On every hand we hear accounts of modern-day miracles. These stories come from newspapers, radio, television, friends and acquaintances - from every source.
Many people tend to use the word "miracle" in describing what are actually natural events - the birth of a baby, recovery from an illness, a close escape from an accident or natural disaster and so on. It seems that almost anything can be called a miracle in today's world.
With so much talk and attention devoted to miracles, this subject deserves the attention of all God fearing people. Let us, therefore, open our Bibles and see what God has to say concerning miracles.
Definition Of Miracles
First, we must all find a clear understanding of the word "miracle", as it is used in the Bible - an understanding of the word as God has used it.
The Greek word translated "miracle" in the New Testament is defined as follows by W.E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: "... power, inherent ability; is used of works of a supernatural origin and character, such as could not be produced by natural agents and means a sign, mark, token ... is used of miracles and wonders a sign of divine authority ..."
I believe this is an accurate definition of the word, which can be established by God's word. Let's look at a few scriptural examples to bear this out.
A miracle is a sign to unbelievers. 1 Cor. 14:22: "Wherefore tongues are for a sign not to them that believe, but to them that believe not."
A miracle is a sign of divine authority. Mk. 16:17, 18 "And these signs shall follow them that believe; in My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it sham not hurt them; they shag lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
A miracle is something done outside the laws of nature. 	Natural law governs the universe. When God made all things, He put laws in motion to govern the workings of his creation. For instance, water freezes at 32 and boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Something dropped falls toward the ground because of the law of gravity. A miracle goes beyond natural law.
For example, in Acts 2:1-11 (please read this for yourself), the apostles spoke in several languages they did not know. They themselves were of the Galilean dialect (vs. 7-8). The many languages they were enabled to speak are recorded (vs. 9-11). They did not learn these languages by the natural means of study, but spoke by a miracle of God. That is why all the onlookers were amazed (vs.12).
Another familiar example can be found in Mk. 8:1-9. Here, Jesus fed a great multitude of people with just seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.
The Purpose Of Miracles
Next, we need to understand the purpose of miracles. I feel that many people stumble at this point. This is because the scriptures are sometimes misapplied.
The miracles of the Bible were often used to confirm the fact that messages given to men were revelations coming from the mouth of God. In Mk. 16:17-20, Jesus told the apostles of all the miracles they would be able to perform. Note particularly verse 20: "And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen."
Miracles also confirmed that particular men were God's spokesmen. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has this to say in Heb. 2:3-4: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?"
In the Old Testament, God selected Moses to be the deliverer of Israel. Moses, however, had misgivings as to God's choice. In Ex. 4:1, He said, "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee." But God displayed several miraculous signs through which Moses had his proof. See Ex. 4:1-8.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul also had problems establishing his credibility. Some refused to accept his apostleship. Paul reminded the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 12:12 of what they themselves had witnessed: "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds."
Throughout the Bible, we read of men who, entrusted with direct revelations from the mind of God, were given miraculous signs to confirm those revelations. We can see how necessary this was. If God had not given signs to accompany new messages, any man, saying anything he so desired, could have claimed to be a prophet; and nobody could have proven anything to the contrary. God's prophets possessed God's power. This is why we must doubt the "revelations" of Joseph Smith and other modern day "prophets." Such men rewrite or replace the Bible, but offer no heavenly proof of their authority. A new message must have authority - the authority of divine miracles, the credentials of God.
Miracles were used to produce faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. John 20:30-31: "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
It was through Christ's miracles that Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, became a believer. In John 3:2, Nicodemus said, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God. For no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him."
Physical healing was not the sole purpose of miracles. It was not at all the primary purpose. If such was the primary purpose, then Jesus was a "respecter of persons", because He healed only one sick man out of many at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9). Paul, who certainly possessed miraculous powers, left a friend and brother in Christ sick, rather than healing him miraculously (2 Tim. 4:20). In one instance, rather than being healed, a man was inflicted with blindness! (Acts. 13:7-12).
Are Miracles Needed Today
In view of the purpose of miracles - namely, to establish divine credibility in the servants and messengers of God - we need to ask ourselves a question: Are miracles needed today?
