I wrote the following tonight as a response to a Facebook discussion, and since time is quite precious, I’ll post it here as well. I’m learning to double-dip that way.
The post gave this quote :
“There is no vision, no experience, and no miracle that will tell you more about God than he has already told you about himself in the pages of scripture.”
The post then asked for responses, and there were plenty…but they weren’t as helpful as I would have hoped, which really disappointed me. Facebook usually doesn’t let me down in this regard. If I had a dime for every time I struggled to sort through a complex issue and found a consistent and well-reasoned argument or a piece of sage biblical wisdom on Facebook, I’d have…uh…about this much.
Here’s my response to the quote:
Q1. Are miracles revelatory?
A1. No. Miracles aren’t revelatory at all, so a miracle cannot possible tell any new information about God.
Biblical example: Acts 2:1-11 – The Spirit is poured out on Jews from all over and they all speak in tongues.
What’s the response from the Jews?
Acts 2:12 – “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
The miracle itself didn’t reveal any information, but the answer to the question in Acts 2:12 is found in Acts 2:14-36. That’s what it meant.
Again, Matthew 9 lays out the same concept.
In Matthew 9:1-5, Jesus sees a paralytic and says something rather astonishing in in 9:2 – “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven”. In fact, in 9:3 that statement of Jesus is called blasphemy. Jesus then recognized the difficulty of his pronouncement in Matt. 9:4-5 and in 9:6 says something interesting:
“but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
So again, the miracle only confirmed the claims of Christ. The miracle itself didn’t tell anyone anything.
One could say that they are God cracking his whip to get people to pay attention to something.
That means that miracles cannot even do what the quote suggests.
Q2: Do any religious experiences tell us more about God than is in the pages of scripture?
A2: Not according to the apostle Peter.
In 2 Peter 1:16-21, Peter lays this out in detail
In 2 Peter 1:16-18 he recounts the transfiguration of Christ, where he (a Jew) saw both Moses and Elijah as well. As far as religious experiences go, that’s about as awesome as it gets.
Anyone got anything that tops seeing the glorified Christ along with Moses and Elijah?
Okay. So then what was Peter’s response to that?
2 Peter 1:19 – “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…”
Peter’s response was to direct the believers who received the letter to the scriptures, and not to trust him on the basis of his astonishing experiences.
2:Peter 1:20-21 – “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 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.”
Because the scriptures are from God and Peter’s experience of God is less reliable. That’s why.
You can take a man’s testimony about God or you can take God’s testimony about God, but God is a far more reliable witness to himself than anyone else. He doesn’t need to call us to the stand to give our bumbling testimony.
That’s why we should let our experiences redirect us back to God’s word.
Seems like a no brainer when I say it that way, right?
Q3: What about visions?
A3: Well, that may be possible…
…though I’d point out a few things:
A. Their amazing infrequency in scripture. The only vision in the gospels is in Luke 1:22, and there’s only 7 more in the rest of the NT (Acts. 9, 10, 12, 16, 18; 2 Cor. 12, Revelation – whole book). If you’re counting on a vision, you may wait for one once a decade (if you’re “spiritual” on the level of the apostles, seeing that only Cornelius and Zechariah are the only non-apostles in the NT to have any visions at all).
As for dreams, only Joseph (Matt. 1-2) and Pilate’s wife (Matt. 27:19) have revelations in dreams (and seeing that they’re regarding the birth and death of Christ, the significance of those two events in global history may give us a sense of WHEN God uses dreams…)
Good luck with that…
…except that’s not the end of the story.
B. The people who rely on them.
Colossians 2:18-19 warns about paying attention to visions: “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, 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.”
As for dreams, Jude 1:8 speaks of false teachers and says: “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.”
So we have false teachers/spiritual frauds being explicitly referred to as the people who focus on such things (and after the inaugural decade of the church, the only people spoken of as focusing on these things were false teachers), and visions and dreams being highly uncommon, occurring only at significant period of history (birth of Christ, death of Christ, first inclusion of the Gentiles into the church, etc.). That makes them far more uncommon than many other rare occurrences.
Not exactly a recommendation for chasing dreams or visions.
I’d suggest that gives you more than ample reason to stay away, and not expect any new revelation via dreams.
But feel free to ignore the Bible. Most people who chase dreams, visions, religious experience and miracles already do.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “I put the Dip in Double Dip” Unger