The Bible
"What Is The Bible?"

Douglas Gleason,

A. What is the Bible?

1.      Lesson Outline

II. Bibliology
            A.  What is the Bible?
                        1.  Lesson Outline
                        2.  General
            B.  The Revelation of God
                        1.  The Problem
                        2.  What the Scriptures Teach
                                    a)  The Law
                                    b)  The Prophets
                                    c)  The Historical Books
                                    e)  Poetry and Wisdom
                                    f)  Early Christianity and Acts
                                    g)  Pauline Writings
                                    h)  Johannine Writings
                                    i)  Other New Testament Writings
                        3.  Systematic Formulation
                                    a)  Definition of Revelation
                                    b)  General Revelation
                                                (1)  The Information
                                                (2)  Its Sources
                                                (3)  Its Scope
                                                (4)  Its Purpose
                                                (5)  Its Limitations
                                    c)  Special Revelation
                                                (1)  The Information
                                                (2)  Its Sources
                                                (3)  Its Contents
                                                (4)  Its Purpose
                                                (5)  Its Limitations
                        4.  Defense of the Doctrine
                                    a)  Church Fathers
                                    b)  Medieval Scholasticism
                                    c)  The Reformers
                                    d)  The Modern Period
                        5.  Application

2.      General

We live in a world full of people making claims about the things that affect our lives.  The advertising world is a prime example of this.  “Sudzo will make the whites whiter and the colors brighter,” says the laundry detergent commercial.  And who hasn’t seen the automobile commercial touting their car’s durability, beauty, and sex appeal?  Ours is a world full of people competing for our attention.  Their subtle message is “use my product and you will be better off”.

The religious world is no different.  All make claims that they possess the way to God, enlightenment, Nirvana, heaven, or what have you.  One of the more important claims that these religions make is that their “holy books” are the very words of who and what they call “god”.  Their subtle message is that they speak for God, their god anyway.  Christianity is no different in that it makes the same claims with one difference.  It claims to speak for true God.  It makes these claims in its holy book, the Bible.  In fact, the Bible says that it is the only record of the words of the true God. 

So what is the truth of the matter?  Are Christianity’s claims true?  If they are true, what does this say about the nature of the Bible itself?  What are we to understand about its character, about its authority, about its accuracy?  What is the source of its teachings?  Is it true? 

In our study of Bibliology, we will look at the Bible itself.  We will first, look to its source.  The Bible is information that is revealed from God.  We will investigate what theologians call general and special revelation.  Next we will look at how God provided the Scriptures to mankind.  This involves the study of the doctrine of inspiration.  Having seen that the Scriptures are the written revelation of God, and are God-breathed, we will study its nature.  This study will seek to determine the character of Scripture.  Is it inerrant and infallible?  Finally, we will look at how the Scriptures stand in relation to the individual believer. 

B.  The Revelation of God

1.      The Problem

John the apostle makes a startling statement in the opening sentences of his gospel.

“No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)  But what about Adam, didn’t he see God face to face in the Garden of Eden?  The answer is yes.  As a matter of fact, Moses records that he too saw God while he was on top of Mt. Sinai.  So what did John mean? There is only one visible God, whether incarnate or not, Jesus the Christ.  Old Testament appearances of Deity are referred to as Theophanies.  These appearances of God to man would necessarily be Jesus Christ pre-incarnate as He is the only visible elements of God.  The same will be true for the eternal state.  The God that we will then walk hand-in-hand with will be Jesus.

John uses the noun God (theon) without a definite article (the) in the Greek text.  This indicates that the he is referring to God’s nature of being or what He is in essence rather than what He is as a person. "Deity" might be a more accurate rendering. So John is saying that no man has ever seen the essence of deity.   He is not unreal; He is just invisible to our eyes.  Let me illustrate the point.  The human eye is capable of seeing light energy in a very narrow spectrum.  Most of the Ultraviolet and infrared light spectrums are not visible to us.  They exist but we can’t see them.  It is the same way with God.  He exists but He is seen only on a spiritual plane. [1]

Now, if God is invisible, how can we know anything about Him?  Even more fundamental is the question, how can we know He even exists?  John gives us an answer in the second part of the verse, God has revealed Himself.  There is only one visible God, whether incarnate or not, Jesus the Christ.  Old Testament appearances of Deity are referred to as Theophanies.  These appearances of God to man would necessarily be Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate state since He is the only visible element of God.  The same will be true for the eternal state.  The God that we will then walk hand-in-hand with will be Jesus.  It is this fact that makes Christianity so very different from religion as it is commonly understood.  The wise sage has said that religion is man’s search for god while Christianity is God’s search for man.  This is why Christianity is called ‘revealed religion’.  

