The Voice That Binds

(Lisa Robinson)

It is quite common today to hear Christians say that God spoke to them or that they are seeking to hear God’s voice for some type of guidance. No longer under the purview of Charismatic circles, this concept has seeped into the fabric of mainstream evangelicalism. Therefore, to address how God speaks today must expanded beyond a continuationist vs cessationist  paradigm, although ultimately the premise that God does not speak beyond scripture is clearly a cessationist position.

One of the issues related to God speaking is identifying how he speaks. The evangelical position would state that God speaks in scripture; scripture is the divine voice in which God reveals himself. But once it moves beyond scripture, how do we take his voice? No reasonable regenerated person is without the subjective experience of impressions and hearing that voice in our head. Well, I suppose that makes sense since we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who permeates all our faculties. So the reason to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be influenced by the Holy Spirit. But I’m going to suggest, that is different that God speaking

I believe that the more appropriate way to consider the voice of God is related to general vs special revelation. General revelation is where God makes his presence known through creation.  In this way, his presence is his voice. Consider Romans 1:18-20 and Psalm 19:1-6.  I came across this neat article here that talked about lessons from a lady bug on and how God used a lady bug to remind her of what he has already spoken through scripture. It is why we can watch a movie that has themes of the fall and redemption and be reminded of God’s loving acts through the sacrifice of his Son. And I would say even that voice we hear in our head is a product of general revelation. Special revelation is related to how God speaks with respect to knowledge and obedience of him.  This necessarily entails faith in Christ and his Word.

Here’s the question I’ve been asking lately: how hearing the voice of God relates to obedience to him. In other words, if you are looking for God to speak to you for guidance and you believe that he speaks outside of scripture, then you are obligated to obey what you believe he is commanding.  The cessationist says that God’s speech ceased in the revelation of Christ and whatever commands he has given are provided in scripture.  So special revelation is restricted to scripture. That does not negate the subjective nature of general revelation, that may even include hearing “that small still voice” in our heads.

But if you say that God still speaks as special revelation, then you are obligated to obey him. And here is where I think the Christian liberty that we are meant to experience in obedience to the gospel is necessarily hindered. Because if you claim that the subjective nature of what you hear, whether it be the voice in your head or through the lips of another person claiming a prophecy in which God is speaking, then you have no other choice.The more the ‘voice of God’ as special revelation is sought, the more you are bound to hearing that voice and is more restricted in terms of your actions.

This presents some challenges:

1. The more you seek after the voice to tell you what to do outside of scripture, the less likely you are to rely on godly wisdom. And why would you if all actions come under the rubric of ‘God told me’? Consider what Hebrews 5:14 says that the mature exercise godly wisdom based on discernment in practice. Such practice does not come by listening to a voice that guides. And why provide us with Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes or the epistle of James, if following the voice should be our prescription?

2. The sufficiency of scripture is undermined. Consider 2 Timothy 3:17, that scripture provides what is necessary for the person of God to be thoroughly equipped. Well, if you still need God’s voice beyond scripture, then that necessarily implies that scripture is insufficient.

3. Seeking for God to speak and tell us what to do can turn into a form of legalism, where every activity is bound to the voice of God as special revelation. In cases of church leadership operating under this rubric, it can have chaotic and damaging consequences.

An example of an extreme case is something I experienced in my college days. I was part of a bible study that was an outreach ministry of an independent church (later deemed very cult-like). The pastor of the church subjected the congregation to whatever he believed God was speaking and insisted the congregation obey. Sometimes there would be all night prayer vigils because God told him, which hindered people from functioning in their responsibilities such as school and work (there were a number of my classmates involved).  But then God told him these responsibilities didn’t matter. God told him that Christians shouldn’t date or listen to secular music so these activities were frowned upon. The kicker came when he claimed that God told him that a large piece of real estate put on the market by a local college belonged to this church and they should pray and claim that property ‘in the name of Jesus’. Do you know that even after another church purchased the property (ironically the one I was a member of), he still held the church hostage to prayer and claiming the property. Why? Because God told him.

Ok, that is an extreme example but milder forms are quite common. And it goes against the freedom that I believe Christians are meant to have in obedience to God. The cessationist does not dismiss the presence of general revelation and the vibrant on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit, but does not subject their Christian commitment to subjective experience.  If God is sovereign and his plans stand firm, he will see to it that the right doors open, that affirmation from church leadership or from others happen, and that desires are implanted within us. This is why I see praying Romans 8:26-27 as a necessity for a fruitful Christian walk in terms of directions for our lives. But there is something needlessly restrictive on seeking the voice that says ‘do this.’ Then that subjective voice binds us to whatever we think we must do.  When it becomes the voice that binds it certainly does bind.

