Defining the Terms: General Revelation & Natural Theology

termsMost people who stumble across the internet and land at this blog are probably convinced that God does reveal himself to us in the pages of the Scriptures That God reveals himself in the Bible is what is known as special revelation. The word revelation indicates that God reveals himself. The adjective special is used as a contrast to the word general.

General revelation is the revealing that God does which has both a general audience and a general content. The general audience is all of humanity. This is distinguished from special revelation which is God revealing himself only to those who read or hear the Bible and God grants them the understanding of it.

The content of general revelation is that God exists and he is powerful in glory. Here is how the psalmist puts it.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

(Psalm 19:1-4, ESV)

Paul goes a little farther by declaring the content of this speech.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

(Romans 1:19-20, ESV)

This general revelation consists of the message that God exists and he is powerful.

A related term is natural theology. Since theology is our study or knowing about God, Natural theology is how we describe what we know from what God has revealed.

If you are like me, you probably stroll through our natural world without paying attention to what God is telling us through it. When we pay attention, we can hear the voice of God as we sensually experience the natural world. When we see the wonders of this physical world, we should be aware that God is telling us that he exists and he is powerful.

Are you listening? Are you paying attention? Or better yet, let’s use a biblical word – are you heeding the voice of God as he shouts from heaven that he is and he is mighty?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Nice job of define the terms!
    I often like to define things by relating them to words that have nothing to do with religion, but are used it the same sense. After all, most of the folks who are comfortable with Natural v. Revealed theology probably know more about both than I do!

    In this case, almost everything that is active in this world leaves some sign, intentional or not, of it’s activity. People study those signs. When we study humans, there are two divisions of study relevant to our purpose: If the people we are trying to learn about intended to communicate with others, they largely did that through some form of written documents, or art, or other communicative medium. We assign that to the realm of the historians to study.

    But even if the people we want to know about did not try to communicate, perhaps they were pre-literate, perhaps they just weren’t interested in anyone too far away for a direct conversation, whatever reason, we can still learn a great deal by a study of the artifacts they left behind -how they made tools, what KIND of tools, of what did they make rope, how did they make pottery? all sorts of things that lead to an understanding of them as people. This is the core of anthropology.

    Special Revelation, with the attendant Biblical Theology, is History -it is gaining understanding of God through thinking about the things He has said, and caused to be written, by His direct intentional communications with us humans.

    I see General Revelation, or the knowledge gained by natural theology as analogous to anthropology -looking at the works, the signs, and seeing what I can infer through them.

    I think sometimes when we use precise, convenient terms, we risk alienating those to whom the terms are foreign, even when the underlying concepts are a familiar as pi.

    Nice to see them wrestled with a bit!

  • Eric, I really like the analogy you have provided. As always, thanks for your input. You make this a better blog when you do so.