorally disastrous, 68 and that it is not a biblical teaching69 seems
insufficient. A grounding epistemology, developed within the parameters
of the presuppositional structure of the historical-cognitive model, is
required before any judgment on the accuracy of Scripture could be
After this is done, the full doctrine of revelation-inspiration needs to
be developed from an analysis of the claims and phenomena of Scripture.
Certainly, the historical-cognitive model would depart from the way this
issue has been understood by either the classical or liberal models. I
suggest that this longer, more painful route be taken before hasty
conclusions on the accuracy of Scripture are drawn.
Through a brief, but careful exploration of the classical, liberal, and
historical-cognitive models, two basic facts have become apparent. In the
actual task of doing theology, it is not possible to adopt the three models
at the same time. Theologians must choose. Moreover, it has become
apparent that each model will generate and justify widely differing
Which model should Christian theology adopt? From a rational
viewpoint it is impossible to make an absolute choice. Many choose on
the basis of tradition or philosophical considerations. In my opinion,
Cluistian theology should seriously consider switching from the classical
and liberal models to the historical-cognitive because the latter flows
directly from the biblical interpretation of the presuppositional structure
and in so doing is able to harmoniously integrate both the claims and
phenomena of Scripture. Having said that, let me assure Christian
theologians sharing different views, that from a rational perspective I
consider the historical-cognitive model to represent a viable alternative
to the classical and liberal models. Yet, by the same token, I hope those
subscribing to the classical and liberal models could come to the
realization that, from a rational perspective, their positions are, likewise,
The Historical-Cognitive Model 153
viable alternatives to the historical-cognitive approach. If scholars and
theologians presently working under the classical and liberal models are
willing to concede this first step, it is possible that they may also come to
the point of perceiving the way in which the historical-cognitive model
is able to overcome the limitations of the classical and liberal models. The
overcoming takes place by finding and systematically utilizing the
biblical interpretation of the presuppositional structure of the revelation-
inspiration doctrine. Thus, the cognitive aspect of the classical model is
kept, but reinterpreted according to a historical understanding of reality
and cognition emphasized by the liberal model. As a result, the historical-
cognitive model not only exhibits inner rational coherence, but also
grounds external coherence with the claims and phenomena of Scripture.
154 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
For instance, see James D. G. Dunn's critique of the evangelical
understanding of classical model, which leans toward explaining the origin of
Scripture on the basis of inspiration ("The Authority of Scripture According to
Scripture [Part I]," Churchman 99 [ 1982]: I04-122).
Here I am not using the term "a priori" in the Kantian sense of independence
from sensory perception, but rather in the broader analogous sense of"anteceding
the fact or issue under consideration."
This methodology is not new. It is the same that Kant followed in his
Critique ofPure Reason, 12-1 S. By this methodology Kant developed the study
of epistemology into an independent philosophical discipline (IS).
A recent representative of this theological approach is Thomas Oden's
consensual theology (ix).
Pannenberg's cogent and scholarly conceived theology represents a
prominent example of a neoclassical, systematic approach built on the conviction
that Scripture and theology epistemologically originate in the human imagination,
through which the religious experience of the divine has been and still is put
down in writing (Theology and the Philosophy of Science [Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1976], 301-310; Systematic Theology, I: 16S-l 87). For a
comprehensive study of Pannenberg's view on the epistemological origin of
Scripture, see Frank Hasel, "Scripture in the Theologies of W. Pannenberg and
D. G. Bloesch: An Investigation and Assessment of Its Origin, Nature, and Use,"
107-112; see also Bruce L. McCormack, "Divine Revelation and Human
Imagination: Must We Choose Between the Two?" s.JT 37 (1984): 431-455; and
David J. Bryant, Faith and the Play of Imagination: On the Role ofImagination
in Religion (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989).
See chapter 5.
See chapter 4.
8This is not the place to discuss further all the theological ramifications of
changing from a timeless to a historical-temporal understanding of God's being
and action. Such a task would entail a total revision of traditional, modem, and
postmodern thinking at the philosophical, methodological, and theological levels.
