What is the Bible? – Special Revelation

The Bible is considered the best-selling book in history. Estimates say some five billion copies have been sold. It is thought to be the most translated and distributed book in the world. Bibles have been burned, smuggled, and dipped in blood. It’s safe to say that no other book has drawn more comment and controversy than the Bible.

The Bible contains a collection of 66 books (39 Old Testament, 27 New Testament) originally written in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) over a period of about 1600 years through the instrumentation of some 40 different writes, from around the Mediterranean region.

But, what is the Bible exactly?

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This has been an important question in my life. Permit a brief testimony to explain. Well into my adult life and education, I thought that the Bible was a collection of bizarre, man-made tales with zero bearing on the world today which had been concocted by some hand-wringing, narrow-minded fascists looking to oppress people for personal gain. Throughout, and after, my university years, I was a devout evolutionist with little real exposure to the biblical Christianity. In my early to mid-twenties, I was challenged to study the science behind the idea of a creator. With some reluctance, I did. The more I read, the more I began to see the holes in Darwinian gradualism and other theories concerning evolution. I was not, however, a Christian yet. After further study, I renounced the idea of evolution and began reading the Bible.

I had many questions about the Bible. Who was to say that it was authoritative? How do we know it, and nothing else, is the word of God as it says? What about other supposed lost or hidden books not included in the Bible but should have been? Who decided what should be in the Bible? Were there mistakes and errors in it? If so, how could I know? What about the claim that it’s been translated too many times to know what it says?

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I wrestled with all that for some time. And over the next several weeks, we will deal with those questions here at the Cripplegate. But back to my wrestling.

I dove into a study with the hope of answering these questions. I did things like study the Dead Sea Scrolls. I learned they were written around 200 B.C. and contain the majority of the Old Testament. That was a show-stopper for me because the Old Testament is filled with prophecies about Christ. It was impossible to fabricate the prophecies after the fact, therefore. That blew my mind. As I studied more on the New Testament manuscripts, I was equally convinced of the divine origin of the text. The massive agreement amongst the thousands of Greek texts; the proximity of writing to the actual events in the New Testament; the extraordinary content of the text itself. I couldn’t deny it anymore. The Bible is the very word of God. It was then that I saw that the only reasonable thing to do was to embrace the gospel message of the Bible; to trust in the Person and work of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of my sin and reconciliation to God.

But many people remain unconvinced.

Some say it is a book with some helpful moral boosters for the world.

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Rob Bell says it is the product of years and years of people telling stories, debating the stories, adapting and changing the stories, then writing them down (What is the Bible?, pp. 19-20).

The association of American Atheists says it is a concoction of contradictory nonsense.

Rabbi Lawrence says it is fiction.

Still others say it is one sacred text among many other sacred texts.

We could go on. But here’s the bottom line: the 66-book Bible is revelation. Not subjective revelation as in, “The writers came up with a great poem as they thought hard about it.” But objective revelation, as in something disclosed to, and not discovered by, humanity. It is revelation as in something that could not be found, attained, or invented by the effort and ingenuity of people. In that sense, the Bible is revelation.

A Limited Knowledge: General Revelation

But the Bible is a specific kind of revelation. There are two types of revelation; general and special. General revelation is the knowledge of God which is generally available to all humanity. Through avenues such as conscience and creation, much can be known about God. Snowflakes, salmon, stars, and sea urchins speak though they cannot talk. They tell us about the creative ingenuity, power, and glory of God (Ps. 19:1-3, Rom. 1:19-20). An effortless sense that I did something wrong in my mind after some wrongdoing is general revelation. It reminds us that we are made by, and accountable to, God (Rom. 2:14-16). Our conscience tells us something.

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General revelation is also seen in the innate religiousness of humanity. All humans are equally and incessantly religious. That does not mean that all verbally ascribe to a named system of spirituality. It does mean that all ponder and seek something more than the material. We have a drive to consider something outside of ourselves; energy, realms, beings, existences. We have worshiped everything and anything. We have dreamed and imagined gods of every kind. This is not materially driven, but immaterially. We have a divine image stamped in our soul. It’s broken due to sin, but the human religious impulse is there nonetheless.

