Extra-biblical “revelations” (part 1)

What follows (in four parts) is an exegetical essay I wrote some time ago, attempting to appraise the validity of extra-biblical “revelations.”


My intent in this essay is to explore whether the Bible permits us to believe that the Holy Spirit continues to give extra-biblical revelation to the church. That is, beyond illuminating scripture to the understanding of the saints, does the Spirit continue to “reveal” God’s mind to the church? Even more concretely, what should be our response when approached with the statement (so common in contemporary Christian circles), “The Lord told me.” I’ll examine a series of biblical texts, commenting on each of them with the goal of piecing together their cumulative witness on the issue at hand.

Daniel 9:24

It may not be wise to start with a text that’s been as fiercely debated as this one, but we’ll make an attempt anyway. Daniel receives a vision from God to the effect that “seventy weeks” are decreed concerning his people and the holy city Jerusalem. Seventy weeks until what? Until the bestowal of everything Daniel has just been pleading for: mercy (v. 23) and the long-awaited fullness of the salvation of God (vv. 16–19).

The scriptures of Israel taught that God’s of God was to arrive (and the New Testament teaches that it did, in fact, arrive) with the coming of Messiah. Daniel here is told that six things in particular will come: God will “finish the transgression” of His people (v. 24), put an end to their sin, atone for iniquity, bring in everlasting righteousness, “seal” both vision and prophecy, and anoint a most holy place. The first four of these divine actions were indisputably accomplished in the work of Jesus Christ; it was by His once-for-all sacrifice that forgiveness of sins and everlasting righteousness were conferred on God’s people. The sixth divine action may, without difficulty, be referred to Jesus’ establishment of a new, worldwide temple of God (the church) and the outpouring of His Spirit on that temple at Pentecost (e.g., Eph 2:21–22). If five of the divine actions occurred in the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry and Pentecost, it seems likely that the remaining action also occurred around that period, i.e., God’s “sealing” of vision and prophecy.

The notion of “sealing up” in biblical apocalyptic literature generally refers to shutting up something so it does not continue to go forth (e.g., Dan 12:4, 9; Rev 10:4). Does the New Testament offer any support for the idea that, around the time of Jesus, God’s giving of visions and prophecy to His people came to an end, i.e., vision and prophecy were “sealed up” so they no longer go forth? To this question we now turn.

Hebrews 1:1–2

This text is, even on its surface, a definitive statement about the history of God’s revelations to His people. Prior to “these last days” God spoke at many times and in many ways, but all that changed with the advent of a new period of history. In this new period – “these last days” – God has spoken not by the prophets but by His Son. What is described here is not simply one more successive period in God’s revelation, one following upon another which might be succeeded by still another; what is described is the final period of divine revelation. The reason isn’t far to seek: all prior revelations were provisional in nature, not least because they were mediated through mere human messengers; but now God has spoken His full, final, and definitive word through His Son. The full perfection of the message is related to the perfection of the Messenger; and precisely because the message is now perfect and complete, none further is needed or to be expected. God’s full word is His final word; His final word is final because it is full and complete.

It should be noted, however, that this in itself doesn’t preclude the continuance of revelation through the whole of the new period (these “last days”). To say that God has spoken His full and final word in His Son distinguishes these “last days” from all preceding historical periods, but it doesn’t demand that the “last days” themselves be divided into (1) a time in which God spoke (and finished speaking) in His Son and (2) a time when God is silent because His speech in His Son has been completed (this is what is often referred to as the “cessationist” view). The pressing question, then, is how has God spoken through His Son in the last days, and whether His way of speaking in this period is such that we must now view His speech to us in Jesus as an accomplished, finished thing, with only the illumination of that completed word carrying through the remainder of the last days. Put simply, has God spoken a completed word in His Son in the last days, or is He still speaking a continuing word in His Son? For an answer to that question, we must move a bit further into the Epistle to the Hebrews. To be continued . . .

Category: Biblical Authority Comment »

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