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The Biblical Definition of Miracles – Jon Mitchell

Christmas is here. The time of year during which we are repeatedly told is “a time of miracles.” Think back over the holiday seasons of your life. How many times have you heard a commercial on the radio or saw a Christmas movie on the television in which the Christmas season or Christmas itself was referred to as “a time of miracles”?  Usually, what is meant by statements like that is that Christmas is a very special time.  In like manner, many of us have visited new parents who are holding their precious gift from God that was just born and have heard the baby referred to as “a miracle.”  Again, what is usually meant is that babies are very special, and they are.

Unfortunately, using the term “miracle” in such a way, while seemingly harmless, is one of several ways in which misconceptions about miracles are founded in the denominational world of Christendom.  Many who profess to be Christians believe, as shown above, that a miracle happens to them whenever anything special takes place in their lives.  However, the miracles one reads about in the Bible are not defined in such ways.

Start at Genesis and continue on through the pages of Scripture to the New Testament, and you will read about miracles being done from time to time by some of God’s people.  You will also read of God himself performing miracles directly.  Yet, each and every one of the miracles described in the Bible are acts which violate the known laws of nature and science which God put into place when he created this world and universe.  Not one time is a biblical miracle defined or described as nothing more than an event which is special in a sentimental way, as is often the case today.

Consider the miracles we read about in the Old Testament.   God giving Joseph the ability to accurate interpret people’s dreams and predict the future (Ge. 40-41).  God causing a bush to burn and yet not be consumed in front of Moses, and then giving Moses the ability to turn his staff into a serpent and instantaneously make his hand leprous by simply putting it inside his cloak (Ex. 3-4).  God giving Moses the ability to part the Red Sea simply by raising his staff out over the water (Ex. 14).  Bitter water made sweet by Moses simply by throwing a log in it (Ex. 15:22-25).  God raining bread from heaven and causing water to come from a rock simply by Moses striking it, and Israel defeating Amalek in battle only when Moses would have his hands raised (Ex. 16-17).  God causing the walls of Jericho to collapse simply by having Israel march around the city for a week and then shout and blow trumpets (Jos. 6).  God answering Joshua’s prayer to have the sun and moon stand still so that Israel could win the battle against the Amorites (Jos. 10).  Many more could be cited, but notice that they all have one thing in common.  They all violate the laws of science and nature.  That’s what makes these events miraculous in nature.

We see the same thing with the miracles we read of in the New Testament.  God causing a virgin to be pregnant with Jesus, itself a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier (Mt. 1:18-21; cf. Is. 7:14).  Jesus instantaneously healing every disease and affliction among the people, including paralysis, epilepsy, those oppressed by demons, lepers, discharges of blood, blindness, the mute, those with withered hands, and even raising the dead (Mt. 4:23-24; 8:1-4, 28-34; 9:1-8, 18-34; 12:9-14).  Jesus giving his twelve apostles the ability to do the same (Mt. 10:1-4).  Jesus calming a terrible storm simply by speaking and walking on water after feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Mt. 8:23-27; 14:13-33).  God raising Christ from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross (Mt. 28:1-10; Ro. 1:4).  The Holy Spirit descending on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and giving them the ability to speak in other languages (Ac. 2:1-21), as well as healing the lame (Ac. 3:1-10), causing the instantaneous death of those who had lied to them and God (Ac. 5:1-11), healing the sick by simply having their shadows fall on them (Ac. 5:12-16), and healing paralytics and raising the dead (Ac. 9:32-43).  Again, many more examples could be cited, but notice once more than all of these events violate the laws of science and nature.

As people who will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Mt. 12:36-37), we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Ep. 4:15) as oracles of God (1 Pe. 4:11), and God’s Word is truth (Jn. 17:17).  Therefore, when we speak of miracles we need to speak of them the same way that God speaks of them in his Word…not as special, sentimental events which come about naturally like the birth of a child, but rather as signs and wonders done by God through men which violate the laws of nature.