Three simple but fundamentally important questions must be asked.  How has God revealed Himself?  To who has He revealed Himself?  When has He revealed Himself?  These three simple questions open up a Pandora’s Box of other questions.  Concerning the ‘to whom’ question we might ask some additional questions. Has God revealed Himself only to His covenant people Israel, or only to the church or has He done so to the world at large?  Is His revelation of Himself some combination of Israel, the church, and the world?  Concerning the ‘how’, we could ask even more questions.  Has He done so by and through the use of miracles, or in nature in general, or perhaps through Jesus Christ, or in some other way?  Consider the when question.  Was it during Old Testament times, or maybe only during New Testament times, or some combination of both, or how about all of human history?

It will be our task in this study to discover the answer to these and other questions.  We will investigate the doctrine of Revelation.  Theologians have divided this doctrine into two parts; General Revelation, which is the revelation of God to all mankind through nature and Special Revelation, which constitutes the revelation of God to special people at special times with information that could not be conveyed through nature, i.e., information that men need regarding their sin and their need for and God’s provision of redemption, and a whole lot more! 

2.      What the Scriptures Teach

a)     The Law

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, `Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me.  For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. (Exodus 9:13-14)

Moses received instructions from the Lord to visit Pharaoh and warn him of what was about to happen.  Moses had prior to this gone to Pharaoh with three similar messages.  However, God had turned up the heat.  The full force of the remaining plagues was about to break upon Egypt.  Moses was to remind Pharaoh that this was no idle threat.  Had it not been for the deliberate graciousness of God, he and all of Egypt would have been wiped from the face of the earth.  Pharaoh undoubtedly said to himself, “Why me?”  In response God told Pharaoh why he had been so gracious. "But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.”  This was an awesome act of revelation to Egypt and the world of God’s existence and power.

Some forty years later, Moses made his farewell address to the nation of Israel.  In that address he said, "The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you will keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and walk in His ways.  So all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of you.” (Deuteronomy 28:9)[2]  Here, Moses revealed a message that was similar to the one delivered to Pharaoh.  God poured out his grace upon Israel in order to demonstrate to the world His existence and power.

b)     The Prophets

The word of God through Isaiah typifies the messages of the prophets concerning the revelation of God when He says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?  Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” (Isaiah 40:21-26) [3]  God has portrayed Himself as a father here.  He is chiding his children for their failure to see Him as He has been revealed in history and nature as the sovereign Lord of creation.  The salient point is that God is seen in not only in nature but also in history, especially the history of Israel.  Israel should see Him and honor Him for it.

c)      The Historical Books

It is said that God revealed Himself in His involvement in the history of mankind.  It is also said that Hid revealed Himself in His many miraculous acts.  The author of the books of 1 Kings has provided us with a wonderful example of both these types of revelation. He did so with the story of Elijah the prophet. King Ahab at the insistence of his wife Jezebel caused Israel to substitute the idolatrous worship of Baal for the worship of the one true God.  God raised up Elijah to be His spokesman to oppose the work of Ahab and Jezebel and turn the nation to a place of repentance and faith.  A showdown occurred in a test of sacrifices to be held on Mount Carmel.  Elijah offered the challenge.  The prophets of Baal and Elijah each would prepare a burnt offering.  However, they wouldn’t set it afire.   Each would pray to entreat his god to demonstrate his existence and power by sending fire down from heaven to consume the sacrifice, Baal theirs and God Elijah’s.  The four hundred ‘prophets of Baal’ prepared their offering to Baal.  Throughout the day they danced before it, beating themselves as their rites dictated.  But no fire came from Baal. Then Elijah stepped up to the plate.  He prepared his sacrifice in accordance with the prescriptions of the Law of Moses.  He then instructed his servants to pour water over the sacrifice until it was thoroughly soaked.  All the while the hubbub from the prophets of Baal continued.  Elijah then prayed to God,  "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O LORD, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again." (18:37)  In a miraculous display of power, God sent fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice laid out by Elijah.  “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God."  (18:39)  

d)     Poetry and Wisdom

The revelation of God can be seen in the psalms of David. [4]  He opens Psalm 8 with a declaration of praise and wonder, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, Who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1) David says that all we need to do to see God is to look up!  The majesty, the unfettered power of God is clearly displayed. 

