(comes from Latin miraculum, meaning “wonder”)
A study by Dr. Les Thompson
NOTE: This is a sample of a teaching article LOGOI provides to thousands of pastors each month. Here Dr. Thompson briefly tries to summarize what orthodox Christianity believes and teaches so that national pastors throughout Latin American can study further and in turn, teach this topic to their congregations. As we deal with a subject so vast and amazing, we acknowledge there is no way this outline can answer every question or satisfy every curiosity.
A true miracle is an event in the external world brought about by the immediate desire or the simple will of God. It is a supernatural work which defies natural laws. A true miracle can only occur by the power of almighty God, such as raising the dead, parting the sea, or creating something out of nothing. In studying Scripture, we can establish that the purpose of a miracle is to authenticate the divine commission of a God-sent teacher or leader and the truth of his message (John 2:18; Matt. 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. (Adapted from the WebBible Encyclopedia)
Example: Jesus manifested his glory in the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee: and his disciples believed in him.
Scripture’s words for Miracles:
Note: the point to make is that miracles are the WORKS of God and God alone! They come at His instigation and in the fulfillment of His plans — not man’s. God alone—to put it in our jargon— calls the shots on miracles, not men!
Wonders are the astonishment resulting from a special work of God. Wonders awaken interest in what God has to say. Purpose: to awaken/startle those who see it in order for them to pay attention to something special God wants to say.
- Wonder: Those who see the miracle are absolutely amazed.
- Power: The paralytic takes up his bed and walks — all are amazed.
- Sign: showed the divinity of Jesus, one greater than men, and well able to forgive sins.
See Paul and Barnabus in Lystra (Acts 14:8-18) where they heal a lame man from birth. The entire city stops to see.
Examples of Astonishment
Mark 2:12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!
Mark 4:41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 6:51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed.
Mark 7:37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Other words may by themselves describe a miracle as:
Signs (Jn 2:11, Acts 8:6, Rev 13:13).
Powers (Mr 6:14, Acts 19:11) but “wonders” are never mentioned alone,
Note: Origen (183-254), one of the third century fathers, noted that “wonders” are always accompanied by another descriptive word for miracle, for instance “signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3, Ro 15:19, Mt 24:24, Heb 2:4). Origen, who died a martyr’s death helped establish principles followed by the early church for studying Scripture. However, he taught universalism, not believing in hell, and many of his writings were later repudiated.
He noted that “wonders” is always accompanied by another descriptive word for miracle, for instance “signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3, Ro 15:19, Mt 24:24, Heb 2:4).
Other words may by themselves describe a miracle as:
Signs (Jn 2:11, Acts 8:6, Rev 13:13).
Powers (Mr 6:14, Acts 19:11) but “wonders” are never mentioned alone.
Signs are supernatural occurrences which can only be explained by the presence and working of God. They are miraculous in nature pointing the truth about something God has said. Example:
Isaiah 7:10-14 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
A sign is not always a miracle, but it does establish the truth of what God has said.
The angels gave a sign to the shepherds:
Luke 2:12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
Exodus 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you:” When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
Most signs are miraculous in nature:
Mark 16:20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Acts 14:3 So Paul and Barnabus spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Hebrews 2:4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his Will.
Christians can legitimately ask for a sign, believing God has laid something special on their hearts to do for Him.
Gen 24:14-21 (Abraham’s servant) May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’– let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” 15 Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. 16 The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again. 17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.” 18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. 19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful.
Judges 6:36-40 Gideon and his fleece.
1 Samuel 14:8-13 Jonathan and his armor bearer against Philistines.
POWERS or MIGHTY WORKS THAT DEMAND GOD’S OMNIPOTENCE
(A portrayal of the omnipotence of God through amazing wonders). These are unusual manifestations that can only be attributed to God’s great power:
Mt 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
Mt 11:20 Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.
