Louis Berkhof, 1933

I. Preface and Introduction

    A. Religion

    B. Revelation

    C. Scripture



After the publication of my Systematic Theology, the publisher requested me to prepare for publication a more compendious work on Christian doctrine, which might be fit for high school and college classes, and might also be used profitably by our older catechumens. Mindful of the great importance of the proper indoctrination of the young people of the Church, I did not have the courage to refuse, but undertook to prepare a brief manual. The work seemed particularly important to me in view of the widespread doctrinal indifference of the present day, of the resulting superficiality and confusion in the minds of many professing Christians of the insidious errors that are zealously propagated even from the pulpits, and of the alarming increase of all kinds of sects that are springing up like mushrooms on every side. If there ever was a time when the Church ought to guard her precious heritage, the deposit of the truth that was entrusted to her care, that time is now. I have tried to give a rather comprehensive and yet concise statement of our Reformed conception of the truth, and sincerely hope that its clarity may not have suffered through its brevity. At the end of every chapter I have given a list of questions which will help the student to test his knowledge of what it contains. In my references for further study I have been rather sparing, since I did not desire to overload the student in any way Moreover, I have limited myself almost exclusively to Reformed authors. I hope it will not seem presumptuous that I have invariably referred first of all to my own work on Systematic Theology, since this Manual is based on the larger work throughout and can best be understood in the light of its more detailed discussion of Christian doctrine. May the King of the Church make this Manual a blessed influence in the instruction of our covenant youth.
L. Berkhof, May 10, 1933.




A. Religion a universal phenomenon.

Man has been described as "incurably religious." This is but another way of saying that religion is a universal phenomenon. Missionaries testify to its presence in some form or other, among all the nations and tribes of the earth. It is one of the most remarkable phenomena of the life of man, touching the deepest springs of his spiritual existence, controlling his thoughts, stirring his emotions, and guiding his actions. While it is generally hailed as one of the greatest blessings of mankind, some denounce it as one of the most pernicious factors in the life of the world. But even its greatest enemies cannot deny its paramount significance and its tremendous influence in the lives of individuals and nations. It naturally forces itself upon the attention of all serious-minded people. Even the philosopher Hume, though a radical skeptic and opponent of the supernatural, once said: "Look out for a people entirely void of religion, and if you find them at all, be assured that they are but a few degrees removed from the brutes."

B. The essential nature of religion.

Just what is religion? In our day many seek an answer to this question by studying the religions of the world and the various manifestations of religion in human life. By a comparative study they would discover the real nature of religion, and insist on discovering a definition sufficiently broad to cover all the forms in which the religious life manifests itself among the nations of the world. But this is not the proper method to follow. While it may give us an insight into the present manifestations of the religious life of the world, it does not enable us to determine what is the real nature of religion. The Bible only enables us to get a proper conception of the ideal.

Religion is concerned with man's relation to God, and man has no right to determine the nature of this relation. It is God's prerogative to specify how man should be related to Him, and He does this in His divine Word. The word "religion" is in all probability derived from the Latin word relegere, meaning to re-read, to repeat, to observe carefully, and frequently served to designate a constant and diligent observance of all that pertained to the worship of the gods. Religion is described in the Old Testament as "the fear of the Lord." This "fear" is not the same as that "dread" which is so characteristic of heathen religions, though the element to dread is not always absent. It may be described as the feeling of reverent regard for God, tempered with awe, and the fear of disobedience or (occasionally) of the punishment for disobedience. As such it represented the response of the pious Israelite to the Old Testament revelation of the law.

In the New Testament the gospel message is prominently in the foreground, and man's response to the divine revelation assumes a somewhat different form, namely, the form of "faith." While there are other terms for religion in the New Testament, such as godliness, 1 Timothy 2:10, and godly fear, Hebrews 5:7, the word "faith" generally serves to describe the religious attitude of man. By this faith we accept the testimony of God in His Word as true, and entrust ourselves to Him, as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, for our salvation. In the New Testament the element of trust is very much in the foreground. To the glorious message of redemption there is an answering faith on the part of man, consisting in a childlike trust in Jesus Christ, and becoming at the same time a fountain of love to God and His service.

In the light of Scripture we learn to understand that the word "religion" denotes a relation in which man stands to God. The characteristic element in religion has been found in piety, fear, faith, a feeling of dependence, and so on. But these are all affections which are also felt with reference to man. The really characteristic thing in this, that in religion man is conscious of the absolute majesty and infinite power of God, and of his own utter insignificance and absolute helplessness. This does not mean, however, that religion is merely a matter of the emotions, nor that it is a necessity simply imposed upon him. Man's relation to God in religion is a conscious and voluntary one, and instead of enslaving him leads him into the enjoyment of the highest liberty. Religion may be defined as a conscious and voluntary spiritual relation to God, which expresses itself in life as a whole and particularly in certain acts of worship. God Himself determines the adoration, worship, and service that is acceptable to Him. All will-worship, contrary to the Word of God, is absolutely forbidden.

C. The seat of religion.

Opinions differ very much respecting the seat of religion in the human soul. Some lose sight entirely of the central significance of religion in the life of man, and conceive of it as located in and functioning through just one of the faculties of the soul. Others stress the fact that the whole psychical nature of man is involved in the religious life.