In another place the Psalmist says,

Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples.  Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders.  Glory in His holy name; let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.  Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually.  Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels, and the judgments uttered by His mouth, O seed of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!  He is the LORD our God; His judgments are in all the earth. (Psalm 105:1-7)

Note that we are commanded to “make known His deeds among the peoples”. (Verse 1)  In connection with the works of God, the Psalmist says God is holy when he says we are to “Glory in His Holy name. (Verse 3)  He makes reference to His strength (power) which he commands us to seek. (Verse 4)  He is indicating that these two qualities are to seen in the works of the LORD.  In other words, for the psalmist the acts of God reveal his being. God is the One who acts, and his acts reveal how marvelously.

e)     Early Christianity and Acts

Matthew recorded some interesting things that Jesus said.  At one point early in His ministry, there was substantial unbelief in those cities where He had performed numerous miraculous works.  As a result of that unbelief, Jesus:

…began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.  "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you. (Matthew 11:20-24)

He then praised the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, because He had hidden certain things from the wise and revealed certain things to babes.  Jesus said, "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  (Matthew 11:27)

Several points can be made regarding this passage.  First, God is sovereign and is free to conceal or reveal as He wills.  He is under no obligation to anyone to make Himself known.  Second, He has chosen to reveal what Jesus calls “these things” not to the learned ones but to babes.  Now “these things” are commonly interpreted to be the significance of Jesus’ miracles, the Messianic Age that was unfolding before an unobservant populace, and the content of His teaching.  Third, God has hidden these things from those who are self-sufficient and deem themselves wise and revealed them to those who are dependent and love to be taught.  Some would object that God is unjust to conceal important information to some; that He was being capricious in His actions. We must remember that God is dealing with a race of sinners to whom He owes nothing.  Finally, Jesus makes a Christological claim of prime importance.  After declaring that the Father gives true understanding of "these things" to "little children" Jesus now adds that He is the exclusive agent of that revelation.  He declares that He, the Son, reveals the Father to those whom He wills.  The text places enormous emphasis on Jesus' person and authority.

In the year 49 a.d. Paul set out on the second of his three recorded missionary journeys.  During this journey, Paul found himself in Athens, Greece. While waiting for Timothy and Silas to join him there, he set about the LORD’S work, preaching the gospel in the synagogue and in the market place with anyone who would listen.  As he hoped, he encountered certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.  Entering into debate with them, Paul declared that God was the creator of the world and because He was Lord of heaven, He didn’t live in temples made with human hands.  Furthermore, He was the one who gave all of us life and breath, food and water, and all the things required to sustain us.  Paul concluded his argument, stating that God:

...made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist.”  (Acts 17:26-28)

In this statement, Paul has argued that God has revealed Himself in the rise and fall of nations.  He has appointed their boundaries, their beginning and their end.  This fact should cause men everywhere to recognize Him as the God of heaven.

f)       Pauline Writings

In one of the most important passages in the Scriptures, Paul tied God’s revelation of Himself in nature with human responsibility.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” (Romans 1:18-32)

In a sweeping statement, Paul started with the revelation of God’s wrath against men who have willfully suppressed their knowledge of Him so that they can live unrighteously.  Paul then declared that nature clearly reveals God’s divine power and nature.  Men everywhere are therefore without excuse.  They have failed in their responsibility to God to live in compliance with what a holy God would require.  They are worthy recipients of God’s wrath and judgment.

g)     Johannine Writings

John opens his gospel with the striking words,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:1-5, 14, 18) 

John uses the Greek term logos (Word), which refers to a spoken word.   The emphasis of this spoken word is on the meaning conveyed. “Logos, therefore, is an expression of personality in communication.” [5]  John uses logos to make several assertions; 1) the logos is the source of all that is visible, and 2) the logos, since He was God, was in existence before the material world.  He goes on to identify the logos as Jesus Christ, God in the flesh dwelling among men, who came to reveal the Father. 

h)     Other New Testament Writings

The author of Hebrews opens his letter with a magnificent introduction in which he brings out something of the greatness of Jesus and his saving work.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.  For to which of the angels did He ever say, "THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE"? (Hebrews 1:1-5)

Right at the beginning we are confronted with the reality of God and the fact that He has spoken in a variety of ways.  He has spoken through the fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses), the prophets, and many others.  Not only this, he says, God has “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”  We have direct communication from God to man through the life, work, and words of His Son, Jesus Christ.

3.      Systematic Formulation

Now that we have looked at a sample of what the scriptures have to say on the subject, it remains for us to systematically organize what they teach. [6]  We begin with a definition.  

a)     Definition of Revelation

Thiessen has defined revelation as, “that act of God whereby He discloses Himself or communicates truth to the mind; whereby He makes manifest to His creatures that which could not be known in any other way.”  [7]  He, with most theologians has divided the subject of revelation into two categories, general and special revelation.  It is important to note that these categories complementary aspects of the whole of God’s revelation.  General revelation is inadequate and incomplete without Special revelation.  This will be seen in the discussion that follows.

