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The Purpose of Signs and Wonders in the New Testament: What Terms for Miraculous Power Denote and Their Relationship to the Gospel, Part 1, by Gary S. Greig

Id. “Signs” and “Signs and Wonders” Are Synonymous with “Miracles”

Though the word “sign” (sēmeion) does not always denote miraculous events (e.g., Mat. 26:48; Lk. 2:12; Rom. 4:11; II Thes. 3:17),29 the majority of occurrences in the New Testament denote miraculous events of one sort or another.30

Hebrews 2:3-4—“Signs and wonders” are explicitly related to “miracles” and “gifts (or ‘distributions’) of the Holy Spirit”: “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders (sēmeiois te kai terasin) and various miracles (dunamesin) and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed (pneumatos hagiou merismois) according to his will.”

II Corinthians 12:12—“The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles (sēmeiois te kai terasin kai dunamesin)—were done among you with great perseverance.”

Acts 8:6-7, 13—Philip preached and worked “signs and miracles,” both terms denoting the same phenomena of healing and deliverance from demons: “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs (sēmeia) he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed (therapeuō)… Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles (sēmeia kai dunameis).”

Acts 2:22—“Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him…”

Ie. “Signs, Wonders, and Miracles” of Healing and Deliverance Are Worked Through the Power of the Holy Spirit (cf. I Cor. 2:4-5; 12:9-11; II Cor. 12:12):

Galatians 3:5—“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles (dunameis) among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”

Romans 15:18-19—“I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders (en dunamei sēmeiōn kai teratōn), through the power of the Spirit (en dunamei pneumatos). So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed (peplērōkenai) the gospel of Christ.”

II. “Signs, Wonders, and Miracles” Are Not Restricted to the Apostles

The claim is also made that “signs and wonders” only relate to the apostles in the New Testament:

I turn now to the postresurrection period. Once again it proves helpful to begin at the purely linguistic level. It is rather startling to observe that “signs and wonders” (or some minor variation) as a linguistic category [italics his] is almost exclusively restricted to the apostles.31

These statements seem to show a lack of familiarity with the lexical evidence related to “signs and wonders” in the New Testament. Words and phrases whose semantic properties are being defined do not belong to “linguistic categories” but to “lexical fields” or “semantic fields.”32 The phrase “signs and wonders” in the New Testament does not comprise a “linguistic category” but, as was pointed out above, belongs to a “lexical field,” or group of words with the same or related meanings, denoting manifestations of God’s power.

Furthermore, the words “signs” and “signs and wonders” and the miracles of healing and deliverance that that they denote are not “almost entirely restricted to the apostles.” Stephen, Philip, and Ananias were not apostles but laymen:

Acts 6:8—“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”

Acts 8:5-7, 13—“Philip went down to a city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks evil spirits came out of many and many paralytics and cripples were healed… Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles (sēmeia kai dunameis).”

Acts 9:11-12—“A man … named Saul … is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” Acts 22:12-13—“A man named Ananias … stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that moment I was able to see him.” Prof. G. W. H. Lampe of Cambridge says the following of Stephen, Phillip, and Ananias:33

Stephen’s own preaching was accompanied, like that of the apostles, by signs and wonders done publicly (6. 8)… So, too, with Philip at Samaria: the word is associated with works, exorcisms, and the healing of the paralysed and the lame, which recall the acts of Jesus as prophesied in Isaiah 35 [Isa. 35:5-6] and which are described as ‘signs’ [Acts 8:6, 13]… In the story of the conversion of Saul… , the enemy of the gospel is struck down and blinded by the power of God… He is restored to sight … by Ananias, who, in fulfilling this commission, is acting as the direct agent of Jesus.34

“Signs and wonders” are not in any way restricted to the apostles and their immediate associates, because what “signs and wonders” denote—healing, deliverance from demons, and spiritual gifts—were practiced by all believers throughout the Early Church according to the New Testament. Who among the Corinthians (I Cor. 12-14) with gifts of healing, miraculous powers, tongues, or prophecy—all “signs” according to Mk. 16:17-18 and I Cor. 14:22 (see above)35—was an apostle? Who among the Galatians, among whom God worked miracles (Gal. 3:5), was an apostle? Who among the Ephesians and Thessalonians with gifts of prophetic revelation (Eph. 4:11; I Thes. 5:20) was an apostle? Which of Philip’s daughters, who regularly prophesied in the church of Caesarea (Acts 21:9), was an apostle? How many among the churches in Asia Minor, which I Pet. 4:10 suggests were fully conversant with all the gifts of the Spirit, were apostles?

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2007

About the Author: Gary S. Greig, Ph.D. (University of Chicago), is Vice President for Content, Bible and Theology for Gospel Light Publications and Regal Books and an adjunct faculty mentor of United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio) and of Dr. Randy Clark’s Global Awakening Ministries. He was an associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Regent University, School of Divinity from 1995–1998, and before that an adjunct professor of Hebrew for Fuller Theological Seminary. He was co-editor with Kevin Springer of The Kingdom and the Power of the Cross: Are the Healing and Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? A Biblical Look at How to Bring the Gospel to the World with Power (Regal, 1993), a compendium to lay out the biblical foundations of power evangelism and power ministry. LinkedIn

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