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An Introduction to Dreams and Visions in the Bible and Today

God continues to give dreams and visions to his people.



This chapter is from Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience by John P. Lathrop.

The Bible has been around for a very long time; it has stood the test of time and been widely distributed. The Bible is available in many different English translations and has been translated into numerous foreign languages as well. It is probably both the most loved and most hated book of all time. Its detractors claim that it is full of errors and contradictions, or that it is irrelevant. On the other hand, devout Christians believe that it is the Word of God. The doctrinal statements of many Christian denominations contain a statement to the effect that the Bible is the only reliable guide for faith and practice.

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that it was given to instruct and guide us. However, it must be admitted that it is not always an easy book to understand. There are a number of reasons for this. First, there is the matter of time. The Bible was written over the course of many centuries, in times that are very distant from our own.1 This distance can create difficulties for us as we seek to understand what the biblical text is saying. Second, the biblical books of both testaments are set in cultures that are very different from our Western 21st-century culture. The cultures of the Bible sometimes have different thoughts than ours.2 As a result, some of the cultural practices and understandings are foreign to us. Third, there are some things in the Bible that just are difficult to understand. For example, the apostle Peter said that some of the things the apostle Paul wrote about in his letters were difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16). If one inspired writer thinks that another inspired writer is difficult to understand, then you can be sure that it is true! Fourth, we should expect to find the Bible difficult to understand at times, because the Bible comes from a God whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isa. 55:9). We are finite beings trying to understand an infinite God; the creation trying to understand the Creator. Lastly, there are some things in the Bible that we do not understand because we have not had any personal experience with them. People in the Bible experienced them, but many of us have not, especially those of us in the West.

Writing about the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit, Gordon Fee says that some people conclude that this dimension of the Holy Spirit’s work does not exist today because they are exegeting their own experience, rather than the biblical text.3 They use their own experience as a grid in interpreting the Bible, and their experience becomes the norm of what God does and does not do today.4 This is certainly not the way that we are supposed to interpret the Bible, but the sad truth is that we can all be guilty of this from time to time. This is a potential problem, and all believers should be on their guard in an effort to keep from falling into this error. When Christians fall into this trap, they violate the evangelical tenet that the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice. In his book Gift & Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, Craig Keener says that he has rarely witnessed miracles like those of Elijah, Elisha, or like the ones that we find in the gospels or the book of Acts; thus, based on his experience, he might conclude that such miracles do not happen today.5 However, he goes on to say that it is his desire to see what the Scripture teaches and to attempt to bring his experience, and that of the church, more in line with the biblical norm.6 This should be our desire as well.

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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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