Miracles are not needed, to assist in revealing God's word, today. God has completed his message to man. In Jude, thought by many scholars to be the last book of the Bible ever written, we read this in verse three: "I exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." The word "once" is more accurately translated "once for all time." The Gospel message was delivered, and confirmed, once.
We do not need miracles to confirm a new message, because God's word is complete. According to Paul, the scriptures are sufficient for all our needs. In 2 Tim. 3:16-17, we read this: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
God has given us a completed set of laws. Any attempt to add to the Bible is a human intrusion into a perfect work. We do not need miracles to reveal God's word, because God's word has been given in its entirety.
Since God's word has been completed and written down, there is no longer a need to confirm by miracles that a man speaks for God. If we want to know whether or not a man is speaking God's truth, we compare what he says with what the Bible says. All things are now confirmed by the Bible. "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matt. 7:19-20). In Gal. 1:8-9 we read: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him to be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." See also 2 John 9-11.
If one will look at the Bible as a whole, he will see that miracles are not overly emphasized in God's dealings with mankind. In fact, there are long periods of time when miracles are scarce, if not altogether absent. At particular times, the Bible shows forth an abundance of miracles. We find an array of miracles at the appearance of Moses, when the First Covenant of the Law was being established. The setting up of the Law and the establishment of the Kingdom of lsrael, was accompanied by a great variety of signs and wonders. We find another array of miracles at the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of the Second Covenant. Many miracles accompanied the setting up of the Church.
Something we must realize is that the history of God's relationship with man is not a continuous tale of miracles. As miracles have a divine origin, so are they used at special times to work out the Divine Plan.
Miracles Would Cease
Miracles were to last only until the completion of God's revelation to man. 	In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we find that those brethren had a problem: They overemphasized the miraculous spiritual gifts. Paul deals with this problem in the 13th and 14th chapters of I Corinthians.
In chapter 13, Paul compares love with the spiritual gifts, showing that love is of greater value (vs. 1-7). He shows that love does more to make one Christ-like. Then, beginning with verse eight, Paul shows that love is more valuable because it will last longer than the spiritual gifts. We can relate to this in our own lives. When we buy a new car or new appliance, it is more valuable than an old item of the same type; the new item will last longer. Close friendship is more important than a casual acquaintance; the close friendship is more enduring. Paul tells us that love never fails. It is everlasting. But he goes on to say that prophecies shall fail, tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away. This knowledge is, of course, miraculous knowledge obtained by special revelation, as is spoken of in 1 John 2:20: "But ye have and unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." This differs from the type of knowledge gained by persistent study of God's Word for which we strive.
In 1 Cor. 13:9, Paul tells us that the spiritual gifts supplied partial knowledge. Having no New Testament, the early Christians relied on special revelations to learn God's will. And, of course, they relied upon the writings of the apostles that were available to them. But the early Christians were not able to read God's completed word. The Word had not been completed! Thus, there was a need for special knowledge through spiritual gifts, by which Christians could learn God's Word piece by piece. But, when something is completed the partial is done away with. And, in the tenth verse, Paul tells us, "That which is in part" (the spiritual gifts) shall be done away with when "that which is perfect" is come. What is "that perfect thing?"
The word "perfect" comes from the Greek word "teleios." According to W.E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (p. 174), teleios signifies "of things complete, perfect." With reference to Rom. 12:2 and 1 Cor. 13:10, Vine states that teleios refers "to the complete revelation of God's will and ways."
Could this "perfection" be referring to Christ, or, more specifically, to his second coming? There are two reasons why this cannot be so: 1) The Greek construction makes it clear. "That which is perfect" is a thing, not a person. 2) Christ is not divided into "parts" which make a whole.
