General revelation: the disclosure of God in nature, in providential history and in moral law within the heart (conscience), whereby all persons at all times and places gain a rudimentary understanding of the Creator and his moral demands. Romans 1:18-20.
Special revelation: God’s self-disclosure in salvation history and in the interpretive word of Scripture.
General revelation is when God makes Himself known to man through means other than direct communication with man. Like general revelation, special revelation is God making Himself known to man, but the difference is in special revelation, God is speaking directly to man. This direct communication can be through the Bible, or through other means of communication such as a theophany. Anything we might consider to be a direct communication from God must be tested against the only sure measure of God’s nature – the Bible. Another big difference is that while we can learn of God’s majesty through general revelation, we can only know of God’s plan and saving grace for man through special revelation. Though God reveals Himself to us in many ways, we try to suppress this information (Romans 1:20). Properly understood, general revelation is trustworthy. But special revelation must be used to interpret general revelation. Since our own faculties are subject to error, God’s word must take precedence over them. Without special revelation, we can not understand that we are in need of saving, let alone that God has provided a mechanism for us to be with Him. As Psalm 19 states, “The heavens indeed tell of the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” But without special revelation, we can not know that He will judge us or that we are called to repent (Acts 17:30). All men can come to know of God through general revelation, but special revelation only comes to those who hear or read God’s word.