Perspicuity of Natural Revelation and the Finitude of the Human Mind?

Discussion in 'Natural Revelation and God's Creation' started by ARStager, Apr 13, 2005.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm reading John Frame's Apologetics to the Glory of God, wherein he mentions that God gave Adam special (verbal) revelation PRE-FALL, which, Frame says, was a gracious condescension on God's part, given that even the pre-fall man's finite mind may not have been able to comprehend God's speaking and directing him through the Book of Nature.

    He emphasizes that Nature is just as much the Word of God as Scripture, and elsewhere affirms its perspicuity.

    My question is a minor quibble, but one which - upon clarification, could really help me understand more about how to deal with Natural Revelation - especially in terms of it's Romans 1 implications with regard to man's suppression of the truth in unrighteousness.

    How is it that Frame can say that Adam, pre-fall even, may have not been able to comprehend Natural Revelation due to his finite mind, and yet maintain the perspicuity of NR? Does perspicuity differ from, say, understandability? Can we say that NR is CLEAR, while also granting that it may be unable to teach us and direct us without the aid of Special Revelation, even, say, before we take into account our sinful propensity to supress the truth???

    Thanks for the help with this matter.
  2. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I won't pretend to understand Dr. Frame's meaning, or try to interpret his view for you, but I might be able to help out somewhat, since I too believe that general revelation is clear in showing us God's power and deity. j

    First off, the separation between general and special revelation is one of definition, of aspect. It is not as though we could separate them really. We cannot imagine a world in which we are without one or the other. When we do it is only an abstraction for the sake of argumentation, but not something that reflects reality. The fact is, we have both, and both are universally known. The difficulty is not the revelation, but rather what man prefers to refer to his knowledge.

    One of the most basic of concepts is "being". That which "was" or "will be" is in reference to that which "is" The former, "was" and "will be" are the past and future of "is", repsectively. So we see that we understand the sequence, duration, and succession of time from the standpoint of the eternal. It can be no other way, though men often think they understand the "is" from comprehending the "was" and the "will be" first. But carefully considered, these are reflection of things that once were or are not yet, relating specifically to being.

    So we see that eternity, that is immutability, is the ideal from which we understand the temporal. Understanding, then begins with God's attributes, since immutability and eternity are attributes of God, not things God is subject to. This is the basis of understanding for man, whether or not he admits of it, or whether or not he will appreciate it. Just to understand (that is, to understand as things are to be understood) is to admit of God's existence, so to speak. No other way has ever been suggested.

    All other epistemologies only presuppose understanding, but do not attribute things that are understood to an original beginning out of eternity. It is not merely that the Bible gives answers to such serious questions, but that it gives the only real answers that man has ever been able to formulate. The origin of understanding is the revelation of God of Himself. And He has done so in two ways, in general and in special revelation. Both are revelations of Himself, and both are clear in what they reveal.

    Certainly there are things about each revelation that require a great deal of work to understand. Wisdom would not be as valued if it did not require of us discipline, effort, and care. The basics of understanding, though, are within everyone's grasp. Even those whose mental capacities cannot allow formulating proper answers, such as young children, yet live in a social order that authorizes their responses to most everything they require for life and happiness. They live, so to speak, on the consensus of the population that can formulate proper answers. As well, the unbelieving and degenerate of the population borrow heavily from the just and upright as much as they need to, though they are bound to whittle that down to as little as they can possibly get away with, and still pretend uprightness.

    I hope this helps. Its sketchy, I know, but its at least a start for discussion.
  3. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Moderator

    Also keep in mind that Adam and God lived in fellowship. It would only be natural for God to reveal more of Himself in this fellowship. That's why the relationship was made anyway. We were created to know God and enjoy communion with Him.
  4. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a bit tricky for my finite brain. (That's not to say that I reject outright that it certainly may be perspicuous!!!)

    When you say "we have both", do you mean that natural man, somewhere in Southwestern Jabhuddi, apart from a preacher whose feet are beautiful heralds of the gospel - yet "has both"?? If I can get this part cleared up, I think I'll be able to follow your sketch a bit better.

    I've never heard it put this way before. I'll have to mull over it for a bit and see if I can summarize in a way that you'd reaffirm.