In view of the fact that the preceding verses refer to God's manner of revealing his will to the early Church as a whole, we may infer that 1 Cor. 13:11 is also a reference to the Church. When the Church was in its infancy, it possessed the bits and pieces of God's Revelation (miraculous knowledge, prophecy, etc.); but there would come a time, Paul said, when the Church would put away childish things (spiritual gifts), and come to maturity at the complete revelation of God's will. (Please read Eph. 1:17-23; 3:1-10. Note that God's will was to be revealed to mankind by the Church. At some time during Earth's history, it was necessary for God to complete his message, else men could not know God's complete will for their life.)
In 1 Cor. 13:12, Paul spoke of the Church as it was in his time, how the early Christians were looking "through a glass darkly", how they knew "in part" but, in the future, Christians would see "face to face" and "know": i.e. they would have all necessary knowledge revealed.
In the 13th verse Paul concludes that faith and hope are greater than the spiritual gifts, because faith and hope will abide.
In fact, faith and hope will endure until Christ comes. Then, we will receive the end of our faith and hope will not be needed. But love, the greatest of these, will endure forever.
Miraculous gifts were made available only through the laying on of the apostle's hands. 	In Acts 8:5-7, Philip was preaching the Gospel and performing miracles in Samaria. But Philip was not able to pass on his miraculous abilities! It was necessary for Peter and John to journey all the way from Jerusalem so that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Ghost - (vs. 17 - "Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost")
Miraculous gifts were given by the laying on of the apostle's hands in the New Testament days. We find, however, two important exceptions to this rule. The apostles themselves received miraculous gifts directly from God without a medium. This was in answer to a promise (Acts 1:4-8) which was given by Jesus to the apostles. And this promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. This Holy Ghost baptism demonstrated to the Jews that the apostles were ambassadors of God. It also gave the Church a firm beginning.
In Acts 10 and 11, Cornelius and his house also received miraculous gifts direct from God. In this, God demonstrated that the Gentiles had an equal inheritance with the Jews in His Kingdom. Acts 11:17, 18: "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; What was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."
Notice what Peter also said in Acts 11:15. "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning." This was, of course, a reference to Pentecost. Between the day of Pentecost and Cornelius' conversion, there was a period of ten years according to biblical historians! Peter makes it clear that these two events, the two instances of Holy Spirit baptism, were not everyday occurrences in the Church. The first instance happened "at the beginning...." After a number of years, Holy Ghost baptism occurred again, with Cornelius and his household.
Holy Ghost baptism came in answer to a promise made, specifically, to the apostles. It also came as a confirmation of the Gentiles' place in God's plan. But scripture indicates that spiritual gifts, except for these special instances, were given by the laying on of hands. Only apostles could pass on these gifts.
Real Miracles Versus Modern "Miracles"
How do the supposed miracles of today compare with the miracles of the Bible? Let us first look at the characteristics of biblical miracles.
The miracles of the Bible were instantaneous. In 1 Kings 13:4-6, King Jeroboam's hand was immediately dried up by a young prophet, and then was just as quickly restored. Many alleged miracles of today are said to be performed over a long period of time.
The miracles of the Bible were complete. In Acts 3:1-9, Peter healed a man who had been crippled from birth, a man whose lameness was known to all. (In those days there were no public welfare programs to care for the unfortunate. It was a common practice for such people to wait at entrances to public places in order to beg for alms from passers by.) This man was left at the gate every day, so that those who frequented the temple knew his condition. Notice that when Peter healed him, he did not stumble around on wobbly legs: "He leaping up stood, and walked ... walking, and leaping, and praising God."
Many today use a statement by Jesus to prove the practice of miracles. In John 14:12, Jesus said to his disciples: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." If this statement had reference to miracles, then we should be observing people today who perform greater miracles than Jesus did. We should be able to see men raising other men from the dead at least four days after the body has begun decomposing, since Jesus did the same for Lazarus (John 11:14-44). Surely someone today could walk on water (Matt. 14:25).
In John 14:12, Jesus was not referring to miracles, but rather to preaching the Gospel. In His time, Jesus could only preach in a small geographical area. After Jesus' resurrection, the apostles, and subsequent generations, carried the message of salvation to the entire world. Sometimes thousands of souls would be saved in a single day, something Christ had never done. The apostles surpassed Christ in only one way - the number of souls converted by their sermons. These are the "greater works" to which Christ refers.
