What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?
First, exactly what is a miracle? Frequently people use this word loosely and not at all in a scriptural sense. In addition, what are those telltale traits that identify the Miracle and distinguish it from a natural phenomenon? Has God provided a pattern for reproving his miraculous attributes in scripture, to help His children recognize Him through examination? 2Timothy 3:16-17 states, “16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Second, what is the design of those “wonders” which are described so dramatically in the Bible? In addition, how did those demonstrating these “signs” come to possess them? Further, does the Bible itself contain any information as to whether Miraculous displays would be perpetual, i.e., until the end of time, or whether they were to be confined to a relatively brief span of history?
Examine Matthew 7:21-23 in the light of considering, “if genuine Miracles are not a part of today’s world, just how does one explain the feats, flaunted by so-called modern “faith-healers”? Matthew 7:21-23 (KJV) states, “21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” These are questions, which we must consider, when searching for the truth.
Definition and Classification of Miracles
How does one define a miracle? A miracle is an event which the forces of nature including the natural powers of man cannot of themselves produce, and which must, therefore, be referred to a supernatural agency. A miracle is a divine operation that transcends what is normally perceived as natural law; it cannot be explained upon any natural basis. The miracles recorded in the Bible fall into several categories. The following examples are illustrative, though certainly not exhaustive:
- First, there are supernatural acts of creation. Certain creation activities were accomplished by the word of God (Hebrews 11:3); He merely spoke, and it was done (Psalm 33:9). Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
- Second, there were miracles, which involved a temporary and localized suspension of laws regulating nature. Jesus calmed a ferocious storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27), and, on another occasion, he walked upon the waters of the lake (John 6:16-21). Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
- Third, there were signs, which involved the healing of man’s physical body. The blind were made to see (John 9:1-7), and the lame to walk (Acts 3:1-10). Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
- Fourth, there were signs demonstrating divine power over death. Lazarus, dead four days, was raised (John 11:43-44), and, of course, the resurrection of Christ is the very foundation of the Christian system (1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
- Fifth, some of the wonders of the New Testament age had to do with the expulsion of demons that had entered into human bodies (Matthew 12:22ff). This was evidence of the fact that the Savior’s power was superior to that of Satan. Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
- Sixth, the exhibition of divine authority is seen in the manipulation of certain material things. Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11), and multiplied a lad’s loaves and fishes, so that thousands were fed (John 6:1-14). Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
- Seventh, miraculous power was demonstrated in both the plant and animal kingdoms. Balaam’s donkey spoke with a man’s voice (Numbers 22:28), and the Lord Jesus, in an object lesson relative to the impending destruction of Jerusalem, destroyed a fig tree with but a word from his mouth (Matthew 21:19). Is there evidence that this type of Divine action is being duplicated, and verified through follow up examination today?
In this study, we will limit ourselves mostly to a consideration of miracles recorded in the New Testament record.
Characteristics of a Genuine Miracle
What are the traits of a genuine miracle, as opposed to feigned signs? Consider the following facts.
A supernatural display of divine power is not an arguable proposition; it is a dramatic, demonstrable fact. Nowhere in the New Testament is there a record of a divine spokesperson arguing for the validity of miracles. No logical scheme is needed to establish such a case. Either miracles happen, or they do not.
When Jesus performed signs, even his enemies did not deny the effect of such; they merely attempted to attribute his power to some other source (e.g., Satan; Matthew 12:24). The leaders of the Jewish community did not doubt that Peter and John had performed a notable miracle when they healed the lame man at the temple; rather, they sought to mute the sign’s impact by threats of violence (Acts 4:14). Is anything being done today of such compelling nature as to elicit this type of reaction?
In Biblical times, Miracles always had a worthy motive. Signs were not done for the purpose of personal aggrandizement (i.e.the act of making something appear greater than is actually warranted by the facts). Though Jesus’ miracles established the validity of his claim of being the Son of God, that designation was not assumed out of personal interest. Rather, the documented claim was motivated by a love for man’s salvation.
Those performing wonders in the first century did not do so for enhancing themselves financially—unlike the wealthy “faith-healers” of today. When Peter encountered the lame man of Acts 3, he had no money (v. 6).
As a rule, the Miracles of the Bible era were done in the presence of a multitude of credible witnesses—even hostile observers. When the Lord multiplied the loaves and fishes, possibly some ten thousand or more people were present (John 6:10). Truly, the signs validating Christianity were not “done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).
Genuine Miracles were not slow, progressive processes; rather, they produced instantaneous effects. Note: “[A] straightway he received his sight” (Mark 10:52); “ immediately his feet and his ankle bones received strength” (Acts 3:7).
In the New Testament, one never reads such statements as this: “Paul prayed for him, and within three weeks he was cured.” Yet, such testimonies are common among the devotees of modern charlatans.
True miracles must be subject to sense perception. The water that Jesus turned into wine could be tasted (John 2:9); Thomas could feel the prints in the hands of the resurrected Christ (John 20:27), and the restored ear of the high priest’s servant could be seen (Luke 22:51). The wonders of the Bible were objective demonstrations, not subjective speculations!
Actual signs must be independent of secondary causes. By this, we mean there must be no possible way to explain the miracle in a natural fashion.
One is reminded of the boy whose cat gave birth to kittens. When the lad noticed the kittens were blind, he prayed for them. Sure enough, in about nine days they all could see! This is not a miracle, by definition.
Can the miracles of Christ be explained in any natural fashion? They cannot. For instance, it cannot be argued that the blind man of John 9:1 was psychosomatically afflicted, for the gentleman had been born in that condition. How can a perfectly restored ear, that had been amputated, be explained by current processes (Luke 22:50-51)?
