Rhema and Word-Faith: An Analysis

This article looks at a belief within the Word-Faith movement concerning the word rhema. Apologetics Index sums up what it is all about thusly:

One of two Greek words in the New Testament which refer to the "Word of God." The other is logos. Though the Bible uses the two words interchangeably, in Word-Faith theology, rhema is said to be the "spoken Word of God," while logos is considered the "written Word of God." This doctrine has been adopted by renewal and revival movements such as the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Outpouring. In this doctrine, Rhema is used for extra-Biblical revelation, such as "words of knowledge," or "prophecies."

On the surface little needs to be said about this subject. It is clear that the Word-Faith movement has simply started with a legitimate dichotomy (spoken vs. written word) and created out of whole cloth additional dichotomies to attach to each; in this case, the idea that "spoken" revelation is in effect now, written revelation is not.

Practically speaking, it does not matter if this is even true, since the epistemic value of any revelation (or any claim) must still be evaluated regardless of the source. Simply because Rhema advocates say they have revelation means exactly nothing. (In this regard I am reminded of a friend of mine with a charismatic background who, when told by such people that they have a "word from the Lord" for him, asks them first for a "password" he is thinking of.)

As can be seen by this description from a promoting site, the doctrine itself is little more than arbitary:

Rhema is the spoken word of God. Strong's concordance says that rhema is "that which is or has been uttered by the living voice." Rhema carries a spiritual connotation that differentiates it from logos. It also bears application to the specific context of our lives. For example, we may be wrestling with an issue in our life and during our quiet time we read a verse that "speaks" directly to the situation we are dealing with. That portion of the scripture becomes a "Rhema word" from God for us regarding our situation. We can then stand in faith on the Rhema God has given us and confess it whenever the devil tries to attack us.

Of course we have no way of telling if this "rhema word" is any better at all than the Mormon internal witness -- other than by epistemic means that make the revelatory aspect of no relevance. Scriptural validation of this practice is almost non-existent. The promoting site offers these:

The Sword of the Spirit: Rhema is the Greek word used in the Sword of the Spirit passage (Ephesians 6:17 - "..the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God"). Therefore, we use the Sword of the Spirit by: 1) Standing in faith on the word God has given us for our particular situation and confessing it in the face of the enemy's attacks and/or 2) Speaking or singing scriptures (logos) that apply to the situation we are facing.

There is nothing here to suggest in the least that the sword of the Spirit is associated with continued revelation. Commetators like O'Brien [482] note that rhema is interchangeable with logos ; the likely reason for the use of rhema is that most of Paul's audience is illiterate (the letter would have to be read to them), at least 90% of them; thus for the vast majority, hearing and transmission of the Gospel will be by spoken means. There is nothing here to suggest that the rhema will be like some sort of special communication from which we can (or will) receive personal messages.

The site ties this together thusly:

From the very beginning, God has spoken words that have powerfully influenced everything that exists. For example, God created the heavens and earth by speaking them into existence! The Bible says, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the *word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Hebrews 11:3 NASB, *rhema). Since God created us in his likeness, we too have the ability to release power through speech. For example, our words can bring life and death (Proverbs 18:21). They can build people up or tear them down (James 3).

None of this tells us that we, like God, have effectual power to do things like create universes with mere words. Proverbs and James refer to moral effects of words, but that is hardly any sort of supernatural effect.

The site goes on to note examples of scripture and the gospel message being spoken, and this would indeed be in line with a proper understanding of the matter. Another site, aligned with the doctrines of William Branham, in a rather long treatment of the subject likewise correctly connects rhema with preaching and Scripture, and after offering a mix of what is marginally sound natural theology, odd ideas (e.g., about the Great Pyramid being built by Enoch before the Flood) and anecdote, offers this paradigmatic statement:

Revelation 22:18-19 says we cannot add or take away one Word from Scripture - the "word" here is Logos. You cannot add a single thought, because the Bible is the complete revelation of Jesus Christ. You can add one Rhema or utterance: there are many words written in italics to indicate they are not in the original, and have been added to make grammatical sense. Words are sometimes added because there's no English equivalent. The Bible is God's thoughts, or Logos, expressed in writing (Rhema;) and although the various translations use different words we cannot add one Logos. Unless the Holy Ghost reveals it personally, we can never get the Logos in the first place.

In one sense this point is valid, since indeed (as the Bible records) there were unwritten revelations given to prophets in the church. But we are still at Square One and no better off than the Mormons without epistemic tests (such as Deuteronomy clearly teaches), and the author never gets beyond simple begging of the question when citing his litany of texts in support (eg, Jesus said, "My sheep hear my Voice.").

The author claims one such revelation in modern times is the rapture doctrine (I disagree in any event) but why we ought to accept his Rhema over a Mormon burning bosom is never explained. Nothing is offered but implied consequences for not believing ("Preaching in the negative destroys faith.") that beg the question of authority, and non-answers like this:

Then people stop and say, "Wait a minute, who IS right? They're either all wrong, or one is right and the others are wrong. How do I know who's right and who's wrong?" And how do you know if what I am saying is right? You can't know unless the Lord shows you.
There are so many different ideas; so many have the Rhema without the Logos - the letter without the Spirit. Many were in Brother Branham's meetings, but only the elect heard it right. Brother Branham did not have a formal education. But although his grammar may have been limited, the elect heard God's Logos. God was not restricted by his choice of words. Education is an accumulation of knowledge without faith.

In short, this is a logical circle: We know who is right because he has the Rhema; we know who has the Rhema because they are right. And thus indeed is the path made open to dismiss contrary evidence (note the disdain of education) and commit to self-deception.

The author goes on to reject (well enough) that "signs and wonders" are not sufficient to validate the truth; his one validation is, thankfully, acceptable within the parameters of the Christian paradigm: The Bible itself can be a validator. Unfortunately, since the author apparently believes that Branham had the Bible interpreted correctly (!) the line of epistemic checking ends here. Further comments make it clear that the epistemic center of the circle rests rather in subjectivity of experience:

Brother, the Bride of Christ will not be deceived. She hears His Logos and knows how to apply the Urim and Thummim, or Word, proving everything that is preached from Genesis to Revelation, which is the complete revelation of Jesus Christ. If it's in the Word It was always there: we must not add one idea, thought, or concept to what lies within its pages.

But how do we know Branham did not "add" his own ideas and interpretations? No answer to this is offered -- probably because none was thought necessary.

In the end, it is clear that thr Rhema teaching is no epistemically better indeed than the Mormon "burning in the bosom".