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A correct treatise on Christian evidence has to do with facts that are vital to the evangelization of the world. On the inherent truths of the Christian system depends on its ultimate triumph. To set forth its divine origin, then, as taught in the Old and New Testaments, is the purpose of this article. Does the Bible contain a revelation of the divine Mind to man? is a question that thrusts itself upon every investigator of its pages. Are the motives of Moses and the prophets, and of Christ and his apostles, as contained in the Old and New Testaments, really true, and is Christianity supernatural, and are its claims of God? If, then, the history recorded in the Scriptures, and the statements therein contained relative to revealed religion be worthy of belief, these questions must receive an affirmative answer.
Limitations of the Subject
It is not the business of the apologist to step aside from his legitimate task to prove the existence of God and the truths of natural religion. That, together with all that belongs to the subject of theism, falls to the lot of the theologian, and comes more properly under the head of natural theology. These facts, namely, the existence of God and his manifest government of the universe, are taken for granted in these pages.
No Valid Objections Against Revelation
- There is no valid objection against a revelation of God to man. Man is a compound of material and spiritual substances. The ego, that is, the personality, the rational soul, is spirit, and lives in a material body. Thought is the act of the spirit, not of the body; and wisdom and knowledge are its possessions, and do not inhere in the body.
God Revealed in Nature
God is a spirit, and a revelation from him as such to man is, after all, but the communication of one spirit with another spirit, one person with another. Man, as a rational spirit, is endowed with a capacity for receiving and storing up knowledge. This he does by coming in contact with the thoughts and ideas communicated to him from without. The earth beneath his feet and the heavens which overshadow him, with all their starry host, are constantly yielding up thoughts and ideas to him and enriching his knowledge by their revelations of truth. True, nature does not speak into human ears with human voice, but she communicates to the conscious soul by “marks of design,” which are plainly written in every fiber of her warp and woof, and discloses “the eternal power and Godhead” of her supreme Architect.
The Special Revelation Is Personal—a Father to His Children
But God’s special revelation to man, the Old and New Testaments, is a personal revelation; that is, a revelation from one person to another person. It is nothing more than the great Father communicating useful information to his children; and, too, imparting this information in his children’s own language, a language which they well understand. Surely, there is nothing unreasonable in all this, but it is what reason demands from every father who lays claim to have any love for his offspring.
This revelation from God, as Father, to man, as his child, implies a making known of the will of the Father to the child, with a view that the child may understand and obey. In this relation will and obedience imply moral obligation. Moral obligation, in turn, implies specific knowledge of what is required from the one making the requisition to the one at whose hand obedience is required. Nature may speak her ideas in mute forms and in her necessary movements, but will God, who is historic and can but speak clear and definite truth? The creation of a world may declare “the power and Godhead” of its creator, but the historic government of that world alone can reveal his attributes of justice, love, mercy, and goodness.
Revelation is Historic
- A general history would be an inadequate medium of revelation, for while it may refer to the individual, yet it has to do more especially with the race. The acts of divine providence are too general in their application to produce conviction, on the one hand, or the rest of “perfect peace” by faith, on the other. But in a very special sense should a revelation to creatures morally depraved and actually willfully sinful be specifically historic—“a sacred history within the profane history of a fallen world.”
The sacred Scriptures claim to be such a history from God, the Father, to his children, of the redemptive act in man’s behalf and the mediation of Jesus Christ, to lift him into conditions of reconciliation with God.
Special Revelation Possible and Necessary
- A special revelation from God to man implies also the gift of information to man additional to that already had by him, and also man’s capacity for receiving such special revelation. To deny the possibility of a special revelation would be to claim that God had given to man all the information he was capable of giving and man, capable of receiving, at the very opening of human history—at his creation. This does not accord with the common sense of mankind. Man knows, on the one hand, that he is capable of receiving additional information, and, on the other, he believes that God is able to give that information. If, for some great and worthy purpose, and to accomplish a noble end, such as the redemption and salvation of a world, additional information was needful to that world, who would be so weak as to acknowledge the need of the added light from heaven, and yet turn and deplore God’s lack of ability to give the needed information?
