What is Revelation from God?

Arguments for the existence of God are very restricted; some of them are more restricted and limited than others. They do not prove beyond all question the existence of the God of the Bible. Furthermore, it must be remembered that man's mind, his thinking process, has been affected by his fall into sin. This means that there are definite limitations to God's revelation in nature. The problem is not in the revelation but in the receiver of the revelation.
--Robert P. Lightner (1931-    ), The God of the Bible

God as Self-Revealing

If a superior intelligent Being is in fact responsible for our existence, then such a god has it in his power, in his ability, to remain unknown and unknowable should he so choose. Without revelation initiated by God we would know nothing about the nature of this Being.

The Bible, however, declares that the Creator has in fact made Himself known, and has given us a very large body of knowledge about His nature, character, attributes, and activities. The Biblical record, unfolding as it does over the space of hundreds of years, indicates to us that the self-disclosure of God is progressive in history. It was Jesus who said that "all the hidden things of darkness will be brought to light," and "there is nothing secret that will not be made known."

Furthermore the God of the Bible is a Personal God who enters into personal, intimate relationships with individuals and with groups of individuals.

General Revelation and Special Revelation

Theologians ordinarily consider revelation about God as falling into two categories, "general" revelation and "special revelation." The former is concerned with God's witness to Himself in history, in nature and in the human conscience. The following examples from Scripture are indicative of general revelation:


"The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and there is nothing hid from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. But who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." (Psalm 19)


"Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, 'Stand upright on your feet.' And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, 'The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, 'Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.' With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them." (Acts 14:8-18)


"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 'For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them." (Romans 1:18-32)


"All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:12-16)


Special revelation is more full and complete in that God has recorded in detail his dealings with a number of individuals, with Israel, and with the church in the Bible. Special revelation has to do with salvation history---the incarnation of the Son of God into human history as a man, Jesus Christ's substitutionary sacrifice for sins, His elevation to Lordship over all of the universe, the promise of His return to earth, and so on.

The whole idea that the Bible is an inspired book does not mean that the writers were merely visionary or full of unusual enthusiasm about the subject matter. Scripture says of itself that it is the very Word of God written by specially chosen men consecrated for the purpose of setting down a totally self-consistent body of revealed truth that would withstand all possible scrutiny and prove reliable in detail for all time. The Hebrew Kabbalists love to study even the numerical and mathematical models of the Tanach (the Old Testament) because a numerical value can be assigned to every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and this allows one to do wondrous things with the text itself that are mathematical, and geometrical. It does appear to be true that the Bible is full of numerical, geometrical, mathematical and symbolic truth in addition to the clear meaning of the text.

[See Miscellaneous Information about the Bible, for quotes taken from the Bible itself claiming inspiration, realiability and internal consistency of the Scriptures. Also, promises concerning the Messiah and the use of numbers, symbols and types in the Bible.]

Whenever the Bible mentions matters of science, it is always consistent with the universe as we know it today from modern science. For example, the fact that the earth is a sphere suspended in space is mentioned in the oldest book of the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Job. But as many have noted, the Bible is not preoccupied with science. However as the narrative unfolds, we are given a great deal of peripheral evidence that is scientifically valid if we will but take the time and trouble to search it out. God is a God who is involved in history and therefore Biblical revelation can be confirmed by historical and archaeological records, and scientific discoveries must be found consistent in the long run with the Bible properly understood.

The Old Testament is often poetic in its imagery, but that does not mean that profound scientific truth is not tucked away there. In many ways the Bible is an Oriental book so this may be the reason we yearn for more knowledge from the Eastern side of things showing up on every side in the West today. Our insistence that all truth be rational, analytic, dissectible and ordered, and verifiable in the laboratory misses the Biblical view to a large degree. Nor does the Bible teach on a given subject all in one chapter or book. Instead, bits and pieces are given here and there, ("here a little, there a little...line upon line, precept upon precept"). The only way to grasp a subject clearly is to read (and re-read) the Bible from Genesis to Revelation day after day and year after year. King Solomon said in Proverbs, "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but it is the glory of kings to seek them out." (Proverbs 25:2)

However, the Bible is meant to be understood even by children, for the truth about very difficult subjects is approached by scripture in terms anyone can understand. This fact about Biblical truth, therefore, does support the scientist's wish to have a universe that can be understood in simple terms rather than complex, (i.e., Occam's Razor). The Bible describes the universe as a UNIverse, a unified whole entity; therefore, if we understand things on a small and local scale, we can likewise understand the large scale and the very small and the invisible and the remotest corners of space. We can know ourselves and we can know our Creator---because God has graciously chosen to reveal himself to the seeking heart, and to answer many of our questions about the nature of things.

