Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On Special Revelation: Dreams, Visions, Theophanies, and the Word of God

So what do other theologians say regarding special revelation? The question here isn't the source of revelation - all revelation is from God Himself - but regarding the means of special revelation. Erickson divided general revelation into three categories: history, nature, and the inner being of the human person. But regarding special revelation, Erickson appeared to limit the discussion to Scripture. But what about other means of special revelation like dreams and miracles?

Louis Berkhof writes in his book Summary of Christian Doctrine on the means of special revelation:

Means of special revelation. In giving His special or supernatural revelation God used different kinds of means, such as (1) Theophanies or visible manifestations of God. He revealed His presence in fire and clouds of smoke, Ex. 8:2; 33:9: Ps. 78:14; 99:7; in stormy winds, Job 38:1; Ps .18:10-16, and in a "still small voice," I Kings 19:12. These were all tokens of His presence, revealing something of His glory. Among the Old Testament appearances those of the Angel of Jehovah, the second Person of the Trinity, occupied a prominent place, Gen. 16:13; 31:11; Ex. 23:20-23; Mal. 3:1. The highest point of the personal appearance of God among men was reached in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Him the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, John 1:14. (2) Direct communications. Sometimes God spoke to men in an audible voice, as He did to Moses and the children of Israel, Deut. 5:4, and sometimes He suggested His messages to the prophets by an internal operation of the Holy Spirit, I Pet. 1:11. Moreover, He revealed Himself in dreams and visions, and by means of Urim and Thummim, Num. 12:6; 27:21; Isa. 6. And in the New Testament Christ appears as the great Teacher sent from God to reveal the Father's will; and through His Spirit the apostles become the organs of further revelations, John 14:26; I Cor. 2:12, 13; I Thess. 2:13. (3) Miracles. The miracles of the Bible should never be regarded as mere marvels which fill men with amazement, but as essential parts of God's special revelation. They are manifestations of the special power of God, tokens of His special presence, and often serve to symbolize spiritual truths. They are signs of the coming Kingdom of God and of the redemptive power of God. The greatest miracle of all is the coming of the Son of God in the flesh. In Him the whole creation of God is being restored and brought back to its original beauty, I Tim. 3:16; Rev. 21:5. (15)

James P. Boyce in his Abstract of Systematic Theology writes:

If he should so choose, he could impress it on each one in like manner as we attain intuitive conceptions. He might reveal it to individuals in dreams and visions, so as to make each one feel and know that the vision is from God. Those through whom he has revealed himself have in some such way attained absolute conviction that God has spoken to and through them, and with God there is neither impossibility nor difficulty in producing like certainty in the mind of each individual of the race. (Chapter 3)

Charles Ryrie adds:

Dreams: God apparently used dreams to communicate many times during the Old Testament period, and He will do so again at the time of the second coming of Christ (Gen. 20:3, 6; 31:11-13, 24; 40-41; Joel 2:28). Nonbelievers as well as believers experienced God-given dreams (Gen. 20:3; 31:24). Though a common experience, dreams were used by God in this special way to reveal truth.

Visions: In a vision the emphasis seems to be on what is heard, while in a dream, on what is seen. Also the human being involved seems to be more active in receiving a vision (Isa. 1:1; 6:1; Ezek. 1:3).

Theophanies: Before the Incarnation, theophanies were associated with the appearance of the Angel of the Lord who communicated the divine message to people (Gen. 16:7-14; Ex. 3:2; 2 Sam. 24:16; Zech. 1:12). (71-72)

This will suffice. The point is, and I think Erickson would in the end agree, that special revelation goes beyond Scripture, but includes other means. But a point needs to be made here: other forms of special revelation (like dreams, visions, angels, theophanies) will not contradict Scripture. Furthermore, Christians must not wait for other forms of special revelation but must study and know Scripture as that is the primary way in which God has and does reveal Himself.

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5  

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1

For more on Erickson:
Blogizomai - Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man
Blogizomai - Wherefore Art Thou Theological Giants?
Blogizomai - On Special Revelation: Dreams, Visions, Theophanies, and the Word of God

For more:
Blogizomai - Repost | "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - The Top 5 Essential Works of Theology of the Past 25 Years
Reviews - "Doctrine"
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot
Reviews - "Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris
Reviews - "Heresy"
Reviews - "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
Reviews - "The Theology of the Reformers"
Blogizomai - Repost | Schreiner on the Practice of Inaugurated Eschatology
logizomai - We Are All Theologians:  The Root of Everything We Are and Do
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
Blogizomai - The Meaning & Implications of the Resurrection
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
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