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An Introduction to Dreams and Visions in the Bible and Today

In this book, we will examine the dreams and visions found in the New Testament. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery indicates that both dreams and visions were recognized by ancient peoples but distinguishing between the two is sometimes difficult.13 Dreams seem to be nighttime events, and visions typically take place during the day.14 Categorizing night visions is more difficult.15 Were they dreams or visions? As we proceed through this study, I will note texts where there is some question about whether a particular experience was a dream or a vision.

We will begin our study by examining the dreams of the New Testament. We will do this by taking them in the order in which they appear beginning in Matthew’s gospel (which is also their historical order). After an examination of the biblical text of each dream, I will provide a brief “insights” section. In this section, I will highlight some of the things we can learn from each dream. I will be calling attention to what we can learn about how the Lord works in dreams.

After we complete our study of dreams, we will give our attention to the visions of the New Testament. We will do this in sections. First, we will look at the visions in the gospels, taking them in historical order (which in this case is not the same as the order in which we encounter them in the New Testament), and then we will look at the visions in the book of Acts, again taking them in historical order. Lastly, we will look at some miscellaneous references to visions which, for the most part, are found in other books in the New Testament. After we examine the biblical text of each vision, I will again have a brief “insights” section in which I will point out some of the things we can learn from each vision and how God works in them.

In the Bible, dreams and visions were given for very specific purposes. Though the purpose of each was different, there are at least four things that all New Testament dreams and visions seem to have in common: all were communications that came from God, all contained audible elements, all contained visual elements, and there is no biblical evidence that anyone who received a dream and vision sought these specific experiences. The details of each person’s situation are not as clear to us as Gideon’s. Scripture tells us that Gideon sought a very specific kind of guidance. His experience with the fleece, while it did not include a dream or vision, illustrates the point I am trying to make. We know he was looking for a specific kind of answer from the Lord (Jud. 6:36-40). He set the terms of how the Lord should answer him, but we cannot say that about those who received dreams and visions in the New Testament. If the people of the New Testament were seeking dreams and visions, we are not told about it. Dreams and visions are but two of a number of different ways in which the Lord can communicate with his people. For reasons known only to him, the Lord chose to communicate with the people in our texts by these two means.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2015

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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