Is the Bible God's only source of revelation?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Is the Bible the only source of revelation, or is it one source of revelation among many? Also, what does it mean to have a theology that "grows out of the Bible?" 

Answer: The Bible is the only written source of God’s revelation. So, if you are asking if the Bible is one among others of the same level (like with Islam’s Koran, the Hindus’ Shreemad Bhagavad Gita or the Buddhists’ Tripitakas, etc.), the answer is no. Although those are known as “holy books” among the world’s people, they are only holy as the world defines holy. None of those books were delivered by the one true God. The Bible was, however… and it is unique in that.

God superintended the writing of the Bible through the ages… the assembly and preservation of its content through the ages… and its continuous translation into the contemporary idiom when needed. It has always faithfully transmitted God’s story. But there’s more! Just as the Holy Spirit attended its production (2 Peter 1:21), the Holy Spirit attends to its reading (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). There is no other book quite like it.

Although the Bible is God’s only written revelation — and although it is the Christian’s primary source of information about God — it is not the only source of information about God... because that same Bible says there are other sources of revelation.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 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 people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18–20, NIV)

The Bible says that the creation itself is God’s revelation. We call this his general revelation (to differentiate it from his special revelation — the Bible). What this means to an apologist (or just to a plain old observer) is that nothing we observe in creation will contradict the Bible. After all, if they are both God’s revelations, they are both God’s truth. Therefore, they cannot contradict.

So, when science and Scripture appear to be at variance, this has to do with the interpretation of the data, not the data itself… and these two are often confused. The data is God’s revelation in both the Bible and in Creation… but what people say about the data is not God’s revelation.

Most people stop at assigning the two aforementioned sources as God’s revelation… but I add a third — God’s revelation through human morality. I realize that we humans are a part of creation… and are technically a subset of God’s general revelation… and I can see the sense of stopping there. But since the creation itself would have been senseless without us (Isaiah 43:7), I believe that human morality should stand beside the Bible and Creation as revelations from God — and this is not without Scriptural warrant.

“(Indeed, 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. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” (Romans 2:14–15, NIV)

Since we humans are moral beings ontologically, we receive moral (metaphysical) revelations directly from God. Now, it is true that we can learn about morality from reading God’s word and from observing the physical creation. But this does not change the fact that we are hardwired to engage life morally. But that hardwiring is information that we don’t get from anywhere else! As such, it is my opinion that this type of moral revelation forms its own category. This joins the other two so that all three revelations must be true separately and true mutually.

So, if you’re talking about other documents, then no… the Bible is the only source of revelation. But if you’re talking about revelation itself, then the answer is yes. There are other sources of revelation — but they are limited to those pointed out in the Bible… and none of them can contradict any others of them.

As to your query “… what does it mean to have a theology that 'grows out of the Bible?'” I don’t have a firm read on that question. However, we generally talk about two types of theology — Biblical Theology and Natural Theology — and your question might be targeting these two.

As you might guess, we develop biblical theology using what the Bible tells us about God. But we develop natural theology by building a picture of God from extra-biblical sources — like the picture we get of him from nature… or what we can postulate about him from philosophy.

Now, this seems like we could get into a lot of trouble with Natural Theology — and plenty of people do! But there’s a trick to keeping out of trouble when considering extra-biblical sources. Where the Bible is not the source of truth (and the Bible is indeed limited in scope), use it as the touchstone for truth. That is, bring everything back to Scripture and test it to see if it is gold.

For instance, the Bible does not tell us a lot about how God relates to time. It could be that God is atemporal — that he lives outside of time altogether. Or it could be that he is omnitemporal — that he lives in all time at the same time. The biblical information does not conflict with either (or both)… so, either or both could be true.

Such philosophical considerations as these — where we have biblically ambiguous information about God — contribute to Natural Theology… and we should pursue these leads vigorously. But we need to keep them in their place. For instance, although his relationship to time is biblically indeterminate, we could not postulate that there are times when God does not exist. That would directly oppose his aseity, which is broadly attested in Scripture (Exodus 3:14; John 5:26).

In similar fashion, the Bible doesn’t really tell us that God is logical. It assumes he is… much like it assumes he exists. Nevertheless, we often get logic-assaulting questions like, “Can God create a rock so big that he can’t move it?” In a world where everything (including God) must act according to its own nature, this statement is nonsense — and can be dismissed on those grounds.

Here’s the issue: just because a sentence has valid syntax doesn’t mean it makes a valid statement… and the Bible doesn’t really teach about language and logic per se. It just proceeds as if there is a properly basic assumption controlling these… and there’s much that the Bible assumes about God that it does not specifically state… like that the being who made a universe where contradiction cannot exist has non-contradiction as a part of his own nature.

As you can see, God gave us the ability to do abstract reasoning — to stand outside of his word (and even outside of nature sometimes) and think things through. I’m not sure what you meant by the term a “theology that grows out of the Bible” ... and I’m reluctant to sign-off on statements that I haven’t wrestled to the ground. But as long as the Bible is at least the touchstone for truth, it doesn’t matter if you’ve dabbled in other disciplines first... which seems to be a requirement for the “grows out of” part of the statement.

I cite as an example Dr. Hugh Ross, founder of Reasons to Believe Ministries. He was raised by non-believing parents and attended secularized Canadian schools. But his examination of the universe led him to the God of the Bible… and he didn’t even meet another Christian until coming to the USA to work in astrophysics! He is true to the Bible and is highly evangelistic… but the book of nature came first for him… and not only has that never been a problem, it has spawned and propelled a ministry responsible for countless salvations in its 40 years.

So, it doesn’t matter what the starting point is in people’s journeys of faith… or even where they spend most of their time. My hope for all believers is that they would meditate upon the Scripture (Psalm 119:15-16). But also, that they would explore as many extra-biblical disciplines as possible to help them develop a robust Christian worldview. After all, if all truth is God’s truth — and if we keep the Bible as its touchstone — then what would it matter where we started, and what would it matter what we emphasized along the way?

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