In my last post, I opened up my discussion on how we read the book of Revelation with a personal anecdote of how we bring presuppositions into reading the Bible. The specific example I used was a belief that I had for many years, which is that God gave Christians the ability speak things into existence and are required to do so. You can read here on how that unraveled for me just by reading one verse in its proper context. Romans 4:17 – calling things that be not as though they were.
It is so painfully obvious that Paul is not saying Abraham was to call those things that be not as though they were. Paul is saying that Abraham’s faith is being credited to him for righteousness because of his belief in the God who calls those things that be not as though they were. In other words, it is God and God alone who can speak anything into existence. You cannot possibly derive that we are called to speaking things into existence from this passage.
So why did I believe for so many years that this passage supported the notion of speaking things into existence even though I had read this book many times? I’ll tell you why. It is because this concept has been so pervasive in a strain of evangelicalism that it gets read into the biblical text. It is because the concept has been so popularized and regurgitated that it has become like a major doctrine in some parts.
If you believe that God has given his creatures this ability, that our words somehow contain power to create conditions in circumstances and that God only moves according to this power, please keep reading. I want to challenge you on the biblical narrative itself.
When I say biblical narrative, it is looking at the 66 books of the Bible as a complete story, from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation. It is important to look at this narrative because in it, God reveals who he is and what he requires of his people. The narrative speaks of redemption of his creation from beginning to end, through the centrality of Christ in whom redemption is obtained. As Jesus spoke in Luke 24:27, all Scripture is about him. The events of the Old Testament merely foreshadowed what he would ultimately accomplished.
Through this narrative God spoke, as the writer of Hebrews tells
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Heb. 1:1-2)
In his speaking in the Old Testament, he used the events of creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, prophets and the Law. Why is this important in looking at whether we can speak things into existence? Because as God acted, we can see what he instructs and what he expects. If there is an expectation that our words contain faith power that change circumstances, we would see that show up in the narrative.
So starting with Adam, we see that he created man and woman in his image (Gen. 1:27). Now creation in his image does have a multi-facet concept but it helps to keep in mind that God is separate from his creatures. As one 20th century theologian put it, “He is wholly other.” There are certain attributes that we do not and cannot share with him.
Yet, he gave his creatures the ability and authority to take dominion over his creation. Does that mean speaking things into existence? No, the command was to be fruitful and multiply. It was through man’s activities that he accomplishes this. Even though the Fall inhibited and injured this image and ability, God still moved towards his creation and interacts with his creatures, with the requirement that they respond to him.
Through Noah, God demonstrates his ability to both judge and redeem. At no time, does Noah speak anything into existence but acts in obedience through belief in God’s promise.
In Genesis 12, we see God call out Abraham and give him a promise, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing ” (Gen. 12:2). Of course, jumping ahead to Gal. 3:16-18, it is significant to note that the seed is Christ through whom our spiritual blessings flow. Given the prominence of God’s demonstrating his character and promise through Abraham, you would think that he has the ability to speak things into existence. But nowhere through Abraham’s life do we see this. Instead, we see how he moves in faith, sometimes stumbling along the way, but still holding on to God’s promises.
Nor do we see any inclination of Isaac and Jacob that God requires them to speak anything into existence. Rather, he continues to build on his promise to Abraham rooted in the redemption he wanted from man’s fall in Genesis 3.
In Moses, we see another key figure that God used to communicate to his creation of his plan and will. Through Moses, God delivered his commands and ethical requirements to his people. And guess what? Moses, who met with God in the burning bush and on top of the mountain, at no time spoke anything into existence, not even in parting the red sea. The sea parted because it was God who said he would deliver his people and he alone was responsible for making it happen. Moses merely complied with his actions of lifting up the rod.
We do however, see one instance of a central figure in Israel’s history speaking to something as if the power of his words can change something. In Joshua 10:12, we see Joshua speaking to the sun in the eyes of all Israel when God said he was delivering the Amorites into the hands of the sons of Israel.
‘Sun stand still at Gibeon, and moon, the Valley of Aijalon.’ And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vegeance on their enemies.
Who really stopped the sun and moon but for the one who spoke the worlds into existence? But also observe the text continues, “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of man, for the Lord fought for Israel.” (vs 14).So in the one instance that you have a key figure with the ability to speak over circumstances, God said this will be no more. Not only that, it’s important to put this instance in the overarching narrative of redemption that God was accomplishing for his people. How is it then, that this concept can be construed as something we should do?
As the nation of Israel forms and gets a king, David receives a promise that through his lineage would come eternal kingship (that is Jesus btw). But there is no evidence of him speaking anything into existence. In fact, none of the kings do.
You would think if there was the ability for words to contain power to change circumstances, it would reside with the prophets who spoke for God; they were God’s mouthpiece. And surely their words brought both comfort and warning to Israel. The judgment that God rendered on Israel was not because the prophets words contained some kind of magical properties but because God himself orchestrated circumstances against his own people. But he wasn’t done.
For we see all the Old Testament activity culminate with the one in whom God would fulfill his promises – Jesus the Christ, who fully reveals the Father’s mind, will and intent, whose words are God’s very own words and speaks according to what God commands. He spoke to people according to what they understood to demonstrate to them that he was the one who would accomplish the promise made to Abraham, fulfill the law given to Moses, reign as the eternal king according to the promise given to David and be the mediator to the new covenant that Jeremiah spoke of. He would be the one that would now do what the previous administration was incapable of doing in order to fully provide redemption and forgiveness of sins for God’s chosen people.
In that language he uses hyperbole, such as in Mark 11:24 when he commands his disciples to speak to the mountains. Does that mean he is giving a blanket prescription that our words contain power? No. He often used hyperbole to emphasize a point, such as when he said if your eye offends you, pluck it out (Matt. 5:29) Certainly, we don’t take that to mean we need to engage in eye gauging. Rather, the idea of words and faith were all about trusting in him as the Messiah and the one who would bring right relation with God.
Where does he tell his disciples that they are to speak things into existence? We don’t see this in his earthly ministry. His post resurrection instructions to his disciples were to make disciples and be his witnesses (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). It is through their foundation, built on his cornerstone (ala Eph 2:19-20), that he builds his church, the instrument through which his kingship and priestly sacrifice is recognized and honored.
And the instructions found in New Testament epistles nowhere indicates that God’s people have the ability to speak things into existence. Not Paul. Not James. Not Peter. Just like the Old Testament saints, it is their actions of obedience based on faith in the promises that fuel change circumstances because it is God who ultimately changes them.
So given this trajectory of God’s redemptive historical narrative, how can we persist believing that our words alone have power to change circumstances? We cannot and should not! Because not only is this concept not espoused in Scripture, it is not even consistent with a Christian world view. It is a new age, anti-Christian belief that has wormed it’s way into bowels of certain sectors of Christianity and has undermined what our words are actually used for, what faith in Christ actually means and what actually changes circumstances.
Yes, our words have power in terms of the impact they can have on the hearer. That’s why James says in 3:5-10, that our words can bring blessings or cursings, which is recapitulation of Proverbs 18:21. This does not mean that there is something magical in the words but that we can bring harm with our words to others or we can build others up through them. We choose our words carefully, not because their is something magical in the power of words themselves but out of love for God and neighbor. That’s the power of our words.
How I wish that this dastardly, unbiblical and un-Christian concept of words containing power would be banished from the face of Christianity and never spoken again in any Christian circle.