A number of New Testament scholars, including John O'Neill and Larry Hurtado, have drawn attention to the prospects which worship texts in the writings of the New Testament offer in revealing the way in which the first Christians thought of Jesus. Whilst the impossibility of separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith has contributed to this development and has also been a central impulse in the so-called Third Quest, the ancient principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, coined by Prosper of Aquitaine, gives a further theological foundation for such explorations. However, its later distortion, particularly in the aftermath of the Reformation, has privileged doctrine (credendi) over experience (orandi), and diminished the reciprocity between the two demanded by the classical formulation.
Revelation 4–5 are explored as two texts which are rooted in experience, both of Christian liturgy and the merkavah traditions which drew on the heavenly visions of prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah. Viewed from this perspective, the visions make claims about the divinity of the Lamb and the propriety of its worship on the basis of religious experience, embodied in authoritative claims for both ‘altered states of consciousness’ and literary tropes. They give pictorial descriptions and visions which should stand as authoritative theological claims in their own right.
However, modern New Testament scholarship, following post-Reformation patterns, attempts to explain these visions in more technical and abstract theological terms such as binitarian or trinitarian. This, it is suggested, is undesirable because of the danger of importing anachronisms, with their attendant theological bag and baggage, of making overly bold claims for our knowledge of the individuals, communities and/or circumstances which produced these texts (given both the oscillation of New Testament writers between binitarian and trinitarian tendencies, and a degree of confusion caused by the role of the Spirit in related discourse), and of shifting the locus of meaning from the texts themselves to secondary explications (a phenomenon which appears peculiarly attractive to modern scholarship).
Drawing on Wittgenstein's reflections on the study and analysis of religious experience, it is suggested that it may be wiser to leave the texts to stand in their own right, rather than to be interpreted via theological categories which may ultimately say more about the concerns of modern scholars than the producers of the texts.