Chapters 10-12 – Special Revelation and Scripture
Van Til starts this section by explaining why special revelation is necessary and why general revelation is insufficient. General revelation is not insufficient for its purpose. Everything does truly reveal God through general revelation as Van Til has already argued. The problem is that “in sinning, man as it were, took out his own eyes, so that he could no longer see God in general revelation.” (191) So it is because man is a sinner, and not because he is finite, that special or saving revelation is necessary.
Van Til then points out the flaws of non-Reformed theologies in describing the necessity of special revelation. Arminianism argues that general revelation is somehow unclear and so God is effectively morally obliged to give special revelation. Van Til rejects that anything other than God’s character could possibly oblige him or that any of his works, including his work of general revelation, could be insufficient to accomplish his purposes. Romanism, Neo-orthodoxy, and Lutheranism assert that by general revelation man can come to know God rightly as Creator but cannot know him rightly as Savior apart from special revelation. Van Til also rejects this view and says that because we are sinners we cannot know God rightly as Creator or as Savior. Because we are sinners we can only read nature rightly if we do so in light of Scripture. This leads us to assert that there are really only two classes of people in respect to revelation. There are those who, on account of special revelation, presuppose the self-existent Creator and can therefore read nature rightly and those who refuse to presuppose the self-existent Creator and so cannot ever read the universe rightly. All are either for Christ or against him.
Van Til then describes the modes of special revelation. Van Til thinks that there are three modes of this revelation; theophany, prophecy, and miracle. In each case Van Til also illustrates humanity’s attempts to get at some form of revelation apart from God. Theophany shows that man needs God to be near to him. It shows that man cannot live without God’s presence. Paradise is paradise because God is there. This need is demonstrated as idolatry is sinful man’s search for theophany, for God to be near. True theophany is best realized in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.
Prophecy is how God overcomes the noetic (to the mind) effects of sin. It shows us that man is lost without God’s interpretation of reality. Sin causes us to interpret general revelation falsely. Prophecy is the special revelation of God’s own interpretation of nature. False prophecy is man seeking after an authoritative interpretation of reality apart from God.
Miracle reveals that God is working in creation for the salvation of man and the cosmos. It shows that without God’s saving power man and nature would remain in the ruin that sin has left us in. All of Christ’s miracles illustrate the central miracle of God’s redemptive work. Van Til describes that miracle as follows:
In miracle God destroys the power of sin upon the soul of man, upon the body of man, and upon nature as the home of man. By miracle God actually reveals his redeeming work in process of fulfillment. Sin brought every sphere of human life in subjection to misery and death; by miracle God brings all these spheres of life back to health. Through the central miracle of the person and work of Christ, the human soul is brought into favor with the living God. Hence in performing his miracles Christ constantly points out that they are symbolical of what he came to do for the souls of men. (220)This leads Van Til into his discussion of Scripture. He starts by discussing several attributes of Scripture. The necessity of Scripture is again because we are sinners. It is not enough for God to just do redemptive works and leave it to us to interpret those works. As sinners we would interpret those works falsely. We need God’s special revelation to interpret his saving work. The authority of Scripture is the absolute authority of God over his creation. Man must place his own thought in captive obedience to the words of God in Scripture. The perspicuity of Scripture means that we do not need additional human interpreters between Scripture and those to whom Scripture comes. This is closely tied to the first two attributes as allowing for fallible human interpretation would eliminate the authority and necessity of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture means that no additional standard or interpretation is needed beyond what God has given in Scripture. We need not be wiser than God’s word.
The last chapter on special revelation deals with the inspiration of Scripture. Here Van Til borrows most of his material from the work of B.B. Warfield (see Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible). Van Til first summarizes Dr. Warfield’s arguments for the inspiration of the Old Testament (OT) scriptures:
- The OT organs of revelation are commanded to write down the revelation they receive (Ex. 17:14).
- We cannot make distinctions within the OT about what is the word of the prophet, the written word of the prophet, and the word of Yahweh. Instead it is all called the word of Yahweh as a summary.
- The OT canon was recognized by Christ to be authoritative and considered to be the product of a single primary Author.
Van Til then turns to Dr. Warfield’s arguments for the inspiration of the New Testament (NT) scriptures:
- The NT organs of revelation are conscious that their written words have the same authority as the OT scriptures and their spoken word as the apostles of Jesus Christ.
- Peter compares Paul’s epistles to have them on a level with the OT Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
- Paul sets up his own epistles as a standard of truth (1 Cor. 14:37).
Van Til also summarizes Dr. Warfield’s arguments for verbal inspiration:
- Moses and the prophets speak of verbal revelation that is given them from Yahweh (Ex. 3:4; 5:1; Jer. 1:9; Ezek. 3:4, 10-11).
- Paul says that the things he writes and speaks are the teachings of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13) and the NT writers quote the OT as the very words of God.