The term revelation deals with how God has revealed himself to humanity, or in other words, how he has made himself known. Theologians generally distinguish God's revelation in two ways: General, and Special revelation.


General Revelation

General revelation

Also known as Universal revelation, general revelation deals with how God can be understood through his creation. More specifically, this can be manifest in physical nature, human nature, and history. General revelation does not impart truths that are necessary for salvation (e.g. sinfulness of humanity, the atonement, etc...), however, it is argued that God's existence, transcendence, immanence, self-sufficiency, eternality, power, goodness, and hate for evil can be comprehended and seen through his creation (Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 1,019; cf. Romans 1).

Physical nature

The book of Psalms says that, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). Paul quotes Psalm 19:4 in reference to hearing the gospel, "But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for 'Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world' " (Rom. 10:18). Later on in Psalm 97:6 it says that, "The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory." Paul told men that God had given testimony of Himself in that he has shown kindness by giving them rain from heaven, crops in their seasons and even provides them with their food (Acts 15:15-17). A clearer passage states that, "What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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" (Rom. 1:19-20).

Human nature

Because humans are made in God's image (Genesis 1:27), something about God can be learned from the study of human nature. Most evident is the moral and spiritual qualities found within humankind that reflect the character of God. Paul says that even the law is written on the hearts of people who do not have the specially revealed law (Romans 2:11-16).


Some theologians note that history is His - story. The Bible clearly indicates in numerous places that God is moving the course of history and is controlling the destinies of nations (Job 12:23; Psalm 47:7-8, 66:7; Isaiah 10:5-13; Daniel 2:21; Acts 17:26). It should then be possible to sense God at work within history. A careful analysis of the history of the nation of Israel should provide more evidence than is needed.

Special revelation

Special revelation is distinguished from general revelation in that it is direct revelation from God. Examples include God's direct speech to various people (e.g., prophets; cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21), the incarnation (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2), and the Bible. Such revelation is sufficient to communicate the gospel, unlike general revelation, and thus salvation is possible only through special revelation.

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The nature of revelation

The nature of revelation depends on whether revelation is given or understood through experience, propositions [1], culture, scripture, or all four. Some theologians argue for one option, while others argue that revelation is more holistic and follows a both/and method in contrast to an either/or approach. Thus, ones view of revelation will ultimately effect their view of the Bible. Postmodernists typically argue that the Bible is culture-bound and tend to reject any propositional nature of revelation. Liberals, usually beginning with Friedrich Schleiermacher, also reject propositions yet are prone to emphasize personal experience over other understandings of revelation. Lastly, evangelical theologians such as Carl Henry and Charles Hodge preferred a more propositional understanding. [2] Since the 1980's, postliberals have highlighted the narrative nature of the Bible and thus emphasized revelation as story in which disciples are to become part of that story as they see and mold their lives into line with God's purposes. Postliberals also tend to dismiss any propositional nature of the Bible.

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  1. A proposition is a true or false statement made about reality.
  2. While they argued for a propositional understanding of the Bible, Hodge and Henry were also aware of its other forms such as promises, assertions, narratives, questions, proverbs, laws, parables, and covenants.


  • Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, Contours of Christian Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2002)
  • Paul Helm, The Divine Revelation: The Basic Issues (Crossway, 1982)
  • John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 1, chs. 1-10
  • Colin Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation (T&T Clark, 1995)
  • J.I. Packer, God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, rev. ed., 1993)
  • B.B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration (Oxford, 1927)
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks (Cambridge, 1995)

See also

External links

General revelation

Special revelation

The nature of revelation

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