The Nature of Revelation

The heavens declare the glory of Elohim, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion.
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other
nothing is hidden from its heat.
The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of Yahweh, are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of Yahweh are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of Yahweh are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of Yahweh are sure, and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold.
They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:1-11; see also Psalm 119)

CONTENTS

A. Introduction……………………….12
B. The Nature of Revelation……….13
C. Orthodoxy…………………………14
D. Dangerous Directions…………..20
1. Paul Avis
2. Postmodernisms
3. Donald Bloesch
4. Pietism and Rationalism
5. Individual revelations
E. Biblical Description……………….24
F. Recognition of Revelation……….26

 

QUESTIONS

What is the significance of the word-shaped nature of reality?
2. Why is Donald Bloesch wrong in his concept of Revelation?
3. Why is it important to describe revelation as “disclosure”?
4. Define revelation and the heresies in your own words.
5. How do we recognize a revelation?

Introduction

David delighted in this revelation of God. He sees Elohim in the heavens and hears Yahweh in the Torah. And he knows that it is the Creator and Ruler of all things who has spoken through Moses. He confesses that this revelation from the Living God is absolutely essential for a good and fulfilled life. At the end of this
chapter I will quote the concluding verses of this Psalm and we will learn how to respond to the revealing God.

God created us in his image and likeness in order to grace us with personal and face-to-face conversation. He speaks to us! He listens to us! Only a terrible self-centeredness would ignore this. Only ignorance of reality could take it lightly. Only a terrible and sinful corruption could reject it. Life is fellowship with God. Hell is the place where God no longer speaks or listens to his creatures. God made us for such a conversation with himself and our whole being is skewed and at odds with itself and with reality when we do not converse with God.

The first thing that we know about God is that he has spoken. The first thing we must do is to listen long and attentively to everything that God has said. The second thing on our agenda must be a response of trust, obedience and hope. Our creation in God’s image and likeness makes us conversation partners with God. This defines our essence and personhood. This is our joy and fulfillment. To want or to be satisfied with anything less is like preferring garbage cans to a fine meal.

In this time of sin and rebellion, our conversation with God is something less than what it was meant to be. At the beginning of history, before Adam sinned, God came down to speak with him and Eve each day, personally and face-to-face. In the new beginning of the new earth, God will come down to live with us and make that face-to-face fellowship perfect. In the center of history, the Son became incarnate and spoke with people face-to-face. All revelation grows out of this beginning, is centered in the incarnation, and works toward the goal of the promised new earth.

We sometimes forget that our present conversation with God is something less than it should be. Our sin and rebellion hinders our hearing. Reading the Bible and prayer are less satisfying that a face-to-face conversation with God even though the Holy Spirit makes the reading of the Bible and prayer powerfully intimate and personal. With all of this greatness of our present fellowship with God, we must still remember that it was better in Eden, better when Jesus was here and greater when he comes again.

Revelation is the loving and gracious encounter of the triune God with those to whom he has chosen to speak. It is the speech of the Father about and through the Son coming to us in the inner work of the Spirit. Karl Barth was correct in saying this. But he was terribly wrong in his separation of the Bible from this triune revelation. It is exactly and only here in the Bible that this great word of God comes to us. The Bible is certainly “witness” but it is more than that. It is the Word of the living, triune God.

The Nature Of Revelation

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the
prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last
days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir
of all things and through whom he made the universe. The Son
is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of
his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb. 1:1-3).

GOD HAS SPOKEN! and when God speaks only fools refuse to listen. The wise turn their whole attention to everything that God has said. We have no greater need than to hear a word from God. Without this Word we become empty shells searching for fulfillment in things and missing everything that it means to be human. Refusal to hear God’s word to us means eternal hell. A word from God accepted with joy and faith means life and fulfillment forever.

GOD HAS SPOKEN! Nothing can be more surprising or more significant than that the Creator of all things has graced us with a personal message from himself. How could God speak so simply that we could understand? Why would he bother? But he has spoken to us and listening to him must be the highest priority of every intelligent person.

But we have accepted his words with a yawn. Familiarity has bred contempt. We have missed the significance of God’s Word because the creation is always before us, he is invisible in his rule of history, His Son has been here and gone and we have his Scriptures in our hands.