Human communication is another type of general revelation. Both the ability to communicate and the logic inherent in communication point to a God of logic and communication. Humans irresistibly use God’s laws of logic every time they communicate.

General revelation, however, is limited in its ability. It is insufficient to deal with that nagging sense that I did something wrong. It is inadequate to bring me into right relationship with the God. In that sense, general revelation speaks, but it does not save. It is enough to make God known, but not enough to make us new.

For that reason, there is a bit of danger inherent to general revelation. As humans, we dish out much time and money to go see spectacular sites across the globe. Great Barrier Reefs, Grand Canyons and Tetons and Caymans, Greek Islands. We have an irresistible lure to displays of general revelation.

Since general revelation reveals, we know. We have the knowledge it reveals. So, we cannot say to God, “I didn’t know.” We know. Ignorance will not do. And, like the student who sat through a semester of lectures on final’s day, we are accountable for that knowledge. With every star and sunset we see; with each movement of conscience, there is a sort of accumulating accountability. But, despite the eons of human exposure to general revelation, not one human has therefrom worshiped God appropriately. Evidence of our sinfulness is the fact that we do not naturally respond to general revelation with appropriate praise and worship of God. Since not one of us naturally loves, worships, and serves God as he deserves, that knowledge will stand against us in the judgment, unless dealt with properly.

If we are going to savingly know God, we need something more than general revelation. We need a greater type of revelation from God to tell us how to respond to general revelation.

A Superior Knowledge: Special Revelation

Moved by his mercy, God has given a second type of revelation; special revelation. God desired to reveal himself beyond the general realm. He did so, not through one single event, but a process over time using various means. Through instrumentality like direct speech, dreams, visions, miracles, and the Person of Christ, God revealed himself in a way that general revelation never could. This revelation has been preserved in the form of written communication, and more specifically, genres such as history, poetry, wisdom, preaching, correspondences, and letters. That collection of special revelation is what we call, “The Bible.”

The books of the Bible did not become special revelation. They did not progressively attain the classification of special revelation through any human means. No act of man has made or not made revelation. Rather, the most that man can do is discern revelation. And even doing that requires God’s gracious acting on his mind (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

Special revelation, then, is what sets the Bible apart from all other sacred texts. The books of the Bible are special revelation because they are disclosure from God, otherwise unavailable or undiscoverable by the creature. The Bible is the Creator’s objective revelation to the creature. Every other text is the creature’s subjective speculation about the Creator.

The knowledge given in special revelation is superior to that of general revelation. It instructs us how to think about general revelation. Even more, it spells out how to handle the guilty conscience and how to know this God beyond the general level. In other words, the knowledge of general revelation reveals only enough to condemn us. The knowledge of special revelation reveals enough to save us from that condemnation. Special revelation spells out the solution to the problem which general revelation cannot solve. In the Bible God spells out the four most important things we need to know: who he is, what he has done, who we are, and what we are to do. Motivated by his own glory and compassion, the Creator became a man—Jesus Christ—who is the revelation of God. He responded perfectly to revelation, then went to the cross, paid the penalty for our failure to do so, and rose victorious from the grave so that by faith, we are reconciled to God. A sunset cannot tell you that. But special revelation can.

It is simply great news that God has spoken, and in a way that is preserved and understandable. That God would speak to us in special revelation is to be considered an immense privilege. He has no obligation to rescue us from the condemnation we incur in a sunset. But he has spoken in written word; the Bible. The answer to the question, “Has God ever spoken?” is, “Yes.” The answer to, “Where and what has he said?” is, “It’s all in the Bible. God is that good.” We need not fear that we may have missed a word from the Lord. He has inscripturated all of his words in the 66 books of the Bible. Praise him.

But, there are more questions. How can we say that the 66 books of the Bible are revelation, but other writings and sacred texts are not? And how did that revelation come about? And how can we know if there are errors in the Bible? We will address those questions in the coming weeks.



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