Category: Topical Bible Study

On the Distinctions Between the Error of “Common Grace” and the Biblical Doctrine of “Particular Grace”

This is an article that was shared by a Retired Reformed Minister friend of mine. It’s a bit long but well worth the read.  Here it is unedited.

Beloved Christians Everywhere, PARTICULARLY THOSE WHO TEACH AND BELIEVE THE DOCTRINES OF ELECTION AND PREDESTINATION AND OF BY GRACE ALONE, THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE BY THE REV. LANNING IS MOST PROFITABLE. It has been and remains a real blessing to me personally
Sola gratia! Grace alone!
By Rev. Andy Lanning
Sola gratia is one of the well-known Latin
“five solas” of the Reformation: sola gratia,
sola fide, solus Christus, sola Scriptura, soli
Deo gloria. The “five solas” summarise
the Reformation’s answer to the Roman
Catholic Church, which tried to exalt man
to a position alongside God. Over against
the Roman Catholic teaching that salvation
depends partly upon God’s work and partly
upon man’s work, the reformers taught that
man is justified by faith alone (sola fide),
because of grace alone (sola gratia), on the
basis of the work of Christ alone (solus
Christus). Over against the Roman Catholic
teaching that the pope’s word was of equal
authority with God’s Word, the reformers
taught the authority of Scripture alone
(sola Scriptura). The entire Roman Catholic
system robbed God of His glory by giving it
to man, whereas the reformers taught that
all glory in salvation and revelation belongs
to God alone (soli Deo gloria).
To this day, sola gratia is a dear and beloved
doctrine in Reformed churches. This
particular “sola” teaches a foundational
truth about salvation, namely, that our
salvation does not depend in any way
upon our worth or works, but upon the
sovereign grace of God alone. Sola gratia
echoes the truth of Ephesians 2:8, 9. “For
by grace are ye saved through faith; and
that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
not of works, lest any man should boast.”
If salvation depended upon us, we would
perish. Because our salvation depends upon
God, we are saved indeed. Thanks be to
God that we are saved by grace, and by
grace alone! Sola gratia! Grace alone!
However, some Reformed teachers and
churches today are undermining the
glorious gospel of sola gratia by their
promotion of the theory of common grace.
These teachers claim that there are two
kinds of divine grace: a particular saving
grace of God for His elect people alone,
and a non-saving common grace of God
for all people. This theory of two graces was
recently promoted in Singapore by Rev.
Maurice Roberts, a retired minister in the
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).
Speaking for the 2014 Reformation Day
Conference of First Evangelical Reformed
Church, which had as its theme Sola Gratia,
Rev. Roberts taught that God demonstrates
His favour toward humanity in two ways:
by a common grace for all and a saving grace for His people. The promotional material
for the speech promised that Rev. Roberts
would “elucidate upon God’s common and
saving grace . . . .” The speech went beyond
this promise, as Rev. Roberts not only
elucidated the theory of common grace, but
promoted and advocated it as biblical truth.
When Rev. Maurice Roberts, a respected
and influential Reformed minister,
promotes common grace in Singapore,
at the invitation of a Reformed church
in Singapore, he gets the attention of
Reformed people in Singapore—readers
of Salt Shakers included. Therefore we
are compelled to examine Rev. Roberts’
teaching by asking three questions: What is
the theory of common grace? What is the
error of common grace? And what are the
consequences of common grace?
1. What is the theory of common grace?
Common grace is a theory about God’s
attitude toward all people. It claims that
God has a gracious attitude of kindness,
compassion, pity, and favour for all men
without exception. According to this
theory, God’s favour is not limited to His
elect people in Christ, but extends to all
men, including the reprobate. The name of
the theory is helpfully descriptive: common
grace. The “grace” of common grace describes
God’s attitude as one of grace, favour,
kindness, and compassion. The “common”
of common grace describes this divine
favour as extending to all men in common.
According to Rev. Roberts:
“There is . . . a general goodness of God,
what you might call a universal kindness of
God. Listen to what Jesus says about God:
‘He is kind to the unthankful and to the
evil.’ He is referring to His heavenly Father,
and He says God is kind, merciful to those
who never become Christians, who never
listen to the gospel, who never read the
Bible, who never go to church. God is kind
even to these.”
God displays this common grace to all
men, so the theory goes, through the many
good gifts that He bestows upon them.
Not only the elect, but also the reprobate
receive many necessary things and many
pleasant things from God. According to the
theory of common grace, bestowal of such
wonderfully good gifts must imply that
God also has a positive attitude of grace
and favour for all who receive these gifts.
According to Rev. Roberts, continuing
from the quotation above:
“Now let’s be clear what Jesus meant. He
meant that God is so kind that in this life
He gives to the wicked many favours which
express His goodness and His pity to fallen
sinners. What sort of things do I mean? I
mean, He gives them food and drink and
health and good weather and homes and
good government and happiness, etc. You
dear people don’t need me to tell you, as
I visited your beloved island of Singapore,
what a wonderful community you have. How safe it is, and how much protection
you have, and how many services you have
of many kinds, and benefits of many kinds.
You don’t need to be hungry in Singapore
– plenty of places to eat, yes. Well, that’s a
favour from God, and that favour is enjoyed
by people who never ever go to church,
never ever read the Bible. And Jesus puts it
like this: God is kind to the unthankful and
to the evil.”
Common providence?
Upon reading this description of common
grace, some may wonder whether Rev.
Roberts is simply teaching a variation of
the Reformed doctrine of providence.
There may even be some who know that
common grace is a false doctrine, and
yet are sympathetic to what Rev. Roberts
says, who attempt to excuse his theory of
common grace by claiming it is merely a
theory of common providence.
The term “providence” refers to God’s
sovereign control over all things. Herbs and
grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren
years, meat and drink, health and sickness,
riches and poverty, yea, and all things are
distributed to men by God according to
His own sovereign will and by His own
sovereign direction. Usually, the Reformed
faith simply refers to God’s sovereign
control as “providence”. Perhaps it would
be legitimate to refer to God’s providence
as “common providence”, because God
exercises sovereign control over the elect
and the reprobate alike. The elect man and
his reprobate neighbour receive the same
common providence of rain and sunshine
on their crops. They enjoy the protection
of the same police force. Their children
catch the same flu, and see the same doctor
and take the same medicine for relief. God
sovereignly distributes to the elect man and
to the reprobate man alike.
Such a doctrine of providence, and even
“common providence,” is biblical and
confessional. It is the doctrine of Matthew
5:45. “That ye may be the children of your
Father which is in heaven: for he maketh
his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,
and sendeth rain on the just and on the
unjust.” It is the doctrine of Article 13 of
the Belgic Confession. “We believe that the
same God, after He had created all things,
did not forsake them, or give them up to
fortune or chance, but that He rules and
governs them according to His holy will, so
that nothing happens in this world without
His appointment…”
However, Rev. Roberts’ theory of common
grace is emphatically not a theory of common
providence. The Reformed doctrine of
providence teaches that God governs both
the elect and the reprobate, but it does
not teach that God has the same gracious
attitude toward the elect and reprobate as
he governs them. The Reformed doctrine
of providence speaks of God’s particular
favour for the elect, believing saints of
God. For example, Article 13 of the Belgic
Confession: “This doctrine [of providence]
affords us unspeakable consolation, since
we are taught thereby that nothing can
befall us by chance, but by the direction of
our most gracious and heavenly Father . . .
.” In this article, although God sovereignly
distributes to all men in His providence,
His favour is only for “us,” that is, the elect
children of our heavenly Father.
The Reformed doctrine of providence
teaches God’s universal government, but
His particular grace. Rev. Roberts’ theory
of common grace teaches God’s universal
government, and God’s universal grace.
Rev. Roberts’ theory is not merely one of
common providence, but common grace.
God’s wish to save all men
Rev. Roberts intensifies his theory of
common grace by claiming that God also
desires to save all men. God’s common
grace, so the teaching goes, is not merely
a kindness in God’s heart that gives men
nice earthly gifts, but a loving-kindness
that wishes to give all men the heavenly
gift of salvation from sin and eternal life.
God’s saving grace will only save the elect
in the end. But, according to Rev. Roberts,
God’s common grace makes Him desire
the salvation of the elect and the reprobate
alike. Quoting Rev. Roberts again:
“But here’s the wonderful thing: so kind
and generous is God that He expresses
to sinners His wish, His desire, that they
should all be saved.
Now that’s amazing.
I’m going to quote to you now. Listen to
the words in Ezekiel 33: ‘As I live, saith the
Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death
of the wicked, but rather that the wicked
turn from his way and live.’ Now God is
saying that to people who hate Him, and
who never come to believe in the Lord Jesus
Christ. God is saying, I have no pleasure in
your death, sinners. My wish is that you
turn, sinners, from your wicked way.”
Rev. Roberts repeatedly uses the term
“sinners” in the quotation above. The
sinners he is talking about are not elect
sinners, predestined to salvation, but
reprobate sinners, predestined to hell. They
are the sinners “who hate [God], and who
never come to believe in the Lord Jesus
Christ.” To these reprobate sinners, Rev.
Roberts says, “God… expresses… His wish,
His desire, that they should all be saved.”
2. What is the error of common grace?
Rev. Roberts’ theory of common grace is that God has a gracious attitude of kindness and
mercy in His heart for all men, including
the reprobate; that God distributes earthly
gifts to all men in His gracious favour for
them; and that God graciously wishes that
all men would be saved.
Rev. Roberts’ theory of common grace is
false doctrine.
It is false doctrine because it is unbiblical.
The Bible teaches that God’s grace is
particular. That is, the objects of God’s
grace in Scripture are never all men
without exception, but always His elect
people alone. From the first reference to
grace in Genesis 6:8 to the last reference
in Revelation 22:21, God’s grace is for
the elect. Noah found grace in the eyes
of the LORD (Genesis 6:8), as did Moses
(Exodus 33:17). God was gracious to His
church in the Old Testament (Exodus
33:16), as He is to His church in the New
(Romans 16:24). Grace is for the beloved
of God, called to be saints (Romans 1:7),
for them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus,
that call upon the name of Jesus Christ our
Lord (I Corinthians 1:2, 3), for the faithful
in Christ Jesus, chosen in Christ before
the foundation of the world (Ephesians
1:1, 2, 4), for all the saints in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 1:1, 2), for the saints and
faithful brethren in Christ (Colossians
1:1, 2), for the church which is in God
the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ (1
Thessalonians 1:1), for the dearly beloved
(Philemon 1, 3), for the elect according
to the foreknowledge of God the Father
(1 Peter 1:2), for them that have obtained
like precious faith with the apostles through the righteousness of God and our Saviour
Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1, 2), for the elect
lady and her children (2 John 1, 3), and for
the servants of Jesus Christ who receive His
revelation (Revelation 1:1 with 22:21).
What makes the particularity of God’s
grace stark and clear is that the Bible
always describes God’s attitude towards the
reprobate as an attitude of wrath, never as an
attitude of favour. Always, from eternity to
eternity, God curses the wicked. Indeed, His
curse permeates their entire earthly life, for
His curse is in their house (Proverbs 3:33).
He bestows many wonderful gifts upon
the ungodly, not because He is gracious to
them, but to make their path slippery as
they slide into destruction and desolation
(Psalm 73). He hates the reprobate Esau
(Romans 9:13) and Esau’s children, the
reprobate nation of Edom (Malachi 1:1-5).
He appoints the disobedient to wrath, and
makes them stumble in this life upon the
Rock of offence (1 Peter 2:7, 8). He before
of old ordained men to condemnation,
and in this life pronounces woe upon them
(Jude 4, 11).
In Rev. Roberts’ theory, God’s grace is
common. In the Bible, God’s grace is
strictly particular.
The Bible teaches only particular grace,
and knows nothing of a common grace,
for this profound reason: God’s grace is
in Jesus Christ. That is, God’s attitude of
favour is never displayed apart from Christ,
but is always grace in Christ. After all,
God’s attitude of gracious favour is not an
attitude first of all for us, His people, but an
attitude of gracious favour for Christ Jesus.
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am
well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Therefore,
for us, God’s grace is in Christ Jesus (2
Timothy 2:1). God graciously chose us in
Christ in the decree of election (Romans
11:5, Ephesians 1:4). We are justified freely
by God’s grace through the redemption
that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).
God’s grace reigns through righteousness
unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord
(Romans 5:21). The law was given by
Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus
Christ (John 1:17). We know the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was
rich, yet for our sakes He became poor; that
we, through His poverty, might be rich (2
Corinthians 8:9). In the ages to come, God
will show the exceeding riches of His grace
in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus
(Ephesians 2:7). Therefore, God declares
to His people in Christ, “The grace of our
Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (2
Thessalonians 3:18).
Because God’s grace is in Christ, it always
irresistibly and infallibly saves. Grace in
Christ does not merely bestow earthly
treasures, but heavenly treasures. Grace in
Christ does not merely wish to save, but
actually saves (Ephesians 2:8, 9), justifies
(Romans 3:24), gives eternal life (Romans
5:21), sustains through infirmities (2
Corinthians 12:9), makes accepted in
the beloved (Ephesians 1:6), redeems in
Christ’s blood and forgives sins (Ephesians
1:7), quickens (Ephesians 2:5), calls with a
holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9), and helps in
time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
In Rev. Roberts’ theory, God has a grace
that does not save. In the Bible, God’s grace
always saves.
3. What are the consequences of common
grace?
Churches and teachers that tolerate and
promote common grace open themselves
up to serious consequences. The worst
consequence is that they make a mockery
of God. The god of common grace is
divided against himself. He cannot make
up his mind whether he loves certain
people or not, whether he should save them
or not. In his eternal decree of reprobation,
he righteously hates them and wills their
destruction, while in his common grace,
he at the same time mercifully wishes
their salvation. How perplexed the god of
common grace must be as he holds both
love and hatred, both blessing and curse in
his heart for all of the reprobate! Not even
the pagans teach that their idol gods are this
confused, but the god of common grace
remains impossibly bewildered. Such a god
is unstable and confused; such a god is to be
pitied. However, the true God of the Bible,
the God of particular grace, is not divided
against Himself. He is not confused about
His attitude toward men. In time and
eternity, He graciously blesses His chosen
people in Christ; in time and eternity, He
righteously curses the reprobate. With
perfect consistency, He loves His own;
with perfect consistency, He hates the
impenitent wicked. Teachers of common
grace mock the true God when they assign
to Jehovah the fictional attitude of common
grace.
Another, related consequence of common
grace is that its proponents not only mock
God, but they also mock His grace. In the
theory of common grace, God’s grace is
utterly impotent. In common grace, God
supposedly wishes and desires the salvation of all men, but that same grace is unable
actually to accomplish the salvation of all
men. People continue to “hate Him” and
“never come to believe in the Lord Jesus
Christ,” even though God expresses to them
“His wish, His desire, that they should all
be saved.” God’s so-called common grace
fails to accomplish what it desires. It is
powerless, impotent, useless grace. Fallen
man should tell the god of common grace
to keep his grace to himself, thereby sparing
both god and man the frustration of such
impotence. However, the true grace of God
is sovereign, powerful, and irresistible. God’s
grace always accomplishes what it desires,
infallibly saving those whom God desires
to save. The “I” in the Reformed acronym
TULIP does not stand for “impotent grace”
but “irresistible grace”. Reformed teachers
and Reformed churches who know the
irresistible grace of TULIP have no business
tolerating, much less teaching, impotent
common grace.
Another devastating consequence of
common grace is that it opens God’s people
to doubt whether God is truly good to
them. Especially, the child of God who
suffers in this life is taught by common
grace to question God’s goodness to him.
After all, if nice earthly things are the
evidence of God’s favour, then lack of these
things must be the evidence of God’s anger.
This common grace thinking was exactly
the sin of Asaph in Psalm 73. He noted
with great envy that the wicked prosper
(vs. 3) while he was plagued (vs. 14). At
first, Asaph approached this problem from
a common grace theology, assuming that
God’s gracious goodness was demonstrated
in earthly things. Therefore, his first
conclusion was that it was vain to be a child
of God, because the wicked received all the
evidences of God’s grace. “Behold, these are
the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they
increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed
my heart in vain, and washed my hands in
innocency. For all the day long have I been
plagued, and chastened every morning” (vss. 12-14). So spiritually paralyzing were
these doubts that they almost drove Asaph
to abandon the faith. “But as for me, my
feet were almost gone; my steps had well
nigh slipped. For I was envious at the
foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the
wicked” (vss. 2, 3). These are the awful
doubts that common grace theology can
create in God’s people. How can Reformed
teachers and churches entertain, much less
promote, such a theology?
God removed Asaph’s doubt by bringing
him finally to understand that God’s
attitude toward people is not demonstrated
through the provision of earthly things.
Rather, God always despises the impenitent
ungodly (vs. 20) and is always graciously
good to his people (vs. 1). The gifts that
God gives in this life to the ungodly only
hasten their plunge into destruction (vs.
18, 19), while the sorrows that He sends
to His people are used to draw them nearer
to Him (vs. 26). God rescued Asaph from
devastating spiritual doubt by taking
away Asaph’s common grace theology
and giving him instead a particular grace
theology. Likewise, it is incumbent upon
all Reformed teachers and churches today
to teach and defend God’s particular grace,
and to repudiate the soul-destroying error
of common grace.
Una Gratia
The theory of common grace is false
doctrine, with serious consequences. But it
is popular false doctrine.
It has able, influential proponents,
including Rev. Maurice Roberts. It has
many adherents, including large Reformed
denominations throughout the nations.
It finds sympathy almost wherever it
goes in the Reformed world. Indeed,
the false doctrine of common grace has
now been tolerated in Singapore, as Rev.
Roberts openly promoted his theory at the
invitation of a local Reformed church. The
false doctrine of common grace is popular,
and spreading.
Therefore, Reformed believers in Singapore,
now more than ever, must stand for the
biblical truth of God’s saving, particular
grace. Standing for the truth of God’s saving
grace will mean vigorously repudiating the
theory of common grace as an intolerable
false doctrine.
Perhaps Reformed believers in Singapore
could even advance the cause of the true
doctrine of God’s particular grace by
coining a new term: una gratia.
The Latin sola gratia means “grace alone.”
The Latin una gratia means “one grace.”
Just as sola gratia expresses the biblical truth that we are saved by grace alone, so una gratia expresses the biblical truth that such saving grace is the only kind of grace there is.
There are not two kinds of grace of God,
one saving and particular, the other non-
saving and common. God’s grace is only
saving and particular: one grace, una gratia.
Just as sola gratia is a helpful, memorable
way to distinguish the Reformed faith from
all theories of works-righteousness, so una
gratia could be a helpful, memorable way
to distinguish the Reformed faith from the
theory of common grace. Sola gratia is a
rallying cry for all lovers of the gospel of
grace; una gratia could be a rallying cry for
all lovers of sovereign, particular grace. Sola
gratia! et (and) Una gratia!
Regardless of whether Reformed believers
use this phrase or not, let us maintain the
truth that this phrase represents. We are
saved by grace alone, and such saving grace is the only grace there is. By this truth, God
is honoured and glorified as the sovereign,
gracious God, who mercifully and infallibly
saves His own people in Jesus Christ.
Sola gratia! et Una gratia! Soli Deo Gloria!

