By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed June 30, 1982)
A general reflection on the subject of miracles is always in order for several reasons. Men tend to treat miracles like common events or frequently treat common events like miracles. The greatest problem is that men tend to divorce the miracles of Jesus and the apostles from their historical setting. Therefore, the scriptural purpose of miracles is largely overlooked. Our goal will be to focus on the purpose of miracles according to revelation and their relationship to God’s revelation. Frankly, we do not know of any other way to understand God’s use of miracles in his stewardship of the universe. A clear head regarding the purpose of miracles is the only way to be free of today’s turmoil over whether or not something is actually a miracle.
Let us not be dismayed over the fact that miracles are a subject of controversy. The history of miracles involves regular controversy. The Bible is quick to affirm this truth.
- In the days of Moses there was a conflict between God’s miracles and the alleged miracles of the magicians of Egypt (Exodus 7:8-12).
- In Jesus’ day there was a conflict between God’s miracles to approve Jesus as the Christ and the Jewish claims of the day (Matthew 12:22-27).
- The miracles performed by the apostles as God bore them witness clashed with the sorcery of their day (Acts 8:9-11; 13:6; 19:13-19).
Therefore, the claims and counterclaims regarding miracles today should not surprise or discourage us.
Jesus appears to hint that there will be things amiss relative to the subject of miracles in the future. Matthew 7:22,23 reads, “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? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” The destruction of Jerusalem was preceded by miracles, but not of God. Matthew 24:24 reads, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
Let us realize the fact that a subject that is controversial does not mean we have no answer available. Again, let us remember the fact that everything which happens cannot always be explained by us. But this does not mean we must be undecided on the subject and remain uncertain from day to day. Ephesians 4:14 reads, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” The written word of heaven that we possess has sufficient evidence to permit a soundly anchored decision in regards to miracles in our day.
Brief Thoughts on Defining Miracles
The defining of the word miracle cannot be overlooked, but we will pursue a definition in a limited style. Miracles are events that occur beyond or contrary to the laws known to function within or over the universe. “An event outside of the scope of either fundamental laws of nature or of the normal operations of natural processes.” “True miracles must be defined in terms of their relation to the basic laws and processes of the present cosmos which are now being sustained by God himself in Christ.” Read Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3; 2 Peter 3:7.
We are looking at an intervention into space, mass, time, i.e.; the natural processes of the universe sustained by divine fiat. The mere inability to explain an event to everyone’s satisfaction does not make miracles. We do not know the full extent of many laws of our universe. Many laws regarding human behavior are not understood under various circumstances. One cannot readily list many acceptable laws of human behavior at this time. Unexplained changes in the human being, does not define a Biblical miracle. This area is obviously being abused today by many. Permitting our ignorance to define a miracle brings no glory to God.
Miracles, Wonders, and Signs
The words miracle, wonder and sign are used throughout the word of God to uncover information about the same event. The three words reveal various aspects about God’s mighty works. The usage of different words to refer to the same event or person is not unusual in the Bible. For example, elders, bishops, and pastors describe the same individuals. This helps to reveal important truths about the person and his work.
Acts 2:22 reads, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” Note the three words used in the same verse. You can also read them together in 2 Corinthians 12:12 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
Miracle: The word refers to power, inherent ability and is used of works of a supernatural origin and character, that could not be produced by natural agents and means. A miracle is the result of supernatural power. They are called wonderful works and mighty works in the plural. Matthew 11:20 reads, “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.” See also verses 21 and 23. Read Luke 19:37. The word power in Acts 10:38 is translated miracle in other passages. The interested student might investigate verses revealing how the word was translated.
Matthew 6:13 power
Matthew 7:22 wonderful works
Matthew 11:20 mighty works
Matthew 25:15 ability
Mark 5:30 virtue
Mark 9:39 miracle
1 Corinthians 14:11 meaning
1 Corinthians 15:56 strength
2 Corinthians 12:12 mighty deeds
Revelation 18:3 abundance
Miracle emphasizes supernatural power.
Wonder: The word refers to “the astonishment which the work produces upon the beholders and is transferred to the work itself.” The mighty works caused the viewer to wonder or be amazed. Acts 2:7 says, “And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans?” Verse 12 reads, “And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?” Again, let us look at other verses and their translation.
Matthew 12:22,23 amazed
Luke 4:36 amazed
Mark 2:12 amazed
Mark 4:41 feared exceedingly
Mark 6:51 sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered
Mark 7:37 beyond measure astonished
Wonder emphasizes the effect of the event on the observers.
Sign: The word basically means a mark, an indication or token. A sign is “a pledge of something more than itself.” The significance of a sign is that it stands for something other than itself. The reason for miracles is seen most clearly by the meaning of this word. The great work or power was a token or indication of the near presence and working of God. Possibly Matthew 12:28 says it best. “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” The miracles of God have a precise reason for happening. They were a sign. The sign removes the idea of cheap amazement, or done simply for one’s own glory. They vividly signified that the truth was being declared. They were a sign to bear witness or authenticate that the messenger and his message were revealing the will of heaven on earth. We will examine why this is so later in our study, but this is the crux of the miracle controversy.
The use of a unique event as a sign can be illustrated from an old testament happening. Numbers 26:10 reads, “and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up together with Kora, when that company died, what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men: and they became a sign.” In other passages the word is translated:
Matthew 12:38,39 sign
Luke 23:8 miracle
John 2:11 miracle
Matthew 24:24 signs
2 Thessalonians 3:17 token
Revelation 12:1 wonder
The light cast on the subject by the three words in their scriptural settings is fundamental to proper study. To sum things up:
- miracle points especially to the power by which they were wrought
- wonder points to the effects on the minds of eyewitnesses
- sign points to the purpose which they were intended to serve, as proofs of the divine mission.
Many scriptures in the gospels that reveal the role of miracles as a sign and proof of Jesus, person and work are overlooked. “Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” Read John 5:36.
Let us read Mark 2:10-12 to illustrate the various aspects of the mighty works brought out by the three words studied. “But that ye may know that the son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up they bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all, insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying We never saw it in this fashion.” The miracle manifested power greater than man can supply, the observers were literally amazed and wondered, and the sign or indication of the healing is declared. It was that men would not doubt the Son of man had the power to forgive sins. The truthfulness of his power to forgive sins was confirmed by the amazing healing of the palsy. It was heaven’s way of saying we agree, so hear him out and consider who is speaking to you.
These observations regarding the controversy surrounding miracles, the thoughts on definition, and the various aspects of miracles prepare us to seek out the reasons or purpose for miracles. We are fully convinced an understanding of the purpose of miracles according to the scriptures is the best guide to understanding miracles and answering the questions of the day. Understanding the purpose of miracles will determine where we will anchor our mind and our faith on the subject of miracles. (To be Continued…)