A Misguided Statement Regarding Miracles
Genuine miracles, as such events are depicted in the sacred Scriptures, were amazing phenomena. They were manifestations of the awesome power of the Almighty God. While it certainly is true that God employed miracles in the creation of the Universe (cf. Gen. 1; Psa. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3), it also is a fact that supernatural events mostly were used as tools of confirmation. The Lord authenticated the messages of his spokesmen with “signs” (Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4).
Three terms are employed in the Greek New Testament to reflect the idea of a “miracle,” and there are three contexts in which these words are found together (Acts 2:22; 2 Thes. 2:9; Heb. 2:4). The original expressions are as follows.
- Dunamis is “power, a mighty work.” This word stresses the divine power involved in the miraculous event. No ordinary human, operating on his own, can perform a miracle.
- Teras is “a wonder.” It describes the effect produced in the minds of those who observed, i.e., amazement was generated — even when they were hostile to the source (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 11:47; Acts 4:16).
- Semeion is a “sign.” It indicates that the supernatural event was not an end within itself; rather it pointed to something else — in the case of the miracles performed by Christ and his apostles, the “signs” directed attention to the reality that their messages originated with God (cf. Jn. 3:2).
Elsewhere on this web site we have argued, in great detail, for the temporary function of miracles within the framework of biblical times. We will not consume the space to rehearse that material here. At this time we simply will register our protest against the assertions of some — who ought to know better — that supernatural signs are extant today. Consider, for example, this recent declaration from a gentleman who travels widely and exerts a significant influence in Christian circles.
“God can perform any miracle He wishes to, and we would not discourage anyone from asking God for a miracle — no matter what the situation is and no matter what their belief system might be” (John Clayton, Does God Exist?, May/June, 2002, p. 5).
In fairness to the author, we must note the larger context of this statement. The writer was calling attention to some of the claims being made by the Pat Boone family concerning the famous entertainer’s grandson, who, months ago, suffered a tragic fall and was in a coma for a considerable period of time. As the young man slowly healed (for which we are thankful), the Boone clan has been claiming a series of miracles. Mr. Clayton chastises those who make such claims, correctly pointing out that gradual healing is not miraculous. In offering his admonition, however, Clayton makes the statement cited above — which is every bit as egregious as the claims he criticizes.
In the kindest spirit possible, we offer this critique of this admonition.
The issue is not what God is able to do. It is what he has said about this topic in the New Testament, that is of paramount concern. And the truth of the matter is this: Clayton is on record already as contending that God may respond to individual requests in supplying “miraculous help” — even today. He contends that the Scriptures are “vague” on this theme and the issue should be left “open” (Does God Exist?, May/June, 1987, p. 21). The author reveals, therefore, that he is woefully uninformed as to the duration of miraculous signs — as set forth in the New Testament (1 Cor. 13:8ff; Eph. 4:11ff).
Why would one not discourage hurting and/or grieving people from seeking miraculous cures — unless he does indeed believe in modern miracles? If people are encouraged to believe that miracles are a part of the “Christian package” today, and they pray for such, will not their repeated disillusionment lead them to doubt the very validity of the Christian system? There is considerable evidence that some of the most vocal and hostile skeptics today are from the “charismatic” background. They genuinely believed that miracles were possible in their lives; they claimed that God worked through them to accomplish such. Finally, they “soured” on their own persistent failures. Thus, what a foolish and dangerous thing the gentleman under review has written.
Then there was that passive encouragement to pray for a miracle “no matter what belief system” might be involved. This reveals an entirely new dimension of the author’s flawed comprehension regarding the purpose of miraculous works. There is not a syllable in the entire New Testament that provides support for the notion that the first-century citizen was to pray for a miracle for his/her personal advantage. Yes, signs frequently blessed people — but that was not the primary aim of the events.
The Gospel accounts catalog no fewer than 26 healing miracles during the personal ministry of Christ. In not a solitary instance was a person healed directly from Heaven, independent of Christ’s personal agency, in response to prayer. And the same thing may be said with reference to the miracles performed through the apostles and other supernaturally-endowed persons. Miracles were intended to confirm the validity of the gospel message being proclaimed (Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:4). Signs were never designed to be mere blessings in the lives of select people. To be unaware of this fact is to thrust one’s qualifications as a teacher of the Christian system into serious dispute.
We truly wish rebukes of this nature were not needed. But what are we to do — ignore the error and permit sincere students to be further misled? That simply is not a viable option.