Some find the seat of religion in the intellect. They look upon religion as a kind of knowledge, a sort of incomplete philosophy, and thus virtually make the measure of man's knowledge of God the measure of his piety. Others locate religion in the feelings. According to them religion has little or nothing to do with knowledge, but is merely a feeling of dependence on some superior Being. Man does not really know God, but becomes immediately aware of Him deep down in his soul. Still others claim that religion has its seat in the will. Man is aware of the imperative voice of conscience within him, dictating his course of action. In religion he simply recognizes the duties prescribed by conscience as divine commands. On this view religion merely becomes practical morality. These views do not do justice to the fundamental and central place of religion in human life. They are contrary to Scripture and even to modern psychology, since they ignore the fundamental unity of the human soul and proceed on the assumption that one faculty of the soul may act apart from the rest. It is always the whole man that functions in religion.


The only correct and Scriptural view is that religion is seated in the heart. In Scripture psychology the heart is the center and focus of the whole moral life of man, the personal organ of the soul. Out of it are all the issues of life, thoughts, volitions, and emotions. Religion is rooted in the image of God, and that image is central, revealing itself in the whole man with all his talents and powers. Consequently, man's relation to God is also central, and involves the whole man. Man must love God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind. He must consecrate himself to Him entirely, body and soul, with all his gifts and talents, and in all relations of life. Since religion has its seat in the heart, it embraces the entire man with all his thoughts and feelings and volitions. It is the heart that man must give to the Lord, Deuteronomy 30:6; Proverbs 23:26. In religion the heart controls the intellect, Romans 10:13, 14; Hebrews 11:6, the feelings, Psalm 28:7; 30:12, and the will, Romans 2:10, 13; Jas. 1:27; 1 John 1:5–7. The whole man is made subservient to God in every sphere of life. This is the only view that does justice to religion, and recognizes its supreme importance in the life of man.


D. The Origin of Religion.

The question of the origin of religion has engaged the attention of many scholars during the previous century, and still looms large in present-day treatises on religion. Under the influence of the theory of evolution some proceed on the assumption that man developed from a non-religious into a religious being, and make determined efforts to show how the transition came about. They who seek the solution of this problem in the light of God's revelation, however, come to an entirely different conclusion. They find that man was created as a religious being.


Some regarded religion as the product of the cunning of priests or the craft of rulers, who played on the credulity and fears of the ignorant masses, in order to gain and maintain control over them. Others designated fetish-worship (I. e., the worship of inanimate objects which were considered sacred, such as a stone, a stick, a bone, a claw, etc.) as the seed out of which the higher forms of religion developed. Still others suggested that a worship of spirits, perhaps the spirits of departed ancestors, was the most fundamental form of religion, out of which all the other forms gradually developed. A rather popular idea is to the effect that nature-worship gradually gave birth to religion. Man felt himself weak and helpless in the presence of the great and imposing phenomena of nature, and was thus led to worship these phenomena themselves or the hidden powers of which they were but the external manifestations. In more recent years the idea is gaining favor with some that religion in some way evolved out of a general belief in magic. These theories fail to explain the origin of religion, however. They start with an assumption that is contradicted by the facts, namely, that man was originally non-religious. Such a non-religious man has never yet been discovered, and for that very reason it has been impossible to see religion in the making. Moreover, they proceed on the purely naturalistic assumption that the lowest form of religion is necessarily the oldest, and that religion is the result of a purely naturalistic evolution. They lose sight of the fact that there may have been deterioration in the religious life of the race. And, finally, they frequently assume the very thing which they must explain. The deceptive priests, the worship of fetishes and of spirits, the feeling of dependence on a higher power, and the idea that there is some invisible power behind the forces of nature,—these are the very things that need explanation. They are already manifestations of religion.


God's special revelation can enlighten us as to the origin of religion. It acquaints us with the fact that religion finds its explanation only in God. If we would explain the origin of religion we must proceed on the assumption that God exists, for real religion without a God is unthinkable. If religion is not founded on reality, it is a deceptive illusion, which may have some practical value for the present but will disappoint in the end. Moreover, since man cannot of himself discover God and know Him, it was necessary that God should reveal Himself. Without such a self-revelation on the part of God it would be utterly impossible for man to enter into religious relationship to Him. God did reveal Himself, and in His self-revelation determined the worship and service that is well-pleasing to Him. But even this self-revelation of God would not have availed to the establishment of a religious relation, if God had not endowed man with a capacity to understand it and to respond to it. Religion is founded in the very nature of man, and was not imposed on him from without. It is a mistake to think that man first existed without religion and was then endowed with it as something added to his being. Created in the image of God, man has a natural capacity for receiving and appreciating the self-revelation of God. In virtue of his natural endowments man seeks communion with God, though by nature he now seeks it in the wrong way. It is only under the influence of God's special revelation and of the illumination of the Holy Spirit that the sinner can, at least in principle, render to God the service that is his due.

Questions for Review:

How do many in our day seek to discover the essential nature of religion?

Which is the only way in which we can learn to know this?

What is the derivation of the word "religion"?

What terms describe the religious attitude in the Old and in the New Testament?

How would you define religion?

What mistaken notions are there as to the seat of religion in man?