Before we go on, there are some distinctions that must be made at the outset. 

First, revelation is not illumination.  Illumination is that work of the Holy Spirit in which He makes clear, enlightens and teaches the truth of the written revelation.  It involves the supernatural awakening from within the child of God.  In other words, He shows us what is already there and as such does not involve new truth as revelation does. 

Second, revelation is not inspiration.  Consider the definition of revelation above.  Revelation is simply the communication of truth from God to man.  Inspiration on the other hand involves the transfer of divine truth to written language under divine influence.  Theologians use the term inspiration to describe the influence that God exerted over the human authors of scripture, both the Old and New Testaments.  Inspiration has to do with the way the divine message was received by these authors and how accurately they wrote it down.  Illumination and inspiration will be discussed more completely in later chapters. 

Let’s go on now and look at the subject of General Revelation.

b)     General Revelation

General revelation is simply information about God sourced in creation and is provided to all men.  Notice that there are several elements to this definition.  There is information, a basis for that information, and its scope.  To these topics, we can add one other, its purpose.  Let’s take a closer look.

(1)  The Information

What is clearly displayed in General Revelation is God’s power and majesty.   Recall David’s words, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1) and those of Paul when he says “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” (Romans 1:19-21)  If we simply look at the universe around us we can know something significant about the existence, power, and majesty of God.

(2)  Its Source

General revelation has the work of God in creation as its source.  This can be further subdivided into 1) the natural world, 2) human history, and 3) the conscience of man. 

The Natural World.  Men everywhere and in every generation have seen the hand of God in nature.  They have recognized the power, glory, divinity and goodness of God.  Even in today’s post-Darwin culture, scientists are recognizing that the mechanistic explanations offered by Darwin and his followers are inadequate to explain us.  Although they don’t recognize God as Creator, they do acknowledge a great “designer”.  They see an intelligent design in the universe. [8]

Human History.  The Bible declares that God revealed Himself in the history of various nations.  We saw one example of that in our discussions of Exodus 9:13 in section 2.a above.  Likewise, the Bible spoke of Assyria [9], Babylon [10], Medo-Persia [11], Medo-Persia and Greece [12], the four kingdoms that resulted from the death of Alexander the Great [13], and the Roman Empire [14].  More particularly, the Scriptures time and again noted the dealings of God with the nation of Israel.  From His calling of and His promises to Abraham, God formed a peculiar relationship that proclaimed His existence to the world[15].

The Conscience of Man.  In man there is a universal sense of right and wrong.  It is this sense of moral right and wrong, this conscience that constitutes the revelation of God.  This conscience is not self-imposed otherwise we would rid ourselves of it.  For this reason Thiessen calls it the “mirror of God in the soul.” [16]

(3)  Its Scope

Our definition stated that general revelation was given to all men.  This is true because its source is to be found in creation.  Every person on the face of the earth has only to look around to see the message of God’s existence and power.  They have only to experience life with all of its foibles to experience God.  Indeed, all men everywhere and in every time have been the recipients of this type of revelation. 

Although some do recognize God in General Revelation, because of their sin they have rejected that revelation.  As we will see later, one of the effects of Adam’s sin was alienation from God.  This alienation resulted in a spiritual blindness that was judicially imposed by God upon all of mankind.  Paul said regarding this situation that:

…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:19-21; 28-32)

See how Paul starts with the revelation of God in nature, shows how as a result of sin man has turned a blind eye to this revelation, and finishes with the act of God that judicially confirms them in their sinful acts and attitudes.

(4)  Its purpose

Why did God reveal Himself this way?  Look back at the statement of Paul above.  Man has suppressed the truth of God.  Man is now responsible for his actions because God revealed Himself.  Man is guilty as a group and as an individual.  We are all guilty of rejecting the light of revelation that He has given us. 

(5)  Its limitations

While general revelation serves to render us guilty before God for our sinful actions in rejecting Him, and is enough to determine Judgment or Wrath, it is limited in that it does not and cannot give us the remedy for that sinfulness.  It says nothing of the person and work of Jesus Christ in redemption.  It says nothing of the cross, of resurrection, of forgiveness, of grace.  For this reason it “does not convey to man an adequate and reliable picture of God and spiritual things.” [17]  This is the subject matter of Special Revelation.

c)      Special Revelation

Theissen has defined special revelation as “those acts of God whereby He makes Himself and His truth known at special times and to specific peoples.”[18]  As with general revelation, we have as one element, information about God.  Unlike general revelation, the source of this revelation is the work of God in the redemption of sinful man and for this reason the scope is limited to a special times and special people.  As Cook puts it, “Special revelation is information that …is addressed to men as sinners with a view toward their redemption…” [19]

(1)  The Information

Where general revelation is limited to information regarding the existence, power and majesty of God as its subject matter, special revelation builds on this and exposes the sinfulness of man and his need of redemption.  It demonstrates mans utter inability to find favor with God.  It declares that the appropriation by faith of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son is the only remedy for man’s spiritual condition.  

