No, the Bible Isn’t the Fullness of Revelation. Jesus is.

The debate over sola Scriptura is often framed as a question of whether the fullness of revelation is Scripture or Scripture plus Tradition. But the Bible points us to the fullness of revelation, and it doesn’t look like this:

Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life with Bible (1885)

Rather, the fullness of revelation looks more like this:

Albrecht Altdorfer, Crucifixion (1516)

In other words, the fullness of revelation isn’t the Bible or Tradition, but Jesus Christ. That’s the clear teaching of Scripture. For example, the Letter to the Hebrews begins (Heb. 1:1-3a):

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.

So we received portions of revelation before through the prophets. This certainly includes the Old Testament, but (at least from a Catholic perspective) wasn’t confined to written revelation. Rather, this revelation occurred in “many and various ways.” And now that partial revelation has come to its perfection, not in the New Testament, but in Jesus Christ Himself.

Scripture and Tradition tell us about God. Jesus Christ is God, and “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). If we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (John 14:9): what further revelation could we want or hope for?

For this reason, while we can speak of Scripture and Tradition as the (lowercase-w) word of God, Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1-5):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word of God, in the strict sense, isn’t an it, like the Bible, but a He. And He is the Light of the World (John 8:12) enlightening the sin-darkened world.

And this Word is infinitely larger than any book, even the Bible. The Bible acknowledges as much. St. John ends his Gospel by reminding us (John 21:25), “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

With this in mind, consider how St. Jude calls us to contend for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That obviously isn’t referring to the New Testament, which wasn’t yet complete. Rather, the fullness of the faith is revealed in Christ, and predates the New Testament. Before a word of the New Testament is written, the fullness of the faith has been revealed. Catholics refer to this as the “Deposit of Faith,” and it’s clearly taught by Scripture.

This might seem like a small point, but it’s not: if you think of revelation and Scripture as interchangeable, it’s easy to fall into the error of thinking that revelation occurs when the New Testament authors write things down. In that case, New Testament revelation doesn’t really happen until a few decades after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven.

That position would suggest that after having seen the glorified Christ live, die, and rise again, we still need something else. Mormonism holds this position more-or-less openly, while sola Scriptura Protestantism can sort of stumble in that direction. But if Hebrews 1:1-3 and Jude 3 are right, we aren’t waiting for any new revelation after the coming of Jesus Christ. Now that He has fully revealed Himself, we’ve encountered God Himself. There’s nothing that can follow that reveal.

I think that this is a more productive way of approaching the question of sola Scriptura. It’s not a question of whether the Bible or the Bible and Tradition is the Word of God. It’s question of whether the Bible or Jesus is. And if Jesus is the Word of God, and He reveals Himself fully to the Apostles, how do the Apostles then spread that revelation?

That doesn’t end the debate, of course: someone could still hold that the Apostles only transmitted that revelation in writing (despite six of the Twelve never writing anything, and the words of 2 Thes. 2:15 otherwise). But it at least clarifies it. The Catholic position isn’t that Scripture and Tradition are the fullness of revelation. It’s that Jesus Christ is the fullness of revelation, and that the faith that He reveals to us is transmitted by both Scripture and Tradition. Vatican II describes Jesus as the fullness of revelation in these words:

In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. (2) [….] 

Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, “now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God (see John 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as “a man to men.” (3) He “speaks the words of God” (John 3;34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (see John 5:36; John 17:4). To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal. 

It’s an easy mistake to make to think of revelation as ending with the death of the last Apostle, but really, revelation ends (in the sense of achieving its perfection) in the life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. He is the Word spoken by the Father, and there is nothing more to say.

15 Comments

  1. I love the point this article is getting at, but permit me to address one detail towards the end of this post. Since I am saying this to one studying theology, I hope I will not be accused of splitting hairs :-).

    Revelation hasn’t ended. The Deposit of Faith is closed, yes, but the Church does not teach that revelation has ended. Many Catholics unfortunately fall into thinking that the Church does teach that Revelation ended with the death of John, or the Ascension… since apologists have often stated this. For example, Catholic Answer’s page on this question states that “revelation has ceased,” and to back it up, refers us to CCC 66. But all CCC 66 says is that there will be no *new public* revelation, and that Revelation is already *complete* — NOT ceased. Big difference.

    For example, so-called “private” revelation is indeed true revelation! It does not add to the Public Revelation (the Deposit of Faith), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real revelation. Just because we aren’t required to hold something with supernatural Catholic Faith doesn’t mean it isn’t real revelation. The Rosary, The Sacred Heart Devotion, Fatima, etc…. those are as real as you can get. No, you aren’t *required* to believe even approved apparitions as a Catholic. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real revelations!! (forgive me for the repetitiveness… I am just trying to anticipate the common responses and jump to the chase here by answering each of them 😉

    Keep your ears, eyes, and hearts open, my dear Catholic friends. God isn’t done. I cannot wait until He reveals his next piece of the plan to the larger Church.

