The Revelation of God
It is one thing to believe that God exists, but once we establish that in our thinking, we must ask, “Can we know Him? Has He revealed Himself to us? And if He has, how?” When we speak of revelation in this context, we are not referencing the last book in the Bible – The Revelation of Jesus Christ; rather, we are addressing the important topic of whether and how God has shown Himself to us… The Need for God to Tell Us about Himself Considering all of the assorted ideas that people, cultures and religions have about what God is like, some folks have concluded either that it doesn’t matter what we think about deity (“God is big enough to absorb whatever we think about Him, Her, or It, and all of our various ideas, whatever they are, may still be correct about Him, Her, or It.”); or, they say that God cannot be accurately known (and hopefully, He, She, or It will be condescending and accepting enough to honor our feeble endeavors to know Him, Her, or It).
The first idea – that God is all-encompassing with respect to whatever we might think of Him – is not tenable because the assorted concepts of God that men may and do have irreconcilably contradict one another; and logically speaking, statements which are contradictory cannot both be true. For a simple illustration: the God of Christians is righteous and Holy, and He is loving, merciful and gracious. The Christian God cannot be reconciled to the Islamic concept of God: yes, the Allah of Islam is righteous and Holy, but He is not loving, merciful and gracious. In that example, the Christian concept of God may accord with how God actually is, or the Islamic concept of God may be true, but they cannot both be correct. One is right and the other is wrong (or both are incorrect), but they cannot both be true. Revelation from God is needed to discern the Truth. The second idea – that God cannot be accurately known – is legitimate only if the God that exists is a “hiding God,” or if He is not concerned with Truth: if God desires that we know Him, and if He values Truth, then He will do whatever He has to do to give us accurate knowledge of Himself. Is He a hiding God? Does Truth matter to Him?
So, if we begin with the existence of God as a given, we must then ask, “Can He (or She, or It) be known?” Has He revealed Himself through Mary Baker Eddy, or through Mohammed, or Joseph Smith, or Buddha, or perhaps through Jesus Christ, or through the “evolution of human consciousness?” Because all of these “prophets of revelation” just indicated (and there are others who make that claim!) put forward irreconcilable contradictions of who God is and what He is like, they cannot all be correct (they may all be wrong, but they cannot all be right). How we answer the question about revelation will determine not only our “religious beliefs,” but our answer will also determine everything that flows from the system of faith that we embrace, including our behavioral codes and our eternal destiny.
We might begin our “revelation inquiry” with a logical proposition: “IF there is a God, and IF that God is concerned with truth, THEN that God will see to it that He is truthfully/accurately represented to the rational creatures in Hiscreation.” If that proposition is true, then God will provide mankind with accurate testimony about Himself. He will not leave us to our own guesses and to our own imaginations to decipher who He is and what He is like. Revelation…Naturally An artist might be known, at least to some degree, by the art that he or she creates, just as an author might be known by his or her writings. We learn something of the gardener by the garden that he or she keeps. So it is with God. If He is indeed the Creator of all things, then it stands to reason that what He has created would, to some degree, and probably to a great degree, reflect something about His being and His character. (That is only true, of course, as long as God is not a deceiver.) In the first half of Psalm 19, David, looking at creation, says that all of nature speaks; the world around us has a voice that declares to us knowledge of God if we would but listen. The lectures that this “creation school-master” presents every day and night are inaudible to the human ear, but the fact that the heavens and the earth teach us is undeniable. We may start by making this simple observation: creation – the heavens and the earth – bear stark witness to a Creator. No society on earth is “naturally” atheistic. Atheism is the deliberate invention of deluded men who would throw off the yoke of responsibility to God. Yet what does nature teach us? And why, since all men have access to the revelation of God in nature, have we come up with such diverse conclusions about God?
