Speech Act Revelation: Bible and Quran

Speech Act Revelation: Bible and Quran

Thesis – By definition, an agreement involves at least two parties. It would be a very odd covenant in which one party knows what the other party desires, but does not know who the other party really is. Just imagine entering a covenant with someone via faxed messages or the Internet…Put in religious language, divine revelation is deficient if it is only given as a textual message. It remains deficient even if the message claims divine authorization as the ‘descent of holy scripture from the heavens’ as in the case of Quranic revelation. For this reason, the God of the Biblical covenant does not put himself out to be a remote God. The God of the Bible not only reveals his will (often envisaged divine law) but also who he is and what he is like, that is, his personality. In other words, God not only sends messages through intermediaries like prophets, he also comes in the form of Jesus Christ, a personal revelation of God in human history.

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Christians are commonly described as the ‘People of the Book.’ The term rightly recognizes the centrality of the Bible in the faith and practice of Christians. Nevertheless, the term fails to spell out how the Bible provides Christians with a way of life that is centred around love for and obedience to God. For this reason, I prefer the term the “People of the Covenant”. We have in the Bible the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The New Covenant is anticipated in the Old Covenant and the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant.

What is a covenant? Sometimes it is understood as a treaty or an alliance between two parties ratified by treaty documents. The Bible indicates that the all-sufficient God took the initiative to establish a covenant which includes special favors and protection to the people of the covenant. The covenant that the Bible describes goes beyond legal requirements since the two parties enter into a special relationship, pledging a mutual commitment of an intensely personal kind. Hence, loyalty and faithfulness are the central qualities of the Biblical Covenant. As 1 Peter 2: 9-10 says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received the mercy of God.”

It is evident that divine revelation goes beyond transmission of information. It has a more inclusive role of establishing a covenant relationship. The relationship is ratified by the ritual of atoning sacrifice which emphasizes that sinful men can enjoy the benefits of this covenant only because God has provided the means to overcome/cover sin which has earlier caused estrangement between God and man. Finally, the covenant includes a deposition of authoritative Scriptures that spell out in detail the obligations entailed in keeping this relationship which is a way of life characterized by utmost loyalty, trust and obedience to God.

By definition, an agreement involves at least two parties. It would be a very odd covenant in which one party knows what the other party desires, but does not know who the other party really is. Just imagine entering a covenant with someone via faxed messages or the Internet. The other party may offer me the sweetest deal along with wonderful promises, but I would not dream of entering into a covenant with this person until I know who he really is personally.

Put in religious language, divine revelation is deficient if it is only given as a textual message. It remains deficient even if the message claims divine authorization as the ‘descent of holy scripture from the heavens’ as in the case of Quranic revelation. For this reason, the God of the Biblical covenant does not put himself out to be a remote God. The God of the Bible not only reveals his will (often envisaged divine law) but also who he is and what he is like, that is, his personality. In other words, God not only sends messages through intermediaries like prophets, he also comes in the form of Jesus Christ, a personal revelation of God in human history. As the book of Hebrews testifies, “God, after he spoke to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The goal of Revelation is not abstract knowledge but restoration of a (lost) relationship with God. Revelation creates a genuine (ontic) relationship in which the recipient is affirmed in a dialogical relationship with God. Ray Anderson writes, “In concrete social situations, only relationships which have the character of placing person into the truth of relation with God are considered normative, and is the standard by which all other concepts of personality are measured.” The Christian then sees a person as affirmed in the context of community. A person is only totally a person in community. The Christian rejects any atomistic concept of the person that isolates him from a larger community. Revelation is appropriated in the context of involvement, response, integration, that is to say, in the context of relationships.

Excursus: Speech-Act philosophy and the Nature of Language

J. L. Austin through his speech-act theory demonstrated that language is multi-dimensional. Vincent Brummer notes that in speaking we go beyond proposing a picture of reality (constatives). We also express convictions and attitudes (expressives), we commit ourselves before our hearers to some specific future act(s) (commisives) and we finally accept an obligation before our hearers (prescriptives).

In the light of this speech-act philosophy, restricting Revelation to mean sending of divine commands presupposes a view of language that postulates a duality that separates the speaker from reality and from the persons he wishes to communicate with. In contrast, speech-act theory emphasizes that when a person uses language, he projects himself into reality with the intention to change it. Speech also creates a relationship between the speaker and the hearer. There is therefore no dichotomy between language (thought) and action (reality and relationship). Speech, then, is more than a cognitive intent, it involves the whole person. Jerry Gill emphasizes that the speaker gives his personal backing to his speech. “Thus truth is a function of personal commitment. There is a sense in which every statement must necessarily participate in both the factual and valuational dimensions simultaneously. Technically speaking, each statement should be prefaced by the phrase, “I say,” thereby indicating the speaker’s responsibility for making it.”

In the light of these recently philosophical insights into the nature of language we see the cogency of the Christian understanding of revelation which makes the primarily purpose of divine revelation as aiming towards establishing fellowship and eliciting a human response in the form of worship of a personal God. That is to say, Divine Revelation is God’s speech act enacting his covenant with man.

One Comment

  1. The Quran defers to the People of the Book to obtain credibility. Although in later years, Muhammadan muslims contend that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their holy books and that the Quran is the final and most accurate revelation from Allah, the Quran never says that.

    Moreover, no muslims are able to point out which chapter and verse of the Holy Bible that has been corrupted. Most are not aware of the evidences proven by the Septuagint translation of the OT in 270 BC as well as the 1947 Dead Sea Scrolls together with the tens of thousands of biblical manuscripts, partial and complete, all attesting to the accuracy of the preservation of the Christian and Jewish scriptures.

    What are the Quran textual evidences? It will be an interesting discussion, perhaps.