God’s Two Books: Are General and Special Revelation Equal?
February 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
In a previous post I shared what I thought about the perceived dichotomy of science and the Bible: While the Bible doesn’t set out to teach science, we can’t deny that it is relevant to science in various descriptions of God’s natural order. Nevertheless, it seems a popular stance to pit the Bible against the findings of science, even though the two naturally are not at odds.
In discussions with other Christians over controversies like the age of the earth or the flood of Noah’s day, some seem driven to separate science from the Bible to the point where the Bible can’t possibly shed any light on what we study in the scientific fields, as if it speaks to every other area of life but science. Recently, one believer asserted that the Bible can be fallible on matters of science and we should only regard what it teaches spiritually.
I think that we determine what the Bible teaches by what it says. From what it says, the thrust of Biblical doctrine is not dominated by what we address in modern science, but in the Bible we see that scientific processes and systems are mentioned and observed. The reasons they are mentioned and observed seem to be for the most part ultimately theological, to teach about nature’s Creator, for instance, as Paul does in Romans 1: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (vs. 20)
General Revelation is what God reveals through nature. Special Revelation is what God reveals through the supernatural, most importantly in the person of Jesus Christ, but contemporarily in the revelation of the Bible. Historically, God has revealed Himself supernaturally at different times in different ways to different people. Today, of all possible supernatural revelations, I consider the Bible the most important to the Church age (and so here I use the Bible fairly synomymously with Special Revelation).
Dual Revelation—the idea that the Bible and Nature stand as two equal authoritative books—seems to be what drives the emphasis of science as a way of determining theology, as well as the reverse. Dual Revelation, however, is our brainchild, not God’s. God apparently does intend to show himself through the wonders of science (Psalm 19:1). The natural world that we study with science does reveal much about our Creator, and inspires worship in those who understand, Biblically, that God created nature. Hugh Ross explains this view of an equal authority of these two books: “God’s revelation is not limited exclusively to the Bible’s words. The facts of nature may be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible.” (1)
Ideally, dual revelation would like the two books to agree and affirm each other, but inevitably, one is compromised to line up with the other. Science can confirm what we see in the Bible, but nevertheless we need to start with the Bible, not the “67th book” of nature. Why? Foundations.
• It’s a fundamental truth in Scripture that our ability to reason is also affected by the curse on creation. Proverbs 3:5 says to “lean not on your own understanding.” We are not only limited in our scope of knowledge and reason but inclined toward self-deception. Man has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things instead of the Creator…” (Rom. 1:25) Of course faulty reasoning can affect our interpretation of the Bible as well as our interpretation of the universe. But it’s the Bible that teaches that Christians have a Helper in the Holy Spirit (John 14:6, 26; 2 Pet. 1:20,21) to guide in “accurately handling the Word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15), not Nature.
• The foundations of Christian theology are historically tied to Sola Scriptura—that God’s Special Revelation in the Bible is our preeminent source of doctrine. It’s only in recent history, corresponding with scientific advancements following the Enlightenment, that General Revelation was elevated to something of an equal authority with the Bible.
• The fundamental truth of Christianity, that man is depraved and in need of a Savior, and how salvation is acquired, is contained completely in God’s Special Revelation to us in Scripture, and it is not found at all in the General Revelation of Nature. Even nature is meant to lead us to something, ultimately a relationship with the Creator, whom Scripture identifies in detail. General Revelation may show us facts, but Special Revelation shows us the meaning.
• The foundation for General Revelation is found in the Special Revelation of Scripture (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20), so without Scripture, we would have little reason to consider Nature a way of knowing God. Anything Nature says would mean nothing significant without God’s supernatural revelation.
If Dual Revelation represents two books by the same author, they should agree. The Bible is set apart from Nature in authority and importance by what it clearly proclaims about itself. One claim is that we can “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (1 John 4:1). Another is that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction” (2 Tim. 3:16), so by IT we are to judge everything else. The 66th book of the Bible also warns that “if anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18) Tacking on a 67th book and granting it equal authority then is ill-advised. Any attempt to make these “two books” agree should be done by testing our observations and experience of the natural world against God’s Word, not the other way around.
General Revelation shows us certain facts about ourselves and the material world that should direct us toward our Creator. Special Revelation, specifically God’s written Word, grounds those facts in ultimate truth about our Creator, and bears a message of love and salvation. The former is not complete without the latter. That’s why science and philosophy and whatever other ways we use to think about the universal aspects of God through Nature have their place—a place of subservience to what has God revealed to us through the anchor of all revelation, the Bible.
1. (Hugh Ross, Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy, (NavPress, 1994) pp. 56-57.)