(2)  Its sources

I said above that God’s work in redemption is the source for special revelation.  This can be subdivided into five additional areas; the history of Israel, of miracles, of prophecy, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the scriptures.  Let us consider each in turn.

In the History of Israel. The nation of Israel is one very key element in God’s special revelation.  When God called Abraham to leave his country, his relatives, and his father, He promised that a nation would arise from Abraham’s descendants.  We see this promise fulfilled when centuries later, Moses lead those descendants (the Children of Israel) out of Egyptian bondage and formed a nation.  The Law that was given at Sinai forged the peculiar relationship between the Israel and its God.  We see in these events the establishment of a theocratic state, a state with God as its ultimate head.  In the history of this nation we can clearly see the character of God revealed.  We see His love, mercy, holiness, and justice.  Moses said as much when he instructed Israel,

See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, `Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? (Emphasis mine) (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

As the recipient of this revelation Israel was the witness to the truth of this revelation of the one true God.  Isaiah said,

"'I, even I, am the LORD;
And there is no savior besides Me.
"It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed,
And there was no strange
god among you;
So you are My witnesses,' declares the LORD,
'And I am God.'"
(Isaiah 43:10-12)

As witnesses to this revelation they were to declare it to the world at large. 

In Miracles. A miracle is defined as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”   This event takes place in the realm of humanity and displays the presence and power of God.  A genuine miracle always accomplishes some useful work.  A biblical study of miracles reveals that they are use by God as an “Authenticator” of new revelation, and as such only to Jews, “who require a sign”. [20]  It is never the mere product of natural laws.  With respect to nature, there are several varieties of miracles, those that intensify or augment the natural laws and those that violate the laws of nature.  The first variety is clearly seen in the plagues of Egypt as described in Exodus, the flood of Noah in Genesis 6 among others.  The second variety are seen in such miracles as Moses bringing of water from solid rock, Jesus feeding the multitudes with 5 loaves of bread and a few fishes, and raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Miracles also serve to authenticate the message of God’s messengers.  We see this most notably with Jesus Christ.  He declared that the work He did authenticated His claim to be the Son of God. [21]

A word of caution is in order.  I have been careful to use the term genuine miracle.  A spurious miracle, according to Thiessen, “if not a mere deception, is a freak of power, wrought for show and ostentation, and inferior to a genuine miracle (Exodus 7:11-12,22; Acts 8:9-11; 13:6-8; Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13).” [22]

In Prophecy. Concerning the nature of Old Testament prophecy, Hobart Freeman said,

In the Old Testament, history and prophecy are closely related, inasmuch as the great events of Israel’s history…called forth the prophetic messages and revelations.  Hence, the Word of God consists in just this; it is the prophetic testimony to what God has said and done, and what He will yet do in history. [23]

There are, then, two aspects to biblical prophecy, “the prophetic testimony to what God has said or done [history], and what He will yet do in history [prediction].” [24]

For our purposes here, I am using the term prophecy in the latter sense of predictive prophesy.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, [25] God announces that He will rise up a king named Cyrus.  He is going to do this for the future deliverance of the nation of Israel from the Babylonian captivity He had imposed upon them.  Isaiah is making this prophecy some 250 years before Cyrus comes on the scene.  Isaiah quotes God as saying that He is doing this so “that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me.  I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”  We know from history, that Cyrus (a Median king) sat on the throne and in about 455 BC ordered the return of Israel to their ancestral homeland. 

This is not the only prophecy that we can refer to.  There are over 300 separate prophecies concerning the first coming of Jesus Christ that were literally and verifiably fulfilled. [26]  It is fair to say that most liberals dispute the dates of most of these prophecies.  However, even if we accept the date for the latest of these prophesies, 165 BC, we still have over 150 years between the last of them and their fulfillment in the coming of Christ.  For the liberals, and others who wish to dismiss the Christ, their dating schemes are an attempt to place the “near view” events (local events that were a part of the prophecy) before the date of writing so that there would be no element of future prophecy).  They would then be able to dismiss the “mid view” (cycles of events that all relate to the prophecy in history) and the “far view” (either the coming of The Christ, or events yet to unfold during “The Day of the Lord” in the Kingdom age (Millennium).  We could go on and on with the fulfillment of prophesies to numerous to document here.  Suffice it to say that if God has done what He has said He would in these prophesies, He will do in those that remain to be fulfilled.  Truly we can see Him in this manner.

In Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the most profound act in all of history.  The Gentile world had the light of general revelation but they perverted the message through idolatry.  Israel did exactly the same, taking on the Law as her god, and then serving other gods as well.  Israel had seen the miracles and heard the prophecies.  Unhappily, they had a view of God as Lawgiver and Judge who demanded perfect adherence to His law.  They failed to see that God also demanded a heart that loved Him, and a people that practiced justice, mercy, and faith.  Something more was needed and that something was Jesus Christ.

As the writer of Hebrews said, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)  Further, that He is the exact representation of the Father in both His glory and substance.  Paul calls Him the “image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) [27]  God is revealed in three ways in Jesus Christ.  First, Jesus is the revelation of God’s existence.  John calls Him the only begotten God who existed before the world began.  Now, He came into the world and dwelled among men.  He is the visible proof of God’s existence.  Second, He is the revelation of God’s nature.  In His life on earth, he displayed the love of God, [28] the spiritual nature of God, [29] and the fatherhood of God for believers. [30]  Third, He is the revelation of His will.  He declared that all should repent of their sin and believe on Him, [31] be perfect as the Father is perfect,[32] and carry the gospel to the world.[33]  More will be said in later studies.  We will proceed onto the revelation of God in the scriptures.

The Scriptures. Concerning the Revelation of God in the Scriptures, true believers everywhere and in every time have consistently maintained that the scriptures are a revelation of God.  Not only that, they are the sole inerrant revelation of God.  Theologians say that they are the embodiment of the word of God.  By this they mean that they do not merely contain the words of God but they are the word of God.  Concerning the relationship of the Living Word (Jesus Christ) and the written Word (the Bible) Cook says, “Since all we know of the living Word is contained within the written Word special revelation is objective, factual, final and complete as far as God’s intention for us is concerned.” [34]

(3)  Its contents

In special revelation, we see not only the substance of general revelation, i.e., God’s power, but much more.  We see God’s wisdom.  Paul declares that Jesus is both the power and wisdom of God especially in redemption. [35]  God’s life is also to be seen.  John, as a direct witness, says that the eternal life that was with the Father was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. [36] John also frequently discusses the love of God.  In his classic passage John said:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  (John 3:16-18)

Jesus Christ shows the infinite extent of God’s love in sending His Son into the world to provide an atonement for man’s sin.  Finally, God’s saving grace, as the supreme manifestation of special revelation is seen in Paul’s statement that we have been saved by grace and grace alone. [37]

(4)  Its purpose

Imagine that you are God.  When you decreed in eternity past to allow sin in your creation, you knew that man would have need for redemption.  Since Adam’s folly in the Garden, mankind has been largely blind to you.  Sin has become a barrier to your having any relationship with them.   But from eternity, you have had a plan to fix this problem.  You have told everyone that you exist and that you are powerful by your handiwork in nature.  All they have to do is look around to see you.   But you have so much more to say.  To tell men the fact of their sin, the result of that sin, and the remedy for that sin a different vehicle than nature is necessary because nature cannot convey what you want to say.

This is the problem that God faced in eternity past. He decided then that He would use special revelation to convey the information necessary for man’s redemption.  Where general revelation was limited, special revelation is not.  It is sufficient to reveal God in all of His glory.  It is sufficient to reveal the fallen state of man due to his sin.  It is sufficient to communicate man’s need of salvation.  It is sufficient to reveal God’s provision of salvation.  Special revelation together with general revelation comprises the totality of all that God wanted to say to mankind.

4.      Defense of the Doctrine

A number the early church fathers, the Reformers, and many evangelical theologians argue, from the scriptures, that the rational human mind has an intuitive knowledge that God is the starting point for all that exists. They postulate on the basis of this intuitive knowledge that God has somehow made a general revelation of Himself to all mankind.  Starting from this proposition, by close scrutiny of the magnitude and complexity of the universe, they then draw further conclusions about God’s character and moral requirements for mankind.  The content of this general revelation is held to be God’s glory, power, godhood and orderliness. It was given to all mankind to establish mankind’s responsibility to God for righteous and faithful living.

a)     Church Fathers

The Apologists (90 a.d. — 185 a.d.) who were the Church Fathers of the first and second centuries that defended the faith against the attacks of pagan heresies) all referred to what any common man would know instinctively about God from their observations of the world around him.  Typical of the Fathers of this period, Theophilus argued, “God cannot be seen by human eyes, but is beheld and perceived through His providence and works.” [38]  The third and fourth century Fathers (typified by Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gregory of Nyssa) likewise universally held that we humans could not see God’s essence.  We could, however, see the clear hand of God from the design of the universe and from His works of providence. 

