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Many believe that God still works miracles today and imparts Christians, in varying degrees, with miraculous gifts through the Holy Spirit. Although no adequate proof is offered, those who profess this accept on faith that what they have experienced or are experiencing is miraculous. There are nine miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues). Some believe that a person is not confirmed as a true Christian until God endows him with some kind of spiritual gift (usually tongue speaking). Others profess that only certain Christians are endowed with miraculous gifts. Still others profess that since some gifts are greater than others (1Corinthians 12:31) God uses these gifts to single out certain individuals for various ministries. There are, no doubt, many other interpretations about how miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are endowed and who can and cannot receive them. In this article I will give several reasons why I believe 1) that the New Testament does not support the teaching of some that miracles still happen today and 2) that there is no longer a need for miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The modern definition of miracles seems to differ from the miracles we read about in the New Testament both in form and intent. By the standards of many of those who believe in modern miracles it seems that miracles happen anywhere at any time to anyone for any reason. A Child is born and it is referred to as the miracle of birth. A person survives a car wreck and it is called a miracle, even if the person was severely wounded. It is considered miraculous if a person accidentally misses his flight on an airplane that happens to crash. In the New Testament, in the church’s infancy, miracles were done intentionally and accomplished specific purposes. When a miracle was performed, the outcome was immediate and obvious (healing of a lame person, blind receiving sight, etc.). Perhaps we can all agree that in our pursuit to honor God each of us should endeavor to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent, do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names.
In considering the major question of whether or not miracles still happen in our day, let’s first consider some related subjects. First of all, how does the New Testament define what a miracle is? The broader references to miracles in the New Testament include wonders and signs (John 20:30-31; Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:1-4). These are events that defy nature and can only be done by man through Divine intervention. When Nicodemus came to Jesus he said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2). A true miracle could not be logically dismissed as a natural phenomenon. For example, there is no question that the creation of the world was a miraculous event. However, God created things to progress in a natural way. Childbirth, therefore, should be considered as a naturally occurring event rather than a miraculous event. The Bible does not refer to natural childbirth as miraculous so neither should we. On the other hand, the virgin birth of Christ was a miraculous event because it defied the natural process of childbirth. We should also not confuse the providential help that God gives with miraculous intervention. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a hungry person prays for food and the next morning finds a sack of groceries on his doorstep. This may well be providential -- an answer to his prayer -- but it cannot be proven to be miraculous. God answers our prayers and supplies our needs naturally rather than miraculously.
We know that Jesus and the apostles, to the amazement of the general population of that day, did miracles. We also know miracles were fairly common in the church in the first century. These miracles were for the purpose of confirming the truth of God’s word (Mark 16:14-20; Hebrews 2:1-4). Jesus performed miracles to confirm Himself as the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 2:1-12; John 2:1-11; 20:30-31; Acts 2:22). The apostles performed miracles as proof of their preaching and about Christ being raised from the dead (Acts 2:1-38; 3:1-19). The apostles also used miracles to confirm themselves as God’s chosen vessels and to strengthen the Christians of their day (Acts 2:42-47; Romans 1:11).
There are several passages that have been used to support the claim that miracles still happen today. Let’s take a moment and examine some of these passages: In Mark 16:14-20 after Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to His apostles and commissioned them to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…” (16:15). He instructed that those who believed, the gospel, and were baptized would be saved but those who did not believe would be condemned. Then He added, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (16:17-18). This is what we know, according to the New Testament. In the early days after the establishment of the church (Acts 2ff), Christians were given special gifts of miraculous power through the Holy Spirit. We know that in the name of Jesus demons were cast out of people (Acts 19:11-17). We know also that they were given, miraculously, the ability to speak with other tongues (Acts 2:1-21, 10:44-46). At least one person was bitten by a deadly snake and not harmed by its poison (Acts 28:1-6). They also healed the sick through the laying on of hands (Acts 9:17-18). Mark closed his gospel account by affirming that all the things that Jesus promised did in fact take place. He wrote that the apostles “went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” (Mark 16:20). It should be stated here that there is a distinction made between salvation and the endowment of miraculous gifts. A person could be saved without ever performing a miracle of any kind, and conversely a person could be a miracle worker and still be lost (Matthew 7:21-23).
