The Dispensation of Paganism

That’s Newman’s expression for “the dealings of God with those to whom He did not vouchsafe a written revelation” (from Arians of the Fourth Century, in The Genius of Newman, 178). Newman finds a type of this dispensation “in the history of Balaam [cf. Numb 23-24]. There a bad man and a heathen is made the oracle of true divine messages…even among the altars of superstition, the Spirit of God vouchsafes to utter prophecy” (179). As such, “the distinction between the state of the Israelites formerly [sic] and Christians now, and that of the heathen, is, not that we can, and they cannot attain to future blessedness, but that the Church of God ever has had, and the rest of mankind never have had, authoritative documents of truth, and appointed channels of communication with Him” (178).

In an earlier post, I read the story from Numbers 11:24-33 of Moses’s joyful receptivity to “unregulated” prophecy within Israel as a figure for the Church’s relation to the pagans — we should firmly believe both that LORD’s self-revelation in Christ, Church, and Scripture is definitive and unsurpassable, and that the LORD is revealing himself in manifold ways outside that visible communion. As Newman reads the story of Balaam, the Books of Numbers itself completes this figural reading, extending the dispensation of prophecy to the pagans themselves.

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This entry was posted in Balaam, Ecclesiology, John Henry Newman, Numbers, Paganism, Prophecy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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