Why We Cannot Earn Our Way to Heaven

There are many religions in the world all which are but man’s attempts to achieve a level of “righteousness” to earn his way into to presence of God, heaven, nirvana, or whatever a man believes to be the most desirable eternal state.  There is a common misconception, that if I’m good enough, if my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, I’ll be ok in the end.  That is a lie from the pit of hell.

A number of years back, a Reformed pastor and theologian Lorraine Boettner wrote a book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination in which, in addition to the main subject of predestination he covered other related subjects.  Among those was the subject of today’s blog.  Why man in his natural state, unregenerated by the Holy Spirit (i.e., not born again) cannot by his good deeds earn God’s approval and consequently earn his way to heaven.

In Boettner’s  book is what I have found to be the most profound, rational, and yet exquisitely clear explanation of why man’s righteousness is insufficient, or as God calls all of man’s righteousnesses, “filthy rags.”  That God says it, should be sufficient, but knowing our weakness and our inquisitiveness, He does graciously allow His people some insights into the hows and whys of some, not all, of His ways.

Following is Section 3 of Boettner’s work in its entirety:

Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

Chapter 10

§3. THE DEFECTS IN MAN’S COMMON VIRTUES pp37-39

 

The unregenerate man can, through common grace, love his family and he may be a good citizen. He may give a million dollars to build a hospital, but he cannot give even a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of Jesus. If a drunkard, he may abstain from drink for utilitarian purposes, but he cannot do it out of love for God. All of his common virtues or good works have a fatal defect in that his motives which prompt them are not to glorify God, — a defect so vital  that it throws any element of goodness as to man wholly into the shade. It matters not how good the works may be in themselves, for so long as the doer of them in out of harmony with God, none of his works are spiritually acceptable. Furthermore, the good works of the unregenerate have no stable foundation, for his nature is still unchanged: and as naturally and as certainly as the washed sow returns to her wallowing in the mire, so he sooner or later returns to his evil ways.

In the realm of morals it is a rule that the morality of the man must precede the morality of the action. One may speak with the tongues of men and of angels; yet if he Is lacking that inward principle of love toward God, he is become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. He may give all his goods to feed the poor, and may give his body to be burned; yet if he lacks that inward principle. it profits him nothing. As human beings we know that an act of service rendered to us (by whatever utilitarian motives prompted) by someone who is at heart our enemy, does not merit our love and approbation. The Scripture statement that “Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto God,” finds Its explanation in this, that faith is the foundation of all the other virtues, and nothing is acceptable to God which does not flow from right feelings.

A moral act is to be judged by the standard of love to God, which love is, as it were, the soul of all other virtue, and which is bestowed upon us only through grace. Augustine did not deny the existence of natural virtues, such as moderation, honesty, generosity, which constitute a certain merit among men; but be drew a broad line of distinction between these and the specific Christian graces (faith, love and gratitude to God, etc.), which alone are good in the strict sense of the word, and which alone have value before God. This distinction is very plainly illustrated in an example given by W. D. Smith. Says he: “In a gang of pirates we may find many things that are good in themselves. Though they are in wicked rebellion against the laws of the government, they have their own laws and regulations, which they obey strictly. We find among them courage and fidelity, with many other things that will recommend them as pirates. They may do many things, too, which the laws of the government require, but they are not done because the government has so required, but in obedience to their own regulations. For instance the government requires honesty and they may be strictly honest, one with another, In their transactions, and the division of all their spoil. Yet, as respects the government, and the general principle, their whole life is one of the most wicked dishonesty. Now, it is plain, that while they continue in their rebellion they can do nothing to recommend them to the government as citizens. Their first step must be to give up their rebellion, acknowledge their allegiance to the government, and sue for mercy. So all men, in their natural state, are rebels against God, and though they may do many things which the law of God requires, and which will recommend them as men, yet nothing is done with reference to God and His law. Instead, the regulations of society, respect for public opinion, self-interest, their own character in the sight of the world, or some other worldly or wicked motive, reigns supremely; and God, to whom they owe their heart and lives, is forgotten; or, if thought of at all, His claims are wickedly rejected, His counsels spurned, and the heart, in obstinate rebellion, refuses obedience. Now it is plain that while the heart continues in this state the man is a rebel against God, and can do nothing to recommend him to His favor. The first step is to give up his rebellion, repent of his sins, turn to God, and sue for pardon and reconciliation through the Savior. This he is unwilling to do, until he is made willing. He loves his sins, and will continue to love them, until his heart is changed.”

