“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)
The last part of Romans 10:14 (“how can they hear without someone preaching to them?“) is often taken out of context to teach believers that we can’t hear from God without a spiritual leader telling us what God says. Therefore, we need to join a local Christian assembly and regularly attend services so that we can hear a word from the Lord through the teaching of religious leaders.
The problem here, is not that believers are being encouraged to assemble ourselves together with other believers for fellowship, worship, mutual edification, and to hear a word from the Lord through the sound teaching of spiritual leaders. We should fellowship with other believers if and when we are able to do so, and God can and does speak to us through spiritual leaders.
The problem is that a passage of Scripture (Romans 10:14) is being taken out of context to imply that we (believers) cannot hear directly from the Lord for ourselves and that hearing from the Lord is dependent on being a member of a local Christian assembly, regular attendance, and looking to spiritual leaders as God’s exclusive mouthpiece.
A number of passages of Scripture are taken out of context to support this line of thinking. However, Romans 10:14 is at the top of the list. But is Romans 10:14 saying that we can’t hear from God without a preacher?
As with any passage of Scripture, the key to properly interpreting the meaning of the text is paying careful attention to the context (who, when, what, where, why and how). What did the author of the text mean when they wrote it?
It is both harmful and careless to jump into the middle of a chapter, rip a verse out of context, and quote it to support a belief or practice that may very well contradict the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture.
Peter the apostle wrote about individuals who mishandle the Scriptures in this way. He said that they are unlearned (ignorant) and unstable, because they twist Paul’s letters to teach something totally different than what he actually meant. And they do the same thing with other parts of Scripture, which leads to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). Let us not fall into that category, but instead, let us properly interpret the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
So, when Paul wrote “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” who was he referring to when he said “they“? Was he referring to believers?
We can easily find out who “they” is by reading the beginning of Romans 9 which sets the stage for the context of Romans 10:14. It says “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” (Romans 9:1-4)
Romans 9:1-4 shows that Paul was referring to unsaved Israelites when he wrote, “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?“
Romans 10:1 further demonstrates that Paul was referring to unsaved Israelites in Romans 10:14. Romans 10:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.“
When Paul wrote “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” he wasn’t saying how shall believers hear from God without a preacher as if we are unsaved, spiritually separated from God, spiritually deaf, and unable to hear from God. He was saying how shall the people of Israel [unsaved Israelites] hear of Jesus Christ without someone proclaiming/preaching the Gospel to them?
I’m not going to post the entire chapter of Romans 10, because I would like to encourage you to study it for yourself, but in summary, the context of Romans 10 is about Israel’s need for salvation, the importance of evangelizing the people of Israel, and that many of them have rejected the Gospel.
Nowhere in Romans 10 or anywhere else in Scripture does it teach that believers cannot hear from God without a spiritual leader, or that we must join/regularly attend a local Christian assembly, and look to spiritual leaders as God’s exclusive mouthpiece to tell us what He says.
Although regular fellowship is important, and the Lord can and does speak to us through spiritual leaders, Scripture does not remotely imply by any stretch of the imagination that New Covenant believers cannot hear directly from the Lord for ourselves, that spiritual leaders are God’s exclusive mouthpiece and that we should look to them as such, or that we cannot hear from the Lord unless we join a local Christian assembly and regularly attend services.
1 John 2:27 says, “As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.“
The anointing (who is the Holy Spirit) lives within us, so we do not need anyone to be our primary teacher because the Holy Spirit already fulfills that role in our life. Unfortunately, some religious leaders have undermined the role of the Holy Spirit by twisting a Scripture that was referring to unsaved Israelites, and misapplying it to born-again believers, to teach us that we cannot hear from God without depending on them to hear from God for us and tell us what He says. This is idolatry. It opens the door to deception, and it is a dangerous place to be in.
By teaching this lie, religious leaders have crippled, handicapped, paralyzed, and dis-empowered many believers. . . making them needy, overly dependent, church-addicted, and enslaved to leadership for a word from God. Such leaders have exalted themselves as lords over God’s flock and elevated themselves as mediators or “middle-men” between God and His people. This is idolatry and in violation of the first and greatest commandment: “2“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)
As important as fellowship and spiritual leadership are, God’s word and our ability to hear directly from Him for ourselves, are not dependent on either. The voice of the Lord, His willingness to speak to us, and our ability to hear Him, are not confined to church-buildings and religious leaders. The Scriptures teach that in the New Covenant, the Spirit of God lives within each and every believer. Therefore, we have the spiritual ability, the responsibility, and the privilege of hearing directly from God anywhere, anytime.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.” (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)
During the Old Covenant, God spoke to the nation of Israel through the prophets. Then at the Cross, Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, instituted the New Covenant and filled His disciples with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost so that every believer can hear directly from God and be personally led by His Spirit.
Yet many religious leaders today are operating in an Old Covenant paradigm. They have a Moses-complex and portray themselves as “Old Covenant prophets” through whom God exclusively speaks and that we must rely on for revelation from God.
But the Old Covenant paradigm in which God spoke to His people primarily through the prophets has been fulfilled and made obsolete. In these final days, in the New Covenant, God speaks to us through His Son Jesus Christ by way of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we are able to hear from God personally and directly because Christ the hope of glory lives in us (Colossians 1:27).
“16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16-17)
“45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:45)
“3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4)
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26)
“And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11)
“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking, for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!” (Hebrews 12:25)