Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: Special Revelation
This is the 3rd lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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I. General Revelation vs Special Revelation
Well, we have talked about general revelation where God has revealed himself to all people and all places through creation and conscience. But there is another piece of revelation which we call special revelation. God works in history and revealed himself through speaking so that we learn of his plan of redemption through Jesus the Messiah. So Jesus is the person God chose to reveal himself for the sake of relationship and God works in history and thus reveals himself. For example, during Passover there were three crosses. The person on the center cross was Jesus who was a revelatory work of God who came to save us from our sins. If you were a Jew at that time and simply walked by those crosses, you would wonder what they had done to be given such punishment. You would know nothing of the significance of what was happening, especially with the center person. So we know that God’s actions are critically important because if Jesus had not have died for the sins of the world and if he had not have rose from the dead we would be lost and our lives would be hopeless. But the work by and of itself isn’t adequate enough communication.
II. Special Revelation consists of both Actions and the Word
We think about the Lord of the Rings, a book by J.R. Token, a marvelous story of the Hobbits and the ring with Frodo going up Mount Doom. This was a story full of amazing and powerful concepts causing many to think and dwell on the landscape and characters portrayed in the story. But it is just a story with no truth behind it whatsoever. It is indeed engaging, teaching great concepts but there is no reality behind it. So in regards to special revelation, there is a God who is really doing things and the prophetic speaking of God. He has to have both of these together to have accurate communication, actions and the Word. There is a saying supposedly from Francis of Assisi that says to preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. I get upset everything I hear this. It is saying that all we need is action to proclaim the Word of God, the Gospel. We have to have words also; otherwise it is like walking by the three crosses and wondering about the people that were hanging on it. We need actions and the words and as for as Francis of Assisi, he was living during a time where all kinds of things was being proclaimed in churches that was only words without any king of life. Special revelation is a combination of the life of God revealed in his works and the words of God that tells us the significance and meaning of those acts.
What about the Exodus? When the people were amazed as they saw those things happening, they wondered what was going on! They needed prophetic revelation telling them that it was happening by the hand of God. He was bringing judgement against Pharaoh and Egypt for their wickedness. That combination of God working in history through prophetic speaking that revealed the meaning and significance of those actions is what we mean by special revelation. And the heart of that has to do with the work of Jesus, the Messiah.
III. Visions, Miracles, Dreams and Prophetic Speech
So what kinds and types of special revelation do we have? Well, we find in story of Cornelius for example, a Roman Centurion in Acts 10, God reveals himself to Cornelius in a dream. Then there was Jacob in the Old Testament who had a vision of angels going up and down a latter. Also, there was Moses on Mt Sinai where he hears the voice of God speaking. There are miracles like that of the Red Sea parting showing God working. You have Jesus speaking. We have dreams, visions, voices, and prophetic speech. In Acts 13 people are giving themselves to fasting and prayer and in the midst of that God speaks telling them to set apart Barnabas and Paul for the work he had called them to. So the heart of special revelation is the Bible and within this written text and understanding that these writings are inspired by God, thus we have the definitive special revelation. It is a holy book that God has given us in a permanent form. For the Christian, this book is held up as the enduring words of God with the final Word of God being Jesus Christ. Jesus is God who came to dwell among us. Look at John 1:14 where it says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth. The Word was with God in the beginning, in the creation itself. In verse 18, it says that no one has even seen God but Jesus who is himself God. He is at the Father’s side. Later on in John 14, Thomas wanted to see the Father with Jesus replying that he had seen the Father by seeing Jesus. So Jesus is the definitive Word of God. God came in human form and spoke to us, telling us and showing us by his actions and words the nature of the Father.
So we have the written Word of God which is the inspired inerrant truth. We have those who have spoken for God, those prophets who spoke the Word. We have God who spoke himself. We have dreams and visions which are to be tested against the Word to make sure they are from God. So Jesus is the Word of God; the Bible is the written Word of God and then we have dreams, visions and prophets that can be God speaking but are to be tested against his Word. This is all special revelation.
IV. The Inspiration of Scripture
More particularly is that the Bible is a central aspect of Christianity. We learn about Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit through the Bible. Look at 2nd Timothy chapter 3:15 where it says from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Also, the Old Testament believers had faith in the coming Messiah so it wasn’t a new thing when Jesus came. Faith in the coming Messiah has always been there, clear back to Genesis 3:15. All Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching. It is also used for reproof, correction and training in righteousness. So this is the unique work of Scripture. Technically, inspiration is about the text of Scripture and not about the writer. The writer is guided and is providentially prepared to do that work, but what is actually inspired is the text itself. The reason I say that is that Paul wrote letters that aren’t in the New Testament, thus those letters are not inspired. The inspired letters that he wrote ended up in the New Testament giving us the Word of God.
In 2nd Peter 1:19, it says that we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Thus we see that the word is completely reliable and trustworthy. It is a light shining in a dark place. Note that in verse 20 it says that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. Prophecy of Scripture never had it origin in human will, but through the prophets, through humans spoke from God through the Holy Spirit. This is the imagery of inspiration, the carrying along through prophets. That Scripture is reliable and trust worthy because the Holy Spirit has guided them in the writing of the text. This is the basic picture of Scripture. From Latin we get, ‘Holy Scripture is God Speaking.’ This is in the present tense and thus it is ongoing, God speaking.
V. Incorrect Concepts
Another concept that is sometimes said, ‘the Holy Scripture contains the Word of God.’ This is partially wrong in that it suggests that some of the Scripture is inspired while some isn’t. All of Scripture is inspired. Some movements such as that of the ‘red letter’ Christians look at the words of Jesus as to be trusted while other text is questionable. So what these groups say is that Scripture contains the Word of God but also contain error. This of course is not true and becomes a serious problem for them. Another concept often heard, ‘the Holy Spirit becomes the Word of God.’ This says that Scripture itself isn’t the Word of God; it is only when the Holy Spirit uses the text that it becomes the Word of God. This is somewhat true when the Holy Spirit uses certain parts of the Scripture to speak to us. God uses situations from the Bible to speak to us concerning our own situations. Scripture is always God speaking whether we hear it or not. Another concept is that the Holy Spirit points to the Word of God. The idea here is that the Word of God is Jesus and Scripture points us to Jesus. There is truth to this but some people are guilty of what I call Bibiology. They worship the Bible in itself and they spend all their time studying the Bible and don’t realize that the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture to bring us into a relationship with Jesus. And if you only have a relationship with the Bible, you may not have a relationship with God. So we must realize that Scripture is God speaking. Another mistake and a common one is that Scripture was the Word of God. It is a record of God speaking two thousand years ago, good in its day but it is past now. It is not that relevant now. I need a fresh Word of God. You will hear this sometimes. Their thinking is that they need a direct Word from the Holy Spirit speaking today. If you want to get a fresh Word of God, just open your Bible and read and mediate on it. This is really a good way to get a fresh Word of God because the Holy Scripture is God speaking. It is the very Word of God always.
So the Holy Scripture is to be believed as God’s instruction, obeyed as God’s command, embraced as God’s promise in all its promises. He providentially prepared and guided certain writers to write in their own circumstances in their own styles of the issues of the day so that what they wrote was exactly what God wanted to say to his worldwide church at all time and that message of Scripture is the universal Word of God completely trustworthy, completely true and adequate so that we can be prepared for every good work.