To the first question – “What does nature teach us about God? – we can answer at least several things. Keep in mind that when we speak of God revealing Himself in nature, nature includes not only the material cosmos around us – the universe; the heavens and earth and all that is in them – but also the basic “reasonings” of mans’ heart and mind. So then, observing nature, we might conclude that God… o …with respect to His existence, must be infinite with reference to time (that is, He is eternal). We reach that conclusion using logic, since the Creator has put into place the observable connection between cause and effect. If all things are caused by something, then there must be a first, “uncaused Cause,” and that uncaused Cause must have always been. That Cause must be God. o …in His being and person – and again, we conclude these things from observing the phenomena of nature – must be wise, and He must be powerful. We may conclude that because we perceive incredibly precise engineering at both the macro- and micro- levels of creation. Both the universe at large and the intricate inner workings of a single cell demonstrate not only mindboggling “intelligent design,” but they also necessitate an incredibly powerful Cause – a Cause capable of producing the effects that we observe! o …is a living God, not merely an “energy force” or mere “calculating intelligence.” We draw this conclusion because He has created things that live. And related to that, He must be a personal being, since human beings are personal (we speak here of the ability for rational thought, advanced communicative capability, creativity, capacity for emotive responses, exercise of will and the like). If we, the creature, have been endowed with such capacities, then our “Endower” must be their Source. o …in His character, must be a moral being. We say that because human beings have universal recognition of the basic principles of right and wrong. These “right and wrong” concepts must have come from someplace, or from Someone! It is possible, no doubt, that we could go beyond these fairly “elementary” thoughts about God, but our verdicts about Him would begin to scatter in many and even contrary directions. That brings us to our second question: Why, since all men have access to the same revelation of God in nature, have we come up with conclusions about God that are so varied, and even contradictory? (Indeed, not everyone agrees with what we have already postulated about Him!) The point is that while we can make certain observations about God as we examine natural phenomena, there is a limit to what we can correctly deduce about His existence, His being and His character. The Bible makes quite clear (and an overview of human experience would back up this conclusion) that if we are to rightly perceive God, we need more than natural revelation and human reason. In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul, speaking of the revelation of God in nature, wrote that:
“men… 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.”
Paul goes on to teach that even with the limited knowledge of God that we can gather from creation, we have a responsibility before the Lord to worship Him and to give Him thanks – spiritual responsibilities at which we miserably failed! Why is “natural revelation” not enough? At this point we are being somewhat circuitous in our reasoning because we are appealing to the Bible to establish our conclusion, but: our perceptions of and reasonings about God that we derive from nature are varied and even conflicting not because God has not revealed Himself truthfully through nature, but because our perceptive and reasoning capabilities are infected, clouded, and hampered by sin. Because of this, we need more than natural revelation. We need special revelation from God.
Special revelation is an act of God whereby He discloses Himself specifically, directly and accurately. As we have begun our discussion of special revelation, we have suggested strongly that the Bible is special revelation from, of and about God – and it is! But before we get too far in our discussion, we ought to understand that the Scriptures are not the only “special” means by which God has revealed Himself to us. God’s special revelation to us is manifested in two primary ways: in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in His inscripturated Word, the Bible (and, in fact, in some other ways, too).
We would agree, I think, that the most “direct” special revelation that God has given to us is indicated in John 1:14,18 (and other places) – “And the Word became flesh...(and) He has explained [God].” Jesus Christ, God in flesh, is special revelation to us. Jesus said to Phillip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And Hebrews 1:1,2 speaks both of God’s special revelation in the Old Testament times, and of His revelation to us in His Son – “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways (special revelation in the Old Testament), 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Jesus, God with us, is “extra-special” revelation!). Also in this category of special revelation, we might include the “Jesus dreams” that many persons of Islamic background are experiencing in our times: God is revealing Himself to these persons in a direct and special way. (Note: we must be very careful and discerning with what we might call “subjective special revelation.” Many persons make the claim that “God revealed this or that to me...” when God had nothing to do with whatever they claim.) For the purpose of the rest of this newsletter, we are going to focus on the special revelation of God in His Word, the Bible...
