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The Double-Revelation Theory

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

INTRODUCTION

Where would we be without revelation from God? Such a revelation is both possible and necessary. It is possible because God, being all-powerful, is able to do anything He wishes that is not contrary to His divine nature (Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26). It is necessary due to the fact that otherwise man would have no way to know fully and adequately the things it is imperative for him to know. For example, it is essential to have a divine revelation in order for man to know: (a) The character of God. While something of God’s essence and power can be gleaned vaguely from nature itself (as I shall show shortly), it takes the fullness of actual communication from God to reveal His holiness, justice, mercy, grace, love, and other attributes. (b) The origin of man. Were it not for divine revelation, man would have no way to know of his lofty origin. The confusion of modern-day evolutionary theories is evidence aplenty of this. (c) The origin of evil. Man needed to be educated concerning the source of his sinful predicament. Else, how could he know about the sinful state in which he finds himself? (d) Man’s purpose. Divine revelation was necessary if man was to comprehend his purpose while here on Earth, and especially the provisions for his redemption. With no defined purpose, man surely would wonder endlessly through the centuries, with neither goals nor objectives at hand. (e) Man’s destiny. In the absence of God’s revelation, none of us would know anything of the heaven to be gained, or the hell to be shunned. The urgency of this knowledge is made all the more real by the general despair of those who reject the concept of supernatural revelation.

Revelation designates the unveiling of facts and truths by God—things that man, on his own, could not have known previously. Revelation has reference to the communication of knowledge. Revelation discovers new truth to men (1 Corinthians 2:10); inspiration guides and controls the giving of truth (1 Corinthians 2:13), ensuring that God gets written correctly what He wants written. Inspiration extends to the whole of truth, although the subject matter is of two kinds: revelation and known facts (or as we would call it, history). The Bible speaks forthrightly about its inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:13; et al.). Basically, this claim amounts to the declaration that the Bible is God’s will and way in the world, a record and interpretation of God’s activity, and a guide for man in service to the Lord. The Bible thus is regarded (based on evidence) as a repository of absolute Truth that may be studied faithfully, the result being that one knows God’s will.

In discussing God’s revelation, students of Scripture have spoken of that revelation as being two-fold: (1) natural (or general) revelation; and (2) special (or supernatural) revelation. Natural revelation comes to man through nature. The first six verses of Psalm 19 declare that God has given a revelation of Himself in nature that constantly is testifying to the existence of the Creator. The apostle Paul, speaking through inspiration in Romans 1:20, clearly stated that God’s “invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Natural revelation is rooted in creation and in the ordinary relationship of God to man. The Scriptures teach that natural revelation is universal. At no time in all of history has God left Himself without a witness of Himself in nature (Acts 14:17).

The Scriptures likewise make it clear, however, that God has given a second revelation—special revelation. This revelation is found only in the Bible. It has become inscripturated; it is of word and of fact, and is historical in nature. God, in using this kind of revelation, disclosed Himself in at least three different ways: (a) Theophanies (i.e., veiled appearances of Himself). He appeared in fire, clouds, and smoke (Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2; 19:9,16ff.; 33:9). He appeared in stormy winds (Job 38:1; 40:6; Psalm 18:10-16). Theophany reached its highest point in the incarnation in which Jesus Christ became flesh and dwelt among us (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). (b) Direct communications. God spoke through an audible voice on occasion (Genesis 2:16; 3:8-19; 4:6-15; Exodus 19:9; 1 Samuel 3:4). He communicated through visions (Isaiah 6:1ff.; 21:6ff.; Ezekiel 1-3; Daniel 1:17). He also communicated through the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12; John 14:17; 15:26; Acts 6:10). (c) Miracles. God, through miracles, chose to reveal His power and presence. Such miracles emphasized great truths, and were intended as confirmation of His word, His prophecy, and His power.

