by William J. Stewart
Occasionally I’ve studied with folks who claim God speaks to them. Typically their claim to divine revelation is made when something comes up in a Bible discussion they disagree with. The claim is essentially, “God said this to me, so I don’t have to obey that.”
Does God speak directly to people today? Does He reveal His will to individuals now using dreams, visions or even an audible voice? The claim itself is not proof that such has occurred. Many people in a wide variety of religious affiliations claim God has spoken to them, and often, said something contrary to the Bible.
Divine Communication Is Rare
The way some folks talk about God, you would think He is chatting it up with people every day all over the earth. Looking at the Bible, we see plenty of times when God gave a dream or a vision, or even spoke directly to someone. It is worth noting, the Bible is essentially a record of divine interaction and discourse with mankind. However, the hundreds of occasions in Scripture where God spoke to people in one way or another took place over thousands of years. It was not a daily experience in the life of God’s people. There are several people in the Bible whom God spoke to or gave dreams or visions to, but with a few exceptions, these are leaders among God’s people at certain times in their history. And for every person the Bible says God spoke to, there are myriads of people who had no such experience happen to them. There are specific times when God spoke or gave signs—before the flood, establishing the nation, freeing Israel from Egypt, giving the Law, etc.. There is no indication through any of this that God was speaking with anyone but Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and other leaders. We can add Joseph to that number, since he received dreams and the ability to interpret. After this, God spoke to and through the judges and the prophets. Again, specific times, circumstances and individuals.
The writer of Hebrews (1:1-2) summarized God’s communication with mankind in this way:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…
God wasn’t speaking with everyone and anyone, but “to the fathers by the prophets.” Neither did the Hebrew writer say God is speaking to everyone and anyone today, but now, He speaks by His Son. Nowhere does the Bible say God will speak with us directly today.
God Is Not The Author Of Confusion
There are several religious groups which owe their origin to men or women who claimed God spoke to them in some way. The Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Scientists, the Seventh Day Adventist—these all share the same type of beginning. The people responsible for the formation of these groups claimed God spoke to them, gave them a dream, gave them a vision. They all made the same claim, and yet none of them agree doctrinally. Paul wrote, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
God didn’t speak to these people. If He had, they’d all be doing the same thing. Their division is evidence God is not responsible for what they are doing, but they themselves. The Old Testament warns about prophets who speaks presumptuously, whom God did not speak to (Deuteronomy 18:20-21). There are many who presumptuously claiming God is the source of their message today.
Unverifiable & Subjective
When someone claims God revealed this or that, He gave a dream, a vision, a word of wisdom, etc., how can we know it is so?
When God sent Moses to Egypt, this was a concern the prophet raise. “What if they won’t believe me?” And so God gave him signs—his rod would become a serpent; his hand would go from normal to leprous to normal again. And then, on top of this, the plagues! There was ample evidence that Moses was speaking on behalf of God. We find the same through the prophets in the Old Testament.
We come to the New Testament and find the same with the apostles. Hebrews 2:3-4 speaks of the message of salvation,
…which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.
Where are the miracles of confirmation today? Many claim God is speaking with them, and that what they are saying is from Him, but without God’s witness to such, they should not be believed. Now, that said, I’ve heard some who make such claims talk about miraculous events that have happened in their lives. It’s one thing to claim miracles have happened, it’s quite another to show them as evidence God has indeed spoken to an individual.
Not only are the claims of divine communication by people today unverifiable, but they are also completely subjective. Why did Charles T. Russell, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen White and others claim God spoke to or gave some form of revelation to them? Again, with the extreme differences between their respective groups being evidence God did not speak to them, it would seem that each wanted to do religiously what they wanted to do. They found in the claim that God spoke to them the freedom to make things how they wanted it. And they did.
Folks I’ve encountered who claim God speaks to them used it as a way to free themselves from a Bible teaching. They had a preconceived idea, whether their own or planted there by a false teacher, and when confronted with truth, they did not love the truth enough to turn from the lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). Instead, they convinced themselves God had given them a new revelation or a better understanding of His will. The only thing that distinguishes these folks from the religious leaders listed above is they haven’t started their own religion—yet.
Next week, we will consider some examples in the New Testament where God spoke or gave visions or dreams to people. We’ll look at some texts about the Holy Spirit which are often misused, and note the emphasis on the written word throughout the Bible.