The God Who Reveals

In a recent course I was required to summarize my personal convictions concerning the doctrine of revelation. I was very much blessed by being required to formulate and then communicate a personal statement of belief regarding this doctrine. I hope to write more of these in the future which help clarify my own thoughts. I look forward to any criticisms you might have.

 

The God Who Reveals

It is unthinkable to formulate a doctrine of revelation without mention of the God who reveals. The Christian faith is unique in worshiping a God who is both there and not silent.[1] Before one can have a doctrine of revelation one must have a doctrine of God that allows for revelation. The God of Scripture is such a God.

The assumption of the Bible is that there is a triune God: one God existing in three persons, who has created all things. The manner in which the triune God creates is through His word. Eight times in Genesis creation comes from the voice of God, “And God said…” (Gen. 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26). This is not only evident from observing the narrative in Genesis, but also in clear in the teaching of the New Testament. Hebrews 11:3 reads, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” God’s word then is God’s action. Therefore, they cannot be separated. Where God’s word is He is. God works through the power and authority of his word.

God Revealed as Covenant Lord

If God is the creator of all things then there is an obvious distinction between God and his creation. God is not his creation and creation is not God. The purpose then of God revealing himself is to be in covenant relationship with his creation. It is God’s desire to be known as covenant Lord. Furthermore, he can be known in no other way-for that is who He is. As one theologian has said, “The chief message of the Old Testament is God is Lord. The chief message of the New Testament is Jesus Christ is Lord.”[2]

God’s General Revelation through Creation

We have discussed that the God of the Bible has spoken, is the creator of all things, and is covenant Lord. It is clear that God has revealed himself, but how has he chosen to do so?

One of the ways in which God has chosen to reveal himself is through his creation. Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In other words, God’s creation testifies to the glory of God as creator. Above it was stated that God works through the power and authority of his word. It is these realities which creation testifies to. The power of God as creator is seen within his creation. The creator-creation distinction aids here as well, for this distinction includes that God is authoritative above his creation. The Lordship of God is painted in the clouds of the air and in the movement of the sea.

The New Testament also teaches that God has revealed himself through his creation. Acts 14:15 says, “…you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” So here creation points to the God who created it, but Acts takes a step further by claiming that a witness to God is found in how God works through creation. Acts 14:17 reads, “yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” God’s work in creation results in provision for man, which results in their “gladness.” In this way it is appropriate to say that all people experience God’s common grace.

The passages above show that God has revealed himself in creation. However, the questions remains, how much can be known about God from creation? Romans 1:19 states. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” Paul then elaborates on what can be known about God. It is not merely knowledge that God exists, but knowledge of “…his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature…” Note that it is namely God’s power that can be known. It has been noted earlier that power is an essential part of God’s covenantal lordship. These attributes of God are “clearly perceived…since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

At this point two things need to be said. First, the knowledge of God, which can be gained from general revelation, is limited. That is to say, God cannot be known fully or in the manner he desires to be known exclusively through general revelation. However, this is not to speak negatively of God’s general revelation. Romans 1:21-25 informs readers that the primary problem is not the nature of general revelation, but the response of man. Man, because of sin, has misunderstood the creator/creature distinction we spoke of earlier. Rather than responding to creation with the recognition of God’s Lordship they worship the creation. What could be known of God is suppressed and exchanged for a lie. So, according to vs. 19, all people are without excuse, because God’s Lordship being perceived was suppressed. General revelation provides enough knowledge of God to condemn, but it is insufficient to bring people into a covenantal relationship with God. God intends to be in covenant relationship through his Word. It is to the Word of God that we now turn.

God’s Special Revelation through the Word of God

       The term Word of God will be reserved for Jesus as the Word of God incarnate and Scripture as the Word of God canonized. Although it may be tempting to place all of revelation under the broader umbrella of “Word of God” there is enough scriptural evidence to stand by the distinction. First, scripture makes clear that Jesus is the Word. John 1 makes this abundantly clear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” However note the distinction made in vs.3 and 10. Creation came into being through the Word of God. Twice John tells us that all things were made through Jesus who is the Word of God. Paul also communicates this in Colossian when he writes, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” So it seems that creation comes by the word, but is not itself the Word of God. After considering these passages it seems best to reserve the category of “Word of God” for Jesus and Scripture.