What is the center of the religious life according to Scripture?

What different explanations have been given of the origin of religion?

Which is the only satisfactory explanation?



The idea of religion naturally leads on to that of revelation. While many attempts have been made to explain religion apart from revelation, the conviction is now growing that all religion originates in revelation. And this is the only correct view of the matter. If God had not revealed Himself, man would not be in position to know Him at all, and all religion would be impossible.

A. Revelation in General.

Before entering upon a discussion of the different kinds of revelation which God has given unto man, it is necessary to make a few remarks on revelation in general.


God is the incomprehensible One. Man cannot know Him as He is in the hidden depths of His divine being. Only the Spirit of God can search the deep things of God, 1 Corinthians 1:10. It is impossible for man to have a perfect knowledge of God, for in order to possess this he would have to be greater than God. Job's question is a pointed denial of man's ability to comprehend the Infinite One: "Can you by searching find out God? Can you find out the Almighty unto perfection?" Job 11:7. At the same time it is possible for men to know God in a measure which is perfectly adequate for his personal needs. But he can acquire even this knowledge only because it has pleased God to reveal Himself. This means, according to the presentation of Scripture, that God has removed the veil which covered Him and has exposed Himself to view. In other words, He has in some way communicated knowledge of Himself to man, and has thereby opened the way for man to know Him, to worship Him, and to live in communion with Him.


In course of time two kinds of divine revelation were distinguished, namely, natural and supernatural, and general and special revelation. Generally speaking these two distinctions move along parallel lines; at the same time they differ in certain particulars which deserve notice.

    a. Natural and supernatural revelation. This distinction is based on the mode of God's revelation. In origin all revelation is supernatural, because it originates in God. There is a difference, however, in the way in which God reveals Himself. Natural revelation is that revelation which is communicated through the phenomena of nature, including the very constitution of man. It is not a revelation given in words but embodied in facts which speak volumes. Figuratively, nature can be called a great book in which God has written with letters large and small, and from which man may learn of his goodness and wisdom, "his everlasting power and divinity," Romans 1:20. Supernatural revelation, on the other hand, is a revelation in which God intervenes in the natural course of events, and in which He, even when He uses natural means, such as dreams and oral communications, employs them in a supernatural way. It is a revelation that is both verbal and factual, in which the words explain the facts and the facts illustrate the words.

    b. General and special revelation. The second distinction hinges on the nature and object of God's revelation. General revelation is rooted in creation and in the general relations of God to man, is addressed to man considered simply as the creature and image-bearer of God, and aims at the realization of the end for which man was created and which can be attained only where man knows God and enjoys communion with Him. Special revelation, on the other hand, is rooted in the redemptive work of God, is addressed to man as a sinner and adapted to the moral and spiritual needs of fallen man, and aims at leading the sinner back to God through the specific knowledge of God's redemptive love revealed in Christ Jesus. It is not like general revelation a light that lights every man, but a light that illumines the pathway of those who are made receptive for the truth by the special operation of the Holy Spirit.


The fact of the divine revelation was frequently denied in one form or another. Both general and special revelation, but the former less than the latter, were the object of this denial.

    a. Denial of general revelation. The atheist, who denies the very existence of God, naturally disputes all revelation. So does the agnostic, who does not believe that man can know God and who therefore speaks of Him as the great Unknowable One. Pantheists occasionally pretend to believe that God reveals Himself. Yet the idea of revelation does not fit in their system at all. They do not recognize the existence of a personal God, who can consciously and voluntarily reveal Himself; and even if they did, they would not know of any object outside of God to which He could make Himself known. With them God and man are one.

    b. Denial of special revelation. Eighteenth century Deism, while acknowledging God's general revelation, denied the necessity, the possibility, and the reality of any special supernatural revelation. It regarded the general revelation of God as sufficient even for fallen man, and considered the assumption that it was not sufficient as a reflection on the wisdom or power of God. It would seem to imply that God was wanting either in the necessary wisdom or in the requisite power to create a world that would meet all the requirements of a divine revelation under all conditions. Under the influence of pantheistic Idealism present-day liberal theology also denies God's special revelation. It reduces the Bible to a part of His general revelation and simply wipes out the distinction between the natural and the supernatural.

B. General Revelation.

While both the general and the special revelation of God now exist alongside of each other, the former was prior to the latter in point of time, and is therefore considered first.


General revelation does not come to man in the form of direct verbal communications. It consists in an embodiment of the divine thought in the phenomena of nature, in the general constitution of the human mind, and in the facts of experience or history. God speaks to man in His entire creation, in the forces and powers of nature, in the constitution of the human mind, in the voice of conscience, and in the providential government of the world in general and of the lives of individuals in particular. The poet sings: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge," Psalm 19:1, 2. And Paul says: "For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and divinity," Romans 1:20. This general revelation never has been exclusively natural, but always contained an admixture of the supernatural. Even before the fall God revealed Himself to man super-naturally in the covenant of works. And in the course of the history of revelation God frequently revealed Himself in a supernatural way outside of the sphere of special revelation, Genesis 20:3 ff.; 40:5 ff; 41:1 ff.; Judg. 7:13; Daniel 2:1 ff.