The early fathers used the term ‘essence’ to mean the same thing as His ‘substance’ or what He is made of.  It is true that God is omnipresent (that He is present in the spirit realm and physical realm, everywhere).  However, John declares that God is Spirit, or not of the same substance as human beings.  Because of our humanity, we cannot perceive His substance which is spirit.  As with the wind that we cannot see, we only see its effects.  This was true until Jesus Christ came on the seen.  Paul said that “Although He existed in the form of God, [He} emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7)  When Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us,” Jesus responded “he who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8, 9)  While the Father and Holy Spirit remain invisible to human eyes, in Christ, we mortals at last could see God. 

In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo, the greatest of the Latin Fathers, like his predecessors, argued man’s intuitive knowledge of God.  Like them, he saw that the source of this knowledge was to be found in the general revelation of God in nature and His providential works.  He strongly advocated that this general revelation could not lead one to salvation because it made no mention of Jesus Christ.  It was provided to establish man’s accountability to God for his sin.  Instead of embracing God, mankind rejected Him and slipped into a state of moral depravity.  Augustine went one step further.   He postulated redemptive knowledge, is acquired by faith in the incarnate Jesus Christ.  The source of this knowledge is the Scriptures.  This redemptive knowledge is known as Special Revelation.

We must say at this point that Augustine’s statements raise a serious question.  The New Testament makes it known that apart from Jesus Christ there is no Salvation.  However there was a long period of time from Adam to Moses where there was no prophet, would Adam and his family or any other Old Testament saint find themselves with or without salvation based his view that redemptive knowledge is acquired by faith in the incarnate Jesus Christ?  We have to disagree with Augustine and answer with Ryrie who said, “The requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in various dispensations.” [39]  The content changed because what could be known about Jesus Christ varied with the progress of revelation through the ages.

b)     Medieval Scholasticism

Thomas Aquinas, unlike the Fathers, was a philosopher of the school of Aristotle.  He created a metaphysical scheme that consisted of two realms, nature and grace, two kinds of knowledge, natural and revealed, to explain our knowledge of God.  He argued that the human mind was competent to reason its way to knowledge of God for three reasons: 1) God had endowed human beings, made in his image, with a rational mind, 2) the human intellect was substantially unaffected by sin, and 3) God’s existence is analogous to human existence, i.e., as men exist so God exists.  For these reasons, man could have a good deal more information about God than the Fathers were willing to grant.  The effect of his scheme was to enlarge the scope or content of general revelation. He drew the line however, at salvation.  He, like the Fathers, declared that saving knowledge of God was to be found in the Scriptures. 

c)      The Reformers

Luther and Calvin in general shared the views of the Fathers.  Luther espoused a two-fold scheme of revelation and knowledge.  On the one hand was general knowledge whose source was nature, and on the other was particular knowledge, which was revealed.  Luther said, “All men have the general knowledge [General Revelation], namely that God is, that He has created heaven and earth, that He is just, that He punishes the wicked, etc.” [40]  This general knowledge establishes a person’s accountability to God.   The content of particular knowledge, knowledge sufficient for salvation, is only found in the Scriptures.  This sounds very much like the earlier views. 

Calvin likewise had two divisions of revelation; the knowledge of God the Creator and the knowledge of God the Redeemer.  Calvin believed that all men know God as Creator.  This knowledge came from an internal intuition and external observation of the world around them.  This was general revelation.  Again, as the others did, Calvin taught that general revelation does not save it only serves to condemn.  Salvation was within the purview of the knowledge of God as Redeemer or special revelation.

d)     The Modern Period

Up to the modern period, we have seen a view of revelation that has been shared consistently with the early Fathers.  There have been minor modifications, but on the whole, the views of the second century and beyond were essentially the same.  When we reach the modern period things have changed.  The traditional view has survived in evangelical circles, due by-and-large to its basis being rooted in the writings of the Scriptures. In liberal circles, however, the same cannot be said.  Basically there are two different views concerning revelation and the Bible.  In the Neo Orthodox view, revelation is information about God through an internal personal encounter with God and as such cannot be received through contact with the external world.  The second view (Historicist) sees it the other way around.  Others seeking a more objective reality say that revelation is to be found not in some mystical encounter with God but in the His past mighty acts. 

In the first view (Neo-Orthodoxy), championed by Karl Barth, God has not spoken in nature or in the Bible, but only through Jesus Christ.  The Word of God, then, is not to be confused with the words in the Bible.  The Bible’s words are mere symbols through which God’s word comes.  “Revelation is thus not knowledge about God; it is God Himself acting in man.” [41]  By, in Barth’s words, God acting in man, revelation is reduced to the content an individual’s encounter with God.  God’s revelatory acts are not played out in the arena of the history of mankind but the personal history of an individual.  This is the major problem with this view because it removes revelation from history, from the great redemptive acts of God that took place in history. 