A team of evangelical authors have recently explored the po&ibility of thinking
theologically about God on the basis of biblical concepts (Clark Pinnock et al., The
Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God
[Downers Grove: lnterVarsity, 1994]). Generally speaking, as far as it challenges
tradition and attempts to formulate the Ouistian doctrine of God by integrating more
biblical concepts, the book moves in the right direction. Especially enlightening is John
Sanders's chapter, "Historical Considerations," in which the development of the
classical philosophical-biblical synthesis of the understanding of God is outlined.
Unfortunately, the book falls short of harmoniously incorporating all biblical data
(notably, in the case of divine foreknowledge) or grasping the radical theological
implications involved in the biblical criticism of tradition.
°l>rocess philosophy has been openly critical of the timeless conception of God.
The Historical-Cognitive Model 155
Alfred North Whitehead conceives God as open to the world and, therefore, to time.
Whitehead's view of God assumes an univocal understanding oftime specifically as
he deals with the consequent nature of God (523-524). Charles Hartshorne seems to
follow the same view, as he affirms that "the divine awareness is concretely new each
moment" (The Logic of Perfection [LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1962], 262); see also
idem, The Divine Relativity, 19; and Charles Hartshorne and Creighton Peden,
Whitehead's View of Reality (New York: Pilgrim, 1981 ), 34, 73-79. An analogical
conception of time in which equivocity and univocity are simultaneously integrated in
the conception of the divine being seems absent in process philosophy.
Pannenberg remarks that "in the history and development of the concept of
analogy as an instrument for the extension of knowledge a core of univocity is
thus a decisive premise even though analogous relations might be observed"
(Systematic Theology, I :344 n.14). In dealing with the concept of God, the three
modes of predication-univocity, equivocity, and analogy-have to be
harmoniously utilized as they are in Scripture.
According to Scripture, God's temporal-historical being is seen as acting in
the lower level of human temporality. However, this scriptural conviction does
not forfeit God's capability to be, to act, and to relate to human beings at other
levels of temporality, which would be either analogical or equivocal to human
conception of time.
uEmilio Betti properly remarks that communication between two minds by
the means of meaning-full forms assumes a "congenial disposition"
("Hermeneutics as the General Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaften," 84-
85). It is obvious that a "congenial disposition" can occur only when both minds
share the same level of reality and knowledge.
Pannenberg's theology is a clear and explicit example of this kind of
limitation. See Systematic Theology, I :384-396.
Within a Heideggerian tradition, Hans-Georg Gadamer has argued in favor
of the epistemological role of history as tradition (Truth and Method, 245-274).
Brown, 111-150.
All biblical quotations are from the NIV. Johann Albrecht Bengel remarks
that "in many portions refers to the matter, in divers manners to the form"
(Bengel's New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981], 2:574).
Richard Charles Henry Lenski further specifies that "the first [adverb] refers to
quantity-so rich the varied contents; the second to quantity-so rich the variety
of form" (The Interpretation of the Epistle lo the Hebrews and of the Epistle of
James [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966], 30); see also Randolph 0. Yeager, The
Renaissance New Testament (Bowling Green, KY: Renaissance, 1976-1985),
16:80-81; and EDNT, 3: 131, 133.
Even from a liberal perspective this is unmistakable. Paul Ricoeur identifies five
different types of biblical writings: prophetic, narrative, prescriptive, wisdom, and
hymnal discourses ("Hermeneutique de l'idee de revelation," in Paul Ricoeur et al., La
revelation [Brussels: Facultes Universitaires Saint Louis, 1977), 17-34.
