What is the Doctrine of Special Revelation?

Millard Erickson calls it “God’s manifestation of himself at particular times and places through particular events.”¹ Direct “God said” passages in Scripture (Gen 1:28; 3:13, 14; 6:13, etc.), miracles, Divine providence (Ez. 11:9-10), the Bible (Heb. 1:1), and Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:2) all constitute what we would call “special revelation.” Special revelation has been written down and is now found only in God’s written Word, the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

General Revelation can’t provide sufficient information for the gospel. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins is found in Scripture. General revelation gives us the existence of a powerful, eternal God and basic morality, whereas, “Special Revelation” gives us specifics regarding sin, heaven, hell, the nature of God, the Trinity, the incarnation, death, the Fall, redemption, etc.

Louis Berkhoff hits the nail on the head:

In the study of all other sciences man places himself above the object of his investigation and actively elicits from it his knowledge by whatever method may seem most appropriate, but in theology he does not stand above but rather under the object of his knowledge. In other words, man can know God only in so far as the latter actively makes Himself known. God is first of all the subject communicating knowledge to man, and can only become an object of study for man in so far as the latter appropriates and reflects on the knowledge conveyed to him by revelation. Without revelation man would never have been able to acquire any knowledge of God. And even after God has revealed Himself objectively, it is not human reason that discovers God, but it is God who discloses Himself to the eye of faith. However, by the application of sanctified human reason to the study of God’s Word man can.²

There is no more need for additional, special revelation for believers — The Bible is more than sufficient in revealing the deep things of our Creator and His great love and grace given to us in Christ. One jarring parable is told by Jesus in Luke 16:27-31:

He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even ifsomeone rises from the dead. (emphasis mine)

According to Abraham, there is more power in God’s Word than the miracle of resurrection, so if you reject God’s special revelation, obviously you’ll explain away a miracle.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matt. 6:22-23

The truth of God’s special revelation and its sufficiency should drive us to study harder and more effectively in the humble, joyful power of the Holy Spirit, and it should guide us to shepherd our churches way differently than many “pastors” are currently. The BIBLE is living and active! Faith comes by HEARING the Word of God!

WHAT DO THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE HAVE TO SAY ABOUT IT?

John Frame:

“The letter to the Hebrews says that God made a promise to Abraham, swearing by himself, for there was no one greater (Heb. 6:13). So God both made a promise and confirmed it with an oath, “two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie” (v. 18). This is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (v. 19). Similarly, Paul (2 Tim. 3:16–17) and Peter (2 Peter 1:19–21) speak of Scripture as God’s own words, which pro- vide sure guidance in a world where false teaching abounds. God’s special revelation is certain, and we ought to be certain about it.

  1. Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p. 171.
  2. Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MichiganWm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), p. 35.
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