What is general revelation? What is special revelation?
When Christians speak of how God has revealed Himself, the two technical terms used are general revelation and special revelation. General revelation refers to God's revealing of Himself through nature or natural means. Special revelation refers to God's revealing of Himself in miraculous ways, primarily through Scripture.
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General revelation is of great importance, as it is available to all people in all places. Psalm 19:1-4 declares, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." General revelation is universal and available to everyone, offering evidence of an all-powerful Creator God.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul also mentions general revelation in Romans 1:20, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." This verse clearly teaches one specific reason for general revelation—to give every person evidence that there is a God.
Special revelation is called "special" in contrast with general revelation because it is not given to all people in all places. At certain times throughout biblical history, God has chosen to reveal Himself by miraculous means. Special revelation includes physical appearances of God, dreams, visions, angels, the prophets, the written Word of God, and most importantly—Jesus Christ. God appeared in some type of physical form on multiple occasions (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4, 34:5-7). Further, the Bible records God speaking to people through dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2) and visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7). God also used angels to reveal special messages (Daniel 9:20-21; Luke 2:10-11).
Our most commonly shared form of special revelation is the Bible. God supernaturally gifted the writers of Scripture to accurately record His message through each author's personality and style. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and is inspired, profitable, and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Psalm 19 offers perhaps the greatest example of both general and special revelation side by side. Following the section on creation mentioned earlier in this article, the psalmist writes, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Psalm 19:7-8). God has revealed Himself to all people through the created world; He has revealed Himself more specifically through His written Word. This written Word provides much more specific and accurate information than the natural world and gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
The greatest occurrence of special revelation is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God in human form (John 1:1, 14). Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV) summarizes it best, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being." When Jesus came to our world, He showed us God and ultimately died on the cross for us, displaying God's love for us.
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