"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 'For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. 'For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.'" (Isaiah 55:6-13)

Progressive Revelation and the "Mysteries"

The usual Greek word translated "revelation" is apokalupsis, which means "unveiling." A related New Testament word is "mystery" (musterion). There are approximately seven "mysteries" categorized in the New Testament. A mystery in the Bible is a body of truth that was hidden in a previous age but later explained and made known by additional revelation. The mysteries disclosed in the New Testament are deep bodies of truth---but they can presently be understood clearly if one takes the time to examine them. To cite one example, the relationship between man and wife in marriage is likened to the relationship between Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the true church; this is said to be "a great mystery". Mysteries in the Bible are complex bodies of truth capable of being understood, though multifaceted and even full of paradoxes. The concept of "mysteries" in the Bible suggests clearly that our universe is indeed so complex it cannot be fully understood by any one discipline or field of knowledge. The biblical notion of "revelation" assumes that man is largely in the dark about himself and his universe (as a result of the fall) and needs much outside help and enlightenment.

The coming into existence of the church was not revealed in the Old Testament, but is new revelation given to the Apostles,

"For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles---assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (Ephesians 3:1-6)

Another mystery of truth revealed in the New Testament which is not referenced in the Old, is the divine indwelling of Christ in the believer in our present age,

"...I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ." (Colossians 1:25-28)

A third example of new information in the New Testament concerns the "mystery of lawlessness" which will find its final expression in a world-ruler of incarnate evil,

"For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12)

The Anthropic Principle

Central to Biblical revelation is the notion that man, made in the image and likeness of God, was placed into the center of creation to understand it and to rule it. For example, when Adam was given the task of naming the animals God brought before him, it was to be a training session to help Adam understand what God had made, so that he, Adam, could govern wisely as the representative and steward of God over creation.

Biblical revelation tells us that societies prosper and increase in knowledge and understanding because of the grace of God---not because of human merit or effort. Likewise, so-called primitive societies are examples of groups of people who have ignored God's grace and thus fallen into degradation and ignorance. The Bible also teaches that "progress" as understood by modern man is largely an illusion! Sometimes God blesses a nation to honor previous generations of godly men and women. Sometimes He raises up a great nation such as Ancient Egypt as an object lesson, or to demonstrate His displeasure at the behavior of His chosen people. The fall of man was downward into total depravity; civilization is the thin veneer that hides the savage beast. "Science" is not building a better world for our children, but God continues to bestow many good gifts on those who believe in Him and much "common grace" upon those who do not. These are but a few examples of truth given to mankind by means of revelation.

The Foolishness and Weakness Of God

Because the universe is so complex (as seen by the Bible), it is often necessary to consider "both/and" rather than "either/or." Thus, it should be no surprise that truth is found on both sides of a marriage dispute, in a case before a court of law, or in a creation/evolution argument. In the familiar picture of the elephant as described by four blind men, one man described the elephant as being like a rope; the second, like the trunk of a tree; the third, like a wall, and the man who encountered an ear, thought an elephant was like a big tree leaf. All four men were partially correct, but that the elephant was much more than even the sum total of the four pieces of evidence presented by these blind "scientists."

Not only is our data base incomplete, but the actual world we live in is full of active evil, of erroneous reasonings, of grand deceptions. And the best of us, as persons, is highly flawed.

"Science is the only self-correcting human institution, but it is also a process that progresses only by showing itself to be wrong."---Astronomer Allan Sandage.

The Apostle Paul writes of human ignorance and the ease with which most of mankind is deceived in every generation-beginning with our leaders: scientists, political leaders, and barons of industry:

"Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demands signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men...And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

"Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers (leaders) of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,' God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The natural man (man in his natural condition before spiritual rebirth) does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them for they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 1:20-25; 2:3-14)

This remarkable passage of God's Word helps us to understand man's arrogance and self-deception---especially in areas concerned with knowledge, power, and influence. It is not, however, knowledge alone that gets us in trouble, it's the application thereof. It is wisdom we lack, and the experienced insight we need to run our lives, and to understand things properly, can only come to us from God---and then only when we are willing to be enlightened and instructed by Him. Science itself is morally neutral, and one can readily say from the Bible that God is not opposed to science or the increase of knowledge. Quite the opposite. He is the very God of all knowledge and understanding!

Our estrangement from God and continuing rebellion against His guidance in our affairs inevitably means things will go towards the worst possible outcomes-nuclear warfare and ecological disasters can be included in the list. In fact, rejection of revealed truth, common in our land today, causes God to give us over to what is called in the Bible the lie. This is a deep belief in one's own self-sufficiency, in the truth of prevailing science and philosophy (even when they are out of tune with Scripture), and the notion that man is his own god and master of his own destiny. Hearing truth and rejecting it leaves us worse off than remaining ignorant of truth, though neither state of affairs excuses man from accountability to his Creator.