    This I understand - although again, I haven't heard it put quite this way. This is why Bahnsen told Stein that he was borrowing from the Christian Theist's framework, eh?


    This helps a lot. If you could help me out with the above question, that'd be great, and perhaps we can go from there.
  5. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman


    I understand what you're saying about the nature of pre-fall communion with God. But Frame's quote:

    ...seems to say that not only was special speech (revelation) from God helpful in overcoming the "learning curve" (I get the creator-creature distinction implied here), but also that it may have been NECESSARY, due to the finitude of his mind.

    So my question remains: can we say that God's creation doing the speaking for him - in the pre-fall garden - was clear and would have left Adam without excuse for any sins (or comission or omission) he comitted, and left him condemned as one who supressed the truth in unrighteousness? Was pre-fall man, Adam, though finite in mind, able or unable to deduce God's truth without the aid of special revelation?

    Maybe I'm off track here. Please correct me. Maybe I'm not even asking the right question. Help!

    Thanks guys.
  6. rmwilliamsjr

    rmwilliamsjr Puritan Board Freshman

    Perspicuity doesn't mean that all things are equally clear.
    Nor does it imply that there is a sufficiency of man's ability to understand things, just because he can understand some things doesn't mean he(we) can understand all things.

    I think J.Frame is concentrating first on these difficult things, for which the doctrine of perspicuity simply does not hold. While looking at these difficult things he is remarking that even Adam did not have the ability to plumb the depths of God's wisdom incorporated into the universe. The implication being that there will always be mystery at the bottom of things, by necessity, both our limitedness and God's great wisdom.
  7. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I'll try. The following is my own particular view on this. This is how I understand the relationship of general to special revelation.
    Yes, that is what I believe. Well, almost. The people of Southwestern Jabhuddi, without knowing whether or not there is such a people in actuality, but using them as an example as the furthest and most remote destination for the gospel, would not qualify as being "apart from a preacher." At some point in their history they fall under the curse of "punishing their children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."

    Before I get into my belief about the spread of the gospel throughout the world, it may be better to stick with the subject at hand, and that is the underlying unity of the revelations. That was the point I tried to convey.

    Within the scope of special revelation, I believe, is the same truth that is revealed in general revelation. It is not a different truth, or one that is the sole property of general revelation. Let me try this example to show the corelation: if we see a red cup, for instance, the red cup itself and the image of it in our minds is what we might call general revelation, but the expression that results of what we have observed would fall under special revelation, so to speak; in that the observation has been put into propositional form. The proposition does not effect the thing or the image, but the thing or image does effect the form the proposition will take. They are not two truths, but rather two forms of the same truth. The cup could not be what it is, nor the image of it what it is, unless the rightful properties of reality are in place. These are also the properties which enable us to propositionalize the facts which we see.

    When we look at the laws of logic, which are also called the rules of knowledge, we see that it is about objects as much as it is about making propositions about objects.

    So, to jump to the point of this, the people in the remotest district of gospel reach cannot be said to be without the gospel if they have general revelation, strictly speaking. What they may be without would be a careful explanation of Jesus' atonement, but they could not be without the knowledge that God is immutable, good, and benevolent. And these are irreconcilable truths in any culture without the simultaneous concept of atonement, for wickedness is obvious in every man. The need for a Redeemer is inscribed in general revelation, since all men have fallen.

    I understand special revelation to be an enlarged and specific explanation of what we see in general revelation. It is right that we must deduce that God loves from general revelation; but it is the Word that actually shows that love, and makes it explicit. The Word is the message of redemption that general revelation merely suggets to us.

    In this way we see that people who do not have the gospel are guilty for not having the gospel, because they did not seek that which general revelation told them to seek. But it is also quite likely that when they did have the opportunity to receive the gospel they preferred their own irreligious sentiments to the truths of the gospel. But it was not for reasons of truth that they rejected it. For the gospel and general revelation are not at all counter to each other. It is rather men's fables and myths that are counter to general revelation. And, of course, the adversary to the truth is always willing to lend a helping hand in that respect.

