I’ve desired to write on this particular topic for a while, and it’s something I’ve always had a curiosity about even before I actually became a scripturally saved follower of Christ a few years ago. I’ve had many of friends in life that profess to hear from God. I’ve heard many of televangelists and self-proclaimed preachers in different churches claim to have heard messages from God to deliver to the people, and seen many of professed Christians that believe God has vocally spoken to them about what to do in their life. In discussing this topic, I want us to avoid entertaining our own personal experiences, because I would assert that personal experiences mean nothing if they aren’t backed up by the truth of God’s Word. My goal in opening a dialogue on this topic is for us to do as best as we can to formulate a complete understanding, based on all of the Scripture, of whether God speaks to us vocally today or not.
With that said, let’s first consider instances that God has communicated to man throughout the Scripture. Without even pulling up a verse, I know off the top of my head many instances that God spoke to man directly throughout the Old Testament. God vocally spoke to Adam and Eve as we all know when they were first created, on what to do on the land that He created for them, what food they could eat, and many other things you can find in the beginning of Genesis. We go down the line from there; we find God has spoken to numerous humans directly. He spoke to Abraham, He spoke to Moses, He spoke to Job, and on and on throughout the Old Testament, God spoke vocally to different Biblical characters. Not only did He speak vocally to these Biblical characters, but the people he spoke with were actually able to converse back with Him as well, which is quite astonishing when you think about that.
So we can factually say yes, God has vocally spoken to people before as recorded throughout the Scripture. Still though, we don’t have the answer to whether God speaks vocally to Christians. Before I continue, I can almost sense that somebody might be chomping at the bit to draw from their personal experiences on the issue, but we have to remember, we should rarely if ever draw on our personal experiences for accurate understanding. I would suggest to you that the characters in the Scripture generally had evidence before them to know what was of God, and that this is a religion not based so much in empiricism (knowledge confirmed by experience), but more so rationalism (knowledge confirmed by reasoning of facts).
As Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations use the word evidence in place of the word conviction. Proverbs 18:15 also states, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Now I could say I personally experienced a spiritual revelation of God telling me exactly when Jesus was going to come back as many of self-proclaimed prophets have stated throughout history. However, by following Scripture, we’d know clearly that what I was saying was false. As Scripture states in 2 Pet 3:10 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” We must always subject everything to the Word of God.
Now in the Old Testament we can find many instances of God vocally speaking to people, but it’s interesting when we choose to observe the New Testament, how much God did not vocally speak to people at all. Now of the instances which I can recall the divine speaking vocally to man in the NT, there was an angel that spoke to both Mary and Joseph, God spoke vocally after Jesus was baptized proclaiming Him to be His son that He was well pleased with, and Jesus spoke to Paul twice, first when he was blinded, and second when he was in a trance. There was also the revelation that John got from an angel which gave us the Book of Revelation. Anyone can add to this list if there’s something I’ve missed, but looking at these instances, only one time did God speak vocally out loud on the earth to people around in the New Testament, and that was when Jesus was baptized. So factually speaking, we have no recorded account in the Scripture, of God communicating vocally to a Christian.
Now let’s consider something for a moment. Why would God vocally speak so much to people in the Old Testament, particularly in Genesis, and only spoke once in the New Testament? Well, we know from reading the early parts of the Gospels that the Jews had written scripture of the Old Law available to them at that time. That’s why some of them questioned Jesus so much. Now before parts of the Law began being written in Exodus, God had to speak a lot to get people to know the things they needed to do in Genesis, and know what right from wrong was. Once you begin to get through Exodus and the rest of the Old Testament, you see less incidences of God vocally speaking directly to people. Now I would pose this question. Is this just a coincidence that God decided to vocally speak less after they got some of the written Word from Him to follow what He wants them to be doing, or is it possible that when they had the written Word, that there was no need for God to communicate vocally as much?
