The Means of Knowing Truth About God Part One
How can mankind know if God is a reality or a figment of human imagination? If God is a reality, how can His nature; thoughts; ways; actions; and relationship to the universe, planet Earth, mankind, and individual persons be known? The only means of knowing these things is divine revelation. Scholar Raymond C. Van Leeuwen says that God “is known only as he makes himself known.”1 Has God demonstrated the reality of His existence and uncovered other knowledge about Himself by giving revelation to human beings during the course of history? Let’s investigate.
The Biblical Claim of Divine Revelation
Despite the fact God is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17) and, therefore, His actual being, essence, or person has never been seen by mortal human beings (Jn. 1:18; 1 Jn. 4:12), the Scriptures claim that God has revealed Himself to mankind. For example, 1 Samuel 3:21 states, “the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh.” In Exodus 6:3, God said, “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob”; and Exodus 3:16 claims that God appeared to Moses. According to scholar Wilhelm Michaelis, the verb translated “appeared” in these Exodus statements does not signify that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses saw the actual being or essence of God with their eyes. Instead, the form of the verb indicates that God made His presence known to them in some other way.2
Exodus 33:11 states, “the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” The expression face to face does not mean that Moses actually saw God’s face because the Lord clearly told Moses, “Thou canst not see my face” (Ex. 33:20). Instead, it refers to clear, open speech and friendship (cf. Num. 12:8).3
The Lord told Moses, “thou shalt see my back; but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33:23). Old Testament scholar Jacobus A. Naude points out that “the face of God denotes the very person of God.”4 This fact is evident because the Lord equated “see my face” with “see me” (Ex. 33:20). Thus He was saying that Moses would not see the actual person of God.
According to R. Laird Harris, nowhere else is the word that is translated “back” in Exodus 33:23 used “for the back of a person’s anatomy.”5 In all other instances, it “means ‘back’ in the sense of direction.”6 It appears, then, that what Moses saw was the afterglow of God’s glory “behind the Lord as he passed by,” not God Himself.7 Walter C. Kaiser (in “temuna,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) indicates that God’s statement that Moses would behold “the similitude of the LORD” (Num. 12:8) conveys the same concept.8
Jehovah said, “there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). The fact that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and other people continued to live after the Lord “appeared” to them indicates that they did not see the actual being, essence, or person of God in those appearances. This fact prompts the following conclusion: Through the use of other means, God revealed or demonstrated the reality of His existence to mortal human beings as fully and convincingly as if His actual being, essence, or person had visibly appeared to them.
The Scriptures also claim that God revealed secret or hidden knowledge to human beings in the past. The prophet Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, “there is a God in heaven who revealeth secrets” (Dan. 2:28). The prophet Amos wrote, “the Lord GOD . . . revealeth his secret unto his servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7). According to Bruce K. Waltke in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word gala, translated “revealeth” in Amos’ statement, has the basic meaning “to uncover,” with the resultant meanings “to show, to reveal.” It frequently refers to divine revelation. In one form, “it always denotes ‘to uncover’ something which otherwise is normally concealed.”9 The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament claims that the Aramaic word gela, translated “revealed” in Daniel’s statement, is used in the same way as the Hebrew word gala.10
In 1 Corinthians 2:4–10 and Ephesians 3:3–11, the apostle Paul asserted that he presented knowledge that had been revealed by God to him, other apostles, and New Testament prophets. Paul indicated significant facts about this revealed knowledge. It did not originate with mankind (1 Cor. 2:4–5) or the world system of the present age and its rulers (1 Cor. 2:6). God was the source of this knowledge. He determined it in eternity past (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9, 11) and kept it hidden from mankind, including its rulers, until He revealed it to the apostles and New Testament prophets (1 Cor. 2:10; Eph. 3:3–5, 9). Mankind never could discover this knowledge through the human senses or ability to reason (1 Cor. 2:9).
In both of these passages, Paul used the Greek word musterion (translated “mystery”) for this divinely revealed knowledge. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, indicate that biblical and early Christian literature used this word “to mean the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God which are hidden from the human reason, as well as from all other comprehension below the divine level, and hence must be revealed to those for whom it is intended.”11 They state that it refers to “a secret or mystery, too profound for human ingenuity.”12 Furthermore, Michaelis states that when divine revelation takes place, “man is always the recipient and never the author” of what is revealed.13 Thus Daniel and Paul indicated that they could not claim credit for the knowledge God revealed to them (Dan. 2:30; Eph. 3:3–4).