The careful student of Scripture has long been aware of the two types of revelation, and similarly has been aware that as great as natural revelation is, in and of itself it is deficient. At this point in time, nature has ceased to be a perspicuous revelation of God (at least to some). It may have been so before sin occurred, but even if it were, man now has been so blinded by sin that he cannot read the divine script in nature. Natural revelation simply is not enough; it never was intended to be. It does not afford man the reliable knowledge of God, and the spiritual things man needs for his ultimate salvation. Therefore, it is inadequate as a total foundation for man’s faith. From nature, man never can infer the need for a personal Savior. Thus, God gave special revelation. The two combined represent God’s message adequately communicated to man. When viewed in their proper perspectives, God’s two revelations form important testimony to His power and His saving grace.

THE DOUBLE REVELATION THEORY

Unfortunately, some today have abandoned any confidence in what God’s special revelation has to say regarding man’s origin, in deference to evolutionary speculations. Numerous others, not willing to forsake the totality of their faith, have sought an illegitimate amalgamation between biblical and evolutionary views.

For example, advocates of what has come to be known as the Double Revelation Theory maintain that natural revelation and special revelation are fully authoritative in their respective realms. Since these two revelations are given by the same self-consistent God of Truth, they cannot, and will not, contradict each other. The theologian, therefore, is viewed as the God-appointed interpreter of Scripture, while the scientist is seen as the God-appointed interpreter of nature, each reading (through “special lenses”) his own “book of revelation.”

According to proponents of this idea, whenever there is an apparent conflict between the conclusions of the scientist and the conclusions of the theologian—especially with regard to such questions as the origin of the Universe, the solar system, plant life, animal life, and man—it is the theologian who must rethink his interpretation of Scripture in such a way as to bring the Bible into harmony with the scientists’ consensus. Since “the Bible is not a textbook on science,” and since these problems overlap the territory in which science alone must give us detailed and authoritative answers, the theologian is the one who should “correct” his views. It is held that this is necessarily the case because if a grammatical/historical interpretation of any biblical account should lead the Bible student to adopt conclusions that are contrary to the prevailing views of trained scientists concerning the origin and nature of the material Universe, then that Bible student would be guilty of making God a deceiver of mankind in these vitally important matters. But a God of Truth cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, so the argument goes, the Bible account must be “interpreted” in such a manner as to bring it into full agreement with the generally accepted views of contemporary scientists.

There is a variety of ways by which advocates of the Double Revelation Theory hope to accomplish this highly unusual dichotomy. If one is speaking of Genesis 1-11, for example, these chapters are not to be viewed as literal or historical. Instead, they must be viewed as “mythical” or “allegorical.” The Bible, so we are told, is intended to provide answers to important “spiritual questions” such as “Who?” or “Why?” Scientists, on the other hand, must provide the answers to important questions such as “When?” and “How?”

It is not difficult to document examples revealing the popularity of the Double Revelation Theory. In fact, John Whitcomb devoted an entire appendix in one of his books to listing proponents of the Double Revelation Theory (1978, pp. 163-165), and currently there are many more names that could be added to his list. For example, on June 13, 1986, Henry Morris (creationist and then-president of the Institute for Creation Research) and Lewis Mammel (theist, but anti-creationist and researcher at AT&T Bell Research Laboratories) debated the subject of the age of the Earth. During the closing moments of the debate, in response to a question from the audience, Dr. Mammel stated, in speaking about Christians and creationists, “I think they would be able to adjust their interpretation to agree with what we see in the natural world. I think it’s a mistake to elevate doctrine above our reason and the evidence of our senses” (see Mammel and Morris, 1986, emp. added).

There are others, of course, who agree with Dr. Mammel in this approach. Davis A. Young, as a professor of geology at Calvin College, advocated similar views. In his book, Creation and the Flood, he acknowledged that the literal-day interpretation of the Genesis account of creation is “the obvious view,” and that the Bible teaches a universal Flood. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to reject (and did reject!) these teachings of Scripture because “geology” (i.e., geology as interpreted through an evolutionary framework) has “disproved” them (1977, pp. 44,172). In his book, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Dr. Young stated:

The Bible is indeed the infallible, inerrant Word of God. It is absolutely true in matters of science and history as much as in matters of salvation and religion. But nature is also from God, and nature would lead us to believe that the Earth is extremely old. Scientific investigation of the world God gave us is an exciting enterprise that God would have us engage in. We do not need the flight-from-reality science of creationism (1982, p. 163).

