The beliefs of earlier cultures may be inadequate to meet the requirements of the 21st century world.

This concept also applies to the realm of spiritual beliefs and practices, and Baha’is refer to it as progressive revelation. Here’s an example: In Biblical times, early mathematicians calculated π (Pi), the mathematical constant that expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, as 3.0. You can find this calculation in the Bible itself:

And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. – 1 Kings 7:23.

Today, of course, modern mathematicians calculate the value of Pi at 3.14159…, and call it a “transcendental number” because it can be determined beyond 70 digits, none of them forming a repeating pattern.

On the surface, it would appear that the Biblical value of 3.0 was wrong, in comparison to present day values. However, that value was probably not used in construction or manufacturing, but was probably used to make a general statement on size and appearance.

With the passage of time, and with mathematical advances, we’ve now determined the present value of Pi. That’s good, because it would be difficult to imagine an attempt to engineer any kind of device using the Biblical value of Pi. This statement is not to indicate Biblical errors, but simply to demonstrate that the requirements of earlier times don’t always meet the needs of today’s world. That’s why the earlier values give way to the present values.

Let’s examine another example. The Torah counsels everyone to observe the Sabbath:

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.

It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. – Exodus 31:16-17.

When Christ came, he altered the law of the Sabbath, and changed it from Saturday to Sunday. Today, though, given the pace of the world and its religious diversity, the world’s newest global religion, the Baha’i Faith, simply asks everyone to pray daily, read the scriptures twice daily, and meditate on what was read:

Abdu’l-Baha affirms that such prayers are “conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting one’s face towards God and expressing devotion to Him,” and that through these prayers “man holdeth communion with God, seeketh to draw near unto Him, converseth with the true Beloved of his heart, and attaineth spiritual stations.” – The Most Holy Book, p. 166.

The Baha’i teachings address these changes in religious law:

… according to the law of the Torah if a man committed theft of a certain amount, they cut off his hand. Is it practicable and reasonable in this present day to cut off a man’s hand for the theft of a dollar? In the Torah there are ten ordinances concerning murder. Could these be made effective today? Unquestionably no; times have changed. According to the explicit text of the Bible if a man should change or break the law of the Sabbath or if he should touch fire on the Sabbath, he must be killed. Today such a law is abrogated. The Torah declares that if a man should speak a disrespectful word to his father, he should suffer the penalty of death. Is this possible of enforcement now? No; human conditions have undergone changes. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 404.

Scientific knowledge continually increases, and what were once accepted as facts in earlier times are continually updated by more recent discoveries. With the addition of this new scientific knowledge, there has been a corresponding change to our civilizations—and sometimes these changes have caused dismay, friction and even violent reaction. We can significantly reduce that dismay when we begin to recognize that science and religion, two important factors in our cultures, go hand-in-hand. We can reduce it even further when we understand that:

The divine religions embody two kinds of ordinances. First, there are those which constitute essential, or spiritual, teachings of the Word of God. These are faith in God, the acquirement of the virtues which characterize perfect manhood, praiseworthy moralities, the acquisition of the bestowals and bounties emanating from the divine effulgences—in brief, the ordinances which concern the realm of morals and ethics ….

Second, there are laws and ordinances which are temporary and nonessential. These concern human transactions and relations. They are accidental and subject to change according to the exigencies of time and place. These ordinances are neither permanent nor fundamental. – Ibid., p. 403.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.


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