Rey Reynoso over at The Bible Archive has a wonderful article, What is God’s Will for My Life on knowing the will of God as it relates to what God has already spoken.

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49 Responses to “The Voice That Binds”

  1. L. Robinson, Thank you for this insight. I’ve not pondered the deeper ramifications general vs special revelation in this light. I’ve often held a position of a soft-cessationist on my own stage of truth; however, my level of certainty about it is a +2 on a scale of -10 to +10 where 0 is a neutral position. (This position is subject to change as I ponder this deeper.) Scripture cautions us as mentioned in your citations, that being either presumptuous or careless in discernment of any special revelation, especially experiential ones, can and often does carry the penalty of God’s judgement. This is why I err on the side of caution whenever someone claims to speak with prophetic utterances, such as ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ statements. Deuteronomy 18:18-22 The same is true for ‘that little voice in our heads.’ Discernment is key to knowing if the voice is truly from God. Deuteronomy 13:1-3 Like the Bereans, we should search the Scriptures to know if these things are true, and test prophetic utterances lest we ‘follow after other gods.’

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I think of this “voice” as spiritual intuition which one develops as a result of time with God and His Word. I have never heard God speak nor have I seen Him. But I can certainly see His hand in “coincidences” and feel His love.

  3. I believe this statement to be incorrect:

    “The cessationist says that God’s speech ceased in the revelation of Christ and whatever commands he has given are provided in scripture.”

    It is abundandly clear in the New Testament that the early Church was receiving authentic special revelation via the gifts of the Holy Spirit outside of Scripture at that time.

    So a more correct way to represent the cessationist position, is that the miraculous gifts such as tongues and prophecy ceased after the time of the early church.

  4. I agree with the principals you lay out here and have personally experienced the negative effects of God speaking ( supposedly) to a person. I don’t think we should throw subjective experience completely out the window though . I have found great benefit in filtering my own subjective experiences though scripture and as a byproduct, have become slowly more aware of the Holy Spirits leading in my life. This is mostly seen in hindsight. The reason I bring this up is that I grew up completely disregarding my subjective experiences. This led me to being able to blow off any of Gods prompting ect. as mere coincidences. Now that I’m filtering these experiences it has slowly increased my confidence in that I may actually be gaining some godly wisdom. Wisdom seems to be a learned attribute for most of us. Given that, you are on the $ with involving other people in our decisions instead of hoping to see a magic billboard with an answer from God.
    I do think the Timothy reference is a little weak though. It’s reminiscent of the old ” Gods Word never returns void” I get hit with every so often. I mean it in a constructive critic way, I respect you guys ( and girl) allot. I would be a complete cessationist if it were not for some of the things I have seen God do, that I can’t deny happened, unless I blow therm off as coincidence. There must be a balance. Subjective experience, when filtered through scripture, are an invaluable tool for us. If I disregarded what I believe to have been God talking ( not audibly) to me in the past , I would most likely still be a wandering semi-pelagian thinking I’m okay and at the same time wondering why I’m drawn to do bad things……… But now I’m not, and I know why I’m inclined away from God. But that is a whole blog in itself.
    Keep em coming!

  5. God CAN speak to us in anyway that He chooses.

    We believe in the external Word of law and gospel and the sacraments.

    We can be assured that this external Word is from God and not last nights pizza, wishful thinking, or even the devil, “coming all dressed up as an angel of light.”

    Internalizing the faith is not a good idea. It can lead to pride or despair. We are theologians of the cross and we walk by faith and not by sight.

  6. Thank you.

    These recordings of various ways God ‘spoke’ to Paul are fascinating. (closed/open doors; revelation; insight ’conclusions’; personal decision not stopped; guidance but ignored) We do know God never contradicts Himself.

    Acts 16: 6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

    Acts 18: 9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

    Acts 19: 21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.

    Acts 21: 4b Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

  7. Chris, you said

    “The cessationist says that God’s speech ceased in the revelation of Christ and whatever commands he has given are provided in scripture.”

    It is abundandly clear in the New Testament that the early Church was receiving authentic special revelation via the gifts of the Holy Spirit outside of Scripture at that time.

    Yes, and these things were testifying to the revelation of Christ – the apostolic testimony and compatible with Hebrews 1:1-2, that God speaks in his Son.