The good actions of unregenerate men, Smith continues, “are not positively sinful in themselves, but sinful from defect. They lack the principle which alone can make them righteous in the sight of God. In the case of the pirates it is easy to see that all their actions are sin against the government. While they continue pirates, their sailing, mending, or rigging the vessel and even their eating and drinking, are all sins in the eyes of the government, as they are only so many expedients to enable them to continue their piratical career, and are parts of their life of rebellion. So with sinners. While the heart is wrong, it vitiates everything in the sight of God, even their most ordinary occupations; for the plain, unequivocal language of God is, ‘Even the lamp of the wicked, is sin,’ Proverbs 21:4.”

It is this inability which the Scriptures teach when they declare that “They that are in the flesh cannot please God,” Romans 8:8; “Whatsoever Is not of faith in sin,” Romans 14:23; and “Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing to Him,” Hebrews 11:6. Hence even the virtues of the unregenerate man are but as plucked and fading flowers. It was because of this that Jesus said to His disciples, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And because those virtues are of this nature, they are only temporary. The one who possesses them is like the seed which falls on the stony soil, which perhaps springs up with promise of fruitage, but soon withers in the sun because it has no root in itself.

It follows also from what has been said that salvation to ABSOLUTELY AND SOLELY OF GRACE,—that God Is free, in consistency with the infinite perfections of His nature, to save none, few, many, or all, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will. It also follows that salvation is not based on any merits in the creature, and that it depends on God, and not on men, who are, and who are not, to be made partakers of eternal life. God acts as a sovereign in saving some and passing by others who are left to the just recompense of their sins. Sinners are compared to dead men, or even to dry bones in their entire helplessness. In this they are all alike. The choice of some to eternal life is as sovereign as if Christ were to pass through a graveyard and bid one here and another there to come forth, the reason for restoring one to life and leaving another in his grave could be found only in His good pleasure, and not in the dead themselves. Hence the statement that we are foreordained according to the good pleasure of His will, and not after the good inclinations of our own; and in order that we might be holy, not because we were holy (Ephesians 1:4, 5). “Since all men alike deserved only God’s wrath and curse the gift of His only begotten Son to die in the stead of malefactors, as the only possible method of expiating their guilt, is the most stupendous exhibition of undeserved favor and personal love that the universe has ever witnessed.”33

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.html

Print Basis: Eerdmans, 1932 (copyright not renewed during 1959-61 and has expired)
Language: English
Rights: Public Domain
CCEL Subjects: All; Theology
LC Call no: BT810.B66
LC Subjects: Doctrinal theologySalvation

A Study on Healing and Other Miracles in the Church Today

By: Michael Fernandez

Introduction

The following study is adapted from the (manuscript) notes to 1st Corinthians 12:9 in Notes, 1st Corinthians, Revision 8-2006 and 8-2006C

The subject at hand is one that has been a source of controversy and contention within the Christian community.  This is unfortunate, as I do not believe it is necessary that it be so.

I do not pretend to be so wise and astute that I can claim to have produced here the definitive work on this subject.  I do believe however, that the Lord has given me some insight into the matter, and therefore, something of value to the Church in examining this subject.  It is my hope that despite any defects in the presentation of the material that follows, God will use this study for the profit of His people by bringing some additional clarity and unity in our views of it.

Applicability of Healing and Other Miracles Today

It is in respect to the issue of applicability today that there is so much division within the body of Christ, as touching on certain gifts of a miraculous nature mentioned in 1st Corinthians 12.  Specifically the [so-called] “sign gifts” of healing, working of miracles, and tongues (speaking in and/or interpretation thereof), cf. 1st Corinthians 12:9-10, 28-30.

On the one side, you have Pentecostal/Charismatic brethren (and I stress the word brethren) who believe that these gifts are to be in operation on a normative basis within the Church today.  On the other hand, there are those brethren (Reformed, Fundamental, et al.) who believe that these “sign” gifts ceased in their entirety with the close of the Apostolic era (ca. 100 AD), and thus, are not applicable today.  Who is right? As we examine the evidence that follows, I believe we will find that both and neither is correct. That is, neither is completely right or completely wrong.  The truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes.

As the implication is that these gifts are miraculous in nature, that is, the gift of “healings” found in 1st Corinthians. 12:9 is a gift of performing miraculous healings after the examples of Jesus and the Apostles (cf. Matthew 8:2, 5; 10:5-8).  I include these other “sign” gifts of performing miracles and tongues, as they fall under the overall umbrella of miracles/miraculous.  I leave out those gifted by God to be healers of the body or soul by mundane means e.g. doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, pastors, elders and others gifted with the spirit of discernment, and ability to counsel biblically.

Defining Our Terms (Footnote 1)

Before continuing, it is necessary to define certain key terms.  This is necessary due to the nature of the subject and the often-visceral reaction it produces in some people on both sides.  One great barrier to understanding between opposing sides in a debate, is the confusion that results when two sides use common terminology, but without having a common definition of the terms used.  Whether intentionally, as is done by pseudo-Christian cults, or unintentionally as sometimes occurs between brethren; the lack of having a commonly agreed upon or understood definition to key terms is a prime cause of error and misunderstanding.

Miracle/Miraculous:      For the purpose of this study, by miracle/miraculous, I mean the following:  An act or event that involves the complete suspension or violation of the natural laws of the universe as ordained by God in the beginning of the creation.  I do not mean those acts by which those laws are manipulated in some way as to bring about an otherwise natural or possibly natural result.

1)      While there is precedent in nature for animals to have various limbs and/or other organs, such as eyes re-grow after a loss by means of naturally designed processes.  There is no precedent in nature for one having been born blind, to suddenly receive not only the physical ability to see, but also the corresponding ability to understand what is being seen (cf. John 9:1).  That is a miracle.

2)      Related to the above, as there is again, no precedent in nature, is the making whole of a person’s limb that has been either missing or deformed from birth, without modern surgical techniques.  That would be a miracle.  Likewise the instantaneous restoration of a damaged or deformed limb that has been in that state for a period of years (cf. John 5:1-9), or even less time (cf. Luke 22:51), to full function. Those are miracles.

Providential Act:  An act or event that, while it may be unusual, and possibly miraculous, may also be attributed to the manipulation of natural processes in such a way as to bring about the desired result, usually some beneficial act.

1)      George Mueller (September 27, 1805 – March 10, 1898) ran orphanages in England. He depended fully upon the Lord for everything.  He never held fundraisers, or in any way made known to others, the needs of the orphanages he ran or their children.  The only one to whom he went with his needs was God.  Yet, he and the children never lacked any necessary thing— One day during a severe trial of faith, the Lord laid it on the heart of a brother on his way to work to give a gift for the orphans. He thought he would not go back immediately but would take something that evening. But the Lord so constrained him that he turned his steps right then to the orphan houses. Had it not been for his gift, there would not have been milk for the children that day. Another time it was only an hour until the children would need food for afternoon tea – but there was none until a brother came by with some funds sufficient for the food. [From THE LIFE OF TRUST, by George Müller (1805-1898) and reprinted by The Herald of His Coming]— Were these miracles? No. But it was an example of God’s providential care.

2)      Shortly after the Civil War, a young African male was miraculously delivered from captivity and certain death at the hands of enemy tribesmen in Africa (more on this later).  Following his delivery were a providential series of encounters, first with missionaries, later a sea captain willing to bring him to America, and then in America, with other men and women of influence, these encounters led to this young African becoming a very well known and respected Christian leader. Quite an accomplishment for a young black man who, but a few years earlier, knew nothing of white people, Christ, reading or writing.  That young man was Samuel Morris, still known today as a hero of the Christian faith.

3)      A cancer patient experiences a sudden remission of the cancer, without medical treatment.  A miracle?  Possibly, but not necessarily so, as there is the possibility of such a remission having a natural, if not fully understood, origin.  Such remissions have occurred naturally before.  That God may have begun the process or used or accelerated some natural process is not counted as a miracle for the purpose of this study, but rather, as an act of divine providence.  This is due to the possibility of the remission being the result of natural processes, even if divinely timed or influenced.

As the evidence of Scripture and history demonstrate the continued work of God in providence; providential acts are not a part of the debate over miracles, whether of healing or otherwise.

Is It Biblical?

Can we make any determination from the Bible and the biblical record, of the applicability of healing and/or other miracles in the post-Apostolic church and if so, to what degree?  I believe we can, based on the evidences─ direct, indirect, and inferred─ of Scripture.  It is solely by Scripture that any valid conclusion can be reached─ “To the law and to the prophets” Isaiah pointed out, “if they do not speak according to (i.e. in agreement with) these, it is because there is no light in them.” Cf. Isaiah 8:20, cp Acts 17:11.  Experience(s), anecdotes, even physical evidence, are not sufficient in themselves, though any and all of them may be used to support a conclusion.  Scripture, the Bible, is the final authority.  Any conclusion to be valid must be firmly rooted in Scripture.  Our senses (experience) can deceive us; people can lie to us (anecdotes); and the devil can perform miracles (physical evidences).

Search the Scriptures

The first thing to consider in determining if [miraculous] healings, patterned on the works of healing done by Jesus and the Apostles (cf. Matthew 10:8; 11:5) are to be the norm for the Church today, is to consider the following: According to the Scriptures, was physical healing by miraculous means ever the norm for God’s people?  If so, then there would be precedent for such today.  If not, then to what end were the healings, miracles, signs, and wonders worked by God directly or through His servants, and recorded in the Scriptures, performed?  What can be learned from those events that God divinely inspired to be recorded?

Excluding prophetic utterances (in the sense of foretelling the future) as they belong to a class of miraculous events/acts all their own; the Bible records only 68 miraculous events performed by or on the behalf of the prophets/people of God, in the Old Testament.  Prior to the time of Moses (ca. 1445 B.C.) to the undateable beginning of creation, there were only six (5) specifically recorded events, including the Creation (Genesis, chapters 1-2); Enoch’s translation (Genesis 5); the Flood (Genesis 7); the dispersion of the people at Babel (Genesis 11); Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt following the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah (Genesis 19. Counted as one single event as the destruction of the cities of the plain may have been by natural processes directed by God, i.e., providence); Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah, while certainly unusual, was, apart from some assistance from God in the rejuvenation of their procreative abilities, otherwise normal.  It was certainly not on the scale of Jesus’ own birth to a virgin, and so, is not included here as a miracle.

