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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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The ancient Greeks were accustomed, during a certain festival named τὰ θεοφάνια , to display at Delphos before the public gaze the images of all their gods. θεοφάνεια denoted the apparition of one or more gods. The term thus understood was applied by ancient Christian writers to the manifestations of God under the Old Covenant and to the incarnation of Christ;. in the latter instance with reference to the birth, the baptism, and the second advent of Christ. ῾Η ἐπιφάνεια was, however, a usual substitute for its employment as respects his birth. (See EPIPHANY).

Later usage has given to the term a doctrinal meaning, by which it is made to designate a special form of the divine revelation, to determine which form it is necessary to examine the entire series of modes of the divine manifestation (see Bretschneider, Systemat. Entwicklung. p. 196). Without delaying to undertake a survey of this kind, we sketch the scriptural view of the theophany in the following paragraphs.

1. The theophany is never an immediate revelation of the super mundane Deity itself (John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:16). God reveals himself only in Christ (Matthew 11:27). The theophany is therefore more accurately defined as a Christophany, or an epiphany of God in Christ; and all nature is a storehouse of signs of the divine presence, which uniformly point to Christ (Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16). (See LOGOS).

2. The theophany, regarded as a Christophany, is developed in three great stages: (1) under the Old Test.; (2) in the incarnation; (3) in Christ's second advent. In that advent the theophany, or revelation of the divine glory, will reach its consummation (Titus 2:13). The first advent was also a revelation, of the kindness and love of God (3, 4) and of his grace and truth (John 1:14-17; John 14:9); and with that revelation corresponded the fact that Christ saw the Father in all his work, even as the future manifestation of Christ shall be accompanied with the blessed vision of the saints (1 John 3:2). Our attention is, however, confined by dogmatics to the modes of manifestation which occurred under the Old Test. prior to the advent of Christ, or under the New as accompanying or representing his presence. (See ADVENT).

3. The theophany or Christophany of Scripture is the epiphany of the coming Christ, mediated through the angel of the Lord (Genesis 16:7, etc.), of the face (Exodus 33:14; Isaiah 3:9), or of the covenant (Malachi 3:1). This angel was not a created being. His symbolic sign was the pillar of cloud and fire; his attribute the display of the glory or majesty of God (δόξα,כָּבוֹד ); his later Rabbinical and theological designation the Shechinah (q.v.).

4. The manifestation of God in Christological theophany begins with the voice or the miracle of hearing (the voice of God and of heaven being identical, but different from the Bath-Kol of the later Jews), and progresses towards apparition proper, which is a miracle addressed to the eye, and in which the angel of the Lord appears escorted by actual angels, at first only two, but in later instances myriads in number. (See BATH-KOL).

5. Theophany, the objective mode of revelation, never takes place without being accompanied in the mind of the observer with an ecstatic vision. This connection with the theophany distinguishes the vision from the ordinary historical occurrence (2 Kings 6:17; John 20:12; Acts 9:7; comp. Acts 22:9; Acts 12:11). On the other hand, no vision is without its element of theophany, which fact distinguishes it from mere subjective hallucination (Isaiah 6:1 sq.; the book of Daniel; Zechariah; Acts 10:3). (See VISION).

6. The various modes of manifestation can be distinguished, therefore, only when the predominantly objective facts of the theophany are compared with the predominantly subjective facts of the vision. (See PROPHECY).

7. Theophanic Christophany enters fully into earthly conditions by being incorporated in elements of nature and of soul life. It completes itself in one direction by the apparition of angels, and in the other by symbolical representations of an earthly nature (Genesis 3:24; Exodus 4:16; Psalms 18:11; Psalms 104:4; Isaiah 61:2; Malachi 2:7); but most of all by the Urim and Thummim (q.v.).

8. Vision takes place in the way of a momentary vacating of the body or an ecstasy (2 Corinthians 12:4). It expands in an abundance of symbolical and allegorical visions (Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Rev.), and finds its completion in the prophetic dream. The latter is conditioned in a higher determination of the ordinary life of the person chosen, and occurs chiefly where the common life has not been developed to any considerable extent, as with the Old-Test. Joseph; or where it is involved with a secular calling, as in the case of the New-Test. Joseph. (See DREAM).

9. The life of Christ combined into a higher unity all the fragmentary features of pre-Christian theophanies (πολυτρόπως , Hebrews 1:1). His personal life revealed God to the world, and the entire universe became for him, in turn, a theophanic environment attesting himself; because his whole inner life became an incessant subjective vision, in which the contrast between ecstasy and ordinary consciousness of the world no longer exists. Consult Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Buttstedt, De Adparitionibus Deorum Gentilium (Ger. 1744); Millies, De Variis Generibus θεοφανειῶν (Hal. 1802); Stud. u. Krit. 1859, No. 2. (See CHRISTOLOGY).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Theophany'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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