The Bible makes many claims to be special revelation – to be “the Word of God.” It is not uncommon in the Old Testament, for example, to read in the prophets, “The Word of the Lord came to me...” (e.g., Jeremiah 2:1). The New Testament gives us multiple verses to affirm the “inspiration” of the Bible:
o Jesus Himself regarded the Old Testament Scriptures as completely authoritative: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17,18) And again in Luke 24:44, Jesus said, “All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” o 2 Timothy 3:16 is a “classic passage” on the inspiration of the Scriptures – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word translated “inspired” is literally, “God-breathed.” “Inspiration” refers to that act of God whereby He spoke to and through His chosen human vessels. 2 Peter 1:21 is something of a parallel passage to 2 Timothy 3:16 – “...men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The word translated “moved by” means to be “borne along.” Such divine influence in the relation of God’s special revelation renders the speaker or writer infallible in the communication of truth. That is why David wrote, “The Law of the Lord is perfect...” (Psalm 19:7) o The Apostle Peter lumps the writings of the Apostle Paul in with the Old Testament Scriptures with respect to their being included in the Scriptures: “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things...which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Of course, it is clearly a logical fallacy if we say: “The Bible is the Word of God.” “How do you know that to be so?” “Because it claims to be the Word of God.” The faulty, circular reasoning in that is obvious. Now the fact that the reasoning is illegitimate does not make the premise wrong, nor does it necessarily make the conclusion wrong; it simply delegitimizes the way that the conclusion was reached. If we want to “prove” the Bible to be the Word of God, then we enter into the field of apologetics – reasoned arguments most often in defense of religious beliefs, and most commonly, of Christian doctrines. We are not “going” in this direction at this time, but we would be looking at things like the preservation and integrity of the text, historical and geographical accuracy when compared to external data, internal consistency or contradictions in the text, fulfilled prophecy, and so on. For our article, we will presume that the “proofs” are in and settled, and the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God to be true.
Inspiration? To What Extent?
If we consider the intention of the word translated “inspired” in 2 Timothy 3:16, which, literally is “God-breathed;” and if we consider the affirmation of Jesus Himself in Matthew 5:18 that “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law;” then our conclusion would be that the inspiration of the Bible extends to every word and to all portions of the Scripture (i.e., we affirm verbal and plenary inspiration). We would say, then, that the Scriptures are, in the autographs (the original copies), without error: Scripture IS the Word of God. Since the extent of inspiration is to the very words penned by the writers of Scripture, and since, according to 2 Peter 1:21 the writers were “borne along by the Holy Spirit,” we may conclude that even though the personalities of the writers of the Scriptures are observable in that which God inspired them to pen, He superintended their writing so that what we have is God’s inerrant Word.
If the Bible IS the inerrant, authoritative Word from, of and about God, and if it IS “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” then, while we may use our reasoning when we approach the Scriptures, we must not set our reasoning above them as arbiter of what we accept and what we do not. If God has revealed Himself in such-and-such a way, then we are not free to imagine or declare Him to be something different from what He has told us. If God has told us that this or that is sinful and offensive to Him, then we must not attempt to justify whatever it is that we desire to declare righteous and good. Our reasoning must be informed by His revelation, not the other way around; He must inform us, not vice versa. The Bible, then, becomes for us the “only rule of faith and practice.” (We would also maintain, by the way, that the Bible is accurate with respect to every matter to which it speaks, including references to history and science.) As our only rule of faith, it is the source of our doctrine, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction...” (2 Timothy 3:16,17); and as our only rule for practice, it is the guide for our conduct – “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105). Because God’s Word is the revealing of His mind and will, any teaching or guidance that we need or claim should be in accord with what God has revealed in His Word, the Bible.
From the February and March 2019 Newsletter