A Wesleyan Account of Revelation and Scripture

A Wesleyan Account of Revelation and Scripture

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What follows is the doctrine of divine revelation with an exposition of the role of Scripture in God’s self-revelation. It is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024).

The Self-Revelation of God

89. God recognizes that we are limited, and so he provides us with the ability to know him, his will, and his purposes through direct revelation and indirect revelation, such as the natural world. As the psalmist wrote: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Revelation is God explaining himself to us—about who he is, what he is like, what he does, and what his purposes are. Revelation communicates God himself.

90. God has revealed himself through and to the world. He is revealed through mighty acts and inspired words. God spoke all creation into existence (Gen. 1) and all creation bears witness to the glory of God. Human life, reflecting the Image of the triune God, bears witness to the creative power of God, the covenantal love of God, and the value of relationship and community. He makes it possible to discern when and where he is active in the world, to align our lives rightly with his will, and to join in his mission.

91. Revelation is not a secondary activity of God, meant to help creation know its Creator. Rather, it is part of God’s nature to communicate. The Gospel of John makes this clear, identifying Jesus as the incarnate Logos (Word/Reason), the Word made flesh. This grounds the claim that revelation is both dynamic and consistent. The Word of God is identified as the second person of the Trinity. Just as the nature of the Trinity remains consistent across all time and places, so the revelation made available through the Word is likewise consistent even as it is translated and expressed in time and place (1 Sam. 15:29; James 1:17).

92. God acts in history to make himself known and has moved throughout all centuries to speak to hearts that are searching for him. God spoke to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Hagar. God spoke to Jacob and Joseph, and to Moses and Miriam. God spoke through the law, and through judges and kings. He spoke through mighty acts of deliverance, and through prophets and prophetesses. And in the fullness of time, God spoke by incarnating his Word, revealing his order and love in Jesus. Jesus is a unique person, fully divine and fully human.

Scripture and Revelation

93. As the incarnate Word of God, Jesus reveals in a definitive and authoritative manner the glory, nature, and purposes of God. The Scripture uses the same term Logos to describe both the second person of the Trinity and the written record of God’s self-revelation. Thus, Scripture mirrors the same dual nature as the incarnate Word. It was written by humans in the languages of the time—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—with all the attributes, expressions, and cultural understandings of the ancient period. This is why the Bible in places depicts unfaithful human realities, such as slavery, patriarchy, and violence, which do not reflect God’s good purposes for his creation.

94. At the same time, the Bible is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16), literally “God-breathed.” Though the precise manner of inspiration is a mystery, the affirmation that all Scripture is inspired means that God stands as the ultimate author. Consequently, Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, is sufficient to guide us in all matters of faith and practice, and continues to speak authoritatively in our time. The Scripture is a trustworthy revelation of the will and mind of God.

95. Because of its dual nature, the Bible is unlike any other book. It records God’s mighty acts and words over time; the testimonies of God speaking, the ways God has, again and again, revealed himself to redeem his creation. Those who experienced and received his acts of revelation preserved it in writing. Having seen, and even touched, the revelation of God they were chosen to proclaim and preserve that revelation, so that those who came after them might recognize God when he is speaking (1 John 1:1–4).

96. The interpretation of Scripture calls for the careful use of appropriate tools developed to understand its historical and cultural context and meaning. However, faithful interpretation also requires the leading of the Spirit to uncover the deeper truths of its message. The same Spirit that inspired the original human writers continues to work in human readers to understand his message in all times. This is known as double inspiration. Charles Wesley wrote in 1783:

If God enlighten through his Word,
I shall my kind Enlightener bless;
but void and naked of my Lord,
what are all verbal promises?
Nothing to me, till faith divine
inspire, inspeak, and make them mine.

Jesus, the appropriating grace
’tis thine on sinners to bestow.
Open mine eyes to see thy face,
open my heart thyself to know.
And then I through thy Word obtain
sure present, and eternal gain.

97. As the Spirit worked in Jesus’s ministry to point people to him, so the Spirit works to point readers to Jesus in Scripture. The writers of the Old Testament in God’s covenant with Israel look forward to the full revelation of God coming in Jesus Christ; the writers of the New Testament point back to and amplify the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. All interpretation, therefore, must conform to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. For this reason, Wesley taught that the first tool in the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself, comparing passages across books from both testaments to see the overarching work of God. The work of interpretation is never complete.

Scriptural Authority

98. Scripture possesses an authority that stands above our experiences and viewpoints. In the words of Wesley, “God himself has condescended to teach the way, for to this very end he came down from heaven. He has written it down in a book; O give me that book” (Preface, Sermons on Several Occasions). Scripture preserves the various ways that God has spoken to reclaim and redeem creation. History, poetry, prophecy, law, parable, and apocalyptic literature all bear consistent witness to the redeeming love of God throughout the Bible.

99. With Saint Paul we affirm that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Scripture is trustworthy as God’s revealed Word to us, guiding us through the real and difficult circumstances of life, not only in theory or when life is easy. As we progress on the way of discipleship, we grow in this confidence in the truthfulness of God’s Word because we find it so in our experience of grace. In this way, Scripture’s authority leads and directs our experience, rather than the other way around. The circumstances of our lives then provide the occasions in which—even contrary to ­appearances—we are able to test and find that God is true and faithful, and his Word is reliable.

100. This revelation is not static, however. Revelation is dynamic because it is found in the ongoing communication of God with his people through the process of inspiration. The Holy Spirit illuminates human reason to recognize that God is revealing insights about God and his will. When we are inspired, the Holy Spirit confirms that we are rightly understanding and presenting God’s revelation in harmony with the faithful witness of God in the Church through the centuries.

101. The authority of Scripture grows from a developing relationship of love; a love of God for us as revealed in Jesus and our love in return for God. The circumstances of our everyday lives—our needs, our ethical challenges, the problems as well as the joys we encounter—become the occasions for us to trust God’s love as revealed in Scripture, and for God’s Word to prove true once more, even in ways that surprise us. So we do not use the circumstances we experience to judge God’s Word; rather, we experience the truth of God’s Word as we trust it in our lives, even when it seems hard at first to do so. We do not judge the Scripture, then; instead, God’s Word, applied, shapes us and offers the platform for our lives to reach the fullness of God’s purpose for us. The Scripture provides God’s vision for life and happiness, true wholeness, including but not limited to human flourishing, the good of singleness, the marriage of one man and one woman, true friendship, fulfillment in vocation, and holy community. The Scripture also calls us to mission, sending us to love our neighbor. Those who have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit to recognize the revelation of God both enjoy fellowship with God through the salvation made available in Jesus Christ and desire to share this revelation so that others can share in salvation.

This is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024). Included are 213 articles of faith centered around:

  1. Section I
    God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  2. Section II
    Creation—Image Given and Marred
  3. Section III
    Revelation—The Image Revealed
  4. Section IV
    Salvation—The Image Restored
  5. Section V
    The Church—Life in the Image
  6. Section VI
    The Fullness of Time—The Glorified Image

An appendix in the back offers discussion/reflection questions for each section. Get it from our store here.


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