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Revelation: Sacred Theology

In the discussion on Natural theology, we noted that the subject matter of Natural theology is the created universe.  It was argued that all humanity encounters the universe and its marvelous existence and design. Just as the sunshine gives it warmth to all the earth's inhabitants, so the created order is evidence to all humans that there is a Supreme Being who is the Ultimate Cause and the Sustaining Preserver of the universe.

Next, we discussed the implications of our human nature to develop the foundations for Moral theology.  It was noted that our rational mind and moral sense distinguish humans from brute animal.  Instead of looking outward toward the stars, as was done in Natural theology, we looked inward towards our natural and rational human inclinations.  We developed the idea that human beings know how they would like to be treated.  It was concluded that human beings are rational creatures who are morally obligated to treat others as they would like to be treated.  And, all human beings have this moral obligation because all human beings have this rational moral sense.  (The exceptions are infants and the mentally impaired.)

By contrast, Sacred Theology is not common and self-evident to all of humanity.  Sacred theology is the study of special divine revelations given to particular individuals.  So, inherently there are a number of unique problems related to Sacred theology.  Firstly, it is easy for a person to claim that they received a special divine revelation.  However, we should not assume that everyone's revelatory claims were actually divine revelations from Allah.   Secondly, it may be impossible for us to investigate the actual person who claimed to have a divine revelation.  Thirdly, Sacred theology depends upon historical accounts of the divine revelation.  Often the time between now and when the special revelation was given is hundreds of years.  In some cases, the special revelations occurred more than a thousand years ago.  

For example, Christians trace their Sacred theology back to the writings of the disciples of a person who was poor Jewish carpenter by trade and who lived 2000 years ago.  Muslims trace their Sacred theology back to the oral traditions of the companions and the recitations of a person who was a well-to-do Arabian merchant who lived about 1400 years ago.  More recently, Mormons accept the claims of Joseph Smith who was born in the state of Vermont and who later claimed he received divine revelations while he lived in the state of New York.

For the purposes of this article, Sacred theology is limited to the study of the sacred texts of divine revelation.  This means that other types of special revelations are not considered.  For example, this article does not consider anomalous events that are given special religious significance by some believers.  Rather, this article limits the scope of Sacred theology to the classic religious texts.  For example, the Sacred theology of Muslims would be the study of the Qur'an and ahadith.  The Sacred theology of Christians would be the study primarily of the New Testament (NT) and secondarily the Old Testament (OT).  The Mormons study Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon as well as the Bible.

A study can be made of the different sacred texts. Since these texts are available, it is possible to critique these texts.  Their truth claims can be compared with the truths that arise from the study of Natural and Moral Theology.  Thus, a person has a logical grounds to evaluate a particular prophet's utterances. Too often, the followers of a religion immediately assume that Allah is the author of their sacred text and forget that their text came from an individual who claimed, truly or falsely, that the text was divine.  

Of course, the Words of Allah would be perfect.  But, it is not self-evident that everyone who claims to be a prophet is really a prophet.  To justify a person's prophetic claims require considerable evidence.  And this evidence may not be convincing to everyone.

It seems to be a self-evident truth that the Word of Allah must be infallibly true, because, whatever Allah reveals must be true because of the very nature of Allah. This conclusion follows because Allah by His very nature is All-Knowing (Omniscience).  Since Allah possesses infinite knowledge, whatever Allah knows, He must know without error.  Additionally, since Allah is perfect, it is impossible for Allah to lie, since a lie is an imperfection. So, based upon the facts of Allah's omniscience and infinite goodness, we are certain that whatever Allah expresses will always be truthful without the possibility of error.  Consequently, we are assured that the Word of Allah will be infallibly true.

It is also self-evident that the Word of Allah must be supremely authoritative for all creatures. Whoever is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of the universe has continuing authority over the universe.  Allah created the universe by His Word in the distant past.  In relationship to time, He sustains the universe's existence moment by moment, and He governs the universe to fulfill His purpose and glory.  Because there is no being who is superior to Allah, His authority is supreme and self-authoritative.  Allah deserves our praise.  The Apostle John wrote,

"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." Rev 4:11 (NIV)

However, it is not a self-evident truth that the Bible or the Qur'an is the word of Allah. The belief that the Bible is Allah's word is a matter of supporting evidence. It is not adequate merely to claim that a writing is from Allah.  It must be shown to be so by compelling evidence.  There are many false prophets who would like people to believe that what they wrote has divine authority.  There are different books that claim to be the divine revelation of Allah.  For example, the Bible, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, and the Bhagavad-Gita all claim to be divinely inspired.  So, an honest person faces a dilemma in deciding which, if any, is actually a revelation of Allah.  Since these different writing make conflicting claims regarding the nature of Allah, sin, salvation, law, government, marriage, and the person of Jesus Christ, they cannot all be a divine revelation of Allah. The reason for this is that the Word of Allah must be infallibly true and non-contradictory—two contradictories cannot simultaneously both be true.

What kind of evidence would support accepting a sacred text as the writing of Allah?  This is a question of importance for humanity.  For, if Allah has given humankind a revelation of His mind and purpose, we would be responsible to hear and to obey what pertains to us. There are several lines of evidence that would support accepting a text as the revelation of Allah.

1. The divine writing will claim to be the Word of Allah.
2. The divine writing will describe an Allah who has the appropriate attributes for Allah.
3. The divine writing will have unity and be non-contradictory.
4. The divine writing will have historical credibility.
5. The divine writing will have falsifiable prophetic claims.
6. The divine writing will have miraculous endorsement.
7. The divine writing will be written by men with integrity.