We can read the Bible anytime we choose. We have tried listening to it before and have been bored by its content which often seems so terribly irrelevant to the reality and appearances of our daily lives. Our work, golf, fishing, television, eating, gossip, and a thousand other activities seem so much more interesting and satisfying to us than reading the word of revelation from the Living God.

In contrast to this paganism, the Scriptures teach a revelation that comes from the initiative of the Living God and is a personal word from our Creator to us. Here “disclosure “ is the key word in contrast to the more man-centered concept of revelation which view it as “discovery”.

The Orthodox Descriptions Of Revelation

It is difficult to find an orthodox definition of revelation that was accepted throughout the history of the church. For much of the history of the church the concept of revelation was largely accepted without precise definition. .

Donald Bloesch has given a nice summary of the modern, orthodox doctrine of revelation. I often disagree with Bloesch, but I am impressed with his succinct and accurate summaries of the positions of others. He writes:

Much of the older Christian tradition interpreted revelation as a higher form of knowledge that builds on and completes the natural knowledge of God. In this perspective, which dominated both Catholic and Protestant scholasticism, revelation is the divine disclosure of information concerning the nature of God and his will and purpose for the world. It is both rational and propositional and thereby stands in direct continuity with ordinary knowledge. It exceeds the compass of human reason, but it does not contradict the canons of rationality itself. 1

Carl Henry made a powerful statement of the classic orthodox position on revelation in his God, Revelation, and Authority, volumes II through IV. He summarizes his doctrine in fifteen theses, as follows

THESIS ONE: Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. 2
Henry begins his chapter on the first thesis with a rhetorical reminder of the unexpectedness and power of God’s revelation. It is not merely something that is there waiting our initiative or discovery. We could never have anticipated that
God would speak to us or what he might say. He had no need in himself to speak to us. Any communication would be totally of his grace and goodness.

Divine revelation palpitates with human surprise. Like a fiery bolt of lightning that unexpectedly zooms toward us and scores a direct hit, like an earthquake that suddenly shakes and engulfs us, it somersaults our private thoughts to abrupt awareness of ultimate destiny. By the unannounced intrusion of its omnipotent actuality, divine revelation lifts the present into
the eternal and unmasks our pretensions of human omnicompetence. As if an invisible Concorde has burst the sound barrier overhead, it drives us to ponder whether the Other World has finally pinned us to the ground for a life-or-death response. Confronting us with a sense of cosmic arrest, it makes us ask whether the end of our world is at hand and propels us unasked before the Judge and Lord of the universe. Like some piercing air-raid siren, it sends us scurrying from life’s preoccupations and warns us that no escape remains if we neglect the only sure sanctuary. Even once-for-all revelation that has occurred in another time and place fills us with awe and wonder through its ongoing significance and bears the character almost of a fresh miracle.”3

In contrast to the modern and liberal description of revelation as discovery, Henry reminds us that it is God’s sovereign disclosure. We do not go out and explore a neutral cosmos to learn about him. We do not listen in on conversations with angels which were not intended for us. He speaks by grace and we listen by faith. He is always God in the sovereign initiative of his revelation. We are always his creatures as we listen and believe.

THESIS TWO: Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God.

As creatures in God’s image and likeness, the center of everything that it means to be human lies in our conversation with the Living God. In the confusion and uncertainties of the world people are searching for some privileged starting point, an edge in knowing and speaking the truth. Philosophers, theologians and scientists have all had their turn in claiming this privilege
The only privilege is for those who have listened long and carefully to all that God has revealed. Anyone who has listened carefully to God’s revelation will refuse to be proud and will respond humbly and with thanksgiving to the God who has spoken to us in the Scriptures.

THESIS THREE: Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.

Often our more intelligent students catch and surpass us in their knowledge of our field of study. God’s revelation is unique. Not only has everyone failed to come close to understanding all that God has said, but he knows infinitely more than he has revealed. He and his knowledge infinitely transcend his revelation.

THESIS FOUR: The very fact of disclosure by the one living God assures the comprehensive unity of divine revelation.