Special Revelation in Harmony with Nature of God and Man
God, the creator of the spirit, understands the constitution of man, and knows how he may be enlightened and influenced; and, having all power, he can, in accord with his own will, adopt means to act upon him. This is no infringement upon God’s creature by his Creator. Just “as a man can be influenced intellectually and morally by his fellow-creature without the violation of any law of nature or mind, so he can certainly receive communication from his Creator—the Maker of men and all things—without the destruction of the laws of his own constitution or those of the world.”
- In considering the subject of a special revelation, the fact must not be overlooked that, as such, it must always be regarded as supplemental to God’s first and universal revelation, namely, the light of nature. The facts attesting its divine authority may transcend but not violate the laws of man’s nature; they may be supernatural, immediate, and additional to nature, but never out of accord with, or subversive of its constitution.
Special Revelation an Addition to the Light of Nature
By a reasonable mind it will scarcely be questioned that God, in giving a special revelation, is capable also of rendering the recipient able to distinguish between what comes from the natural sources of knowledge and what is revealed by special revelation. All who recognize the possibility of a revelation recognize also God’s ability to so communicate his truths to man that he is without the possibility not to recognize the voice of God who speaks.
Hume’s Objection to Miracles Answered
The skeptical objection against the supernatural in Christianity has at present but little influence on honest investigators and earnest truth-seekers; and, as the world recedes from the days of David Hume, the influence gradually diminishes. Its syllogistic form is, “That as testimony is more likely to be false than man’s general experience, therefore no miracle can be true.” Such reasoning would be subversive of all truth, natural as well as supernatural or spiritual. The good sense of mankind will always reject it as proving too much to be true or relied upon. Skepticism has always failed to recognize this fact in respect to the miracles recorded in the Scriptures, namely, that they were both objects of experience and subjects of testimony to the men who then lived where they were performed.
- While it may be a question of doubt whether the apologist is under obligation to show the necessity of a special revelation prior to the consideration of its truths as matters of fact, yet there is scarcely room for reasonable doubt but that such a necessity has, and does now really exist.
Need of Special Revelation as Shown in Condition of Pagans
(1) The condition of religion among pagan races in the past, as well as in the present age, will always be a forceful argument in favor of man’s need of special revealed truth. While nature’s light has been alike free to all, its religious teachings have not been sufficient to lift the world out of its sins into conditions of a true civilization; or, at least, it has never succeeded in doing so. Not only has it been the complaint of the serious pagan that the needed light from heaven to direct man aright in matters of religion and of a future life is wanting, but even with the addition of the Christian revelation no right-minded person will complain that the world has too much light on the subject of immortality and all that pertains to human duty. To the serious-minded in all ages and of all lands it has been quite apparent “that it is not in man to direct his steps.” When philosophy and learning had well nigh reached their culmination in the ancient world, the wisest and best of that age is represented as expressing his expectation and need of a teacher qualified to reveal the mind of God to the human race. Said the wise Socrates, “It is necessary to wait till such a personage shall appear to teach them how they ought to conduct themselves, both towards God and towards man.” He adds: “Oh, when shall that period arrive? And who shall be that teacher? How ardently do I desire to see that man, who he is!”
Need of Special Revelation, as Shown in the Gospels
(2) With all that Jesus says in the Gospels about a future life and immortality, and what is necessary upon the part of man to gain heaven, who that reads his sacred message does not wish he had given us a little more light on the future world—on heaven and the relation the dead sustain to the living?
Some Objections Considered
- Then, if man needs a special revelation from heaven, and God is able to give the needed light, and man is capable of receiving it, it therefore follows that if God is wise, just, and good such a special revelation has been given. The parent who has the ability to provide for the needs of his offspring, and neglects or refuses to do so, is not wise, just, and good. The same would be true of the great Father of us all. “But as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.”
