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Does God Speak Today Through Visions and Dreams?

In 1996, I met a graduate student named Elham Taheri. She studied microbiology at the University of Oklahoma. She explained that she had grown up in Iran in a Muslim home. She had never heard of Jesus but had a recurring dream about a man in a white robe on the seashore, calling to her. She grew up wanting to know more about this man. She came to the United States for college and was invited to attend a dorm Bible study. She thought it would be a good idea to spend time with American students in their context. When she was greeted at the door, she peered into the dorm and saw a large poster on the wall, picturing Jesus in a white robe, standing on the seashore—just like she had seen for her years in her dreams. Elham cried out, “Tell me about him! Tell me about that man!” The students invited her in, opened their Bibles, and talked about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Elham placed her faith in Christ in that dorm room. And she sat on the steps of the Baptist Student Union at University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and told me that story, with tears streaming down her face. I filed away this experience in my mind.

In 2012, I met two Baptist pastors in Punjab, India, who told me Jesus appeared to them in a vision when they—at separate times and as Sikhs—were on their way to commit suicide. Apparently, suicide by train has become a tragic, widespread practice among men in India. In both cases, the men immediately found someone who shared the gospel with them and they placed their faith in Jesus.

Tom Doyle, in his book, Dreams and Visions (Thomas Nelson, 2012) tells multiple, geographically-diverse stories about Muslim-background believers who had dreams or visions of Jesus which prepared them to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus.

J. D. Greear, in his book, Gospel (B&H, 2011), tells two stories in which he claims to have interpreted dreams for Muslims who then heard and accepted the message of the gospel.

Nabeel Qureshi, a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, describes receiving both a vision and a dream in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Zondervan, 2014).

In a 2013 Christianity Today article titled “The Golden Fish,” Eric Metaxas writes, “In 1988 I had a dream in which God spoke to me in what I have come to call ‘the secret vocabulary of my heart.’ The next morning, all was new and newness.” Metaxas connected the dream to his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ.

None of these accounts, in isolation, convinces me that God speaks today in visions and dreams. But the cumulative case is compelling. Even if one does not affirm that God speaks today in visions and dreams, recall that the Bible is full of these accounts.

  • God spoke to Jacob in a dream (Gen 28:10-22).
  • God spoke to Joseph through dreams (Genesis 37).
  • God spoke to Pharaoh (Genesis 41) through dreams, which Joseph interpreted.
  • One of the three Hebrew words which is translated into English as prophet is hozeh (“seer”), because some people had a hazon (“a vision”), such as: Isaiah (1:1), Amos (Amos 7:12), Asaph (2 Chron 29:30), Gad (2 Sam 24:11), Heman (1 Chron 25:5), Iddo (2 Chron 9:29), and Jeduthun (2 Chron 35:15).
  • Daniel was an interpreter of dreams (Daniel 2, 4), and God spoke to him through visions and dreams (Daniel 7-8).
  • The birth of the Messiah was announced to Joseph by an angel (Matt 1:20).
  • The magi were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod (Matt 2:12).
  • Jesus appeared to Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
  • Later, God directed Paul’s ministry through a vision of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9).
  • God spoke to Peter through a vision of animals lowered on a sheet (Acts 10:9-23).

These are only some examples. The Bible is full of visions and dreams.

I affirm:

  • the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. Every word of the Bible is fully inspired by God.
  • the Bible is the primary means by which God instructs people (see Psalm 119). Thus, those who want to hear from God should read, study, listen to, and meditate on the content of the Bible.
  • the need to judge any supposed vision or dream against the truths already revealed in the Bible. If God speaks outside the Bible, then He will always speak in accordance with the Bible.
  • the necessity for people to hear the message of the gospel in order to be saved. As Paul asked, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14b).

Even so, it seems possible that God might speak to people today through visions and dreams. This possibility causes me to bow in awe of a creator who condescends to communicate with His creation—sinners like us. In the contemporary accounts I cited, the common factor is that God was seeking to save the lost. God loves and desires to save sinners (1 Tim 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9). Could God speak to some people today through visions and dreams, before they hear the message of the gospel, in order to make them more receptive to the message of the gospel?


 

(Art Credit: William Blake, Jacob’s Ladder, 1805)

9 Comments

  1. Ron F. Hale Ron F. Hale

    Dr. Harwood,
    I had a dream of Jesus when I was around five or six years old. I had never been in church or VBS at that point in my life. My parents did not go to church. In the dream, which was in living color, I saw Jesus walking on the clouds– seemingly toward me. His white gown was blowing in the wind. I never forgot that dream–for it was very powerful. I became a believer at the age of 23.