During the Exodus from Egypt, there were 19 distinct events of a miraculous nature performed by or for Moses and/or Aaron (29 if one counts each of the 10 plagues individually).  The pillar of fire/cloud that accompanied and led Israel, and the daily provision of manna are counted as one event each, even though they occurred daily for a period of 40 years.  This is because the two events were clearly limited in their application to Israel’s time in the wilderness and therefore not otherwise normative.  There is even one miracle involving a false prophet (Balaam) and his ass that was made to talk.  All these events are found between Exodus 3:2 and Deuteronomy 34:4.

During the entry into and conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua, there were only three (3) distinct miracles recorded:  The Jordan River divided Jericho’s walls fallen, and the sun and moon standing still (cf. Joshua 3, 6, and 10 respectively).  One other event, the exposure of Aachan’s sin lies more in the realm of providence and so, is not counted here (cf. Joshua 7; 10ff).

During the time of the judges, there were three (3) miraculous events recorded.  2 miracles associated with Samson, the killing of 1,000 Philistine solders using the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:15) is but one incident demonstrating his God given strength (his supernatural strength being the miracle, not each individual use of that strength).  One other miracle involving Samson was God’s striking a rock to provide water for him to drink (Judges 15:18-19).  While this may have involved some natural process, Scripture says that God Himself split the rock to provide water for Samson, and as this is a direct act by God and so stated by Scripture it qualifies as a miracle for the purpose of this study.  The third miracle during those years was the one associated with Gideon and the fleece that was alternately wet and dry in stark conflict with natural law (Judges 6:36-40).

During the time of Samuel and the united kingdom of Israel (ca. 1070-960 B.C.) there were only four (4) miracles recorded.  The plagues on the Philistines and their God Dagon on account of their possession of the Ark of the Covenant (1st Samuel 5); the miraculous return of the Ark (1st Samuel 6); and the deaths of the men of Shemesh by the hand of God (cf. 1st Samuel 6:19) because they looked into the Ark; and the death of Uzzah for touching the Ark (cf. 2nd Samuel 6:7).

During the years of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah (ca. 960-589 B.C.) there were 29 miraculous events recorded.

  • 2 associated with King Jeroboam I of Israel (his hand withered, then restored; and the rendering of his false altar, cf. 1st Kings 13:1-6).
  • 9 by/for Elijah, including one (1) resurrection (cf. 1st Kings 17:1-2nd Kings 2:11)
  • 14 by/for Elisha, including one (1) healing and two (2) resurrections (cf. 2nd Kings 2:11-13:22).
  • 3 by/for Isaiah, including one (1) healing (cf. 2nd Kings 19-20; Isaiah 6- end).
  • 1 upon Jonah, preserved alive for 3 days/nights in the belly of a great fish (cf. Jonah 1:17-2:10.  The storm at sea, the plant and the worm, are not included, as they may have involved the providential manipulation of natural elements; and Scripture does not specifically state that these were miracles.).

During the post-kingdom years (589-430 B.C.) there are only three (3) miracles recorded.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego preserved alive and unharmed in the fiery furnace.  Daniel preserved alive and unharmed in a den of hungry lions. And finally, the disembodied hand writing on the wall of the palace. (Cf. Daniel chapters 3, 5, and 6)

We see then, that during the course of over 4,000 years, there were only sixty-eight (68) miraculous events recorded in Scripture: from the beginning of the creation, to the closing of the Old Testament canon.  Moreover, of those 68 recorded miracles, almost half (28), were miracles of destruction upon the enemies of God or His people, or by God upon His own people because of their sins!  Only five (5) miracles in the Old Testament involved healing or healing related (resurrection from the dead) events!  Miracles of healing then were clearly not the norm, even as miracles in general were not God’s [normative] way of interacting with, controlling, ruling over His creation.

Consider the numbers.  Sixty-eight recorded miracles in a period of some four thousand plus years.  That averages out to one (1) miraculous event every sixty years, with healing events (5 total) averaging out at one (1) per every six hundred (600) years!  Miracles then are clearly not portrayed in the Old Testament, as being something that can be expected on a regular, let alone daily basis.

Do things change in the New Testament?  Yes and no.  But, before going into that, consider this in regard to the numbers I have presented here.  There are those who would include, or count as miracles several events that I have not (see definitions).  But even if we increased the numbers by one-hundred times (100x), that would only make 6,800 total miracles, including 500 healings in over 4,000 years, and among uncountable millions of people.  Roughly, that averages out to be one miracle for every 7 months (or so), with the average healing coming in at one every 6+ years.  Again, we see relatively few events among a population of hundreds of thousands to millions living at any given time.  (In the first census of Israelites, there were 603,550 men able to bear arms, not counting women or children or old men, cf. Numbers 2:32).

In the New Testament (not counting non-specific references to great numbers of people being healed or having demons cast out, or post-resurrection appearances of Christ) there are fifty-five (55) specific, individual miraculous events recorded.  Fifty-four events in a space of about 100 years (from Jesus’ conception in c. 6 B.C. till the death of the Apostle John c. 95-100 A.D.).  Of these events, the majority (31) did involve healing (as contrasted with the OT)

  • 37 miracles performed by Christ, including 19 healings, 3 resurrections, and His own resurrection.
  • 6 miracles performed by Peter, including 3 healings and 1 resurrection.
  • 9 performed by/for Paul, including 2 healings and 1 resurrection.
  • 1 regarding an unspecified number/type of miracles performed by Stephan.
  • 1 regarding an unspecified number of healings performed by the 70 during their mission.

Clearly, with the advent of Christ and the initiation of His ministry, we have a major change, a 50-fold increase in miracles performed during this period as compared to the prior 4,000 years of recorded history.  But, does this sudden burst of miracles, signs, and wonders, necessitate that such be the norm for the Church today, the post-Apostolic Church [see note to 2nd Corinthians 8:23 (Footnote 2), for a discussion of the biblical distinction between the Apostles of Christ and the apostles of the church[s]]?  No.  It does not necessitate any such thing.  It does not preclude, to be sure, but neither does it necessitate it.

We have already seen, by examining the biblical/historical record, that “miracles”, whether of healing or others are not the normal way God has worked among His people or in His creation.  We also see that there were times of intense (compared to the normal scarcity of) miraculous activity at different times throughout history.  This brings us to the next question to be considered.  What is/are the purpose(s) of miracles, signs, and wonders?

The PURPOSE (s) of Miracles, Signs, and Wonders

In answering the question of purpose (or even attempting to), one must proceed with a great deal of care, not putting any limits on God, that He Himself has not put, and then, expressly so in His revealed Word.  It is not our place to “put God in a box”, so to speak.  The converse is also true.  We must be careful to not attribute to Him, motives, or reasons that He has not already revealed in His Word, whether by direct statements, indirect statements, or which can reasonably be inferred by means of Spirit directed exegesis.

First then, we must see what God says directly regarding His purpose(s) in miracles, signs, and wonders.  Second, we look at indirect statements, i.e. those derived from God’s choice of Words, as words have meanings, some unchanging, other change depending upon how they are used (context, context driven).  The language used can often tell us something important (see related note to Galatians 3:16, The Use of Language) (Footnote 3).  Third, we must see what we can learn from the pattern or design revealed to us by Scripture, in the occurrences of miracles, signs, and wonders, to see what we can reasonably infer or extrapolate from such a divinely inspired pattern or design.  Of course, this last is the weakest of the three types of evidence, and the most subject to subjectivism, and so, is best viewed in a supporting role only.

Examining the Evidence for Purpose

 Before examining the evidence regarding God’s purpose(s) in miracles, signs, and wonders, I would like to mention an important rule to keep in mind when interpreting Scripture.  It concerns the level of authority different types of evidence have.  Direct Statements/Teachings take precedence over indirect or inferred statements/teachings.  Indirect Statements take precedence over that which can be inferred.  Both indirect and inferred statements and/or evidences are used only to support that which is taught directly; that is, no biblical doctrine can be based upon indirect and/or inferred evidence(s) only.  Where there are two direct statements or teachings that seem to contradict, then, and only then, can indirect or inferred evidence be used; not so much to overrule the conflicting statement, but rather, to bring into harmony the two seemingly conflicting passages with one another and/or harmony with the rest of Scripture’s teachings on that specific subject.  It must be understood, there are no actual contradictions in what Scripture teaches.  (See for example, related note to Romans 11:26, When All Means— Something Else? ) (Footnote 4).

Direct Statements

First and foremost, healing miracles, miracles, signs, and wonders are, for the purpose of declaring the Glory of God, as is everything else in creation.  See John 2:11 (speaking of God the Son); 11:40-42; cf. Psalms 19:1; 86:8-9; 111:3, etc.

Second, they are to manifest the presence of God [Father, Son, and/or Holy Spirit].  Cf. Exodus 13:21; Judges 6:12-24.

Third, they are to authenticate the Messiah, the Christ of God.  Matthew 11:2-5; John 20:30-31; and Acts 2:22 all speak of this purpose.

Fourth, they are to authenticate His Word [spoken] by His messengers the prophets and Apostles, and/or their ministry in His service.  This is especially so as they would be the means by which He would reveal Himself to mankind [Scripture, specific revelation]; to prophecy Christ’s coming [OT prophets], or to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, the New Covenant, as preached by the Apostles and recorded in the New Testament.  See Exodus 4:1-9; Mark 16:20; Romans 15:18-19; 2nd Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:2-4.

The preceding are all direct statements, teachings of God regarding His purposes in performing miracles:  His glory declared; His presence manifested; His Messiah and His messengers authenticated.  There are no direct statements in Scripture that speak of miracles or miraculous healings being the expected norm in the lives of God’s people in this still fallen world.  And that includes Mark 16:17-18, which deals with the use of authenticating miracles (more on this later).  Neither are there any direct statements to the effect that the purpose of miracles/healings, or any other spiritual gift being solely the “earthly: benefit” of the recipient.  On the contrary, 1st Corinthians 12:4-7 (see note to same, The Profit of all (Footnote 5)) speaks directly to this, saying that they [spiritual gifts, including those of a miraculous nature] are for the profit or benefit of the body of Christ.

Before going on to indirect and inferred evidence(s) regarding God’s purposes for miracles, signs, and wonders, allow me to reiterate what I said about the levels of authority of the types of evidence found in Scripture.  Direct Statements/Teachings (on any subject in Scripture) overrule any and all indirect statements or implied statements on the same subject.  Therefore, anything we may believe is being taught by implication or inference has validity only if 1.) There is no direct statement that contradicts the implied or inferred teaching and/or; 2.)  There is no conflict with the general context of Scripture. God’s Word Does Not Contradict Itself!  We therefore, would do well to not do so ourselves in order to prove some pet theory or belief.

Indirect Statements

There are several indirect statements indicating God’s purposes in healing miracles, signs, and wonders.  As for healing miracles, the subject that began this study (see 1st Corinthians 12:9 and notes to same in Notes: (mss) 1st Corinthians 8-2006C), we find in 1st Corinthians 12:9, in reference to the gift of “healings: the Greek word ιαματων ([Strong’s #2386, iama ee’-am-ah from 2390; a cure (the effect): –healing].  It is only found three (3) times in Scripture: 1st Corinthians 12:9; 28, and 30.   It is derived from the word ιάομαι [Strong’s #2390, iaomai], which is used in connection with physical healing, but also has a spiritual aspect to it.  Of the 29 times iaomai is used in Scripture, it is twice rendered “made whole” and six (6) times used in direct reference to spiritual healing.  Compare Matthew 13:15; John 12:40; Acts 28:27; Hebrews 12:13; James 5:16; and 1st Peter 2:24; these along with Matthew 15:28 and Acts 9:34 “made whole” reveal a spiritual level not found in another Greek word for “healing”, θεραπεία [Strong’s #2322, therapeia].  The Lord’s choice of ιαματων [#2386] instead of θεραπεία [#2322] indicates then, that these “gifts of healing” are of a spiritual nature and origin, and not the more mundane gift of healing by medical or surgical skill and techniques; although that cannot be ruled out absolutely.

