What Does the Bible Say About Hearing Voices?

Hearing voices when no one else is speaking is a phenomenon that many people have experienced. In some cases, hearing voices can be part of mental illness. But in other cases, hearing voices is seen as a spiritual experience. What does the Bible have to say about hearing voices?


Hearing voices is a complex topic that is viewed differently depending on the context. In some cases, hearing voices is considered a symptom of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or psychosis. From a clinical perspective, hearing voices may require psychiatric treatment.

However, in spiritual contexts, hearing voices can have different meanings. Many biblical figures heard voices from God or angels. Even today, some Christians believe God may speak to them in an audible voice. Other Christians are more skeptical of audible voices and believe God speaks in other ways.

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This article will provide an overview of what the Bible says about hearing voices. Key topics include:

  • Old Testament examples of hearing God’s voice
  • New Testament examples and teachings
  • Hearing from angels and spirits
  • Warnings about false voices
  • How to discern whether a voice is from God
  • Modern controversies regarding hearing God’s voice

The goal is to understand what Scripture teaches about hearing voices and how Christians can evaluate such experiences today. This article takes an Evangelical and Charismatic perspective, giving special focus to the continuation of spiritual gifts.

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Old Testament Examples of Hearing God’s Voice

The Old Testament provides numerous examples of people hearing God speak in an audible voice. At times, God spoke directly to prophets and patriarchs. At other times, God’s voice came through angels, dreams, and visions.

God Spoke Audibly to Adam and Eve

After God created Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:8 says He walked in the Garden of Eden and spoke to them. This is one of the clearest examples of God’s audible voice conversing with people. Of course, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit. But this passage shows that hearing God’s voice audibly was part of their relationship with Him before the fall.

God Spoke Audibly to Noah

In Genesis 6, God chose to destroy the earth with a flood because of mankind’s wickedness. But Genesis 6:13 says “God said to Noah…” and proceeds to give Noah specific instructions to build the ark and prepare for the coming judgment. Genesis 7:1 also mentions that God spoke to Noah and commanded him to enter the ark with his family and the animals. Noah demonstrated obedience to God’s audible instructions, even though the request seemed bizarre at the time.

God Spoke Audibly to the Patriarchs

God also spoke audibly to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For example, Genesis 12:1 says “the LORD had said to Abram…” and proceeds to recount God’s promise to bless Abram and make him into a great nation. Genesis 26:2 and 35:1 also record God speaking audibly to Isaac and Jacob, continuing the pattern of divine-human communication through God’s voice.

God Spoke Audibly to Moses from the Burning Bush

One of the most famous examples of hearing God’s voice is Exodus 3 when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Exodus 3:4 says “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!'” This launched Moses into his assignment to lead Israel out of Egypt after hearing God’s voice.

God Spoke Audibly to Israelites from Mt. Sinai

According to Exodus 19, when the Israelites camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, God spoke audibly to them as a whole community. Exodus 19:19 describes God speaking from the mountain in a very loud voice, like a trumpet blast. The whole nation of Israel heard God’s voice give the 10 Commandments, along with many other laws. Hearing God’s audible voice was a communal experience, not just limited to prophets.

God Spoke Audibly to Prophets

Throughout Israel’s history, God commonly spoke to prophets by audible voice. For example 1 Samuel 3 recounts God speaking audibly to the prophet Samuel as a boy. 1 Kings 19 records God speaking to Elijah in a voice like a gentle whisper. Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, Ezekiel 1, and other prophetic books also describe instances of God speaking audibly to give visions and messages. Hearing God’s voice set prophets apart with divine authority.

New Testament Examples & Teachings

While examples of God’s audible voice are more common in the Old Testament, the New Testament also records instances of God and other spiritual voices speaking audibly. Jesus and the apostles taught that believers have the ability to hear from the Holy Spirit.