It is popular at present to point out the variety of theologies among the different biblical authors. Scholars have reacted against the old orthodoxy that read the Scriptures as a whole and missed the unique messages of the individual human authors. Now the pendulum has swung to the other side. The unity has been lost in the vision of diversity. This is heresy. God’s authorship is foundational. All diversity stands within the unity of the great story that he tells and the unity of the message that he speaks.

THESIS FIVE: Not only the occurrence of divine revelation, but also its very nature, content, and variety are exclusively God’s determination.

Nothing outside of God limits his revelation. Our creaturehood, our ignorance and our sinfulness are not surprises to him. None stand out there in some neutral area with which he must deal as best he can. He created all things. He rules all things. Both the writers of the Scriptures and its readers are in his control and under his care. He chooses the writers, prepares them from their conception, guides them and says through them exactly what he wants to say.

THESIS SIX: God’s revelation is uniquely personal both in content and form.

God does not cast out some words of eternal wisdom for those who may care to search for them and use them. He comes to us with a personal introduction and speaks to the center of our personhood. This is far more evident in his special revelation than it is in his general revelation. In general revelation we see his “eternal power and godhead”, an infinite and almighty person. There we seem to see a revelation that is merely there and is not addressed to us as individuals.

THESIS SEVEN: God reveals himself not only universally in the history of the cosmos and of the nations, but also redemptively within this external history in unique saving acts.

At the center of all history lie God’s great redemptive acts. It is not that God has broken into some neutral history to redeem a few people for himself. It is rather that he has made the continued existence of the cosmos and history possible by his great and public redemptive acts. A world that should have disappeared in hell immediately after Adam’s sin finds its meaning and future in the great acts of God as described in the whole of the Scriptures.

THESIS EIGHT: The climax of God’s special revelation is Jesus of Nazareth, the personal incarnation of God in the flesh; in Jesus Christ the source and content of revelation coincide.

Revelation is Jesus Christ. It began with him as the “Word of God” in the act of creation. It continues as he is the one who reveals God throughout all of history. It finds its center in his incarnation and its culmination in his Messianic Kingdom and in the new heavens and the new earth. All revelation whether special or general is Christocentric and must be recognized as such.

THESIS NINE: The mediating agent in all divine revelation is the Eternal Logos
—preexistent, incarnate, and now glorified.

I have combined my comments on the Christ-centeredness of all revelation under Thesis Eight above. Henry is here developing a unique “Logos theology” that he learned from Gordon Clark. I am not comfortable with their focus upon logic and reason, and prefer the unique and surprising nature of God’s great metanarrative.

THESIS TEN: God’s revelation is rational communication conveyed in intelligible ideas and meaningful words, that is, in conceptual-verbal form.

Henry is arguing against all of the various existential theologians here who find truth in some kind of encounter rather than in clear and powerful propositions. Donald Bloesch and Karl Barth are examples of this existentialism.4 These men need to be refuted. They are clearly outside of orthodoxy. Henry does seem to go too far, however, when he argues for “propositions” as the description of all of Scripture. This reduces narrative to a series of illustrations and examples. As such narrative is

something less than Scripture because it is not made up of propositions. Narrative is far more central than that.

THESIS ELEVEN: The Bible is the reservoir and conduit of divine truth.

All revelation is centered in and founded on the Scriptures. We have no access to the great acts of God in history past or future apart from the Bible. We have no way to understand general revelation apart from the Scriptures. We have no access to Jesus Christ outside of the Bible. For us, Revelation and the Bible are virtual synonyms.

THESIS TWELVE: The Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine revelation, first, by inspiring the prophetic-apostolic writings, and second, by illuminating and interpreting the scripturally given Word of God.

In God’s pattern of speaking to us in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is the primary Author of the Bible and also the One who opens our minds and hearts to God’s message. He does not come to give new revelation in this act. Rather he comes to break down our resistance to His message and to empower us to live what we have heard.

THESIS THIRTEEN: As a bestower of spiritual life, the Holy Spirit enables individuals to appropriate God’s revelation savingly, and thereby attests to the redemptive power of the revealed truth in the personal experience of reborn sinners.

The illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is not something different from his work of regeneration and sanctification. It is never merely a gift of knowledge or understanding. It is always given for life and holiness. Our grasp of the Bible grows with our spiritual growth and can never be separated from it.