Furthermore, if we are to speak the truth about miracles done by God through men, we must also proclaim that they no longer takes place today.  There are several denominations whose adherents claim to perform miracles, but careful examination of what they do combined with comparisons made of biblical miracles shows their claims to be counterfeit.  The different types of miracles are listed by Paul in his letter to Corinth, in which he calls them “spiritual gifts” (1 Co. 12:1-11).  Two of those gifts were miraculous wisdom and miraculous knowledge (v. 8).  Knowledge (what one knows) and wisdom (the ability to use correctly that which one knows) are obtained naturally through education and experience; thus, miraculous knowledge and miraculous wisdom would come instantaneously, without having taken the time to grow in them via education and experience.  Paul also mentions faith as a spiritual gift (v. 9).  This is not the faith which comes naturally through the hearing of God’s Word (Ro. 10:17), but rather is the type of faith needed to do something miraculous like move a mountain (1 Co. 13:2; Mt. 17:20).  Today, the only way anyone obtains wisdom and knowledge is through natural means, and many people who have strong faith in their ability to perform miracles have attempted to move mountains, only to no avail.

Paul then lists gifts of healing and the working of miracles as spiritual gifts (vs. 9-10).  Those who claim to miraculously heal the sick and perform other types of miracles today do so quite differently from how Jesus and the apostles miraculously healed people and worked miracles back in biblical times.  Today, those who claim to do miraculous things to other people usually ask them to “wait a while” before they “begin to feel the effects” of the miracle.  Usually the only “miracle” done instantaneously is causing someone to “lose consciousness” by touching them on the forehead.  (This writer once visited a charismatic church and saw someone fall to the ground in the aisle, apparently having miraculously lost consciousness; it was interesting to observe the “unconscious” person shifting on the hard floor trying to find a more comfortable position!)

Paul also listed prophecy and distinguishing between spirits as spiritual gifts (v. 10).  Prophecy is not only the miraculous foretelling of the future, but also literally means “to speak on behalf of someone else.”  Today, prophecy takes place naturally whenever we preach and teach nothing more than God’s Word (2 Ti. 4:2; 1 Pe. 4:11); by doing so we are “speaking on behalf of” God.  Those who attempt to miraculously prophecy by predicting the future have always been proven to be false prophets when their prophecies fail to come to pass (De. 18:20-22).  The distinguishing between spirits refers to the miraculous power to automatically know what is in a person’s heart, a power Jesus had (Jn 2:24-25) and which was exercised by Peter in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Ac. 5:1-11).  Obviously, such a power doesn’t exist today.  How many times have we been sure about what a person has been thinking or planning, only to be proven wrong?

Paul then listed tongues and the interpretation of tongues as spiritual gifts (v. 10).  These are perhaps the most misunderstood and erroneously defined miraculous spiritual gifts in the list.  Those who claim to miraculously speak in tongues today say they are doing so when they speak nothing more than gibberish.  They are not speaking Spanish, German, Mandarin, etc., but rather nonsense babblings and gobbledegook.  However, the miraculous speaking and interpreting of tongues in biblical times was nothing more than the ability to suddenly speak in an actual, societal language or interpret it, without having first studied and learned it naturally (Ac. 2:6-8; 1 Co. 14:10-13).  Having tasked the early Christians with the awesome task of preaching the gospel to all nations, the miraculous ability to speak these nations’ languages would be very expeditious to the fulfillment of that task.

In the middle of his discourse on these miraculous spiritual gifts, Paul acknowledged that not all in the church had these gifts and then mentioned how having these powers was meaningless without love (1 Co. 12:27-13:7).  He then specifically stated that these miraculous spiritual gifts (citing prophecy, tongues, and knowledge) would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Co. 13:8-10).

Many modern proponents of miracles believe that “the perfect” of verse 10 is a reference to Jesus, which is understandable.  However, the Greek word (teleos) which is translated “perfect” literally means “complete” or “mature.”  This same word is used in the New Testament to refer to God’s Word (Ro. 12:2; Ja. 1:25).  When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete” or “mature.”  That would change with the completion of Revelation not many years after Paul wrote to Corinth.  Therefore, Paul was stating in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that when God’s Word was complete, the miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.  This makes sense when one remembers that miracles were performed by Christ and his apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to confirm the Word of God which was being proclaimed by them (Mk. 16:17-20; He. 2:1-4; 1 Co. 12:1-11; cf. Mt. 12:28).  Once that Word became complete and mature, confirming it through the miraculous would no longer be needed.

Again, we are commanded to “speak the truth” (Ep. 4:15), and God’s Word is truth (Jn. 17:17).  If we are to speak the truth about miracles, we must not only define them the same way the Bible defines them, but we must also acknowledge that they have already served their purpose in the plan of God and no longer take place today.

preacheroftruth.com

 

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The Signs of an Apostle – J. Terry Wheeler

I have become a fool in boasting.  You have compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds  (2 Cor. 12:11f).

