Special Revelation

Holman Bible Dictionary

Special Revelation God has revealed Himself in nature, human experience, and history, but sin’s entrance into the world has changed the revelation as well as the interpretation of it. What is needed to understand God’s self-disclosure fully is His special revelation. Divine truth exists outside of special revelation, but it is consistent with and supplemental to, not a substitute for special revelation.

In contrast to God’s general revelation which is available to all people, God’s special revelation is available to specific people at specific times in specific places, it is available now only by consultation of sacred Scripture. Special revelation is first of all particular. God reveals Himself with His people. These people of God are the children of Abraham, whether by natural (Gen. 12:1-3) or spiritual descent (Gal. 3:16, 29). Does this mean that God confines knowledge of Himself to a particular people? Not necessarily, because God’s general revelation has been given to all, though perverted and rejected by the universal wickedness of humankind. He now chooses to whom and through whom He will make Himself known. As with Abraham, God said: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). God manifests Himself in a particular manner to His people so they will be a channel of blessing to all others.

Special revelation is also progressive. Biblical history witnesses to a developing disclosure of God, His will, and His truth in the Old and New Testaments. The development is not contradictory in any fashion. It is complementary and supplementary to what had been previously revealed. We should not think of the progress from untruth to truth, but from a lesser to a fuller revelation (Heb. 1:1-3). The revelation of the law in the Old Testament is not superseded by the gospel, but is fulfilled in it.

Special revelation is primarily redemptive and personal. In recognition of the human predicament God chose at the very beginning to disclose Himself in a more direct way. Within time and space God has acted and spoken to redeem the human race from its own self-imposed evil. Through calling people, miracles, the Exodus, covenant making, and ultimately through Jesus Christ, God has revealed Himself in history.

The ultimate point of God’s personal revelation is in Jesus Christ. In Him, the Word became flesh (John. 1:1, 14; 14:9). The Old Testament promise of salvation as a divine gift to people who cannot save themselves has been fulfilled in the gift of His Son. The redemptive revelation of God is that Jesus Christ has borne the sins of fallen humanity, has died in their place, and has been raised to assure justification. This is the fixed center of special revelation.

Special revelation is also propositional. It includes not only those personal, redemptive acts in history, but also the prophetic-apostolic interpretation of those events. God’s self-disclosure is propositional in that it made known truths about Him to His people. Knowledge about someone precedes intimate knowledge of someone. The primary purpose of revelation is not necessarily to enlarge the scope of one’s knowledge. Yet, propositional knowledge about is for the purpose of personal knowledge of.

We can thus affirm that special revelation has three stages: (1) redemption in history, ultimately centering in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) the Bible, written revelation interpreting what He has done for the redemption of men and women; (3) the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and the corporate life of the church, applying God’s revelation to the minds and hearts of His people. As a result, men and women receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and are enabled to follow Him faithfully in a believing, covenant community until life’s end.

The content of special revelation is primarily God Himself. Mystery remains even in God’s self-revelation. God does not fully reveal Himself to any person. God, does, however, reveal himself to persons to the degree they can receive it. Special revelation is the declaration of truth about God, His character, and His action and relationship with His creation to bring all creation under Christ, the one head (Eph. 1:9-10).

The proper setting of special revelation is Christian faith. God makes Himself known to those who receive His revelation in faith (Heb. 11:1, 6). Faith is the glad recognition of truth, the reception of God’s revelation without reservation or hesitation (Rom. 10:17).

For today, the Bible is of crucial importance. Through the Bible the Spirit witnesses to individuals of God’s grace and the need of faith response. In the Bible we learn of God’s redemption of sinners in Christ Jesus. Our faith response to God’s Word and acts, recorded and interpreted by the prophets and apostles, calls for us to embrace with humble teachableness, without finding fault, whatever is taught in Holy Scripture.

In sum we can say that God has initiated the revelation of Himself to men and women. This revelation is understandable to humankind and makes it possible to know God and grow in relationship with Him. God’s self-manifestation provides information about Himself for the purpose of leading men and women into God’s presence. For believers today, the Bible is the source of God’s revelation. In the written word we can identify God, know and understand something about Him, His will, and His work, and point others to Him. Special revelation is not generally speculative. The Bible primarily speaks on matters of cosmology and history where these issues touch the nature of faith. God has manifested Himself incarnationally through human language, human thought, and human action as ultimately demonstrated in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

David S. Dockery

Taken from: Holman Bible Dictionary Copyright 1991 Holman Bible Publishers.