Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ “progressive revelation”

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “fancy,” came with this email note:

Yeah, but is progressive revelation God’s idea, or yours? Theres a good article about the whole thing here.

See below for the article about “progressive revelation”, which is pretty well summarized in the cartoon:

I wasn’t familiar with progressive revelation, but Seidesticker’s piece in Patheos explains (and eviscerates) it. An excerpt:

Let’s see how Christians explain progressive revelation.

The Scriptures testify to a progression of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity. He did not reveal the fullness of His truth in the beginning, yet what He revealed was always true. Each portion of Scripture was built on the previous one. (Don Stewart)

That’s one interpretation. The obvious alternative is that the Bible is (among other things) a 1000-year-long record of the evolution of supernatural thought within a primitive tribe in the ancient Near East. That it changed is hardly surprising—manmade religions do that.

The United Church of Christ embraces the idea of progressive revelation with a marketing campaign built around the slogan, “God is still speaking.” This evolved from a quote from Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

Okay—show us in the Bible where God makes clear that his perfect plan is a work in progress. Was the Ten Commandments just a first draft? Were the rules against homosexuality temporary? Was God’s plan for marriage a moving target?*

Another source has this interpretation.

God delivered what we were ready for, a bit at a time, when we were ready for it. In other words, his revelation has been progressive. (Tom Gilson)

You get the idea. The only question is why God did it this way? Of course theologians must have answers; I’d guess that they’d use the Argument from Jack Nicholson (“You can’t handle the truth!”) or say that God got bored pronouncing everything at once, and needed to keep talking to His sheep.


  1. GBJames
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    “…manmade religions do that.”

    Manmade anything is like this, of course. Although, it sure seems like religious apologetics don’t much.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Never heard of that either

    I can practically smell the magic potion cloud around it – fascinating…. “God is still speaking” gives a feeling like something big is just about to happen.

    How anyone can keep that in one compartment … I don’t think it’s possible.

  3. keith
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Christians say progressive revelation, Muslims say abrogation; let’s call the whole thing off.

    • Posted February 6, 2019 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Good one. I even heard the music as I read it.

      • Posted February 6, 2019 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Agreed. When I saw where it was going, I started over humming the tune 🙂

  4. John Harshman
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I find Mo’s comment more interesting. It led me to a technical definition of “abrogation” on Wikipedia: “It refers to the theory in Islamic legal exegesis whereby seemingly contradictory material within, or between, the two primary sources of Islamic law — the Quran and the Sunnah — are resolved by superseding or canceling the earlier revelation.” Weird.

    • Richard
      Posted February 6, 2019 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Ah – retconning.

    • Posted February 6, 2019 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      But note the problem – one has to do serious work to determine what the order is. So in practice there is a lot of “getting the result we want”.

      • Posted February 6, 2019 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Generally, the ones thought to be later (“Medina verses”) are more aggressive than the ones thought to be earlier (“Mecca verses”), because when Mohammed became a successful warlord, he no longer had to pretend to be nice.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    A very nice way of saying, we’ll make it up as we go.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Succinctly put.

  6. Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Imagine if all that theological ingenuity was actually harnessed to something useful?

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted February 6, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Indeed! And imagine if the tens of thousands of men (it is still mostly men) in Christian theological departments; and the millions of men (always men) in Islamic and Jewish (and Hindu and Buddhist) religious establishments were required to do some work for a change!

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        But it is work. It’s work like the work n needed to mine Bitcoin (which currently consumes about the same amount of electricity as Denmark): it’s trying to make people believe that something with no intrinsic value is worth something.

  7. Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This points out that Christian and Islam theology are a big smorgasbord, ranging from the holy books are the literal innerant word of God to personal interpretation of scripture.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    “Progressive revelation” — Sounds suspiciously similar to what one sometimes hears from a client as the prosecution’s evidence is disclosed to the defense during the “discovery” process.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      And “abrogation” recalls nothing so much as the assertion by Dick Nixon’s hapless press secretary Ron Ziegler that “my earlier statement is no longer operative.” 🙂

  9. Terry Sheldon
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I’m curious as to why the “progressive revelation” that was deemed worthy of being codified stopped 2000 years ago. Of course these days there are “revelations” by the thousands that are in direct contradiction to each other. I’d love to see a council today to try to reconcile all those “revelations”.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 6, 2019 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      There were certainly attempts to add new chapters to the bible weren’t there? Joseph Smith had revelations supposedly passed on to him by god.
      But now there are rigidly established Christian sects with their own Authority and they will certainly not allow that Mormon nonsense into their holy book!
      Joseph Smith came centuries too late. He might have made it if he was born earlier.