  8. Nick, yes of course God uses subjective experience. I’ve had many myself. We do experience the active presence of the Holy Spirit. We need this. So I don’t think that cessationism means the absence of subjective experiences but that that it is not relied on as some kind of authority to be obeyed under the rubric of ‘God told me’.

  9. Amen! The only ‘spirit of prophecy’ (Rev 19:10) is the testimony of Jesus, God’s Majesty, alone!!!

  10. Lisa

    Seems there are many scriptures about “Hearing God’s Voice.”

    Why is it so hard for believers to believe?
    That a God, who created the Heavens and the Earth by speaking?
    Would have a hard time speaking to Man? – His Creation? – You and me?
    “And God said, Let there be light:”

    In the Bible, God spoke to many of His Creation.

    Ge 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them… (Adam and Eve)
    Ge 6:13 And God said unto Noah…
    Ge 17:9 And God said unto Abraham…
    Ge 35:1 And God said unto Jacob…
    Ex 3:14 And God said unto Moses…
    Nu 22:12 And God said unto Balaam…
    1Ch 14:14 Therefore David enquired again of God; and God said unto him…
    2Ch 1:11 And God said to Solomon…
    Jon 4:9 And God said to Jonah…
    Ac 9:4 …and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul..
    Ac 9:10 …named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision…
    Ac 9:11 …And the Lord said unto him, Arise… (Ananias)
    Ac 18:9 Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision…
    Ac 23:11 …the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul…
    Ac 10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
    Ac 10:14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord…

    Looks like Jesus speaks to His people – His Disciples…

    John 10:27
    My sheep **hear My voice,** and I know them, and they follow me:

  11. Lisa

    Was wondering…
    How do you, or anyone, process, or understand, theses scriptures…

    John 10:27
    My sheep **hear My voice,** and I know them, and they follow me:

    Luke 6:46
    And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which **I say?**

    John 18:37
    …Every one that is of the truth **heareth My voice.**

    John 10:3
    … and the sheep **hear His voice:** and he calleth his own sheep by name…

    Heb 3:7-8
    …as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will **hear His voice,**
    Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation…

    Deuteronomy 4:36
    Out of heaven he made thee to **hear His voice,**
    that *He might instruct thee*

    Deuteronomy 5:24
    …and we have **heard His voice** out of the midst of the fire:
    we have seen this day that **God doth talk with man,** and he liveth.

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – Jesus

  12. Amos, what you’ve presented is a handful of puzzle pieces and using each piece to prove that God still speaks the same way he did to people in the Bible, as you’ve mentioned. What you’re missing is how all these pieces fit together and are related to how God spoke before the Christ event, and how he now speaks in his Son. See Hebrews 1:1-3. God speaking is related to how he revealed himself through his promises, through events, through his prophets and ultimately through his Son. It is not just a uni-dimensional speech act. Scripture unveils this revelation to us. Scripture is the same as “God said”. That’s why scripture is called the Word of God.

    So when we look at how he spoke to Abraham or to Moses or to the prophets, it involved the foreshadowing of what would be accomplished in the Son. Also, that passage makes it clear that how he spoke changed with the advent of Christ. How can we then say that God still must speak to people as he did then?

  13. It appears to me that when God spoke “personally” to people in the Bible, he did so either by coming as a mysterious man or angel or in visions or dreams that were particularly “impressive” or through the mouth of a recognized prophet. I mean, supernatural has to look supernatural enough, am I correct?

    I mention this because what we usually come up with as being the voice of God nowadays is not much more than a faint impression, a gut feeling, a tickle. Also we tend to give special meaning to stuff that could reasonably be dismissed as coincidences (small ones, at that). How do you tell the difference? The human heart is deceitful, so I’m learning to think twice when I “feel something deep in my heart”. Nah, honestly, after some bad experiences, I’m actually inclined to dismiss it entirely. Kind of disheartening, aint it?

  14. Good food for thought, although, I think it should be mentioned that when God speaks, it’s not always a “command”. It could be a word of encouragement or love or simply a revelation with no command attached.

  15. As a practicing continuationist, I disgree with Michael on that core issue, but not with several of his concerns here. Nevertheless, some counter-concerns need hearing:

    First, the idea that the only thing Christians hear is part of and akin to the general revelation that all people get from nature is highly problematic, just by the sheer number of scriptures it contradicts. It also implies that Christians and non Christians hear God about the same. The Spirit’s indwelling, it seems, has little effect on this point.

