For our study this morning I want us to look at the subject of Natural Revelation. In
theology, general revelation (aka natural revelation) refers to knowledge about God and spiritual matters that are discovered through natural means such as observation of nature, philosophy, and reasoning. Christian theologians use the term to describe knowledge of God purported to be plainly available to all mankind. Three proof texts are prominent in this view: Psalm 19:1-6, Romans 1:19-21, and Romans 2:14. Let’s look at these texts and see if they are in fact teaching natural revelation. We’ll begin with Romans 1.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:19-21 ESV
Now let me ask something: Can man come to know God through nature? As man looks at the creation, the earth, and the heavens, does he realize there is a God and, therefore, becomes without excuse before Him? Is this what these verses teach? That is the common interpretation of them.
Tertullian, the early church father said, "It was not the pen of Moses that initiated the knowledge of the creator. The vast majority of mankind, though they have never heard the name of Moses—to say nothing of his book—know the God of Moses nonetheless. Nature is the teacher; the soul is the pupil."
Do men come to know God in any way through looking at nature? What about the scientists who study various aspects of Yahweh's creation? When they see the complexity and awesomeness of God's creation, do they fall down and worship Yahweh? They do if they are Christians. But if they are not Christians, what they worship is The Big Bang theory.
The late author and astronomer, Carl Sagan, said, "The universe is all that ever was and ever will be." As an astronomer who studied the heavens, he didn't see the glory of God; he didn't see God at all. Julian Huxley, who was an English evolutionary biologist, said, "It is all accident, all a matter of chance. No reason, no end, no purpose at all." These men didn't just view God’s creation; they studied it and never saw Him or His glory. Natural man says that the matter of which the universe is made somehow over billions of years organized itself into all that we see without any outside assistance or intelligence.
What is called "natural or general revelation" will not bring anybody to God, will it? No. If special revelation can bring people to God, we should grab our friends and loved ones and lock them up in the church and preach to them until they get saved. But that won’t work. If you know your Bible, you may be reasoning that 1 Peter 1:23 says that we are saved by the Word of God. Let’s look at that verse.
since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 1 Peter 1:23 ESV
Those two prepositions "of" and "through" are different. The preposition "of" indicates the source. We are born of God. And "through" indicates the instrumentality. The Holy Spirit gives us life so that we can receive the Word. Regeneration is a direct act of God upon the spirit of man. It is a spiritual resurrection. The only way man comes to God is if God draws him to Himself.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 ESV
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV
The man without the Spirit cannot appreciate God's glory through the heavens or through special revelation. God must first effectually call a man so that he can then see His glory in creation and in the Word. How much do dead men see of the glory of God?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21 ESV
This verse destroys every variety of "natural revelation" and natural theology ("the world did not know God through wisdom"). Knowledge of God comes only through His propositional revelation.
Thomas Aquinas taught that Romans 1 was endorsing Aristotle's pagan theory of knowledge called "empiricism." But Romans 1 doesn't teach any such thing. It does not teach that men learn truth about God or anything else from sensation. Francis Schaeffer warned the Church about Thomas Aquinas and "nature eating up grace." By this he meant that if you give "natural revelation" an epistemological inch, it will displace Scripture.
Can natural men using natural means derive truth from nature? No. They cannot. What, then, are these verses in Romans talking about? Verse 18 explains.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Romans 1:18 ESV
Notice that Paul says that this wrath "is revealed from heaven." To understand this, we must see the parallelism in the language and structure between verse 17 and verse 18. Paul said in verse 17 that God's righteousness is being revealed in the Gospel (see verse 16). In verse 18, we see that God's wrath is also being revealed in the Gospel. Paul's Gospel reveals God's covenant faithfulness which involves the announcement that God will judge the covenant breakers and that the agent of this divine judgment is Yeshua.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Romans 1:19 ESV
"For"—this is the reason for the wrath of God in verse 18. "Can be known" is the Greek word gnostos which means "well known." "Shown" is phaneroo which means "to make visible, to make known."
"God has shown it to them." Who is the "them"? Whom did God make Himself visible or known to? In the first 17 verses Paul uses "You" as a reference to the first- century Roman Christians. In verse 19 he uses the pronoun "Them" and in verse 20, he uses "They." To whom do these personal pronouns refer?
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. Romans 1:20 ESV
Is it possible that Paul is not talking about the physical creation at all? While the Greek word used here for "creation" (ktisis) is at times used for the physical creation, it is also used to denote mankind. But is that the usage here?
Literally, verse 20 reads "For the invisibles of Him from the creation of the world, the made has clearly understood being discerned." The word "made" here is poiema, which means "a product, a thing that is made, workmanship." It is only used here and in Ephesians 2.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 ESV
We, as believers, are a direct creation of Yahweh (His workmanship). But so also is the Zodiac. What does the Zodiac have to do with this? I believe that the constellations of the Zodiac are "the things that have been made" that clearly reveal the Divine nature." The Zodiac are signs that point to the Messiah and His death on the cross. How has God made His eternal power and divine nature clearly seen? He has written the Gospel in the stars of the Zodiac.
