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In the Christian religion, revelation describes a direct communication between God and mankind in order for Him to reveal or pass on spiritual truths about His nature. Revelation theology refers to a set of formal doctrines or religious opinions that try to define the nature, meaning, and scope of revelation. It also attempts to distinguish revelation from other religious concepts like divine inspiration and divine assistance. A significant part of the theology is a defense not only of the existence of revelation but of its necessity if man is to have a true understanding of God’s nature.
Although revelation theology may differ among various sects of Christianity, there are some basic outlines that each theology shares. Such theology generally first establishes why revelation as a concept is possible and the nature of revelation. Once this possibility it demonstrated, it is further shown why revelation is morally necessary to the Christian faith. Having established the necessity of revelation, the various theologies set out the criteria for what constitutes a revelation, in order to distinguish it from other ways in which God shows aspects of Himself to man. A distinction is usually then made between Christian revelations, which are those meant by God for the Christian Church as a body, and private revelations, which are directed to an individual soul.
In revelation theology, the possibility of revelation is undeniable if God exists as a personal God. Having given man the power to reason and communicate his thoughts to other men, He could not Himself be unable to communicate with His own creation. The core of a revelation is that it is the direct speech of God to man. The truths revealed may be through supernatural means, because they might not otherwise be accessible to the human mind. His communications may be made through a mortal instrument, such as a prophet.
As evidence of the necessity of direct communication from God, revelation theology cites human history and the present condition of the world. In a moral sense, it is evident that mankind cannot understand fundamental principles of natural law or acquire the knowledge necessary for right living without revelations from God. Although the rare individual may discover some fundamental truths about natural and spiritual law, revelation is necessary for the greater part of mankind to understand these truths.
The criteria for determining a true revelation can vary between Christian sects. Generally, it should conform to established religious doctrine and with reason and natural law, the inherent sense of right and wrong instilled in man by God. There should be an internal conviction of the truth of the revealed doctrine and that it reflects man’s greatest aspirations. Its benefits to both public and private life should be obvious.
Theology distinguishes from Christian and private revelations. Christian revelations are communications from God for the benefit of the entire Christian Church as a body. These are revelations which God made known through his Son, Jesus Christ, and through Christ’s Apostles. The Christian faith also recognizes that private revelations are made to individual souls favored by God. These revelations are accepted as long as there is nothing in them that contradict established doctrine or that would undermine the faith of others.