      • Posted February 6, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        Protestants and Catholics also use different books.

    • James
      Posted February 6, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      The Catholic reasoning I learned was that once Christ came, revelation was mostly done. Some exceptions occurred (various saints and the like) but those were mostly visions and the like; true revelation–true revealing of God’s plan–ended with Christ arriving. Their reasoning is that God himself came down and said “This is what I mean”, so no further revelation is necessary.

      Of course, this didn’t stop the various heresies and theological conflicts of the Middle Ages.

  10. Albert Habichdobinge
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    If progressive revelation is Christianity’s answer for the discrepancies in the bible, then the theory of evolution must become part of the bible.

  11. David Evans
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that the abrogated verses in the Qur’an are all about the detail of religious obligations. As such they do not involve factual contradictions of the sort found in the Bible’s differing accounts of the Flood or of the creation of humanity.

  12. CAS
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Progressive Revelation: Dan Dennett has made it clear, acting as spin meisters is a central function of “sophisticated theologians”. There is far too much contradictory garbage and just plain wrong stuff in the Bible and Quran for rationality to be useful to the religious! They should have courses for theologians on spin meistering instead of just have them pick it by observation and copying!

  13. Roger Lambert
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    People who study the Bible know that it is not in chronological order. Nor is it unexpurgated – many testaments are not included in the canon.

    Not a single original manuscript exists, and there are multiple different versions of many of them, even the earliest ones.

    This entire notion of “progressive revelation” is therefore a farce, and the majority of the experts in the field know it.

    Is there any other example of a so-called academic field where the expertise of the most learned is deliberately subverted and suppressed?

  14. Posted February 6, 2019 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Start with a lie, where else can you go but further into the murk-nest.
    That is, murdering the truth.

    MURK is “Kill, murder”

  15. Posted February 6, 2019 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    If the first bible began with “wash your after going to the toilet and before handling food” it would have been useful and saved countless human misery over the centuries. And given us pause to wonder.

    But that would mean ‘god’ also understood germ theory, which it invented, but apparently didn’t (or didn’t care).


    • Posted February 6, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      whoops – I left out ‘hands’ in the first line

      • eric
        Posted February 6, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Nah, you just progressively revealed your meaning.

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    As anyone who has followed a popular TV drama series knows, progressive revelation is inherent in any good story. Just ask any fan. Fans discover apparent errors, character’s pasts change in mysterious ways, different writers or directors may not always be on the same page…

    The process of fixing it is called ‘retrospective continuity’ or ‘retcon’ for short.


    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      Han shot first. In fact, Han was the only one who shot at all.

  17. Nobody Special
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Although the Bible itself hasn’t been through amy serious revisions recently,* it sure is odd how the interpretations placed upon it have changed over time – and always in line with the latest indisputable (by most rational people’s standards) scientific discoveries.

    *the con artist Smith notwithstanding.

  18. Zetopan
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve been hearing apologetic crap like this for multiple decades. Gawd didn’t tell the ancient Hebrews about bacteria, etc. causing diseases but used demons instead because the people back then would not have understood bacteria, etc.

    The same thing about a flat Earth because the ancients would not have understood mass and gravity. Note that even though the ancient Hebrews had a word for “ball” they never used it when describing the Earth, I guess that is was just “too complicated”.

    Yet other bible-thumpers point out “the circle of the Earth” passages and claim that proves that the ancients knew that the Earth was “round”. Which they magically translate into a sphere rather than the flat disk shape that was actually being described.

    And that business about the sun going down and then rushing under the Earth to where it comes up is really just a description of what they saw and not how the Earth doesn’t move. Note that other passages clearly state that the Earth doesn’t move, but they forget any passages that don’t support their nonsensical claims on literally a second by second bases. I’ve seen multiple religious speakers contradict themselves in successive sentences, but believers seem immune to even recognizing horribly obvious contradictions.

    The worst among them will even deny that they made the first statement that the second most recent statement contradicts, and then subsequently make the exact same first statement shortly afterwards. I had a high school “science” teacher who was an incurable religionist and he would routinely do this.

    After pointing out the obvious contradiction and him then denying that he made the first statement, and then subsequently repeating the same first statement, we would point out that he did it again and he would start the same exact denialism cycle all over again.

    It’s called *never* admit you are wrong no matter what the evidence and religionists are quite skilled at this form of mental masturbation.

    “Progressive Revelation” is just another apologetic that religionists use to hide their increasing embarrassment over just how primitive the biblical books really are.

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