Look with me at Psalm 19, another passage used to teach natural revelation.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalms 19:1-6 ESV
Is David saying that we can see the hand of God in the physical creation? People stand overlooking the majestic Grand Canyon and are awed by what they see. From the beaches of the massive Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, people are amaze by the great body of water before them. Sightseers stand at the foot of the lofty Alps and marvel at the magnificent peaks reaching to the sky. Are we to believe that simply from their viewing of those great wonders of creation, they know that there is a God? I don't think so.
"And the sky above proclaims his handiwork"—the Hebrew word for "sky" here is raqiya. In Genesis 1, we see that the stars are in the expanse,
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, Genesis 1:14 ESV
Expanse here is raqiya. It is the same word translated "sky" in Psalm 19 where I believe David is referring to the Zodiac. The word "Zodiac" means "path" or "way." The Zodiac is the stages of the sun's path through the heavens in 12 months.
Notice verse 3.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Psalms 19:3 ESV
Does that make sense? Verse 2 says,
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Psalms 19:2 ESV
And then the next verse says, "There is no speech"? Which is it? Is there speech or not?
The KJV puts it this way:
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Psalms 19:3 KJV
See the difference? The Geneva Bible renders it "[There is] no speech nor language, [where] their voice is not heard." It has this note: "The heavens are a schoolmaster to all nations, no matter how barbarous."
I think that Psalm 19 is referring to what some have called "The Gospel in the Stars." God's glory is seen in the Zodiac as it tells the plan of redemption.
What is it that utters or pours forth speech; which voice goes out to all the world? Whatever it is, it shows the glory of God. Is the glory of God seen in the existence of stars alone? No. The scientist says those are all the result of a big bang.
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV
It is the work of Christ that shows the glory of God more than anything else. The glory of God is not just stars; it is the work of Christ in redemption. If the heavens declare the glory of God, then they are saying something about Christ. There is something about the heavens which declares Christ.
We find in Genesis that Abram has no children, but God has promised him many offspring.
I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Genesis 13:16 ESV
Yahweh promised Abraham multiple descendants. But in Genesis 15, there is another incident.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6 ESV
In verse 5, Yahweh tells Abram to "number the stars." The word "number" here is from the Hebrew saphar which can mean "intensively to recount, that is, celebrate: shew forth, speak, talk, tell." It comes from a root meaning "a book" or "a scroll."
In the LXX the word "number" is arithmeo which can mean "reckoned up." The meaning of arithmeo is much wider than "number" and can mean "enumerate" or "reckon."
So, what Yahweh said to Abram was not "number the stars" but to "recount or tell" the stars. There was a story in the stars, and Yahweh wanted Abram to take note of it. And there was something about this story in the stars that Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness.
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 ESV
What did Abram believe? Was it that he would have a bunch of descendants, or was it the message of redemption in the constellations? Paul tells us that Abraham had the Gospel preached to him.
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." Galatians 3:8 ESV
Was the Gospel in the stars? Whatever Abram believed, it caused him to be counted as righteous. Yahweh evidently showed Abraham that one of his descendants would redeem man from the curse and satisfy the justice of God.
Abraham believed that God would provide a redeemer to deal with man's sin. When Yahweh told Abram in Genesis 15:5, "So shall your offspring be," was He saying the Messiah would be Abram's offspring? Was that what Abram was to "tell" in the stars? I think that Paul explains this in the following verse:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. Galatians 3:16 ESV
Paul is clarifying that Yahweh told Abraham his SEED was being referred to, in the singular, not the Hebrew plural, which would translate "seeds." It is possible that Abraham thought that his "seed," Isaac, was to be the promised Messiah. Remember Abraham had received a very specific promise that he would have a son at a particular time (Genesis 17:15-16, 18:10). Then, in Genesis 22, we read of Yahweh's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
What does Abraham do when Yahweh tells him to sacrifice Isaac? He doesn't question or argue with Yahweh; he simply obeys. Did Abraham know the Messiah had to be sacrificed and then would be resurrected? If so, did he believe his son was the sacrifice?
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV
Abraham believed that Yahweh would raise the Messiah, and perhaps he believed that Isaac, his "seed," was the Messiah.
Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." Genesis 22:5 ESV
Abraham seemed to believe that they were both coming back. He may have believed that Isaac was the Messiah who would be resurrected. He seems to have known the Gospel. He may have seen it in the stars.