    • adam_swbts@yahoo.com adam_swbts@yahoo.com

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your account, Ron. Blessings!

  2. Steven Steven

    Dr. Harwood:

    Thanks for this post. I think that this is an important topic and one that needs much more discussion and clarification in the local church.

    My first question is that is your view of the sufficiency of scripture? As a Traditionalist, I assumed that you ascribed to not only the inerrancy of scripture, but the sufficiency of scripture as well. However, you make the following statements – “the Bible is the primary means by which God instructs people” and “it seems possible that God might speak to people today through visions and dreams.”

    Dr. Yarnell writes persuasively that “1 Cor 4:6 warns the hearer not to exceed what is written, indicating the sufficiency of Scripture and therefore the necessity of staying close to the text. In Heb 4:12-13, the Word of God—primarily understood as the written Word, but certainly with reference to the empowering divine Word behind the text—searches out and judges the internal man because it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged surgical knife.” Do your views that God might speak outside of scripture and that scripture is the primary, but not the sole, revelation of God contradict Dr. Yarnell’s views?

    Also, how do you avoid the “slippery slope” of judging what you state could be a divine revelation, and what is not a divine revelation. You state that “need to judge any supposed vision or dream against the truths already revealed in the Bible.” However, isn’t that the point of extra-biblical revelation – that the recipient is getting something extra that is not included in the Bible? As a hypothetical, let’s say that I had a dream that God told me that because of my unique personal history (accountant and rancher) that I was needed in some third-world country to share the gospel and that I was to go immediately. In response to this vision, I go to the IMB and state that God gave me this vision and that I need to get to the mission field immediately to be in conformity with God’s clear direction in my life. The IMB evaluates me and all aspects of my life and finds that because I have some student loans and a loan collateralized by my herd, that I cannot now go to the mission field. Isn’t the IMB causing me to sin by not obeying the divine revelation from God? My revelation is not contrary to scripture – indeed, it is (in some respects) in accordance with scripture.

    As I said, I think that this is an important issue that the local church needs to consider and I appreciate your willingness to discuss the issue. I would very much like to hear your further thoughts and am not trying to play “gotcha” over this issue.

    Thanks very much.

    Steven

    • Adam Harwood Adam Harwood

      Steven,

      Thanks for your thoughtful questions.

      I think what I have written about the need for supposed dreams and visions to be judged against Scripture is consistent with Dr. Yarnell’s statement from 1 Cor 4:6 to not go beyond Scripture. Scripture indicates that God reveals certain things about Himself outside of the words of the Bible (Psalm 19:1-3; Rom 1:19-20; 2:14-15). Many theologians refer to this as general revelation.

      In your example with the mission agency, it is possible that neither you nor the IMB are outside of God’s will in the matter. Your sense of leadership was to serve in a third-world country immediately. The IMB is one agency which could facilitate that ministry. But there are other fine Christian mission organizations or methods which you could explore which would allow you to serve the Lord in another country.

      I hope I have adequately answered your questions. Thanks for checking in.

      Blessings.

  3. Ken Wolgemuth Ken Wolgemuth

    Prof. Harwood,
    Thanks for this. I heard a report of a vision in a North Africa country.
    We met at ETS just at the end of giving your paper. I will communicate with you to offer a seminar at NOBTS.
    Ken Wolgemuth, Solid Rock Lectures

  4. It’s not unheard of for missionaries to meet people who had a vision from God telling where God reveals himself to them or tells them that someone will come. I am in agreement with your thoughts here though: visions should never contradict scripture.and the principle means for evangelism is preaching the gospel so those who haven’t heard can hear. 🙂

  5. Allen M Rea Allen M Rea

    Dr. Harwood, Thank you for your balanced and exegetical approach. I especially appreciate your stance on the sufficiency of Scripture. We did fight and win the battle for inerrancy and infallibility in the SBC, but it seems we are losing the battle for sufficiency.

  6. Two thoughts:

    1) CAN God do this? My answer is “of course”.

    2) HAS GOD done this in my life? In my case, the answer is no. But there are tons of things He can do, that He hasn’t, to me.

    And since we’re humans, even people in whose life He’s done that, can get it wrong. Which scripture would eventually point out.

  7. In which work of ancient literature do we first find this expression: “…kick against the goads”? If you said the Bible, in which Jesus appears to Paul on the Damascus Road, you would be wrong.

    This expression was first used in a book of Greek mythology, “The Bacchae”, written by Euripides in circa 475 BC. The expression occurred in a fictional conversation between the god/man, Dionysus, and the king of Thebes, his persecutor.

    Isn’t it odd that Jesus would borrow an expression from Greek mythology in his appearance to the self-proclaimed “Thirteenth Apostle”?

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