    Second, on the obedience issue, an assumption being made here is that God only or primarily speaks to issue commands! What about encouragement? What about love, what about communion? Again, if we look at the NT, Paul doesn’t paint such a grim or authoritarian view of prophecy at all. He makes it clear that it is for the building up of the Church! It’s hard to see how we can follow this post and have the same attitude about prophecy that Paul has and teaches. Further, it’s an odd thing to say that more communication from God would take away our freedom (in a negative sense), and not make heaven out as a prison! Now, all that said, because we do so often just want to be told what to do, we can very easily seek a command when God wants, for the good of all, for us to make our own choice (with wisdom, community, etc.). Regardless, the scriptures are full of people who heard from God and also listened to wisdom. These are not mutually exclusive. We might, by experience or disposition, be more drawn to or comfortable with one rather than the other (typical for the Church), but learning to value wisdom and God’s voice are not mutually exclusive.

    The “undermining of scripture” is very similar. Further, one has to assume that hearing God’s voice is contrary to scripture rather than part of what scripture examples and teaches! IMO, cessationism requires much more overriding/negation of scriptures than continuationism. It’s…

  16. As a practicing continuationist, I disgree with Michael on that core issue, but not with several of his concerns here.

    You mean Lisa, right? ;)

    Also, you said

    “Regardless, the scriptures are full of people who heard from God and also listened to wisdom. These are not mutually exclusive.”

    How do you interpret Hebrews 1:1-3? Yes, one cannot dismiss God’s personal speech to select individuals. But weren’t these in accordance with what he was accomplishing through the Son.

    Regarding the NT and encouragement. I think we have to keep in mind that the canon was incomplete at the time of the NT writings. So of course we can look at 1 Cor 14 and say it is for the edification of the body. It’s not like the preacher could say ‘turn in your bibles to 1 Corinthians 14’

  17. Sorry, Lisa. I’ve gotten so used to reading Michael here I forget others write here regularly! My apologies.

    On Hebrews, there is much to say, but one thing I’d say is that the kind of prophecy that the early church practiced was post-resurrection, ascension, etc. So, this passage couldn’t be saying that all prophecy was pre-Jesus. Rather, since this is written to Hebrews/Jews, the author seems to want to connect yet distinguish the activity in/through Jesus with all that had gone before under the old covenant. The passage is about Jesus’ supremacy to the previous Jewish experience of God’s work (i.e., old covenant).

    One of the problems I have with cessationism is how many scriptures it turns on its head. For example, you ask me what I do with Hebrews 1:1-3, based on a possible inference. But what do cessationists do with the entire chapters (like I Cor. 14) that are devoted to tongues and prophetic practice? The practical outgrowth of cessationism was (and sometimes still is) forbidding people to speak in tongues, which scripture explicitly says not to do. And Paul urges (a group of pretty messed up) Chrisitians to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy” but cessationism would urge the opposite. And there are many more passages. If someone is going to tell me that “That section/command of the NT doesn’t really apply anymore”, I want to see–from scripture itself–the hard evidence, and it better be weighty. But a few strained inferences are all I’ve ever seen for the biblical case to undo the multitude of explicit commands, teachings and examples of doing wonderful things with/through God.

    On the plus side, more and more cessationists are admitting that the biblical case is weak, and admit that experience is what is driving their theology in this area. I understand, but that is an ironic development for cessationists to name experience as their justification for their theology, when that is what many folks say…

  18. “On the plus side, more and more cessationists are admitting that the biblical case is weak, and admit that experience is what is driving their theology in this area. I understand, but that is an ironic development for cessationists to name experience as their justification for their theology, when that is what many folks say”

    This has been a noted observation among cessationists that still contend for the cessationist model. Although, I don’t know that it is the case of admitting the biblical case is weak or that experience is driving theology. It might be more of a capitulation to current trends.

  19. Lisa,

    Do you think the biblical case for cessationism is strong? If so please give me the passage of scripture that you feel most directly and clearly teaches it. Again, since we have direct commands in scripture to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy” and to not “forbid speaking in tongues” along with many other positive teachings and examples, I would expect the case to override these to be quite strong.

  20. Lisa

    Seems many would rather re-define verses saying you can hear His Voice.
    To me the Bible is quite accurate – And your testimoney is proof.

    In many different ways, the Bible lets us know that “How we believe,”
    “According to our faith,” will often determine – What we “See” and “Hear.”

