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God’s revelation is woven into the “warp and woof” of everyday living. This is because General Revelation and Special Verbal Revelation work together in unison. This is most important to keep in mind. When God gives someone something like, revelation or ability, never works against Himself, He always gives in accordance with His will and His decree for the gift to be used. So it is with the gift of General Revelation.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
General Revelation and Special Revelation in the Scriptures both work together according to the intention of the revealing God. We see this in Psalm 19 where ‘nature’ and ‘word’ are both revelations of God working together.
We see this also in Eden where Adam and Eve are placed in a revelatory environment and then are told how to function within it. That is, God uses General Revelation, the naming of the animals, the creation mandate, to bring Adam to do several things:
First – to delineate and define animal characteristics in his naming of them, therefore using the abilities that God has given to him. Those abilities themselves are revelatory, and we should link them to the phenomenal world in order to find out about the world. This is the mandate for science and scientific endeavor in the world.
Second – God uses General Revelation in Eden so that man realizes his need of a suitable companion during the process of his scientific investigation and naming of the animals. But then the activities of Adam and Eve in the Edenic environment is prescribed also by the Word of God. This is most important. By the Word of God, given for example through the creation mandate itself-–which is a verbal mandate—and the prohibition in Genesis 2:17, our first parents were given parameters within which to operate. But within those verbal parameters there was a great deal of freedom to interact and respond to the natural realm. It was never intended that God would leave us in a nonverbal atmosphere to find our way without another word from the Creator. General Revelation and Special Revelation are two sides of the one system of Divine communication.
After the Fall
After the fall of man the verbal aspect changes because Special Revelation was not at first instrumental. That is, God did not use something else like a book or a prophet to speak to us, but spoke directly and personally in his own presence there in the Garden to Adam and Eve. But after sin ruptured the relational and spiritual facets of the God/man connection, it became necessary for Special (verbal) Revelation to take other forms with only selected individuals hearing the voice of God. It also became necessary for that verbal revelation to have a different content, where the denunciation of man’s wicked heart and the promise of future redemption played a major role. It didn’t need to take any kind of role at all in the Edenic environment.
Yet the General Revelation, which now operates with the data of a fallen creation, and is effective despite it; and the Special Revelation, which operates within that fallen creation and interprets it, are still essential and are still meant to work together; they never work independently of each other, and so they must never be characterized as working independently of each other.
Certainly, they are different, but they are not self-supporting. Each relies on the other:
- General Revelation is non-verbal and non-redemptive, but requires an initial verbal identification and description.
- Special Revelation is verbal and is both condemnatory and redemptive, but it operates within the created realm, which itself reveals God.
We can further examine this interplay between General and Special Revelation by studying the Noahic Covenant, and in doing this, also understand the different roles played by these two forms of God’s disclosure. (See Genesis 8:15-9:17).
Notice here that the Noahic Covenant is the first covenant we find in the Bible. This covenant is a covenant given by God on behalf of not only man, but on behalf of every living creature on the earth. Because every living creature was affected by the Flood and its destruction, every living creature there by the will of God is included in the terms of this first covenant. Therefore, this covenant has to do with the way that God is going to work in history in General Revelation, in the working out of his plan in history.
Now this means there is a connection between the “nature” and the plan of God. But we couldn’t know this without Special Revelation.
The sign of the covenant is the rainbow. People have noticed that this bow is rested and is a bow without arrows.
The bow is an excellent symbol, particularly as it is now transformed into a thing of awe and of beauty. It reveals the fact that God is a Judge over the wickedness of man, but will not revisit the earth with a global flood (Special Revelation). But it also a symbol to us of our privileged relationship to God because it is a thing of great beauty (General Revelation), which only humans appreciate.
Now the purpose of the Noahic Covenant, as stated in Genesis 9, is for God to see and call to mind His covenant of peace with creation. From man’s position, while he is passive and has no part in this covenant, it tells us about God, and it tells us that man has a connection to his environment, though a fallen environment, which we ought never to forget. Of course we have forgotten it, but the connection which is still there, since it is a God-made, God-intended connection. The environmental conditions governed by the covenant with Noah makes science, learning, and man’s ability to make his mark in the world all possible. It is what makes it inevitable too.
General Revelation still “speaks,” even though it is not heard for what it is by the sinful heart and mind, but it mutely testifies to man, thus making man culpable for his rejection of the revelation. The culpability is doubled when man fails to interpret Natural Revelation through the Word God has given us.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.