Have you ever gone to the hospital to visit friends who are new parents, holding their precious gift from God that was just born, and hear them call the baby “a miracle”? What is usually meant is that babies are very special, and they are. The term “miracle” is used in many similar ways these days. Unfortunately, this is one of several ways in which misconceptions about miracles are founded. Many believe that a miracle happens to them whenever anything special takes place in their lives. However, the miracles one reads about in the Bible are not defined in such ways.
Start at Genesis and go through the pages of Scripture to the New Testament, and you will read about miracles being done from time to time by some of God’s people. You will also read of God Himself performing miracles directly. Yet, every one of the miracles described in the Bible are acts which violate the known laws of nature and science which God put into place when he created this world and universe. Not one time is a biblical miracle defined or described as nothing more than an event which is special in a sentimental way, as is often the case today.
Consider the miracles we read about in the Old Testament. God giving Joseph the ability to accurate interpret people’s dreams and predict the future (Genesis 40-41). God causing a bush to burn and yet not be consumed in front of Moses, and then giving Moses the ability to turn his staff into a serpent and instantaneously make his hand leprous by simply putting it inside his cloak (Exodus 3-4). God giving Moses the ability to part the Red Sea simply by raising his staff out over the water (Exodus 14). Bitter water made sweet by Moses simply by throwing a log in it (Exodus 15:22-25). God raining bread from heaven and causing water to come from a rock simply by Moses striking it, and Israel defeating Amalek in battle only when Moses would have his hands raised (Exodus 16-17). God causing the walls of Jericho to collapse simply by having Israel march around the city for a week and then shout and blow trumpets (Joshua 6). Many more could be cited but notice that they all have one thing in common. They all violate the laws of science and nature. That’s what makes these events miraculous in nature.
We see the same thing with the miracles we read of in the New Testament. God causing a virgin to be pregnant with Jesus, itself a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier (Matthew 1:18-21; cf. Isaiah 7:14). Jesus instantaneously healing every disease and affliction among the people, including paralysis, epilepsy, those oppressed by demons, lepers, discharges of blood, blindness, the mute, those with withered hands, and even raising the dead (Matthew 4:23-24; 8:1-4, 28-34; 9:1-8, 18-34; 12:9-14). Jesus calming a terrible storm simply by speaking and walking on water after feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 8:23-27; 14:13-33). God raising Christ from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross (Matthew 28:1-10; Romans 1:4). The Holy Spirit descending on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and giving them the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-21), as well as healing the lame (Acts 3:1-10), causing the instantaneous death of those who had lied to them and God (Acts 5:1-11), healing the sick by simply having their shadows fall on them (Acts 5:12-16), and healing paralytics and raising the dead (Acts 9:32-43). Again, many more examples could be cited, but notice once more than all these events violate the laws of science and nature.
As people who will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36-37), we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) as oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Therefore, when we speak of miracles we need to speak of them the same way that God speaks of them in his Word…not as special, sentimental events which come about naturally like the birth of a child, but rather as signs and wonders done by God through men which violate the laws of nature.
Let’s now look at the question of whether biblical miracles still occur today. Many today claim to perform miracles but their claims are found to be lacking when compared with the miracles of the Bible. What we will do in this article is examine the different types of miraculous gifts listed in Scripture and compare them to the “miracles” commonly claimed to occur today.
Paul listed the various kinds of miracles, or “spiritual gifts,” in his first letter to Corinth in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Two of those gifts were miraculous wisdom and miraculous knowledge (v. 8). Knowledge (what one knows) and wisdom (the ability to use correctly that which one knows) are obtained naturally through education and experience. Thus, miraculous knowledge and miraculous wisdom would come instantaneously, without having taken the time to grow in them via education and experience.
Paul also mentioned faith as a spiritual gift (v. 9). This is not the faith which comes naturally through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17), but rather is the type of faith needed to do something miraculous like move a mountain (1 Corinthians 13:2; Matthew 17:20). Today, the only way anyone obtains wisdom and knowledge is through natural means. Many people who have strong faith in their ability to perform miracles have attempted to move mountains or perform other miraculous acts and claim their faith in their ability to perform the miracle will bring about the miracle, only to no avail.
Paul then listed gifts of healing and the working of miracles as spiritual gifts (vs. 9-10). Those who claim to miraculously heal the sick and perform other types of miracles today do so quite differently from how Jesus and the apostles miraculously healed people and worked miracles back in biblical times. Today, those who claim to do miraculous things to other people usually ask them to “wait a while” before they “begin to feel the effects” of the miracle. In many cases therapy or medicine are also required for healing to take place. However, the miraculous healings in the Bible were complete and instantaneous. When Jesus or the apostles healed people who were crippled, they were immediately and completely healed with no additional therapy or medicine required (Matthew 9:1-5; Acts 3:1-10).