Young has made it clear that while he verbally professes a belief in God’s Word as infallible and inerrant, that Word will not be allowed to dictate to him the truth in certain areas.

Another religionist who has accepted the Double Revelation Theory is Pattle P.T. Pun, professor of biology at Wheaton College, who has written:

It is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of the Genesis record, without regard to all the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science, is that God created heaven and earth in six solar days, that man was created in the sixth day, that death and chaos entered the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve, that all of the fossils were the result of the catastrophic universal deluge which spared only Noah’s family and the animals therewith....

However, the Recent Creationist position has two serious flaws. First, it has denied and belittled the vast amount of scientific evidence amassed to support the theory of natural selection and the antiquity of the earth. Secondly, much Creationist writing has “deistic” implications...the stipulation that the varieties we see today in the biological world were present in the initial Creation implies that the Creator is no longer involved in creation in a dynamic way (1987, 39:14).

Dr. Pun’s accusation that creationists’ teachings have “deistic” implications is both unwarranted and unfair. Creationists neither teach nor imply that all the varieties of plants and animals were present in the initial creation, but only the basic “kinds”—which is exactly what Genesis says no less than ten times in its first chapter. Furthermore, the fact that God no longer is creating (Genesis 2:1) does not mean that He somehow is inactive in the present world. Jesus Himself stated, in fact, that His Father “worketh even until now” (John 5:17). While God’s work of creation is complete, His work of redemption continues. Creationists cannot be accused justifiably of advocating deism in any form. [NOTE: For an up-to-date discussion and refutation of deism from a creationist point of view, see Thompson, 2000, pp. 33-42.] The real reason that Dr. Pun rejects what he admits is the “most straightforward understanding of the Genesis record” is that it conflicts with the “vast amount of scientific evidence amassed to support the theory of natural selection and the antiquity of the earth.” He therefore suggests that the biblical record be interpreted via “hermeneutical considerations suggested by science.” Here is a perfect example of the Double Revelation Theory at work. Scientific theory has become the controlling factor in biblical exegesis.

One last example bears mentioning, because it shows the end results of the Double Revelation Theory. In 1989, Hugh Ross authored The Fingerprint of God as an apologetic for progressive creationism. In that volume, he made the following comments:

More than speaking merely of God’s existence, the creation, according to Romans 1, also reveals essential truths about God’s character, which would include His desire and means to form a relationship with man. As an illustration of the accessibility of that information, the Bible includes an account of an ancient character, Job (Job 7-19) who, without the aid of scriptures, and in opposition to the religion of his peers, discerned all the elements of “the gospel,” the good news of how man can find eternal life in God. The creation, thus, reveals all the necessary steps to develop a right relationship with God. These steps are uniquely corroborated by the Bible (pp. 181-182, emp. in orig.).

This is a perfect example of where the Double Revelation Theory will lead. It begins with natural and special revelation being equal. Eventually, however, natural revelation takes a position of preeminence—because, after all, it is based on empirical evidence. Finally, Ross’ position triumphs. Man no longer needs God’s special revelation to instruct him on the plan of salvation; rather, that is evident through nature, and the Bible merely “corroborates” it. Harold Lindsell, while serving as editor of Christianity Today magazine, addressed this idea when he wrote:

...to accept the story of Eve’s beginnings as given in Genesis in any historical sense is to knock the theory of evolution into a cocked hat. It brings to bear upon the creative process divine intervention that drives the uniformitarian hypothesis and the endless eons of evolutionary development into the ground. If, in the face of the biblical data, the theistic evolutionist chooses to accept the hypothesis of some scientists, he at least should be conscious of what he is doing to the Bible in the process. He no longer makes it the source book for his knowledge of origins. In place thereof he chooses the verdict of science and allows it to sit in judgment on the Bible rather than letting the Bible sit in judgment on science (1977, pp. 15-17).