The second letter to the Corinthians is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible.  It is as clear a picture of the heart of the great apostle Paul as one can find (2 Cor. 6:11).

In that letter he is answering many concerns:  “Where has he been?  Why hasn’t he come back as he said he would?  Does his apostleship really compare to the other apostles?  He acts crazy, takes no money, has a pathetic ‘pulpit’ presence; why do we even listen to him?”

Titus, who had recently visited the church at Corinth, has his own questions for the apostle which the second letter answers:  “Are you sure they are going to have their contribution ready?  It sure didn’t look like it when I was there.”  Corinth was forever questioning Paul’s authority (1 Cor. 9:2, 3).  There were differences with him that the other apostles did not seem to share: he was not married nor did it seem he ever intended to be (1 Cor. 7:7; 9:5); he did not take a dime from Corinth to help in his ministry (2 Cor. 12:13); in fact, he worked as hard in secular labor as he did in ministry (1 Cor. 9:6); he was much more active than the rest (1 Cor. 15:10); he was much more at home with the Gentiles than the others (1 Cor. 9:21); he was the last apostle commissioned (1 Cor. 15:8), which meant no personal contact with Jesus (so far as anyone knew).  And of course, his history was blotted with the innocent blood of Christians (1 Cor. 15:9).

To a congregation that prided itself in preachers and in impressing the surrounding area and community with its sophistication, Paul was, for some, the last guy they wanted to depend on for spiritual guidance (1 Cor. 1:12; 4:10).  Add to that the obvious fact that some had designs on the church.  They wanted to make it their hang-out, their little nest-egg.  Paul’s influence threatened their machinations (1 Cor. 15:33, 34).  The quicker they could dispose themselves and the church of that, the better for them.

It is to this last bunch of brethren that Paul speaks so frankly in the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians.  He is confronting these fellows, who even presume to put upon themselves the designation of “apostle of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13).  His love for even these false teachers is plain.  The pain in his heart is obvious and saddening (2 Cor. 12:15).  But he has had enough of their interference with the Corinthian brethren (2 Cor. 13:2).

The first time he came was to start the church and introduce them to the Savior (Acts 18:1-18).  The second time, he was so disappointed in them, he had to leave lest he “cut loose” on them, to their destruction (2 Cor. 1:23-2:4).  But now, after Titus returns to them with this letter, and they have had a chance to meditate on its contents, he will be at their doorstep (2 Cor. 13:1).  And he will not leave till this whole mess is settled one way or another.

It is exactly in this context that Paul speaks to them of his apostolic credentials.  These would be the validation of all Paul has done in Jesus’ name (Mark 16:20).  He reminds them of what they have already seen from him, and strongly indicates that, if they want it, there is much more to come (2 Cor. 13:3).

What he designates as “signs of an apostle” are the miracles, wonders, and mighty acts of power that fill the New Testament and so fire our imaginations today.  it is a demonstration of control over nature (John 2:7-11), over the hidden “nether” world (John 11:43, 44), and over future events (John 13:38).  It involves what man has dreamed over for eons but what has always seemed elusive to him: the ability to corral and harness all the threatening forces that surround us daily, a power reserved, apparently, only for Deity.

It is this power that the Son of God came to us with and demonstrated so freely for our benefit.  It is the same type of power that his authoritative representatives continued to demonstrate (Acts 2:43; 3:6, 7; 4:33; 5:12).

But before he goes into these sensational aspects of his ministry, Paul stresses the humble parts of his service: his deprivations, his sacrifices, the dangers he was constantly facing, his emotional turmoil – the things that no one would count as valuable or helpful, and what his antagonists in the church were struggling so hard to avoid (2 Cor. 11:1-12:11).  But it was his use of these things to establish legitimacy that, to use Paul’s phrasing, “cut the ground out from under” the false teachers (2 Cor. 11:10-12).  They were into comfort, privilege, prominence, monetary satisfaction, and worldly sophistication, even to the point of lasciviousness, uncleanness, and fornication (2 Cor. 11:19-21; 12:21).  Paul was showing the church that, between him and them, there was no comparison.