THESIS FOURTEEN: The church approximates the kingdom of God in miniature; as such she is to mirror to each successive generation the power and joy of the appropriated realities of divine revelation.

The Spirit of God was given to guide his people into the truth. He does that through the production of the Scriptures and now does it through guiding the church to a grasp of all that God has said. He does not repeat that work in each individual and for each generation. Rather, he teaches us so that we may in turn teach others. To ignore the past two thousand years of the Church’s struggle to understand the Scriptures is to ignore the work of the Holy Spirit. To fail to teach the coming generations all that the past generations have said and all that we have learned is to fail to accomplish our mission.

THESIS FIFTEEN: The self-manifesting God will unveil his glory in a crowning revelation of power and judgment; in this disclosure at the consummation of the ages, God will vindicate righteousness and justice, finally subdue and subordinate evil, and bring into being a new heaven and earth.”

The consummation of God’s work of revelation, like all other doctrines, comes only in the Eschaton, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the final judgment and the new heaven and the new earth.

These statements by Bloesch and Henry are summaries of the central orthodoxy of the modern age. There are other orthodoxies which may need discussion. H. D. McDonald has treated them for us:5

“Chapter 3 – Revelation as Infallible Reason…………………………………….35
Chapter 4 – Revelation as Indwelling Light……………………………………..63
Chapter 5 – Revelation as Communicated Extras (Henry)……………………75
Chapter 6 – Revelation as a Body of Revealed Doctrines…………………..117
Chapter 7 – Revelation as the Immediacy of Experience……………………149
Chapter 8 – Revelation as the Word through the Spirit……………………..195
Chapter 9 – Revelation by the Spirit and through the Word………………..245

I will not discuss these other options now. It is enough to note them here. They will be in the background of the later discussion.

Dangerous Directions In The Doctrine Of Revelation

Modernists and postmodernists do not like the doctrine of revelation, but admit that it is important and will not go away. George Stroup wrote:

In the light of these difficult problems, why do theologians continue to speak of revelation? Why do they not simply acknowledge the Enlightenment’s devastating criticisms of classic models of revelation and dispense with the category altogether? As we have seen, most contemporary theologians do indeed accept [this], but…find themselves unable to dispense with revelation. There is something about the nature of God as understood by Christians, something tied up with the category of grace, that requires the use of the term…. Any contemporary theologian who attempts to reconstruct the doctrine of revelation in a manner that will be intelligible to the modern world faces a
formidable task, but the nature of what it is that Christian faith claims to know demands that theologians continue the effort.6

I think that it is important to describe some of the more dangerous directions in the theology of revelation before we turn to the Scriptures for God’s description of revelation.

Paul Avis — Modern Critical Theology

Divine revelation is one of the most fundamental of all theological questions. We could even say that it is…the only problem. If we could be clear about whether there is a revelation from God, where it is located, what form it takes, and who has the authority to interpret it, all other problems could be quickly solved! That is precisely the approach of traditional scholastic theology, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, an approach that is still maintained by fundamental Protestants.

Modern Christian theology…does not, however, find that appeal to revelation convincing. The answer that modern, critical theology gives to this most basic of theological questions is somewhat more nuanced and tentative; modern theologians tend to concur that there is indeed a revelation from God, but that it is not of such a nature as to be clearly specifiable. You cannot pinpoint revelation. It is given through a history of engagement of individuals and communities with God, from the patriarchs and prophets of ancient Israel to the apostles of the New Testament Church. It is embodied supremely and definitively in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. However, the consensus is that we do not have direct, unmediated access to this original revelation; it is mediated to us through a body of literature—the Bible—that reflects the thought-forms of its time and is itself a product of a complex process of transmission and traditions and editorial redaction. Although it has an overarching unity of theme—the wonderful works of the God of Israel and the Father of Jesus Christ—the Bible is marked by a chronic diversity of literary forms and theological standpoints….7

For both Enlightenment rationalism and Romantic idealism, truth imposed from without was alien and threatening—a heteronomous authority. Between them, these two formative movements of modern western culture challenged any notion of a divine revelation confronting humanity from without and bearing the insignia of unchallengeable authority. This means that revelation cannot be taken for granted in modern theology.8

The Various Postmodernisms

Postmodernists 9 have moved away from the reason centered revelation of the modernists. Three characteristics of postmodernism challenge every point of the deistic, modern view. (1) There is no single God, no metanarrative, and no foundational truth. (2) There are revelations from nature and a multitude of gods to individuals and which are private truth for themselves alone. (3) Revelation comes through stories rather than through rational propositions.

