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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: God Has Spoken to Us

Don Stewart :: What is General Revelation?

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What Is General Revelation? (Natural or Universal Revelation)

God Has Spoken to Us – Question 4

God’s revealing of Himself to humanity has come about in different ways. One of these ways is known as “general revelation,” or “natural revelation.” It is also called “universal revelation.” We will use the term general revelation when referring to this activity of God.

General Revelation Defined: God Has Revealed Certain Information about Himself to All Humanity

General revelation is revelation about God that all humanity has always received from the beginning of time. It is “general” in that it reaches all people in all times and in every place—nobody is without general revelation. It is in contrast to special, or particular, revelation which is different in its scope. Although special revelation is addressed to all people, not all people have had the advantage of receiving God’s special revelation.

Sometimes general revelation is distinguished from natural revelation. Natural revelation is the testimony of the world of nature while general revelation includes the human conscience as well as nature.

There are a number of important observations that need to be made with respect to general revelation.

1. General Revelation, from Nature, Comes to All Parts of the Earth

Every place on earth receives some revelation about God from the natural world. The psalmist wrote about the heavens proclaiming God’s glory:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1, 2 NIV)

Therefore, general revelation from nature is worldwide in its scope since all peoples are able to see what is occurring in the heavens.

2. All Humans Have Experienced General Revelation

Because general revelation reaches every place on the earth, every human being has received it and continues to receive it. The Apostle Paul said,

For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. (Romans 1:19-20 NLT)

God has always left a witness of Himself. Thus, God’s general revelation is found everywhere with everybody.

3. The Human Conscience Knows That God Exists

There is also an inner witness that everyone has; the human conscience. It universally testifies that God exists. There is something inside every one of us, an inner witness that makes us aware of Him. We all know that there is some power greater than ourselves that exists. Paul wrote,

Some people naturally obey the Law’s commands, even though they don’t have the Law. This proves that the conscience is like a law written in the human heart. And it will show whether we are forgiven or condemned... (Romans 2:14, 15 CEV)

Everyone has this internal witness. There are no exceptions.

Conclusion: General Revelation Is Both Objective and Subjective

General revelation, therefore, is both observable through nature as well as being something innate, or residing, inside each of us. Consequently it is both objective and subjective.

Should God’s Providence Be in the Category of General Revelation?

While it is clear that the testimony of nature, as well as that of the human conscience, are universal in their scope, there are other ways in which God has revealed Himself to humanity. Many Bible teachers place things such as unwritten human tradition, providence, and God’s dealings with the nations, under the category of general revelation.

While these are ways that God has revealed Himself to the human race, technically, they would not constitute general revelation. This is because not all people at all times have constantly received these things.

God’s providence is certainly universal. God has also revealed Himself to humanity through the gracious things that He has provided to sustain life. The gifts of God’s providence are for everyone, everywhere. There are no exceptions. In fact, Scripture uses it as a testimony to God not leaving Himself without a witness to His existence.

However, there are differences of the degree of blessings people have experienced from God’s providence. Famines, droughts, and other factors have been the experience of many. Depending upon when one lived in history, the benefits from God’s general providence would be different for different people. Therefore, while providence does testify to God’s grace and His provisions, not everyone has benefited from it to the same degree.

Consequently, it may not be appropriate to place providence in the category of general revelation when we consider how the Scripture seems to limit the definition. However, it certainly would not be wrong to place it under the heading of general revelation as long as its limitations are understood.

God’s Existence Is Known in Other Ways

Apart from the testimony of nature, the human conscience, and providence, there are two other ways in which the existence of God has been revealed to humanity in a general way; unwritten human tradition, and God’s dealings with the nations of the world.

1. Unwritten Human Tradition Has Revealed God’s Truths

Human tradition is one of the means by which God’s is known to humanity. The Bible says that God spoke to Adam and Eve in the beginning. They, in turn, would have told others about the things that God both said and did. As God revealed Himself to humanity at various times in the past, these events would also have been told and retold by people with whom God spoke. The problem, of course, is that in the telling of these stories certain things would be added, and other things would be subtracted. Yet the basis of the story usually remains.

There is also the fact that the Bible has not recorded everything God said, or did. While these words and events have not found there way into Scripture, we must assume that people told others of their experiences with God and that their stories were retold. Of course, the problem here is that we have no idea to whom God spoke or what He said.

In addition, we have no way of knowing whether God actually spoke to the people who make the claims. Therefore, this type of unwritten tradition is not very helpful in determining what God did or did not say or what God did or did not do.

2. God’s Dealings with the Nations Testifies to His Existence

Also, the Bible says that God has dealt with the nations of the world, in such a way that shows His existence. The Bible gives examples that testify to God’s existence, power, and control over history. We know from Scripture that God overrules the decisions of humans so that His plan will be accomplished. The Bible gives us some specifics on this issue.

This sums up the idea of general or universal revelation. While general revelation does not provide enough information for a person to be saved from his or her sins, it does provide important truths which set the stage for God’s special revelation.

Summary – Question 4
What Is General Revelation? (Natural or Universal Revelation)

General revelation, or natural or universal revelation, reaches everyone, everywhere. The Bible speaks of two ways in which God has revealed Himself to all of humanity; the testimony of nature or creation, and the conscience.

Thus, the witness is both objective (nature) and subjective (our conscience). From these evidences, we find that belief in some type of Creator God is not unreasonable. No one, therefore, is ignorant of God’s existence.

It is also possible to place the providence of God in the category of general revelation. The only problem with that is that not everyone who has every lived has received the same benefit from God’s gracious provisions.

Unwritten human tradition, as well as God’s dealings with the nations, also gives testimony that He exists. However, not everyone has access to this testimony.

Does It Make Sense That God Would Reveal Himself to Humanity? ← Prior Section
How Has God Revealed Himself through Nature? Next Section →
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