    I think that it is more likely for us to assume that any given culture that does not have the gospel does not have it because they rejected it. That is speaking of the culture. Of the people themselves, of that particular generation, they may not have the gospel because theire forefathers rejected it. If God passes them by in His electing purposes, then He does so equitably and justly. If we pass them by in our evengelism, then that is another matter. Our passing them by may be God's purposes, but we will still be held accountable for that.

    The thing that we may not assume in this is that any group of people is passed by by the gospel. No people are innocent in relation to the gospel. We may not know all the details behind it, why they do not have the gospel, but it cannot be that they have been left ignorant through forgetfulness on God's part. A people that do not have the gospel do not have the gospel for God's good and just reasons, even if we are to blame that they do not have it. If they truly seek God, they will be found by Him.

    As I recall, that was what was behind Dr. Bahnsen's assertion.

    Help me out with this, Andrew or anyone else, if I have strayed from the historic and Reformed understanding of this.
  8. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman

    Okay. I thought that general revelation - nature - was only capable of telling natural man that God was just and that they were sinners and would be justly condemned. That is, it serves to testify to the law already written on their hearts. But I have always been told that natural revelation, though it may clearly show a NEED for there to be a gospel if there is to be any hope of standing before nature's just Creator, it yet would never serve to announce that such a gospel is actually being proclaimed and offered. Your comments seem to go against this. Perhaps there's a nuance I'm not seeing yet.

    Likewise, in your other comments, I don't know I can affirm yet that the GOSPEL itself is communicated in general revelation. I understand that it has to be known that God exhibits the quality of love (as the rain falls even on the unjust) from nature---but THE gospel? Is the preacher merely making some undefined "love" "more explicit" by the preaching of the Word?

    I just don't get this.

    Maybe we need to define what "gospel" really is. Of course it's not "forgetfulness" on God's part, and of course, if they're passed by, it's for a just reason. But you're saying in effect that every culture that is without the gospel is without it because of some secondary reason other than their fall in Adam. The danger I see here is that it verges on making we who HAVE the gospel to be wiser - rather than those sovereignly elected and covenanted with. Or, maybe a more appropriate (and accurate) question is this: does God really need our active (three generations ago or not) rejection of the gospel to condemn us? He doesn't even have to annonce the gospel in order to justly condemn our rejection of his Lordship in all things - for we are justly condemned by the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of our whole natures (original sin), and all the transgressions that proceed from it.

    My curiosity and hang upu here is that if we say general revelation is "gospel implicit" - then somehow it draws men to seek after Christ. I didn't think that was something creation did. I thought it condemned people and made them hate the fury of God's wrath and his justice. I'm just confused at this point, I guess.

    Please straighten me out - or agree with me or something.

    I'm in a crowded apartment with lots of screaming babies right now, so I apologize for how incoherent my wording is.

    [Edited on 4-17-2005 by ARStager]

    [Edited on 4-17-2005 by ARStager]
  9. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Andrew, you're trying to get out of this what is not really there. What I am saying, in essence, is that, if you take just one example from a pagan religion, such as the practice of offering a young virgin or girl to the gods to propitiate their anger or disfavour, that if you follow the reasoning through, they have no leg to stand on from general revelation. In fact, they are doing what their own witness tells them not to do.

    Why a young girl? Is it her purity maybe? Is it her innocence? Is it that she is a better sacrifice than, say, an elderly member who has become more of a burden than a profitable member of the society? What about the chief or the high priest? Wouldn't they be better sacrifice victims? Because, if they want to propitiate the gods then they are saying by way of this sacrifice that one person must pay for the sins of all the others, including the chief and the high priest, because the chief and the high priest and everyone else are not good enough for the sacrifice. So why would the girl be good enough?

    They are not guided by even the general revelation that they do have, but revert rather to the stupidest and vilest of practices regardless of reason. But they do have some notion of propitiation. And even the Greeks knew enough to seek the world to find wisdom in their understandings, and not suppose that it resided solely in their own. So why do these not do so?

    Also, it is not that they have the particulars of special revelation in general revelation. It is that they once had it, or the opportunity for it, at some time in their history, but they threw it away.

    And finally, what I was driving at was that Jesus' death and resurrection was an historical event. He lived, He acted, and He suffered in this world. And then He rose from the dead in this world. These facts are as much a fact of general revelation as they are of special revelation, for we are talking about physical existence. It is not that primitive-like cultures have the explicit witness of that in this generation, but rather that there is no dichotomy or discontinuity between the two revelations, and they do have he latter.