While Pelagians, Deists, and Rationalists concur in regarding the general revelation of God as quite sufficient for the present needs of man, Roman Catholics and Protestants are agreed as to its insufficiency. There are several reasons why it must be regarded as inadequate:

    a. Sin altered both this revelation and man's receptivity for it. As a result of the fall of man the blight of sin rests on creation in general. The element of corruption entered God's beautiful handiwork and obscured, though it did not altogether obliterate, the handwriting of God. Nature, it is true, still shows the earmarks of its divine origin, but is now full of imperfections and a prey to destructive forces. It has ceased to be the perspicuous revelation of God which it once was. Moreover, man was blinded by sin, so that he cannot read the divine script in nature, and became subject to the power of error and perversion, so that he opposes the truth by unrighteousness and even exchanges it for a lie. John 1:5; Romans 1:18, 25; Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 1:13; 1 John 2:9, 11.

    b. General revelation does not convey any thoroughly reliable knowledge of God and spiritual things. In virtue of the facts stated in the preceding paragraph, the knowledge of God and of spiritual and eternal things conveyed by general revelation is too uncertain to form a trustworthy basis on which to build for eternity; and man cannot afford to pin his hopes for the future on uncertainties. The history of science and philosophy clearly shows that general revelation is no safe and certain guide. One system of truth after another was constructed, only to be overthrown by a following generation. "Our little systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be."

    c. General revelation does not even afford an adequate basis for religion in general. The history of religions shows, and this is recognized ever increasingly, that there are no religions that are based exclusively on natural revelation. It is becoming more and more evident that a purely natural religion does not and cannot exist. Gentile nations and tribes all appeal to some more special revelation, supposedly given by the gods, as the basis of their religion.

    d. It is altogether insufficient as a foundation for the Christian religion. By general revelation we may receive some knowledge of the goodness, the wisdom, and the power of God, but we do not learn to know Christ, who is the only way of salvation, Matthew 11:27; John 14:6; 17:3; Acts 4:12. It knows nothing of saving grace, of pardon and redemption, and therefore cannot lead sinners out of the slavery of sin into the glorious liberty of the children of God. It is not part of the redemptive process set in motion by God for the salvation of man. This is the supreme reason for its insufficiency. God desired to save sinners unto the glory of His name, and therefore had to enrich mankind with a more special revelation, a revelation of redeeming grace in Jesus Christ.


The fact that, after the fall of man, general revelation was superseded by a special revelation may easily lead to an under-valuation of the former. We should not forget, however, that God's original revelation remains of great importance.

    a. In connection with the gentile world. God's general revelation, including the supernatural elements that were handed down from generation to generation and often distorted beyond recognition, furnishes after all the firm and lasting foundation for the gentile religions. It is in virtue of this that even the gentiles feel themselves to be the offspring of God, Acts 17:28, that they seek after God, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him, Acts 17:27, that they see in nature God's everlasting power and divinity, Romans 1:19, 20, and that they do by nature the things of the law, Romans 2:14. While they live in the darkness of ignorance and sin, pervert the truth by turning it into a lie, and serve gods which are no gods, but lies and vanity; yet they also share in the illumination of the Logos and in the general operation of the Holy Spirit, Genesis 6:3; Job 32:8; John 1:9; Romans 2:14, 15; Acts 14:16, 17; 17:22–30. As a result their religions, while described as false in Scripture, also contain elements of truth which afford points of contact for the message of the Christian missionary.

    b. In connection with the Christian religion. When God gave his special revelation, He did not simply place this alongside of His original revelation, but incorporated in it the truths embodied in His general revelation, corrected their perversion, and interpreted them for mankind. Consequently, the Christian now reads God's general revelation with the eye of faith and in the light of His Word, and for that very reason is able to see God's hand in nature and His footsteps in history. He sees God in everything round about him, and is thus led to a proper appreciation of the world. But if special revelation engenders a true appreciation of general revelation, it is equally true that general revelation promotes a proper understanding of special revelation. Scripture can be fully understood only against the background of God's revelation in nature. The latter frequently sheds a welcome light on the former. Moreover, general revelation also offers Christians and non-Christians a common basis on which they can meet and argue. The light of the Logos that lights every man is also a bond that unites them. Finally, it is also due to God's general revelation that special revelation does not appear, as it were, suspended in the air, but touches the life of the world at every point. It maintains the connection between nature and grace, between the world and the kingdom of God, between the natural and the moral order, between creation and re-creation.

C. Special Revelation.

Alongside of the general revelation in nature and history we have a special revelation, which is now embodied in Scripture. The Bible is par excellence the book of special revelation, a revelation in which words and facts go hand in hand, the former interpreting the latter, and the latter giving concrete embodiment to the former.


Through the entrance of sin into the world God's general revelation was obscured and corrupted, so that the handwriting of God in nature and in the very constitution of man is not as legible now as it was in the morning of creation. Moreover, man became subject to the power of darkness and ignorance, of error and unbelief, and in his blindness and perverseness now fails to read aright even the remaining vestiges of the original revelation. He even takes delight in exchanging the truth of God for a lie. General revelation no more conveys to man absolutely reliable knowledge of God and spiritual things, is not properly understood by man, and does not avail to restore him to a condition of friendship with God. Therefore special divine operations were necessary, serving a fourfold purpose: (a) to correct and interpret the truths which are now gathered from general revelation; (b) to illumine man so that he can once more read the handwriting of God in nature; (c) to furnish man with a revelation of God's redemptive love; and (d) to change his entire spiritual condition by redeeming him from the power of sin and leading him back to a life in communion with God.