God the Father Spoke Audibly at Jesus’ Baptism & Transfiguration

All four Gospels describe God the Father speaking audibly from heaven at Jesus’ baptism saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). An audible voice from heaven also affirms Jesus during his transfiguration in Matthew 17:5. These key events at the beginning and turning point of Jesus’ ministry involve the Father speaking audibly.

Saul (Paul) Heard Jesus Speak Audibly on the Damascus Road

The conversion story of the apostle Paul (then called Saul) involves hearing Jesus Christ speak audibly from heaven. Acts 9:4 describes a voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And when Saul asked who was speaking, the reply was “I am Jesus…” This experience convinced Paul of Jesus’ resurrection and radically transformed his life.

Peter Heard an Audible Voice Before Evangelizing Gentiles

Acts 10 records the apostle Peter receiving a vision of animals being lowered from heaven while hearing an audible voice. The voice told Peter to “kill and eat” the animals, some of which were unclean under Jewish law. When Peter protested, the voice audibly responded, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This prepared Peter to share the Gospel with the Gentile Cornelius, expanding the church’s ministry.

The Holy Spirit Spoke Audibly at Jesus’ Baptism & to Paul

All four Gospels indicate that after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son…” (Matthew 3:16-17). Though not stated expressly, it is implied that the audible voice came from the Holy Spirit, who had just descended visibly.

Likewise, in Acts 13:2, while prophets and teachers were worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke audibly to tell them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” As part of commissioning Paul’s missionary work, the Holy Spirit spoke audibly.

Jesus Said Believers Would Hear the Holy Spirit’s Voice

Jesus made some remarkable statements indicating believers can hear the Holy Spirit’s voice. John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Since Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be present with believers, this implies listening to the Spirit’s voice.

Even more directly, in John 16:13, Jesus taught that when the Spirit of truth comes, “He will speak; He will bring glory to me, because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would continue communicating what He hears from the Son and Father. This assumes the Spirit communicates by an audible voice believers can hear.

Apostles Taught About Hearing the Holy Spirit’s Voice

The apostles instructed first-century believers to listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice. In Revelation 2-3, the risen Christ dictates letters to seven churches stating, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” This demonstrates an expectation that the Holy Spirit would continue speaking audibly to believers collectively after Christ’s ascension.

1 Corinthians 14, which discusses the gifts of tongues and prophecy, quotes Isaiah 28:11 about speaking in tongues saying: “This is what the Holy Spirit says…” Paul goes on to give regulations for how to listen and respond to the Spirit’s voice in worship gatherings. The consistent assumption is that the Spirit speaks an audible message believers can hear and obey.

Hearing from Angels & Spirits

In addition to hearing God and the Holy Spirit’s voice, the Bible has examples of spiritual beings like angels also communicating audibly. But evil spirits speaking is also mentioned as a warning.

Angels Spoke Audibly to Give Divine Messages

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, angels spoke audibly to give God’s messages to people. Genesis 16 recounts an angel finding Hagar and telling her audibly to return and submit to Sarah. Judges 6 says an angel spoke audibly to Gideon, calling him a “mighty warrior.” In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel spoke audibly first to Zechariah and then to Mary to announce the births of John and Jesus. Acts 10 also describes an angel speaking audibly to Cornelius, telling him to send for Peter. These are just a few examples of angels speaking audibly to deliver divine revelations.

Evil Spirits Spoke Audibly to Jesus

The Gospels record instances of demons speaking audibly when Jesus confronted and commanded them. In Mark 1:23-24, a man in the Capernaum synagogue had an impure spirit who screamed, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Other examples include the Gerasene demoniac’s evil spirits speaking audibly to Jesus in Mark 5:7-9. While these voices were not from God, they do show that evil spirits can speak audibly.