The miracles of the Bible were verifiable. In Matt. 9:1-8 there was a man, sick of the palsy, unable to walk. Jesus forgave this man his sins. The unbelieving Jews saw this as blasphemy. After all, they could not tell by the man's outward appearance that his sins were forgiven. Since they considered Jesus to be a false teacher, they thought that his pronouncement was blasphemy. Notice what Jesus said in vs. 5-6: "For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house." Jesus was not afraid for his miracles to be investigated. They demonstrated His authority to unbelievers and skeptics.
Just as the lame man in Acts 3:1-9, everyone knew he was crippled. They also knew that he had been truly healed of his illness. See Acts 4:16.
Today we hear a great deal of testimony from people who say they have been healed, but one cannot verify mere testimony. Many claims are made, but where is the proof? Jesus said that not only would those who possessed miraculous gifts heal the sick, but would also "raise the dead" (Matt. 10:8). Have you witnessed the dead being raised? Since Jesus commanded his disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead, one should be just as easy as the other.
To the people of the Bible, there was no doubting when a miracle was performed. Miracles supposedly done today, such as the healing of an illness over a period of time, cannot be verified. "Undiagnosed illness," which many preachers claim to heal, cannot be verified. When a man claims to have been healed over a period of time by some miracle, and an unbeliever is "healed" over the same period of time from the same disease, the unbeliever has reason to scoff. Where is God glorified?
The miracles of the Bible did not involve deceit, nor were they accomplished by the power of suggestion. The miracles of the Bible were not cheap imitations, silly, or frivolous, and were not performed in a circus-like atmosphere.
There was no yelling, dancing or swooning, and the performance of miracles never made the doer rich! Jesus told his disciples in Matt. 10:8 to "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: for freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses."
Faith was not required of the one being healed. The lame man at the temple gate was not expecting to be healed (Acts 3:1-9). What faith did Lazarus have when he was raised from the dead? Even Lazarus' family did not believe he could be raised; only Jesus believed. So called "miracles" of today are simply not in the same class with the true miracles of the Bible.
God Is Still Active
To say that God is not working through miracles today is not to say that he is retired or has ceased to be active. Quite the contrary - God still answers prayers today, though He is doing this providentially, not by miraculous means. Examples of God's providential care are abundant in the Scriptures. Notice how much good He accomplished in Joseph's life (Genesis, chapters 37, 39, and 40), but there are no miracles associated with Joseph's life. Also notice God's providential care of Ruth and Esther, in the books bearing their names.
God still acts, still answers prayers, still heals and sustains; but his healing now takes place within natural law, rather than beyond it. He uses doctors, medicines, the body's immune system and time to heal.
Miracles of God were always intended to be temporary. After their purpose was accomplished, miracles gave way to natural law. For example, when God created man, He created him of the dust of the earth. This was truly a miracle. Men today are not continuously created. Now men are formed by natural reproduction. The miracle gave way to natural law. That was, and is God's way.
Some become angry when others question the validity of miraculous claims. However, the scriptures teach it is all right to be skeptical. In fact, they teach us to investigate those things that are said to be from God. 1 Thess. 5:21 states: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
Many things happen in these days that are called miracles, but are not, in reality. The birth of a baby is most certainly an act of God, but not a miracle. If somebody survives a plane crash, it may be a providential act of God, but not a miracle - it lacks context and confirms no new truth. A person may in time recuperate from a serious illness - certainly such a thing may be an act of God's providence and care - but no miracle need have taken place. God does not act through miracles alone.
Miracles were never an end in themselves. God used them to prove and demonstrate His nature. But many today view "miracles" as the sole or major purpose of their religion. "Healing" has become a preoccupation, so that many preachers and religions are known more for "healing rallies" than for the beliefs they espouse. Let us all "set our affections on heavenly things" (Col. 3:1-3) and not be entirely concerned with the body, which is perishing day by day. In heaven, men will enjoy bodies free from disease and illness. Such life can only be ours through Jesus Christ, by obeying His gospel.