Today, I'm addressing a hot topic: if God speaks to us today outside of the Bible. My belief is that he does not, and I've written an article containing four main points about why I believe that. I've also rebutted several common objections to this belief. I hope this article is a blessing to you! =)
1. Saying that God speaks to us today implies that God's word is insufficient
How important is the Bible to you? Do you take God at His word, or do you try to find other, more “relevant” ways that He speaks to us? Consider this:
Muslims believe that the Bible is true. However, they add the tenants of Islam to to it.
The Bible + Doctrines of Islam = Islam, a perversion of the true gospel
Mormons also believe the Bible to be true. However, they add the tenants of Mormonism to it.
The Bible + Doctrines of Mormonism = Mormonism, a perversion of the true gospel
Why then do people today feel a need to add to the scripture? It has the same results:
The Bible + Extra-biblical revelation/personal experience/God “speaking” in our heads = A perversion of the true gospel
In the past, if anyone claimed to have had a message from God, they were put on a level with Mohammed and Joseph Smith. The result is the same when someone today claims they heard from God. But today, instead of this being condemned as heresy, people are being told to seek these experiences.
However, I digress. Back to the point: many people today claim that while the Bible is true, it is not sufficient. They believe that it's a great book, but it needs more, such as God speaking to us. This idea is extremely dangerous to evangelical circles:
“in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.”
2 Peter 1:3
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,"
2 Timothy 3:14-17
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 complete, equipped for every good work.”
Look carefully at this verse. It says that Scripture is enough to bring us to salvation, it's useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness; and it's enough to make us complete and equipped for every good work. The verse from 2 Peter is even more blunt: God has given us ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness in His Word. What else do we need? Where does that leave room for God “speaking” to us in our heads? As John MacArthur says:
Scripture itself is clear that the day of God's speaking directly to people in the church age through various prophetic words and visions is past. The truth God has revealed in the canon of the Old and New Testaments is complete (cf. Heb. 1:1-2, Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Scripture – the written word of God – is perfectly sufficient, containing all the revelation we need.
God's word is what sanctifies us, not personal experience or God “speaking” to us:
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Note that this verse does not say “Sanctify them in the truth; all truth is your truth!” or “Sanctify them in the truth; subjective personal experiences are your truth!” No, Scripture is what sanctifies us, not God speaking in our heads or anything else.
3. Reactions of those who “spoke with God” today don't match the reactions of those who spoke with God in the Bible
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”
This encounter was audible and objective. This was not a subjective impression in someone's mind. And look at the disciple's reaction: they fell down and were terrified. This is a common reaction when spoken by God, looking at the reactions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel:
“And I said: 'Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!'”
“Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
“And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves. 8 So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength. 9 Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground.”
Some claim to “adjust” to God speaking to them. However, this cannot be true. John, who was at the Transfiguration, fell on his face again in Revelation 1:17:
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
You don't simply “get used to” the glory of God.
However, there is one encounter in the Bible that matches experiences today:
“'Now a word was brought to me stealthily;
my ear received the whisper of it.
13 Amid thoughts from visions of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
14 dread came upon me, and trembling,
which made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face;
the hair of my flesh stood up.
16 It stood still,
but I could not discern its appearance.
A form was before my eyes;
there was silence, then I heard a voice:
17 ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker?
18 Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
19 how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like the moth.
20 Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
21 Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
do they not die, and that without wisdom?''”
This passage has all the characteristics of when God “speaks” to someone today. A vague, mystical experience, accompanied by a spirit speaking to you personally.
The problem with this passage?
This passage is quoting Eliphaz the Temanite. If you're familiar with the book of Job, you know that Eliphaz was one of Job's so-called “friends” who is not exactly a go-to in matters of theology:
“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
These experiences are NOT trustworthy. Mohammed also had experiences like this. He had convulsive fits during which he supposedly received messages from “God”. During these fits, it's recorded that he sounded like a camel giving birth (which is not a pleasant sound). Why then today are we being told to seek these experiences?
This is what God is talking about in these verses:
Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? 30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.”
4. God's word is more important and valuable than any personal experience
2 Peter 1:17-19
“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”
If you look carefully at this passage, Peter starts out talking about the Transfiguration. He then goes on to talk about the Scriptures, the “prophetic word”, which he says is more important than his personal experience at the Transfiguration. That's important: the Bible is “more fully confirmed” and thus more valuable than even Peter's experience at the Transfiguration! If the Transfiguration isn't as valuable as the Scriptures, then no personal experience ever will be.
