A Biblical Defense Of The Cessation Of Special Revelation Part 1

A Biblical Defense Of The Cessation Of Special Revelation Part 1

Introduction

Aside from professing atheists, nearly all people are interested in hearing communication from the divine. What does God want men to believe, and how does he want them to live? Thankfully, God has spoken clearly in creation, providence, and conscience, or what theologians call general revelation.[1] God has also given special revelation, which Bob Gonzales defines as, “God’s communication to man through special acts and words, which ultimately became inscripturated in the Bible.”[2] These Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).[3] They equip Christians for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). God’s communication provides great comfort, security, and direction to his people (Ps 119:50, 52, 105, 133). His words are authoritative (Ps 119:137; Matt 7:21-23; John 12:47-50) and clear, “making wise the simple” and “enlightening the eyes” (Ps 19:7-8). The word of God is a joy and a delight to the heart of Christians (Jer 15:16), and he has promised that his word will never disappear: “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Pet 1:24; c.f. Matt 24:35).

But should mankind expect to receive new special revelation past what God has given in the Bible? Historically, Protestants, informed by the supreme authority of God’s word, have believed the answer of this question to be “no.” The 1689 London Baptist confession of faith says the Scriptures are necessary because the “former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people [have] now ceased.”[4] Although God still communicates with his people through general revelation and the “living and active” (Heb 4:12) Bible, the special revelation of God, which was never continually being given throughout history, has ceased since it reached its end goal in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This revelation was finally mediated through those who Jesus personally appointed to the temporary office of apostle.

What the Cessation of Special Revelation Does Not Mean

It is important to begin with a clarification on what the cessation of special revelation does not mean. First, it does not mean that God has stopped communicating through his general revelation of creation, providence, and conscience. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Although this revelation from God is not equated with Scripture (see Ps 19:7-11), it is real revelation. John Frame comments, “Every time the sun rises, the heavens declare his glory in a new way…Our life with God is an ongoing drama with exciting new experiences throughout history.”[5] All men know God, and his revelation to them is continually received through creation (Rom 1:18-23). Furthermore, God is always communicating with men through the conscience he has deposited into them (Rom 2:14-15; 9:1; 2 Cor 1:12; 2 Cor 5:11; Jon 1:4-10; Acts 23:1; 24:16; 28:1-4) and through his providential acts in his continual governance of his world (Acts 14:17).

Second, the cessation of special revelation does not mean that God no longer speaks through the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”[6] Although the Bible is a fixed text, the Holy Spirit is active in his work of applying the text to hearts and giving deeper illuminating insight into the text’s meaning. Frame explains,

The Christian life is a continuing conversation with the Bible…Every day, God in Scripture speaks to us in new ways. He brings to our attention teachings, commands, promises, and questions that we had not yet seen. He points out new ways in which Scripture applies to our lives. He responds to our prayers based on Scripture…Scripture itself tells us that often our need is not for more knowledge, but for our spiritual growth, spiritual perception, the revelation of Ephesians 1:17.[7]

Although, as O. Palmer Robertson puts it, “The illumination of the revealed word of Scripture as it applies to concrete situations in the lives of individuals occurs constantly,”[8] this type of insight is not new revelation. It is new insight for particular Christians into the revelation in Scripture that has already occurred. After Paul declared new revelation to Timothy, he told him, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7).

 

Part 2 of this series will explore the goal of special revelation.

-1689Society Contributor: David T

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[1] Robert Gonzales, “ST501 Lecture Notes, Part 1” (ST502 The Word Lectures for Reformed Baptist Seminary, 2016), 1, accessed February 9, 2018, https://s3.amazonaws.com/pathwright-uploads/Meot13yfT6dBpVUl4PmT_ST501+Lecture+Notes%2C+Part+1.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

[3] All Scripture citations in this work are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001) unless otherwise noted.

[4] “Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures,” The Baptist Confession of Faith, accessed March 15, 2018, http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc01.html. The Westminster Confession of Fatih uses the same language and argument.

[5] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), 234.

[6] Commenting on this text, Kevin DeYoung says, “God still speaks. He is not silent. He communicates with us personally and directly. But this ongoing speech is not ongoing revelation.” Taking God at His Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 51.

[7] Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 235-236. O. Palmer Robertson agrees, “Constantly [The Holy Spirit] leads men, women and children into a deeper understanding of the truths of the word of God. It is not even necessary to be in the process of reading the Bible for God’s Spirit to communicate his truth in this way. As a person drives along the high, as he rakes leaves outdoors, does the dishes, speaks to a friend, wrestles in prayer, new insight may be gained into the meaning of the word of God for life. God is alive, and it is with this living God that the Christian communes constantly on the basis of truths revealed in the Bible.” The Final Word (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 55.

[8] Robertson, The Final Word, 56.

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