The means of God's special revelation can in general be reduced to three kinds:

    a. Theophanies or manifestations of God. According to Scripture God is not only a God afar off, but also a God at hand. Symbolically, He dwelt between the cherubim in the days of the Old Testament, Psalm 80:1; 99:1. His presence was seen in fire and clouds of smoke, Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2; 19:9, 16 f.; 33:9; Psalm 78:14; 99:7, in stormy winds, Job 38:1; 40:6; Psalm 18:10–16, and in the gentle zephyr, 1 Kings 19:12. These were all tokens of His presence, in which He revealed something of His glory. Among the Old Testament appearances that of the "Angel of the Lord" occupies a special place. This Angel was evidently not a created angel. On the one hand He is distinguished from God, Exodus 23:20–23; Isaiah 63:8, 9, but on the other hand He is also identified with God, Genesis 16:13; 31:11, 13; 32:28. The prevailing opinion is that He was the second person in the Trinity, cf. Malachi 3:1. Theophany reached its highest point in the incarnation of Christ, in whom the fullness of the godhead dwelt bodily, Colossians 1:19; 2:9. In Him the Church becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:21. An even fuller realization of God's dwelling with man will follow, when the new Jerusalem descends out of Heaven from God, and the tabernacle of God is pitched among men.

    b. Direct communications. God communicated His thoughts and His will to man in various ways. Sometimes He spoke to the organs of His revelation with an audible voice, Genesis 2:16; 3:8–19; 4:6–15; 9:1, 8, 12; 32:26; Exodus 19:9; Deuteronomy 5:4, 5; 1 Samuel 3:4. In other cases He resorted to such means as the lot and the Urim and Thummim, 1 Samuel 10:20, 21; 1 Chronicles 24:5–31; Nehemiah 11:1; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8. The dream was a very common means of revelation, Numbers 12:6; Deuteronomy 13:1–6; 1 Samuel 28:6; Joel 2:28, and was also used in revelations to non-Israelites, Genesis 20:3–6; 31:24; 40:5; 41:1–7; Judg. 7:13. A closely related but higher form of revelation was the vision, which was very common in the case of the prophets, Isaiah 6; 21:6f.; Ezekiel 1–3; 8–11; Daniel 1:17; 2:19; 7–10; Amos 7–9. The prophets received these visions while they were awake and sometimes in the presence of others, Ezekiel 8:1ff. More generally, however, God revealed Himself to the prophets by means of an inner illumination through the spirit of revelation. In the New Testament Christ appears as the highest, the true, and, in a sense, the only prophet. He communicates His Spirit, which is also the spirit of revelation and illumination to all those that believe, Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12; John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 20:22; Acts 6:10; 8:29. In Him all those that are His have the anointing of the Holy One and are taught of the Lord, 1 John 2:20.

    c. Miracles. According to Scripture God also reveals Himself in miracles. It is especially from this point of view that the miracles of Scripture should be studied. While they excite a feeling of wonder, they are not, like the so-called miracles of heathen sorcerers, primarily portents which fill man with amazement. They are above all manifestations of a special power of God, tokens of His special presence, and frequently serve to symbolize spiritual truths. As manifestations of the ever-coming kingdom of God, they are made subservient to the great work of redemption. Hence they frequently serve to punish the wicked and to help or deliver the people of God. They confirm the words of prophecy and point to the new order that is being established by God. The miracles of Scripture, too, culminate in the incarnation, which is the greatest and most central miracle of all. In Christ, who is the absolute miracle, all things are restored and creation is brought back to its pristine beauty, Acts 3:21.


There are three points that deserve special mention in connection with the contents of God's special revelation.

    a. It is a revelation of redemption. Special revelation does not simply serve the purpose of conveying to man some general knowledge of God. It discloses to man specific knowledge of the plan of God for the salvation of sinners, of the reconciliation of God and sinners in Jesus Christ, of the way of salvation opened up by His redemptive work, of the transforming and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, and of the divine requirements for those who share in the life of the Spirit. It is a revelation which renews man, which illumines his mind, inclines his will to good, fills him with holy affections, and prepares him for his heavenly home.

    b. It is both word-and-fact-revelation. This revelation of God does not consist exclusively in word and doctrine, and does not merely address itself to the intellect. God reveals Himself not only in the law and the prophets, the gospels and the epistles, but also in the history of Israel, in the ceremonial worship of the Old Testament, in theophanies and miracles, and in the redemptive facts of the life of Jesus. Moreover, special revelation not only conveys to man knowledge of the way of salvation, but also transforms the lives of sinners by changing them into saints.

    c. It is a historical revelation. The content of special revelation was gradually unfolded in the course of many centuries, and is therefore of a historical and gradually developing character. The great truths of redemption appear but dimly at first, but gradually increase in clearness, and finally stand out in all their grandeur in the New Testament revelation. There is a constant coming of God to man in theophany, prophecy, and miracle, and this coming reaches its highest point in the incarnation of the Son of God and in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church.