There are a number of different words used in Scripture from which we get the English words miracle(s), sign(s) and wonders.  Following is a table showing their meanings and the Strong’s number(s) for the Hebrew/Greek word(s) from which they come.  Note: only those numbers, whose corresponding words have, among their meanings, a sense of the supernatural, are included; though the same word(s), in another context may refer to something more mundane.

WORD TESTAMENT Strong’s Number(s)
Miracles
Old Testament 226, 4159, 6381
New Testament 1411, 4592
Signs Old Testament 226, 852, 4159, 5251
New Testament 4592
Wonders Old Testament 4159, 6381, 6382, 8540
New Testament 4592, 5059

Notice that several of the original language words can have more than one English equivalent, depending on the context in which they are used.  These words can be said to be context or contextually driven as contrasted with those words, which have one and only one meaning.

Miracles, signs, and wonders: Hebrew and Greek Words:

Hebrew:

אוֺת, ‘owth              Strong’s # 226.

Of the 79 occurrences of this Hebrew word in the Old Testament Scriptures, only twice is it used for “miracle”, and 60 times as “sign(s)”. All the remaining uses indicate that its general meaning is that of something that identifies or marks something else e.g. the “mark (‘owth) of Cain” (Genesis 4:15); a signal flag or banner (Psalm 74:4); an agreed upon signal e.g. Rahab’s scarlet line (cf. Joshua 2:12, cf. v. 18);or a divine sign whether natural, the sun, the moon and the stars to mark times or seasons (cf. Genesis 1:14), the blood on the doorposts (Exodus 12:13); or, supernatural, compare Exodus 4:8, 9, 17; 2nd Kings 20:8-9; Isaiah 7:11, 14.  The word ‘owth is never used for “wonders”, and in the two cases where it is used for “miracles” (Deuteronomy 11:3; Numbers 14:22) it is so used in the KJV and is contextually synonymous with (and is so translated in other translations e.g. NKJV) as “signs”, as in signs of authenticating the presence of God or His Word.

מוֹפֵת, mowpheth           Strong’s #4159.

Of 36 uses in Scripture, 25 times it means “wonder(s)”; 8 times “sign(s)”; and only twice as “miracle” [KJV] though contextually it refers to supernatural occurrences performed by God (Exodus 7:9; Deuteronomy 29:3).  The word is often used synonymously with “signs” (Exodus 4:17, 21), both verses referring to the same acts performed by Moses).  The word can also refer to acts that are not supernatural [miraculous] in themselves, but while fully explainable by natural processes, are of such a degree of intensity as to cause “wonder” (cf. Psalm 71:7).  Interestingly, almost every occurrence of the word in reference to supernatural signs/wonders, refers back to those performed by or [by God] on behalf of Moses, during the time of the Exodus.  One notable exception being Deuteronomy 13:1, 2, in reference to the performance of a “sign” [#226] or “wonder” [#4159] performed by a false prophet!  Again, as with #226 ‘owth above, mowpheth must be looked at primarily in its contextual situation if one is to derive any meaning or indication of God’s purpose(s) in these acts.

נֵס, nec                               Strong’s #5251

Of 20 references in Scripture, only once is it used in the supernatural sense of a miraculous sign.  In Numbers 26:10; it is used in reference to the supernatural deaths of Dathan, Abiram and Korah (and their associates), these rebels’ deaths being the sign (the earth swallowing opening and swallowing some, the rest consumed by fire from God, cf. Numbers 16:32,33,35).  All other uses are mundane, “banner”, “sail”, “flag”, etc.

פָּלָא, pala’                     Strong’s #6381

Found 74 times in Scripture, it is only once rendered “miracles” (Judges 6:13) and that in reference back to the miraculous works of God during the Exodus and subsequent conquest of the Promised Land (Exodus – Joshua).  Pala” generally has the meanings of “wonderful”, “marvelous”, “great”, etc. in reference to the works of God; works beyond the abilities of men.  Other than being in the context, generally, of declaring the wonders of God as the All Mighty Creator, it is of little importance to the discussion at hand.

אָת, ‘ath (Aramaic) Strong’s #852, and       תְּמַה, tĕmahh (Aramaic)            Strong’s #8540

These two Aramaic words are found together only in three verses, Daniel 4:2, 3; and 6:27, and correspond to signs and wonders.  They are used in reference to convincing works of God before the pagan kings Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, authenticating both the LORD as the only true GOD and Daniel as His messenger.

A review of the Old Testament usages of miracles, signs, and wonders shows that not only do they have the declared, directly stated purposes referred to above (pp 5-6) but that the very language used, both the words chosen and the context, demonstrates those very same purposes.

Greek

Of the New Testament Scripture’s use of miracles, signs, and wonders, we have the following:

δύναμις, dunamis         Strong’s #1411

Most often translated “power”; only seven (7) of the 123 occurrences of this word are rendered “miracles(s).  In every case where this is rendered “miracle(s)”, it is in reference to some supernatural act(s) done by or in the name of God/Christ.  In addition to “miracle(s)” and “power”, it is also translated as “mighty work”, but never as “sign”.  Thus, to argue that its use in 1st Corinthians 12:10, 28, 29, in reference to what some brethren refer to as “temporary sign gifts” (see John Macarthur and other conservative, non-Pentecostal writers), disallowing any possible continuation beyond the Apostolic era is not (in my opinion) warranted.  But neither does it warrant the unrestricted, unlimited application that many in Pentecostal (and other) circles allow.  Neither the limitation imposed by conservatives, nor the unlimited use by Pentecostals, can be sustained simply by the grammatical usage of the word dunamis.  The historical and circumstantial evidences must be weighed as well.

σημείων sēmeiōn            Strong’s #4592

Semeion is one of those words, which is contextually driver (cf. p.7 above).  Of 77 occurrences in the N.T., 51 of those are translated “sign(s)”.  Other uses are “miracles” and “wonders”.

One important note regarding the Scriptures and “signs” semeia (plural); it is prophesied that Satan and his servants will perform many miracles, signs and lying wonders (cf. 2nd Thessalonians 2:9 below, and compare with Matthew 10:1ff, esp. v 8 “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead,[c] cast out demons…” Judas Iscariot, the “son of perdition” (cf. John 17:17), a man who was never saved also performed these same miracles; and Luke 10:1ff, esp. vv.1 & 17, again, involving Judas)

9

οὗ
ou
whose
ἐστιν
estin
is

ē
the
παρουσία
parousia
coming
κατ’
kat
accord
ἐνέργειαν
energeian
activity
τοῦ
tou
the
Σατανᾶ
satana
Satan
ἐν
en
with
πάσῃ
pasē
all
δυνάμει
dunamei
power
καὶ
kai
and
σημείοις
sēmeiois
signs
καὶ
kai
and
τέρασιν
terasin
wonders
ψεύδους
pseudous
false.

All the principle terms dunamei, sēmeiois, and, terasnin, found in this verse, apply to the workings of Satan in the end times!

τέρας, teras            Strong’s #5059

This is the last of the Greek terms under consideration.  It is found 16 times and always translated “wonders”.  Strong’s dictionary offers the following to distinguish between the three terms and their purposes (See also Matthew 24:24 and the note to same.) (Footnote 6).

“(A) Teras denotes something strange [author’s note: “strange” not miraculous and/or supernatural, or at least, not necessarily so.] causing the beholder to marvel, and is always used in the plural, always rendered “wonders”, and generally follows (B) semeia (#4592, sign).  A sign is intended to appeal to the understanding, a wonder appeals to the imagination, (C) dunamis (#1411, power) indicates its source as supernatural.” (The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Red Letter Edition © 2001; Thomas Nelson Publishers, [bracketed material added].  Entry under #5059, p. 249 of the Greek Dictionary).  Again, note that this term also applies to the working of Satan in the end times─ a fact that cannot be overemphasized.

Contextual Or Evidence Inferred From Scripture’s Examples

This final examination of evidence types is to look at the whole context of Scripture, to see what can be inferred from God’s Word, especially in the context of what He caused to be recorded, how  He had it recorded (historical context, frequency, etc.), and then, seeing what inferences agree with the direct, clear, unambiguous  statements of Scripture.  As previously mentioned, due to the possibility of subjectivism being involved in this manner of interpreting Scripture, its use should be relegated to a supporting role only.  That is, what can be inferred is valid only to the extent that it supports the clear teaching of Scripture.  No new or contradictory teaching is to be based on evidence inferred from the Scriptures.

As shown earlier, by examining the recorded miracles, we find that such occurrences are, in general, not the normative way that God has operated throughout redemptive history.  Yet, Hebrews 13:8 says, of Jesus (who is God), that He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever (see note to Christ’s unchanging nature, The Same Unchanging God) (Footnote 7).  This is a reference to His eternal nature/attributes and not to the specifics of how He works at any given moment in human history.  As demonstrated in the notes to Hebrews 13:8, and from our study here of the subject of healings and miracles, it is self-evident that, while God/Christ does not change in Who or What He IS; He does change His methodology (that is, the specifics of procedure, not nature) of how He deals with His creation in general and mankind in particular.

Not only does the frequency count of the miraculous events recorded indicate (not prove) that such events are not the normal way that God operates, even if increase by a hundred or a thousand fold— Note the word “indicate”. As stated before, while this conclusion may be indicated by this specific set of evidence, it alone is not conclusive and must therefore be considered in light of Direct and Indirect statements on the same subject.

In addition to frequency counts, there is another pattern which can be discerned in Scripture; that of distribution.  God’s miracles are not recorded as occurring at a fixed rate throughout time— e.g. one miracle every 3 months, day, hours, etc.— but rather, in clusters at key points in history—e.g. the creation, the flood, the dispersion of mankind, the selection of a special people, their deliverance and training, the advent of Christ, and the beginning of the Church.  This discernable pattern, along with the frequency counts, when weighed together with God’s directly stated purposes for miracles, signs, and wonders; lends further weight to the non-normative nature of the miraculous. Compared to the span of human existence, from the creation to the closing of the Old Testament canon (approximately 4,000 years; involving hundreds of millions of people) miraculous events are recorded (by the inspiration of God) as occurring only in a small number of relatively brief and comparatively dense groupings.  Further, these periods of miraculous activity (as recorded) occurred only during periods of time during which God was evidently initiating some change in the working out of His overall plan, which He had devised before the very creation even began (cf. Ephesians 3:9-12).

Consider the Following Facts in the light of the Scripture record:

Change #1.)     Following the flood of Noah, no miracles are recorded as having occurred for at least 101 years (cf. Genesis 11:10-18) till the supernatural scattering of the people at the tower of Babel (the division of the earth referred to in Genesis 10:25) as recorded in Genesis 11:1-9.