With this topic, there are LOTS of common objections since this belief has gained such a foothold in evangelical circles. There's no way I can address them all, but I've done my best to address nine common objections. The objections are in quotes written in italics.
Objection 1: “God's word needs more/an update/supplementation for today's world.”
God's word is forever and doesn't need an update.
“The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Psalm 119: 89
“Forever, O Lord, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.”
“The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”
“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Objection 2:“The Bible says that the Holy Spirit teaches us today. Thus He must speak to us.”
The first sentence is 100% true:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
But the second sentence is a faulty conclusion. The Holy Spirit can teach us without audibly speaking to us. Numerous times He has enlightened me as I've read God's word.
Objection 3:“Well if it's not God speaking to me, what is that I hear”?
This is where I start stepping on toes. I believe that there are three main options. One, probably the most common among genuine believers that I've encountered, is that it's just your thoughts. For example, I can manipulate my thoughts to “say” this to me in my head: “You are my child, and I am with you and will protect you even though you're on a secular college campus.” OH LOOK GOD JUST SPOKE TO ME! Nope, just my thoughts. But this is exactly like what 90% of the people I hear say when they talk about God speaking to them. Second is genuine (or not genuine) believers who just make up something and say that God said it. Third, and I don't believe that this one is super common, is another power speaking to your minds.
I'd also like to add this: Mark Driscoll, an author and former mega-church pastor, believes that he has received visions from God about certain people's lives. In a video clip, he states that he would see a person and see a “film” about their past – one person who had been physically abused by her husband, and another who had been sexually abused as a child.
Think about this for a minute.
Is God really playing X-rated, violent “films” in Mark Driscoll's head? Is that something God would do?
Objection 4:“What if the person is saying some good things? What if some of the things God has told them are true?”
Any prophet or someone who has received “visions” from God has to have a 100% record or they're not from God at all:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Objection 5:“I'm not saying that what God told me has to go in the Bible, it doesn't have to. It's just for me.”
Many people use this argument to get around this verse, which should be an end-all:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book”
Revelation from God should go in the Bible. If it doesn't go in the Bible, how is God speaking less authoritatively than what is in the Bible? When God “speaks” to someone today, is it as authoritative as the Bible? Another verse to consider:
"Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar."
Objection 6: “Believing that God doesn't speak to us today is putting God in a box.”
Let me respond with a question. Why are you putting God in a box by believing that He doesn't spontaneously kill everyone on the face of the planet?
WHAT? You're saying. Believing that isn't putting God in a box!
You'd be right if you thought that! God doesn't kill everyone on the face of the planet instantly. He could, because we all deserve it. He wouldn't be sinning. He could do it, but He doesn't. Likewise, He does not speak to us today more. It doesn't mean that He can't, it means that He doesn't. There's a huge difference between putting God in a box and God not doing stuff.
Objection 7: “No where in the Bible does it say that God will stop speaking to us outside of the Bible.”
Well, no where in the Bible does it say that God will continue to speak to us outside of the Bible. Nor are we ever commanded to seek extra-biblical revelation from him.
Objection 8:“God is our father, right? Well what kind of father wouldn't speak to his children? God must speak to us today.”
“But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:”
Jesus then goes on to quote Scripture. Thus, reading the Scriptures IS God speaking to us.
Objection 9: “How are we supposed to make important life decisions if God doesn't speak to us today?”
The short answer? Make a decision. The longer answer is that nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to seek supernatural visions or a word from God before making a decision. Paul made most of his own travel plans without supernatural guidance:
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.”
“Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia.”
“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue...”
“And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.'”
“And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra.”
Only on one occasion did God miraculously appear to Paul telling him to change his plans, and we are not told to seek such visions.
I'd like to close with quotes from Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther, neither of whom minced words when talking about those who believed God “speaks” to us today:
Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to Him [the Holy Spirit]. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonoured by persons – I hope they were insane – who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not for some years passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me, and it may spare them some trouble if I tell them once for all that I will have none of their stupid messages. … Never dream that events are are revealed to you by heaven or you may come to belike those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Ghost. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God. Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the word of God already – he adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses. I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Ghost by laying their nonsense at his door. - Charles Spurgeon
“Whatever does not have its origin in the Scriptures is surely from the devil himself.” - Martin Luther
“Whenever you heard anyone boast that he has something by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has no basis in God's Word, no matter what it may be, tell him that this is the work of the devil.” -Martin Luther
MacArthur, John. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nashville: Nelson, 2013. Print.