Saul Heard a Spirit Speak Through the Witch of Endor

One of the most debated passages is when Saul secretly consulted with a medium, the witch of Endor, to summon the deceased prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 28. When Samuel appeared, “Samuel said to Saul…” and proceeded to pronounce judgment on Saul for consulting a medium which God had forbidden (1 Samuel 28:16-19). Some believe this spirit claiming to be Samuel was really a demon. But others think God allowed Samuel to genuinely speak. Either way, this shows that human and spiritual voices can be heard from the spirit realm.

John Heard Audible Voices Coming from Heaven

The book of Revelation contains some dramatic examples of John hearing audible voices from heaven. Revelation 4:1 mentions hearing a trumpet-sounding voice inviting him to ascend to heaven. Revelation 10:8 describes hearing an audible voice from heaven telling John to take and eat the scroll. Revelation 14:13 has John hearing a voice from heaven giving a blessing. The identity of the speaker is not always clear, but these passages demonstrate that humans can hear audible voices from the spiritual realm according to Scripture.

Warnings About False Voices

While examples pervade the Bible of godly voices speaking audibly, there are also warnings against false voices. Scripture makes clear that not every spiritual voice is necessarily from God or a trustworthy source.

Moses Warns Against Following Lying Prophets

In Deuteronomy 13, Moses gives a stern warning not to follow false prophets who may perform miraculous signs or make predictions that come true. Even if they seem to speak words that are fulfilled, God may be testing people’s allegiance. Verse 3 says regarding these false prophets: “Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.” Discerning whether a voice is speaking God’s truth is essential.

Jesus Warns of Deceptive Miracles from False Messiahs

During His Olivet Discourse on end times events, Jesus said many messianic pretenders would come claiming to be Him. In Matthew 24:24, he said they could perform great signs and wonders to deceive people. But believers should not listen to voices urging them to follow false christs and prophets. Similarly, 1 John 4:1 warns, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”

Paul Warns Against Deceitful Spirits

Paul repeatedly warns against being deceived by the voice of false or lying spirits. 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Believers must test whether an audible voice aligns with Scripture and apostolic teaching.

2 Thessalonians 2:9 also warns that the coming lawless one will display counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders with all kinds of evil deception. Paul says God may allow this to test people’s love of the truth and whether they will listen to deceitful voices. This underscores the importance of careful spiritual discernment with hearing voices.

Discerning Between the Holy Spirit and an Evil Spirit

1 John 4:6 draws an important distinction: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” Listening to apostolic teaching is crucial for discerning whether an audible voice comes from God’s Spirit or an evil spirit. The rule is that the Holy Spirit will always lead people to obey Christ and Scripture.

How to Discern if a Voice is From God

Given the prevalence of voices in the Bible and the warnings about false voices, how can Christians discern today when an audible voice is truly coming from the Holy Spirit versus a lying spirit? Biblical principles provide guidance.

Test it Against Scripture

Any voice instructing something contrary to the Bible is clearly not from God. The Holy Spirit never contradicts His own inspired Word. If a voice promotes false teaching or immoral behavior condemned in Scripture, Christians should reject it (1 John 4:1). But if a voice amplifies biblical commands and wisdom, it is more likely from God.

Consider the Fruit in Someone’s Life

Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-20 that false prophets could be identified by their bad fruit. This includes sinful behavior or bondage. If hearing audible voices is associated with mental illness, ungodly behavior, or turmoil, extreme caution is needed. On the other hand, if it produces faith, freedom, peace, and righteousness, it more likely comes from the Holy Spirit who produces good fruit in peoples’ lives.

Listen to Wise Counsel

Proverbs warns against isolating ourselves and emphasizes the wisdom of godly counselors. Rather than automatically assuming an audible voice is from God, it can be helpful to seek perspective from pastors, therapists, or other Christians. Does the audible voice line up with their insights? The testimony of two or three witnesses can help confirm the source (2 Corinthians 13:1).