Change #2.)     Following Babel, according to the Scriptures, it was another 266 years before God intervened directly in human affairs.  This was during the time He was calling out a special people for His name, beginning with Abram (see Genesis 12:1-4, cf. Genesis 11:18- 12:4), for the number of years from Peleg’s birth (they year of the dispersion Genesis 11:9 cf. Genesis 10:25).  to Abram’s birth, plus Abram’s own 75 years of age at the time of his calling).  So, according to Scripture, we have no supernatural interventions by God (recorded) for some 260 odd years.  But, with Abram’s calling, we now have a brief period of divine intervention(s) of a direct nature in human affairs, (Theophanies,  Cristophanies) plus interventions in the course of human affairs (e.g. the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), divinely assisted conceptions/births, providential care/protection of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, etc. (Genesis 12-36) culminating in Joseph’s slavery, imprisonment, and later providential raising up in Egypt; all due to the working out of God’s divine plan (cf. Genesis 39-50, esp. 50:20).  Then we have silence for about 400 years.  Nothing, no miracles, no revelation, nothing!

Change #3.)     After some 400 plus years of nothing, God begins to act again to implement a new phase of His plan.  Following is a quick review of those phases or steps to this point:

Step 1.) He divided the peoples of the earth. (cf. Genesis 10:25, 32; 11:1-9)

Step 2.) He chose for Himself a single family, ut supra.  And now,

Step 3.) He transforms this family into a nation, beginning a new phase of His eternal plan by choosing Moses as His prophet and the deliverer of His people out of bondage and into the beginning of a new nation and country.  In so doing, God works numerous miracles, by or on the behalf of Moses, Aaron and Joshua, His chosen leaders of this new nation.  The books of Exodus thru Joshua record this unique period of time of daily miraculous provision and visible manifestations of the power, glory and presence of God.  This period lasted only about 60 years, ending with the death of Joshua, cf. Joshua 24:29.

Change #4.)     The development of the newborn nation of Israel as a united nation, as opposed to 12 tribal/family units, united only by blood.  This period, covered by the book of Judges, covers approximately 450 years (cf. Acts 13:20), and sees only sporadic, infrequent intervention of a miraculous nature recoded by the inspiration of God (cf. 2nd Timothy 3:16), and these for only two reasons:

1.      The preservation of His chosen nation so as to fulfill His purposes in their election. And,

2.      To authenticate certain individuals as leaders chosen by Him.  So, following Joshua, we have some 450 odd years with only light to moderate miraculous activity by God, none of which involved healing or any related acts.

Change #5.)     The kingdom years, ca 1050-589 B.C., approx. 470 years.  This period actually begins with the  birth of Samuel the prophet (ca 1105 B.C.) and ends with the events recorded in 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles, and so, covers a period of approximately 516 years.  During this time, the only miracles recorded are associated directly with a handful of prophets, and all were related to one or more of the following purposes:

1.      The authentication of their ministry.  And/or,

2.      The preservation of their lives during the course of their ministry.  And/or,

3.      The providential guiding of events to produce the outcome desired of the future birth of the Messiah.

One example of the fulfilling of one or more of the purposes stated above is found in the miraculous provision for the widow of Zarephath and her son, as well as his being raised from the dead.  While these miracles were of obvious benefit to her and her son, their main purpose was the fulfillment of numbers 1 and 2 above; the specific benefits to them being only incidental to the fulfilling of God’s greater design, that of preserving the life of Elijah, and authenticating his status as His prophet.  Further evidence that this period was a change from the norm is found in 1st Samuel 3:1, “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation” (NKJV, bold and italics added for emphasis.  See also, Note, God Doesn’t Change. ) (Footnote 8).  Thus, the transition into the period of the kingdom of Israel was marked by a change from silence to renewed communication from God.  Note also, if Jesus’ words in Luke 4:25-27 can be believed, [and they can] the only miracles of healing that took place during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, a period spanning from approximately 874 B.C. (the beginning of the reign of Ahab in Judah, and the beginning of Elisha’s ministry) to sometime after 798 B.C., and before 782 B.C. (the years of king Jehoash (Joash) of Judah, during whose reign Elisha died (cf. 2nd Kings 13:14) or some 76 plus years; were those two!

The period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah was also a period of intense prophetic (both in the sense of forth telling and foretelling. That is to say, of revealing the nature of God, man, man’s place relative to God, and the foretelling of events to come, especially as they related to God’s purposes concerning the coming Messiah and His kingdom) activity.  At least, it was intense relative to the times of the judges preceding and the period following the time of Malachi that followed.  Yet, even in this period of relatively intense divine activity, we see, in reality, few recorded events when one considers the amount of time involved (during the period from Samuel to Malachi, there are only 36 recorded miraculous events, including 2 healings and 2 resurrections, which, if averaged out over the roughly 675 years (ca 1105-ca 430 B.C.) you have one miraculous event for every 18.75 years of time, with healing/healing related events (4 total) averaging out to one (1) every 168.75 years!).  These events however, were concentrated around the ministries of the prophets and the unfolding revelation of God’s plan.

Change #6.)     Following the kingdom years, ca 1050-589 B.C., through to the end of the ministry of Malachi, ca 420 B.C., there was a steady decline in the miraculous.  This 6th change is the absolute shut-down of prophetic revelation, miracles, signs, and wonders for over 400 years, until the conception of John the Baptist, ca 6 B.C., initiating the New Testament era.

How does this relate to healings and any “gift” thereof?  Simple; from ca 1450 B.C. (Moses and the Exodus) till the coming of John the Baptist (about 1446 years) there are only five (5) recorded healings and/or healing related events; three (3) resurrections from the dead— 1st Kings 17:22; 2nd Kings 4:34-35; 13:20-21— and three (3) healings— Numbers 21:5-9; 2nd Kings 5:1-14; Isaiah 38:1-5.  (On a side note:  The healings recorded in Numbers 21:5-9 of those Israelites who had been bitten by deadly serpents.  The serpents in that incident represent the bite (consequences) of sin, sent by God upon the disobedient.  The cure/healing, looking (in faith) upon a bronze serpent hung upon a pole, represents Christ’s death upon the cross, and so, this event was in fact, a living prophecy, a prophecy in pictures).  Six healings I over 1,400 years!  Healings then, according to the biblical record, were not common, or normal, even during the times of comparatively intense miraculous activity by God.  Times when, the Scripture record shows God was initiating changes in the visible manifestation of His plan for mankind.

Change #7.)      The coming of the Messiah and the birth of the New Testament Church.

The initiation of God’s Church, beginning with the advent of Christ, saw a brief (about 70 years) period of very intense (compared to anything before or since) prophetic and miraculous activity, including, and especially so, vast numbers of healings.  It began with John the Baptist’s unusual (to say the least) conception and Jesus’ wholly miraculous conception (with no biological father) to a virgin mother; and reaching a peak of activity during the 3-3½ years of Christ’s earthly ministry, and then, slowly but surely decreasing in level from there (as the Scriptures themselves give evidence).  Thus, ends the 7th and final change, marking the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Summary And Conclusion:

We can see then, from the biblical record (cf. 2nd Timothy 3:16-17; 1st Corinthians 10:1-11; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11) the frequency, types, purposes (both declared and implied) of, and patterns of distribution of miracles, signs, and wonders.  It is not unreasonable to conclude, and in fact, it is more than not unreasonable, it is perfectly reasonable and biblical to conclude based on that record, (that was divinely inspired to be recorded), that the performing of miracles has not been, nor is the normal way God operates in this world.  At least, in respect to acts that are by definition (as defined above, pp 1-2) miracles.  (Note:  By general convention, a miracle by its own definition is not a normal event.  If it were, it would, no longer be a miracle; it would be a normal, natural event. There is coming a day when, what we call miracles today will be everyday, natural occurrences, but not until there is a new earth with new laws of operation, where sin and death will be no more.

Having looked closely at the biblical record, we have seen that healings and/or other miracles are not the norm, nor have they been for the majority of man’s existence on the earth, from the creation till the end of the Apostolic era (ca. 100 A.D.),

The question now is, can we say with any certainty that miracles (healing or others) are not the norm, nor are intended to be the norm, for the post-Apostolic Church?  Can we, from the biblical record, the Divinely inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments make any determination as to the applicability of healings/miracles in the post-Apostolic Church?  And, if applicable, to what extent?  Yes, we can.

I believe we can say with great certainty, that miracles are not the normal way God operates in this world.  They have not been the norm in the past, nor are they the norm in the present.  At the same time, while not the norm for the post-Apostolic Church, as far a frequency and/or regularity, they still have their place in this day and age, and will continue to do so until the end of this age.  Saying that they are not the norm is not the same as saying they do not occur or have any place at all in the Church today.

I believe that, while there is a place for healing (and other) miracles, including the so-called “sign gifts” of healings, miracles, and tongues.  They must, at the same time, conform to the design and purposes of God as given in His Word.  These purposes are, in summary:

  • Declare the glory of God.
  • Manifest the presence of God.
  • Authenticate the Word of God as given through His Son, the prophets and/or the Apostles and the other New Testament writers.
  • Authenticate the ministry of His Christ, prophets, and Apostles, including the preservation of their lives until such time as their work on earth has ended.
  • To providentially guide human events to bring about a desired end e.g., the salvation [physical and/or spiritual] of His elect.
  • To providentially provide for the needs of His people when no other means are available or, in His eyes, appropriate (cf. Proverbs 3:34; Matthew 6:31-33; James 4:6; 1st Peter 5:6).
  • To benefit the Body of Christ, which is the Church (See note to 1st Corinthians 12:4-7; The Profit of ALL) (Footnote 5).

When Paul speaks of some having the gifts of healings and/or working of miracles, and/or tongues (1st Corinthians 12:9-19, 28, 30); or, when Mark speaks of the “signs” that would follow “those who believe” (cf. Mark 16:17-18); does this not speak of a change of status for miracles/healings in the Church (Apostolic and beyond) from that of a non-normative to normative state.  While my Pentecostal/Charismatic brethren would argue in the affirmative of such a position, they do so erroneously by  (1.) looking back only to the time of Christ and the Apostles, and (2.) misapplying Hebrews 13:8, the statement about Christ’s unchanging nature as God, to argue that , as miracles and healings were the norm during Christ’s, and the Apostles’ ministries, then they must be the norm today, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  They err in two ways regarding their use of Hebrews 18:8.  First, they err by misapplying the statement in Hebrews regarding Christ’s immutable nature as God, applying it to His methodology.  Second, they err by not going back to “the beginning”, which, if they had done so, they would have seen that the extremely brief (in terms of man’s existence on the earth until Christ) explosion of miracles, signs, and wonders that characterized the ministries of Christ and the Apostles, was, on this larger scale, a very abnormal period of time compared to the way the Lord had worked throughout all of history before that time.

What was “normal” during the ministries of Christ and the Apostles was not normal in general.  But it was consistent with God’s actions over time in establishing the bona fides of His servants, any time there was a change in methodology or new revelation being given.  This all ended with the closing of the New Testament canon and the establishment of the New Testament Church, in the place of national Israel, as God’s particular and exclusive people.  Thus we are back to the normal state of “non-normalcy” for miracles.  “Non-normalcy” or not being normative is not, however, the same as saying “none whatsoever”!  On the contrary; it simply means that miracles, healing or others are not the norm.

A Final Word And Personal Testimony:

God did and does use miracles and people gifted with special powers (healing, working of miracles, tongues, etc.) in the establishment and spread of His Church.  He did so especially during that key transitional period of moving out of Judaism.  Today, that transition has been over for many, many years.  It has been completed since the closing of the New Testament canon following the death of the last of the Apostles and original disciples.  The canon of Scripture has been fixed.  The Church has been birthed and her purpose and mission revealed.  There are still times and places when God, according to His sovereign purpose and will, does still work miracles in the lives of His saints.  We Know This To Be So.  His Word says it is so.  In Romans 8:28-29, Paul, by the Holy Spirit wrote,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son [the good spoken of in v. 28, for what greater good is there than to be conformed to the image of Christ?], that he might be the firstborn of among many brethren.” (NIV, italics and [] added for emphasis).