If, then, a special revelation is not out of accord with the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, and we apprehend it is not, because men do not agree as to just what it ought to be, or in what it should consist beforehand, that is, before it is given, will not be regarded as a very formidable objection to it by well-balanced minds, and their faith is not likely to be shaken by such objections. The objection that it is not universal, that is, was not given to all men at the same time, and therefore not of God, is without force. In the first place, the objector fails to note the fact that the special revelation which the Bible professes to contain, claims to have been given originally to all men, but “as man refused to retain God, in his knowledge God gave him up to a reprobate mind.” Moreover, the same objection might, with equal force, be urged by the ignorantly skeptical against the truths of science, because their light does not shine out of the sky with equal clearness to all men at the same time. Who would regard as a valid objection against the efficiency of a medicine the fact that its virtues as such were a recent discovery and not equally known to all, and all equally benefited by it? But the fact that genius is not the gift of all, and the blessings of science are not alike shared by all, is no valid objection against the truths of science or the gift of genius. Nor will objections based upon difference of opinion among men as to what the effect of a special revelation upon mankind would be, or should be, have much weight with the earnest inquirer after truth.
But if the record of what claims to be a special revelation does not contain what it professes, and its effects upon mankind are other than it professes, or the opposite of what it teaches, in whole or in part, then its high claims of a revelation from God may be justly questioned, yea, rejected. But, on the other hand, when its records have been subjected to just criticism, and they are found to contain all they claim, and its effects upon men are in accord with its teachings, and these teachings are wise, just, and good, then its claim as a special revelation, to say the least, becomes highly probable, and must have great weight with right reason.
Claims for Special Revelation Considered
- If, then, a special revelation has been given to man, it must be contained either in the so-called sacred books among the religions of paganism or in the Bible, which is the sacred book among Christians. But the student who carefully examines either the Vedas of Bram or the Koran of Mohammed, or any other of the sacred books of the world’s religions, other than the Bible, will be convinced that their claim is without foundation in truth, and in no true sense compares with the grounds of claim upon which the Holy Scriptures rest.
Heathenism is old, and its religions are the products of what it claimed them to be, special revelation; but who, in this closing decade of the best century of all ages, as he surveys the religious condition of the whole of paganism at the present hour, could say, in the light of reason, that from its fruits it is entitled to any claims whatever as a revelation from God? With its human sacrifices and its dark orgies for a period of not less than five thousand years, it presents its victims in a condition the most degraded and forlorn possible, except one, and that would be the victims of no religion at all.
But it is readily admitted that here and there a bright spot lingers on its dark record, yet these may be traced to points in its history where it came in touch, directly or indirectly, with that Word which God spoke out of heaven to Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, as promulgated by his people. From its opening page to the nineteenth century’s closing decade its history has been one of sorrow and degradation. Take its statutes, nation by nation, on the subject of morals and the family or home, and, as a rule, they are dark as perdition. By the laws of Lycurgus, chastity was condemned, and infanticide was sanctioned. Solon, the lawgiver of Athens, was no better than Lycurgus, for he legalized adultery. The orgies at the temple of Venus at Corinth were as at Venus of Babylon. The Midian woman who had less than five husbands was looked upon by the law with contempt. Under pagan sanction, pagan mothers performed the religious rite of sacrificing their children to Moloch, whose mouths were seven, which led to seven flaming furnaces within. The Persians buried their children alive, according to Herodotus. To Juno’s shrine on the height of Hierapolis came pagan mothers in sorrowing crowds and flung their weeping children forth from the mountain’s brow to be dashed to pieces on crags below. Should what history records be an astonishment, that “the feet of pagan women, hastening in despair, wore smooth the rocks up the rugged sides of the promontories of Taygetus and Tænarum, from the summits of which they flung themselves down to death in the depths of the Laconian Sea?” Says Justin, speaking of primitive rites and superstitions, “They immolated men as victims; and children, whose tender years excited the pity even of enemies, they placed upon their altars, purchasing peace of the gods by the blood of those for whose life the gods were accustomed principally to be implored.” Diodorus, in speaking of the Carthagenians, consuming their children in honor of Saturn, because they supposed they had offended him by restraining their human sacrifices, says, “Therefore, that they might correct their errors without delay, they immolated in public sacrifice two hundred chosen boys of their principal nobility.”2 Like customs and religious rites are practiced even at the present time by the pagan races almost around the world. China, India, Hindustan, and Africa are living examples of the horrors and superstitions of heathenism. It may be said in truth that no well-informed people henceforth will recognize the sacred books of paganism as of divine authority and worthy of man’s recognition as such.