Questions for Review:

What is divine revelation?

How do natural and supernatural revelation differ?

What is the difference between general and special revelation?

Where do we meet with the denial of general revelation? Who deny the reality of special revelation?

What is the nature of God's general revelation?

Why is it insufficient for the present needs of the human race?

What value does it have for the gentile world? What significance has it for Christianity?

Why was God's special revelation necessary?

What means are employed in special revelation?

What is the general character of the special revelation given by God?



From the discussion of special revelation we pass on to that of Scripture. The transition is natural and easy, since Scripture is the book of God's special revelation. Three points call for consideration here, namely, the relation of Scripture to special revelation, the inspiration of Scripture, and the perfections of Scripture.

A. The Relation Between Special Revelation and Scripture.

In general it may be said that God's special revelation assumed a permanent form in Scripture, and was thus preserved for posterity. God intended that his revelation should be His perennial speech to all the successive generations of men, and therefore had to guard it against loss, corruption, and falsification. He did this by providing an infallible record of it, and by watching over this with providential care. It cannot be said that special revelation and Scripture are in every respect identical. The term "special revelation" is not always used in the same sense. It may denote a series of divine self-communications, but it may also serve as a designation of Scripture.


If the term "special revelation" is used to designate the direct self-communications of God, then it cannot be regarded as simply another name for the Bible. This is perfectly evident from the fact that Scripture contains a great deal that was not communicated in a supernatural way, but was learned by experience or gathered by historical study and from the additional fact that prophets and apostles often received the divine communications given unto them long before they committed these to writing, Jeremiah 25:13; 30:1; 36:2; John 20:30; 21:25. Using the term "special revelation" in this specific sense, we cannot say that the Bible is God's Word, but only that God's Word is contained in the Bible. It should be noted, however, that this does not justify the distinction between the Word of God as divine and its record as human. Neither does it warrant the unqualified statement that the Bible is not but contains the Word of God. The terms "Word of God" and "special revelation" are also used in a sense in which they are identical with "Scripture."


The term "special revelation" may also be applied to that whole complex of redemptive truths and facts, with its proper historical setting, that is found in Scripture and has the divine guarantee of its truth in the fact that the whole Bible is infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit. In that sense the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and it only, is for us God's special revelation. If the term is understood in this sense, then it is proper to maintain that the Bible not only contains but is the Word of God. Scripture derives its significance exactly from the fact that it is the book of revelation. It is not merely a narrative of what happened years ago, but the perennial speech of God to man. Revelation lives on in Scripture and brings even now, just as it did when it was given, light, life, and holiness.

B. The Inspiration of Scripture.

The Bible is and will continue to be the Word of God for all the successive generations of man only in virtue of its divine inspiration. The whole of Scripture is given by inspiration of God. This makes it the infallible rule of faith and practice for mankind. Since this inspiration is often denied and even more frequently misrepresented, it calls for particular attention.


The doctrine of inspiration, just as every other doctrine, is derived from Scripture. The Bible itself testifies abundantly to its inspiration, and favors the strictest view of inspiration, as even rationalists are willing to admit. Writers of the Old Testament are repeatedly commanded to write what the Lord commands them, Exodus 17:14; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Isaiah 8:1; 30:8; Jeremiah 25:13; 30:2; Ezekiel 24:1 f.; Daniel 12:4; Hebrews 2:2. The prophets were conscious of bringing a divine message, and therefore introduced it by some such formula as "Thus says the Lord"; "The word of the Lord came unto me"; "Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me"; etc. These formulae frequently refer to the spoken word, but are also used in connection with the written word, Jeremiah 36:

27, 32; Ezekiel, chapters 26, 27, 31, 32, 39. Isaiah probably even speaks of his own written prophecy as "the book of Jehovah," Isaiah 34:16. The writers of the New Testament frequently quote passages from the Old Testament as words of God or of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 15:4; Hebrews 1:5 ff.; 3:7; 4:3; 5:6; 7:21, etc. Paul speaks of his own words as Spirit-taught words, 1 Corinthians 2:13, and claims that Christ is speaking in him, 2 Corinthians 13:3. His message to the Thessalonians is the word of God. 1 Thessalonians 2:13. Finally, he says in the classical passage on inspiration: "Every Scripture (referring to the sacred writings of the Old Testament of which he speaks in the preceding) inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness," 2 Timothy 3:16. The rendering here given is that of the American Revised Version. That of the Authorized Version deserves preference, however: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." It is favored even by the rendering given by Moffatt.


