Every human being at some point or another in their lifetime has experienced a dream. Some people can vividly remember their dreams while others recall very few details.
While many people put no stock in these “night visions,” there are others who place great weight on their dreams, and they believe that God is always speaking to them in this capacity.
These dreams are viewed as significant communication that is not to be ignored or dismissed. Individuals may even devote time to interpreting the hidden meanings in dreams by way of resources claiming to decode symbols, colors, numbers, etc.
However, a biblical approach is strongly warranted with any experience, including dreams, and we must observe things such as examples found in Scripture, the occurrence and frequency of dreams in Scripture, contextual application of the dreams, and what the Word of God says about prescribing commonality for such experiences in the life of a Christian.
Who Had Dreams in the Bible?
Throughout Scripture, examples of prophetic dreams can be found both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. We read of various individuals from different social statuses having such dreams.
We see common people having prophetic dreams, such as Jacob who dreamed of a ladder and angels descending and ascending in Genesis 28:12. An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream concerning Jesus as the son who would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20).
Joseph also had a dream concerning both the flight to Egypt and the return to Nazareth in avoiding Herod’s plan of murder (Matthew 2:12,13).
Pharaoh was not the only pagan ruler to have a prophetic dream. King Nebuchadnezzar was also given two distinct dreams requiring interpretation from Daniel (Daniel 2,4). King Abimelech had God come to him in a dream, warning him of taking Sarah for himself (Genesis 20:3,6).
A Midianite soldier was given a dream of an impending defeat by the hand of Gideon (Judges 7:13,15), and in Matthew 27:19, Pilate’s wife sent word to Pilate saying, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
There were kings and prophets who served the Lord and were given dreams. The Lord appeared to King Solomon in a dream and asked him what He should give to him.
False prophets are mentioned several times in Scripture as talking about their dreams, which led the people away from God.
Deuteronomy 13 provided awareness and a warning for the people of Israel to not listen to a prophet or a dreamer of dreams whose word or dream came to pass but instructed them to go after other gods. God spoke through Jeremiah concerning false prophets relying on their dreams saying,
“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell on another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship” (Jeremiah 23:25-27).
In his warning to fellow believers concerning false teachers, Jude mentions that these individuals rely on their dreams (Jude 8).
The fact that we find warnings in Scripture concerning those who will deceive others with dreams and visions should give us pause.
Even with those who did not know the Lord yet were given true prophetic dreams, it should be noted that the presence of prophetic dreams did not equate to God’s approval upon the life of that individual.
God used the person and the dream for His glory and to display His omnipotence and His omniscience.
Young Men with Visions, Old Men with Dreams
There is a passage of Scripture, which is mentioned by some to support the occurrence of prophetic dreams today. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter ministers to the people as to what is taking place.
He references Joel 2:28 saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
Peter goes on to tell of wonders in the heavens and signs in the earth taking place, which we can see from Scripture correlates with the Day of the Lord, and there is no record of these signs mentioned fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
When reflecting on this particular verse in Acts, it is interesting to note that there is little mention of the occurrence of dreams in the early church coinciding with this verse.
Other than the account in Acts 16:9 of Paul’s night vision of the Macedonian man urging Paul to come and help them, there are no other New Testament passages mentioning the occurrence of dreams.
What Does This Mean?
Numerous passages have been referenced to show the presence of prophetic dreams in Scripture. However, when looking at their frequency and occurrence, it can be noted that they were uncommon, contrary to some modern teaching.
When dreams were given by God, one of two things happened. Either the dream required no interpretation and was easily understood by the recipient of the dream, or an interpretation was required.
Both Joseph and Daniel interpreted such dreams without a formula or a special dictionary based on man’s interpretation. Rather, they both made it clear that the interpretation came directly from God who gave the wisdom for such understanding (Genesis 41:16; Daniel 2:28).
No prophetic dream from God resulted in confusion or a lack of understanding. When God gave dreams, they were purposeful and specific, leaving no room for various meaning or ambiguity.
Furthermore, it would be beneficial to note that though dreams were given on occasion to particular individuals, the descriptions of those accounts do not equate to being prescriptive in our lives as believers in Christ. We are not instructed to seek such experiences in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
In Jim Osman’s book, God Doesn’t Whisper, he addresses the topic of prophetic dreams, stating that Paul did not instruct Timothy to depend on such things as dreams and extra-biblical revelation. Rather, Paul told Timothy to depend upon Scripture.
According to one writer, “It would be impossible to say definitively whether or not God gives prophetic dreams to people today,” however, they also take the stance that the Word of God is the standard for truth, and we are to seek wisdom in all matters (James 1:5).
The author of Hebrews stated, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1,2).
Dreams and experiences are not the final authority. This authority belongs to the Word of God and to God Himself.
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Dawn Hill is a Christian blogger known as The Lovesick Scribe and the host of The Lovesick Scribe Podcast. She is passionate about sharing the truth and pointing others back to Jesus Christ through the written Word as the standard of authority for Christian living and instruction while being led by the Holy Spirit into maturity. She is the author of NonProphet Woke: The Reformation of a Modern-Day Disciple. She is a wife to Nicholas and a mother to Anabel and Ephraim. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.