God’s Special Revelation through Jesus

       Jesus is indeed the ‘Word of God’ (John 1:1-4). It is through Jesus as the Word by which all of creation comes into existence. Creation is not the only thing Jesus does as the Word. God also speaks through Jesus. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in may ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he spoke to us by his Son…through whom he also created the world.” God is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John Jesus testified that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). Furthermore, it is made clear that God desires to be known through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those who believe in the Son also believe the Father. Whoever ‘sees’ Jesus thus ‘sees’ the Father (John 12:45). This is made most explicit in John 14:6, “…no one comes to the Father except through me.” Later Jesus again tells the disciples that he reveals the Father (John 14:10-11).

During the discussion on general revelation it was stated that only a limited knowledge of God could be gained from creation. Again this is no negative remark against God’s general revelation. The New Testament clarifies that God desires to be know in relationship through his Word. This means that God is properly known through the gospel. By proper relationship it is meant that God desires to be known in a covenantal relationship and worshiped as covenant Lord through Jesus Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus brings proper knowledge of God to all those who believe. 1 John 1:1-3 refers to Jesus as the word of life made manifest which brings eternal life in God the Father.

God’s Special Revelation through Scripture

       In what way might Scripture be called the Word of God? This is an important question and the answer rests in the fullness of Scripture’s testimony to itself. In the Pentateuch, the most important of Israel’s scriptures, is the repeated refrain, “And the Lord spoke to…” This is not only found in narratives, but in Leviticus and Deuteronomy where God speaks and then Moses writes down what God has said (Leviticus 1:1-2; Deuteronomy 1:3). Furthermore, the prophets consistently claim that their message is the Word of God (Isaiah 1:10, 8:1,11; Jeremiah 1:4, 2:1, 3:6; Ezekiel 1:3; Hosea 1:1-2; Joel 1:1; Amos 1:3,5,6,8,9,11,13; Obadiah 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1; Malachi 1:1).[3] Not only does the Old Testament consistently claim to be the Word of God, but also the New Testament authors treated it as such. When referring to Psalm 2 the author of Acts reports that the Psalm was, “said by the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 4:25) When quoting Isaiah Luke also states of the prophet, “For so the Lord commanded us, saying…” (Acts 13:47). The author of Hebrews also credits Old Testament quotations to the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7, 10:15). Considering the numerous examples it is important to understand that Scripture testifies that it is the very Words of God.

What is the character of the Holy Scriptures? 2 Peter 1:21 speaks of the human authors being “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The result is that they “spoke from God.” Perhaps more explicit is 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” The words in Scripture are the Words of God. When the words are read an encounter with God takes place. The consistent testimony of the Old Testament and the clear teaching of these New Testament passages should lead us to conclude that the words of Scripture are God’s personal Word to us. This means that these words can be trusted, for God is a good and faithful God. This means that these words are authoritative, for He is revealed as covenant Lord. This means that these words have power, for to read the words of Scripture is to encounter the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13).

What is the nature of the Holy Scriptures? Earlier it was argued that in revelation God intends to be in covenant relationship with his people through His word. The Scriptures then are covenantal in form and content. The meta-narrative of Scripture is that God is bringing His inaugurated-kingdom through covenant. Each covenant in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:1-13). The scriptures are covenantal in form in that they reveal who God is and establish a relationship between Him and His people. As believers read the Scriptures they are interacting with the living God and His living Word. The Scriptures are instructions for all things concerning life and godliness. Those who believe, submit, and worship God through his word will be blessed. Those who disobey the covenantal word will be cursed. In this way, it is appropriate to say that Scripture is God’s covenantal presence with his people. Where God’s word is- He is.

Reading the Scriptures as God’s Covenant People

It was stated earlier that general revelation couldn’t bring proper knowledge of God. By this it was meant that God desires to be known in covenant relationship with his people through His word. The only way this is achieved is God’s work through His Word, primarily in Jesus and the gospel, but also the Word of God canonized which testifies to God’s faithfulness to His covenant. Therefore, Scripture cannot be read properly unless God’s covenant people indwelt by the Holy Spirit read it. Anyone may read the Bible and understand its basic message, history, and teaching, but this is not to read the Bible properly. Those in covenant relationship with God will respond to God’s covenant Word in obedience, reverence, and mission. Unless the Scriptures are obeyed, lived, and taught it has not been read properly.

This does not mean that believers cannot read the Bible for information. Too often people hear “the bible is not a textbook” and assume the Scriptures should not be studied seriously. This is an over-reaction. The bible should be read and its content studied vigorously. However, if this is where Bible reading ends a great tragedy has occurred. As the covenant people of God the Scriptures should be read with eager expectation, that the living God is being encountered through His living Word. The Scriptures should be read asking what God is saying now and what response is needed. However, this sometimes can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to join the covenant people of God in reading in Scripture in community. This will help readers avoid faulty readings of Scripture and allow mutual edification among the church.

