The Necessity of Verbal Revelation

In Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

QUESTION 1: Was revelation by the word necessary? Affirmative.

I. Since the word of God is the unique foundation (principium) of theology, its necessity is properly
investigated at the very beginning: was it necessary for God to reveal himself to us by the word? or, was
the word of God necessary? There have been in the past, and are also today, some who maintain that
sufficient capacity for living well and happily resides in human nature, so that they regard any revelation
from heaven as not only superfluous, but even as absurd. Since nature takes care of the needs of people
just as it does those of other living creatures, so, they believe, reason, or the light of nature, is fully
sufficient for the guidance of life and the pursuit of happiness.

II. But the orthodox church has always believed very differently, declaring that the revelation of God’s
word is absolutely and simply necessary to humanity for salvation because

[the word] is the seed which
causes rebirth (I Peter 1:23), the lamp by which we are guided (Ps. 119:105), the food by which we are
nourished (Heb. 5:13 -14), and the foundation upon which we depend (Eph.2:20).

III. The following evidence proves the above:

(1) the supreme goodness of God, communicative of itself;
since he has created mankind for himself, that is, for a supernatural end, and for a condition far happier
than this earthly existence, he cannot be conceived as willing that they should lack in this respect, but he
made clear to them by means of the word this very happiness and the way for obtaining it, which[“natural”] reason did not know.

(2) The extreme blindness and corruption of people, who, although after
sin still have some residual light for guidance in earthly and mundane affairs, yet in divine and heavenly
matters which concern blessedness (felicitas) are so blind and depraved that they can neither know
anything of the truth, nor perform anything of the good, except through the initiative of God (I Cor. 2:14;
Eph.5:8).

(3) Right reason, which teaches that God can be known and worshiped for salvation only
through the light of God, just as the sun can be seen by us only through its own light (Ps. 36:10). Nor
would impostors who have devised new religions have invented their conversations with divine beings or
with angels, as Numa Pompilius did with the nymph Aegeria, or Mohammed with Gabriel, unless
everybody was convinced that the correct form of worship of the divine being depended on his own
revelation. Thus the common opinion of all nations, even of barbarians, is that for the welfare of humanity
there is needed, besides that reason that they call the guide of life, some heavenly wisdom. This[conviction] gave rise to the various religions that are scattered about the globe. In this connection those
who maintain that these religions are merely ingenious human schemes for uniting people in civic
responsibilities are not to be believed. It will be granted that it is certain that many clever men have
manipulated religion in order to instill reverence into the common people, as a means of keeping their
spirits submissive, but they could never have accomplished this unless there was already inborn
(ingenitus) in the human mind a sense of its own ignorance and helplessness, by which the more readily
people were led astray by those vagabonds and quacks.

IV. A double appetite which is implanted in mankind by nature–the longing both for truth and for
immortality–confirms this. The one desire is to know the truth; the other, to enjoy the highest good. As
the intellect is brought to perfection by the contemplation of truth, the will is brought to perfection by the
enjoyment of the good, of which the blessed life consists. Since it is impossible that these two appetites
should be in vain, revelation, which makes evident, as nature cannot, both the primal truth and the
highest good, and the path to both of them, was necessary. Finally, the glory of God and the salvation of
mankind demand revelation, because the school of nature cannot lead us to the true God and to
legitimate worship of him, nor can it disclose the plan (ratio) of salvation, by which people may escape
from the wretchedness of sin to the state of perfect bliss which exists in union with God. The higher
school of grace was therefore necessary, in which God teaches us true religion by his word, to establish us
in the knowledge and worship of himself, and to lead us to the enjoyment of eternal salvation in
communion with him, to which neither philosophy nor any human effort (ratio) can attain.

V. Granted that in the works of creation and providence God manifests himself clearly, so that “what can
be known about God is plain to them [men)” and his invisible nature has been clearly perceived from the
creation of the world (Rom. 1:19 – 20), this real revelation cannot suffice for salvation after sin, not only
in the subjective sense, because it has not, as an accompaniment, the power of the Spirit, by which
human blindness and evil are corrected; but also in the objective sense, because it contains nothing
concerning the mysteries of salvation, and God’s mercy in Christ, without whom there is no salvation
(Acts 4:12). What can be known about God is indeed presented, but not what is to be believed. God is
known from the work of creation as creator, but not as redeemer; his power and divinity, that is, the
existence of the divine being (numen) and his unlimited power (virtus) [are known], but not his grace and
saving mercy. It was therefore necessary to make up the deficiency of the prior revelation, which,
because of the sin that had been committed, was useless and inadequate, by another one, more splendid
not only in degree but also in kind, that God might use not only a silent teacher, but also open his sacred
mouth, that he could not only make known his more wonderful power, but also disclose the mystery of his
will for our salvation.

VI. Although natural theology deals with various matters concerning God and his properties, his will and
his works, it does not, without the supernatural revelation of the word, teach us that understanding of
God which can serve for salvation. It shows that God is and what he is like, both in unity of essence and
in the nature of some attributes, but it does not show who he is, either in his personal unity (in individua)
or with regard to the persons [of the Trinity]. [“Natural revelation”] shows God’s will with regard to the
law, imperfectly and obscurely (Rom. 2:14-15), but the mystery of the gospel is entirely lacking in it. It
proclaims the works of creation and providence (Ps.19; Acts 14:17; Rom. 1:19 – 20). But it does not rise to the works of redemption and grace, which can become known to us only by the word (Rom. 10:17; 16:25 – 26)

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