Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


(& tradition)

popular image of St. John writing Book of Revelation
 via divine inspiration or communication from Yahweh

Oxford English Dictionary. 1.a. The disclosure or communication of knowledge, instructions, etc., by divine or supernatural means.

compare etymology of "apocalypse": "to uncover, disclose." (OED)

Contrast empiricism and humanism. See also Classical Humanism and Judeo-Christian Revelation: Two Primary Sources of Western Civilization.

Instructor's notes: Revelation of God's wisdom or will through the minds, voices, or pens of prophets and messiahs is frequently recorded in written scripture, from which it may be interpreted by translators into other languages and scripts, where readers, preachers, parents, and teachers further interpret, paraphrase, or elaborate the original word of God.

This generation-to-generation, voice-to-voice transmission may change revelation to tradition, which in the popular consciousness blends one revelation with another, so that various books of the Bible become one story, which may also absorb influences from popular culture or other religious traditions (e.g., the "fruit" from the Tree of Knowledge becomes an apple; "death on a pale horse" becomes the grim reaper on a Harley, etc.).

Such changes may either be "corrupting" or testify to a "living" text and faith, but any original revelation inevitably transfroms into tradition or "transmission of beliefs, statements, customs, etc., from generation to generation," a distinction emphasized by American Founder Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason (1794).

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will . . . offer some other observations on the word revelation. Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he [the first person] tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication—after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hands of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so. The commandments carry no internal evidence of divinity with them; they contain some good moral precepts, such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver, or a legislator, could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention.

compare reveal: in literature and show business, the exposure of a previously hidden key element of the plot or the performance.