I have chosen not to quote anyone here because an honest treatment of postmodern concepts of revelation would demand the quotation of many different authors. A quick reading of Charles E. Winquist, Desiring Theology and Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology will clarify the problems and muddy any possible understanding of what these men are attempting to communicate. Kevin
Vanhoozer has given a brilliant and lengthy study of the postmodern contribution and problems in his book; Is there a Meaning in This Text10?

Donald Bloesch

Bloesch attempts to mediate between Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation and orthodoxy. I will quote his own definition of revelations here [I quoted his definition of the orthodox doctrine above].

As I see it, revelation is God’s self-communication through his selected instrumentality, especially the inspired witness of his prophets and apostles. This act of self-communication entails not only the unveiling of his gracious and at the same time awesome presence but also the imparting of the knowledge of his will and purpose for humankind. This knowledge is conceptual as well as existential and can be formulated but never possessed or mastered in propositions. 11

Bloesch has recognized the dangers implicit in the orthodox concept of revelation. Orthodoxy permitted the modernists to set the agenda. Against them we properly defend the reality and integrity of a rational revelation from the living God in clear propositions. This special revelation is a word from God about himself which must meet the criteria of general revelation: the conclusions of science and the demands of reason.

But he has reacted too violently against the older position. He is committed to conceptual revelation, but seems to be more concerned with an existential revelation that can never be mastered in propositions. I will spend more time with the implications of this definition in the doctrine of the Scriptures as revelation below.
He writes:

We need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit guided the prophets in their reflection, but their articulation of this reflection is at least one step removed from the revelation itself. The witness points to revelation, but it also mediates revelation since the Spirit acts through the persons and words that he inspires…. The Bible is not in and of itself the revelation of God, but the divinely appointed means and channel of this revelation12

Warfield gave a helpful illustration of light (the divine Word) filtering through a stained-glass window of a cathedral. I wish to carry it further. I see the light of the sun illuminating the biblical figures or pictures on the window. But these pictures are also flawed by blemishes and shadows, reminding us of their participation in the real world of decay and death. It is up to the biblical exegete to distinguish between the overall picture or story and markings that are only incidental to this story.13

The Bible is both the revelation and the means and bearer of revelation. It is revelation cast in written form and the original witness to revelation. It is a component of revelation and a vehicle of revelation. It objectively contains revelation in the sense that its witness is based on revelation, but it becomes revelation for us only in the moment of decision, in the awakening to faith…. Scripture is the mediate source of revelation, but only Jesus Christ is the original or eternal source.14

This is pure Karl Barth with all of his inadequacy, half-truth and heresy. It is not always bad to follow Barth for he has made some tremendous contributions to our understanding of the Scriptures. But he is far off the mark here, and Bloesch follows with words that sound good to many, but are pure poison. The Bible is the Word of God. God gave us his pure revelation through the stained-glass windows of the human authors, but he created and prepared these authors to be just the “stained-glass” to communicate exactly what he chose to say. The Bible is always revelation, even when we do not respond in decision. I will discuss this further when in chapter two.

Conservative Pietism And Rationalism

Conservatives sometimes take dangerous directions also. Pietists often limit revelation to the Bible and read it as a private message to believers. They are often suspicious of all knowledge outside of the Bible. They prefer Bible Institutes and Bible Colleges to Liberal Arts Christian Colleges and Universities.

The more scholarly conservatives tend to subordinate the Scriptures to reason and general revelation. They defend the inerrancy of the Bible and the truth of its message by rational argument, by science, history and archaeology. They put God on the witness stand and make him defend himself and his revelation before the bar of reason and the curriculum of the university. They place far too high a value on the secular disciplines.

