Rethinking Accommodation In Revelation -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 76:1 (Spring 2014)
Article: Rethinking Accommodation In Revelation
Author: Vern S. Poythress

Rethinking Accommodation In Revelation

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

The doctrine of accommodation in God’s revelation to man has had a long and venerable history, from the ancient church to the present.1 On one level, it is a simple idea. But a closer inspection reveals mysteries and intractable depths.

I. The Definition Of Accommodation

Let us begin with the simple level. A. N. S. Lane summarizes the idea of accommodation by saying, “God speaks to us in a form that is suited to the capacity of the hearer.”2 God speaks to human beings in human languages, and in a manner that is intelligible to them. This suitability has been called condescension or accommodation.3 It is a simple and obvious idea, in the sense that it is an obvious feature of Scripture and of the earlier oral communications from God to man that are recorded in Scripture (Gen 3:9–13; 12:1–3; 15:1; etc.).

This kind of accommodation can be defined in at least two ways. In the narrower sense, it denotes the ways that God reveals himself.4 That is, we focus not on all instances of revelation, but those in which God himself is the subject-matter being communicated. God is infinite and incomprehensible, but he makes himself known to human beings. As a result, they truly know him, but in accord with the limitations of their finiteness. Thus we may say that his revelation of himself and his character is “accommodated” to the noetic abilities of

human beings. For example, when Scripture says that God is king, the word king is intelligible partly because we know about human kings. God is not a king on the same level, but by analogy to human kings. The use of analogy functions in making scriptural teaching accessible to its readers, who know about human kings.

In a broader sense, “accommodation” denotes all the ways in which God produces revelation or communication to human beings in ways that suit their capacity.5 In this sense, not only what God says directly about himself but what he says about anything at all is “accommodated” to the capacity of his hearers.

This kind of suitability or...

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