All theology must be grounded in Scripture because it is God’s revelation of who He is. Divine revelation is the concept of God’s making Himself known to mankind.
David S. Dockery writes: “The word revelation means an uncovering, a removal of the veil, a disclosure of what was previously unknown.” Divine revelation, then, is the idea that God Himself removes the veil of mystery and chooses to disclose His nature and His purposes to humanity.
Scott R. Swain states: “In revelation, God communicates something about himself, his purpose, his works, and his will to creatures with the aim of bringing those creatures into fellowship with himself.” The divine revelation of God is in the context of God’s relationship with mankind.
Because God is transcendent and holy, He is beyond the knowledge and understanding of man who is marred by sin; therefore, God must reveal Himself to humanity for relationship to occur. God does this out of His own desire and will in two ways: general revelation and special revelation.
The triune God communicates knowledge of Himself through general revelation (the beauty of creation and the conscience of man) and special revelation (the Word of God and the Incarnation of Christ).
Millard J. Erickson states: “General revelation is God’s communication of himself to all persons at all times and in all places.” Though limited in its scope, general revelation communicates certain truths about God to all mankind.
Special revelation is redemptive in nature and is more specific in what it reveals.
Carl F. H. Henry writes: “The special revelation in sacred history is crowned by the incarnation of the living word and the inscripturation of the spoken word.”
While general revelation tells of God’s glory and moral truth, special revelation–primarily through the Bible–tells how man can be redeemed and brought into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
General revelation can be found in both the Creation and in human creatures. Russell D. Moore explains: “Specifically, the Scriptures seem to identify general revelation as found within: (1) the order and design of the natural creation and (2) the nature and identity of human creatures.”
General revelation demonstrates to humans that there is a God who possesses certain divine and moral characteristics as seen through nature and understood through the human conscience.
Bruce A. Demarest states: “While not imparting truths necessary for salvation—such as the Trinity, the incarnation, or the atonement—general revelation conveys the conviction that God exists and that he is transcendent, immanent, self-sufficient, eternal, powerful, good, and a hater of evil.” General revelation demonstrates that a holy God exists to whom man is accountable.
General revelation can be seen in God’s glory displayed through the creation, as testified by the psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Ps. 19:1-2, New International Version). David declared that the beauty of God’s creation reveals the glory of God, the work of His hands, and the knowledge of His creative power. This is a knowledge available to all people, everywhere, and at all times.
Paul likewise described this revelation of God through His creation: “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. 1:20). This revelation through nature can bring conviction to man of his sinful nature before a holy God.
God also reveals Himself through the inner conscience of man. Paul described this inner realization: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
Wayne Grudem writes: “This passage allows us to say that all persons, even the most wicked, have some internal knowledge or perception that God exists and that he is a powerful Creator.” Man has an understanding of his own sinfulness through his conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). Because mankind is marred by sin, however, special revelation is needed in order for man to understand the answer for his sinfulness.
Historically, the church has engaged in debate about the nature of general revelation and its ability to reveal God in such a way that leads to salvation apart from special revelation. While Karl Barth rejected the nature of general revelation, he did so on the grounds that the use of the word revelation implied redemption. He writes: “There is real knowledge of God in the power of His self-demonstration. But this self-demonstration is His revelation as the triune God.” For Barth, the only revelation of God was in the fullness of Christ.
Erickson contends, however, that this understanding seems to deny the clarity of Scripture on this topic. Regarding Psalm 19, he writes: “It appears that Barth’s assumptions have overwhelmed the rather clear teaching of the passage.” While man’s sinful nature may prevent his full understanding of the nature of God, the revelation is still inherent in both creation and the human creature.
Moore summarizes the role of general revelation this way: “The Scriptures maintain that general revelation points to the mystery of the universe, but it does not disclose the meaning of creation—a meaning unveiled in Christ (Eph. 1:10).” Through general revelation one may experience the glory of God’s creation or the conviction of his own sinfulness, but only by God’s special revelation can he understand the cure for the problem of sin and therefore be reconciled to God through Christ.
Special revelation consists of God’s redemptive communication to mankind through His Word.
Erickson states: “By special revelation we mean God’s manifestation of himself to particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with him.” This specific revelation is necessary as a result of the Fall.
Because man’s sin marred the perfect relationship he was created to have with God, knowledge of His plan of redemption became necessary for that relationship to be restored. God made Himself known to Abraham, Moses, and David through covenants that pointed to the hope to come in Jesus Christ (Gen. 12:1-9; Ex. 19:1-6; 1 Chron. 17:1-15).
The Incarnation was the fulfillment of that hope. Swain states: “The knowledge of God available through special revelation far exceeds what is available through general revelation in both content and efficacy.” God’s spoken Word reveals the Living Word, whereby mankind can be saved and restored to relationship with Him.
The writer of Hebrews began his letter this way: “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 …” (Heb. 1:1-2).
In the Old Testament, God made himself known to individuals, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, calling them and the nation of Israel into covenant relationship. He revealed much of His nature and character as He led them through His presence, provision, and promises.
Swain writes: “Covenant is also the motor whereby God moves history forward toward its divinely appointed end. God makes himself known through his promise-keeping works.
God’s act of making known ‘his salvation’ and revealing ‘his righteousness in the sight of the nations’ (Ps. 98:2) is an act of remembering his covenant promises to the house of Israel (Ps. 98:3).” Through dreams, visions, and divine speech, God personally revealed Himself, His character, and His purposes to humanity as recorded in the Scriptures.
God spoke through the prophets throughout the Old Testament, revealing his divine purpose in relationship with Israel, pointing toward the ultimate fulfillment of His promises in Christ.
