[The following discussion appears in the authors' Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. George P. Landow scanned, formatted, and linked the text.]
Revelation, a disclosure of something that was before unknown; and divine revelation is the direct communication of truths before unknown from God to men. The disclosure may be made by dream, vision, oral communication, or otherwise (Dan, li, 19; 1 Cor. xiv, 26; 2 Cor. xii, 1; Gal. i, 12; Eev. i, 1). Revelation is not to be confounded with inspiration. The former refers to those things only of which the sacred writers were ignorant before they were divinely taught, while the latter has a more general meaning. Accordingly revelation may be deemed that operation of the Holy Spirit by which truths before unknown are communicated to men; and inspiration, the operation of the Holy Spirit by which not only unknown truths are communicated, but by which also men are excited to publish truths for the instruction of others, and are guarded from all error in doing it. Thus it was revealed to the ancient prophets that the Messiah should appear, and they were inspired to publish the fact for the benefit of others. The affecting scenes at the cross of Christ were not revealed to John, for he saw them with his own eyes (John xix, 35); but he was inspired to write a history of this event, and by supernatural guidance was kept from all error in his record. It is therefore true, as the apostle affirms, that every part of the Bible is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. iii, 16), though every part of the Bible is not the result of immediate revelation. For convenience' sake, we call the whole Bible a revelation from God, because most of the truths it contains were made known by direct communication from God, and could have been discovered in no other way; and generally it is only the incidental circumstances attending the communication of these truths that would be ascertained by the writers in the ordinary modes of obtaining information.
Concerning a divine revelation, we remark that,
1. It is possible. God may, for aught we know, think proper to make known to his creatures what they before were ignorant of; and, as a Being of infinite power, he cannot be at a loss for means of communication.
2. It is desirable; for while reason is necessary to examine the matter of revelation, it is incapable, unaided, of finding out God.
3. It is necessary; for without it we . can attain to no certain knowledge of God, of Christ, and of salvation.
4. Revelation must, to answer its ends, be sufficiently marked with internal and external evidences. These the Bible has.
5. Its contents must be agreeable to reason. Not that everything revealed must be within the range of reason; but this may be true, and yet there be no contradiction. To calm, dispassionate reason there is nothing in doctrine, command, warning, promises, or threatenings which is opposed thereto.
6. It must be credible; and we find the facts of Scripture supported by abundant evidence from friend and foe.
7. Revelation also must necessarily bear the prevailing impress of the circumstances and tastes of the times and nations in which it was originally given.
The Bible, however, though it bears the distinct impress of Asiatic manners, as it should do, is most remarkable for rising above all local and temporary peculiarities, and seizing on the great principles common to human nature under all circumstances; thus showing that as it is intended for universal benefit, so will it be made known to all mankind. The language of the Bible is the language of men, otherwise it would not be a divine revelation to men. It is to be understood by the same means and according to the same laws by which all other human language is understood. It is addressed to the common-sense of men, and common-sense is to be consulted in its interpretation.
In a narrower sense “Revelation” is used to express the manifestation of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles (Luke ii. 32); the manifestation of the glory with which God will glorify his elect and faithful servant at the last judgment (Rom. viii. 19), and the declaration of his just judgments in his conduct both towards the elect and the reprobate (ii, 5-16). There is a very noble application of the word revelation to the consummation of all things, or the revelation of Jesus Christ in future glory.
M'Clintock, John, and James Strong. Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. (c. 1871) New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894. VIII, 1061-62.
Last modified 11 May 2010