A Definition of Divine Revelation
In light of these biblical statements and meanings of words used, divine revelation can be defined as follows: Divine knowledge is the uncovering by God for mankind of a body of knowledge formerly hidden from mankind and totally undiscoverable by mankind.
The Means of Divine Revelation
Scripture indicates that God has used several means to uncover the reality of His existence and other knowledge to mankind.
Nature. Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” John N. Oswalt (in “kabod,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) claims the Bible uses the word translated “glory” in a figurative sense for “the concept of a ‘weighty’ person in society, someone who is honorable, impressive, worthy of respect.”14 Thus glory constitutes anything that is impressive, demands recognition, gives a person influence, sets him apart, and distinguishes him from others.
R. D. Patterson asserts that the word translated “declare” means “recount” or “tell.”15 According to L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner (in Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros), the word translated “showeth” basically means “to place a matter high, conspicuous before a person.”16
The word translated “God” in verse one is the name El. Jack B. Scott (in “el,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) indicates that ancient people used this name to refer to a personal deity. The Scriptures use it to refer to the one, true, living God (2 Ki. 19:15–16; Jer. 10:10) who is invisible to mortal mankind (“‘El who hides himself’ [i.e. known only by self-revelation, Isa. 45:15]”).17
These meanings of glory, declare, and showeth and the significance of the name El indicate that Psalm 19:1 claims that the heavens are recounting or telling what is impressive or influential concerning their Creator. They display what should be obvious to the human eye and mind, namely, the conspicuous, distinctive stamp of His divine handiwork. In other words, the magnitude, beauty, order, and design of the heavens testify concerning the existence and incredible wisdom and power of the one, true, living, personal, invisible God who created them. Scholar Robert C. Newman writes that the stars in the heavens “are a part of God’s self-revelation in nature, his handiwork pointing beyond themselves to God’s brightness, purity, greatness, and power.”18
Psalm 19:2 declares, “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” This declaration indicates that no time limit exists on this revelation of knowledge concerning God from the heavens. According to Leonard J. Coppes (in “naba,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament), the word translated “uttereth” means “gush forth.” Its root “connotes an uncontrollable or uncontrolled gushing forth.”19 Twenty-four hours a day, without interruption since the beginning of time, the heavens have been gushing forth a flood of knowledge about God that cannot be restrained. Thus, regardless of when a person has lived on the earth, he or she has been exposed to this revelation.
Psalm 19:3 literally asserts, “no speech nor language, their voice is not heard.” It signifies that there is no audible speech, no language involved in this revelation from the heavens. It is a totally silent communication of knowledge concerning God. Because this revelation comes without the use of languages, no language barriers hinder its effective communication. As a result, this revelation can be understood by people of all languages.
Psalm 19:4 states, “Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Earl S. Kalland (in “milla,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) states that the word translated “words” refers to “the revelation of God.”20 Thus this statement asserts that this revelation of knowledge concerning God from the heavens is worldwide in scope. It extends to every geographical area. No matter where people live on Earth, they are exposed to this revelation. Ralph H. Alexander writes, “Creation itself gives a ‘worldwide’ witness to God’s glory (Ps. 19:4) which should result in Yahweh’s praise (Ps. 98:2).”21
The expression their line is gone out through all the earth contains an additional implication. In the Old Testament, the word translated “line” frequently referred to a measuring line, a standard, by which other objects were measured (Isa. 34:17; 44:13; Jer. 31:39). Concerning this word, John E. Hartley (in “qaw,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) states, “A line is basically a measuring line. It stands parallel to plummet (Isa. 28:17).”22 In light of this concept, the additional implication of Psalm 19:4 is as follows: The knowledge concerning God, revealed worldwide from the heavens, is the foundation for a world-life view. This foundation (the existence, wisdom, and power of one, true, living, personal, invisible God who created the universe) is the measuring line or standard by which the foundations of all other world-life views are to be measured or evaluated. Any foundations that do not agree with this standard are contrary to reality—and so are the views based upon them.
The next article will explore further the means of divine revelation.