The second view (Historicist) was postulated in order to overcome the history/revelation problems with the first.  God’s revelation is rooted in His past mighty acts.  The Bible is only a record of revelation and not revelation itself.  Further, the record of the Bible is full of errors.  “Many of those events recorded in Scripture, even such important events as the Exodus and the Resurrection, did not happen as the Bible depicts them for the Bible gives witness only to what the Israelites (or early Church) believed concerning God’s words and acts.” [42]  For this reason, we cannot know for certain whether any of the acts recorded in the Bible really happened.

Cook summarizes the weaknesses of these two liberal views:

“[S]ince the Bible is viewed as having errors it cannot be considered to be a reliable witness.  It places man in judgment upon the Bible.  It leads to a form of mysticism [which] finds the core of religion in an inward identity or communion which is ultimately indifferent to and negates the external. It asks us to accept the trustworthiness of spiritual experience based on an untrustworthy record.  It fails to see that revelation can and is indeed propositional as well as personal.” [43]  Revelation is propositional because it contains specific information about God.  For example, man is a sinner in need of a redeemer who was Jesus Christ.  Revelation is personal because it this propositional content is revealed to specific individuals.

5.      Application

We have said that the revelation of God is complete.  Is this true?  Is the revelation of God continuous today?  We have all heard the claims of the occult, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Christian Science, Catholicism, and others to have revelation from God other than the scriptures.  In the case of the Mormons, they make the claim that their Book of Mormon is “another testament” of Jesus Christ.  In fact, recent television commercials portray the book of Mormon as superior to the Bible.  With the many alleged revelations from these various sources staring us in the face, people of God must have the skill of discernment so that they are not deceived.

The focus of revelation is God’s glory. A major aspect of the display of that glory is seen in the redemption of men.  God has revealed that men are sinners in need of a savior.  He has sent His Son into the world to provide that salvation to those who would believe.  Christ has completed all that can be done for the salvation of the world until He returns again.  Nothing more remains to be said, nothing more remains to be revealed.

We do not need additional revelation.  We need more faithfulness to the revelation that we have.  We must apply the information that we have received from God to every aspect of our lives and serve Him.


[1] 1 Corinthians 2:14-15
[2] Cf., Exodus 32:11-12
[3] Isaiah 40:21-26
[4] Psalm 8:1-9
[5] Expositors Bible Commentary, in. loc.
[6] For further discussion on the need to organize the teaching of the scriptures refer to our previous article in this series, Why Study Theology?
[7] H.C. Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 31
[8] See Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, (Touchstone, New York, 1996).  Dr. Behe is a biochemist and Professor of Biochemistry, Lehigh University
[9] Cf., Isaiah 10:12-19; Ezekiel 31:1-14; Nahum 3:1-7
[10] Cf., Jeremiah 50:1-16; 51:1-4
[11] Cf., Isaiah 44:24-45:7
[12] Cf., Daniel 8:1-8, 15-21
[13] Cf., Daniel 8:9-14, 22-25; 11:5-35
[14] Cf., Daniel 7:7,23
[15] Cf., Deuteronomy 28:10
[16] Theissen, ibid., p. 35
[17] Cook, op. cit., p. 33
[18] Theissen, op. cit., p. 35
[19] Cook, op. cit., p. 33
[20] Cf. 1 Cor 1:22 
[21] John 10:36-38
[22] Thiessen, op. cit., p. 35
[23] Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, (Moody Press, Chicago, 1968), p. 11
[24] ibid.
[25] Isaiah 45:1-7
[26] For further discussion, see Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, (Nelson, Nashville, 1992), pp. 141-148
[27] Cf., 2:9
[28] John 3:14-16
[29] John 4:19-26
[30] Matthew 6:32; 7:11; John 8:41-44; 16:27
[31] Luke 13:1-5; John 6:28,29
[32] Matthew 5:48
[33] Matthew 28:19,20
[34] Cook, op. cit., p. 33
[35] 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30
[36] 1 John 1:1-3
[37] Ephesians 2:8,9
[38] Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), p. 66
[39] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, (Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1976), p. 123
[40] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. XXVI, p.299, quoted by Lewis & Demarest, Integrative Theology, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), Volume 1, p. 66
[41] William Hordern, cited by W. Robert Cook, Systematic Theology in Outline Form, (Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR), Volume 1 p. 34
[42] Robert Preus, cited by Cook, ibid., p. 34
[43] Cook, ibid.., p. 34