Socrates and Plato, as were the sages both of India and China, were bright spots which loomed up on the dark dial of pagan night; but it must not be forgotten that all were younger than Abraham and Moses, and some of them at least, aye, the greatest of them, were born after the death of David, Solomon, and Isaiah. Plato painted his picture of “the good man who was to come,” and Socrates expected a legislator who would reveal the will of Deity to the mind of man, but before either of them was born, Isaiah had written his marvelous chapter on the advent and sufferings of our Lord. What access these masters of antiquity had to writings of the Hebrew sages we do not know, but we do know that the queen of the south “came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon,” and that Plato acknowledged his acquaintance with Mussel-man, a Jew, from whom, he states, “he and his company,” while on their way to Egypt, “received much more information than they were able to impart to the Jew.” It is a fact admitted that the God of the Bible, under Solomon the great king, built his temple at Jerusalem, which served as a mighty Pharos to the pagan world. Then, with our eyes turned to the Bible, we commence to investigate its claims of divine origin.
EXCURSION General Revelation
General revelation refers to God’s revelation in nature as opposed to his revelation in Scripture. More specifically, general revelation is manifest in physical nature, human nature, and history. In each case God has disclosed something specific about himself and his relation to his creation. General revelation is important to Christian apologetics, since it is the data with which the theist constructs arguments from the existence of God. Without it there would be no basis for apologetics.
God’s Revelation in Nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1), the psalmist wrote. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory” (Ps. 97:6). Job added, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord had done this?” (Job 12:7–9).
Paul spoke of “the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:15–17). He reminded the Greek philosophers that “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24–25).
Paul instructed the Romans that even the heathen stand guilty before God, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18–20). In view of this the psalmist concluded, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1).
God is revealed in nature in two basic ways: as Creator and as Sustainer. He is both the cause of the origin as well as the operation of the universe. The first speaks of God as the originator of all things. “By him all were created” and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16–17); God “made the universe” and he also “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:2–3); he “created all things” and by him “all things have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
In addition to Originator, God is also the Sustainer of all things. He is active not only in the universe coming to be but also in its continuing to be. The psalmist referred to this latter function when he said of God: “He makes springs pour water into the ravines.… He makes grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth” (Ps. 104:10, 14).
God’s Revelation in Human Nature. God created human beings in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). Something about God, therefore, can be learned from studying human beings (cf. Psalm 8). Since humans are like God, it is wrong to murder them (Gen. 9:6) and even to curse them (James 3:9). The redeemed human self is “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10). Paul affirmed that God created:
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. [Acts 17:26–29]
By looking at the creature we can learn something about the Creator. For “Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches man lack knowledge?” (Ps. 94:9–10). Even Christ in the flesh is said to be an “image” of the invisible God (John 1:14; Heb. 1:3).
God is manifested not only in the intellectual nature of human beings, but also in their moral nature. God’s moral law is written in human hearts. For “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, their conscience also bearing witness” (Rom. 2:12–15). Since moral responsibility entails the ability to respond, man in God’s image is also a free moral creature (Gen. 1:27; cf. 2:16–17).
God’s Revelation in Human History. History has been called “His-story.” It is the footprints of God in the sands of time. Paul declared that God “determined the times set for them [the nations] and the exact places they should live” (Acts 17:26). God disclosed to Daniel that “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17). God also revealed to Daniel that human history is moving toward the ultimate goal of the kingdom of God on earth (Daniel 2; 7). So a proper understanding of history informs us about the plan and purpose of God.
God Is Revealed in Human Art. The Bible declares that God is beautiful, and so is his creation. The psalmist wrote: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1). Isaiah beheld a marvelous display of God’s beauty when he “saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). Scriptures encourage us to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2; cf. 27:4).