Contemporary Revelations To Individuals

On occasion in the past God has given special revelations to individuals in dreams, visions, and words. Many claim that God continues to do so at the present time. They claim words of wisdom, words of knowledge, revelations about the present and future, words of guidance, and so on.

It would be foolish for anyone who believes in supernatural revelation to deny that God could and does give special revelations in the present age. Such denial is a variety of Deism that removes God too far from our present life and ministry. It would also be foolish to believe that every thought, intuition, feeling or strong impression that one has is a revelation from God. This is a variety of mysticism that removes the Scriptures from their proper place in our lives.

The test for the these revelations is consistent accuracy. Revelations from God are characterized by one hundred per cent accuracy. The arguments by Grudem15 and others for inaccurate prophecies in Acts are not convincing and are characterized by special pleading. The problem is that unbelievers and people who worship other gods have these kinds of revelations with the same kind of accuracy.

We need clear criteria for the evaluation of any supposed revelations that come to us or to others. We need to be able to distinguish them from our own feelings and intuitions. Of course, the Scriptures come to our aid here. Every revelation must be in perfect accord with all of the Bible. They must glorify God and not us. They must further God’s agenda and not ours. They must be absolutely true. In other words all revelations from God must be characterized by the Marks of Scripture developed in chapter three below.

The Biblical Foundation For The Doctrine Of Revelation

The Bible is filled with statements that God has spoken in Scripture and in his creation and rule over all things. The Bible also assumes that honest people will recognize nature, history and the Bible as a word from the Living God. Those who do not hear him speak in these revelations are “without excuse”.

We often recognize the reality of revelation without, at the same time, confessing its centrality and significance. All creation is word-shaped. God’s words of revelation create all things, sustain all things, and judge all things. All reality, other than God, is surrounded by the words of God.

God’s words of revelation are not somehow secondary to what he created. They are not dependent upon creation They are not just words about reality. They are the ultimate reality. I do not intend to demean the things that God has made. They are “good” and will be better in the new creation. But while we recognize that goodness, we must recognize the surpassing goodness of the words that surround those things. We normally test the truth of our words by their correspondence to the realities of nature and history. But we need to test the truth of nature and history by God’s words

We have no higher authority or foundation for certainty than this revelation of God. There is no higher authority to which we can appeal than a revelation from God. Reason fails. History fails. Everything fails, for all things are subordinate to his Word. When God speaks we hear the ultimate and final authority which carries its own powerful and sufficient proof along with it and refuses to wait for any other proof.

God’s works of creation, providence, redemption and judgment are not something that we could have reasonably expected or predicted that God would do. They are the free and surprising acts of the Living God and we could never have predicted them nor could we ever understand them unless God had told us about them. They are all part of the great Story or Drama that God has written and now directs. As such, all reality is word-shaped and story-shaped.

Revelation is not a general reality that finds a specific example in God’s words to us. Revelation by God is the foundation and pattern for the imitation revelations that occur among his creatures. We can understand and we can reveal only because God has created and revealed first.

God’s revelation creates all things, sovereignly rules over history, and consummates all things. The reality of God’s works and the telling of the story must be distinguished but cannot be separated. God does not merely reveal. He reveals in this particular and unexpected Story. We cannot test it or prove it. We can only listen, delight, trust, worship and live in accord with it.

All of God’s words of revelation are centered in Jesus Christ, the Word of God. I mentioned in the introduction that God’s speech to us is not a minor theme in the Scriptures. God’s words are the center of who God is and of who we are. God’s words describe all of the inter-relationships between God and people in his image and likeness. God created us for conversation with himself.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the
Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:1, 14, 18).

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (Revelation 19:11-13).

We often tend to view words as sounds that refer—rather inadequately— to things and ideas. We view physical reality as the ultimate reality and words as accidental. In God’s worldview this is all turned on its head. Words are central and material things are secondary.

Jesus Christ ties creation, incarnation and the eschaton together by being the revelation of God to all people of all time. The Scriptures always assume that God addresses people in the cosmos, our history, our inner nature and in the Scriptures.

