Transcendence and revelation are two of the most important themes found in the Bible. According to Merriam-Webster, “transcend” means “to be prior to, beyond, and above (the universe or material existence).”1 When theologians say that God is transcendent, they refer to the fact that God exists outside and independent of the universe that he created. John Oswalt describes the Bible as saying “God is not the cosmos, and the cosmos is not God.”2 The understanding of the concept of transcendence is important when studying the revelation of God. If God does not exist outside of the creation, what insight could God possibly offer to humanity that could not be ascertained by someone, given enough time and effort?
While transcendence deals with God’s position in relation to the cosmos, revelation is God making known to humans that which was previously unknown. In the Bible, God chose at various times to reveal things to people. God had a purpose for Abraham and his descendants; that purpose was to build a nation (Israel) through Abraham and establish a covenant with them. Abraham did not seek after the will of God and Dr. Thomas Constable affirms that “there is no evidence in the text that God chose Abram because he merited favor.”3 God’s transcendent nature and his choice to reveal his will and purpose to his creation leads the reader to believe that, while God is not a part of creation, he wishes to have fellowship with it—specifically humankind.
God revealed himself to his creation in a variety of different ways. It was common in the Old Testament for the prophet to declare “thus says the Lord.”4 The words spoken by the prophet were the actual words of God. The prophet was essentially the mouthpiece for God. To disobey the prophet who declares “thus says the Lord” is to disobey God himself.
God also revealed himself in a visible manner at times. Examples include God showing his backside glory (Exodus 33:23), leading Israel by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21), and anthropomorphisms like the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. (Daniel 3)
Revelation is a theme that can be found throughout the Bible. Without revelation, humanity is left merely guessing at what pleases God. Certain things are left to mystery without God choosing to make his will and purpose known. A person’s life has no greater purpose outside of self-preservation and the fulfillment of his or her own interests. By what authority does one claim right or wrong without the revelation of God? And how can a person be assured of his or her existence after death? Save for the creator of the universe making his divine will known, humanity has no hope of ever pleasing God. This is precisely why understanding the revelation of God is paramount to any study of the Bible.
- Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transcending, retrieved Jun 6, 2012.
- John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 81.
- Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis 2012 Edition, http://soniclight.org/constable/notes/pdf/genesis.pdf, retrieved Jun 6, 2012.
- Exodus 10:3, 2 Samuel 7:5, Isaiah 48:17, et. al.