What is extra biblical revelation?

It is common today to hear this term used to describe everything from someone who read their bible that morning and was really blessed by it to those who would start new cults by insisting their “revelations” were on par with Holy Writ. Let’s dissect these terms and come to an understanding that will help us rightly discern error from truth.

General Revelation

General revelation can be defined as what God has revealed to all men as is stated in:

Romans 1:19-20 ESV
(19)  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
(20)  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

God has revealed Himself to mankind in such a way that morally they are accountable to Him for their acts.

Special Revelation

Supernatural or special revelation is when God reveals something otherwise unknown to a man.  This is often accompanied by the inspiration to write that down to be preserved as Scripture.  Moses was given both revelation and was inspired to write the Torah.  Pharaoh was given revelation in coded form in a dream and Joseph was needed to interpret it while Moses was charged with writing it down.

In the sense that revelation and inspiration are used to write Scriptures and we know that the canon of Scripture is closed (Rev 22:18-19) there is no more special revelation or inspiration today.

Illumination

This is what happens when God makes His word “alive” to the reader through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Many times in Scriptures we are told that only those who are saved can rightly understand His Word.

1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
(18)  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For the vast majority of people, when they say God spoke to them or they heard God, what they mean is that the Holy Spirit illuminated a portion of Scripture to their spirit – in a sense making it come alive.

Extra Biblical Revelation

Any supernatural knowledge that cannot be directly attributed to Scripture may be called extra biblical revelation. This may range from someone who believes God lead him to take an alternate route to work only to find out his usual route had a bad car wreck to someone like Joseph Smith who started the Mormon religion who wrote an entire book that Mormons hold parallel to the Holy Bible.

Where do we as discerning Christians draw the line? We draw it right along with the Bereans:

Acts 17:11 ESV
(11)  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

 

Any teaching whether given by supernatural revelation or by man’s reasoning that does not line up with the full weight of Scripture must be rejected.

There are some of the cessationist camp, who believe that all spiritual gifts have ceased and that God does not reveal new information but rather illumines the bible to believers.  John MacArthur sums up this position well:

Contrary to the teaching of many, neither special revelation nor inspiration are occurring today. The Bible contains God’s final and complete written revelation to man (cf. Jude 3 and Rev. 22:18–19). Currently the Holy Spirit instructs and guides a believer, not by revealing newly inspired data, but by bringing illumination to God’s already revealed Word.

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Rediscovering expository preaching (105–106). Dallas: Word Publishing.

To those in the charismatic camp who believe that God continues to operate through the agency of the Holy Spirit such gifts as word of knowledge and prophecy, what standards are given to judge such revelations?

1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV
(29)  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

Those who are spiritually mature should judge the words given as to whether they are given at the right time, the right place, in the right manner and to the right audience as well as whether or not it lines up doctrinally with Scripture.

Such prophecies or words of knowledge do not carry the authority of Scripture.  It would be more helpful to consider them in the same light as sermons.  No one claims when preaching that their words should be written down and considered Scripture.  Sermons can be judged as to whether the preacher was faithful to the biblical text and the bible’s overall message. So it should be with spiritual gifts – they should be judged and never accepted as being on par with Scripture.  Prophecy today is defined as:

1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV
(3)  On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

It would be helpful to realize that not everyone who believes in the gifts of the Spirit is a heretic. We should quit using that term so broadly and reserve it for those who are speaking outside of the bounds of solid biblical doctrine.  Judge all things by the Scriptures.

Isaiah 8:20 NKJV
(20)  To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

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2 comments on “What is extra biblical revelation?

  1. Just google-searched “extra-biblical revelation” to do some reading on the topic after a fascinating conversation with a coworker who seems to have had special messages from both Jesus Christ and from recently dead family members… your thoughts on the matter are enlightening.

    I’d like to be able to help my coworker work through some of what she has seen in her dreams. I’ve encountered a woman who was visited by her recently deceased father who urged her to live her life with Jesus, relying on Him alone for salvation, as well as an uncle who encouraged her to continue in the faith she has received.

    Once, in a moment of doubt, she prayed for a sign and received a vision in which heaven opened and a great light appeared to encourage her and reassure her of her faith.

    Now, what normally happens in these conversations is that the person who has received such “visions” will then proceed to declare all manner of heretical, anti-scriptural nonsense, proving themselves liars very quickly.

    But these visions, while odd and bizarre in their content, all seem to have the effect of encouraging greater scriptural devotion and a spurring on in her love for Jesus Christ.

    But Scripture is also clear that those who die pass immediately to Christ’s Presence or to Death’s Abyss. How then, can this woman receive messages from them?

    And if, as my default position would be, these messages come from demonic sources that are posing as her relatives, why would they effect a greater devotion to her faith?

    Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

    • This is one of those tough ones to explain to the person. You don’t want to discourage their faith but you don’t want to lead them on in false beliefs either. I don’t believe in either dream she actually heard her father or uncle. What might have happened is that her subconscious was processing these issues (which is what dreams are) and the Holy Spirit prompted her spirit to add to the dream the encouraging words.
      You know this person – and you would need to discern her maturity in the Lord and whether or not she has any other symptoms of demonic harassment. As for her “vision” – we see what we want to see and she wanted a reassurance from the Lord so she “invented” it. If you are married – you and your wife could invite her to your bible study and help disciple her. If not, find a strong Christian woman who is grounded in the Word to disciple her.
      It’s best that with discipleship and being grounded in Scripture she comes to the conclusion on her own that these visions and dreams were more likely her own flesh rather than something supernatural. I will be praying that you have wisdom in this as you proceed.

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