Was a Verbal Revelation Necessary? We Affirm.

Continuing our Bibliology Primer we turn to Francis Turretin’s first question, “Was a verbal revelation necessary?” At this point the discussion is only about words whether spoken or written and their necessity. Why must revelation be a revelation of words? Turretin affirms this necessity under two heads: 1.) the goodness of God and 2.) the appetites of man. The first head contains three causal lines: 1.) the perfect goodness of God, 2.) the blindness and wretchedness of man, and 3.) right reason. Concerning the first he writes,

“For when he made man for himself…he was without doubt unwilling that he should be ignorant on the subject [i.e., theology] and has declared to him by the word, happiness itself and the way to reach it.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Second Topic, Q. 1, III. 55.

Of the second he writes of mankind that

“he is so blind and depraved, that he can neither become acquainted with any truth, nor perform any good thing unless God leads the way (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 5:8)”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Second Topic, Q. 1, III. 55.

Regarding the third, right reason, it

“teaches that God can be savingly known and worshipped only by his light, just as the sun makes itself known to us only by its own light (Ps. 36:9)”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Second Topic, Q. 1, III. 55.

Turning then to the second head, not only is the necessity of verbal revelation proven through the goodness of God, plight of men, and good reason it is also proven by the twofold appetite of man himself. All men desire in some way, often in a twisted and malformed way, two things: truth and immortality. Interestingly, Immanuel Kant touches on this very same idea as he argues for morality and particularly the need for God and immortality to lead a truly complete moral life. He concludes,

“God and a future life are two hypothesis which, according to the principles of pure reason, are inseparable from the obligation which this reason imposes upon us.”

Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, Transcendental Doctrine of Method, Chap. 2, Sec. 2. GBWW, 238.

Turning back to Turretin, he writes of truth and immortality, that former is

“for knowing the truth, the other for enjoying the highest good that the intellect may be completed by the contemplation of truth and the will by the fruition of good in which a happy life consists.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Second Topic, Q. 1, IV. 56

Thus he concludes,

“Therefore the higher school of grace was necessary in which God might teach us by word the true religion, by instructing us in his knowledge and worship and by raising us in communion with himself to the enjoyment of eternal salvation – where neither philosophy, nor reason, could ever rise.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Second Topic, Q. 1, IV. 56.

In sum, for Turretin, the acquisition of truth, theology, and a method of right worship is necessarily dependent upon divinely revealed words, spoken or written. Furthermore, man has an innate appetite for truth and eternal life, the latter of which is also necessarily dependent upon divine verbal revelation. Put another way, in order for the human subject to acquire truth and eternal life that same subject must necessarily encounter divine verbal revelation. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Our next instalment in this series takes Turretin’s question a step further and asks, “Was it necessary for the word of God to be committed to writing?” See you then.

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