Why Special Revelation Trumps General Revelation

Scripture trumps nature. Both the general revelation of God (creation) and the special revelation of God (Scripture) are gifts for which we should be very thankful. However, because of the effects of sin on the mind of man (theologians call this the noetic effect of sin), meaning our reasoning abilities are not fully pure, and the impact of the fall on the rest of creation, we need special revelation to govern our interpretation of general revelation. Let me explain.

What is General Revelation?

General revelation is that which is observable from creation. Wayne Grudem writes, “The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity, is often called ‘general revelation’ (because it comes to all people generally).” This revelation of God becomes sufficient for a sinner to know that God exists, and is the grounds to condemn him as a rebel against God’s supreme authority (Romans 1:18-20). But general revelation remains insufficient to save a sinner’s soul by bringing him into a right relationship with God. General revelation in creation contributes to our understanding of man’s condition, as the conscience convicts. However, it says nothing to us about man’s soul, his real problems or their solutions, and is unable to bring man to the knowledge of God or perform the ongoing soul-work the Spirit accomplishes through the Word (Psalm 19:7-8).

What Is Special Revelation?

Special revelation refers to God’s words addressed to certain people, most of which are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), specifically the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:13-17; Matthew 4:4; 1 Corinthians 2:11-16). In order to know God, and sustain spiritual life, a person must receive regeneration and illumination from the Holy Spirit and the subsequent comprehension of the special revelation of Scripture. When God transforms a sinner into a saint, via the gospel, a new work of grace begins resulting in the progressive renewal of the image of God in man, which was distorted by the fall. This work of sanctification includes renewal in knowledge after the image of the Creator (Colossians 3:10) and is dependent upon the inscripturated Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Special Revelation has Authority over General Revelation

Special revelation has authority over general revelation not because it is more fully “from God” than general revelation. Both are equally from God. Both bring Him great glory. “Then,” you ask, “why do you say special revelation must be used to accurately interpret what man discovers by means of general revelation?” Let me explain.

The problem is not with general revelation, in its original state, or the giver of the revelation—the Creator God. The problem is with the receiver, man. Before sin entered the world, Adam’s and Eve’s mind viewed all of creation through a pure lens, and the creation itself was fully pure, too. But after sin enveloped the human race, man became darkened in his understanding (Ephesians 4:18) and futile in his thinking (Romans 1:21), which distorts our ability to interpret natural revelation in a God-centered way. Add to this the realities that the world we study is also under the curse, has been subjected to futility, and is longing for the day it will be set free (Romans 8:20-21). As a result, without the Holy Spirit’s revelation of God’s mind to us in the words of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:11-16), we are unable to accurately interpret and apply what we glean from general revelation. The good news is that the more we grow in biblical wisdom and understanding the more we look at the world through new eyes. The information we gain becomes profitable to us when it passes through the filter of a Christ-centered worldview which is developed from the written Word of God.

As has already been said, God has revealed much in His creation that is beautiful, mysterious, and beneficial, and we continue to learn more all the time. But our understanding, interpretation, and application of this knowledge remains tainted by our depravity even as believers. However, special revelation (the Bible), is not under the curse. It is breathed out by God, inerrant, and is the living truth that penetrates our minds and judges the thoughts and motives of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). In the hands of the Holy Spirit, it alone can reach the soul, discerning behavior and the heart that drives it. General revelation in creation cannot do this. Therefore, when it comes to drawing conclusions about human behavior and the needs of the soul, God’s Word is the lens through which we must interpret and apply general revelation. All teachings, and the worldviews producing them, are to be tested by Scripture, which is what ultimately sanctifies us and which Jesus defined as truth (John 17:17).

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