    It is written, .
    “and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.”
    “all things are possible to him that believes.”
    “According to your faith be it unto you.”

    You do NOT believe you can hear His Voice…
    And you do NOT hear Jesus speaking to you.

    But Jesus says – “My Sheep – Hear My Voice – And Follow me.

  21. “But Jesus says – “My Sheep – Hear My Voice – And Follow me.”

    Amos, I hope you can appreciate that language is used in many different ways. The most important thing is to try to understand what the author meant (or in this case what Jesus meant) by the words they use and not impose our contemporary understanding of terminology. If you examine that verse in context of what Jesus is addressing in chapter 10, it is not that we should hear God speak but it has to do with the call to salvation for those whom the Father gives to the Son. Jesus is using shepherd/sheep imagery to relate how his audience understood Yahweh as shepherd to identify that he, Jesus is now the shepherd. Those are his will know his voice, meaning respond to place faith in him. This also must be viewed in consideration of John’s theme and specifically Jesus signs of his Sonship in chapters 3-11.

  22. Lisa

    Are you saying…

    Jesus is NOT your Shepherd?

  23. Nope, not saying that all. I’m not sure how you’ve interpreted what I’ve said to mean that he is not. He is my shepherd because I’ve heard his call of salvation and heeded accordingly.

  24. Lisa

    Well, you say…
    “Jesus is now the shepherd. Those are his “will know his voice,”
    meaning respond to place faith in him.”

    So, once you respond to Him – You NO longer “know His Voice?”
    Or, He is NO longer your Shepherd?

  25. Amos, I think we have to understand what he means by hearing his voice in context of what is being addressed. Hearing his voice is not hearing a speaking voice but rather it refers to believing. So yes, those who hear his voice (believe) follow him. As I mentioned in the article, there is the on-going presence of the Holy Spirit. So to say Jesus stops being a shepherd doesn’t make much sense.

  26. Lisa

    you say…
    “Hearing his voice is not hearing a speaking voice”

    How do you know that? Why is it NOT a speaking Voice?

    In John 10:27, My sheep – Hear – My Voice…

    Hear – Is Strongs #191 akouo – ak-oo’-o
    In the KJV – hear 418, hearken 6, give audience 3, hearer 2, misc 8; 437

    Hear – In Thayers
    1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
    2) to hear
    2b) to attend to, consider what is or has been said
    2c) to understand, perceive the sense of what is said
    3) to hear something
    3a) to perceive by the ear what is announced in one’s presence
    3b) to get by hearing learn
    3c) a thing comes to one’s ears, to find out, learn
    3d) to give ear to a teaching or a teacher
    3e) to comprehend, to understand

    Voice – is Strongs #5456 phone – fo-nay’
    KJV – voice 131, sound 8, be noised abroad + 1096 1, noise 1; 141

    Voice – In Thayers
    1) a sound, a tone
    1a) of inanimate things, as musical instruments
    2) a voice
    2a) of the sound of uttered words
    3) speech
    3a) of a language, tongue

    Sure looks to me like sheep hear.
    And looks to me like Jesus speaks.

    Where in the Bible do you get “Hear” does NOT mean “Hear?”

    Where in the Bible do you get “Voice” does NOT mean “Voice?”

    Where did you learn that if NOT from the Bible?

  27. Lisa

    And – Why would you NOT want to “Hear?”

    The “Voice” of the savior – Jesus?

    “with God all things are possible.”

  28. Lisa

    Maybe you can ask Jesus if He would like to speak with you?

    Have an adventure – try an experiment.

    “ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

    “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”

  29. Amos, I think you should go back and re-read what I wrote. I don’t deny that we have subjective experiences, including hearing a voice in our heads. I believe God does use these subjective experiences and often is the author of them. But what I won’t do, which I used to, is attach any type of authority to it as God’s word. Because I believe he has sufficiently spoken.

    Also, you should know that I spent many years as a Charismatic and chasing God’s voice so I’ve already experimented…a lot :). I’ve had both affirming and misleading experiences with the same level of conviction that God was speaking. However, my position does not come as a result of experiences but as a result of careful study in trying to understand what scripture is and how God spoke to it. If I were to rely on my experiences, it would be very schizophrenic. I’m convicted that God’s direct speech ceased with the revelation of Christ, since everything previous to his advent was related to his fulfillment of what occurred previously according to God’s covenant promises.