Solomon pointed out that God has made everything “beautiful in its time” (Eccles. 3:11). The psalmist speaks of his city of Zion as “perfect in beauty” (Ps. 50:2). What God created is good like himself (Gen. 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4), and the goodness of God is beautiful. So, insofar as creation reflects God, it is also beautiful. Not only is God beautiful and has made a beautiful world, but he has created beings who can appreciate beauty. Like him, they can also make beautiful things. Human beings are, as it were “sub-creators.” God endows certain humans with special creative gifts which reveal something of his marvelous nature.
God Is Revealed in Music. God apparently loves music, since he orchestrated the angelic choir at creation when “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Angels also continually chant the tersanctus in his presence, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 4:6; 6:3). Furthermore, angels gather around God’s throne and “in a loud voice they sing: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).
Moses’ sister, Miriam, led the triumphant Israelites in singing after God delivered them through the Red Sea (Exod. 15). David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel,” set up a choir for the temple and wrote many songs (psalms) to be sung in it. Paul admonished the church to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).
We learn something more about God’s nature through the human voice, a God-ordained instrument of music. Even the Jewish high priest entered within the holy of holies with bells on his garment. And the psalmist commanded that God be praised with trumpet, harp, lyre, tambourine, and cymbals (Ps. 150:3–5). In heaven the angels play trumpets (Rev. 8:2) and others play harps (Rev. 14:2). Music too is a gift and manifestation of God. Like the rest of his creation, it is a manifestation of his glory.
So even apart from God’s special revelation in Scripture, he has manifested himself in general revelation in nature.
General and Special Revelation. While the Bible is God’s only written revelation, it is not God’s only revelation. God has more to say to us than is in the Bible. His general revelation in nature, man, history, art and music offers vast opportunities for continual exploration. The following chart summarizes this relationship:
God as Redeemer
God as Creator
norm for church
norm for society
means of salvation
means of condemnation
The Role of Special Revelation. Special revelation contributes uniquely to Christian theology. The Bible alone is infallible and inerrant. Further, the Bible is the only source of both God’s revelation as Redeemer and his plan of salvation. Thus Scripture is normative for all.
The Bible alone is infallible and inerrant. The Bible is normative for all Christian thought. It is a revelation of Christ (Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39; Heb. 10:7). The task of the Christian, then, is “to bring every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) as revealed in Scripture. We must think as well as live Christocentric lives (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21).
The Bible alone reveals God as Redeemer. While general revelation manifests God as Creator, it does not reveal him as Redeemer. The universe speaks of God’s greatness (Ps. 8:1; Isa. 40:12–17), but only special revelation reveals his redeeming grace (John 1:14). The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1), but only Christ declared his saving grace (Titus 2:11–13).
The Bible alone has the message of salvation. In view of God’s general revelation all are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). For all who sin apart from the [written] law will also perish apart from the law” (Rom. 2:12). General revelation is a sufficient ground for condemnation. However, it is not sufficient for salvation. One can tell how the heavens move by studying general revelation, but not how to go to heaven. For “there is no other name under heaven [except Christ’s] given to men by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12). To be saved, one must confess “Jesus is Lord” and believe that God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9). But they cannot call upon someone of whom they have not heard, “and how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14). Thus, preaching the Gospel in all the world is the Christian’s great commission (Matt. 28:18–20).
The Bible is the written norm. Without the truth of Scripture there would be no Church, for “the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). The revealed Word of God is the norm for faith and practice. Paul said, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, training, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). However, not all unbelievers have access to a Bible. Nonetheless, God holds them responsible to his general revelation. For “all who sin apart from the [written] law will also perish apart from the law,” since they have a law in their hearts (Rom. 2:12, 14).
The Role of General Revelation. While the Bible is all true, God has not revealed all truth in the Bible. Whereas the Bible is only truth, it is not the only truth. All truth is God’s truth, but all God’s truth is not in the Bible. General revelation, then, plays an important role in God’s plan, and as such it has several unique roles.
