Doctrine for Everybody: Modes and Spheres of Revelation

On the second post on Doctrine for Everybody, we noted that the Church is to believe and teach what someone with Authority tells them to believe and teach—and that someone wasn’t a board of directors! Authority wasn’t derived from within the Church or from the collective body of the Church, but directly from God. Only God is the one who reveals to the Church what she is to believe and teach. In this post I want to discuss how God’s revelation operates.

Revelation has two spheres and two modes: a broad sphere and a narrow sphere; a general mode and a special mode.

The two spheres are obvious in our everyday experience. My wife can broadly reveal her skills by singing while working or by narrowly telling people directly that she can sing. God operates the same way where he just acts (and lets the lesson speak from that) or when he directly reveals something about Himself.  So the first is a broad sphere of revelation and the latter is a narrow sphere.

The two modes are just a fancy way of speaking about the audience that receives the spheres of revelation and for what purpose. In the General mode, revelation is generally made available to anyone with the capacity to receive it (say via having the ability to see or being in that space time) and the other mode of revelation is specially set aside for certain people or groups for some specific reason and are exceedingly unique. Whereas general revelation leaves a lot to read in to, special revelation has a goal and a certain uniqueness.

Now these terms aren’t found in Scripture—they’re descriptive; Scripture is always to be our definer of these ideas.

General Revelation:

Creation and Conscience. Scripture records that all humans are without excuse because they have the witness of Creation (Rom 1:20), the Heavens (Ps. 19:1, 2), the continued existence of all things (Heb. 1:3) and their own conscience bearing witness (Rom 2:14-15). These things are things available to mostly everybody. What is being revealed might be a very broad (there is an Intelligent Designer) but Scripture decides to tell us what those things are specifically saying about God—and thus, because of Scripture, we see the very narrow statements God is making: his invisible attributes are clearly seen (Rom 1:20), his glory is manifest (Ps 19:1,2), how he holds all things together (Heb 1:3), how the conscience reveals the Law of God on the hearts of people (Rom 2:14-15).

Other? There might also be other areas beside Creation and Conscience that affords general revelation. Paul sometimes cites philosophers or poets (Act 17:28; 1 Cor 15:33; Titus 1:12) and once makes a strong logical possibility argument not necessarily on Creation but on (1) farming practices,  (2) biological nature of creatures and (3) the nature of celestial objects (1 Corinthians 15:37-31). Sometimes there is an argument via the fact that there are judiciary and governmental powers even if those powers are placed in a certain hierarchy (Romans 13). These things are generally available to everyone and they teach something so they might be available as categories of general revelation. Even a church council might be considered general and broad revelation but the message is only clear and authoritative if explained by God.

Special Revelation:

Christ. When Jesus Christ was seen and handled among men generally (John 1:14; Is 53:2) and yet he was the Special Revelation of God (John 1:18). Those who were his sheep heard his voice, those that weren’t didn’t; they could, surely, but at that point they didn’t (John 10). By his actions, he broadly revealed the mind of God (John 1:14-17) but by his words he revealed God (John 1:18; 5:19-24) and his self-disclosure wasn’t to be repeated.

Prophets. When a prophet receives a prophecy, it doesn’t bubble up within Him but comes directly from God and the Prophet is carried along by God (2 Peter 1:20-21). A prophet speaking a word outside of God’s words (by adding to them, creating them, or attributing them to another) not only misrepresents God (cf. Numbers 20:8-12) but must be killed (Deuteronomy 13:1–5). When a Prophet speaks the word of God, God works signs to reveal that the Prophet is speaking on His behalf but even so, if he performs signs and speaks another message he is a liar. 1 Kings 13 is important here because the event is kind of trivial. A Man of God is told by God to go home without eating and drinking and another man, an old retired prophet, lies and says he received a word of God to have the man of God stay at his place and have a meal. The man of God, knowing how close he is to remain to the Word of God winds up getting killed. The old man realizes the error of his ways and expects a near death and burial in that same place.

Individuals. Sometimes God speaks to specific individuals and reveals something to them that may important to them in their situation. Sometimes it might be a dream telling them where they should preach the Gospel (Acts 16:9), at other times it might be a vision (Acts 2:16-21), it could be a specific response to prayer (2 Cor 12:9), and at other times it might even be a voice from heaven (John 12:29). These messages might not be for everyone, they’re directed to specific individuals, and hold no authority over the rest of the Church unless God says so—and in that case it would be a prophesy instead of a private revelation.

Scripture. Scripture is not generally accepted by everyone nor is it expected to be, but it will be acknowledged by those who trust in God (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 1:1-3). And although we see places where God speaks telling people to record (Narrow Revelation: Rev 1:11; Jer 30:2) we also note that in most places, God does not do so. So how is it the Special revelation of God? Well, because it falls mostly into this broad sphere of revelation but limited to specific groups. All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16) for certain tasks; the things that really occurred to the Israelites was recorded for them was so that they could live (Deut 32:47); the things that were previously recorded really did happen but were recorded for our learning (1 Cor 10:11; Romans 15:4). So we see that although all these other general revelations and special revelations occurred, it is the Scriptures that hold an authoritative place in revealing what God wants revealed.

In the next post we’ll discuss if this revelation of God is reliable by looking at the Old Testament Canon of Scripture and it’s intent.

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