Conclusion

God has revealed himself as covenant Lord. He has chosen to do so through two necessary means: creation (general revelation) and his Word (Jesus and the Scriptures). Both are necessary because God has delighted to reveal himself in this way. Without general revelation much of Scripture would make no sense. Without special revelation proper knowledge of God could not be had. Proper knowledge of God is accessed though the gospel. Through the gospel sinners become God’s covenant people. These covenant people then read the Bible in a covenant relationship, for the Scriptures are his covenantal presence, which are both powerful and authoritative.

[1] To borrow the famous phrases of Francis Schaeffer.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010) 10

[3] This is not exhaustive, but sufficient enough to show the consistency.

The Power of a Response: Reflections on A.T. Robertson, Bruce Metzger, and John Piper

There is no way he could have known. As A.T. Robertson responded to a letter by a young student, he didn’t know that the recipient would go on to be as famous as he was. It would have been easy to dismiss the letter. After all, he was a highly respected professor who had written many books including the most rigorous Greek Grammar of its time. Using his time to entertain the young man could easily have been considered “beneath him.” However, Robertson did respond to the eager student. Although we do not know what Robertson wrote, we do have the young man’s reply. After thanking Robertson for his help in finding a resource he concludes,

“…I am 19; a junior at Lebanon College, Annville, Pa… I like Greek immensely- hope to be a N.T. Greek Prof.”

Respectfully,

Bruce M. Metzger[1]

Metzger would go on to make a legacy of his own, one that would be comparable to that of Robertson’s. The zealous student would later attend Princeton and become one of the most prestigious textual critics to date. It has been speculated that Metzger desired to study with Robertson, but unfortunately Robertson died before that could be a possibility. Would Robertson’s dismissal of the letter prevent Metzger’s future success? No, probably not. However, we should not be quick to dismiss its importance. A young man reaches out to someone he admires and is not disappointed. At the very least it was encouraging and encouragement is no small thing. This is the power of a response.

Fast forward to Pasadena, California in the late 1960’s. A young seminary student named John Piper is excited about a visiting professor from Princeton. That week Dr. Metzger visited Fuller Theological Seminary to teach and he had a great impact on the young Piper,

“I was so helped by his teaching and so impressed with him as a man, I applied to Princeton to do my graduate work with him when I was finished at Fuller in 1971. I was rejected. He wrote me a personal letter to ease my disappointment, saying that only four people were accepted. It helped (a little).”[2] (Emphasis mine)

John Piper received a rejection letter? Whatever happened to that guy, anyway? That is another blog post for another time. Here it is important to notice that much like Metzger looking to Robertson, Piper admired the professor so much that he was ready to move to New Jersey and learn at his feet. He was disappointed; of course, but did you notice what Metzger did? “He wrote me a personal letter to ease my disappointment.” This is the power of a response. As many know, Piper went on to get his PhD from the University of Munich, Germany and taught biblical studies before becoming the pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He would pastor Bethlehem for over thirty years.

As I reflect on these stories several thoughts come to mind. The first is how powerful a quick note of encouragement can be. The young Metzger was basically a “nobody,” but the prestigious Robertson did not treat him that way. Piper wasn’t one of the elite four chosen to study with Metzger, but the Princeton scholar didn’t consider it beneath him to write a personal letter of encouragement.

In the day of email and social media it might seem that a response has lost its power, but that would be a mistake. In fact, communication is now easy and having access to people you admire is even easier. They are just an email away. So, allow me to encourage professors and scholars out there who receive emails from people they will never know-don’t underestimate the power of a response. Perhaps as a visitor, you go to teach a class for a few days-don’t underestimate the power of passion for your field and kindness to your students. You simply never know who is reaching out, who is watching, and who you are inspiring. The amount of emails you receive is probably outrageous. The intended point here is not guilt. Nor is to say that every person deserves a response, all the time. No one can answer every email. However, the point is just to draw attention to the fact that someone may look your way for encouragement. Although a short note may be trivial to you-it may mean much to them.

As for students, it is important to learn that it is OK to look up to others. Don’t be afraid to seek them out. Sure, some will not respond. But if you desire to be good at something, find the one who has gone before you, mastered the craft, and reach out for advice. Maybe, just maybe- you’ll experience the power of a response.

[1] Charles Draper, Letters to A.T. Robertson in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 5 No. 3, 2001.

[2] Desiringgod.org, Personal Tribute to Bruce Manning Metzger, accessed 1/13/2016.