A brief essay on the nature of Biblical Revelation

Every student of religious texts encounters the all-encompassing question, how did these works come to be? And the Bible is no different. A compilation of complete documents and scraps of records, the Bible claims to be divinely inspired, and yet it exhibits substantial human involvement and therefore the possibility of human error, (EOT, 24). Somehow, through Scripture, God manages to communicate himself, his character and his mission without incurring fallacies through his human assistants. The nature of biblical revelation is twofold, one method is creation, the general, self-evident revelation of God in the observation of nature and mankind, the second method is the special, direct revelation of God to divinely appointed mediators such as Moses, national rulers, and the prophets.

“The heavens declare the Glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands,” (Psalm 19:1). One of the most quoted verses in scripture, these words bring comfort to many Christians who are seeking out evidence of the Creator. This verse perfectly encapsulates the essence of general revelation, knowledge that comes to us in the self-evident aspects of the created world. In Genesis 9:14-15 God uses a physical anomaly of light, piercing our atmosphere to reign as a permanent reminder of his promise to the people of earth, a rainbow. But the most amazing testimony to the general revelation of creation is mankind itself, made in his image, (Gen 1:26). In the Garden of Eden Adam became one of the first to experience this revelation as the Lord took him to each animal in turn and he found that none was suitable for him, (Gen 2:20). It must have been obvious that his anatomy, intellectual ability and even his spirit could not find a match anywhere else in creation. The prophet Zechariah, many years later, honored the Lord with an introduction that praised these same events, “Thus declares the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth and forms the spirit of man within him,” (12:1).

Science delves into the mysteries of mankind every day, searching for clues to the meaning of our existence but as of yet nothing has contradicted what the bible has told us for thousands of years. In fact, it has only confirmed the truth, as the psalmist says 113:4, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” David’s song to the Lord speaks of being knit together in the womb by his Creator, (Psalm 139:13), so full of purpose and potential that God himself would choose to send a Savior in this very form, (Daniel 7:13). While the general revelation of God surrounds us at every turn it is Bible that explains it to us and gives it meaning. The very existence of documents with such cohesion, confirmed by an increasing amount of archeological evidence is, in itself, also a natural, observable example of God’s greatness, (EOT, 26-27). But it holds so much more. Within the pages of the Bible there is evidence of another form of revelation that is as special and unique as the people to whom God communicated.

Special revelation is that disclosure of God’s word, instruction and character which comes directly from him in modes which humanity can come to understand and remember. Throughout the history of the Old Testament God has communicated to the world through a series of mediators, people chosen by the LORD to speak and record his message. One such mediator was Moses. Moses was raised in a foreign nation with foreign gods, (Ex 2), and while in his early years with his mother he may have heard the stories of the patriarchs, his comprehension of deity was likely shaped more by the culture of the land itself. This is evidenced by his inquiries of the Lord in the desert when God encountered him in the burning bush, (Ex 3:13). The words, “Who are you?” would be more accurately rendered, “what are you?” 1 Egyptian deities were understood by symbols, such as the sun or the Nile River, or animals such as alligators.2  Moses is asking this new God what in creation is he, and God responds, “I am.” The Lord did not ignore Moses’ cultural upbringing or his language in his response, because Moses understood the speech from the bush, (Ex 3:4). Special revelation is always unique and considerate of such details, and Scripture is full of examples to mankind which spare no expense for creativity.

The key to the special revelation of scripture is that it be communicative and understandable, and God and his mediators go to great lengths for this to occur. Rulers such as Solomon, and even pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar, receive visions of direct communication from God, (2 Chron 1:7 & Daniel 4:1-3). Queen Esther receives God’s instructions for her role and purpose through her uncle Mordechai, (Esther 4:14), and the prophets live out some of the most fantastic dramas as a testimony to God’s people. Hosea is told to marry a prostitute to symbolize Israel’s adultery and then to name their children with messages for the people, (Hos 1:2-9). Jeremiah frequently uses culturally relevant metaphors, such as a potter, to teach about the nature of God (Jer 18), and Ezekiel uses parables (Ezek 21). Thousands of years later the answers to what God is, who God is and his purpose for us are still available to humanity in a language and format we understand, thus the power of the special revelation of God that transcends even human potential for error.

The general revelation of scripture, both its own existence and the invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature of God in creation that it shows us, (Romans 1:20) have been especially passed down to us in unique and comprehensible ways by people just as special as his message. We are its students, and once the nature of the Bible has begun to be explored we cannot help but face another question, what are we to do with it? God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart for my holy purpose…” (Jer 1:5). This is as true of us today as it was of Jeremiah, and we cannot make the same mistakes as Israel and fail to remember all that God has taught and done.

1 Pratico, Gary D. “A Cherished Name of God.” In Basics of Biblical Hebrew, by Gary D. Pratico, & Miles V. Van Pelt, 92. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.
2Chadwick, Robert. First Civilizations: Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Oakville, CT: Equinox Publishing

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