Finally, whether accomplished by a miracle involving the elements of the natural world, or not, every born-again Christian is the product of a miracle, the New Birth, having been translated from death to life by the power of God.

Earlier I spoke of Samuel Morris (Samuel Kaboo Morris (1873 – May 12, 1893)), in regard to God’s providence.  I mentioned that there was also a miracle of deliverance that preceded those providential events/encounters.  When Samuel was a youth in Africa by the name of “Kaboo”, never having seen a “white man”, let alone having heard of Christ and His Gospel; this young tribal prince was captured by an enemy tribe and enslaved by its chief, being held for ransom.  For whatever reason, the enemy chief was not satisfied with his father’s ransom payments and determined that Kaboo was to die.  One night before he could be killed, a bright light surrounded him and a voice spoke to him out of the light telling him to flee.  His ropes fell off and his sick abused body recovered its strength and he fled into the night, having his way lit before him, yet his pursuers  (having discovered his escape) remaining in the dark, losing him quickly in the dark nighttime jungle.  His miraculous escape, while not having any other eyewitness testimony to its truth, is nonetheless not without witnesses.  First was his own radically transformed life.  And second; were the many people who knew and witnessed his life and the obvious presence of God in it, including many prominent Christian leaders, both black and white.  Thus, the confirming testimony of his life (cf. 1st Timothy 6:12) confirms the truth of his profession of miraculous deliverance from certain death in the Jungles of Africa.  Further, the testimony of Scripture supports his own, as the miracles of deliverance in his life, are in full accord with God’s revealed purposes in working miracles.

There are, I am sure, hundreds, possibly thousands more cases of God’s miraculous intervention in the lives of His saints.  But still, compared to the number of His saints who have lived and died, just since the advent of the Church, those numbers are still small.  Those events are rare and precious.

In my own life, in my conversion, I experienced one true miracle.   I was in a large jail cell, contemplating suicide, resigned to it in fact.  I had come to the realization of how much of a complete mess I had made of my own and others lives and, believing I would spend the rest of my life in prison, I had chosen death as a better alternative (Proverbs 14:12There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” NKJV, bold added), believing that perhaps, with luck, I would come back as a cockroach and start over.  I was in that state of mind, lying on a top bunk at one end of the cell, when a paisa (a Mexican national) was brought in on a parole or probation violation.  He went and sat down next to another paisa on a bottom bunk at the other end of the cell, (about 10-15’ away).  He then began to quietly share the Gospel in Spanish with the other paisa.  Now, in this cell, there were about 20 inmates, many shouting, banging on things and otherwise making noise trying to get attention. — Those who know me, know that I am hard of hearing, especially so in a noisy environment. — Yet, I heard every word of the Gospel that the paisa was sharing just as if he and I were the only ones in the cell and he was sitting right next to me, speaking into my ear.  I knew that it was the presence of God.  To make a long story short, after much arguing with God about how He could possibly want a loser such as me, He won the argument and I gave my life to Him.  Nothing has been the same since.  In the years since then, I have seen God’s hand providentially (but still fully within His own established laws) working to guide, protect and strengthen me in my own life of faith.  I know for a fact that God is still in the miracle business.

In closing this study; to my Pentecostal/Charismatic brethren I have one final word.  Do not let your desire for an increased experience of the presence of God (a worthy desire); lead you to commit the error of those whom the Lord reproved for seeking more and more “signs”.  Seek the Lord and Him alone.  Remember, all that glitters is not gold, nor are all miracles, signs, and wonders, of or from God; the devil has his own.  To my more conservative brethren, I say this; do not let the rarity of genuine miracles lead you to the error of believing that God no longer performs miracles.  Be aware, to deny the work of God is to deny God.  It is not our place to decide what God can or cannot, will or will not do.  These things He has decided for Himself and has given us in His Word.

To God Alone Be The Glory, Now And Forever.        Amen.

M. Fernandez

February 13, 2010

Footnotes

  1. Following are the definitions of miracle according to some other respected sources:

1.1.   Easton’s Bible Dictionary

An event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message (John 2:18; Matthew 12:38). It is an occurrence at once above nature and above man. It shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power.

“The suspension or violation of the laws of nature involved in miracles is nothing more than is constantly taking place around us. One force counteracts another: vital force keeps the chemical laws of matter in abeyance; and muscular force can control the action of physical force. When a man raises a weight from the ground, the law of gravity is neither suspended nor violated, but counteracted by a stronger force. The same is true as to the walking of Christ on the water and the swimming of iron at the command of the prophet. The simple and grand truth that the universe is not under the exclusive control of physical forces, but that everywhere and always there is above, separate from and superior to all else, an infinite personal will, not superseding, but directing and controlling all physical causes, acting with or without them.” God ordinarily effects his purpose through the agency of second causes; but he has the power also of effecting his purpose immediately and without the intervention of second causes, i.e., of invading the fixed order, and thus of working miracles. Thus we affirm the possibility of miracles, the possibility of a higher hand intervening to control or reverse nature’s ordinary movements.

In the New Testament these four Greek words are principally used to designate miracles:

(1.) Semeion, a “sign”, i.e., an evidence of a divine commission; an attestation of a divine message (Matthew 12:38, 39; 16:1, 4; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; 23:8; John 2:11, 18, 23; Acts 6:8, etc.); a token of the presence and working of God; the seal of a higher power.

(2.) Terata, “wonders;” wonder-causing events; portents; producing astonishment in the beholder (Acts 2:19).

(3.) Dunameis, “might works;” works of superhuman power (Acts 2:22; Romans 15:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:9); of a new and higher power.

(4.) Erga, “works;” the works of Him who is “wonderful in working” (John 5:20, 36).

Miracles are seals of a divine mission. The sacred writers appealed to them as proofs that they were messengers of God. Our Lord also appealed to miracles as a conclusive proof of his divine mission (John 5:20, 36; 10:25, 38). Thus, being out of the common course of nature and beyond the power of man, they are fitted to convey the impression of the presence and power of God. Where miracles are there certainly God Isaiah The man, therefore, who works a miracle affords thereby clear proof that he comes with the authority of God; they are his credentials that he is God’s messenger. The teacher points to these credentials, and they are a proof that he speaks with the authority of God. He boldly says, “God bears me witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles.”

The credibility of miracles is established by the evidence of the senses on the part of those who are witnesses of them, and to all others by the testimony of such witnesses. The witnesses were competent, and their testimony is trustworthy. Unbelievers, following Hume, deny that any testimony can prove a miracle, because they say miracles are impossible. We have shown that miracles are possible, and surely they can be borne witness to. Surely they are credible when we have abundant and trustworthy evidence of their occurrence. They are credible just as any facts of history well authenticated are credible. Miracles, it is said, are contrary to experience. Of course they are contrary to our experience, but that does not prove that they were contrary to the experience of those who witnessed them. We believe a thousand facts, both of history and of science, that are contrary to our experience, but we believe them on the ground of competent testimony. An atheist or a pantheist must, as a matter of course, deny the possibility of miracles; but to one who believes in a personal God, who in his wisdom may see fit to interfere with the ordinary processes of nature, miracles are not impossible, nor are they incredible. (See LIST OF MIRACLES, Appendix.)

1.2.      Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language

MIR’ACLE, n. [L. miraculum, from miror, to wonder.]

1. Literally, a wonder or wonderful thing; but appropriately,

2. In theology, an event or effect contrary to the established constitution and course of things, or a deviation from the known laws of nature; a supernatural event. Miracles can be wrought only by Almighty power, as when Christ healed lepers, saying, “I will, be thou clean,” or calmed the tempest, “Peace, be still.”

They considered not the miracle of the loaves. Mark 6.

A man approved of God by miracles and signs. Acts.2.

3. Anciently, a spectacle or dramatic representation exhibiting the lives of the saints.

MIR’ACLE, v.t. To make wonderful. [Not used.]

1.3.     Holman Bible Dictionary

MIRACLES, SIGNS, WONDERS

Events which unmistakeably [sic] involve an immediate and powerful action of God designed to reveal His character or purposes. Words used in the Scriptures to describe the miraculous include sign, wonder, work, mighty work, portent, power. These point out the inspired authors’ sense of God’s pervasive activity in nature, history, and people.

Old Testament The two Hebrew words most frequently used for “miracle” are translated “sign” (‘oth) and “wonder” (mopheth). They are synonyms and often occur together in the same text (Exodus 7:3; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 6:22; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 13:1; Deuteronomy 26:8; Deuteronomy 28:46; Deuteronomy 34:11; Nehemiah 9:10; Psalms 105:27; Isaiah 8:18; Jeremiah 32:20; Daniel 6:27). “Sign” may be an object or daily activity as well as an unexpected divine action (Genesis 1:14; Exodus 12:13, RSV; Joshua 4:6 Ezekiel 24:24. The basic nature of a sign is that it points people to God. “Wonders” describe God’s supernatural activity, a special manifestation of His power (Exodus 7:3), but false prophets can perform actions people perceive as signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Wonders can serve as a sign of a future event. Signs seek to bring belief (Exodus 4:5; compare Exodus 10:2), but they do not compel a person to believe (Exodus 4:9). At times God invites people to ask for signs (Isaiah 7:11). The signs He has done should make all peoples on earth stand in awe (Psalms 65:8). They should join the Psalmist in confessing that the God of Israel “alone works wonders” (Psalms 72:18 NAS).

New Testament The phrase “signs and wonders” is often used in the New Testament in the same sense as it is found in the Old Testament and also in Hellenistic literature. (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; John 4:48; Acts 2:43; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:12; Acts 6:8; Acts 7:36; Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12; Romans 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Hebrews 2:4).

“Sign” (semeion) in the New Testament is used of miracles taken as evidence of divine authority. Sometimes it is translated as “miracle” (Luke 23:8 NIV; Acts 4:16,Acts 4:22 NAS, NIV). John was particularly fond of using “sign” to denote miraculous activity (see John 2:11,John 2:18,John 2:23; John 3:2; John 4:54; John 6:2,John 6:14,John 6:26; John 7:31; John 9:16; John 10:41; John 11:47; John 12:18; John 37:1; John 20:30; Revelation 12:1,Revelation 12:3,; Revelation 13:13-14; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 19:20)

“Wonders” (teras) translates a Greek word from which the word terror comes. It denotes something unusual that causes the beholder to marvel. Although it usually follows “signs,” it sometimes precedes it (Acts 2:22,Acts 2:43; Acts 6:8) or occurs alone (as in Acts 2:19). Whereas a sign appeals to the understanding, a wonder appeals to the imagination. “Wonders” are usually presented as God’s activity (Acts 2:19; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:12; Acts 6:8; Acts 7:36; Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12), though sometimes they refer to the work of Satan through human instruments (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:11-13).

New Testament writers also used dunamis, power or inherent ability, to refer to activity of supernatural origin or character (Mark 6:2; Acts 8:13; Acts 19:11; Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 12:10,1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Galatians 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Hebrews 2:4).

“Work” (ergon) is also employed in the New Testament in the sense of “miracle.” John the Baptist heard of the “works” of Jesus while he was in prison (Matthew 11:2). The apostle John used the term frequently (Matthew 5:20,Matthew 5:36; Matthew 7:3; Matthew 10:38; Matthew 14:11-12; Matthew 15:24).