In discussing the nature of inspiration attention should be called first of all to two erroneous views.

    a. Mechanical Inspiration. The process of inspiration has often been conceived in a rather mechanical way. It was represented as if God simply dictated what the human authors of the books of the Bible had to incorporate in their writings. The latter were mere penmen of the Holy Spirit, recording His thoughts in words of His choosing. Their mental life was in repose, and did not in any way contribute to the contents or form of their writings. Thus even the style of Scripture is the style of the Holy Spirit. Further investigations have shown, however, that this position is quite untenable. It clearly appears from Scripture itself that the writers were not mere passive instruments in the production of their books, but were real authors. In some cases they evidently gave the fruits of historical investigations, for they refer to these investigations, Luke 1:1–4, and sometimes even mention their sources, as in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. In other cases they record their own personal experiences, as in the psalms and frequently also in the prophetic books, in Acts, and in the epistles. Moreover, each one of them writes in his own individual style. The style of Isaiah is not like that of Ezekiel, nor the style of Paul like that of John.

    b. Dynamic Inspiration. In opposition to the mechanical conception of inspiration, many in the eighteenth and nineteenth century advocated what they called dynamical inspiration. This theory renounces the idea that there was any direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the production of the books of the Bible, an operation that finds its purpose precisely in the production of those books; and substitutes for it the idea of a general inspiration of the writers. This inspiration was a permanent characteristic of the writers, and therefore incidentally also influenced their writings. It does not differ essentially but only in degree from the spiritual enlightenment of believers in general. It penetrates all parts of Scripture, but not all in the same measure. The historical books of the Bible do not share it in the same measure as the doctrinal books. And while it renders the Biblical writings generally trustworthy, it allows for the possibility of errors, especially in the historical books. This theory certainly does not do justice to the Biblical data on inspiration. It robs the Bible of its supernatural character, reduces it to the level of general revelation, and destroys its infallibility.

    c. Organic Inspiration. The theory of inspiration which is now generally accepted in Reformed circles is usually called "organic inspiration," though some designate it as "dynamical inspiration." The term "organic" serves to stress the fact that God did not employ the writers mechanically, but acted on them in an organic way, in harmony with the laws of their own inner being. He used them just as they were, with their character and temperament, their gifts and talents, their education and culture, their vocabulary, diction, and style; illumined their minds, prompted them to write, repressed the influence of sin on their literary activity, and guided them in the choice of their words and in the expression of their thoughts. This view is clearly most in harmony with the representations of Scripture. It represents the writers of Scripture not as mere amanuenses but as real authors who, while sometimes recording direct communications of God, yet on other occasions set down in writing the results of their own historical investigations or register their experiences of sin and forgiveness, of joy and sorrow, of threatening dangers and gracious deliverances. It also accounts for the individuality of the books of the Bible, since each writer naturally had his own style and put on his literary productions his own personal stamp and the stamp of the time in which he lived.


There are differences of opinion, not only regarding the nature of inspiration, but also with respect to its extent.

    a. Some Claim Inspiration for the Thoughts but not for the Words. Many deny the inspiration of Scripture altogether. Others, however, are averse to such a complete denial, but feel that the advocates of the doctrine should retrench somewhat and speak of thought-rather than of word-inspiration. The thoughts, they say, were divinely inspired, but the words depended simply on the choice of the human authors. This is not a very plausible view, however. Thoughts cannot be dissociated from words. Says Dr. Orr: "Thought of necessity takes shape and is expressed in words. If there is inspiration at all, it must penetrate words as well as thought, must mold the expression, and make the language employed the living medium of the idea to be conveyed," Revelation and Inspiration, p. 209.

    b. Others Maintain that Inspiration Pertains Only to Certain Parts of Scripture. Under the influence of eighteenth century Rationalism lax views of inspiration found ready acceptance. It became rather common to deny the inspiration of the historical books of the Bible, and to limit it to the doctrinal writings. And even the inspiration claimed for the doctrinal books, though at first still regarded as supernatural in character, was finally conceived as a purely natural process, consisting in a special spiritual enlightenment. It had the effect of making the writers trustworthy witnesses in moral and spiritual matters, but offered no guarantee against all kinds of historical, chronological, and scientific mistakes. There is no agreement in the camp as to the exact extent of inspiration. Some limit it to doctrinal matters others to the New Testament, still others to the words of Jesus, and, finally, there are those who regard only the Sermon on the Mount as inspired. In the last analysis every individual makes out for himself which parts of Scripture are and which are not inspired. The moment one accepts this view, he has virtually lost his Bible.

    c. According to Scripture Inspiration Extends to Every Part of the Bible. Jesus and the apostles speak of the books of the Old Testament as "Scripture" or "the Scriptures," and frequently appeal to them as such, in order to substantiate their teachings. For them an appeal to "Scripture" is clearly equivalent to an appeal to God. It is the end of all controversy. Besides, as we have seen in the preceding, some of the New Testament writers repeatedly quote passages of the Old Testaments as words of God or of the Holy Spirit. This is especially the case in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Moreover, Peter places the epistles of Paul on a level with the writings of the Old Testament. And, finally, the New Testament contains quotations from twenty-five Old Testament books all regarded as "Scripture," though some of them are taken from historical books. We cannot divide Scripture into two parts, the one divine and the other human. It is just as impossible to say where in Scripture the human ends and the divine begins or vice versa, as it is to tell where in man the body ends and the soul begins. The two interpenetrate, and as a result of this inter-penetration the Bible is in its entirety, on the one hand, a human production, and on the other, a divine creation.

