In the Westminster Confession of Faith, which was written by men who embraced the biblical theology of the Protestant Reformation, we read that although natural, or general, revelation manifests the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, it is insufficient “to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation” (WCF 1.1). However, God did not leave us without revelation that teaches us how we can be saved. Thus, “it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in diverse manners, to reveal himself, and to declare” His will of salvation to His people (1.1). Here, the confession references what we call “special revelation.”
Special revelation is that revelation from God that tells us the way of salvation and what it means to live in a manner that pleases Him. Typically, we identify Scripture as special revelation, and this is correct. Yet, in the history of His people, God has provided special revelation through other means as well. Note that the confession speaks of “diverse ways” in which special revelation has been given. If we look at the history of God’s people, we can see why it says such a thing. Consider today’s passage, for example, wherein Joseph interprets dreams given to two members of Pharaoh’s court. He specifically attributes dreams and their interpretation to God Himself (Gen. 40:8). So, at least at that early point in history, God sometimes spoke to people and revealed His will through dreams.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we see that the Lord also revealed His will to Israel through the priestly Urim and Thummim. Although we do not know exactly what the Urim and Thummim were, they were most likely stones or sticks of different colors that could be drawn from the breastplate in order to discern God’s purposes. Prayer would be offered, and if the Urim was drawn, it would mean to do one thing, and if the Thummim was drawn, it would mean to do something else (Ex. 28:30; 1 Sam. 14:41).
We could multiply examples of the different forms in which special revelation once came. The most important of these, however, is the form of writing. When God spoke to His people, individuals such as Moses, the prophets, the Apostles, and others wrote down that revelation our Lord wanted us to have in perpetuity (Ex. 24:4; Jer. 36:4; 2 Peter 3:15). As we will see, special revelation ceased by the end of the first century, so the only special revelation we have today is the written Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.