There are some exciting reports coming to us from out of the Muslim world about thousands of people coming to faith in Christ because of visions, words of wisdom, prophesies or dreams. Can this be true and if it is what do we make of it? What about scripture? Doesn’t God reveal himself through scripture and doesn’t Paul tell Timothy that scripture is all we need? “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.” – 2 Timothy 3:14-16
I think it’s important to understand that God can do anything he wants, at any time, and in any way he chooses. He can speak directly to any person that he chooses to and in fact many have bona fide experiences in which God communicated something to them that the circumstances actually bore out. This includes many in the Muslim world where it seems clear that Jesus is drawing his elect to himself in some spectacular ways. At the same time, I believe that it’s of no small importance to recognize that it’s also been consistently reported that the individuals are instructed to seek out a bible, someone who can explain the scripture to them, or both.
From the word of God it seems straightforward that scripture is complete and all we need as it points us to faith in Christ. But I have a deep concern, and that is the view that teaches that individuals can get a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge, by which they mean they have a special revelation that either adds to the word of God, is equal to the word of God or may even trump the word of God. In other words, ‘new’ revelations that are meant to enhance our spiritual experiences saying that prophecies, words of wisdom or words of knowledge carry the same weight as Scripture, sometimes even going so far as to use the recent events in the Muslim world as proof.
Here’s the thing though that is vital to know when studying scripture…
…God can do anything he wants, but we can’t teach anything we want.
What we teach ought to be what the Bible itself teaches us to expect. And the Bible does not teach that we can each expect to receive ‘new’ revelations from God. It’s just not in there and any teaching or belief contrary to that knowledge should be avoided for three main reasons.
1) We’ve been warned about false teachings
“For false Christ’s and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” – Matthew 24:24
Here we have a clear warning that many false prophets will come and try to add to God’s revelation. That being the case the church should carefully guard against that danger. So since there is such a strong warning against false prophets, we should both not expect ‘new’ revelations as well as resist any alleged ‘new’ revelations.
Charles Spurgeon said it well:
“I have heard many fanatical persons say the Holy Spirit revealed this and that to them. Now that is very generally revealed nonsense. The Holy Ghost does not reveal anything fresh now. He brings old things to our remembrance. “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have told you.” – John 14:26
The canon of revelation is closed; there is no more to be added. God does not give a fresh revelation, but he rivets the old one. When it has been forgotten, and laid in the dusty chamber of our memory, he fetches it out and cleans the picture, but does not paint a new one. There are no new doctrines, but the old ones are often revived. It is not, I say, by any new revelation that the Spirit comforts. He does so by telling us old things over again; he brings a fresh lamp to manifest the treasures hidden in Scripture; he unlocks the strong chests in which the truth had long lain, and he points to secret chambers filled with untold riches; but he coins no more, for enough is done.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon: The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. I (1855), p. 38)
2) We’re in the silent period
In the OT we see that the ending of scripture for that time were with the writings of Malachi who prophesied that the next major event in the covenantal history of God’s people would be the coming of John the Baptist preparing the way for the messiah – Jesus.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:1
We see that prophesy being fulfilled in Luke and Mark. However, in between that time there was what is commonly referred to as the ‘silent period’. Don’t get me wrong, history was still happening at a very quick pace. During this time the Greeks were out conquering the land, there was a revolt in Israel that established a Jewish dynasty for 100 years, and then of course the Romans decided to show up on the world stage to do their dance and pony show.
So clearly, the silent period wasn’t describing a period where nothing was happening, and where everyone was whispering quietly, tip-toeing around, and being as quiet as they could be in the hopes they wouldn’t wake up another evil empire. Obviously, a lot was going on. It was referring to the fact that God didn’t speak through the prophets as he had earlier. The reason was that the OT scripture had been completed.
There was also a completion of the NT canon as well. In the book of Revelation, it says that no other scripture is to be added after this, “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, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” – Revelation 22:18-19
The fact is that we’re like the people in Malachi’s day in that we are now in our own silent period,
this one being between the closing of the NT revelation and the next major event in the life of God’s people, the second coming of Jesus. There is no other information required; and we are in the time reflecting the time of looking forward to the fulfillment of the promises made.
3) Jesus is the final word
The writer of Hebrews says this about the subject. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” – Hebrews 1:1-2
The tense and the context of these verses are saying that just as the prophets were the final word in the OT, Jesus is the final word in the NT.
The canon of Scripture is closed. And considering what we are told at the end of Revelation we discover that we should not, nor need to, add anything to the words of Jesus.
We already have all we need for faith and holy living.
This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak any more. He still speaks through prophecies, dreams, visions, angels, and in a number of ways that the bible still speaks about, as we have been hearing about in the Muslim world, just not as in an apostolic, inspired, canon revelation way.
Of course, we can’t despise prophecy as we are cautioned about in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Do not despise prophecies.” but then on the other hand we are to test everything as Paul continues into verse 21, “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. John shows his agreement with Paul as he says, “Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1
Scripture gives us the standard for testing, otherwise it’s open season to agree on anything and everything. “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” – Ephesians 4:11-14
It’s through the scriptures that we may be equipped and taught and it’s through the word of God that we have a standard that can be used to hold things up to careful scrutiny and testing. As such we have no need to receive more words than has already been given, thus no need for any ‘new’ revelation.