When Dr. Lindsell spoke of the fact that science ultimately will be allowed to “sit in judgment” on the Bible by the person who accepts the Double Revelation Theory, he was absolutely correct. On May 5-7, 2000, I had the opportunity to speak at a large gathering of young people in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. During one of the lectures, I discussed the literal nature of the account found in Genesis 1-11, and how that account clearly was in opposition to the General Theory of Evolution. During the question and answer session that followed one of my lectures, a young girl who appeared to be roughly of high school age (I learned later that she was, in fact, a junior in high school) raised her hand. When I called on her, she expressed strong disagreement with such a view, and went on to say that she believed firmly in evolution and viewed Genesis 1-11 as nothing more than a convenient mythology fabricated by Hebrews who did not have the vast scientific data that we possess today.

In my response, I very kindly disagreed with her conclusion, and went to great lengths to explain that both the Lord and His inspired writers not only viewed Genesis 1-11 as literal and historical, but frequently used the content of those chapters to construct fundamental Bible doctrine (e.g., Matthew 19, where the Lord quoted Genesis 2:24 to discuss marriage, divorce, and remarriage with the Pharisees; Matthew 24, where Christ used the global, Noahic Flood to draw a comparison to the destruction of the Earth at His Second Coming; 1 Corinthians 15:47, where Paul discussed Adam, “the first man, of the earth, earthy” and compared him to Christ as the “last Adam,” etc.). When I demonstrated to the young lady the damage that ultimately is inflicted upon the biblical record by a full-fledged acceptance of theistic evolution (the position she was attempting to defend), she retorted: “But science supports my view!” In response, I said very simply: “No ma’am, true science does not support your view. And more important, the Bible as the Word of God indicates that Genesis 1-11 is literal and historical.” She then raised her voice to be heard and exclaimed: “Well, science is my God!

That is exactly where belief in the Double Revelation Theory leads—which is why it must be rejected by Bible-believing Christians. As noted Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young remarked:

What strikes one immediately upon reading such a statement is the low estimate of the Bible which it entails. Whenever “science” and the Bible are in conflict, it is always the Bible that, in one manner or another, must give way. We are not told that “science” should correct its answers in the light of Scripture. Always it is the other way around. Yet this is really surprising, for the answers which scientists have provided have frequently changed with the passing of time. The “authoritative” answers of pre-Copernican scientists are no longer acceptable; nor, for that matter, are many of the views of twenty-five years ago (1964, p. 53).

Indeed, why is it that God’s unchanging revelation in the Bible should be “reinterpreted” to fit the ever-changing theories of modern scientists?

The writers of the Bible deal abundantly with matters of fact in science and history (unlike the writings of Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, etc., which deal almost exclusively with faith/conduct matters). To take the position that the Bible is unreliable when it deals with verifiable data of science and history inevitably will cause thinking inquirers to reject its teachings on theological beliefs. Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12). If Jesus and His writers have told us about “earthly” things and we are not predisposed to believe such, how can we be expected to believe statements from these same men with regard to spiritual matters such as redemption, sanctification, justification, etc.?

The Bible must be accepted as inerrant and authoritative on all matters with which it deals. Otherwise, it is not really the Word of God. If any man, or group of men, is empowered to tell us authoritatively what God’s Word means, then we may as well entrust him (or them) with a commission to rewrite the Bible altogether. Man seeks to become God (whether he is a theologian or scientist) if he insists that his word must be accepted over and above what God’s Word says. While the Double Revelation Theory may be popular in certain circles, it fails to address certain realities—not the least of which are the tremendous limitations that inhabit the scientific method. As Michael Poole has suggested:

Public opinion about science ranges between making it into a god, and despising it. Some people have regarded science as the sole means to peace and prosperity on earth. But, when the god failed to deliver the goods, they despised it. To treat science as a secular substitute for God is not only naive, it is idolatry. To abuse it because it fails to provide the solution to the world’s ills is childish. It compares with the infant who kicks its toy because it will not do something for which it was never designed. Between these two extremes lies the rosy-spectacled view that, although science and technology have caused a lot of problems, they will also be the means of solving them.

