The ancient Greeks, and the Romans, were both very superstitious and religious. One of their many ways of divination, i.e., ways to find the will of the Gods, was through consulting special intuitive persons at some twenty religious sanctuaries throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. These "diviners" were called "oracles," and were the mediums through whom a God transmitted revelations and oracles (as the sayings of a God were called). The most famous of these religious sanctuaries was Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. People, from kings to paupers, came from all over the ancient world to Delphi to consult the Pythian oracle, prophetess of the God Apollo, one of the sons of Zeus. She would receive her revelations while being possessed by the God in a cave located under the Temple of Apollo, whose ruins still exist, and she would communicate them to those inquiring of the God as sayings of the God (compare Acts 16:16-18: where a young girl is described as possessed by a "Pythian spirit").
In the latter part of the first century and early second century A.D., a philosopher and literary figure, Plutarch, who was a priest at Delphi, wrote an essay explaining why many oracular centers in Greece had ceased to function ("Obsolescence of Oracles"). In other words a customary practice of ancient Greek religion was dying out.
In the first third of the first century after the death of Jesus (around 30) certain followers of the Christ were also believed to be prophets (see Didache 11:3-13:7; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 29); they were moved by the Spirit to utter "the Word of the Lord" to their contemporaries, just as was done by the oracles in the religious sanctuaries of ancient Greece and Rome. One of these early Christian Prophets was the author of Matthew's Gospel, who channeled a saying of the crucified and resurrected Christ (Matt 28:18-20).
But perhaps more interesting is the claim of the apostle Paul that he himself, like the Pythia at Delphi, possessed the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 7:40), and said that Christ spoke through him (2 Corinthians 13:3). Hence he was able to channel sayings (or oracles) of the deity, as the Pythia and the early Christian prophet Matthew had done. Here is a clear instance of Paul claiming to be privy to "an abundance of revelations," channeling a saying of the Lord:
And to keep me from being puffed up with pride by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too puffed up. Three times I begged the Lord about this that it should leave me; but he said to me "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; see also 12:1).
Further Paul claims that the gospel he preached was not something he learned from others or something he came up with on his own, but rather that it came to him directly "through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). He even claimed that he was directed "by revelation" to do certain things (Galatians 2:2), and on occasion he "would speak a revelation" to the assembly of saints (1 Corinthians 14:6). He was not that special in this regard, however, for there were others in the gatherings of saints who also were believed to utter divine revelations to those assembled (1 Corinthians 14:26; for the divine gifts in the Pauline assemblies see also 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). These spiritual abilities were not given to everyone, but only to certain individuals (1 Corinthians 12:28-30). Paul used the same word to describe the revelations he received from the deity as the word he used to describe the authoritative prophetic writings of the Jewish Scriptures (Romans 16:25-27). In other words his revelations were as authoritative as the Scriptures.
To Judge by the experience of John, oracular utterances are received while the oracle is possessed by the spirit in a state of spiritual ecstasy (Revelation 1:9-20); that is, while the oracle is in a state of rapturous delight and beyond reason and self control. There are still ecstatic churches today for which public utterances of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) are believed to be revelations from God. Like the ancient oracle, the individual is thought possessed by the deity when bringing a revelation to the assembly (see Paul's description of such a public occasion, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25). But for most of those churches, which are historically descended from the Reformation of the 16th century, glossolalia is a thing of the past—probably for obvious reasons.
How does it seem to you? Were there ever those among us so sensitive as to read what passes for thoughts in a Divine mind? And was this intuitive ability on the part of some able to be used by all Gods of the ancient Hellenistic world to channel words of revelation?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
See also "Wry Thoughts about Religion" Blog: February 3, 2015; June 26. 2015; August 14, 2015.