Initially, Christianity continued honoring dreams and visions as a primary way that God communicated with humans. Dreams and visions literally shaped the birthing and early development of Christianity. Angels, the communicatorsof God, appeared to people in dreams in ways similar to the dream appearances of the gods of the Greeks.

The births of John the Baptist and Jesus were forecast in dreams or visionary experiences. After the birth of Jesus his father, Joseph, was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s campaign to kill male infants who might threaten his rule. Jesus had numerous visionary experiences during his life that might have taken place in dreams or dreamlike states. For example, Jesus has an important confrontation with the devil after he has fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness. Such a lengthy period of physical deprivation could significantly affect dreaming and alter consciousness into dreamlike states. Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-12 tell how the devil tempted Jesus three times. First the devil tried to persuade Jesus to perform miracles to prove he is the Son of God. Then he offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship. Jesus resisted and banished the devil.

After the arrest of Jesus, Pontius Pilate’s wife was warned in a dream that her husband should have nothing to do with him. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, the apostles had many dreams and visionary experiences that aided them in their mission to spread the Gospel. One famous account concerns St. Peter, who was imprisoned by Herod Agrippa, who planned to execute him. The night before he was to be condemned, Peter slept in his cell bound in chains and guarded by two soldiers. An angel awakened him, freed him of his chains, and led him out of the prison. Peter at first thought he was dreaming, then believed he had a real visitation. The experience may actually have been a combination of dreaming and visionary experience.

Many of the early church fathers who shaped the beliefs of the new religion were Platonic philosophers and Greek converts. They believed in the tradition of God speaking through dreams and visions. But a major turn in the opposite direction took place in the fourth century, and it centered on one man: Jerome.

It was through a dream that St Jerome converted to christianity but later renounced all dreams as dangerous to the faithful. From this key turning point that the Christian Church and dreams diverged and took separate paths.

Steve Hawk



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