Science and technology are the activities of imperfect people. The tendencies to misuse and exploit for personal gain operate here as in every other department of life. But the answer to abuse is not disuse, but responsible use (1990, p. 126).

Furthermore, science cannot deal with once-for-all, utterly unique events. Science is impotent when it comes to dealing with moral and/or spiritual (thus, empirically elusive) realities that give significance to human endeavor. Science fails most conspicuously, however, whenever it is forced into the position of trying to analyze the supernatural and miraculous acts of God. These events undeniably form the foundation of the Judeo-Christian world view. The scientist or theologian who accepts the Double Revelation Theory would have us believe that even in matters such as these, science always takes precedence. How so?

Acceptance of the Double Revelation Theory also fails to consider the effects of sin. While it is true that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), it also is true that the eyes of man’s understanding, blinded by sin, do not always read the heavens aright. The noetic effects of sin often lead to anti-theistic presuppositions. Much is presented as “scientific fact” that is hostile to the conclusions presented in the Bible. Whitcomb has commented:

Those who exclusively employ the scientific method in historical sciences (e.g., paleontology) uncritically apply this method in a uniformitarian manner by extrapolating present natural processes forever into the past. Furthermore, they ignore the possible anti-theistic bias of the scientist himself as he handles the facts of nature in arriving at a cosmology (i.e., a theory concerning the basic structure and character of the universe) and a cosmogony (i.e., a theory concerning the origin of the universe and its parts). To the extent that such theorists fail to give careful and honest recognition to these essential limitations of the scientific method and of the investigator himself, they fail to give a true and undistorted picture of reality as a whole, and they fail also to point men to the only true source for understanding its mysteries (1978, p. 56, emp. and parenthetical items in orig.).

It certainly is true that God cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). God’s Word always will agree with God’s world, for the Author of the one is the Creator of the other. God’s revelation in nature often can amplify and illustrate His Word, but His written revelation always must inform and constrain our interpretation of nature. Yes, God has spoken to us through nature. Numerous passages attest to that fact (Job 12:7-8; 26:13-14; Psalm 19:1-2; 97:6; Acts 14:17; 17:24-28; Romans 1:20-21). The proper use of science and technology not only helps man to implement the Edenic commission to “subdue and have dominion over the earth” (Genesis 1:28), but also teaches men more and more about the person and work of their Creator-God. God’s revelation in nature, therefore, always must supplement and confirm His revelation in Scripture. It cannot be used to correct or interpret it. If there is an apparent conflict—one that cannot be resolved by a more careful study of the relevant data of both science and Scripture—then the written Word always must take priority! Therein lies the greatest single fault of the Double-Revelation theory. It places the scientists’ supposed “interpretation” of nature above what God said. No amount of theological wrangling, or scientific mumbo-jumbo, ever will make that right.

REFERENCES

Buffaloe, Neal (1969), “God or Evolution?,” Mission, pp. 17ff., April.

Lindsell, Harold (1977), Christianity Today, pp. 17-18, June.

Mammel, Lewis and Henry M. Morris (1986), Debate on the Age of the Earth (two audio tapes).

Poole, Michael (1990), A Guide to Science and Belief (Oxford, England: Lion).

Pun, Pattle P.T. (1987), “A Theory of Progressive Creationism,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 39:14, March.

Ramm, Bernard (1954), The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Ross, Hugh (1989), The Fingerprint of God (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing Co.).

Thompson, Bert (2000), Rock-Solid Faith: How to Build It (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).

Whitcomb, John C. (1978), The Moon: Its Creation, Form, and Significance (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books).

Young, Davis A. (1977), Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Young, Davis A. (1982), Christianity and the Age of the Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Young, Edward J. (1964), Studies in Genesis One (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed).





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