The Bible and Personal Revelation

God reveals Himself to us in nature, for Scripture says:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
—Psalm 19:1-4a, NIV

God reveals Himself to us through the events of our daily lives, for Scripture says:

“Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the gentiles repentance unto life.”
—Acts 11:16-18, NIV

God reveals Himself to us in nature and in the events in our daily lives because God created all things, acts through all things, and has an abiding interest in all things. However, God’s most perfect revelation of Himself is Jesus Christ.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
—Colossians 2:6-9, NIV

The Bible contains a witness to Jesus Christ, first through the foreshadowings and prophecies of the Old Testament, and second through the direct apostolic witness in the New Testament. Therefore, the Bible has primacy over other sources of revelation about God.

Once in a class I taught, a man challenged my assertion that God is just. He did not mean that God is unfair, he just wanted to know how I could justify my statement, aside from mechanically quoting the Bible. For if God were unfair, He would say He is fair, and if God were fair, He would also say He is fair, so how can we know the difference? I told him he was asking me a philosophical question, not a theological question, and to put on a philosopher’s hat for a moment, I have to concede that I cannot prove that God is fair. However, if God is unfair, we cannot know anything about God’s will or even about the universe, because we could not rely on God to tell us the truth and not to play tricks with the evidence. If God is unfair, He might tell one person one thing and another person another thing. So in order for us to have any kind of meaningful thought and discourse, we have to assume that God is fair and then see if our assumption is borne out. That is philosopher talk that means that we have to take God’s fairness on faith and see how it goes. The man was satisfied with this answer, and the rest of the class was too.

So if we assume that God is fair and that as He lets the benefit of the rain fall on the good and the evil alike, He also reveals truth equally to all people, then we have to assume that God does not tell one person one thing and another person a quite different thing. For if God is fair, His revelation is always self-consistent and it is the same for all people.

Now of course we run into a practical problem here. God sends the rain upon the wise farmer and the unwise farmer alike. If the wise farmer plowed across the slope in his fields, the rain is caught in the furrows and the seedlings flourish, but if the unwise farmer plowed the slopes in his field from top to bottom, the furrows become drainage ditches and all his seedlings are washed away. In the same way, there are two parts to divine revelation: God’s transmission and our reception. God always tells us the truth, but it is always possible for us to misinterpret it. So given that God is fair, His revelation is always self-consistent, but we might have a problem with our understanding of it. So for that reason, I see that God in His fairness would give special help to those with difficulties.

It does not seem to be consistent with the concept of a just and fair God that He would issue public policy statements and then contradict them in private. It also does not seem logical or possible that a person twenty centuries removed from the incarnation of God in Jesus would have a more accurate view than the original eyewitnesses, who were chosen by God to convey His message to us through the Bible. It also does not seem fair or logical to me that God, having seen the publication and dissemination of the Bible in all the world, would then harden His heart and fail to speak directly to His creatures when they have difficulty understanding, when they are in distress, or when they have special needs.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that a man is not permitted to tell.
—2 Corinthians 12:2-4, NIV

When I was in elementary school, I remember that my teacher would sometimes assign the class exercises from the textbook, and we would all work busily at our desks. Here and there a student would have difficulties, and the teacher would go and give individual help. That is the way revelation works. Now the teacher only gives special assistance to the slow students, so if anyone has a personal experience of divine revelation, it is not because they are advanced, but because they are slow. A slow student is more prone to misunderstand—which is why they get special help—so they cannot claim that their special help supersedes or controverts the textbook! Everything the teacher says to the slow student is meant to help them understand the message in the textbook, to reinforce it, to illustrate it, and to make it easier to understand. In the same way, if I receive a personal revelation from God, and it appears to contradict, correct, or supersede the Bible, then my slowness, which occasioned the need for personal attention, also lies at the root of my misunderstanding. God intends His individual revelation to me to help me see what everyone else can understand from the Bible without special help. If it were otherwise, God would be unfair to the others, but God is fair!

People who receive a special insight from the Holy Spirit should be humble that they were slow to understand, not proud that they received personal help. The fact that they received the special insight means that their ability to interpret the Word of God is less, not greater, than their fellows, and that they must examine scripture more diligently, not less carefully. Why would God give you a personal revelation except to correct your course? If everyone has a map, we only call out directions to the one who cannot interpret the map correctly. This is why humility is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

A woman told me once that she had a special vision from God, but whenever she told it to others in order to edify them, they went away discouraged instead. She could not understand that. I told her that it was because when she told the vision, they instantly realized that they did not have such visions, and they felt inadequate in their spirituality. This is why they were distressed. So she should tell people about her vision, but she should be humble in doing so. Because you only shout to a person who is not paying attention or who is in imminent danger. So if God shouts at you in a vision, it is because you were inattentive, not because you are privileged.

God continues to give us individual, particular revelation. Since God is fair, He reveals the same truth to everyone, whether they are able to understand the Bible or need special help. God’s special revelations level the playing field, they do not lift some people higher than others. But those of us who receive this special help must be humble. We receive special help, because we are slow students, not advanced students; because we are equally loved, not because we are loved more; because we are inattentive, not because we surpass our fellows in wisdom. If a short person sits on a phone book at dinner, it is not to give the advantage of height, but to remove the disadvantage of shortness. When slow students are required to attend summer school, it is not to get them ahead of their classmates, but to help them catch up.

Since God is fair, the people who are able to understand the textbook without special help receive the same knowledge as those who do receive special help. Individual revelations remove disability, they do not confer privilege.

So I say, yes, there is special, direct, personal revelation today. It did not stop with the Bible. But it cannot extend, expand, supersede or change what is in there, because God is fair. Those who receive special revelations, receive them as compensation for their deficiencies in wisdom, learning, and discernment, not to lift them up above their fellows or give them special status.

For God favors no one; God is perfectly fair.

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