Biblical Definition of a Miracle
How many of you heard a commercial on the radio or saw a Christmas movie on the television in which the Christmas season or Christmas itself was referred to as “a time of miracles”? Usually, what is meant by statements like that is that Christmas is a very special time. In like manner, many of us have visited new parents who are holding their precious gift from God that was just born and have heard the baby referred to as “a miracle.” Again, what is usually meant is that babies are very special, and they are.
Unfortunately, using the term “miracle” in such a way, while seemingly harmless, is one of several ways in which misconceptions about miracles are founded in the denominational world of Christendom. Many who profess to be Christians believe, as shown above, 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 continue on 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, each and 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 (Gen. 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 (Ex. 3-4). God giving Moses the ability to part the Red Sea simply by raising his staff out over the water (Ex. 14). Bitter water made sweet by Moses simply by throwing a log in it (Ex. 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 (Ex. 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 (Josh. 6). God answering Joshua’s prayer to have the sun and moon stand still so that Israel could win the battle against the Amorites (Josh. 10). 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 (Matt. 1:18-21; cf. Is. 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 (Matt. 4:23-24; 8:1-4, 28-34; 9:1-8, 18-34; 12:9-14). Jesus giving his twelve apostles the ability to do the same (Matt. 10:1-4). 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 (Matt. 8:23-27; 14:13-33). God raising Christ from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross (Matt. 28:1-10; Rom. 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 of these events violate the laws of science and nature.
As people who will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36-37), we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) as oracles of God (1 Pet. 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.
Furthermore, if we are to speak the truth about miracles done by God through men, we must also proclaim that they no longer takes place today. There are several denominations whose adherents claim to perform miracles, but careful examination of what they do combined with comparisons made of biblical miracles shows their claims to be counterfeit. The different types of miracles are listed by Paul in his letter to Corinth, in which he calls them “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 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 mentions faith as a spiritual gift (v. 9). This is not the faith which comes naturally through the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), but rather is the type of faith needed to do something miraculous like move a mountain (1 Cor. 13:2; Matt. 17:20). Today, the only way anyone obtains wisdom and knowledge is through natural means, and many people who have strong faith in their ability to perform miracles have attempted to move mountains, only to no avail.
Paul then lists 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. Usually the only “miracle” done instantaneously is causing someone to “lose consciousness” by touching them on the forehead. (This writer once visited a charismatic church and saw someone fall to the ground in the aisle, apparently having miraculously lost consciousness; it was interesting to observe the “unconscious” person shifting on the hard floor trying to find a more comfortable position!)
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 we preach and teach nothing more than God’s Word (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:11); by doing so we are “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 (Deut. 18:20-22). The distinguishing between spirits refers to the miraculous power to automatically know what is in a person’s heart, a power Jesus had (John 2:24-25) and which was exercised by Peter in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (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?
Paul then listed tongues and the interpretation of tongues as spiritual gifts (v. 10). These are perhaps the most misunderstood and erroneously defined miraculous spiritual gifts in the list. Those who claim to miraculously speak in tongues today say they are doing so when they speak nothing more than gibberish. They are not speaking Spanish, German, Mandarin, etc., but rather nonsense babblings and gobbledegook. However, the miraculous speaking and interpreting of tongues in biblical times was nothing more than the ability to suddenly speak in an actual, societal language or interpret it, without having first studied and learned it naturally (Acts 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 14:10-13). Having tasked the early Christians with the awesome task of preaching the gospel to all nations, the miraculous ability to speak these nations’ languages would be very expeditious to the fulfillment of that task.
In the middle of his discourse on these miraculous spiritual gifts, Paul acknowledged that not all in the church had these gifts and then mentioned how having these powers was meaningless without love (1 Cor. 12:27-13:7). He then specifically stated that these miraculous spiritual gifts (citing prophecy, tongues, and knowledge) would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
Many modern proponents of miracles believe that “the perfect” of verse 10 is a reference to Jesus, which is understandable. However, the Greek word (teleos) which is translated “perfect” literally means “complete” or “mature.” This same word is used in the New Testament to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25). When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete” or “mature.” That would change with the completion of Revelation not many years after Paul wrote to Corinth. Therefore, Paul was stating in 1 Cor. 13:10 that when God’s Word was complete, the miraculous spiritual gifts would cease. This makes sense when one remembers that miracles were performed by Christ and his apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to confirm the Word of God which was being proclaimed by them (Mark 16:17-20; Heb. 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; cf. Matt. 12:28). Once that Word became complete and mature, confirming it through the miraculous would no longer be needed.
Again, we are commanded to “speak the truth” (Eph. 4:15), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). If we are to speak the truth about miracles, we must not only define them the same way the Bible defines them, but we must also acknowledge that they have already served their purpose in the plan of God and no longer take place today.