A Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures

Biblical Authority

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The Creator’s visuals convey a valuable message we all need to hear. But to learn the lessons that matter most, nothing beats His words!

Who needs to read the instructions when you can just look at the pictures?

As a kid I often got toys that needed to be assembled. The instructions on the box were big pictures with very few words. I remember well the Ready Ranger backpack, the G.I. Joe Jeep, and a cutting-edge water rocket. Boom . . . I had these treasures put together in minutes. Life was good.

I miss the simplicity of childhood. Assembling a complex piece of furniture or electronics is a whole new ballgame. Sure, they usually come with some technical diagrams and detailed instructions, but I prefer to look at the pictures on the box. The result is usually hours of frustration and dark thoughts of just returning the whole thing to Amazon. Even in my late forties, I’m still trusting my own intuition instead of the manufacturer’s instructions.

Sometimes I try to approach God the same way. But there are no shortcuts to knowing Him. Pictures are helpful, but instructions are vital.

General Revelation—Helpful Pictures

God reveals Himself in two ways. Theologians call these general revelation and special revelation. General revelation does not come as nouns and verbs; it comes to us through the splendor of creation. Whether we are looking through a microscope or a telescope, the message is clear—God is real! “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). This is happening every moment of every day, and no place on earth or in the cosmos escapes this message (Psalm 19:2–4).

Revelation also exists inside people, through their conscience. “The work of the law [is] written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Romans 2:15).

What do these helpful pictures communicate?

The Creator’s Existence (Psalm 19:1)—He is here and everywhere. He leaves His providential fingerprints on everything. Every day.

The Creator’s Glory (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20)—He is not like us and we are not equal to Him. His attributes, eternal power, and divine nature are exalted above all creation and eternity.

The Creator’s Authority (Romans 2:14–16)—This Creator will judge human beings against His standard, not theirs.

As helpful as the pictures are, they are insufficient to answer the urgent questions they raise in our hearts—questions like “How can I be rightly related to this Creator?” “Can I be free from my guilty conscience?” General revelation is very informative, but it does not give us the complete story.

We need to read the instructions.

Special Revelation—Vital Instructions

Just as God reveals His glory through creation, He also reveals His will through language. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2 (ESV)).

In other words, the Old Testament (the words of “the fathers, the prophets”) and the New Testament (“His Son” speaking by His Spirit and through the authors) give us the vital specifics (special revelation) that the pictures (general revelation) can’t provide. They give us specifics about the history of creation, Fall, rescue, and restoration. According to 2 Timothy 3:15–16, the Bible tells us: how to be saved (wisdom that leads to salvation); what to believe (doctrine); what is wrong (reproof); what must change (correction); and how to live (training in righteousness).

Every book of the Bible gives us crucial information the “pictures” of general revelation do not provide. Take Genesis as an example. It shares the details of creation (Genesis 1); the placing of mankind at the pinnacle of creation and the institution of marriage (Genesis 2); the Fall into sin and the promise of a Savior (Genesis 3); the cause and global extent of the Flood (Genesis 7–9); the beginnings of nations and languages (Genesis 11), and much more. The truths of Genesis lay the foundation for the rest of special revelation. We cannot truly understand our world and why things are as they are without the specifics that the Bible provides.

No vital detail is left out of the instructions. Period. When it comes to any necessary spiritual instruction, the Bible, God’s special revelation, is all we get and all we need. As Peter puts it, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).

So we can’t just marvel at the helpful pictures of nature; we need to press further into the vital information. Every day, believers should work their way through the timely truths of Scripture. No shortcuts.

Discussion Questions . . .

  • What does creation teach us about the Creator?
  • What are examples of things you can see in a telescope and a microscope that show you God’s glory and power?
  • What does the Bible teach us about the Creator’s plan for the ages? For those He rescues?
  • Since the Bible provides such comprehensive, vital information about the Creator and your own life, what is your very specific plan to read and digest the Bible this year?
  • How does a clear understanding of both general revelation and special revelation affect your personal evangelism? Biblical counseling? Home life?
  • Of all the Bible references in this article, which one would help you the most to remember the important lessons of this article? Will you commit to memorize it?
Jim Newcomer is a pastoral theology professor at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary and is executive pastor at Colonial Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He earned his master’s degree from Bob Jones University in pastoral studies and earned his doctor of ministry degree from Northland International University.

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