156 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Consider, for instance, how the timeless eternity and simplicity of God
affect Augustine's conception of the Word of God: "So you call us to understand
the Word, God with you, 0 God, which is spoken eternally, and in which all
things are spoken eternally. Nor is it the case that what was spoken is ended and
that another thing is said, so that all things may at length be said: all things are
spoken once and forever. Elsewise, there would already be time and change, and
neither true eternity nor true immortality.... Therefore, no part of your Word
gives place to another or takes the place of another, since it is truly eternal and
immortal. Therefore, you say once and forever all that you say by the Word, who
is coeternal with you" (Confessions 11.7.9). It is apparent that Augustine's
conception of God's timelessness and the concurrent simplicity of His Being
totally destroys the idea that the Bible is actually the word of God in its specific
and direct meanings. If God speaks all things "once and forever" the historical
newness of biblical revelation is displaced to the level of historically and
culturally conditioned utterances.
Emilio Betti explains that "meaning-full forms" (sinnhaltige Formen) are
"to be understood in a wide sense as an homogeneous structure in which a
number of perceptible elements are related to one another and which is suitable
for preserving the character of the mind that created it or that is embodied in it"
("Hermeneutics as the General Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaften," 54 ).
In his groundbreaking treatise on interpretation, Betti refers to "meaning-full
forms" as "forrna rappresentativa." "Forma" is understood in the most general
way as "di rapporto unitario di elementi sensibili, idoneo a serbare I'impronta di
chi l'ha foggiato o di chi lo incama (es.: ii viso di una persona)." While
"rappresentativa" is understood "nel senso che attraverso la forma debba rendersi
a noi riconoscibile, facendo appello alla nostra sensibilita e intelligenza, un altro
spirito diverso dal nostro e tuttavia intimamente affine al nostro" (Teoria
Generale della lnterpretazione, 62).
Betti, "Hermeneutics as the General Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaften,"
53; see also idem, Teoria Generale della lnterprelazione, 60.
The liberal model recognizes that revelation is an act "from mind to mind."
Yet, in revelation God does not act within the human level of cognition. The
mind-to-mind encounter is not "a body of information concerning certain things
about which we might otherwise be ignorant" or "information about God, but the
very God Himself' (Jack W. Provonsha, "Revelation and History," A.USS 2
(1964): 111-112); see also Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, I :241.
The concept of God's condescension is not new. For an exploration of
divine condescension in the context of the doctrine of revelation-inspiration, see
Bernard Ramm, Special Revelation and the Word of God (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1961 ), 31-52.
When employed without qualification, I use the term "prophet" as
synonymous with "biblical writer," not in the specific sense of the writer of
By the expression "phenomena of Scripture," I am referring to the actual
The Historical-Cognitive Model 157
cognitive-linguistic contents of Scripture as we know them.
6These biblical references are only a sample of biblical passages speaking to
each divine activity.
Studying the Gospel of Luke, George E. Rice came to the conviction that
the Bible was produced by two patterns or models, the prophetic and the "Lucan"
models of inspiration (Luke, A Plagiarist? [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press,
1983], 9-16). Rice's view challenges the classical approach that recognizes only
one pattern of divine activity. Moreover, since Rice was not attempting to explain
the epistemological origination of Scripture as a whole, but rather to contest the
idea that the Gospel of Luke was produced only by way of the prophetic pattern,
his conclusion does not preclude our contention that additional patterns have been
involved in the generation of Scripture.
Abraham J. Heschel explores the prophetic experience from an OT
perspective. His study attempts to penetrate into the biblical view of the prophet's
activity. Heschel, however, does not deal with the divine role in the origination
of prophetic-discourse degree with the detail, specificity, and faithfulness to
biblical data that I expected. In this matter, he seems to be under the influence of
the liberal model. Heschel seems somewhat ambiguous on this facet of the
prophetic experience. On one hand, he explicitly argues against the liberal idea
of poetic inspiration (The Prophets [New York: Harper & Row, 1962], 145-169;
for the poetic nature of biblical language, see Ricoeur, "Hermeneutique de l'idee
de revelation," 41-42). On the other hand, by the end of the book, Heschel 's
conclusions sound very much like those of the liberal model (265-268).
0n this issue see, for instance, the concise but clear study by Oscar
Cullmann, Immortality ofthe Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?
