by Rob Lundberg
Depending on who you speak to in Christian circles, you can always tell what kind of “denominational stripe” they are coming from. One thing that might bring a question or a tingling of one’s “baloney detector” is the whole idea of whether or not there is any new revelation today.
This post is going to answer that question for us so that we will have a good handle on this subject the next time a conversation like this ensues. What is meant by revelation?
When we use the term revelation in this context, I am not talking about the book in the Bible that many misname, by calling it the book of Revelations. What I am speaking to is the idea of how God discloses Himself and His interaction with this world and with us.
What is Revelation?
When we think of revelation, this term pertains to what God has made known about Himself and the process by which this insight is given. In theological circles, one might hear terms like “general revelation” and “special revelation.” Let me say out of the gate here that there is no more new special revelation today. I will defend this shortly but for the moment allow me to elaborate on the the two kinds of revelation that we can know with limited knowledge.
What is general revelation?
General revelation is a term used for the kind of knowledge about God, that He makes possible through the natural world. When we speak to the subject of general revelation this may include things pertaining to religious experiences of awe and dependence on God. Those defenders of general revelation have often claimed that it is not sufficient only. To give us knowledge of the existence of an all powerful Creator. Some have argued that the goodness of God can also be seen through through the nature order of the world around us.
Things like the Earth’s distance from the Sun, the angle of the Earth’s axis as it rotates and travels at a safe distance around the Sun. That are near to us are those things we see in nature all around us that show a grand design. Even the innermost make up of our bodies are finely tuned to where if the variable were to go one way or another, I would not be able to finish this article and you would not be able to read it whether I did or did not.
General revelation involves also our senses in that what we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell, and by using those senses we get to explore the natural world around us. As we do that, we realize that there is something behind it. . . something more and then take the next steps to explore through science or spiritual experiences. This brings us to the subject of special revelation.
What is special revelation?
On the surface, special revelation is given to us directly by God through particular persons, experiences, writing or historical events. This is what makes special revelation different from general revelation. How so?
When thinking of revelation according to the aforementioned categories of persons, God spoke through prophets, apostles and supremely through Jesus of Nazareth. God has spoken through the pages of the Scriptures (the Bible). As we see the special revelation through these means, we gain more concrete a knowledge of the character, nature and actions of God in relation to His creation.
Is there any special revelation today?
Some Christians speak of continuing revelation, by which they mean that God continues today to speak outside of and in addition to the Scriptures – ostensibly to help unbelievers believe the gospel and to help believers trust in God. Those who believe this give three examples of continuing revelation to which they point are the “sign gifts” of working of miracles, tongues, and prophecy.
To bear some transparency here, I am not convinced the sign gifts have totally ceased. I believe that miracles do happen today as we do not live in a closed universe and God still intervenes today. I also believe that tongues is a KNOWN LANGUAGE to the listener but UNKOWN to the speaker. But with it there must be interpretation.
As far as prophecy today, the kind that is foretelling the future is no longer in existence today. If it were still in existence, the canon of Scripture would still be open and subject to change with every new revelation that came “down the pike.” There is no new revelation today, for what we have is enough; and that is the Word of God.
When we refer to the Bible as special revelation, we are saying that its inspiration and authority bear complete, sufficient and final authority for the life of a Christian. The Bible is complete and it does not need to be added to.
With truth being challenged in nearly every pocket of culture and the church, it one were to say that the Bible is not the Word of God, it would be like saying that it is not His authority. Holding to the authority of the Bible is not saying there are no other true things in life. It is saying that there are no other things in life that God says a person needs to know to know Him, follow Him, please Him and bear the fruit He has promised such as “life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
When I say that there is no “continuing revelation” today, I am coming at this statement from three angles that point to what the Bible says about itself.
The first is that the Scriptures are the Word of God and therefore inspired (theoneustos– God breathed) and authoritative (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The second is that through the Scriptures, a person has all he or she needs to know about and follow Jesus Christ. We read Jesus’ words in John 5:39 which tells us that “the Scriptures testify about Me” and in John 17:3, Jesus in His high Priestly prayer prays to the Father saying, “This is eternal life, that they may know You and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Finally, the third claim from the Bible is that through knowing Him, we can experience a rich, joyful life. In knowing Christ, we are filled with multiplied grace, peace, life, and godliness ( 2 Peter 1:2-3; cf., John 10:10).
When you look in a microscope, a telescope, or go outside and look around you, you are looking at the general revelation. The general revelation points you to explore more and see that there is a God who is behind it all.
When you open your Bible, you are opening the special revelation of God which reveals the One is God in human flesh (John 1:1,14). What more do you need? To say that there is more is to take away the authority of the Bible, and credibility of Jesus’ words. These are two dangerous ideas that I don’t think anyone realizes or would want to even risk.