    To appeal solely to special revelation is an impossibility. General revelation is the context of special revelation. Special revelaion is explicit concerning what is not explicit, but yet necessarily there, in general revelation. Therefore to appeal to special revelation is to appeal also to general revelation.

    What you are trying to get out of what I am saying is that to appeal to general revelation is to appeal to special revelation. That may be so implicitly, but you will not find it expressly stated in proposition form in general revelation. If it were possible then the people of God could maybe have guessed at God's redemptive plan while it was still a mystery. But they could not even imagine it. It was hidden until the proper time. It is not that it was not there, but it was hidden. And now the secret is out, and I mean really out. It has been spread promiscuously throughout the world.

    Not "other than their fall in Adam" but in addition to their fall in Adam. Where do you get the idea of "other than..."? Are you saying that the gospel did not reach them at all? Ever? How do you know? If we don't know, are we to assume that it never reached them? By what default? If we have the witness of the Bible that God has spread His Word throughout the world, are we to believe that He did not really do that, because we assume by default that those who do not have it now never did have it? And if they don't have it, are we to assume that it is God's fault that they don't have it? There are so many questions begging to get answered, and we too often assume the answer that puts the blame on God.

    But that was not my intention. I was promoting the concept of "no dichotomy."

    Trying to get the "no dichotomy" in the two revelations has always been difficult for man. I don't know why, because one would think that a dichotomous view would be a lot harder. But I think it has more to do with what man wants to know rather than with what man can know. Even those with the gospel are still trying to do what pagan religions do, and that is to practice the kind of religion they want to, as opposed to that religion that is warranted by revelation, both general and special.

    I'm just a cabinet-maker, Andrew. Don't take this for the gospel truth unless you are able to research it yourself. Don't look to me, look to the facts of both revelations. I believe it is not two stories, but one. Special revelation is the book about what is going on in general revelation, as I see it. And both proclaim, within their realm, what God is doing to save His chosen ones. But you can see how I am stumbling over myself to say it rightly.

    You could ask yourself two questions to get started in thinking about this:

    One, when, for example, the sun stood still for Joshua, did it stand still for Joshua's neighbour too? In other words, did the sun really stand still? Did it stay in the same place in the sky? Is that a physical and actual thing related to us in the Bible? (Let's leave out the quibble about helio-centric vs. geo-centric presuppositions - we know what it meant to convey to us. )

    Two, is there anything at all in the Bible that does not coincide with what a true investigation into the facts of the case would conclude/sustain? If there is a discrepancy, is it in the integrity of the facts or in man's integrity? Can there be any disagreement in facts in the end, whether of general revelation or special revelation?

    From these two questions, when you answer them to the conclusion that all witness to God's existence and His plan of salvation is positive, then only can we answer the question about the responsibility of cultures the most remote from the gospel reach.
  10. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman

    I totally agree.

    But special rev. is God's self-interpretation of his revelation in nature. And not everyone has that self-interpretation. Yes, the folks in Joshua's day all experienced what happened with the sun. I'm just not sure whether to call that event itself general or special revelation. You'll probably say that it's a worthless distinction in this situation.

    I'm just not familiar enough with these categories to know how to correctly divide them, and then how to appropriately join them, if that makes sense.
  11. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    What does this mean? Does God need to re-interpret what He has made? I don't know what you mean by this.

    OK. If what God created on the first six days is called general revelation, then was Adam of general revelation or special revelation. He was made on the sixth day, as much as other things were created on previous days.

    In my discussions with Presuppositionalists I have found that what they mean by "no brute facts" is the same thing pretty well as what I mean by "no other than brute facts." These mean almost the same thing. What we are both trying to say is that the facts witness to God's sovereigty over creation. I think my way of saying it is better, Van Till and Bahnsen, etc., notwithstanding. It simply means that the facts are the facts.

    It seems to me that Presuppositionalists cannot make up their minds about facts. They say that facts need re-interpreting, as if they say nothing on their own, or as if they witness to what the secular and godless world claims, like evolution. It seems to me that they don't have confidence in the witness of facts by themselves, that a scientist without the Bible, doing honest investigation of natural phenomena, will come up with truth which does not match what Scripture says, or will contradict Scripture at some point. We shoudn't fear that. We know, because we know God, that no such thing can happen. But I admit that I have a difficult time understanding Presuppositionalists.