In the New Testament, God spoke through His Son in the Incarnation of Christ and his teaching and ministry recorded by the apostles. The Apostle John opened his gospel account with the following words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1). Then John declared, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
The Old Testament describes the Creation, the Fall of man, the call of Israel into covenant with God, and the hope of redemption and restoration. The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of that promise in Christ. St. Augustine is said to have stated, “The New is in the Old contained; the Old is in the New explained.”
Jesus is the Word who was present in Genesis 1 at the Creation of the world. He is the descendant of Abraham through Whom all the world would be blessed (Matt. 1:1). He is the son of David who would reign forever over Israel (Matt. 1:1). And He is the great High Priest who was the ultimate sacrifice for sins once for all (Heb. 9:11, 28; 10:10).
Paul stated of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him” (Col. 1:15-16).
The writer of Hebrews declared, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3a). The New Testament describes Jesus as the revelation of God and the fulfillment of His saving plan for mankind. That revelation has been recorded in Scripture so that every generation can know and understand how to be saved.
Henry states: “The series of sacred acts therefore includes the divine provision of an authoritative canon of writings—the sacred Scriptures—providing a trustworthy source of knowledge of God and of his plan.” This record of God’s revelation is how the believer can know God and the power of His salvation.
Although the Bible is a compilation of sixty-six books written over a vast span of history by various prophets and apostles, it is one divine revelation of God to humanity. The Bible itself testifies of its authority and veracity in its unity of revelation and purpose.
The over-arching story of Creation, the Fall, redemption, and restoration can be seen from Genesis to Revelation. Scripture also affirms the divine, triune nature of the written Word. The Father revealed Himself through the Son, and the Word was spoken through the Spirit.
Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness … “ (2 Tim. 3:16). This verse testifies the Holy Spirit breathed the Word.
Likewise, Peter wrote, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Because the Bible is the inspired, self-revelation of God to mankind, it is inerrant and authoritative in its teaching. This understanding of the nature of God’s Word is necessary for discipleship which relies upon the teachings of Scripture as the foundation for a believer’s faith and practice.
God’s revelation through His Word is essential to the personal discipleship of the believer. Doctrine regarding the Bible establishes the basis on which discipleship takes place. David F. Wells writes: “The daily practice of this faith is the daily living out of its doctrine.” Three primary doctrines regarding the Bible are important for sound discipleship: inspiration, inerrancy, and authority.
Inspiration is the doctrine that the Bible is the actual Word of God. Erickson states: “Inspiration is necessary because it confirms the nature of God’s special revelation through Scripture.” The church throughout history has maintained the inspiration of God’s Word as a foundational Christian doctrine.
Paul wrote, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13). Divine inspiration is the key to the trustworthiness of the Bible for the believer’s life.
Inspiration implies inerrancy, the doctrine that the Bible contains no errors in what it affirms. The psalmist declared: “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (Psalm 119:160). If a perfect, holy God inspired the Bible, then what it teaches is truthful.
Paul D. Feinberg wrote, “Inerrancy is the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences.” This view contends that some parts of the Bible may be difficult to understand, but that difficulty lies with the reader, not with any error in the Scripture.
Inerrancy, then, implies authority. If the Bible is inspired by God and inerrant as a result, then it is completely authoritative for the believer. Hugh D. McDonald states: “As it is wholly trustworthy regarding its truth, so must it be wholly reliable regarding its facts. And because it is both, it is our divine authority in all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
God’s Word is the final authority in every matter, for both the believer and the nonbeliever, because it is the very word of God. Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: “And we also thank God continually because, where you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 1:13). The Thessalonians accepted the Word as authoritatively from God, and the Bible urges every believer to do the same.
God’s self-revelation in His Word teaches believers about His character, His desire for relationship, His provision through the atonement of Christ, and His commands by which Christians should live. The writer of Hebrews declared: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible provides the means for discipleship as believers interact with the living God through His Word.
John Calvin wrote, “We must come, I say, to the Word, where God is truly and vividly described to us from His works, while these very works are appraised, not by our depraved judgment but by the rule of eternal truth.” That rule of truth is the foundation for discipleship as believers read, study, learn, and grow as followers of Christ.
 David S. Dockery, “Special Revelation,” in A Theology for the Church, rev. ed., ed. Daniel L. Akin, Bruce Riley Ashford, and Kenneth Keathley (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 103.
 Scott R. Swain, “Revelation,” in The ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible, ed. Christopher W. Morgan, Stephen J. Wellum, and Graham A. Cole (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1064.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 122.
 Carl F. H. Henry, “Special Revelation,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1021.
 Russell D. Moore, “Natural Revelation,” in A Theology for the Church, rev. ed., ed. Daniel L. Akin, Bruce Riley Ashford, and Kenneth Keathley (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 93.
 Bruce A. Demarest “General Revelation,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1019.
 Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 1999), 57.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/1, Doctrine of God, vol. 1, ed. Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas Forsyth Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957), 65.
 Moore, “Natural Revelation,” 96.
 Erickson, Christian Theology, 144.
 Swain, “Revelation,” 1664.
 Ibid., 1665.
 Dockery, “Special Revelation,” 107.
 Henry, “Special Revelation,” 1021.
 David F. Wells, “What Is Doctrine and Why Is It Important?” in The ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible, ed. Christopher W. Morgan, Stephen J. Wellum, and Graham A. Cole (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1620.
 Erickson, Christian Theology, 168.
 Paul D. Feinberg, “Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 156.
 Hugh D. McDonald, “Authority of the Bible,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 154.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, in The Library of Christian Classics, ed. John T. McNeill (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 73.