Can I Trust the Bible (Part II): God's Word in Human Words
In the first post in this series, we learned that the unique and all-powerful God who made the universe is a God who speaks (which is a good thing, since we couldn’t know anything about Him otherwise). But does that have anything to do with the sixty-six books of the Bible?
The truth is that God speaks in many ways. Everything that exists was made by means of God’s Word (Genesis 1:3ff; Psalm 33:6-9; John 1:3), and continues to exist only as a result of His providential speech (Hebrews 1:3). Theologian John Frame has said that “everything that God has made, and every event that takes place, reveals God in some way” (P&R 2013: Systematic Theology, 537).
We call this general revelation (or sometimes natural or universal revelation) because it involves God speaking through a natural medium, in a way that is available to all human beings. In creation, history, and even our own consciences, God perfectly and infallibly displays His “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:18-21), His generosity (Acts 14:17), His wisdom (Daniel 2:20-22), and His glory (Psalm 19:1ff).
What is true of God’s Word in general is true of the Word communicated through natural media: it is absolutely authoritative and cannot fail to accomplish the purpose for which God intends it. With that being said, however, there are three reasons why God’s general revelation leaves us in need of something more.
First, creation itself, while sustained by God, is marred by the curse of sin (see especially the way that the “ground” is impacted by Adam’s sin beginning in Genesis 3:17). The corruption of sin and the presence of Satan competes with the clear revelation of God in all that He has made.
Second, human beings are finite. While God’s revelation of himself in nature is perfect, we lack the capacity to completely grasp the significance of God’s mighty deeds. Some general truths about God’s character and nature are clear enough that we find ourselves “without excuse” (Romans 1:20), but we don’t have the ability to deduce God’s plans of judgment and salvation on the basis of general revelation alone.
Third, human beings are sinful. We tend to “worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and lead us astray.
Given these three limitations, it’s impossible to truly know God, to experience a redemptive relationship with Him, unless He gives us something more. But guess what! He has done exactly that. Instead of merely revealing Himself in creation, history, and conscience, God actually speaks to His human creatures using human words.
It’s been this way since the beginning. God used human words to speak to Adam and Eve, announcing His judgment (Genesis 3:8-19). While this must have been a dreadful experience, it was also evidence of God’s grace, as He previewed the triumph of Christ over Satan in Genesis 3:15. God used human words to rescue Noah (Genesis 6:13ff) and to make a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1ff) and his descendants (Exodus 20:1-17). This type of divine speech is often called special revelation, because He sovereignly dispenses it to specific human beings for specific purposes.
The fact that the Creator would use the language of His finite, sinful creatures is one of the strongest evidences of His undeserved grace. He is a speaking God, creating and sustaining, but also communicating in human language so that He might announce His judgment and ultimately save.
The question, of course, is what relationship exists between God’s Word in human words and the Bible we read in quiet time or carry to church. The answer to that question will be the subject of the next post in this series.