°This receptive-creative activity is a general characteristic of human knowledge
(Nicolai Hartmann, Gnmdziigeeiner Melaphysilcder Erlcenntis [Berlin: W. de Gruyter,
1941 ], 1.5.c.6). Abraham J. Heschel perceives that "the prophet is responsive, not only
receptive" (The Prophets, 137). Thus, the general characteristic of human cognition
remains the same, even in the prophetic experience.
Betti, Teoria generale de/la interpretazione, 65.
After enumerating the various nontechnical and technical connotations
given to the term "category," Jose Ferrater Mora explains that in the traditional
opinion, maintained not only by scholastic thinkers but also by modem historians
of philosophy, "las categorfas expresanflexiones o casos del ser y pueden, por
consiguiente, ser definidas como generos supremos de las cosas, suprema rerum
genera" (Diccionario de Filosofla [Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1965], I :265 ).
Even though Aristotle hesitated to define the precise number of categories, he
recognizes all sorts of categories; as many as the connotations we can find in the
entity (oua(a) (Metaphysics 5.7), yet the number of categories is not infinite
(Posterior Analytics 1.22.15 [83b]).
nEven in philosophy there is an increasing recognition that categories come
from previous experience in historical-natural reality (Edmund Husserl, logical
15 8 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Investigations [New York: Humanities, 1970], 6, 8, §60).
Heschel sees the prophet as "homo sympathetikos" (88). The prophet has a
"sympathetic solidarity with God" (91). I believe that Heschel's "homo
sympathetikos" describes the prophetic a priori. Yet, a complete epistemological
account of the origination of Scripture requires that the prophet's "sympathetic
solidarity with God" should include not only feelings but primarily the
presuppositional structure and doctrines generated by previous revelations.
Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 9.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls this historical conception of the cognitive a
priori "thickness" (Phenomenology of Perception [Atlantic Highlands: New
Press, 1964], 433; see also Heidegger, Being and Time, 2.5.15 and 76. Cf.
William E. Reiser, "An Essay in the Development of Dogma in a Heideggerian
Context: A Nontheological Explanation of Theological Heresy," Thomisl 39
(1975): 475.
Emest Troeltsch, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 2, Zur religiosen Lage,
Religionphilosophie und Ethik(T!lbingen: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1922), 729-53;
Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Row,
1962), 1:107, n. 3.
This dynamic was utilized by Jesus Himself when after the resurrection He
undertook the task of explaining the events of His crucifixion and resurrection
(Luke 24:25-49).
'By "theological pluralism" I mean the idea that in Scripture we find
different theologies not always compatible among themselves. A classical
example of this may be Luther's difficulty to integrate James' theology with
Paul's. James and Paul, it is suggested, just had incompatible views on the role
works play in salvation. Hence theological pluralism in Scripture.
4<k'The inspiration of the prophet is distinguished not only by an awareness of
its source and ofa will to impart the content of inspiration, but also by the coherence
of the inspired messages as a whole (with their constant implication of earlier
communications), by the awareness of being a link in the chain of the prophets who
preceded him, and by the continuity which links the revelations he receives one to
another. The words that come to him form a coherence of closely related revelations,
all reflecting the illumination and the sense of mission shed by the call. There is both
a thematic and a personal unity of experience" (Heschel, 169).
Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, I :206.
Begrilndet de neutestamentliche Ka non die Einheit der Kirche? Exegetische
Versuche und Besinnungen I ( 1960), 218, in Theology for lhe Third Millennium:
An Ecumenical View, Hans K!lng (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 66.

James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry Into the
Character of Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977), 372; cf.
idem,Jesus and the Spirit: A Study ofthe Religious and Charismatic Experience
The Historical-Cognitive Model 159
of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in the New Testament (London:
SCM, 1975), 359.
A. C. Thiselton presents a brief description of scholarly interpretations of
this Petrine statement "cm}..uw," (N/DNTT I :578-579).
Heidegger, Being and Time, 172-179.
Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity, 9.
