Once a man came up to me after I finished preaching and told me he had a vision of me the night before. He said he saw me preaching in the future with a white beard! At that time I had dark brown hair and a dark brown/black beard.
I listened to him politely as he recounted his vision to me. I don’t remember my exact words to him at the time but I think I responded with something like, “Wow, that’s interesting” before we parted ways.
Now over a decade later I do have a white beard and I still do preach often, so I guess his vision was correct after all. But does that mean this guy was a prophet? Does it mean that God gave him some sort of divine insight about my future? Should I have paid more attention to the vision of this man who I had never met before but who seems to have correctly predicted something in my future?
We live in a day when plenty of people claim that God is giving them personal revelation so we must carefully ask ourselves some questions to determine what is really going on here.
Let’s start by talking about where we find our final authority.
Concerning the authority of revelation:
God’s written Word often points to itself as the final authority in practice and doctrine and it’s where we need to start every time. I think one of the best texts here is 2 Pet 1:16-21
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Notice that Peter himself, the lead Apostle and the head of the first Church in Jerusalem, a man who talked personally with Jesus and received revelation himself points our attention to the “prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you do well to pay attention.” That is the Scriptures as he makes clear in verse 20.
So, you have it right, we must not give the same authority to any person who claims to have heard the voice of God as we give to the Scriptures. In fact, I think you’ll agree with me that the prophets of the Bible who spoke the words of God and wrote the words of God were called in a way that confirmed God’s clear purpose in their lives.
Take Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, Peter, all had clear calls from God accompanied with certain miraculous signs. Furthermore, they those around them clearly understood them to be prophets and apostles and the Scripture they wrote was recognized as authoritative.
So before we even considered any kind of possibility of personal revelation we must rest squarely in the unique divine authority of the Scriptures God has already given us.
For more on the authority of the Bible you might check out this article
Concerning the possibility of personal revelation
Does God us personal revelation as a way to instruct us today? It seems there’s a group who for some reason feels that God’s primary means of directing the saints is through visions, dreams, and other forms of personal revelation. This is a big mistake.
Personal revelation even in the OT was extremely rare.
Reading through the lives of some of the saints it can look like God is giving personal revelation all the time. He gave revelation to Abraham and Joseph and Moses and others, however, we need to realize that these are extraordinary cases that usually involve a very key and significant character in God’s plan. Especially after the giving of Scripture we don’t see personal revelation as being a primary way in which God leads his people.
What we see is that God gives us principles of truth and wisdom which we are to take into account as we make our decisions and live our lives.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
It is the truths of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit in applying those truths that gives us direction. In addition God gives us godly counselors to help us make decisions (prov 15:22)
In the NT personal revelations seem to be vanishing with the creation of the NT.
While there are some personal revelations like Peter’s and Paul’s it seems these revelations tail off by the end of the Book of Acts. Some point to 1 Cor 13:9-12 as evidence that the miraculous sign gifts have ceased including the gift of prophecy. I think it’s a bit hard to make a convincing argument there, however it is clear that Paul puts the emphasis upon serving and loving others rather than on seeking prophetic revelations or other miraculous gifts.
Can we completely rule out all personal revelation?
The evidence tells us that personal revelation is exceedingly rare and as the NT closes it seems to become rarer. Thus, it would be presumptuous for anyone to assume that some strange experience they had was a divine revelation.
Some factors to consider when someone claims to have a revelation:
John tells us that many antichrists have gone out to try to deceive us (1 John 2:18-27). Thus we know that not all who claim to have a word from God really have a word from God and that is why we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). I think it’s appropriate to ask some investigative questions to a person who claims to have received divine revelation.
- Does this person have a good testimony for Christ?
- Is this person’s main attention on the clear truths of Scripture?
- Is this person in good standing in their church?
- Is this person using their gifts to serve others in the love of Christ?
- Is this person supported by godly leaders?
- Is their prophecy inline with Biblical truth?
Consider also the other possibilities.
- The person could be delusional
- The person could be deceiving you
- The person could be confused (maybe they mistook a dream or an active imagination for divine revelation.)
If you know the person well it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one it is.
Consider the nature of the “revelation.”
On several occasions people have told me they had revelations and sometimes those revelations included something about me. However, often those revelations were insignificant. I mean they didn’t reveal anything that would change my future, no warning, nothing that would be important for me to know, which I couldn’t have known some other way. These types of revelations seem odd to me. Why would God give a revelation that doesn’t really have any significant impact upon my life?
I am sceptical of revelations that don’t really reveal anything significant.
How to respond when someone tells you they had a revelation?
Assuming that you have no reason to doubt their integrity/honesty here are a few ways you can respond.
- Listen to them. Whether or not they really had a revelation from God may be in question but you can’t deny their experience. Regardless of whether or not it was really a revelation it was a real experience for them.
- Respond politely. Assuming the revelation they recount to you doesn’t go against Biblical truth. I just usually say, “Oh wow, that’s interesting!” or something of that nature.
- Don’t take their revelation as authoritative in your own life.
- Help them turn their attention to God’s Word and any truths that would shed light on the topic of their revelation.
- For instance say, that someone received a revelation that they should marry so and so, however, from a Biblical standpoint you can clearly see that this is not a wise step. Then take measures to show them from Scripture why this is not wise. Scripture should have the final authority.
- Even if their revelation doesn’t seem to go against any Biblical principles take them to the Word and show them where they can find God’s truth concerning the situation.