I love coining new words. Especially when they have some logical familiarity to them.
Today’s new word, albeit hyphenated, is “para-biblical”, and it arose from the debate between those who believe that all of God’s words to us, his children, are found in the Bible, and those who believe that he still speaks specifically and personally, apart from Scripture. Granted, the typical descriptive phrase for the latter, “extra-biblical revelation”, is accurate enough. But it seems to imply that God is adding things on top of the Bible that can compete with it for authority. I don’t think most Christians believe in this kind of revelation.
A para-church organization is one which comes alongside the Church to complement its ministry. It often does things that the Church, for one reason or another, cannot do. However, if it is contradicting, undercutting, or competing with the Church’s mission, it is not para-church; it is really more anti-church.
It is this same semantic logic that brings me to the phrase “para-biblical revelation”. God does indeed share his thoughts with us, and quite often they are not verbatim quotes of ancient Scripture. But, if they are God’s words, they will most certainly be para-biblical, in that they will come alongside Scripture, supporting it and fleshing it out in our lives.
Here’s a good example: Suppose you’re reading Jesus’ commandment that “if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Then you feel God telling you that you should forget about the $1000 your friend cheated you out of last year, and on top of that you should offer to help him with his current money problems. Well, there’s nothing in the Bible about that $1000, is there? But in this situation it would appear that the Holy Spirit is giving you a personal revelation about how specifically to apply Scripture to your life, and if you don’t do it, you are guilty of sin. I also believe that para-biblical revelation can occur when you’re not actually reading the Bible, and even when you may not know exactly how the Bible supports what you’ve heard (although it’s important to find out.)
We need to get honest with ourselves and admit that the Bible cannot do everything. If anyone says that it can, just go look at their bookshelf, and see if they don’t read what other people write about the Bible. Or follow them to church and see if they don’t listen to a preacher’s interpretations. Why would an author or preacher have anything at all valid to write or proclaim about the Bible, unless they could hear God’s voice speaking para-biblical words to them? Even a Bible teacher who says that God doesn’t speak to us para-biblically is not teaching authoritatively, because such a claim is not found in the biblical text.
Does that mean there is a single commentary, sermon, or lecture that we should regard as “God-breathed”? Of course not. Although other people’s personal revelations can be very helpful to us, they are limited by nature.
But your own personal revelation… ah, this is where you might have to rethink what you’ve been taught. As important as it is to filter everything you think you hear God telling you through Scripture, how would you even know to do that?
Who convinced you that the Bible is authoritative?
Who do you pray to in order to understand it better?
Who did Jesus send to “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13)?
The answer is easy: the Holy Spirit. And this brings us to the primary danger of proclaiming the solidarity of the Bible… it supplants the Holy Spirit, and results in pure idolatry.
Many, many Christians are guilty of worshipping the Bible. And much of this is the consequence of fearing the idea of personal revelation. That is one reason why I think a term like para-biblical revelation is so imporant… it is not quite so scary to those (like myself) who have a high view of the authority of Scripture.
Because the goal, we must not forget, is God. Everything we do and say in relationship to the Bible must be done with our eyes on him, remembering that HE is the only ultimate authority, and knowing the Bible is useless if it does not lead to knowing HIM.
A few Sundays ago I led a discussion about Doctrine, and how we arrive at it. I defined Doctrine simply as our connection to God by way of his truth, and I mapped out the way I believe mature Christ-followers should come to their conclusions. Namely, that our Divine Encounters, Wise Counsel, and Prayers should submit to Scripture, which the Holy Spirit reveals to us through Personal Revelation in order to form our Doctrine. We are also influenced by the World through Culture, Observation, Experience and Logic, which we should then be careful to submit to the Holy Spirit’s influence before making our doctrinal conclusions.
I have arranged these influencing factors from top to bottom in order of reliability and authority. Although this is the order I believe they should have for a mature believer, I recognize that they cannot operate in this order for a newish believer, since their skill with Scripture and Prayer have not yet developed (just like how the list on the right tends to be upside-down for children, and ideally will turn right-side-up as they grow.) But I think the following diagram should represent the goal for us as we develop in our walk with Christ, and our connection with the Holy Spirit.