If the Gospel was told in the constellations, how were men supposed to know the meaning of the constellations? How did anyone before know the meaning of the constellations? It was the same as reading. You had to be taught. We cannot look up into the sky and say, "Oh, look, there's a lion!" Just like reading a book, it is something that has to be learned.
The constellations themselves have been known from antiquity. The names of the stars have retained their meaning in various languages. For instance, the constellation "Virgo," meaning "virgin," is referred to as "Bethulah" in Hebrew, "Parthenos" in Greek, "Kanya" in Hindi—all of which mean "virgin." This indicates a prior knowledge of the names of the stars and constellations, prior to the language confusion at Babel. This knowledge may well have come down from Noah and even from Adam. The star and constellation names have been handed down from antiquity.
The Book of Enoch states that an angel revealed the constellations. Enoch 8:1 says, "…Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations…" This makes sense because knowledge of the constellations would have to have been a special revelation because those pictures just are not there for anyone to see without a lot of instruction.
Back to Romans.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. Romans 1:20 ESV
How have His eternal power and divine nature been clearly seen? They have been seen in the Zodiac. Like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the vault of the heavens declares the story of the Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Creator of the universe, to the glory of God.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, Romans 1:21-22 ESV
Who was it that knew God? Who were the first people to know God? Adam and Eve knew Yahweh. They dwelt in Eden the Temple of Yahweh. But because of their sin they were put out of Eden. Even though man is removed from the Garden Temple, Yahweh is still communicating with man. Notice the following three very important verses.
Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Genesis 5:22 ESV
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24 ESV
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9 ESV
"Walked with God"—is a very significant phrase. This phrase only occurs three times in the Bible, and none in the New Testament. When God walks with men, it is a really rare thing. The first occasion of this was in Genesis 3, "LORD God walking in the garden." Adam was in that Garden. Adam walked with God in that Garden/Temple. Walking with God depicts a direct divine encounter, a direct divine relationship. Sometimes we think (or at least I did) that the people from Adam to Abraham were ignorant of Yahweh and His ways, but these men walked with Yahweh, and they knew Him.
Understanding Israel’s worldview will help us understand what Romans 1 is saying. In the creation account, God creates Adam.
So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 ESV
We are created "as" the image of God would be a better translation. This means that we are divine representatives. We are to represent Him; we are to do what Yahweh wants us to do as if He were physically present with us. So, Yahweh creates Adam. And according to Job, Adam had access to the divine council.
"Are you the first man who was born? Or were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself? Job 15:7-8 ESV
The first man, Adam, was in Eden in the council of Yahweh. Adam was in an intimate relationship with Yahweh. He walked in the Garden with Yahweh. He dwelt in His presence. Eden was where Yahweh lived and issued decrees. He was with His heavenly host, who existed before humanity did. This is the divine council, the family of God, and Adam was there with them.
You know what happens next. Man is tempted, and he sins. Because of their sin, they are put out of the Garden. But then we have a promise from Yahweh.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Genesis 3:15 ESV
Eve's seed, a human being, will come and fix what Adam has done. A deliverer will come. I believe that in an attempt to stop the "seed of the woman," a group of the watchers left heaven and cohabitated with women in an attempt to corrupt the "seed of the woman." We see this in Genesis 6. These watchers got man kicked out of the Garden/Temple and now they are trying to keep a redeemer from bringing them back into the Temple.
As earth's population grows, it becomes wicked as a result of a divine rebellion as per Genesis 3 and 6. Man begins to worship the watchers instead of the watcher's creator, Yahweh. This rebellion of man culminates in building a ziggurat at Babel.
So, the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:8-9 ESV
Things are in a state of chaos. They are in rebellion against God, and they are judged. They will not follow Him so He disburses them and turns them over to lesser deities. This is a very significant text, which we learn more about in Deuteronomy.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV
In Genesis 10, the table of nations, Yahweh divides Noah's descendants into 70 different nations. This is recorded in Genesis10:32 and is the backdrop for Moses' statement in Deuteronomy 32:8 that Yahweh is responsible for the creation and placement of the nations (Hebrew: goyim). In fact, variations of the same Hebrew root word parad (separate) are used in both Genesis 10:32 and Deuteronomy 32:8.
The idea that the separation of mankind into 70 nations at the Tower of Babel was by and for the angelic "sons of God" is supported by the ancient Book of Jasher (which is mentioned in Joshua 10:13 ("Is it not written in the book of Jashar?") and 2 Samuel 1:18 ("it is written in the book of Jashar").
And they built the tower and the city, and they did this thing daily until many days and years were elapsed. 32 And God said to the seventy angels who stood foremost before him, to those who were near to him, saying, Come let us descend and confuse their tongues, that one man shall not understand the language of his neighbor, and they did so unto them. JASHER 9:31
If in Deuteronomy 32 Moses was indeed referencing Yahweh's separation of the nations according to Noah's offspring (specifically their physical separation at the Tower of Babel), it is important to note that Israel is not listed in the index of the 70 nations found in Genesis 10. The nation of Israel did not yet exist at that time.