Heidegger states: "Only an entity which, in its Being, is essentially futural
so that it is free for its death and can let itself be thrown back upon its factical
'there' by shattering itselfagainst death-that is to say, only an entity which, as
futural, is equiprimordially in the process ofhaving-been, can, by handing down
to itselfthe possibility it has inherited, take over its own throwness and be in the
moment ofvisionfor 'its time.' Only authentic temporality which is at the same
time finite, makes possible something like fate-that is to say, authentic
historica/ity" (Being and Time 2.5. 74, emphasis original).
As an example of a partial description of the essential limitedness and
incompleteness of historical cognition, see Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General
Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1967),
°Ferrater Mora, I :329.
Theologians such as RudolfBultmann think that prophets used the ideology
and scientific information available to them as external vehicles for the expression
of timeless, transcendent revelation. Within this frame of mind, Bultmann argues
that the concept of Myo~ in the prologue to the Gospel of John could not have
been taken from the OT, but rather from Gnosticism and its Platonic antecedent
(The Gospel ofJohn, 19-36). In this view biblical data are freely borrowed from
the culture of the times, the only available historically conditioned vehicle to
express in human words the revelation of the timelessly conceived God.
See, for instance, James Dunn, "The Authority of Scripture According to
Scripture," 212-214.
,..ypa4>11," N/DNIT, 3:491.
0n the reality of the text, see Paul Ricoeur, From Text to Action, I 06-11 O;
Jose Severino Croatto, Biblical Hermeneutics: Toward a Theory of Reading as
the Production of Meaning (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 16-17.
A clear, and even extreme, example of God's occasional specific intervention in
which the prophet's initiative was totally overridden appears in the case of Balaam
(Num 22-24). In this incident, God had to override the complete discourse of the
prophet because of his rebellious intention. The prophet was aware of both God's
general, permanent, historical supervision and His pattern of occasional interventions.
Balaam knew that his pwpose was so contrary to God's expressed will and intention
that drastic divine intervention was unavoidable (Num 22:38).
6The analogy between the incarnation of Christ in a human body and of God
160 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
in Scripture is of little help for understanding either incarnation. Affirming the
analogy between Christ and Scripture as incarnations of God requires that the
same interpretation of the presuppositional structure be utilized in both. In the
case of Scripture, the fully divine and fully human nature belong to the
epistemological realm. In the case of Christ, the same affirmation corresponds to
the deeper, grounding, ontological level. For a brief discussion of the way Karl
Barth utilized this analogy and its repercussions for his understanding of
Scripture, see Frank Hase!, "The Christological Analogy of Scripture in Karl
Barth," 7Z 50 (1994): 41-49.
Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, DC: Review and Herald,
1958), I :21-22.
s•1 am referring here to KO\ vwv(a in one of its basic connotations, that of
sharing in a close personal relationship, understood in the sense of the related
verb KO\ vwvc<a>-"to share, have a share in, participate in," which gives the idea
of possessing together, having a share, joining oneself to some one else (J.
Schattenmann, "tco\Vwv(a," NIDNTT. 1:639, 644). This is the biblical
designation for divine-human communications in their most general connotation.
s9Thus, even the suspicion that Paul had some sort of unconsciously
formulated canon within the canon for the OT, as E. P Sanders suggests, seems
hasty and motivated by a classical Protestant interpretation which was not
properly canceled out before approaching the text (Paul, the lay, and the Jewish
People [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], 161-162).
~mund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental
Phenomenology(Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 138.
lbid., 135.
Ibid., 139.
The basic contents of the biblical presuppositional structure have been
identified and utilized in the conception and formulation of the historical-
cognitive model of revelation-inspiration suggested in this chapter.
Wolfhart Pannenberg, "The Crisis of the Scripture-Principle in Protestant
Theology," 308.
sln other words, additional sources are integrated by first being canceled out
(philosophical-theoretical c1tox11); then, by reinterpreting their meaning made to
fit the new presuppositional structure present in the facts (Scripture) themselves.
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, I, 6, I 096a, I 0.
See Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, I :229.
