God speaks in different ways:
- dreams (Numbers 12:6)
- signs & wonders (Hebrews 2:4)
- nature (Psalm 19:1-6)
- angels (Daniel 8:15-16)
- visions (Acts 10:9-18)
- prophecies (Acts 11:28)
- audibly (Acts 22:7)
- “burdens” of the Spirit (Jeremiah 23:33)
But He places a special authority on His written word that is unique to all other ways God might speak. Consider…
A King saying something versus his written law
We have this example in Scripture a few times. Consider, for instance, the book of Esther. There the king wrote into law a decree opposing the Israelites. When he realized what he had done, he verbally said he didn’t want that to happen anymore, but couldn’t overtake what was written into law. His solution? Make another law that helps mitigate the blows of the initial law (so the Jews could fight back). But he had to do this by the written word. His private words said something about him, but his written word carried an extra weight.
Similar things happen to the King in Daniel’s day. He didn’t like that Daniel had to go to the lion’s den, but couldn’t change the word he written law.
Of course, these are humans with human frailties. God doesn’t put something into writing that He ever wants erased. But even with these imperfect humans, I believe it shows a precious divine truth: that a King’s written word carries the greatest weight (even while other forms of communication might reveal other things about the King).
Next, consider a truly fascinating thing. I’m told that an audio version of the 4 gospels takes 9 hours to go through, and approximately half of that time is Jesus speaking.
So that means we have a full 4.5 hours of God’s words while He was on the earth. Yet He lived 33 years. Thus we are missing A LOT of words Jesus spoke.
Is Jesus not God? Surely He is.
Thus, does God speak outside of the Bible? Surely He does.
But in God’s divine wisdom, He only retained a portion of Jesus’ words, and tells us to use that written word to discern other “so-called” words of Jesus today. For whatever reason, there was a special valuation God put on preserving THOSE words of Jesus in the gospels for us to walk in God’s ways today.
Similarly, I believe God speaks in many ways today. But there is a special valuation He puts on the written communication that is unparalleled to any other way God may speak.
Matt. 4:1-11: Jesus’ Example
Another way this truth is shown is in Jesus’ own example while on the earth.
In Matthew 3:17, God the Father audibly says of Jesus, “This is My Son”.
Then, Jesus is led by the Spirit to the wilderness. (Matt. 4:1)
During this time, Satan tests Him and His authority. His first challenge?
Satan says: “If you are the son of God…” (Matt. 4:3)
Consider that he directly challenges what God audibly said of Jesus.
Now how would you answer that challenge? Jesus could have appealed to God’s audible voice to make His point. He could’ve even talked about the Spirit leading Him into the wilderness. But He didn’t. Jesus consulted the highest authority by saying: “It is written.” And He appeals to Scirpture.
He does this 3 different times in Matthew 4. For Jesus (and Satan who He is opposing), there is no higher authority than the written word. Not an audible voice. Not a leading of the Spirit. May we as His followers do the same.
Jesus / N.T. Extends and Interprets God’s Written Word (It’s Not a Separate Revelation)
Next, I want you to think about the nature of what Jesus teaches. And the whole New Testament for that matter.
They don’t say, “You already have the Old Testament. Now we will add something completely new on top of that.” Instead, I’ve heard that 1/3 of the New Testament is simply quoting, using, and rightly interpreting the Old Testament.
Jesus shows a similar example in Matthew 5 when He says, “I did not come to abolish the law and the prophets [i.e. the Old Testament] but to fulfill it.” And then the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus contrasting their false interpretations of the Old Testament with His (true) interpretation.
This isn’t just in Matthew 5. This is all over the gospels. Jesus keeps drawing them back to the Old Testament, saying things like, “Haven’t you read?” Or, “You err because you do not know the Scripture…” (Matthew 22).
Thus, new revelation that came to us by the New Testament is building on and reinforcing the written word that already existed. And honestly, much of the Old Testament works that way as well. It builds off of the kernel of what was written by Moses, for instance, then repeats that, reinforces, and adds along the same trajectory.
In all this, it’s clear that any claim to new revelation (e.g. through a prophetic word) should be honoring, reinforcing, and in the same trajectory as the written word (i.e. Scripture).
Along these lines, I was struck recently when I was reading the gospels about Jesus’ birth. It was clear that the Spirit was speaking in diverse forms about Jesus coming. Matthew, for instance, draws from the Scripture predictions that He will be from Bethlehem (Matthew 2 and Micah 5:2) or that He would go to Egypt (Matt. 2 and Hosea 11:1).
But you also see the Spirit speaking prophetically through Anna and Simeon at the temple, or through the angels or dreams Mary and Joseph had. So the Lord made known his ways through Scripture but also through dreams, visions, prophetic words.
But later–in the book of Acts, for instance–when they are reasoning with their audiences about Jesus being the Messiah, they (perhaps exclusively) appeal to the Scriptural prophecies of His coming. It’s true God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders (and I believe He longs to do the same for those who preach Him faithfully). But we get this example of them pointing to Scriptures more than other ways God spoke of Messiah coming (or dying, or resurrecting).
Maybe there are exceptions to this, but this was more off the top of my mind from all my reading of Acts, etc. All to say, if that pattern holds true, it matches well Jesus’ example in Matthew 4 (and elsewhere) of also deferring to Scripture over other revelatory sources He could’ve used for the occasion.
The example in Acts 15 kind of repeats what already has been said, but it’s good to see that it’s a constant refrain God is showing us!
In Acts 15, they are deciding if the Gentiles should be brought into fellowship with the church without taking on the Jewish rituals.
In making their determination, they hear out the signs and wonders shared by Paul and Peter (including visions, angels, the Holy Spirit speaking clearly, etc.). Clearly God was doing something, but that doesn’t seem to be sufficient to establish a new practice.
Instead, it was only after James says: “Simon[a] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written [and then he goes on to quote Amos]” (Acts 15:14-15).
So Scripture was held as necessary, even in the light of so much revelation God gives elsewhere.
Prophets and Teachers Unite
In all this, I’d truly love to see the church strive for upholding the Scripture alongside the Spirit speaking in prophecy and the whole gamut. It’s all in the Bible. But doing this by truly seeing Scripture as the ultimate authority. Not just giving lip service to this.
Acts 13 mentions prophets and teachers gathered together and ministering to the Lord. And from that launching pad, so to speak, Paul and Barnabas’s missionary journeys were birthed and many churches formed. But it was the prophets and teachers TOGETHER.
Similarly, I get concerned when prophecy / prayer people gather over here and Bible study people gather over here. I pray the two can bleed together much more. Consider Daniel 9 and the earnest prayer and fasting of Daniel that all began with him studying Scripture (e.g. Jeremiah). Or, conversely, look at Psalm 119 (the chapter on the Bible) and see all the times the writer talks about praying for God to make His word known. We need prayer and the word together. We need prophets and Bible teachers together. We suffer when we don’t.