What happens at Babel is that man's disobedience causes Yahweh to divide them up and give them to the lesser gods. They were to worship the lesser gods because Yahweh was done with them. Man continued to reject Yahweh and serve other gods, so Yahweh gave them up. What happens then in chapter 12?
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. Genesis 12:1-2 ESV
Yahweh calls Abraham and starts over with Israel as His people. Yahweh starts a new family. He has turned over the nations to the lesser gods, who, in fact, work for Him. They are all under His control, and He will someday call the nations back.
So, at the tower of Babel, Yahweh is done with the nations. They want to follow and serve the watchers above Yahweh. So, Yahweh gives the watchers to rule over the nations, and in Chapter 12 He calls Abram and starts over with His own people Israel.
As we come to the New Testament, we see in Acts 2 at Pentecost that God begins to reclaim all the nations for Himself. Yahweh, in other words, had not forever abandoned the nations to the watchers.
Back to Romans:
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:23 ESV
The darkness and ignorance of unbelieving men resulted in their creating their own gods. The reference to their exchanging the glory of God for images could go back to a time prior to Genesis 11.
Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, Romans 1:24 ESV
This could be Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel. Yahweh was giving up the nations to the 70 watchers.
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:25 ESV
This is something that is true of men in all ages. Adam did this and so did his descendants and so did Israel. People who knew God walked away from Him. This teaches us that without the Lord Yeshua as our Savior, none of us will ever live up to Yahweh's desire for us. Without Yeshua we all tend to worship and serve the creature. Thank God for a Savior who saves completely!
Let’s go to chapter two and a couple of verses that are used with chapter 1 to prove that all men have a knowledge of God:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:14 ESV
The misinterpretation of this verse has led to great misunderstanding. Many see this verse as saying that God has written on the heart of every man a basic moral code. That code is similar to the things contained in the Ten Commandments. This universal moral code consists of things like "Do not steal," "Do not cheat," "Tell the truth," "Honor your parents," "Keep your word," "Help the poor," "Do not kill," and so on.
John Piper writes: "All human beings have the moral law of God stamped on their hearts. Paul is teaching something enormously important here about human nature. The ‘instinctively’ is literally ‘by nature.’ In other words, Paul is telling us something fundamental here about human nature." Then to reinforce his point, Piper says, "We have seen this teaching before in 1:21 (‘They knew God’). Every human soul, as it comes to consciousness, knows that it is created by God, and dependent on God, and should honor and thank God (1:20-21)."
Another commentator writes, "He has written His moral standards into the human DNA so that even remote tribal groups understand something of God's Law." Is that true? Do all men know God’s Law? I sure don’t see this. From what I understand, this verse in Romans is the proof verse for this teaching. Many take this verse to mean that the Gentiles "by nature" do some things the Law requires. They take it to mean that there is something inside the heart of man which compels him to keep the moral standards that God laid down in the Ten Commandments.
The key to understanding this verse is translation. All the major translations have missed it here and their mistake has led to a faulty view of innate knowledge of God.
N.T. Wright says: "The phrase ‘by nature’ goes with the possession of the Law, not with the doing of the Law." That is, those who do not have the Law by nature—in other words, Gentiles. Paul is here distinguishing between Jews who are born with Torah, and Gentiles who by nature or birth do not have the Law, yet these Gentiles are doing the things of the Law.
The NASB’s "instinctively" and the KJV’s and ESV’s "by nature" are from the Greek word phusis. That Paul uses this word to refer to the possession of the Law is clear from his use of phusis in Romans 2.
Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. Romans 2:27 ESV
The word "physically" here is phusis. This is almost identical to the point that Paul makes in verse 14. Here the "physically uncircumcised" who keep the Torah refers to Gentiles. This cannot refer to people who are "naturally" or "innately" uncircumcised. That would be everybody! It refers to those who don’t physically have the Law. And in verse 14 we could translate it, "To those who do not physically have the Law, do the things of the Law."
Who are these Gentile Law keepers? They are Gentile Christians! We could translate it, "For when Gentiles who by nature do not have the Law, do what the Law requires, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves." They don’t have the Law, but they do the things of the Law. How is that possible? They are Christian Gentiles; they have trusted Christ, and the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them. How? The next verse tells us.
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. Romans 2:15 ESV
"Work of the Law is written on their hearts"—the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them because it has been written on their hearts. Where do we find the promise of the Law’s being written on the hearts? Jeremiah 31:31-34. This is the promise of the New Covenant.
So, a correct translation of Romans 2:14 tells us that this verse has nothing to do with general revelation. Nothing at all. The only way that anybody knows anything about Yahweh is if he gives them life and plants His Word in their hearts.