It is intriguing to consider just what Paul might have had on his mind to discipline the members.  It is also interesting that Paul is somewhat afraid of further humiliation in their eyes, as if what would discipline them would humble him (2 Cor. 12:21).  But come what may, if they needed sharpness, as Paul put it, to get the point (that “rod” he referred to in the first letter – 1 Cor. 4:21), he was ready to supply it (2 Cor. 13:10).

Discipline is a principle in the Scriptures that, for our day and age, seems absolutely tasteless, if not downright mean.  We can hardly stand the idea of someone speaking so directly as to hurt our feelings (2 Cor. 2:2).  To contemplate actual physical discomfort as something good someone might truly deliver upon us is insulting and oppressive.  And to consider that God would be happy with that outrages us and throws us into total confusion.  Such things cannot be love at all, right?

But God would “beg” to differ.  Since we are so given to fleshly pleasure and comfort, stress and even pain are necessary tools to discipline our thinking and therefore our behavior (Rom. 8:5-13).  Paul disciplined himself as an athlete would, so he could win his “race” (1 Cor. 9:26-27).  But when one cannot (or will not) exercise such effort over themselves, the church must care enough to exact enough discomfort to bring the brother back to serious attention to spiritual matters (1 Cor. 5:5).  And if the church won’t, then God will (1 Cor. 11:31, 32; Heb. 12:4-11; Rev. 2:14-16).

Generally, discipline is not considered a miraculous manifestation as the Bible puts it forth.  It is a social and personal concern that Christians exercise toward each other as the need reveals itself (Heb. 10:24; 2 Thess. 3:14, 15; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).  Or it is a matter of providential care, God working within nature to provide us the necessary discipline for our sakes (Amos 4:7-10; Hab. 3:17-19; Rev. 2:22, 23; 9:20, 21).  But in the early years of the church’s development, the miraculous powers that declared God’s presence and power were called on to not only convey the truth of God, not only bless and heal in the context of that message, but would also be used to bring discomfort on the enemies of Christ and of righteousness, to discipline the church.

So what exactly would these signs be? It would be the impressive stuff, even the deadly stuff, that apostles could do to glorify Christ (John 14:12).  It brings to mind the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira at the feet of the apostle Peter, which had a marvelous salutary effect on the church at that time (Acts 5:1-11).  It brings to mind Paul striking Elymas the Magician with temporary blindness, which certainly impressed Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12).  These wonders would be likened to what Paul did at Ephesus, when simple articles of clothing like handkerchiefs that Paul had touched could be brought into the presence of the demon-possessed and the demon would be forced out that instant (Acts 19:11, 12).  But ultimately, as Paul implies, it would be whatever it took to get the church’s attention to either withdraw from the false teachers or to help reclaim them after their repentance (Rom. 16:17, 18; Gal. 5:12; 6:1).

To speak directly to the point, the signs of an apostle would be the miraculous works that only an apostle could do to underscore the authority of Christ, which the apostle represented (Matt. 10:8, 40).  It would be of a broader sweep than the spiritual gifts obtained by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (1 Cor. 14:18).  It would also mean a certain depth in the demonstration of power unique to them (2 Cor. 12:12).

It should be pointed out that, since Paul is the last apostle commissioned, and since there is no apostolic succession as far as the New Testament is concerned, it must follow that when the last apostle passed away, then the signs of an apostle died with him.  On the other hand, those who would claim latter day apostolic commission from Christ must be ready to defend the claim with the same sort of signs (raising the dead comes to mind here – 1 John 4:1).  Since God, like the truth, is perfectly consistent, we can expect no more apostles today.  The completed New Testament serves in their place (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

It is worth noting that the book of Romans was written by Paul immediately after this third visit (or even during), while Paul was in the same locality (Rom. 15:22-25).  Most scholars are convinced that Paul wrote the book from Corinth itself.  That being the case, the book of Romans strongly implies that the problems of Corinth were truly settled to Paul’s satisfaction.  The secular history of the Corinthian church definitely bears that out.

If so, then we must take note that “the signs of an apostle” most certainly got their attention.  Perhaps simply the referencing of them in the second letter so put the “terror of the Lord” in them, that that was all that was needed.  We would hope so.

It is also worthy of note that the referencing of the signs is indeed all we do have in our day, the Lord obviously thinking that that is sufficient for us.  May such a reference to the Lord’s authority be effective with us.

CharSaint@aol.com