General is broader than special revelation. General revelation encompasses much more than special revelation. Most of the truths of science, history, mathematics, and the arts are not in the Bible. The bulk of truth in all these areas is found only in God’s general revelation. While the Bible is everywhere scientifically accurate, it is not a textbook on science. The mandate to do science is not a redemption mandate; it is a creation mandate. Right after God created Adam, he commanded him to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Likewise, there are no mathematical errors in God’s inerrant Word, but then again there is very little geometry or algebra and no calculus in it either. Similarly, the Bible records accurately much of the history of Israel, but has little on the history of the world, except as it bears on Israel. The same is true of every area of the arts and science. Whenever the Bible speaks in these areas, it speaks authoritatively, but God has largely left the discoveries of his truths in these areas to a study of general revelation.
General revelation is essential to human reason. Not even an unbeliever thinks apart from God’s general revelation in human reason. God is a rational being, and humanity is made in his image (Gen. 1:27). Just as God thinks rationally, so human beings were given that capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). Indeed, the highest use of human reason is to love the Lord with “all our mind …” (Matt. 22:37).
The basic laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever. Without them no writing, thinking, or rational inferences would be possible. But nowhere are these laws of thought spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and the special object of philosophical thought.
General revelation is essential to government. God has ordained that believers live by his written law, but he has written his law in the hearts of unbelievers (Rom. 2:12–15). Divine law in Scripture is the norm for Christians, but natural law is binding on all. Nowhere in Scripture does God judge the nations by either the law of Moses he gave to Israel (Exod. 19–20) or by the law of Christ he enjoins on Christians. To think otherwise is the central error of theonomists. Nowhere, for example, were non-Jewish nations ever condemned in the Old Testament for not observing the Sabbath or sacrificing a lamb. Strangers and sojourners in Israel were, of course, required to respect the civil and moral laws of Israel as long as they were in the country. But this no more means the Jewish law was intended for them than that Christians are under the Quranic law because they must abide by it when in Muslim lands.
The law of Moses was not given to the Gentiles. Paul said clearly, “the Gentiles who have not the law” (Rom. 2:14). The psalmist said “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation: they do not know his laws” (Ps. 147:19–20). This is confirmed by the fact that, in spite of the many condemnations of Gentiles’ sins in the Old Testament, never once were they condemned for not worshiping on the Sabbath or not making pilgrimages or bringing tithes to Jerusalem. This does not mean that there is no law of God for non-believers; they are bound by the law “written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:2–15). While they have no special revelation in holy Scripture, they are responsible to general revelation in human nature.
General revelation is essential to apologetics. Without general revelation there would be no basis for Christian apologetics. For if God had not revealed himself in nature, there would be no way to argue from the design evident in it to the existence of a Designer, known as the teleological argument for God’s existence. Nor would there be any way to argue from the beginning or contingency of the world to the existence of a First Cause, known as the cosmological argument. Likewise, unless God had revealed himself in the very moral nature of human beings it would not be possible to argue to a Moral Lawgiver. And, of course, without a God who can act in creating the world, there could be no special acts of God (miracles) in the world.
Interaction Between Revelations. Since it is the task of a systematic thinker to organize all truth about God and his relation to his creation, both general and special revelation are needed. However, since special revelation overlaps with general revelation, it is necessary to discuss the interaction between general and special revelation. God has revealed himself in his Word and in his world. His truth is found both in Scripture and in science. The problem arises when they seem to conflict. It is too simplistic to conclude that the Bible is always right and science wrong.
When dealing with conflicts between Christianity and culture we must be careful to distinguish between God’s Word, which is infallible, and our interpretation of it which is not. We must further distinguish between God’s revelation in his world, which is always true, and current understanding of it, which is not always correct and is likely to change. In the past, Christians have frequently given up claims to biblical truth for scientific theories that are no longer held to be so.
Two important things follow from these distinctions. First, God’s revelations in his Word and his world never contradict each other. God is consistent; he never talks out of both sides of his mouth. Second, whenever there is a real conflict, it is between a human interpretation of God’s Word and a human understanding of his world. Either one or both of these are wrong, but God has not erred.
