Before we look at what scholars say about religious experience, it seems important to know who and what is involved in the subject. Some A level text books are not good at suggesting where you might find stories describing religious experiences. On the other hand you may not have time to read original accounts. Here I am going to suggest some sources of information which you may research in greater depth if you have the time and the interest.
The Old Testament is full of stories where the individuals encounter God.
Abraham is called by God Genesis in chapters 13, 15 and 17, but perhaps the story to focus on is:-
Abraham’s proposed sacrifice of his son Isaac Genesis 22 In Hebrew it is a very poetic and beautifully written story, known to many Jews as the Akedah.
Jacob has a dream in Genesis 28 where he sees a ladder set up from heaven to earth and the angels of God ascending and descending.
Jacob has a much more physical encounter with God/an angel in Genesis 32:24-32. Here Jacob wrestles with a being until daybreak.
In the book of Exodus it is worth reading how Moses was called by God. He sees a bush which is burning, but which is not consumed by the fire. From out of the fire God speaks Moses’ name. Exodus 3:1-6.
Samuel, prophet, priest and king-maker receives a call from God as a young boy. He had been taken to live at the shrine at Shiloh. In the night he hears the voice of God calling him 1 Samuel 3:1-14.
Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet receives his call from God by means of a stunning vision in the Temple at Jerusalem. Isaiah 6:1-9.
The Gospels suggest that Jesus was also the recipient of religious experiences.
Baptism of Jesus was accompanied by a visionary appearance and the sound of a voice. Mark 1:9-11
Transfiguration Mark 9:2-8 describes a vision seen by 3 disciples of Jesus in which the voice of God is heard and Jesus is seen along with Moses and Elijah in a glorified state.
One of the most detailed religious experiences in the New Testament is the so called conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus. Acts of the Apostles 9:2-9.
This text, I think is a basic essential in any discussion about religious experience.
In detail it says
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Please note I am merely drawing attention to examples of where the Bible records accounts of religious experience. All of these accounts are of course subjects of theological discussion. The purpose of this article is simply to draw the reader’s attention to what I think are the major accounts of religious experience made in the Bible and to enable students to find the stories for themselves.
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.