A personal relationship with Jesus as Lord is what all of us needs above all else in life. That step of faith and commitment to God brings us into a relationship with Him so that we can perceive reality---the way things really are, in our hearts and minds and lives. Thereafter we can begin to participate in what God is now doing in the universe, which is to build a new creation and a new race while the old creation fades away and comes to an end.

What Jesus said about truth is that He Himself is the truth---truth is a Person not an abstract collection of mere knowledge.

""I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him." (John 14:6)

The Apostle Paul adds, "In Christ are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:3) Were it not for scripture, men would think all truth was relative; and we would be unaware of error, false teaching, and the widespread, deceptive nature of false philosophies everywhere on our planet. We all tend to fall into the trap of believing that truth is contained only in doctrinal, philosophical, or scientific statements about the nature of reality. That absolute truth is contained in a Person assigns a fundamentally different meaning to the Greek word logos than was found in Greek philosophy prior to the writing of the New Testament. Logos is one of the titles assigned to Jesus as the Creator in the well-known preamble to John's gospel:

"In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4)

A key passage regarding God's self-disclosure is that Jesus Christ is God's final word to mankind. This is made clear by the opening four verses of the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews.

"In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs."

Truth From Revelation not Accessible to Science

The Bible tells us we are surrounded by myriads of angelic beings, a statement that no reputable scientist has put forth nor attempted to prove (or disprove) scientifically. Furthermore we learn from the Bible that the angels are given the responsibility by God for governing the forces of nature and for guiding the course of nations! Were it not for scripture, we would think of the spiritual realm as ghostlike or "imaginary" rather than permanent, substantial, and enduring. Scripture tells us that man is not just a physical being, but also a spiritual being, and that man is, above all else, a spirit. Though human evil is everywhere evident to anyone who is honest about himself and the world, this fact is constantly denied in the halls of science, in schools, and in political campaigns---denied almost everywhere by men, but not by the Bible.

The Bible confirms that the universe is an orderly, composite structure but goes further by making clear our Creator's goals and purposes in both creation and redemption. Scripture tells us clearly where history is heading and how things will end. Secular science and secular history see none of this accurately. Rather than man's being incidental to creation, the Bible places him squarely in the center as the highest of created beings, intended by God to exercise dominion over the earth, and later over the new creation God is now building. It is the Bible that explains us to ourselves and provides the remedy for human evil so that healing and restoration can begin within us. Where else but in Holy Writ can we learn about the causes of war, the reasons for upset ecologies, the purposes of government, and the "Four Last Things" (Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell) that no man can avoid discovering in experience in the end?

Finally, Christians hold that truth, properly perceived as revelation from God, is absolute truth and can be depended upon fully to guide a person in this life and in the next. Scientific truth may or may not hold up under the tests of time and comparison with absolute truth. Unless it does, scientific truth has limited value and limited scope.

See The Limitations of Science.

Christ the Wisdom of God; Christ God's Final Word to Man

It is interesting that Jesus Christ in addition to being called "the truth" is also said to be the "Wisdom of God" in the New Testament. Wisdom in the Old Testament book of Proverbs is personified by a woman. When one speaks of wholeness for "mankind" as an ideal or a goal. The creation of man in the image and likeness of God was the creation not of Adam, the man, but of Adam/Eve together. The Biblical revelation that both God and His creation can only be understood by combining a masculine and a feminine point of view, of course, is an idea foreign to most fields of western science. Imbalance in science is a result of leaving out such alternate (and complementary) ways of looking at reality. Of all the many problems the evolutionist faces, one of the greatest is how to explain the existence of sexuality in creation at all. It is only when we turn to the Bible that we gain light on this subject.

The often quoted saying, "now we see through a glass dimly, but then face to face," comes from the great chapter on love found in 1 Corinthians 13 and is a reminder that of all that God has told us about Himself, He assures us that love is of central importance. We are loved by our Creator and He has paid the highest possible price by giving His Son, our Lord Jesus to make it possible for us to inhabit His universe forever. Science does not tell us this, but revelation does. To make science a religion in place of the reverence, worship, and devotion to a God of Love, who is at the same time Truth itself, is to be deceived and enslaved by a terrible idolatry indeed.

In some ways modern science may be compared to ancient gnosticism. The Gnostics specialized in gnosis or knowledge, but the Apostle Paul in Colossians speaks of epignosis, or full knowledge. This is what Jesus Christ brings to all who seek Him and place their trust in Him. This is how we enter into the full dimensional understanding He intends for us. As scripture says,

"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 (man, i.e., Adam) 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, for `In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. 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 17:24-31)

That Christ is God's final and most complete word to the human race is the opening theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament. Hebrews opens with these words,

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Lambert Dolphin
lambert@ldolphin.org
Library
1987, revised April 26, 1995, October 31, 1995.