In 1Corinthians 12-14 Paul addressed the issue of the use and misuse of miraculous gifts of the Spirit in the Corinthian church. He started the statements by writing about the universal profitability of spiritual gifts (12:7). Chapter fourteen he dedicated to the abuse of certain miraculous gifts. While miracles were necessary to establish the authority of Christ and of the apostles’ doctrine this passage is a testimony to the danger of placing such powerful gifts under the control of irresponsible man. Under similar circumstances, Jesus, displeased with the miracle seekers of His day, said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign…” (Matthew 12:39).
In 1Corinthians 13 Paul wrote about a time when miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would no longer be needed. He wrote, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1Corinthians 13:8-11). Many have claimed that the statement, “when that which is perfect has come…” is a reference to the second coming of Christ. It is clearly not a reference to Christ since the statement is to “that” which is perfect instead of “He” who is perfect. Notice that the statement, “that which is perfect,” is in contrast to the following statement, “that which is in part.” The reference, therefore, is to complete, as opposed to partial, knowledge. Paul’s statement was that when complete knowledge has come, miracles would no longer be needed. Peter wrote, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” (2Peter 1:2-3). What we now have in the Bible is the complete word of God. There will be no further revelations. There will be no contradictions. We have been given in God’s written word everything we need for life and godliness. Paul wrote, “And now abide faith, hope, love these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Corinthians 13:13). Faith and hope are for this life only. Love is eternal. Miracles remove the responsibility of individual faith by providing evidence of things that are suppose to be unseen (Hebrews 11:1). If miracles are the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, why do we need faith?
Another passage that is often used to support the belief that we are still living in the age of miracles is in Acts chapter two. This chapter chronicles the beginning of the New Testament church. On the day of Pentecost the apostles spoke in tongues so that everyone heard in his own language (Acts 2:6). The Jews who heard this were amazed and wondered what it meant. The apostle Peter confirmed that this was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32). Many religious people profess, based on this prophecy, that since we are now living in the last days that the God is still “pouring out” His Spirit on Christians enabling them to speak in tongues and perform various other miracles.
During the days of the early church, for several years after this day of Pentecost, men and women, old and young, performed miracles. Immediately following the events of the Pentecost, Luke went on to write that, “Fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:43). As in Jesus’ day, when people had begun to be more interested in the miracles than in the word of God, the concern in the early church was that if Christians were given free access to miraculous gifts they would begin to abuse it. They would put more faith in the miracles than was due, and the overuse of miracles would weaken their effect. History had proven that miracles, while initially necessary for confirmation and authority, ultimately were ineffective in sustaining long-term faithfulness (Matthew 7:21-23; 12:38-39; John 6; 20:24-31). So, In order to limit access to miraculous gifts, the administration of such was given only through the laying on of the hands the apostles of Christ (Acts 2:43; 8:14-20; Romans 1:8-12).
The New Testament confirms only two exceptions to this rule. The first is what happened to the apostles on the day of Pentecost when the apostles were given the ability to speak with other tongues “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4). The other exception was the conversion of the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:44-48). Both of these exceptions were special events in the history of the church. The day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the gospel being preached to the Jews only. The conversion of those in Cornelius’ house marked the inclusion of the Gentiles. Incidentally, these events are both stated to be the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; John 1:26, 33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). The conclusion, therefore, is that Joel’s prophecy began to be confirmed on the day of Pentecost and was completely confirmed when the fullness of knowledge in the written New Testament, was given to the church.
Many also approach the subject of miracles from the standpoint of church authority. If the chief official(s) of a church confirm an event as miraculous then that is often seen as authoritative. One passage used to support this position is in Matthew’s account of a conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus said, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19). Jesus was not, with this statement, giving Peter a position of complete earthly authority over the church. Even if He had there is no Biblical evidence to suggest that such a privilege would have been extended beyond Peter to others. Consequently, it is presumptuous for any man or church to think that we can bind or confirm anything that the Bible does not authorize.
The ultimate purpose of miracles was not to heal the sick, feed the hungry, cast out demons, or even to reveal God’s message to man. The ultimate purpose was to prove that the message was true and that those delivering the message were authorized by God to do so. While these miracles undoubtedly accomplished a great many wonderful things the sick who were healed got sick again, the filled man got hungry again and the man exercised of demons was subject to repossession. Miracles served their purpose and the word of God now confirmed does not need constant reconfirmation. I close, therefore, with this account from the gospel according to John. He wrote, Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seem Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:24-30).