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Pursuing Presence, Not Signs: Balancing Pentecostal Experience with Biblical Teaching

Having delineated the overarching categories of signs, wonders, and miracles, we turn to the discussion of the character of biblical signs and wonders.

The Character of Biblical Signs and Wonders

One recent concern in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles involves the validation of the miraculous. Christians and non-believers continue to look for criteria by which to test and to judge the veracity of miracles, though perhaps for different reasons. Adding to this concern is the relatively recent discussion of what could be termed “trite miracles,” in which God is described as miraculously doing everything from providing parking spaces to fixing a leaky faucet.15 Holding in abeyance the question of whether God is responsible for such providences, we turn to the larger issue of when a miraculous event dovetails with the character and attributes of the signs, wonders, and miracles found in the Bible. This section of the paper will examine the character and attributes of Biblical signs and wonders, followed by a discussion of the interplay of the Word and the Holy Spirit.

Christians and non-believers continue to look for criteria by which to test and to judge the veracity of miracles.

One of the more important aspects of biblical miracles is one’s ability to observe the results of, and in some cases the occurrences of, the miracles themselves. As already noted, the underlying character of the miraculous points to and glorifies God as creator, and validates God’s messengers and His Word. To this can be added the fact that the results of such miracles were externally visible, such as the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 4:13-31), the reversal of the sun’s shadow ten degrees (2 Kgs. 20:10), the fire from heaven (1 Kgs. 18:38), and the infliction of King Uzziah with leprosy (2 Chr. 26:19-20). In the New Testament, the same principle holds true, as when Christ raised a man from the dead during a funeral procession (Lk. 7:11-15), Peter’s deliverance from prison by an angel (Acts 5:26), the appearance of the angel to Mary Magdalene outside of Christ’s tomb (Jn. 19:11-13), and the death of Ananias and Sapphiras after tempting the Lord (Acts 5:5-10).

In addition to the fact that biblical miracles were generally observable, the results of the miracles generally coincide with their function, which is to glorify God. In Luke-Acts, one effect of miraculous events—whether positive or negative—was that people were astonished or amazed.16 Raymond Gen notes that in Acts 13:8-9, Elymas the magician was blinded for withstanding Paul and the proconsul who witnessed the miracle was “amazed” (Acts 13:12). Also, after Christ cured a demon-possessed man in the synagogue, the people were “amazed” (Lk. 4:31-37), and in Luke 1:63 when Zechariah spoke suddenly (after previously being struck mute) the result was “astonishment” among the people.17

The miraculous glorifies God as creator and validates His messengers and His Word.

Miraculous biblical events also resulted in fear falling on the people,18 such as that which came upon the people of the Gerasenes after seeing that Christ restore the demoniac they knew (Lk. 8:35-37).19 Another example of this occurred after the work of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost when “everyone felt a sense of awe” (Acts 2:43), and in the narrative where Christ calmed the storm, His disciples were “fearful and amazed” (Lk. 8:25). These biblical miracles resulted in the glorification of God and placed people in fear and awe, including believers and nonbelievers.

The third effect of biblical miracles is that they result in the growth and multiplication of the Word of God,20 and the salvation of souls. One example of this occurred on the day of Pentecost, after Peter’s sermon, 3,000 people were saved (Acts 2:41). As signs and wonders were performed by the apostles, Luke records that “all the believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added” (Lk. 5:14).21 This does not just include the “benevolent” miracles of God, as Raymond Gen notes, because even miracles of divine infliction resulted in the multiplication of the Word, as with King Herod Agrippa’s death (Acts 12:24), the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:20), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).22 Recognizing that biblical miracles result in the glorification and fear of God, as well as the multiplication of believers and of the Word, we now examine more in-depth the relationship between miracles and the Word of God.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2009

About the Author: Jessica Faye Carter, J.D. (Duke University), M.Div. (Princeton Theological Seminary), is a lawyer, entrepreneur, and nationally-recognized expert on cultural and gender diversity. She is the author of Troubling Her: A Biblical Defense of Women in Ministry (Purple Girl, 2010), Double Outsiders: How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America (JIST Works, 2007), and “Known and Yet Unknown: Women of Color and the Assemblies of God.” LinkedIn. Twitter. http://jessicafayecarter.com

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