Different faith groups assign various meanings to the term "Progressive revelation."
A common definition is the belief that God did not teach full
theological, legal, moral, scientific, medical and other knowledge to humans in
the beginning. Rather, God gradually revealed truths over a long interval,
according to their needs, and at a rate slow enough that humans were capable of fully absorbing them.
Various religions and Christian groups hold different beliefs about Progressive Revelation:
- Bah'ai Faith: Progressive revelation is a major foundational
belief of the Bah'ai Faith. They believe that: "As the human
race has developed through time we have gradually understood more clearly
the world around us. During our progress God has sent us Messengers whose
Messages were according to our understanding in the time during which we
lived." 1 Bah'ai's
believe that in ancient times,
these messengers were Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Yeshua,
and Muhammad. Many of these individuals founded independent religions, like
Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. During recent history, two
new messengers appeared: The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. The
process will continue into the future. Bah'ai's do not expect a new messenger with an updated
revelation for many centuries into our future.
- Some Conservative Protestants: They generally believe as a
fundamental belief that the Bible is inerrant --
free of error -- and that its authors were inspired
by God to write without making mistakes. Many conservative faith groups
and individuals teach progressive revelation. It is particularly popular
among supporters of Dispensational Theology. Some examples:
- Liberal Christians: They generally look on the Bible very
differently -- as the creation of many individuals who were each trying to
promote their own diverse and evolving belief systems, over the time
interval from circa 900 BCE to 150 CE.
Most believe in the Documentary Hypothesis: that the Pentateuch -- the first
five books of the Hebrew Scriptures -- were written by different authors and
groups of writers and later harmonized. The Hebrew Scriptures contains many
ancient texts derived from Pagan religions in the Middle East. Thus, religious liberals expect that the Bible will be internally
contradictory, as new more developed beliefs replace earlier, more primitive
ones. Thus, progressive revelation exists throughout the Bible due to human
causes. They see this process as continuing today, as previously approved
practices, like executing non-virgin brides, burning some prostitutes alive,
human slavery, torturing prisoners of war,
oppression of religious
minorities, etc. are rejected as profoundly immoral. They see the culture as
continually developing in our present and future, as -- for example -- women
achieve equal rights, status, and opportunities, including
ordination as clergy; gays and lesbians receive equal
rights and protections; same-sex couples are allowed to marry;
and opposition the death penalty and the use of
spanking to discipline children grows.
Some examples of progressive revelation in the Bible:
There are many instances in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and
Christian Scriptures (New Testament) in which Jews and/or Christians suddenly
shifted their beliefs and practices. Previous revelation in the form of the
Mosaic code or the teachings of the prophets were replaced, greatly expanded, or
even reversed. Often, a fundamental belief of the ancient Israelites was
overturned and an entirely new concept substituted.
- From the Hebrew Scriptures: Much of the Mosaic Law
in the Hebrew Scriptures required ritual sacrifices of animals as a
mechanism by which a person could either attain forgiveness for their sins
or terminate an interval of ritual impurity. Some procedures are quite
elaborate and specific. But Isaiah 1:11 quoted God as giving a new revelation which
essentially abolished the ritual sacrifice system: "To what purpose
is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?...I am full of the burnt
offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the
blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats....incense is an
abomination unto me;
- From the Christian Scriptures: The most obvious paradigm shifts mentioned in the are found in the gospel of Matthew. They often took the
- Jesus began: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old
- This was followed by a description of a past practice or belief.
- Jesus then continued: "But I say unto you..."
- This was followed by the teaching of a very different new practice or belief.
Matthew 5:51-52 is a good example. Yeshua (a.k.a. Jesus) was recorded as
saying: "Ye have heard that it was said by
them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in
danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his
brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment [and]....shall be
in danger of hell fire."
- "The Bahá'í Faith; Basic Facts 1/9; Progressive Revelation," at:
- "New (wrong) thoughts on homosexuality: Progressive Revelation,"
- "1. Revelation," Here We Stand, at:
- H. Grattan Guinness, "The Approaching End of the Age,"
- Carl Johnson, "Dispensation: General Information," BELIEVE
Religious Information Source, at:
Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-DEC-23
Latest update: 2003-DEC-23
Author: B.A. Robinson