Can God speak directly to us? Should we be listening for a "still, small voice," not necessarily an audible voice but a mental voice, to direct our lives? Should "listening" ever be a part of our contemplative prayers? Or is the Bible the only way that God will ever speak to us, and is listening in any other way a dangerous practice?
I think that any mature Christian worth his or her salt (pun intended) will be wary of what extra-Scriptural direct revelations he or she receives. God, after all, is not the only voice out there. However, I have been startled lately by just how many Christians believe that revelation is completely closed, now, and exists only within the bounds of Scripture. I have heard lately that we are wrong to think that we can hear directly from God, at least in any way other than cracking a Bible.
This concerns me. Allow me to explain why in a long-winded and circuitous manner. Part One: The Nature and Purpose of Scripture
It's not my purpose in this blog to make a ground-up argument for the divine inspiration of Scripture. If you're reading this, I'm assuming that either you're a Christian who already believes that Scripture was divinely inspired by God, or you are willing to temporarily posit such a stance for the sake of argument.
The Scripture was given to us in waves. First, the five Books of Moses were given, which became revered by the Jewish faith as the Torah. Then, centuries later, the writings of various prophets slowly became accepted as authoritative and scriptural. A few more centuries later, a collection of various historical and poetic writings -- including the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, etc. -- which were already revered as important historical documents, became officially accepted as Scripture by the Jewish faith. Their acceptance was not official until after the time of Jesus; in the Gospels you will often see Jesus refer to "The Law and the Prophets" but not to "The Writings" as well, though he does quote from them.
Around the same time, as Christianity branched out from and re-interpreted Judaism in the light of who Christ was, the letters written by the apostles became accepted as scriptural, though their official recognition would not be for another two hundred years. Then the gospels, as they were written, and the other New Testament writings, with Revelation and Hebrews being in dispute until they were finally accepted via church council.
During each of these waves, as new revelations were given by God, God's direct revelations coexisted concurrently with existing Scripture. That is, though the ancient Israelites had the Torah, they also had prophets bringing specific messages from God, and people (even wicked people) would receive visions and dreams -- or hear voices -- that were sent from God. And again in the early church, although they had the Torah, the K'tuvim, and the N'vim, as well as the writings of Paul (which were already being accepted as Scriptural, see 2 Peter), still had an active ministry of prophecy. Paul twice describes "prophets" in his list of the spiritual gifts, and Luke describes several prophets functioning in the church in the Acts of the Apostles. So, at least while Scripture was still being created, direct revelation was occurring.
Several writers of Scripture speak of that which was already considered Scripture at the time of writing. It is good to look at these passages, as the way that Scripture writers handled and uses earlier Scripture is logically indicative of how we should use and handle Scripture today. When the New Testament authors spoke of the Old Testament, they spoke of it as though it were the directly revealed Word of God (see Acts 4:24-25, 2 Peter 3:2). In addition, several New Testament writers wrote of their own works, or the works of other New Testament writers, as being authoritative, even at one point calling them "scripture" (1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Peter 3:14-16).
One of the best passages which explains the purpose of Scripture within the Church is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." So the primary purpose of Scripture is to teach, train, and equip the Christ-follower.
Another important passage is found in John. Jesus, speaking to a disbelieving Jewish crowd, exclaims, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." Here is a crucial concept: that Jesus is on every page of Scripture, and that the purpose of Scripture is to point to Jesus. Jesus himself is often referred to as "The Word of God," the same title given to Scripture -- and I don't think that's a coincidence. The purpose of Scripture is to show who Jesus is. John underscores this regarding his own gospel in John 20:31: "These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
So Scripture is revealed by God, but it is a revelation with a specific purpose.
This is important to note. It is not Scripture's job to be the comprehensive revelation of God, the complete and total revelation of God. In fact, there are many things which are deliberately not
in Scripture -- such as the time of Christ's return, or what the seven thunders said in the Revelation. The Bible has a specific purpose, and it tells us things toward that purpose, but this does not mean that there are not other revelations to be had.
Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." And John 20:30 tells us that Jesus did and said many things that did not make it into the gospels. God reveals things to us in Scripture specifically for our instruction. Scripture is not the exhaustive Word of God, though it is sufficient for salvation.How do these ideas correspond with what you believe to be the nature and purpose of scripture? What else do you have to add to the discussion of the history of scripture?