Self-Revelation of God in Scripture
Within the broad category and study of theology “God Himself must be the only source of knowledge with regard to His own being and relations. Theology therefore is a summary and explanation of the content of God’s self-revelations” (Bancroft 7). Self-revelation is the revealing of oneself through many or various ways, showing the personhood and or character type of a person through intended means. This short but concise definition is what Scripture holds in each of its sixty-six books, and conveys the God of the universe in ways that were once unknown to mankind. From the beginning of time itself, God had in His sovereign will to make known Himself to His creation. The understanding of who He is is known only through His self-revelation of Scripture. The knowledge of who He is is seen throughout all of creation. However, there are two prerequisites to understanding and knowing God, which is faith in His Word and salvation. The first precondition is paramount in understanding who God is in relation to His word. To see the self-revelation of God in the Scriptures one must first understand the Scriptures to be the inspired infallible words of God Himself, thereby giving within the Scriptures self-revelation of Himself to His creation. The second precondition comes only from the grace of God to those who believe in His Son Jesus Christ, and who are recipients of His Holy Spirit. Additionally, one can only know God through knowing His Son Jesus Christ first. Likewise, one can only know Jesus Christ through the Word of God and believing by faith in Him. So it is that with a non-conclusive survey of the self-revelation of God in Scripture one can better attributively see through nature and His Word, God.
Of the two types of revelation, and moving from a general to specific, general revelation will suffice to show the self-revelation of God in nature. “By nature we here mean not only the physical facts, or facts in regard to the substances, properties, laws and forces of the material world, but also spiritual facts with regard to the intellectual and moral constitution of man and the orderly arrangement of human society and history” (Bancroft 7). Even this thought of the natural revelation of God is known from Scripture. Psalm 16:1-6 declares, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat” (NASB). To this passage of the natural revelation of God, so clearly depicted by David, Wiersbe says, “God’s wisdom, power, and glory are seen in His creation. Modern science would have us study “natural laws” and leave God out, but the psalmist looked at the marvels of heaven and earth and saw God… Nature preaches a thousand sermons a day to the human heart. Each day begins with light and moves to darkness, from waking to sleeping, a picture of life without God. Each year moves from spring to winter, from life to death.” (Wiersbe). Likewise also, Acts 14:16; 17 declare the message of the Lord in nature through a clear understanding of the witness of God through nature, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (NASB). Stanley Toussaint comments on this portion of Scripture in saying, “This God, Creator of all, is therefore supreme over all. He is recognizable not only from His creating rain and crops but also by His beneficial providence in giving food and joy. Up to the time of the church, God gave no direct revelation to the nations (i.e., Gentiles) so they were responsible only for their reactions to the general revelation discernible in Creation” (BKC 392). The revelation of God is so seen in nature that all people everywhere upon earth who wake in the morning can know that there is an intelligent designer behind all that is. So it is that they are all without excuse for not turning to Him in repentance as Romans 1:20 states “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (NASB). “This verse mentions three aspects of God,” says Dr. Utley. “First, His invisible attributes (His character), second, His eternal power (seen in physical creation) and third, His divine nature (seen in His acts and motives of creation). All humans know something of God from creation. In theology this is called “natural revelation.” It is not complete, but it is the basis of God’s holding responsible those who have never been exposed to God’s “special revelation” in Scripture or, ultimately, in Jesus” (Utley Acts 1:20). This shows that even though one may claim to not know God, they certainly know and recognize the creation all around them. Therefore, no one is without excuse, all can see, hear, and feel His creation. This is called the natural or general revelation of God. However, there is still more of His self-revelation made known to His creation through His special revelation to which we now look.
