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Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible, Part 1, by Wayne A. Grudem

Some have argued that miracles were restricted to the apostles, or to the apostles and those closely connected with them. Before considering their arguments, it is important to note a remarkable concentration of miracles in the lives of the apostles as special representatives of Christ. For example, God was pleased to allow extraordinary miracles to be done through both Peter and Paul. In the very early days of the Church,

Many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles …And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed (Acts 5:12-16). Similarly, when Paul was in Ephesus, “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).8  Another example is found in raising Tabitha from the dead. When she had died, the disciples at Joppa sent for Peter to come and pray for her to be raised from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). They apparently thought that God had given an unusual concentration of miraculous power to Peter (or to the apostles generally). And Paul’s ministry generally was characterized by miraculous events, because he summarizes his ministry by telling the Romans of the things Christ has worked through him to win obedience from the Gentiles “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:19).

Nevertheless, the unusual concentration of miracles in the ministries of the apostles does not prove that no miracles were performed by others. As we have clearly seen, “working of miracles” (1 Corinthians 12:10) and other miraculous gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11 mentions several) were part of the ordinary function of the Corinthian church, and Paul knows that God “works miracles” in the churches of Galatia as well (Galatians 3:5).

In the larger context of the New Testament, it is clear that miracles were worked by others who were not apostles, such as Stephen (Acts 6:8), Philip (Acts 8:6-7), Ananias (Acts 9:17-18; 22:13), Christians in the several churches in Galatia (Galatians 3:5) and those with gifts of “miracles” in the Body of Christ generally (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28). Miracles as such cannot then be regarded as exclusively signs of an apostles. “Workers of miracles” and “healers” are actually distinguished from “apostles” in 1 Corinthians 12:28:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers. Similar evidence is seen in Mark 16:17-18: Serious questions have been raised about the authenticity of this passage as part of Mark’s Gospel.9  The text is nonetheless very early10  and bears witness to at least one strand of tradition within the Early Church, which the manuscript evidence suggests came to be widely accepted in the postbiblical Early Church.11  This text reports Jesus as saying,

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them: they will lay their hands on the sick; and they will recover. Here also the power to work miracles is assumed to be the common possession of Christians. Those who wrote and passed on this early tradition, and who thought it represented the genuine teaching of Jesus, were certainly not aware of any idea that miracles were to be limited to the apostles.12

The argument that many other Christians in the New Testament worked miracles is sometimes answered by the claim that it was only the apostles and those closely associated with them or those on whom the apostles laid their hands who could work miracles.13  However, this really proves very little because the story of the New Testament Church is the story of what was done through the apostles and those closely associated with them. A similar argument might be made about evangelism or founding of churches:

In the New Testament, churches were only founded by the apostles or their close associates; therefore, we should not found churches today. Or,

In the New Testament, missionary work in other countries was only done by the apostles or their close associates; therefore, we should not do missionary work in other countries today. These analogies show the inadequacy of the argument:

The New Testament primarily shows how the Church should seek to act, not how it should not seek to act. But if many other Christians throughout the first century Church were working miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, then the power to work miracles could not be a sign to distinguish the apostles from other Christians.14 6. Wasn’t the purpose of miracles to authenticate new Scripture as it was being given? Since no more Scripture is being given today, doesn’t it mean there will be no more miracles today?

If we consider the New Testament period, it is more accurate to say that miracles authenticated preaching the gospel rather than just giving new Scripture. For example, when Philip went to a city in Samaria,

The multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8). But Philip did not write any words of Scripture. The same was true in the life of Stephen (Acts 6:8).

Several other purposes are given for miracles in the New Testament. A second purpose is to bear witness that the kingdom of God has come and has begun to expand its beneficial results into people’s lives. The results of Jesus’ miracles show the characteristics of God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). His triumph over the destructive forces of Satan showed what God’s kingdom was like. In this way, every miracles of healing or deliverance from demonic oppression advanced the Kingdom and helped fulfill Jesus’ ministry, for He came with the Spirit of the Lord on Him “to preach good news to the poor …to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 2000

About the Author: Wayne A. Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, Arizona. He has authored over twenty books, including Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (1994), Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (2010), The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (2013), The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, and "Free Grace" Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (2016). He was also the General Editor for the ESV Study Bible (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year, 2009).

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