A genuine miracle will generate more than a superficial and temporary interest. It will have an abiding effect. The miracles of Christ were never denied during the apostolic age, or in the immediate ages beyond.
Even ancient enemies of Christianity, like Celsus and Porphyry, admitted that Jesus did certain extraordinary deeds; they suggested, of course, that it was mere “magic.” Their charges, however, are indirect testimony to the supernatural works of Christ. However, who can remember a single “Miracle” that Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart is supposed to have performed?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” God has provided a pattern for his miraculous attributes in scripture, to help His children recognize Him through examination.I submit, therefore, that every proclamation of miracles, that fails to meet the patterns established in scripture for miracles must be rejected and explained upon some other basis.
What was the purpose of miracles in the ministry of Christ, or in the apostolic age?As noted above, their design was consistent with the lofty theme of redemption. Of the early disciples who were endowed with spiritual gifts, Mark declares: “In addition, they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20).
The function of these signs was to confirm the revelatory process, i.e., the word of truth being communicated from God to man. The writer of Hebrews (2:3-4) argues similarly. He declares that the message regarding the “great salvation,” which at the first had been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to HIS Own Will.
Their Purpose and Method of Reception
Next, one should explore the method of gift reception, as that concept is set forth in the New Testament. Christ, of course, was empowered directly by God to work miracles. Such signs demonstrated that he was a “man approved of God” (Acts 2:22).
As far as New Testament information goes, there were only three ways by which others received spiritual gifts in the apostolic era. First miraculous gifts were bestowed by the command of Jesus (Matthew 10:1, Luke 9:1, Matthew 10:8) The second was by means of Holy Spirit baptism, i.e., an overwhelming direct endowment of the Spirit’s power. Third, miraculous gifts were bestowed by the imposition of the apostles’ hands.There was an unruly element within the church at Corinth that denied Paul’s apostleship. Such, however, was a very illogical position, for that church possessed spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14), and they had received them from none other than Paul. The “signs of an apostle” had been wrought among them (2 Corinthians 12:12), so Paul forcefully could say: If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:2). The Corinthian church (with its spiritual gifts) was, therefore a “seal” (divine documentation of Paul’s apostleship), and accordingly, indirect evidence that such gifts were received only from an apostle! Paul urged Timothy to “stir up the gift of God,” which, says he, “is in you through [dia—denoting the instrument or agency by means of which the gift was imparted the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Some argue that 1 Timothy 4:14 indicates that Timothy had received a spiritual gift from a certain “eldership,” which establishes a precedent for the reception of supernatural powers from a non-apostolic source. However, the passage does not suggest that. Timothy had received a gift “by prophecy, with [meta] the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Meta simply denotes “attendant circumstances” and does not suggest that the gift came by the hands of the elders.
This verse asserts that Timothy had received a spiritual gift on the same general occasion when elders had laid hands upon the evangelist—doubtless to appoint him to some special mission. It does not affirm that the elders themselves imparted miracle-working ability to Timothy.
There is one final point of this presentation that needs to be pressed upon. Those who practice Christian Science, Mormonism, Catholicism, Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, Psychic Healing, Scientology, New Age Crystal Healing, etc., claim the same type of signs as the Pentecostals. In fact, more than 20 million Americans annually report mystic experiences (including healing) in their lives (Psychology Today 1987, 64).
The Primary Purpose of Miraculous Signs Was to Confirm that New Revelations Were from God.
Satan always gives lying counterfeits for whatever good thing God gives. Specifically, Satan has sent false prophets who claim to have messages from God when they do not.
When a man claims to be inspired of God, how can listeners determine whether the message really is from God or is a counterfeit? This was the main purpose of miraculous signs (though other secondary benefits sometimes occurred, such as healing of the sick, etc.). If a man had power to accomplish supernatural acts, people would know God was working through him, so they should believe his message.
Evidence for the main purpose of miracles
Exodus 4:1-9,(29-31) – When Moses wanted evidence to convince the people that God had really sent Him, God empowered him with miraculous signs.
Deuteronomy 4:32-40 – God did great signs and wonders among the Israelites, so they would know He is the true God and would obey the commands given through Moses.
1 Kings 18:36-39 – Elijah called down fire from heaven (which the prophets of Baal could not do) so people would know to believe in the true God and that Elijah was acting by God’s authority.
John 20:30,31; [5:36; Acts 2:22; Matthew 9:6] – Jesus’ signs give people reason to believe that He is God’s Son, so we can have life in His name.Messiah Restored!
Mark 16:20 – Jesus sent apostles to preach (v14,15), and as they did so, He worked with them, confirming the word by the signs He gave them (v17,18).
Acts 14:3 – As prophets taught, God bore witness to the word, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
2 Corinthians 12:11,12 – Signs, wonders, and miracles, were signs to confirm that one was an apostle.Hebrews 2:3,4 – God bore witness to the message of salvation by signs, wonders, etc.
Some folks claim that miracles served primarily as acts of “compassion” to provide some benefit for people in need or trouble. We will see later that, while some miracles did have this effect, not all did. Some actually served to punish or harm evildoers. But the purpose of confirming the word was always accomplished.
Confirming new revelation was the primary purpose of miracles in that it was always a purpose and it was the determining purpose as to whether a miracle would or would not be done.
There is abundant evidence that genuine miracles were performed by divinely appointed persons in the first century, it is also abundantly evident, that these divinely appointed persons of the first century serve as a pattern for us today, a means for us to try the spirits, and clearly identify the truth in character, that is GOD. -Amen