Mark 6:14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Luke 10:13 Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
These works include “wonders,” “signs,” and “powers”
Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
2 Co 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
2 Th 2:9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders. (Later talking about the Imitator.)
Example: The healing of the paralytic:
Mark 2:3-12 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, 11“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!
John calls miracles “works” simply because they reflect the natural outflow of the character of God.
John 5:36 These very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me.
John 7:21 Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel at it.
John 10:25,32,38 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 32but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
“Wonders” are simply the natural form of working for Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily.
Miracles are God’s natural way of expressing Himself.
OBJECTIONS TO THE CONCEPT OF MIRACES, SIGNS, POWERS AND WORKS
David Hume, Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748): “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and, as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”
- Actual testimony to give them veracity is weak.
- Witnesses who claim miracles are generally ill-educated and of doubtful reputation.
- Most happen in obscure places.
How do we answer
- If we see the world as God’s creation which is open to His personal interaction, miracles are entirely feasible.
- To deny miracles presupposes a world system of natural causes closed to supernatural intervention.
- Also, the “laws of science” rely on testable experience, and vary according to the light of further understanding.
- His objection to testimonies of questionable credibility because of lack of education and culture is entirely arbitrary.
Miracles and Nature
- The “laws of nature” are derived from our observation and experience; from past experience we presume on the future.
- A miracle is not a greater manifestation of God’s power, it is a different manifestation.
- A miracle is not nature, neither is it against nature, rather it is beyond or above nature. (Richard C. Trench (19 century theologian)
- Example: When I lift my arm the laws of gravity are not denied, but held in suspense by the higher law of my will. Likewise, God overrides nature.
An explanation given us by the well-known theologian R.C. Sproul can be helpful: “Theologians have provided a tight, technical definition of a miracle: A miracle is an extraordinary work in the external perceivable world that is wrought by the immediate supernatural power of God that is contra naturam. It is a work that only the power of God can perform such as bringing life out of death or something out of nothing. We see at once that theologians who use this definition of a miracle get in hot water with lay persons who speak of miracles in more general terms. I cringe, for example, when someone asks me if miracles happen today. I don’t like to answer the question because the matter is so complex that it is inevitable that when I say no, people will think that I am denying that God is working supernaturally today…I do not think that anyone is doing miracles today according to the tight technical definition I have offered.” (Surprised by Suffering, R.C. Sproul, p. 212).
The Source: Satan and his demons. Satan’s power.
As a fallen creature he is limited. Satan is not:
Omnipotent. He is finite.
Omniscient. He is wise.
Omnipresent. He is spirit.
“Prince of the world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)
Satan is not King, he is a prince.
He directs the ungodly world system about us.
He directs the evil host of demons that fell with him.
Tempt us to disobey (Gen 3).
Slander saints (Job 1:9).
Can inflict disease–with God’s permission (Job 2:7).
Oppose the righteous (Zec 3:1).
Tempted Christ (Mt 4:1).
Remove Good Seed to try and prevent sinners from being saved (Mt 13:19).
Sows weeds (Mt 13:38).
Blind minds (2 Co 4:3).
Work hard to ruin soul and body to try and get men to reject God and give in to sin(Lk 9:42).
Is a liar (Jn 8:44).
Instigate men to sin (Jn 13:2).
Prey as a lion (1 Pe 5:8).
Can possess unbelievers.
Create counterfeit miracles (2 Th 2:9) “The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
Mat 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
Nowadays, the center stage in many churches are:
Words of knowledge.
Casting out of demons.
Jumping up and down.
Are these of God? In answering this question we have a very significant problem: all of these are also present in cults and spiritism and some eastern religions. God works in ways that cannot be duplicated by Satan, demons, or false religions. As stated at the beginning, a miracle is a supernatural work of God that defies the natural laws of the universe. On this subject of miracles, Benjamin Warfield said it well, “We believe in a wonder-working God, but not in a wonder-working church.”
True miracles can only be originated only by God.
Cautions given us
- Mat 12:39-40 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
- Mat 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, ad so many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’