Miracles are a part of the Biblical record. They occur in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Jimmy Jividen listed the references to miracles in the Gospel accounts and New Testament record: (1) Matthew – general references to miracles, 10; specific miracles, 20; (2) Mark – general references to miracles, 6; specific miracles, 18. (3) Luke – general references, 6; specific miracles, 21; (4) John – general references to miracles, 7; specific miracles, 8. (5) Acts – general references to miracles, 10; specific miracles, 12. (6) Epistles – general references to miracles, 5 (Jimmy Jividen, Miracles From God or Man?, p. 25-65).
This series will look closely at the subject of miracles. In this part, we will define what a miracle is, and consider its purpose(s).
A miracle does not simply refer to the amazing. People sometimes speak of “the miracle of child-birth,” or a “miracle play” in sports. However, such is not how the Bible uses the term.
A miracle is God’s working on a plane above natural law. Wayne Jackson states it this way, “A miracle is a divine operation that transcends what is normally perceived as natural law (What Does The Bible Say About Miracles?, christiancourier.com). Stephen Wiggins has written, “A miracle, as used in the Bible, is an act of God wherein He supersedes or suspends His natural laws. My good friend, Lockwood, is always bold enough to tell the Pentecostals to their face that he does not care how they define a miracle as long as they properly distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. Me thinks the brother is right on target. A miracle is not to be confused with a work of nature… Nor should a miracle be confused with a work of providence, which is an effect produced by a special act of God accomplished through natural means” (What is a Miracle?, Hammer & Tongs, May – June 1996, p. 5).
Let’s make a distinction. (1) Hannah prayed for a child, had marital relations with her husband, Elkanah, “and the LORD remembered her,” and she conceived (1 Samuel 1). This was not a miracle. It was God’s providence. However, Mary’s virgin conception (Matthew 1:23-25), and Sarah’s conception post-menopause (Genesis 18:11) were miracles. (2) Praying for food (Matthew 6:11) and receiving it through work (2 Thessalonians 3:10) is not a miracle. It may involve God’s providence. However, Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five barley loaves and two small fish (John 6) was a miracle. A miracle involves that which is naturally not going to happen, like raising the dead. (For more information on the difference between a miracle and providence see article entitled “The Providence of God”).
The purpose of miracles was not purely for physical benefit. This is evident from the fact that Paul left Trophimus in Miletus sick (2 Timothy 4:20). Moreover, miraculous gifts were not used to heal Timothy’s stomach ailment. Instead, Paul advised him to – “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul requested three times that his “thorn in the flesh” be removed. Yet, no miracle was performed. Instead, he was told by the Lord – “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The purpose of miracles was not primarily about physical relief. This is evident from the Biblical record. The reason Jesus healed a paralytic man is stated – “that you may know that the son of man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). The reason Jesus healed the man born blind was – “that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3-4). These works bore witness that Jesus had been sent by the Father (cf. John 5:31, 33, 36). The reason Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead is stated – “that they may believe that You (the Father, B.H.) sent me” (John 11:41b-42 cf. 11:14-15). Yes, Jesus had compassion on people (Matthew 14:14; 15:32; 20:33-34; Mark 1:40-41; 5:19; 8:1-2; Luke 7:11-13). However, the purpose of miracles was not primarily about physical relief, for if it were, He would have instantly healed all the sick in the world, and emptied every cemetery. This, He did not do.
The purpose of miracles was not material gain. I have heard of those who say they will heal if enough money is paid. However, Jesus told the apostles: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8).
The primary purpose of miracles in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament was revelation and confirmation of this revelation being from God. God told Moses that he would do miracles – “that they may believe that the LORD God… has appeared to you” (Exodus 4:1-5). God told Joshua that the waters of the Jordan would part, “That they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 3:7-8 cf. Exodus 14). The widow of Zarephath proclaimed, after Elijah revived her son, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24). The miraculous works of Jesus did, testified that God sent Him (John 5:36 cf. 9:3-4). Nicodemus said to Jesus – “Rabbi, we know that You come from God; for no one can do these signs You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). The resurrection of Jesus powerfully confirms Him and His message (Romans 1:4; Matthew 12:38-40). Jesus chosen witness had their message confirmed, “God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:1-4). “They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). The message did not go forth in word alone. It went forth with power and much assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:5 cf. Romans 15:18-19).
Miraculous gifts edified the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). This edification came through revelation and inspired teaching (1 Corinthians 14:3, 6). Misusing the gifts of the tongues did not edify (1 Corinthians 14:17).
Once Confirmed, Always Confirmed
Once new revelation was miraculously confirmed, it stood confirmed. Jeremiah did not, for instance, work miracles to confirm the words of Moses. Once a message had been confirmed God considered the evidence sufficient. The rich man wanted a miracle. He wanted Lazarus to return from the dead to warn his brothers (Luke 16:27-28). He was told, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them… If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29-31). In other words, the written message of Moses and the prophets were deemed sufficient warning. Jesus does not need to die and be resurrected in every generation. The evidence of His death, burial, and resurrection is sufficient for every generation subsequent to the cross. His death, burial and resurrection were once and for all (Hebrews 9:24-28; 1 Peter 3:18; Revelation 1:18).
Think of the implication. If revelation is complete (John 16:13; Jude 3), an if this message was confirmed in the first century (Hebrews 2:1-4), and if this messages stands as confirmed – once it has been confirmed, then where is the need for miracles today?
It is objected that Christians of Corinth possessed miraculous gifts (1 Corinthians 1:7; 12:1-14:40), and yet they had the testimony of Christ confirmed in them (1 Corinthians 1:6). Therefore, the message can be confirmed and miraculous gifts continue. This objection fails to consider that new revelation was still being revealed at this time (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).
It is objected that miraculous gifts provide edification, exhortation, and comfort to the church (1 Corinthians 14:3, 6, 12). However, it should be kept in mind that these things were provided through revelation and inspired teaching (1 Corinthians 14:3, 6; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The church still receives edification, exhortation, and comfort through the revealed word.
It is pointed out that God used supernatural power in creation (Genesis 1:1). Furthermore, supernatural power will be used in the resurrection to come (John 5:28-29). Therefore, miracles can serve some purpose other than revelation and confirmation. I agree there are special one-time miraculous events which occur without human agency. These include: The creation (Genesis 1:1); the conception of Mary (Isaiah 7:14); and the resurrection to come (John 5:28-29). [Though I would point out that creation does reveal and confirm our God (Psalm 19:1-4; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20). Mary’s conception no doubt also revealed and confirmed God’s plan to at least some (Luke 1:26-56)]. These exception aside. The normal purpose of miracles in the Bible is revelation and confirmation. This is true whether the miracle was direct from heaven, or by human agency.