Which gets the priority? When conflicts in understanding God’s general and special revelations occur, which one gets the priority? The temptation might be to give precedent to the biblical interpretation because the Bible is infallible, but this overlooks the crucial distinction just made. The Bible is inerrant, but interpretations of it are prone to error. The history of interpretation reveals that God’s infallible Word is as capable of being misunderstood as is anything else, including the arts and science.
This does not leave one at an impasse. Whenever there is a conflict between an interpretation of the Bible and a current understanding of God’s general revelation, priority should generally be given to the interpretation that seems more certain. Sometimes this is our understanding of special revelation, and sometimes it is our understanding of general revelation, depending on which one is more thoroughly proven. A few examples will help illuminate the point.
Some interpreters have wrongly concluded on the basis of Biblical references to “the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1) that the earth is flat. However, science has proven with certainty that this is wrong. Therefore, in this case the certainty in interpreting God’s general revelation takes precedence over whatever uncertainty there may be in interpreting these biblical references. “Four corners” can be understood as a figure of speech.
Others have claimed that the sun moves around the earth on the basis of Bible references to “sun set” (Josh 1:15) or the sun “standing still” (Josh. 10:13). However, this interpretation is not necessary. It could be only the language of appearance from an observer’s point of view on the face of the earth. Furthermore, since Copernicus there is good reason to believe that the sun does not move around the earth. Hence, we assign a higher probability to the heliocentric interpretation of God’s world at this point than to a geocentric interpretation of his Word.
Unfortunately, some are willing to believe in a given interpretation of God’s Word, even if it involves a logical contradiction. But general revelation demands (by way of the law of noncontradiction) that opposites cannot both be true. Hence, we cannot believe that God is both one person and also three persons at the same time and in the same sense. Thus, both monotheism, so defined, and Trinitarianism cannot be true. We can, and do, believe that God is three Persons in one Essence. For even though this is a mystery, it is not a contradiction. Therefore, we can be absolutely certain that any interpretation of Scripture that involves a contradiction is false. However, there are times when an interpretation of Scripture should take precedence over even highly popular views in science.
Macroevolution is a good example. It is virtually certain that the Bible cannot be properly interpreted to accommodate macroevolution. The Bible teaches that God brought the universe into existence out of nothing (Gen. 1:1), that he created every basic kind of animal and plant (Gen. 1:21), and that he specially and directly created man and woman in his image (Gen. 1:27). Hence, in spite of the prevailing and popular (though not highly probable) evolutionary views to the contrary, the Christian must give priority to this highly probable interpretation of Scripture over the improbable theory of macroevolution.
Mutual Enrichment. Often there is no serious conflict between widely accepted Bible interpretation and the general understanding of the scientific world. Rather, there is mutual enrichment. For example, a knowledge of the content of the Bible is essential for much of western Art and Literature. Further, biblical history and world history overlap significantly, so that neither should be ignorant of the other. More neglected is the connection between modern science and the biblical idea of creation. In this connection it is important to note that the biblical concept of creation helped give rise to modern science. Of course, in the study of origins there is a direct overlap and mutual enrichment of the scientific and biblical data.
Conclusion. The Bible is essential to both systematic thinking and to apologetics. It is the only infallible writing we have. It speaks with unerring authority on every topic it covers, whether spiritual or scientific, whether heavenly or earthly. However, the Bible is not God’s only revelation to mankind. God has spoken in his world as well as in his Word. It is the task of the Christian thinker to appropriate the information from both and to form a worldview that includes a theocentric interpretation of science, history, human beings, and the arts. However, without God’s revelation (both general and special) as the basis, this task is as impossible as it would be to move the world with no place to put one’s fulcrum.
In theology the interaction between biblical studies and other disciplines should always be a two-way street. No one provides a monologue for the other; all engage in a continual dialogue. Although the Bible is infallible in whatever it addresses, it does not speak to every issue. And while the Bible is infallible, our interpretations of it are not. Thus, those in biblical studies must listen to as well as speak to the other disciplines so that a complete and correct systematic view can be constructed.
 Norman L. Geisler, “Revelation, General,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 670–674.