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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 2, by Gary S. Greig

New Testament scholars have pointed to such evidence showing signs, wonders, and miracles worked by God awakening and deepening faith in Christ:

The Old Testament repeatedly states that the Israelites were moved to believe or were strengthened in their belief by miraculous deeds (Ex. 4:30, 31; 14:31; Nu. 14:11; I Ki. 17:24; 18:39; 2 Ki. 5:15). We encounter the same idea in the New Testament. Jesus reproached those cities “wherein most of his mighty works were done” with not having “repented” (Mat. 11:20-24; cf. Mk. 5:19, 20; 10:52; Lk. 5:8-11; 17:15, 16; 18:43; Mt. 20:34). The Gospel of John in particular stresses the miraculous sign as a means of arousing faith (Jn. 2:11; 4:53; 6:14; 7:31; 9:30-39; 11:15, 42, 45; 12:11, 17-19; 20:30-31). Paul emphasizes the relation between the proclamation of the word and the might of signs and wonders (Rom. 15:18, 19).48

Overwhelmed by the deeds of Jesus, many came to believe: Mt. 14:33 (after the stilling of the storm); Jn. 7:31; 11:45, 48 (the fear of the Jewish council that through Jesus’ many miracles “all men” will believe in Him!); 12:11. Cf. also 20:30, 31.49

… that purpose [of miracles] being forcibly to startle men from the dull dream of sense-bound existence, and, however it may not be itself an appeal to the spiritual man, yet to act as a summons to him that he now open his eyes to the spiritual appeal which is now about to be addrest to him (Acts 14:8-18).50

Jesus looks for a faith that allows itself to be carried further by the sign. His opponents did not have this openness. To them the miracles were not signs. They wanted proofs. Therefore, Jesus said, “no sign shall be given to this generation” (Mk. 8:12).51

In the close relationship, always emphasized in this text, which exists between God’s Word and God’s miraculous deed, it must be assumed from the start that also the miraculous deed will have its chief purpose in awakening faith, establishing and strengthening faith.52


IIIa. Both Christ and His Power

Despite such evidence from the Bible, the claim is made that one’s confidence in faith is either a matter of trusting in Christ or experiencing Christ’s miraculous power and work. Armstrong, for example, seems to assume such a dichotomy:

Wimber insists that “power encounters authenticate conversion experiences in a way that mere intellectual assents do not…” This simply will not do. Every Christian is given confidence and a solid foundation, not because of what he or she has experienced, but because of what (or better yet, whom) he or she has believed and trusted.53

The problem with such a conclusion is that no Scripture is cited which shows that it is an “either/or” rather than a “both/and” situation—that one’s faith is strengthened only by what is believed and not by experiencing God’s power and working. Who has not seen the faith of a child strengthened when God has answered a prayer? Or whose faith has not been strengthened when in the face of unanswered prayer God demonstrates His presence and love through the comfort, encouragement, and prayer support of a Christian brother or sister?

It is Paul who affirms that faith in Christ is strengthened in a unique way by demonstrations of His Spirit’s power. I Corinthians 2:4-5 clearly shows that it is not a question of either trust or experiencing God’s power, but that both work together. Experiencing God’s work and power are an illustration of the Truth and person of Christ in whom we have put our trust. Faith, Paul says, is reinforced when, like young Henrietta Mears, we see Christ doing what His Word says He does:

I Cor. 2:4-5—“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (en apodeixei pneumatos kai duameōs), so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

The use of “Spirit and power” in this passage shows that the “demonstration” referred not only to conveying spiritual gifts (explicitly referred to in I Cor. 1:6-7)54 but also to the signs, wonders, and miracles characteristic of Paul’s ministry in Corinth (II Cor. 12:12 en pasē hupomonē “with great perseverance”) and of his ministry in general (Rom. 15:18-19).55 Dr. Karl Gatzweiler, whose dissertation (Louvain, 1961) examined the Pauline concept of miracles says the following of I Cor. 2:4-5 and other related passages:

As examples … we cite I Thess. 1, 5; 2, 13; I Cor. 2, 4-5; 2 Cor. 6, 7; 13, 3; Col. 1, 29; 2 Tim. 1, 8. In all these places Paul speaks of the proclamation of the gospel which was accompanied by divine power, by the power of the Spirit. The gospel is God’s power which is displayed among men. For the reader, who already knows that the apostle worked miracles alongside the proclamation of the gospel (cf. 2 Cor. 12, 12; Rom. 15, 18-19), it suggests miraculous events also be understood as self-evident among the notions of “might” and “power” which accompany the proclamation of the gospel.56

The remarks of Dr. E. E. Ellis also suggest that I Cor. 2:4-5 cannot be adequately explained apart from other lexically and thematically related Pauline passages such as Rom. 15:18-19; II Cor. 12:12; Gal. 3:5; etc., which clearly show that manifestations of the Spirit’s power in signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts are what are referred to in all such passages:

“The concept of power is linked indissoluably with that of Spirit.” … This is most clearly expressed … in Rom. 15:18f.: … “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit.”
The same distinction is present in I Cor. 2:4f.: … “in demonstration of Spirit and power: that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” In this passage Origen apparently was the first to identify “Spirit” with (Old Testament) prophecy and “power” with miracles. His interpretation is supported by the literary pattern, by Paul’s comment in 2 Cor. 12:12 that his ministry to the Corinthians did include miraculous ‘powers’ [dunameis “miracles”] and by the similar contrast of “Spirit” and “power” elsewhere…
The same distinction probably is present in Gal. 3:5: “the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles (dunameis) among you.” In these texts God’s dunamis [“power”], manifested in the resurrection of Christ, is operative through the exalted Christ in two distinct ways: in the Spirit (inspired perception and speech) and in power (miracles).57

Thus, Paul teaches that both the object of one’s faith—Christ, the message of the Truth—and God demonstrating the truth by His power in our lives strengthen and reinforce our faith.

God desires to heal the sick as a sign of His kingdom reign and His grace toward us in Christ.

This same principle mentioned in I Cor. 2:4-5 is also evident in Paul’s conversion (Acts 9). Paul, himself, was not converted by a presentation of rational evidence (although Acts 9:19b-20 suggests this came later) but by a demonstration of God’s power through the appearance of Christ to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3ff., 20, 22). It was this experience of the manifest power of God which obviously forced him to take another look at the gospel and reevaluate his understanding of Scripture, the Messiah, and the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 9:20). His faith was in the content of the gospel, but it was born out of his conversion experience of the gospel’s power in the risen Christ. When Paul was converted he not only read of Christ in the Scriptures and heard of Christ from the community of believers in Damascus (Acts 9:19b), he saw the gospel’s power in the risen Christ on road to Damascus and in being healed of his blindness and filled with the Spirit through Ananias’s prayer (Acts 9:10-12, 17-18; 22:13).


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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 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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