The Book of Nature

If you spend much time in a good ol’ Bible-believing church, sooner or later you’ll hear that God has revealed Himself in the Bible. We say that God has spoken, and we refer to Holy Scripture as God’s Word. Indeed, God “breathed out” His Word to us through those holy men of old who spoke as they were carried along by the Spirit. Christians trust that the Bible is not the word of men but the very word of God. The precious truth of God’s word gives life (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Deuteronomy 32:47).

We are reminded far less often of the many words the natural world speaks about God. Day to day pours out speech; night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard (Psalm 19:2-3). As the psalmist, king David assured us that we do hear the voice of nature that speaks of God’s glory.

In Acts 17, Paul explains to Athenian philosophers that the God who created all things, also determined when and where each of us was born, so that we would perhaps, like the blind, feel our way toward Him. How does this happen?

Feeling Our Way

Modern scientific research offers great and ever-increasing insights into the sophisticated and complex design of nature. From the microscope we peer into worlds whose intricacies reveal the work of a designer. From the telescope we stagger to comprehend an unfathomable vastness and the power that created it.

Long before any Christian considered the obvious order, design, and complexity inherent in the natural world as evidence for God, the ancient Greeks thought the created order bears witness to the existence of a god or spiritual force.

Beginning with the philosopher Heraclitus, a succession of Greek philosophers thought the cosmos was governed by an everlasting Word that provided its metaphysical and moral foundation. Zeno, who founded the school of Stoics in Athens, observed the smooth, orderly motion of the heavenly bodies and supposed the cosmos itself was divine. Aristotle proposed that an unmoved mover set everything in motion. Even those who supposed the unmoved mover to be an impersonal spiritual force recognized the need for a first cause. The idea developed of a “natural law” describing the order of the heavens, the supreme Law that was woven together with nature. Because this ordering and unifying Law extended into all of the physical world, the best way for humans to live was in accordance with it. The principle of unity pervading the material world with mathematical order came to be known by ancient philosophers as the Logos—the spirit of rationality itself.

Remarkably, Greek philosophers could intuit the existence of the Logos by merely observing the natural world (cf. Romans 1:20), quite apart from the benefit of God’s special revelation in Scripture.

Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, also identified the Logos as the unifying spirit bestowing order to the whole creation. Unlike his predecessors, Philo believed the Logos was distinct from the world, not woven into its fabric. He believed the Logos, “the reason of God,” was the plan and wisdom required to create the cosmos. Under Philo’s teaching, the Logos of Greek philosophy developed a character that Christians would later recognize as belonging to Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. But there is no direct link between Philo’s Logos and the Incarnate Logos in John’s Gospel.[1] The Old Testament that John knew already provided substantial grounding for the Logos of the New Testament. Even so, our English Bibles typically translate Greek λογος (logos) as “Word” (cf. John 1:1-14).

Two Books

In the Christian era, prominent theologians have emphasized the evidence for God in the natural world, even going so far as to say that God has spoken in two “books”: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. We also refer to the two books as special revelation and natural (or general) revelation. Natural revelation gives us more than enough information to know that God exists. As we have seen, the idea of an unmoved mover and the Logos both had a long history in Greek philosophy before Jesus walked the earth.

But in the wisdom of God’s redemptive plan, we needed something more than natural revelation. The special revelation of Scripture tells us far more than the brute fact that God created the world. In the beginning God spoke to create all things from nothing, humankind fell into sin, God sent His Son to redeem us, and one day God will restore His good creation. Scripture and natural revelation complement each other, and accordingly, the book of Scripture acknowledges, primarily in Psalm 19 and Romans 1, the importance of natural revelation.

In the words of the New Testament, we have the consummation of what the Greeks sought by feeling their way—the Logos, embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. Through Him, God created all things (cf. John 1:1-14, Colossians 1:15-17), and in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. The whole creation obeys orderly natural laws that can be described mathematically and understood by rational minds. Because human beings are created in God’s image, we can understand, in a limited way at least, the design and operation of God’s universe. The Book of Nature motivates us to pursue science and makes a compelling body of evidence that He exists.

[1] For a brief survey of the range of scholarship on the postulated relationship between the Logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel and the philosophy of Philo, see Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 70-77.

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