THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REVELATION AND ILLUMINATION
By: Frank G. Tunstall
The term, progressive revelation suggests in theology the ongoing discovery of new Biblical revelation, which, of course, is exactly what happened in the Old Testament era (Hebrews 1:1-4). This unfolding of the character of God and His plan of redemption of mankind continued through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles, and included writing the New Testament.
In the era of grace, we hold to the doctrine of a closed canon. The Bible includes sixty-six books that give everything needed for faith and practice, including the guarantee of eternal life with God in heaven. In the sense that no more Bible is being written, progressive revelation ceased with the writing of the New Testament. Some leaders over the centuries surely have tried to add to the Bible. If their efforts had been successful it would have meant there could be no final standard for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church through the centuries has consistently judged such efforts to be heretical.
The doctrine of a closed canon has indeed been a vitally important protection for the body of Christ in the Lord’s church through the centuries. Jesus is Himself the final revelation of God. “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NIV); therefore, we must “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3 KJV; see also Galatians 1:8-9; Revelation 22:18-19).
With this in mind, it is wise to refer to such matters as changes in worship style, or updated ministry methods, or even new insight into the Scriptures with the term “illumination” of the Holy Spirit.
When I taught theology years ago at Southwestern Christian University, I tried to make sure my students understood the difference between revelation and illumination. In the sense that I am using the terms, even the great Pentecostal revival of the 20th century that began at Azusa Street was illumination of already existing revelation. It was not new revelation, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was already revealed in the Bible.
As regards use of terms, however, thousands of people have thought Azusa Street was new revelation because it was new to them; but it was actually new illumination of Holy Scripture by the Holy Spirit. The terms, in the routine give-and-take of daily living are often interpreted as one and the same. But doing so can also easily lead honest and God-fearing followers of Christ into confusion.