    d. Inspiration Extends to the Very Words of Scripture. The Bible is verbally inspired. It should be noted particularly that this is not the same as saying that it is mechanically inspired, though opponents frequently insist on identifying the two. The doctrine of verbal inspiration does not assume that God dictated the words of the Bible, but that He guided the writers of the Biblical books in the choice of their words and expressions so as to keep them from errors, without in any way disregarding their vocabulary or suppressing their individuality of style and expression. Some prefer to call it plenary inspiration, in order to guard against the danger of identifying it with mechanical inspiration. This doctrine is fully warranted by Scripture. In many instances the Lord told Moses and Joshua exactly what to write, Exodus 3 and 4; 6:2; 7:1; 12:1; Leviticus 4:1; 6:1, 24; 7:22, 28; Jos. 1:1; 4:1; 6:2, etc. The prophets speak of Jehovah as putting His words in their mouth, Jeremiah 1:9, and as directing them to speak His words to the people, Ezekiel 3:4, 10, 11. Paul speaks of his words as Spirit-taught words, 1 Corinthians 2:13, and both he and Jesus sometimes base an argument on the use of a single word, Matthew 22:43–45; John 10:35; Galatians 3:16.

C. The Perfections of Scripture.

The Reformers deemed it necessary to develop the doctrine of Scripture, in order to off-set the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. They stressed particularly the following points:


The Church of Rome as well as the Reformers ascribed divine authority to Scripture; yet they did not both mean exactly the same thing. The Roman hierarchy insisted on it that the Bible has no authority in itself, but owes its existence and therefore also its authority to the Church. Over against this position of Rome, the Reformers emphasized the fact that Scripture has inherent authority in virtue of its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. The Bible must be believed for its own sake; it is the inspired Word of God and therefore addresses man with authority. This view of the supreme authority of Scripture was generally accepted by the Churches of the Reformation until the chill winds of Rationalism swept over Europe and reason was enthroned as the arbiter of truth. Under its influence many now place the Bible on a level with other books and deny its divine authority. It is of the utmost importance, however, to maintain this authority. Scripture has first of all historical authority, that is, it is a true and absolutely reliable record, and as such entitled to a believing acceptance of all that it contains. But in addition to that it also has normative authority as a rule of life and conduct, and as such demands absolute subjection on the part of man.


While the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the importance and usefulness of Scripture, it does not regard it as absolutely necessary. In its estimation it is more correct to say that Scripture needs the Church than that the Church needs Scripture. Some of the mystical sects, such as the Montanists, the Anabaptists, and the Libertines of Geneva, also denied the necessity of Scripture, and ascribed far more importance to the "inner light," the word of the Holy Spirit spoken in the hearts of God's people. The Reformers joined issue with them on this point. They did not deny that God might have dispensed with the use of the written Word, but defended the position that the Word was necessary in virtue of the divine good pleasure to make the Word the seed of the Church. From that point of view Scripture is and remains necessary to the very end of time.


In the estimation of the Church of Rome the Bible is obscure and is badly in need of interpretation even in matters of faith and practice. For that reason an infallible interpretation is needed, and this is supplied by the Church. Over against this position of Rome the Reformers emphasized the perspicuity or clearness of Scripture. By doing this they did not deny that there are mysteries in the Bible which the human mind cannot fathom, did not claim that man can very well dispense with the labors of commentators, and did not even mean to assert that the way of salvation is so clearly revealed in Scripture that every one can easily understand it, irrespective of his spiritual condition. Their contention was simply that the knowledge necessary unto salvation, though not equally clear on every page of Scripture, is yet communicated to man throughout the Bible in such a simple and comprehensive form that anyone who is earnestly seeking salvation can easily gather this knowledge for himself, and need not depend for it on the Church or the priesthood. The perspicuity of Scripture follows from such passages as Psalm 19:7, 8; 119:105, 130, and the spiritual man is said to be able to judge and understand it, 1 Corinthians 2:15; 10:15; 1 John 2:20.


Neither the Church of Rome nor the Anabaptists regard the Bible as a sufficient revelation of God. The latter have a low opinion of Scripture and assert the absolute necessity of the inner light and of all kinds of special revelations, while the former regards oral tradition as a necessary complement of the written Word. According to Roman Catholics this tradition embodies truths which the apostles preached but did not commit to writing, and which were handed down in the Catholic Church, without interruption, from generation to generation. These are now contained chiefly in the decrees of the councils, in the writings of the holy fathers, in the deliverances of the Pope, and in the words and usages of the sacred liturgy. In opposition to this position the Reformers maintained the perfection or sufficiency of Scripture. This does not mean that everything that was spoken or written by the prophets, by Christ, and by the apostles is contained in Scripture, but simply that the written Word is sufficient for the moral and spiritual needs of individuals and of the Church. It involves the denial that there is alongside of Scripture an unwritten Word of God of equal or even superior authority.


Questions for Review:

What is the relation between special revelation and Scripture?

What different meanings has the term "special revelation"?

Is it correct to say that special revelation and Scripture are identical?

What Scripture proof can you give for the inspiration of the Bible?

What is mechanical inspiration and what objections are there to it?

What is meant by "dynamical inspiration"?

Why is it unacceptable as applied to Scripture?

How would you describe the theory of organic inspiration? What advantages has it?

What would you say to the theory that the thoughts and not the words of Scripture are inspired?

What objections are there to the notion of a partial inspiration?

How would you prove that inspiration extends to every part of Scripture, and even to the very words?

What is the nature of the authority of Scripture? In what sense are the Scriptures necessary, perspicuous and sufficient?

What is the position of the Church of Rome on these joints?