Worldview Considerations Contemporary philosophical and theological arguments over the possibility and definition of miracle reflect the altered worldview of the last several centuries—from a theistic to a nontheistic concept of the universe. The perceived tension between the natural and the miraculous is a by-product of a naturalism that is intent on squeezing out the supernatural realm of reality.

The people of the bible did not face this problem. The biblical perspective on the universe is that it is created, sustained, and providentially governed by God. The Bible makes no clear-cut distinction between the natural and supernatural. In the “natural” event the Bible views God as working providentially; whereas, in the miraculous, God works in striking ways to call attention to Himself or His purposes.

How do miracles relate to the natural order? Christian thinkers have responded in different ways throughout the centuries. Some hold that miracles are not contrary to nature (Augustine and C. S. Lewis, for instance). This harmony view contends that human knowledge with limited perspective does not fully understand or comprehend the higher laws that God employs in working the miraculous. Others (like Thomas Aquinas) have maintained miracles stand outside the laws of nature. This approach is called the intervention view, based on their belief that God intervenes in the natural order to do the miraculous.

One’s view of the miraculous is related to one’s view of the universe. A mechanistic perspective believes the world is controlled by unalterable natural laws and cannot allow for the possibility of miracles. Christians in every century have refused to have their universe so limited. They have affirmed the continuing miraculous work of God in the universe He created, continues to care for, uses to reveal Himself, and has promised to redeem.

T. R. McNeal


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. “Entry for ‘MIRACLES, SIGNS, WONDERS'”. “Holman Bible Dictionary”.
<http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T4336&gt;. 1991.

  1. 2nd Corinthians 8:23       Apostles of the Churches
    “αποστολοι εκκλησιων” or apostoloi ekklesion meaning “apostles of the church” as opposed to Paul and the twelve who were called “ως χριστου αποστολοι” hos christou apostoloi, or “apostles of Christ”, (cf. 1st Corinthians 1:1, Paul’s own statement that he was called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, “παυλος κλητος αποστολος ιησου χριστου”).
    From the beginning of the Church, there was a distinction between those who were The Apostles [of Christ], and those who were apostles of the churches.  The same word “apostle” or “sent one”, “special messenger”, etc., (See Strong’s #652) but used in different ways depending on context or application.
    Scripture itself makes the distinction between the two.  For one to have been numbered among The Apostles, one had to have been either chosen directly by Christ (as were the original twelve and Paul), or to have been an eyewitness of Christ and His ministry, death, and resurrection.  Paul, while not having been among Jesus’ followers during His earthly ministry, and so, not an eyewitness to the resurrection itself (cf. Acts 1:20-22), was nonetheless chosen by Christ and an eyewitness to His resurrected self (cf. Acts 9:4-6).
    Additionally, the Scriptures make reference to those apostles (of the churches) as being such, in contrast to its references to the Twelve (or any individual member of them), as “apostles of Christ” or simply, “the apostles”, it being understood by the context, that it was [one or more of] the twelve [original] apostles who was (were) the subject.
    Adapted from Note (ms) 2nd Corinthians 5-2007C pp. 13-14.
  2. Galatians 3:16 The Use of Language
    Note Paul’s specific reference to how language is used:  “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,”[a]who is Christ.” (NKJV)
    God reveals Himself using human language that is made up of words which have specific meanings in specific contexts.  God’s revelation must be interpreted according to the rules of that language.  One cannot reasonably interpret Scripture by defining words as one wishes, regardless of their actual definitions and usages (such as W.M. Branham does in his message, Why I Am Against Organized Religion.  See topical note: A Critique of W.M. Branham’s Message…).
    Paul demonstrated that here; by giving the meaning/definition of the words used, according to the rules of grammar of the language used.
    Adapted from Note (ms) Galatians 6-2005C, pp.5-6.
  3. Romans 11:26 When All Means─ Something Else?
    There is an old saying that goes, “ “All” means “all”, and that’s all, “all” means.” ; and is often used to prove that all mankind will be saved because of the many uses of the word “all” in connection with passages speaking of God’s offer of salvation being available to “all men” (cf. Romans 5:18 and note to same. (Footnote 9).)  That something is available to all men is not the same as saying all men will take advantage of, or benefit from it.  Be that as it may, that is not the case here.
    In this case, we have a situation where “all” does not necessarily mean “all”, at least not in the universal sense.  Will “[A]ll Israel” be saved in the end?  Yes, absolutely.  If God says something will happen, it will happen.  But, does that mean that Jew can be, will be saved without acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior?  No.  He who has the Son has life.  He who does not have the Son does not have life, but rather, is condemned. (cf. John 3:18).  So, what does Paul mean by this when he writes, “all Israel will be saved”?  “All Israel” is a reference to the elect Jews, those who God chose before the foundation of the world; just as He did us.  Those who are children of God because they are “children of the promise: (cf. Romans 9:6-9 and note to same (Footnote 10) ), those who are both physical and spiritual Israel.
    This ties in with the many references to the “remnant” of the Jewish peoplewho should be saved.  Not all physical Jews are true Jews, children of God; just as not all men are children of God.  In fact, Jesus Himself accused the Pharisees (who were, in the eyes of their fellow, after the flesh, Jews, what could be called “Jew’s Jews”.) of being sons of their father, the devil! Cf. John 8:44.  So, that being understood, the remnant spoken of in other places is in fact, what could be called “true Israel”, and as the “true Israel”, the chosen people of God, they will all be saved by faith in Christ.  They will, in God’s good time, have their hearts turned toward Christ, just as God has done with us.
  4. 1st Corinthians 12:4-7     The Profit of All
    As with v.12:1 preceding, verse 7 here contains two words in italics, “of all”, indicating that, in context, it is to be understood that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not just for individual profit [though they do profit the individual] but rather, for the profit of “the one body”, which body we are each individually part of.
    That the clarifying words “of all” are justified in context can be seen in verses 12-27 following.
    The gifts themselves are given individually (v.11 and note), but for the profit of all.
  5. Matthew 24:24 False Christ’s and Prophets
    False Christ’s and false prophets will show great signs and lying wonders.  Cf. 2nd Thessalonians 2:9-10.
    Adapted from Notes (ms) Matthew 10-2008C, p.52.
  6. Hebrews 13:8                 The Same Unchanging God
    Formerly titled, Christ’s Unchanging Nature.
    “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (NKJV, italics in original).
    Just what is meant here by this declaration?  This is an important question.
    Many have used this passage to support the idea that the Church today should display the same level of miracles, healings, gifts [of the Spirit, a la 1st Corinthians 12],etc., as was seen/manifested, during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry and immediately following with the original Apostles, and as recorded in the Gospels, and the book of Acts.  These brethren cite the above verse and say that :Jesus Christ is the same…”, and since He healed everyone who came to Him on earth, then He must want to heal everyone now in this life and in this time.  These brethren go on to say that since Pentecost, the power of anointing that fell upon the Apostles and the early church, should be displayed in the same manner today because “Jesus Christ is the same…”  Is this a reasonable (let alone accurate) understanding of this verse in the context of the whole of Scripture?  I do not believe so.
    It must be admitted that on the surface, outside the context of the whole of Scripture, it would be easy to make the above assumptions.  But that ignores the whole of God’s revelation as given in the OT as well as the NT.
    What then does the author mean?  He means that Jesus Christ, in His nature as God, in His attributes as God, is unchanging (cf. Malachi 3:6).  As God, He does not change in His nature.  He is, and will always be Holy (cf. Revelation 4:8), Just, Righteous  (cf. Psalm 84:19); Longsuffering (cf. Exodus 34:6-7); Love (cf. 1st John 4:8, 16); Merciful (cf. Lamentations 3:22); Truth (cf. Psalm 117:2; John 14:6); etc.  In all these things and more, He changes not.
    What does this verse not mean?
    It does not mean that there is absolutely no change whatsoever with God.  God does, has changed the manner in which He deals with mankind.  Or, perhaps it would be better to say, the manner in which He has revealed Himself.  Yet, even then. The changes have only been variations on a theme, without any inherent changes in Himself.  Following are a couple of examples of how God has dealt differently with mankind.
    Hebrews 1:1-2 “God who at various [synonymous with different] times , and in various ways…”  God does do things I a different manner.  He changes the methodology of His dealings without changing His nature or purpose.
    Hebrews 2:9                   “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels…”  Jesus Christ changed!  He became a man! (cf. John 1:14 with John 1:1).  Now that is definitely a change!  Compare also, Philippians 4:6-7.
    Additionally, we have other evidence from Scripture of how God has dealt differently, not the same way, with mankind over the course of time.  One of the biggest argument in favor of this is the 430 years of silence from God between the last OT prophet, Malachi; and the advent of John the Baptist.  But that is not the only time.  See also, 1st Samuel 3:1, “…the word of God was rare in those days, there was no widespread revelation.” (NKJV, bold added for emphasis).  The greatest evidence for change in methodology is however the Old and New Testaments.  To hear modern “faith” teachers, and many Pentecostals as well, one would think that because there were many miracles and powerful signs and wonders during that very limited time of Christ’s first advent and the ministry of the Apostles, then things must  be the same now.  After all, “God doesn’t change”, they say.
    Adapted from Notes (ms): Hebrews 10:2008C, pp. 15-16.
  7. 1st Samuel 3:1                God Doesn’t Change, But Times Do
    “the word of God was rare in those days, there was no widespread revelation”.  (Emphasis mine).
    While God does not change, that is to say, what He is, His nature does not change.  However, how He deals with mankind does and has changed over time.  This is but one example, “the word of God was rare…there was no widespread revelation”.
    There was a similar dry spell so to speak, between the time of the completion of the Old Testament canon ca. 430 B.C., until the coming of John the Baptist and the early church.   In that time, there was no revelation period!
    The entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind.  Revelation made in two ways: spoken and demonstrated.
    While it is true that there are many things God has done and/or said that have not been recorded.  That is because those things add nothing new to what has already been revealed. Cf.  John 21:25.
    With the completion of the New Testament, God is no longer making or giving any “new” revelations of Himself.  Rather, what He does do, through the Holy Spirit, is give illumination, understanding of that which has been revealed.  All we need, all we can know is already written down for us, cf. 2nd Timothy 3:16-17.
    Adapted from Notes (ms): 1st Samuel 5-2005C, p. 2.
  8. Romans 5:18                  Universality─ NOT!
    This is one of the passages used to attempt to prove that in the end, all will be saved, even those who die without Christ.  However, if this passage is taken in the full context of the chapter and especially, verses 16, 17, 19; it becomes evident that universal salvation is Not being proclaimed.
    What then does Paul mean when he compares the condemnation that all mankind has come under because of Adam’s sin (v. 12) and the free gift which comes “to all men”?  It is as follows:
    All men are descended from Adam, and thus inherit his sin nature (cf. 1st Corinthians 15:21-22).  Yet, only those who receive the “gift of righteousness” in Christ Jesus, receive the resulting “justification of life”.  So, while the free gift does come to all men, in the sense of availability. Not all men do receive it.
    Adapted from Notes (ms) Romans 4-2006C, p. 9.
  9. 10.    Romans 9:6-9                 Biological vs. Spiritual
    “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel…”
    This statement by Paul, negating mere physical descent as a factor in salvation, parallels what God revealed through Moses, in Genesis 24:36 in which, Isaac, as the child of the promise (cf. Genesis 18:10) is the one who inherits all that Abraham had.  Likewise, it is the spiritual children of God, those who God has chosen, who will inherit eternal life.
    Adapted from Notes (ms) Romans 4-2006C, p.18