One of the most important subjects to which we can give our thoughts is that of the relationship between general and special revelation. These two categories of God’s self-revelation are often approached as if they were two planets orbiting in concentric circles yet never touching one another. Such an approach misunderstands God’s original intention for these two forms of revelation in relation to His image bearers. In fact, the devil’s masterpiece was to drive a wedge between these two forms of revelation in the mind and heart of Adam–thus deceiving man into thinking that he could interpret reality independent of God’s interpretive word. This is what we find in Genesis 3 with regard to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Cornelius Van Til explained that the tree was part of general revelation when he wrote:
God chose one tree from among many and “arbitrarily” told man not to eat of it. It is in this connection that we must speak of the necessity of natural revelation. If the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had been naturally different from other trees it could not have served its unique purpose. That the commandment might appear as purely “arbitrary” the specially chosen tree had to be naturally like other trees. For the supernatural to appear as supernatural the natural had to appear as really natural. The supernatural could not be recognized for what it was unless the natural were also recognized for what it was. There had to be regularity if there was to be a genuine exception.1
Van Til continued his explanation of the relation between general (i.e. natural) and special (i.e. supernatural) revelation at the beginning when he noted:
…man could never have had any fruition of God through the revelation that came to him in nature as operating by itself. There was superadded to God’s revelation in nature another revelation, a supernaturally communicated positive revelation. Natural revelation, we are virtually told, was from the outset incorporated into the idea of a covenantal relationship of God with man. Thus every dimension of created existence, even the lowest, was enveloped in a form of exhaustively personal relationship between God and man. The “ateleological” no less than the “teleological,” the “mechanical” no less than the “spiritual” was covenantal in character.2
General revelation (i.e. the Tree) was never meant to be interpreted by Adam apart from the special revelation about the tree (i.e. the prohibition). God’s word was always meant to accompany and interpret God’s world. Ever since Adam chose to side with the Evil One and to seek to interpret God’s world (and himself, for that matter) his descendants have sought to interpret the world in which they live independent of God’s word. The irony is that man is himself part of general revelation and cannot know himself rightly apart from God’s self-revelation through His word. So what is the remedy to man’s greatest problem? It is, simply put, Jesus Christ!
The Lord Jesus is, at one and the same time, general and special revelation. He is God manifest in the flesh. The apostle John explained this mystery when he wrote, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus is special revelation because He is the living Word of God; but He is also general revelation because He is man. Significantly, the Word became flesh to hang on the tree. It was there that the breach between general and special revelation was healed. What the first Adam did by his disobedience with regard to interpreting the tree, the second Adam healed by His obedience with regard to the tree. Now, all those who are in the second Adam by faith have their minds and hearts renewed and seek to “think God’s thoughts after Him” and to interpret themselves and the world around them in light of the living Word of God as revealed in the written word of God
1. Taken from Cornelius Van Til’s chapter, “Nature and Scripture,” in The Infallible Word.