The Need for an Interpreter

God has revealed himself in many ways throughout history. The Bible records many channels of God's self-revelation, such as nature, the image of God in man, direct and audible revelation, God's people, the Bible, and Jesus Christ Himself. In addition, God has revealed himself through mighty acts, both providential and miraculous. Each of these channels faces limitations from a human perspective, as you might expect when an infinite God reveals himself through finite means.

In these days, there is much emphasis placed on God's mighty acts. "Signs and wonders" are seen as proof positive that God is working in a specific assembly or that an individual has been "baptized with the Holy Spirit." However, there is one question that is regularly left unanswered: how does one know that these happenings are signs from God? And how does one know what message from God these signs are meant to communicate?

The answer could be one of any number of possibilities: some might say they "just know" while others might point to some sort of continuity with Jesus and the apostle's ministry in the New Testament. But the problem remains: without an authoritative interpreter from God, the mighty act would go unnoticed or be misinterpreted.

Take for example, the voice from heaven in John 12: Jesus said, "Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him" (John 12:28–29). Notice what happened here: God revealed himself through a mighty act, a miraculous voice from heaven that communicated the authenticity of Jesus as the Son of God. However, while the disciples heard and understood the voice (as evidenced by John's authoritative interpretation of the event), the people standing around misinterpreted God's mighty act. Some thought it was the voice of an angel. Others looked up at the sky wondering why there was a sudden rumble of thunder. The powerful self-revelation of God was lost because of their misinterpretation.

Therefore, when one claims that God has revealed himself in a mighty act, he presumes to act as authoritative interpreter of God's revelation. Along the same lines, those who claim that God is speaking to them through circumstances (God's providential working) also place themselves as authoritative interpreters of God's revelation. It seems that taking this upon oneself is rather presumptuous. I am convinced that biblical prophets were aware that God was speaking through them and thus prophesied with boldness and confidence; can those who claim to experience God's mighty acts speak with the same confidence? By what do they presume to do so?