Question: "What is general revelation and special revelation?"
Answer: General revelation and special revelation are the two ways God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. General revelation refers to the general truths that can be known about God through nature. Special revelation refers to the more specific truths that can be known about God through the supernatural.
In regard to general revelation, Psalm 19:1-4 declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” According to this passage, God’s existence and power can be clearly seen through observing the universe. The order, intricacy, and wonder of creation speak to the existence of a powerful and glorious Creator.
General revelation is also taught in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Like Psalm 19, Romans 1:20 teaches that God’s eternal power and divine nature are “clearly seen” and “understood” from what has been made, and that there is no excuse for denying these facts. With these Scriptures in mind, perhaps a working definition of general revelation would be “the revelation of God to all people, at all times, and in all places that proves that God exists and that He is intelligent, powerful, and transcendent.”
Special revelation is how God has chosen to reveal Himself through miraculous means. Special revelation includes physical appearances of God, dreams, visions, the written Word of God, and most importantly—Jesus Christ. The Bible records God appearing in physical form many times (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4, 34:5-7), and the Bible records God speaking to people through dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2) and visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7).
Of primary importance in the revealing of God is His Word, the Bible, which is also a form of special revelation. God miraculously guided the authors of Scripture to correctly record His message to mankind, while still using their own styles and personalities. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is inspired, profitable, and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God determined to have the truth regarding Him recorded in written form because He knew the inaccuracy and unreliability of oral tradition. He also understood that the dreams and visions of man can be misinterpreted. God decided to reveal everything that humanity needs to know about Him, what He expects, and what He has done for us in the Bible.
The ultimate form of special revelation is the Person of Jesus Christ. God became a human being (John 1:1, 14). Hebrews 1:1-3 summarizes it best, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” God became a human being, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to identify with us, to set an example for us, to teach us, to reveal Himself to us, and, most importantly, to provide salvation for us by humbling Himself in death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus Christ is the ultimate “special revelation” from God.