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

Don Stewart :: What Is Special Revelation?

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What Is Special Revelation? (Particular or Supernatural Revelation)

God Has Spoken to Us – Question 14

General revelation reveals God’s existence and character. It gives a continuous testimony of who He is and His mighty works. However, general revelation is insufficient in what it reveals.

General revelation is not defective; it is incomplete. It fulfills the purpose for which it has been given. However, there are certain things that we could never know about God by observing His creation. Humanity needs to be able to correctly interpret the truths that God has revealed by means of general revelation.

Therefore, humanity desperately needs God’s special or supernatural revelation. Divine revelation was necessary before the fall of Adam and Eve. Adam, before he fell into sin, needed God to address him directly about the tree. The Bible says,

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 RSV)

General revelation was insufficient for him as it is for the rest of us.

Special Revelation Defined

Special revelation, also called particular revelation, or supernatural revelation, can be defined as a supernatural communication from God that has been given to humanity. This communication can come in either oral or in written form. The truths revealed by special revelation could not be known through looking at unwritten human tradition, nature, providence, history, our conscience, or any by reasoning process. God must reveal directly them to us.

While general revelation comes to everyone, it cannot save them. Special revelation comes to some people, and it does save, if people act upon its message.

In the past, special revelation came to specific people at specific times and in specific places. The record of these acts of special revelation can now be found in only one place—the Bible.

1. There Are Three Parts as to How God Has Spoken: Different Times, Different Ways, and to Different People

Special revelation consists of three basis things. God revealed Himself at different times, in different ways, and to different people. The writer to the Hebrews says,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1, 2 ESV)

God revealed Himself at specific times in the past. At those specific times, God revealed Himself in a number of different ways. Finally, He revealed Himself to a number of different people.

2. The Bible Completes the Revelation of God

God has partially revealed Himself in nature, but He has more fully revealed Himself in the written Word, the Bible. The various ways in which God has made Himself known to humanity have been documented and recorded in the Bible. In the Bible, God has not told us everything we could know about Himself—only everything we need to know.

3. The Bible Is Both the Record and the Explanation of Revelation

Scripture is both a record of past events, and the divine explanation of them. For example, Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:3 TNIV)

Here we have a good example of both history and revelation in the same verse. The fact that Jesus Christ died is an historical event. Divine revelation is not necessary to tell us that. However, the meaning of Christ’s death—that He died for the sins of the world—can only be known through divine revelation. No amount of historical research or investigation can tell us this. Historical events are not divine revelation. However, the interpretation of these events must come from God Himself, and therefore become special revelation. Special revelation includes all ways in which God has revealed Himself to humankind. The Bible includes both the event and its interpretation.

4. Paul Used Both General and Special Revelation in Speaking to the People in Athens

It is interesting to find the Apostle Paul using both general revelation and special revelation in his speech to a crowd in Athens. Beginning with general revelation, he showed that God’s existence is reasonable. He said,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us...” (Acts 17:24-27 RSV)

Paul said that God’s provision for all people, His general providence, was a testimony to His existence. In fact, according to Paul’s statement, a number of things can be known about God. He is everywhere present “he is not far from each one of us,” He is all-powerful, “He does not need anything,” and He is in complete control of things “determining allotted periods and boundaries of the habitation of humans.”

Paul then ends up with special revelation to make clear that identity of the God of general revelation. He said,

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31 RSV)

After speaking of God’s general revelation, Paul preached the good news of Jesus to them. Therefore, we find both general revelation and special revelation used to point to God’s existence and specifically to Jesus Christ.

Other Important Observations About Special Revelation

There are a number of other observations that can be made about special revelation. They are as follows:

5. Special Revelation Was Not All Given at One Time

God’s revelation to humanity was done in a progressive manner. We read the following in the Book of Hebrews:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. (Hebrews 1:1, 2 NRSV)

God did not reveal everything to humanity at once. Rather He did it over a long period of time to various people with a variety of methods. His ultimate revelation to humanity was through His Son, Jesus Christ.

6. Special Revelation Is Accurate

The revelation of God to humanity is accurate. Jesus acknowledged this in His prayer to God the Father. He said,

“Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NET)

It is the consistent testimony of the Bible, the Word of God, that everything is truthfully recorded; God does not lie.

7. Special Revelation Has a Purpose

God’s revelation to humanity has a purpose. Paul wrote to Timothy about this purpose:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NRSV)

Scripture was written to make its readers understand the salvation from sin that God has provided. This allows the sinner to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

8. Special Revelation Is Sufficient but Not Exhaustive

While the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humanity, there are some things that He did not choose to reveal. Moses wrote,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV)

Therefore, we should not expect God to tell us everything that we would like to know; only the things we need to know.

9. Everything in Scripture Carries God’s Divine Authority

Although God chose to reveal His truth to humanity by a number of different methods, every verse of Scripture carries the same divine authority—no matter how the truth was communicated. Jesus said that every word of Scripture is authoritative. We read in Matthew,

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17, 18 NKJV)

The New Living Translation renders these verses as follows:

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God’s law will remain until its purpose is achieved.” (Matthew 5:17, 18 NLT)

Therefore, the special revelation contained in Scripture has God’s divine authority behind it.

10. Special Revelation, By Itself, Saves Nobody

While special revelation is necessary for a person to enter into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by itself, it saves nobody. When people hear the message of special revelation, the good news of Jesus Christ, they must respond to what they hear.

In the Book of Acts, we read of those who turned their back on the apostle Paul and his message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus. The Bible says,

But when the Jews opposed him and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his robe and said, “Your blood be upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 18:6 NLT)

While special revelation presents the necessary message of salvation, people must personally respond to the message.

Summary – Question 14
What Is Special Revelation? (Particular or Supernatural Revelation)

General Revelation tells us that God exists, but it does not tell us enough information about Him. For this we need special revelation.

Special revelation provides us with the specifics about Him so that we can know who He is, and what He wants from us. Without special revelation we would not know any of these things.

The Bible says that God has revealed Himself in special ways at different times, through different means, and through different people. In doing so, He has told us who He is, who we are, and how we can know Him.

Special revelation completes the revelation of God to humanity. It records the events of God acting in history, and then explains these events to us.

The result is that special revelation is accurate, progressive, has a purpose, is complete, and is fully authoritative. In other words, it is true but the truths were not all revealed at once. What was revealed was done so for a specific purpose.

Special revelation is now complete. Consequently, it is fully authoritative.

However, special revelation must be believed and acted upon before it can be meaningful to the individual.

What Conclusions Should We Draw from General Revelation? ← Prior Section
Are All Parts of the Bible Special Revelation? Next Section →
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