What is the Difference Between General and Special Revelation?

The Psalmist proclaims: “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork (Ps. 19:1).” Next, David states in verse 7, “The Lord’s instruction is perfect, reviving one’s very being.”

These two statements have often been associated with general and special revelation because they both unveil the character of God. In this paper, I will define both of these terms and describe the nature of their authority as well as their relationship to one another.

What do stars, birds, earthquakes, waterfalls, and trees all have in common? They express the general revelation of God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). This knowledge is self-evident to every human being, regardless of their religious orientation. Therefore, because creation and intelligent design imply a Creator, who has revealed His attributes, all people are without excuse when they deny God’s existence.

Furthermore, the apostle Paul stated even unbelievers, who have no written record of God’s law, still know intuitively moral rightness and wrongness due to their conscience. The Bible states: “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15).” Consequently, when people disobey their consciences, they are sinning against God and will be rightfully judged for their wrongdoing, even apart from the law.[1]

When one discusses special revelation, they are referring to God manifesting Himself fully to “particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with God.”[2] Before humanity fell into sin, they had a proper relationship with God. However, after the fall, their understanding of spiritual matters became fractured.

The pieces needed to be put back together through re-entering a covenantal relationship with God. This communication started with the patriarchs, then through the prophets, and culminated in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1).

For instance, most Americans know about the President of the United States. They see him on television, read about him in the newspaper, and know he lives at the White House in Washington D.C. All of us have this general revelation.

Conversely, when an individual meets the President and communes with him, they have a personal connection. They might speak directly to him, laugh at his jokes, or enjoy spending time together. The same is true with God and believers. They have a special revelation about God because they have entered into a personal relationship with Him.

God has given all people the opportunity to meet Him (Matt. 7:7), but he will never force it. Free will makes the final decision, and sadly, most people end up rejecting God and replace Him with false gods—self, creation, money, job status, education, family, etc.

In conclusion, Scripture makes it clear that all people have a general understanding of who God is. He has revealed himself through the creation and our conscience. More importantly, God desires people to read the Bible in order to gain a salvific understanding. For he has said: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).”

That’s why it’s vital for believers to share their faith with those who never heard the good news concerning salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:15). Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, so every people group can have a special revelation of who God is in Christ.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 122

[2] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p.201

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