God has not given us two separate revelations: general and special or natural and supernatural. Rather, in the Word, he has given us one revelation. The Word who is the center of the Bible is also the Creator of the cosmos and the Ruler of all history. All revelation finds its unity in Jesus Christ. We tend to forget the Christ-centeredness of both the Bible and general revelation, and thus lose the unity of revelation

God ensures our understanding of this twofold revelation by his clear descriptions in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation he leaves no doubt that he is speaking and that he is the same one who speaks in all that he made and rules. He is a superb Communicator and only the willfully obtuse will fail to understand him.

How Do We Recognize A Revelation?

When God speaks, every honest creature hears and knows for a certainty that God has spoken and that his words carry all of his truth and authority. This is always, at least in part, a matter of faith. Whether in heaven, the garden of Eden, or in the present age, we cannot see and experience the full greatness and majesty of God. But his word does authenticate itself. There is no higher authority to which we can appeal to test whether this is a word from the Living God.

However, this inner certainty is not merely an existential conviction. Satan gives inner conviction for all sorts of false revelations. The only kind of certainty that is approved by God is one that is built upon a previous walk with God, a habit of listening to all that he has said followed by trust and obedience. It is a certainty that demands that we think through every revelation by its “fit” with all of God’s canonical Scriptures.

One day, God came to Abraham, and said:

Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to he region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about. (Genesis 22:2-3)

We have to enter this story and make decisions with Abraham. Our first question would be: Is this really God speaking to me? It would be easy to decide that this could not have been God speaking, for the true God would never command us to kill Isaac, the promised seed. All of the promises of God were centered in him. All of them would fail if we kill him. Murder is a terrible affront to God. The true God would never ask us to murder anyone, certainly not this son, and especially he would not ask us to murder the son of promise.

Perhaps it was a bad dream. We could share it with Isaac and Sarah. We could all wonder at the viciousness of Satan is trying to deceive us into destroying the promises of God. And all of the rest of our lives we would wonder, until we locked that memory in a secret place and threw away the key, so that neither we nor anyone else would ever remember those terrible commands which just might have been the commands of El Shaddai.

But Abraham did not do that.

Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. (Genesis 22:3)

By faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead. (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Abraham was an honest listener. He knew that this was God speaking. He did not need to put out a fleece like Gideon would several centuries later (Judges 6:36-40). He did not understand how God could make the demand upon him. He still believed in the promises of God. It was easier to believe that God would raise Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice rather that to doubt that this was the word of God. So he obeyed… and was blessed.

The present is not all that different. We have the Scriptures. Those who read them honestly recognize that they are the Word of God. Sometimes, this has been viewed as an automatic power of the Bible. The Second London Confession states:
The Scripture is self-authenticating. Its authority does not depend upon the testimony of any man or church, but entirely upon God, its author, who is truth itself. It is to be received because it is the Word of God (I Thess. 2:13: II Tim. 3:16; II Peter 1:19-21; I John 5:9).” (Chapter 1, section # 4).

Satan is very good at imitating revelation. We sometimes confuse our own insights with revelation from God. How are we to distinguish God’s words to us from the counterfeits? There is no neat and external set of criteria for this. The wisdom to recognize God’s words lies in a life of constant fellowship with Him, listening constantly to what he has said in the Scriptures, meditating on these words, and living them out in trust and obedience. The one who practices this develops an ear for God’s word and for counterfeits.

This self-authentication is accomplished on a double foundation: One is the very truth itself. The other is the work of the Holy Spirit in witnessing to the truth of the Scriptures and opening our hearts to its message. We will discuss this later in chapter two.

The Word of God is self-interpreting. God speaks to our understanding and builds all that he says to us upon the foundation of earlier revelation. In the Bible he says the foundational things so simply, so often, and in so many different ways, that only the rebel can fail to understand.

The early church wrote the so-called Apostles’ Creed (in many different forms) to summarize the simple and foundational message of the Bible. They had many problems developing the full message of Scripture with its demanding doctrines, but they had no doubts that anyone who rejected the truths confessed in the Apostles’ Creed were being dishonest with the Bible. Tertullian (flourished 193-220) refused to discuss the Bible with anyone who was not fully committed to the Rule of Faith (an early form of the Apostles’ Creed). His Praescription Against Heretics (The Rule of Faith Asserted Against Heretics) is a masterly statement of the powerful self-authentication of the Scriptures as reflected in the Rule of Faith against all who misuse the Bible.16