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What is the Difference Between General Revelation and Special Revelation?

The term revelation refers to “knowledge about God.” Historically, theologians have distinguished between two different types of revelation, general revelation and special revelation. General revelation or natural revelation refers to what can be known about God from nature through reason. The two avenues of general revelation are creation and conscience. The Apostle Paul talks about these two avenues when he writes of how all of creation points toward God (Romans 1:18-20) and of the law of right and wrong that is written on the heart of each person (Romans 2:14-16). These two avenues have been covered in the preceding chapters.

Special revelation or supernatural revelation refers to what is known about God by divine intervention—such as through dreams, visions, theophanies, or a specific word from God. To discuss these two kinds of revelation, Thomas Aquinas divided truth into two categories: the realm of nature and the realm of grace. What the realm of nature could not teach, the realm of grace could reveal. It was through the realm of grace that God as the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were revealed—a thing impossible to know simply through observation of the natural world or from logical deductions. John Calvin (1509-1564) essentially agreed with Aquinas, allowing that, while it is possible to know God from creation, what can be known by that means is limited. Only a special revelation through grace would enable people to have a clearer vision of God. Karl Barth (1886-1968) believed that the only way to know about God was through the most special, most supernatural revelation of all: the incarnation of Christ, the Divine and Eternal Word of God, in the man Jesus. 

Christians believe that Christ is the ultimate special revelation of God to humanity, and the reason they believe this is because the Bible says so. The Bible is special revelation too. It gives us information about God that is not available through any other means. It enables people who would only know God through nature or logic as the abstract, transcendent God of Aquinas’ Unmoved Mover, to have an understanding of a personal, imminent God and Savior. It is through special revelation found in the Bible that one can know that Jesus is the Son of God, that the Holy Spirit exists, that God cares for every person, and of God’s plan of salvation for humankind. 

In the discussion of apologetics, Christians return again and again to the Bible. In the same way that the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, so the one who comes to the Bible must believe that it is the Word of God, and that as such it is true and reliable. Jesus knew that the Bible was true, and He relied on what it said. When He was tempted by the devil, Jesus answered the great deceiver by saying “it is written”—and would quote the Bible. What is good enough for Jesus is good enough for Christians, and what Jesus felt was good enough for the devil must be good enough for atheists too. 

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About the Author:  Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.

Proof God is Real