Dunn, "The Authority of Scripture According to Scripture (Part I)," I 16-
James Dunn, "The Authority of Scripture According to Scripture (Part 2),"
Churchman 96 ( 1982), 221.

Scripture has always been the sole cognitive foundation of Christian

theology. However, the increasing role that early Christian theologians
conferred to reason slowly limited and subordinated biblical revelation to
philosophical and scientific traditions. A fateful forgetfulness of the
cognitive foundations of Christianity became ingrained in the tradition
and methodologies of classical theology. Scripture not only ceased to be
the sole cognitive foundation of Christian theology, but saw its cognitive
contributions drastically reduced to a few supernatural truths pure reason
was not able to discover on its own strength.
Modernism went a step further. By limiting the reach ofreason to the
spatiotemporal world modernism convinced theologians that God cannot
communicate knowledge to human beings. The cognitive foundations of
theology were reduced to whatever reason was able to produce as science,
philosophy, and tradition. Natural revelation replaced special, cognitive
revelation. Christian theology had forfeited its sole cognitive foundation.
Thus, modem theology has no cognitive foundations. It builds on the
imaginary strength of all-powerful reason.
Then came postmodemity. It did not criticize revelation, but
demythologized reason by showing that it is not capable of producing
absolute truth. As modernity made special revelation impossible,
postrnodernity makes general revelation impossible. Though theologians
can still claim that nature and history are (general) revelations of God,
postmodern criticism of reason unmasks their attempts to read nature and
history as a culturally originated projection ofhwnan imagination. Not
even metaphysics escapes postmodern criticism of theological
foundations. Feuerbach's conviction that "theology is anthropology"
appears vindicated. Reason does not reveal the transcendent God, but
only our own culturally conditioned needs and imaginations. As
modernism replaced divine supernatural revelation with natural
162 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
revelation, so postrnodemity replaces natural revelation with religious
experience. On this basis theology is no longer a rational reflection
leading to the understanding of God, but rather doxology, worship, and
song. Christianity as we know it is dead. By showing the way human
reason actually works, postmodemity directs our attention back to the
objects that "reveal" themselves in thinking as Heidegger relentlessly
reminds us. Thus, the door was left wide open for rethinking the cognitive
status of divine revelation and inspiration.
Our study has not produced a new foundation. No one can produce
theological foundations but God. However, by way of hermeneutical
criticism, we have been able to ascertain that the classical and modem
models of revelation and inspiration depend heavily on hermeneutical
presuppositions forged under the unbridled rule of pure reason. After the
postmodern criticism of reason we know that postrnodernists built
imaginative constructions that were elevated to dogmatic status by a leap
of faith. Humbled by the discovery, we dared to go back to the things
themselves, namely, the events and the thinking that originated Christian
theology. By paying attention to the type of thinking used by Bible
writers we have been led to discover how Scripture presents
hermeneutical presuppositions, which tradition forgetfully bypassed for
nearly two millennia. Applying the biblical understanding of the
necessary hermeneutical presuppositions to the question of the formation
of biblical thinking a new model of understanding became possible.
The historical-cognitive model changes the way we think about
Scripture. We no longer see it as a book of stories, developing folk
traditions, or illustrations containing a few timeless, supernatural truths.
Instead, the entire text of Scripture reveals before our eyes the mind and
ways of God. The high complexity of thought and literary styles allow
Scripture to unveil divine thoughts on a surprisingly broad variety of
issues. The cognitive foundations of Christianity are no longer limited to
a few supernatural truths that human reason is unable to reach. The whole
of Scripture in all its complexity becomes the cognitive foundation on
which Christian theology can build its understanding of God and His
works of creation and redemption. The historical-cognitive model does
not prove that Scripture is true nor does it have the power to coerce
allegiance from the reader. It does, however, have the power to show that
the old cognitive foundations of Christianity, long forgotten by
theological traditions, are the only real hope we have to overcome
theological relativism and religious imperialism.