    If scientists, or we for that matter, come up with iron-clad proof of something that seems to go counter to what the Bible says, like when they proved the helio-centricity of the solar system, then we know that we have understood the Bible wrongly up until then. And if we find, for example, that five-portico buildings were not extant during the time of Jesus or the culture at that time (for a great while this was the conclusion of some archeologists, in fact), then we know that our findings are wrong, because the Bible witnesses to a building like that in Jesus' ministry. And careful investigation has indeed found out that this is exactly the kind of buildings one would find in His time (which is what subsequent archeological discovery has found out. ) But I didn't need to be an archelologist to know this result, because I was confident that there is no evidence of any kind to show that the Bible is not true, or that general revelation witnesses to anything else than God's sovereignty. Any thing else is just a jumping to conclusions before all the evidence is in.

    This is how I defeated the humanists in my high school days. I just asked them to prove the so-called contradictions in the Bible; to prove that the fossil records they counted on so much definitely concluded an ancient earth; to prove that their logic was not fallacious on the same level they accused mine of being. They couldn't. All they had was a jumping to conclusions based on biased theory, and nothing more, the very thing they thought was the weakness of believing the Bible. Even though I was a mediocre student in history and science, at best, (actually, I failed history, and just made it in science) these A students couldn't defeat me, because I knew God, and I knew that He spoke the truth, and I had every confidence that even if I didn't know the facts, the facts still would not let me down. In fact, I even used their own interpretations to prove them wrong.

    A re-interpretation of creation is the key here. It gives it away. It says too much, and shows a flaw in understanding. What exactly is a re-interpretation? Re-interpreted from what to what? It's the first "what" that interests me, because that's where I'm coming from in saying that there is no other than brute facts; or, to say it better, facts are facts. This confusion over "self-interpretation" or "re-interpretation" is all to prevalent in our time, and I can see that a lot of people would be confused by it.

    It seems that it is an unconscious admission of the interpretation of theoretical science's assumptions, that the evidences we have point to an ancient earth. But an objective acknowledgement of these evidences can be no more than that it points to it, not that it proves it, at the very most. They are really working more with an absence of evidence than with the presence of evidence. For the most inescapable evidence that they have is being completely ignored, and even tossed out the window as a sign of objectivity, and that is to ignore God's witness of Himself in general revelation. They call it being unbiased, when in fact it is a pre-set bias as a grounds for doing science. They have agreed that they will leave out anything that smacks of the divine; but in reality they have only shifted the divine from God to the god called "natural selection", deifying the process they call "evolution".

    All this to convey the idea that we who believe but are not scientists, philosophers, theorists in physics, archeologists, or even really smart, we who are ordinary people who go to work to bring home a paycheck to feed the family, have nothing to fear from "evidences" that prove the Bible wrong, that tend to a belief that there is no God, or that shake our faith. We have nothing to fear because we know the outcome long before science finally gets around to getting there, and that is that God's Word is true to the facts, and is reliable for faith and hope. We remain unshaken by the things that shake the world, because we have an anchor for our hope, our faith; and we have a confidence in God because He has done much more than enough to establish the witness of His sovereignty to all the world, but especially to us who cling to Him. The house-wife hanging up the laundry; the farmer tending to his crops; the herdsman sorting his cattle; the steel-worker balancing on an I-beam; the student at class; the Puritan Board member at the computer: these all remain unshaken by the onslaught of theories permeating our societies' roots, because our roots go deeper where these theories cannot touch.

    I hope this helps, Andrew. Remember, these are the musings of a simple cabinet-maker, not an accredited philosopher. This is how I understand things.
  12. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    Frame is presuming...and skating on edge...

    The Gospel is no where revealed in nature. It is solely in the Scripture. Period.

    The catagories are: General (God is Creator) revelation = the natural world; Special (the Gospel) revelation = the Word of God.

    If these lines get blurred -- especially due to going further than what Scripture says...... :chained:


    [Edited on 4-19-2005 by Robin]
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page