Consider Timing & Circumstances

Does the audible voice provide specific guidance that proves true and comes to pass? Does it give instructions that are helpful and make sense in the timing and context of a situation? Does the voice awaken faith and provide practical direction that moves us forward? Or does it breed confusion, fear, or stagnation? These questions can reveal if an audible word fits with God’s character and works for good.

Test Any Predictions that are Made

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 gives this test for prophets: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” Likewise, we can observe if instructions or predictions conveyed by an audible voice actually happen to assess their accuracy.

Modern Controversies Regarding Hearing God’s Voice

Among Christians today, hearing God’s audible voice is controversial. Views differ between cessationists who believe certain gifts like prophecy ceased and continuationists who believe all spiritual gifts continue. Opinions also vary on whether God still speaks audibly like He did in biblical times.

Cessationist View

From a cessationist perspective, hearing God’s audible voice and receiving direct revelations was unique to the New Testament era when the apostolic foundation of the church was being established. God speaking audibly, along with gifts like prophecy, were needed in the early church before the canon of Scripture was completed. But now that we have the full written Word of God, direct revelation has ceased. God still speaks today, but primarily through Scripture rather than new audible words.

Continuationist View

Continuationists point to verses like Hebrews 13:8 that Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” So if God spoke audibly in the past, He can still do so today if He chooses. Biblical spiritual gifts are believed to be normative and needed to mature the church until Christ returns (Ephesians 4:13-14). Within this perspective, God can still give personal and corporate words of wisdom, prophecy, and insight through the Holy Spirit’s audible voice if it aligns with Scripture. This view still emphasizes weighing prophecy and hearing voices with biblical discernment.

Balancing Cautious Openness With Healthy Skepticism

Most charismatic Christians advocate pursuing the gift of prophecy while also testing prophecies and audible words very carefully. There should be openness to the possibility that God might speak an audible, specific word that provides guidance and encouragement. But there must also be strong accountability and spiritual discernment to ensure such words are truly from the Holy Spirit and consistent with Scripture. Christians are called to be innocent as doves but wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).

Conclusion & Key Takeaways

In summary, here are some key takeaways from surveying what the Bible says about hearing voices:

  • God frequently spoke audibly in the Old Testament, especially with prophets and patriarchs. Examples pervade the Pentateuch, prophets, and historical books.
  • The New Testament records God the Father and Jesus speaking audibly from heaven, along with the Holy Spirit speaking at Jesus’ baptism and to the early church.
  • Jesus taught believers can hear the Holy Spirit’s voice. The apostles instructed the church to listen to the Spirit’s voice collectively.
  • Angels spoke audibly on important occasions to give God’s messages and revelation, along with evil spirits vocalizing when Jesus confronted them.
  • Warnings pervade both testaments about false voices from deceitful spirits who perform miracles or make true predictions. Discernment is crucial.
  • Biblical principles emphasize testing audible words against Scripture, looking for good fruit, seeking wise counsel, and observing if they come to pass.
  • Views differ on whether God still speaks audibly today like He did in the Bible, with cessationists skeptical and continuationists more open. Most charismatics advocate pursuing prophecy while carefully testing the words.
  • Christians should have balanced, cautious openness to hearing God’s audible voice and commitment to biblical spiritual discernment and accountability. The Bible shows God spoke audibly on key occasions, though not daily or constantly.
  • Hearing God’s voice should be anchored in Scripture, producing good fruit, confirmed by others, aligned with circumstances, and resulting in blessings not bondage. Any words that contradict Scripture or lead to sin and confusion are false.
  • With wisdom and discernment, Christians can evaluate audible words biblically and obey those that truly come from the Holy Spirit, while rejecting voices of deception and darkness. This allows experiencing the blessings of hearing God while avoiding dangers of deception.

In conclusion, the Bible provides much instruction that can guide believers today regarding the complex issue of hearing voices. While supernatural hearing experiences do happen, healthy caution and vigilance is needed to test the spirits and confirm God’s true voice. The goal is living in wisdom, intimacy with God, and freedom from deception.

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