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Abraham, William, 97, 99, 106-109, 128, 134

122 I-It, I 23
Agent Intellect, 55, 157 I-Thou, 123, 126
Agnosticism, 120, 127 Calvin, John, 21, 52
Anthropology, 40-42 Calvinism, 107
Aquinas, Thomas, 13, 18,36,37,42,52, Canon within the Canon, 170, 171
53, 55, 57, 99-104, 106-108, 110 claritas Scripturae, 2 I
124, 126 , Council ofTrent, 103, 110
Aristotle, 7, 36, 52, 99, 100, 158, 173 Cullmann, Oscar, 38, 39, 43, 55, 157
Augustine of Hippo, 37, 52, 99-101, Davaney, Sheila Greeve, 4, IO
103, 108, 110
Deism, 120
Barth, Karl, 3, 22, 52, 97, 99, 122-124,
Derrida, Jacques, 6
126, 128,1130-132,134-136,168
Benoit, Pierre, 36, 59, 10 I Descartes, Ren~, 6, 18
Bergson, Henri, 6 Dulles, Avery, 8, 15, 16, 20, 36, 52,
Berkhof, Hendrikus, 120, 121 97-99, 109, 133
Betti, Emilio, 24,153, , 55 , 156, 158 Dunn, James, 160, 164, 174
Biblical Metaphysics, Ebeling, Gerhard, 21, 52, 120
Biblical Theology, so, 53, s4, 56, 61 , EpiS t emological-Methodological
172 Consequence, 11 O
Bloesch, Donald, 3, 13, 21, 39, 54-56, Erickson, Millard J., 40, 53, 107
151 essentia, quidditas, 11 O
Boethius, 124 Evolutionism, 19
Brown, Delwin, 16, 153 Exegesis, 3, SO, 53-55, 57, 119, 137,
Brunner, Emil,42, 122-l 24 , 126, 128 , 159,171,172,174
130, 134 Existential Encounter, 126, 128, 130,
Buber, Martin, 122, 123 , 125 , 126 , 132, 134, 136
176 Back to Revelation-Inspiration
Forestell, J. T., 107 Kilng, Hans, 3, 4, 52, 55, 98, 133, 160
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 3, 16, 24, 153, Lebenswelt, 158, 159
Linneman, Etta, 119, 120
Geisler, Norman L., 50, 53, 55, 57, 58,
Luther, Martin, 21, 52, 53, 99, IOI
100, 108, 120
Macquarrie, John, 7, 13, 19, 36, 37, 39,
Geschichte, 14
Gnuse, Robert, 97, 99, 109, 110, 122
Materialism, 19, 120
Grenz,StanleyJ.,3,5,21, 121,125
Meaning-full Forms, 153, 155-162,
Griffin, David Ray, 6, 8 164, 165
Hartmann, Nicolai, 25, 158 Method
Hartshorne, Charles Henry, 39, 152 Constructive-Revisionist, 8
Hegel, Geoerg Wilhelm Friedrich, 25, Deconstructive-Eliminative, 8, 9
Exegetical-Biblical Method-ology,
Heidegger, Martin, 4, 6-8, 12, 24-26, Historical-Critical, 51, 97, 119,
36, 39, 43, 159, 162 159, 163, 168, 171, 172
Henry, Carl, 3, 7, 13, 26, 56-58, 60, 97, Restorationist-Conservative, 8
99, IOI, 103-105, 108-110, 121, Model, 6, 8, 11, 13, 23, 26, 36, 38, 43,
154 44, 58, 61-63, 97-103, 105-111,
Hermeneutical Principles, 9, 57, 60-63, 119-122, 124-129, 132, 133, 136-
99 139, 149-175
Hirschberger, Johannes, 100 Modernity, 3, 4, 8, 19, 21,151,153
Historical-Scholarly Procedure, 172 Morris, Thomas V., 38
Historie, 14 Nash, Ronald, 58, 106, 109, 127, 133,
Hobbes, Thomas, 120 136
Humes, David, 120 Natural Theology, 13, 55, 121