    I do believe that it is presumptuous to attach words to God that we are not certain he is speaking. That’s what happens the minute we say ‘God said’ or God told me’. And it is a out of control phenomenon to the point that scripture can actually be disregarded. It also borders on the irreverent and in some cases does. We have certainty with scripture.

  30. I used to go to a church that was completely cessationist, the approach I learned from them was that God has spoken finally through the Bible and it resulted in me becoming like a lawyer looking for verses and precedents to justify my behavior. It was stifling to say the least, legalistic. I needed it though, I have OCD and am very succeptible to mistaking my compulsions as God’s voice. Yet this approach did not satisfy my soul, it changed the vibrant and living life with God into following a code or rule book, a studious approach to the Bible, a bit like Paul’s comparison with life in the Spirit versus being bound by the law. In my experience sometimes God speaks to me through these situations and even feelings I have yet these are to be taken with a grain of salt. Most importantly I take notice when there is something I am rushing to do because I want it so much but something within me or outside of me is preventing me from accomplishing it (it does not feel right or it does not fit right), it has always been a good sign that I should at least think about it first and not be hasty.

  31. Come home, Lisa… come home! We shall accept you with open arms!

    Continuationists around the globe


  32. Lisa,

    You talk about the certainty of Scripture but the certainty of our interpretation/understanding of Scripture is not certain. Aren’t you ultimately in the same boat that you were in with experiencing God’s voice?

  33. hasn’t your understanding of Scripture been wrong at some time over the years or weren’t you mislead by someone teaching Scripture at one time? And yet you don’t toss out Scripture. Can you clarify the apparent double standard for me?

  34. Michael, by certainty I mean of it being God’s word. Of course our interpretation is fallible. Also, what I’m referring to here has to do with going beyond scripture for what God commands. That’s why I thought that article I linked to at The Bible Archive was helpful for what I was trying to address. Hope that makes sense.

  35. Lisa,

    Thank you for clarifying.

    1. I just wanted to share a post I wrote about the possibility that the “Word of the Lord” may not be the same as New Testament prophecy:

    2. So if you prayed one night and said “God, should I take this job offer?” and the next day one of your trusted Christian friends who doesn’t know about the job offer says, “Hey Lisa, I feel God told me to tell you that you should take a job offer you recently received”. — So you would consider that General Revelation? You would not consider it to be a word from God? Would you consider it beneficial at all or would you ignore it?

  36. I meant to respond to some of these comments but got detained:

    T (#19): yes I do Hebrews 1:1-3 in light of what the writer is addressing of the supremacy of Christ.

    Ruben (#30): I think that is a terrible way to read the bible, as some kind of rule book. I don’t think it is supposed to be read that way but as the means by which we learn about God’s redemptive plan and his character. There is no end to the exploration and learning that should warm our hearts and endear our affections.

    Michael: (#35): I think God very much sends affirmation of ways he wants us to go. Just because the person articulates it as ‘God told me’ doesn’t mean I would ignore it. I’m actually kind of in that position now with a change I’m contemplating. It’s been amazing to me how much I’ve been blitzed from various, independent sources. But then I’ve had instances where I believed God was doing something and that was affirmed by other occurences but it turned out not to be the case since moving in that direction would have been contradictory to godly wisdom. It can go either way.

  37. Oh and Happy Thanksgiving everyone :)

  38. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Lisa, I’m not sure I understood your comment. I think you are saying that you see Hebrews 1:1 as a strong and/or clear teaching of cessationism, but I hope not.

    The “long ago” and “to our fathers” and even the phrase “‘the’ prophets” all make clear signals to the Hebrew audience, IMO, that Jesus is being compared to the OT prophets that were so central to pre-Jesus Jewish faith (such as when we hear Jesus talk about “the law and the prophets”). To infer that this passage was also signalling an end to the NT prophetic gifts (given by Jesus himself!-Ephesians 4:8-11) requires a host of assumptions not in the text.

    I guess I would ask first if you think the author or initial audience of this letter would see the miraculous work that was done through the apostles and others in the early church (on Jesus’ behalf and through his gifts) as God speaking “long ago . . . to our fathers” or, rather, as part of God’s continuing speech “in these last days by his Son.” If you think the latter, which I think is easily the more likely and appropriate reading, then how does this passage give any support for the termination of such activity that is by/through Jesus? Regardless, there is no reason in the text to prefer the cessationist reading you seem to be arguing for; on the contrary, the content of the verse and the larger themes of Hebrews give good reasons to reject such a reading.