“Special revelation is that which God makes known to people by words. This completes general revelation by filling out God’s revelation of Himself” (Barackman 26). This brief definition to which many scholars agree upon makes known the way in which God makes Himself known through Scripture. Moreover, it is important to understand that as God makes Himself known more fully through the Scriptures “only the elect receive and understand God’s special revelation of words such as given in the gospel, He still has something to say to the nonelect through His gospel appeals and warnings of coming judgment” (Barackman 27). God in various ways throughout history has given us His special revelation. During the Old Testament, in the early years of earth’s inhabitation by mankind, God spoke directly to people as evidenced in Genesis 3:8-9, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (NASB). God continued to reveal Himself through theophanys as in Genesis 17:1 “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly” (NASB). God also came to make Himself known in dreams as in Genesis 28:12-13 which says, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (NASB). The last of the direct self-revelations of God was through visions in which the recipient of the vision of God was awake, unlike that of the dreams when the recipient was asleep; this is mentioned in Genesis 46:1-4 which states, “God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes” (NASB). These are all ways in which God through His sovereign plan of redemption for His people made Himself known through self-revelation. However, it is important to understand that God also has worked in other ways to make Himself known during the Old Testament times. They weren’t direct in the same manner as coming directly from God to the human, but indirectly through His prophets. Also seen in the Old Testament is God’s self-revelation being made known to His people through the high priests of Israel who received yes and no answers by the Urim and Thummim, which were carried in their breastplates (Num. 27:21), and certain wise men like Daniel and Solomon (Dan. 5:11). All of these men whom God chose to make known His special revelation did so under divine inspiration.
In as much as God has made Himself known through direct self-revelation, known as special revelation, which comes from His inspired words to us, there is no better way to know God then through His only begotten Son. God’s Son, Jesus Christ in “His first advent is said to have literally fulfilled more than three hundred prophecies that were prophesied in the Old Testament” (Ryrie 129). Geisler says, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed. What the Old Testament contains about Christ implicitly, the New Testament explains explicitly, for the truth only latent in the Old Testament is made patent in the New” (Geisler 18). This truth as already stated has been literally fulfilled in part. However, during the time of Christ in the New Testament, God revealed Himself uniquely through Him as is seen in Hebrews 1:1-2, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (NASB). Unlike the temporary Old Testament theophany, this special revelation was a permanent incarnation of God the Son. Christ in His own testimony of Himself said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one” (NASB). Ryrie states “He did not assert that He and the Father are identical but that He and the Father possess essential unity together, that He enjoys perfect unity of nature and of actions with His Father” (Ryrie 101). Furthermore, a study of the perfection of Christ in His earthly ministry reveals much about the self-revelation of God because “His life so manifested the Father that, for all practical purposes, to see Him was to see the Father (Jn. 14:9). The Lord Jesus revealed the Father by His holy character and moral excellence, John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus revealed His Father in His actions, John 14:9; 10 “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” Christ reveals the Father in His words, John 3:34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” Finally, Christ reveals His Father in His emotions as seen in Matthew 9:36, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Barackman 27). Jesus Christ was the ultimate self-revelation of God in that He was flesh and blood and having the same divine nature as God was able to reveal Him most completely to mankind. This is not to say that we will ever fully understand or know God’s complete self-revelation of Himself, however it is to say that with a remembrance of our creaturehood and through His Spirit, we should seek to know whatever truth He is pleased to teach us through His Word.
Today, God is still continuing to reveal Himself in a very special way through the sixty-six canonical books of the Bible and His Holy Spirit Who is at work in the believers of Christ. “The Bible provides one with sufficient truth for belief and conduct during the present dispensation as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 describes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB).
In culmination of the facts given, it is the self-revelation of God in Scripture that gives us the validity and substance of faith in a never-changing God. His self-revelations are seen all throughout the world in the naturalistic beauty of the cosmos. He is heard, seen in part, and spoken for by divine inspiration in the Old Testament, which brings to life the God of the universe to mankind. This continuation of self-revelation by God becomes incarnate in the New Testament by means of His Son Jesus Christ, Who, portrays God in His many attributes and union with God. Still even today the self-revelation of God continues through His work in each believer who delves into the Scriptures and seeks to live for Him. It is God who through His own self-revelation has given us a minute glimpse into the everlasting, and has shown us Himself in ways that no one nor anything can mimic. This is the self-revelation of God in Scripture!
- Bancroft, Emery H., Christian Theology. California: J.F. May Press 1949.
- Barackman, Floyd H., Practical Christian Theology. New York: Practical Press 1981.
- Holy Bible, Ryrie Study Bible NASB. Chicago: Moody Publishers 1995.
- John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-.
- Ryrie, Charles C., Basis Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers 1986.
- Utley, Robert J., The Gospel According to Paul: Romans, Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1998.
- Wiersbe, Warren W., Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993.