Argument from Revelation

Table of Contents

  1. From the Britannica Article on Revelation
  2. Argument from Revelation
  3. Revelatory Texts
  4. Criticism #1
  5. Criticism #2
  6. Appeal to Faith
From the Britannica Article on Revelation
  • In the “prophetic” religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism), revelation is conceived as a message communicated by God to an accredited spokesman, who is charged to herald the content of that message to an entire people.
  • The media by which revelation occurs are variously conceived. Most religions refer to signs, such as: auditory phenomena, subjective visions, dreams, and ecstasies.
  • In the prophetic religions, revelation is primarily understood as the “Word of God,” enabling the prophet to speak with certainty about God’s actions and intentions.
Argument from Revelation
  • The content of a ‘revelatory’ text make it evident that God communicated the content, and perhaps its exact wording, to certain individuals. The revealed content was at some point written down.
  • Therefore, it is evident that God exists.
Revelatory Texts
  • The Torah is the word of God because
    • God communicated the Torah to prophets.
  • The Koran is the word of God because
    • God communicated the Koran to Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel. Muhammad wrote down God’s words verbatim.
  • The New Testament is the word of God because
    • God communicated the New Testament to the Apostles through the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • The Book of Mormon is the word of God because
    • God communicated the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith through a set of golden plates that Joseph translated using special “seer stones.”
  • The Vedas are of divine origin because
    • Divinities revealed the Vedas to gifted seers (rishis) who memorized them.
Criticism #1
  • Consider a text that is claimed to be the word of God.
  • There are two hypotheses:
    1. The content of the text is of divine origin. God communicated the content to certain individuals, which was later written down.
    2. The content of the text is of purely human origin. It is people’s ideas alone that were written down.
    1. The second explanation is the simpler, invoking only well-known natural processes.
    2. Per Ockham’s Razor, the simpler of two competing hypotheses is more likely, other things equal.
    3. Thus the second hypothesis is more likely, putting the burden of proof on proponents of the supernatural explanation of the text. That means proving that the text is so extraordinary that it could not have been produced by human beings alone.
    Criticism #2
    • If a text were the word of God, everything it says would be true. Any doubtful passage casts doubt on its divine origin.  Worse, passages contradicting each other prove the text can’t be the word of God. Consider the argument, derived from Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, page 10:
      1. If the New Testament is the word of God, everything it says is true.
      2. If every statement in the New Testament is true, then:
        • Jesus died the day after the Passover meal, per Mark 14:12,15:25.
        • Jesus died the day before the Passover meal, per John 19:14.
      3. Jesus could not have died both the day before and the day after the Passover meal.
      4. Therefore, the New Testament is not the word of God.
    Appeal to Faith
    • A common response to the criticisms is that the proposition that a revelatory text is the word of God must be accepted on faith. Therefore the criticisms are beside the point.
        • For Aquinas and Calvin faith is accepting theological propositions as divinely revealed. Aquinas and Calvin both understand faith as (or as essentially involving) the grasping of propositionally expressible truths as divinely revealed through willingly receiving God’s gracious gift of that very revelation.
        • John Locke
          • “FAITH is the assent to any proposition, not thus made out by the deductions of reason, but upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication. This way of discovering truths to men, we call REVELATION.” (Enquiry Chapter XVII of Book IV)
      • Hebrews 11:1
        • “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
      • The problem is that faith seems to be about the act of accepting the revealed word of God rather than an argument for God’s existence.