    But, again, hopefully I was misreading you and you weren’t claiming that Hebrews 1:1 provided a clear or strong case for cessationism.

    Also, FWIW, when I said before that many cessationists are admitting that the biblical case is weak and that experience is driving their theology on that point, I was referring to discussions at Jesus Creed with a some pastors and others. I also thought of some of Michael’s posts here in which he has expressed openness to believe continuationism, and I can’t think he’d be open if the scriptures strongly…

  39. Proving that God doesn’t consistently/reliably communicate his will through others seems rather easy and straightforward.

    Is there anything like consensus among the many and varied Christian denominations about doctrinal issues? How many Christians and non-Christians alike earnestly and sincerely claim to hear the voice of God yet reach radically different conclusions about his nature, character and will?

    Seems obvious. You could – if you were feeling obstinate – claim that some are merely mistaken in believing themselves to be recipients of a divine message. When asked individually how they know they’re not mistaken about the source of the message, they’ll simply insist that they’re not and they know. That can hardly count in any sense as reliable criteria for distinguishing true from false accounts of divine communication.

  40. Ryan,

    Unfortunately, your argument could attack the validity of scripture as well as other kinds of communication from God. Just sub “scripture” for “others” in your first paragraph and continue:

    “Is there anything like consensus among the many and varied Christian denominations about doctrinal issues? How many Christians and non-Christians alike earnestly and sincerely claim to hear the voice of God (in scripture) yet reach radically different conclusions about his nature, character and will?”

    The lack of doctrinal unity doesn’t disprove that God speaks through others any more than it disproves that God speaks through scripture. We get tons of doctinal differences within cessationist camps as well as non. Does that mean that God has not reliably spoken through scripture? Human fallibility remains no matter how God speaks.

  41. Also, Lisa,

    You said,

    “I do believe that it is presumptuous to attach words to God that we are not certain he is speaking. That’s what happens the minute we say ‘God said’ or God told me’.”

    Absolutely. When I’m involved with practicing these things (or teaching them), I do the same thing that many good preachers do when interpreting a difficult passage of scripture: I say “I think” or some such language indicating that I could be mistaken. Further, any teaching or prophecy should be tested by scripture, wisdom, community, etc. God’s authority and his name (whether in preaching, counseling, parenting, prophetic, etc.) can be used mistakenly or selfishly or even abusively. Personally, I’ve seen a lot more junk passed off as “God’s Word” from the pulpit than from prophetic practice, but we all have our own stories. It sounds like you’ve had exposure to charismatic experience/training/culture in which prophetic insight was not practiced in balance with scriptural truth or wisdom. I think your concerns are right on, but that you are swinging too far in the other direction. The solution to bad or abusive practice (whether of preaching or prophetic or evangelism, etc.–all of which can be abusive) isn’t no practice but right practice, which is with love, humility, community and scriptural framework and boundaries that are too often disregarded.

    It is no coincidence that the context for the love chapter is Paul’s discussion of gifts. As Corinth demonstrated, even God’s power coming through us can trigger our egos and natural leanings. But that doesn’t mean that God’s solution to that is to quit doing wonderful things through us that we can and do make about us, or bend to fit our leanings and preferences. I am very sorry that some heavy stuff was laid on you in the name of prophetic gifts and practice. God’s best to you.

  42. It is very easy to put forth bad examples of “hearing the Lord” and show the damage that is done. What needs to happen, though, in analyzing theological paradigms is to take the best representatives and analyze their arguments and reasoning. Toward that end may I suggest Dallas Willard’s “Hearing God”, Klaus Issler’s “Wasting Time with God” (chapter 6 entitled “Communication: Hearing the God Who Speaks”), and J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler’s “In Search of a Confident Faith” (chapter 6 entitled: “Learning to Trust in God for Guidance About Life Decisions”). Also of interest is the series on J. P. Moreland’s blog regarding “hearing God”: see

    At the very least I hope this bibliographic information helps some research this issue.

