Causes of Revelation (chr.)


(Turk. Vahiy Vesileleri)

A ’cause of revelation’ is the term used to describe the situative embedding of a verse of Holy Scripture, familiarity with and interpretation of which embeddedness is dispositive to a proper understanding of the passage in question. If the revelation is ascribed to a historical occasion, this lends the revelation a specific framework and a corresponding intention. The motif of the cause of revelation takes account for the fact that God’s revelation enters into the necessarily confined horizon of creaturely understanding and opens up and broadens the interpretability of Holy Scripture. A valid interpretation encompasses knowledge not just of the Word of God itself, but also of humankind as its recipient.

Part of the hermeneutics of the Qur’an, the interpretative topos of the cause of revelation does not have a direct counterpart in the Christian understanding of the Bible. The concern for essential understanding with which this topos is associated, however, possesses considerable weight for the historical locus of Biblical literature. Because large segments of the Bible have been passed down in narrative form, their very literary distinctiveness calls for proper consideration of the situating context from which they stem. In historical-critical interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, considerable importance to an understanding also is derived from questions of the particular place in life, i.e. the locus and function of a text in the context of the practices of the community involved. At the same time, the question is asked as to the intention that ties an author with his or her text in the light of the requirements and readership of the time. In theological interpretation of a Biblical passage, the status of the passage is evaluated in the context of the fabric of the history of salvation discernible through God’s communication with His people.

The principal difference between Christian and Islamic understanding is that, in Christianity, Holy Scripture is viewed as a document of Divine revelation that takes its complete form not in the revealed book but in the person of Jesus Christ. This corresponds to an understanding of revelation that does not focus upon the announcement of true propositions (the instructive-theory approach), but rather upon the historical announcement of God in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ as ‘light from light’ (cf. e.g. Jn 1.1‑5, 18; Hebr 1.1‑4). This lends Holy Scripture its new situation of understanding with each new era: ‘The divine words grow together with the one who reads them’ (Gregory the Great, d. 604 CE). In this sense, from a Christian point of view, the cause of revelation is thus the overall situation of the person who responds to God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ.

Knut Backhaus

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