So let’s fast forward to today. We not only have the Old Testament within our possession like the Jews did, but now we have the New Testament as well, giving us the complete Word of God. Now consider how Scripture is described in 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” So here we have it factually stated, that the text we have is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. It sounds a lot like everything we’d ever need to know from God. Now you might ask me, why do I conclude that it sounds like that? Well, if you look at the types of things that God said whenever He did vocally speak to people, that was why He generally spoke. You can base it all on Him wanting His people to know righteousness, to reprove them when they were doing wrong, and being instructed of the things that they needed to know to do. They didn’t have the text available to know truthful things that we’re blessed to know now through the Scripture.
Let’s consider another factual scriptural point. To my knowledge of the Scripture, there appears to be no statement from Jesus, from the Apostles, or anyone in the New Testament saying that God would ever vocally communicate to Christians. As stated earlier, there is no recorded account of God vocally speaking to Christians at any point in the Word at all. So this concept of listening for His voice in prayer or in any other instance would seem to be all man-made teaching. Now someone could perhaps somewhat reasonably push back and say, “well it doesn’t say He doesn’t vocally speak to people anymore”, which is true. But looking at the facts of how much He has ceased to have done so presents some pretty strong evidence that He generally doesn’t, and that we have everything He needs to say to us through the Word, especially given how much the Apostle Paul instructs throughout his letters to stick to the teachings of the Word that the Apostles have written via the Holy Spirit.
We can all agree that we can absolutely never go wrong by following what God says in His Word, compared to the history of people past the Apostolic Era who have proclaimed to have heard from God that have been wrong time and time again. This brings me to one other extra point before I begin to close, which harkens back to my suggestion of Christianity being a religion of rationalism over empiricism. Anytime someone in the Bible ever said they heard a direct message from God, they almost always proved it with a miracle (Moses turning a stick into a snake, Jesus healing people, Apostles performing miracles etc..). If this is the standard these men of God held themselves to, it would seem it should be the expected standard that all professed vocal hearers of God should hold themselves to, by displaying their miraculous abilities and thus proving their words they claim to have heard from God as truth.
It would seem that modern cultural Christianity can be obsessed with having some kind of mystical experience that makes them feel good inside, rather than having the authentic experience that God appears to have already given us through knowing what life is about and how to live life through His Word. It appears almost out of pride sometimes that people want to believe in God speaking something directly to them, rather than humbly believing that God speaks collectively to all of the Body of Christ through His Word. As I made mention earlier, we’ve had numbers of people proclaim to have received a direct message from God, such as when the world would end, and all were proven to be wrong. We have people today saying God told me to tell you to do this or to give X amount of money scamming people with Unscriptural doctrine. The concept of hearing vocally from God seems all based on someone going by a feeling they have inside of them and imagining up some words in their mind, rather than reading the Word of God which we need not be uncertain about because it’s already proven to come from God by the Apostles miracles.
Now would I dare limit God in any means of action? No. God is God, and He can choose to do things in any way He wants to. But I also dare not magnify my own perceptions of what God does and doesn’t do over the perceptions given to me in the Word. We as people seeking to be true followers of Christ need to continually do our best to humble ourselves into desiring to experience God on His terms alone. Let us not ignore facts because they don’t align with our preconceived thinking, and acknowledge all of the facts the Scripture presents us, re-examining all traditional beliefs purported to be true, and base our conclusions completely off of the Word of God.
One might lastly ask, well how will I know what He wants me to do in life if I don’t vocally hear from Him? To that I would respond with this thought. As long as your actions are in no way contrary to the Scripture, and are motivated by your Scriptural calling to glorify Him through your continual exhibiting of Godly character qualities, exhibiting good deeds for the need of the community, and advancing the cause of the Gospel, which I would suggest if you read through 2 Timothy and Titus that’s exactly what Paul was primarily instructing to those two individuals and in a broader sense to people in general to do with their lives, then you will be doing what God desires of you and desires of all followers of Christ.