    1. Daniel,
      Revelation ceased, as Joe pointed out, with the life, death and resurrection and ascension. The Face of The Father has been perfectly revealed through Christ. Any private revelation does NOT reveal anything that Jesus didn’t already reveal- it simply emphasizes some aspect that has already been revealed. The term “revelation” is not used the same way in the sense of public as it is in private. Private revelations (like Fatima) may reveal something about the future and in that way are indeed a revelation. However, public revelation refers to the act of the Trinity revealing God through the Son. And that is done- closed- finished. So- that is why the deposit of faith closed at the death of the last apostle.

      In Christ,
      Heidi

    2. Public Revelation ceased; it’s not really correct to simply say “revelation ceased” at the ascension. I don’t think you’ll find anything Magisterial that says that without qualification (i.e. the qualification that *public* revelation ceased then). Correct me (with specific citations 😉 ) if I’m wrong

    3. Yes, you are right that absolutely using the term revelation to exclusively mean public revelation is not precise. However, the context of the blog makes this specification clear so that the added terminology isn’t needed.

    4. The Catechism makes this distinction well in CCC 66-67:

      “66 “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”28 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

      67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

      Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations”.”

      So Revelation is complete in Christ, but that’s referring to public revelation, and doesn’t foreclose some space for private revelations which don’t claim to go beyond what’s been publicly revealed.

      I.X.,

      Joe

    5. “Keep your ears, eyes, and hearts open, my dear Catholic friends. God isn’t done. I cannot wait until He reveals his next piece of the plan to the larger Church. “

      There are also many, many, many, many, many false revelations – in fact almost all (by a staggering degree) private revelations are preternatural (demonic), delusions, mental health issues, overactive imagination or con-artistry. True ones are rare and there ONLY purpose is to direct us back to public revelation. There is nothing additional to add in the strict sense.

      I am guessing you have been taken in by some ‘prophet’ or ‘seer’? Just an educated guess.

  2. Wonderful post as always. And thank you for addressing one of my lifelong pet peeves—the Word isn’t a book, the Word is Jesus! Even as a Protestant, that bothered me so much! I used to just say Bible when talking about Scripture, but calling the Bible “Holy Scripture” was a “sort of Catholic” thing I adopted pretty quickly. When people talk about the Word, they should mean THE Word! And that’s not your Bible. HE is a Person!

    Also, here’s that link I promised. This is only a part of my story, but it’s a start. http://oothew.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/conversion-part-one-hopkins-builds-a-snowman/ I also wrote a short piece for Epiphany today, ’cause my Pastor’s homily was just too awesome. 🙂 Thank you again, Joe. I haven’t written about it yet, but your wonderful articles are part of what helped me make it home. Have a blessed Sunday!

    1. Wonderful! I’m wanting to find out more, which is a good place for a “part 1 of a series” to leave me as a reader. I’m thrilled to have been able to play whatever small part I could along the way, of course. By the way, did you know that Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (himself one of the most famous Anglican converts to Catholicism) received Hopkins into the Church?

      I.X.,

      Joe

    2. Yep! I think that’s in my post somewhere. We had to read a lot of Newman for my Victorian Lit class, and I have a copy of his Meditations and Devotions. Reading his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Fantastic so far. If I had known he existed when I converted, he would have been my patron, but the Little Flower got to me first. 🙂 I love my Carmelites, too!

    3. Whoops, so it is! And yes, those are two of my favorites. The chapel at the Catholic Information Center in DC has four statues in the corners: Newman, Therese, Josemaria, and St. Joseph. Great picks, especially for Catholic professionals.

  3. Wouldn’t you think that if the Bible actually WAS the fullness of revelation, that this would have been in some way addressed at the 1st Council of Nicaea? Or, canonically defined at one of the other early Councils? Or, at least debated vigorously by the likes of both Saints and Heretics alike, i.e.. Origen, Irenaus, Arius, Cyprian, Pelagius, Athanasius, Basil, Donatus, Augustine, etc…?

  4. At the risk of proof-texting, the verse that nails this down for me is John 5:39 You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. 40 But you do not want to come to me to have life. Eternal life is in Christ Jesus, not the Scriptures.

  5. Jesus Christ is indeed the fullness (read: personification) of God’s revelation (of Himself). But there is so much contained in Him (God) it is impossible for anyone on this side of heaven to fully grasp the things of God (Truth, Beauty and Goodness) which have been revealed. Even Christ’s simplest words, actions and prayers were multi-layered in significance and wisdom – which we (corporately and individually) must continually delve into by contemplation, just like His Blessed Mother did. This is why He said, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25-26). Scripture is indeed inspired by God, but, next to God Who is Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life, it is ultimately a text written in human language by men, attempting to encapsulate what ultimately is ineffable – and infinite. Indeed, the substance of scripture is not a record of events or a bunch of teachings, Old or New; the very substance of Scripture is Christ Himself. And long before the term “New Testament” was used to describe a part of scripture, it was synonymous with “New Covenant”, which Christ sealed eucharistically, by His own saving blood.

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