Paul also listed prophecy and distinguishing between spirits as spiritual gifts (v. 10). Prophecy is not only the miraculous foretelling of the future, but also literally means “to speak on behalf of someone else.” Today, prophecy takes place naturally whenever one preaches and teaches nothing more than God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 4:11); by doing so one is “speaking on behalf of” God. Those who attempt to miraculously prophecy by predicting the future have always been proven to be false prophets when their prophecies fail to come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). The distinguishing between spirits refers to the miraculous power to automatically know what is in a person’s heart. Scripture cites Jesus and Peter as having this miraculous ability (John 2:24-25; Acts 5:1-11). Obviously, such a power doesn’t exist today. How many times have we been sure about what a person has been thinking or planning, only to be proven wrong? Tongues and the interpretation of tongues were then listed as spiritual gifts (v. 10). Biblical speaking and interpreting of tongues were the miraculous ability to suddenly speak in an actual, societal language or interpret it, without having first studied and learned it naturally. The very first time one reads of anyone speaking in tongues in the Bible is in chapter 2 of Acts. Read that passage and you’ll see how the Scriptures specifically define speaking in tongues as the different languages spoken by different peoples who lived in different nations all over the known world at that time (Acts 2:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:10-13). Having tasked the early Christians with the awesome task of preaching the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16), the miraculous ability to speak these nations’ languages would be very expeditious to the fulfillment of that task. Those who claim to miraculously speak in tongues today say they are doing so when in reality they speak nothing more than gibberish instead of actual foreign languages spoken by other nations and societies.
Notice how the apostle Paul specifically stated that miraculous spiritual gifts would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Some conclude that “the perfect” refers to Jesus. That is understandable, considering that Jesus was the only one on earth who never sinned. However, “the perfect” comes from the Greek word teleos, which literally means “complete” or “mature.” This same Greek word was used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to the Word of God (Romans 12:2; James 1:25). When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete.” That would change when Revelation was completed not many years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Thus, Paul was stating in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that miraculous spiritual gifts would cease when God’s Word was complete.
The purpose of the miracles performed by Christ and His apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit was to confirm that what they were preaching was actually from God. Mark wrote of how Jesus spoke of miraculous abilities accompanying believers (Mark 16:17), and then spoke of how the apostles “went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (v. 20). The writer of Hebrews also wrote of how “the salvation” which “was declared at first by the Lord, and…attested to us by those who heard” was backed up by God, who “also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3-4). Miracles were done in order to confirm the validity of God’s Word. Once that Word became complete with the close of the New Testament, confirming it through miraculous signs would no longer be needed.
This is made even clearer when one studies how the first Christians received the ability to perform miracles. As recorded in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came directly upon the apostles on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Throughout the next several chapters we read of only the apostles performing miracles. Then in chapter 6 we read of the apostles directing the Jerusalem church to select from among themselves seven men who would be put in charge over providing food to the widows in the church. Among the men chosen were Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:5). The apostles laid their hands on these men (v. 6). Only after that occurred do we then read of men other than the apostles performing miracles, in that Stephen is cited as “doing great wonders and signs” (v. 8) and Philip is also cited as performing miracles in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8).
While in Samaria, Philip baptized a magician named Simon (Acts 8:9-13). Luke records that Simon then continued with Philip and observed Philip’s miracles (v. 13). It doesn’t say that Simon himself performed the miracles, only that he watched Philip performing the miracles. Luke then writes of how two apostles – Peter and John – came to Samaria to lay their hands on the baptized Samaritans so they would receive the Holy Spirit (vs. 14-17). When Simon “saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money” and received a rebuke from Peter (vs. 18-24). Note that Simon did not ask Philip to give him the Spirit. He asked the apostles because only when an apostle laid his hands on one did they receive miraculous spiritual gifts (v. 18; cf. Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6). This shows that those on whom they laid their hands – like Philip – could not in turn lay their hands on others and give them miraculous gifts.
So what would happen when all of the apostles died? The only ones who could then perform miracles would be those on whom they had laid their hands. And when they in turn passed on, no one would be left who could perform miracles. Miracles would then cease.
History tells us that the New Testament was completed around this same time period. Thus, Paul’s prophecy came true. When “that which is perfect has come” – when God’s Word was completed – miracles ceased.
I hope this study has been helpful in your understanding of this admittedly deep topic. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.