  43. There is something exasperating about the fact that this argument goes on and on and is little different from the one I heard almost fifty years ago. If it is the Holy Spirit that leads and guides us into truth, what does that entail? Church history should offer some clues.
    That there are so many disparate views in the church with regard to a wide variety of issues entails the idea that simply reading the Bible does not impart the truth. While the Book is a work of the Spirit, it is not self-interpreting, else there would be no need for the Spirit to lead us and guide us into all truth. It also follows that there would be no reason for the Spirit to indwell the believer. That God has purposed this speaks to His desire for intimacy with us(what could be more intimate than to live within one?)
    But proximity does not equal intimacy: two children in the same room each playing differing video games, a husband and wife sharing a bed, but no longer caring and so on. Intimacy requires that both parties are committed to the process, otherwise what exists is a cold counterfeit. To have all the components of a relationship assiduously recorded in the mind is not the same as having that relationship. Doubtless, one must know the components of a relationship in order to enter into one, but this is not sufficient.
    The Bible does not exist to make us scholars, nor did the early church. It is not that the scholarship is not needful, but, rather, that it is a means to an end. If the end is not obtained or is denied, we remain unchanged, we are not conformed to the image of His Son though called to it. We are at cross-purposes with Him. We live with the desire for intimacy subliminated. The prophetic speaks to intimacy: the children of Israel new God’s works, Moses knew his ways.
    If prophecy ends with the completion of the scripture ,intimacy dies too. If all I can do is to pray to a God that is non-responsive, then how do I get close? Bad prophecy is beside the point.

  44. I find that you make the same error in judgment that I see increasingly in what cessationists believe that continuationists believe – that special revelation is somehow a higher authority than the Bible.

    Whilst there may be some who believe that, by far the majority of continuationists/charismatics I know would flat out deny that accusation. On the contrary, they would teach that any special revelation that is contrary to Scripture is not from God, because Scripture retains its place of authority.

    Equally, most continuationists would argue for the sufficiency of Scripture, but would suggest that God continues to speak not because Scripture is not sufficient, but because He delights to give us more than a sufficiency.

    Let me finish with a simple analogy. I have letters from my wife from when we were dating where she says that she loves me. If I ever thought I heard her say otherwise, I will know that I was mistaken, because I know it from her letters. Equally she still likes to tell me she loves me, even though she knows I have it “in writing”.

    Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but I hope you get the idea.

    (FWIW, I have commented previously on our churches teaching on testing any “prophetic” or “special” revelation, in the form of BART (Biblical, Agreement of others (aka wise council, Relevance, Testified in the Spirit) which is similar to the Wesleyan quadrilateral of interpretation)

  45. Ben and other continuationists, please know that the intent of this article was not to debate cessationism vs. continuationism. I firmly believe that we’ll stick to what we’ve resolved and the conversation doesn’t really get anywhere. The point was to say if you believe God speaks outside of the bible as direct speech there is an obligation there to obey. That will lead to less Christian liberty than I think is afforded under the cessationist model. It is a natural consequence of continued speech.

  46. You cannot say that this is not about a continuationism vs cessationism debate and then go on to say “continuationism means you need to believe this”. The post is quite obviously about continuationism and what you believe is the outcome of such a belief.

    But, as I say, I do not believe you have correctly understood/represented what continuationists believe.

  47. Lisa,

    I think your points were heard. For my part, my first comment addressed them directly. One has to assume either that God is controlling, or that prophecy is not from God for your main argument to hold, so your assumptions brought continuationism (and God’s character) into play.

    But as to your intent not to debate continuationism vs. cessationism, you may not have consciously done so, but it seems likely to me that a post like this is a piece of a larger mosaic of thinking that you are putting together for why cessationism *should* be true. That’s fine, but such a post does make cessationism and continuationism the real issue.

    Finally, your post contained a whole lot of “if you ___, then you ___” statements, with the “you” being continuationists, and none of the “then’s” being good! Expect pushback from folks whom you talk about in that way, whoever the the “you” is.

    Best to you as you continue to work it all out.

  48. God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path…..
    Brings to my mind a miner’s helmet on my head, with a dim light pointing ahead, and a flashlight pointed one step ahead of my feet.

    I read and study God’s Word so I know which direction to take (miner’s helmet). I listen for the Holy Spirit saying to me: This is the way, walk in it (flashlight).

    The Lord doesn’t give us a list of steps. He provides enough light for us to take one step at a time. When the Lord led me through a series of complicated financial decisions during my divorce, I was asking the Lord about the next step. He would let me know, in that still, small voice….once this event occurs,” then you can take that next step….
    Important thing to remember is that the Holy Spirit will not guide us contrary to Scripture.


  1. Filling in the Life Gaps with Wisdom | Lisa Robinson - March 11, 2013

    […] all the details.  Now that does not negate being led by the Spirit. But As I wrote about here in The Voice That Binds, I suggest that when we look for God to speak outside of Scripture and if we believe it is God […]

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