Husserl, Edmund, 43, 159, 162, 171 Natural-Historical Revelation, 15
Idealism, 18, 19, 100, 120 Naturalism, 120
Illumination, 59, 99-101, 159 Newman, John Henry, 60, 103, 106,
Inerrancy, 50, 57, 108-110, 120, 150, 109, 110
174 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 4, 6, 7
Inscripturization, 99, I 06, I 70 Nix, William, 58, 120, 133
Intellectualism, 100, 103, 120, 122 Oden, Thomas, 3, 13
James, William, 6, 21, 26, 51, 55, 97, Olson, Roger E., 3, 5, 121
149, 154, 159, 160, ,164, 174 Origen of Alexandria, 52, IO I, I02
Justin Martyr, 52 Osborne, Grant R., 54, 55
Kant, Immanuel, 2, 5, 6, 17-19, 120- Otto, Rudolf, 122-123, 125-130, 134
122, 125-127, 129, 132, 150, 151 Mysterium Tremendum, 123
Kantzer, Kenneth S., 107, 109 Numinous, 125, 129, 130
Kllsemann, Ernst, 160 ousia, I 00, 120
Index 177

Pannen berg, W olfhart , 3, 14 , 15 , 18 , Skepticism, 120, 127

21, 24, 35, 36, 39, 40, 49, 51, 55, Space-Time Continuum, 120
151, 152, 156, 159, 172, 174 Spatio-Temporal History, 105
Paradigm, 98, 99 Spinoza, Benedict, 120
Parmednides, 7 Synave, Paul, 36, 59, 101
Phenomena of Scripture, 20, 35, 51, 98, Taylor, Mark C., 8, 9
138, 149, 154, 156, 173, 175
Theological Encyclopedia, 3, 19
pheromenoi, 58
theopneustos, 58
Philosophy of Language, 41
Theory of Knowledge, 41, I 00
Pierce, Charles Sanders, 6
Tillich, Paul, 3, 55
Plato, 6-8, 42, 99, 100, 105, 123, 132,
Timeless, 7, 37-39, 42, 43, 62, 100, 102,
155, 163, 164
103, 105, 109, 110, 120-127, 129-
Postmodern Deconstructionism, 9 130, 133-135, 137, 138, 152-155,
Postmodemity, 3-6, 8-11, 21, 151, I S3 157-159, 163-165, 169,171
Predestination, 53, 105, 170 Timelessness, 7, 37-39, 42, 100, 122,
Preus, Robert, 53 123,128, 131, 132, 151, 152, 154
principium quo, 53 Tracy, David, 8, 36, 55-57, 98, 136,
Proceess Philosophy, 8, 39, 52, 55, 152
Transcendentalism, I 8, I 00, I 25
Rahner, Karl, 3
Tresmontant, Claude, 55-57
Ramsey, Frank, 26, 98
Tum to the Subject, 17, 120
Raschke, Carl A., 8
Vatican Council, 13, 103, 107, 110
Rationalism, 18, 120
Vawter, Bruce, 52, 53, 58, 97, 100,
Realism, 19, 100, 103, 120 IOI, 109
Classical Realism, I 03, 120
Materialistic Realism, 100 Verbal Plenary Doctrine oflnspiration,
Ricoeur,Paul,3,24,25, 154,157,166
Warfield, 8.8., 50, 52, 107
Romanticism, 120
Whitehead, Alfred, 6, 39, I 52
Ruokanen, Miikka, 99, 109
Wholly Other, 123, 125
Schleiermacher, Friedrich, 51, 122, 123,
125-129, 133, 134, 136, 137 Wittgenstein, Lugwig, 6, 43
AbsoluteDependence,55, 125,127,
Scholasticism, 52, 53, 120
prima, 52, 172, 173
&ripturasm interpretatur, 21, 24
sola, 11, 19-21, 23, 24, 39, 44, 49,
52-54, 56, 57, 62, 105, 110,
138, 139, 149-151, 171, 172
Iota, 110, 170, 172, 173
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