Have we missed the point? The Church’s teaching can change about some matters but not about the truths God has revealed. These are eternal and remain forever. It may not be immediately evident how much our thinking depends on how we understand Revelation. In the past theologians discussed which particular truths God has revealed, and whether we knew Revelation through Scripture alone or also through the living tradition of the Church. Today’s preoccupation has more to do with what is Revelation?
It is himself that God reveals, showing himself more clearly than he was known before, showing something about himself that was hidden or not noticed before. He shows himself as Saviour, merciful and gracious, making life worthwhile and giving meaning to our existence. Does God do this by speaking words, or by events? If it is words – how does he speak, what language and to whom does he speak? If God uses events and not speech what is the difference between reason and revelation? How important are the words we have in our Creeds?
The Church turned specifically to these questions in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation. Dei Verbum This document takes us to the Bible to understand Revelation, and refers to the Bible as modern Scripture scholarship has learned to interpret it. It does not claim that all of the Bible is Revelation nor that all Revelation is in the Bible. It claims that the Bible offers us the classic instance from which we can understand how and what God reveals.
The Bible as a rule records events that happened in the history of God’s special people – such as the Exodus; the achievement of a common identity in the journeying in the desert. Sometimes it records the same events in different ways. The purpose of the telling is not to give an accurate chronicle of all events, but to give an interpretation of how clearly God’s mercy and faithfulness and love for his people was clearly manifest.
In the crossing of the Sea of Reeds – Exodus 14 – for example, it is never clear whether the people were able to get through because an easterly wind cleared the waterbed, or whether the waters parted instantaneously when Moses raised his staff, or whether they saw an intervention of an angel. The narrator seems completely unconcerned about giving a factual account, perhaps because what was important to him was that through their escape from slavery the people realised God’s care for them.