Must God Be Self-Explanatory? (Epistemology, Part 4)

The Bible sets forth a distinct epistemological framework which overwhelmingly validates the presuppositional apologetic method. In this particular section, I will attempt to explicate in detail the fundamental tenets of a sound biblical epistemology. The starting point of a biblical epistemology is the aforementioned principium of the Christian faith: The Triune God exists, and He has revealed Himself in His Word, namely the Bible. This fundamental presupposition without doubt serves as the foundation of all Christian reasoning. The following subsections will respectively highlight the essentials of a sound biblical epistemology – essentials that are systematically derived[1] from the truths of Scripture.

 

Tenet 1: The Triune God must be Self-Explanatory.

The first tenet of a sound biblical epistemology is that God must be self-explanatory. In other words, He must reveal Himself to us in order for us to know Him. Why? This is so for two reasons. First, Scripture teaches that the Triune God is self-existent. To say that God is self-existent is in essence to say that God possesses life in and of Himself. Numerous Scriptures witness to this truth. For example, 1 Timothy 6:15-16 declares that God is “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality.”[2] The Greek word for immortality is ἀθανασίαν (athanasian), which literally means deathlessness. In other words, God is deathless and He alone. In John 5:26, the Lord Jesus Christ proclaims, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” Moreover, God’s covenant name Yahweh (lit. ‘HE IS’ in Hebrew) denotes self-existence: “I AM WHO I AM;” and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’’” (Exod. 3:14-15). The fact that God is self-existent also indicates that He does not need anything outside of Himself. Wayne Grudem similarly defines God’s self-existence or independence in the following manner: “God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.”[3] In Acts 17:24-25, the Apostle Paul preaches the following to the men of Athens: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.”

 

Second, Scripture teaches that the Triune God is incomprehensible. Now, this is not to say that “God cannot be understood at all” as Van Til argued.[4] Rather, Grudem offers a helpful definition for God’s incomprehensibility: “Not able to be fully understood. As this applies to God, it means that God cannot be understood fully or exhaustively, although we can know true things about God.”[5] For instance, Yahweh sovereignly declares the following in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Job 11:7-9 similarly states, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” Moreover, the Apostle Paul rightly asserts that “the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). Even still, Christ authoritatively proclaimed: “And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17). In other words, man, in and of himself, cannot fully, let alone soteriologically, know the Triune God.

 

Since God is both self-existent and incomprehensible, God must be self-explanatory. As stated above, Yahweh must reveal Himself to us in order for us to know Him. The Bible itself confirms this conclusion. Romans 1:18-20 teaches that God has revealed Himself in creation:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse [emphasis mine].

However, this revelation, also known as general revelation, is not salvific, serving only to condemn fallen man and deprive him of excuse regarding God’s existence. Concerning such revelation, S. Lewis Johnson declares: “General Revelation or the Revelation of God in nature is addressed to man as a man, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have the capacity for fully understanding.”[6] In order for fallen man to truly know God, it was necessary for the Triune God to reveal Himself in more special ways – namely, through the Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17) and ultimately through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 1:1-3; John 1:18). Johnson explains that “Special Revelation is revelation addressed to a man as a sinner.”[7] However, it is the Triune God who actively and sovereignly imparts genuine salvific knowledge of Himself to sinful man. Matthew 11:27 confirms this truth: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (cf. Luke 10:22). Likewise, 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 states: “But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” In conclusion, man cannot understand or discover God, unless God reveals Himself to man. Finitum non possit capere infinitum (Latin: “The finite cannot grasp the infinite”).[8]


Footnotes:

[1]Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines derive in the following manner: “to take, receive, or obtain, esp. from a specified source.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield: Merriam Webster, 2012), 336.

[2]All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.

[3]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 160.

[4]Robbins, Van Til: Man and Myth, 33.

[5]Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1244.

[6]S. Lewis Johnson, “Revelation, or God’s Truth Unveiled” (Sermon transcript for Basic Bible Doctrine series at Believer’s Chapel, Dallas, TX, 2008); accessed November 9, 2014; available from http://sljinstitute.net/; Page 10.

[7]Ibid., 11.

[8]Ibid., 7.

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