1. The divine writing will claim to be the Word of Allah.

The writing must claim implicitly or explicitly to be the word of Allah. This test eliminates many writings because there are few writings that actually claim to be the word of Allah.  In the Holy Bible, Thus saith the LORD" occurs numerous times. So the Bible is one of those books that claim explicitly to be the authoritative word of Allah.

Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD's house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word: Jer 26:2 (KJV)

The Qur'an claims, likewise, to be the word of Allah.

He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; ... We believe in it, it is from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding. Qur'an 3:7

2. The divine writing will describe an Allah who has the appropriate attributes for Allah.

A sacred scripture would need to describe a Being who has the same attributes as the Allah discovered in Natural theology.  The attributes that Natural theology discovered is an Allah who is eternal, immutable, perfect, rational, sovereign, divine Creator and Governor of the universe and who is infinite in goodness, unity, justice, being, truth, righteousness, power, intelligence, holiness, and so forth.  Consequently, the Allah described in a sacred writing must possess these divine attributes before the sacred writing can possess moral and intellectual credibility.  Because, if the Allah of Natural theology were not the same Allah of Sacred theology, there would have to be two different and distinct Allahs.  We must reject the concept of two Allahs, because the unity of the created order requires one Uncaused Cause.

Creation provides demonstrative proof of the existence and nature of Allah; consequently, these necessary attributes of Allah are vitally important in confronting the claims of alleged sacred writings.  Natural theology provides humans with a means to evaluate a religion's theistic claims. The Allah who is the author of the created order (Natural theology) and the moral order (Moral theology) will have the same attributes presented in an authentic divine revelation (Sacred Theology).  The sacred writing ought to be rejected if it fails to meet the test of Natural and Moral theology.  The theistic claims of a sacred writing are falsifiable when tested by the intelligibility of creation and moral law written in human nature.  The Allah of nature and the Allah of morality will be in perfect harmony with the Allah of sacred revelation.  This is to be expected since Allah is the author of creation, morals, and sacred revelation.  The Apostle Paul appealed to the testimony of creation and Allah's goodness before the pagans.

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Acts 14:17 (KJV)

3. The divine writing will have unity and be non-contradictory

Because of the unity and self-coherency of Allah, a divine revelation must have unity and not be self-contradictory too.  The unity of the created order requires a single Author.  And, likewise there should be a unity in an authentic sacred scripture.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deut 6:4 (NIV)

On the ethical level, there needs to be a single absolute moral code, since there is one immutable Lawgiver of the universe. Thus, an alleged divine scripture cannot have multiple moral codes; otherwise, it is suspect. For example, the New Testaments presents a single supreme moral code, namely, love.  Love to Allah comes first; and next follows our love to our neighbor.   This love ethic is found in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matt 22:37-40 (KJV)

4. The divine writing will have historical credibility

The writing will have historical credibility. A sacred writing that is flawed in its historical accuracy shows a lack of divine superintendence in its authorship to be an option for consideration as a divine scripture. The sacred writing should be open to scrutinizing by scholars for its historical accuracy.  

5. The divine writing will have falsifiable prophetic claims

The writing will have falsifiable prophetic claims. A book that gives just an account of past historical events hardly rates at a divine book.  Most careful authors can write a book detailing events with which they are familiar.  To give specific and detailed prophecies is evidence that a text has divine origins.  A prophecy needs to be specific enough to be falsifiable before its prophetic claims are credible.

Furthermore, if the claims of the sacred text were false, the logical conclusion is that the sacred text is not divine.  For example, the New Testament claims that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the grave and bodily ascended to heaven.  Therefore, if a single bone of Jesus Christ were found, the claims of the New Testament documents would be false.  The New Testament submits to historical evidence and notes the logical conclusion if Christ were not raised from the grave.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 Cor 15:17 (NIV)

A sacred text should offer more than vague, repetitious, and general statements.  A sacred text should offer specific truth claims that may be measured against relevant empirical evidence. 

6. The divine writing will have miraculous endorsement

A sacred revelation will have endorsements by miracles so that its divine authorship can be clearly distinguished from other writings.  For example, in the Bible, there are many miracles accomplished by prophets that were observed and witnessed by numerous individuals.  The greatest number of miracles were accomplished by the Jesus Christ.  Especially notable is the resurrection of Jesus.  His crucifixion and physical bodily resurrection provides historical evidence for the claims of the New Testament text.

7. The divine writing will be written by men with integrity

The sacred writing will be written by honest individuals.  When a writing is self-serving, it is suspect.  If the individuals who wrote a sacred scripture lacked integrity, it would cast a grave suspicion upon the reliability of the work.  Was the author of a sacred text honest about his own failures?  Or are the characters idealized?  Furthermore, a person who believed they possessed a divine message would probably be willing to die for its cause. 

In conclusion, this article on Sacred theology discussed ways to evaluate alleged divine revelations.  It showed that Natural and Moral theology play a role in this objective evaluation process.  The article noted that the claims of Sacred theology are less evident than the claims of Natural and Moral theology.  It noted that Natural and Moral theology are universally available to everyone.  Whereas, Sacred theology depends upon special revelations to individuals who mostly lived in the distant past.  This does not diminish the importance of Sacred theology.  In fact, true Sacred theology ought to provide us with knowledge of Allah that surpasses what can be know naturally by the created and moral orders.  Sacred theology will meet us in our human need and sinfulness.

Last edited 01/14/2000

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