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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

IVa. Bearing Witness to the Risen Christ and His Power to Save Sinners

Miracles worked by the Lord through His people do not detract from the gospel or a focus on Christ. Peter’s words in the temple show that ongoing works of miraculous healing in Christ’s name glorify Christ and bear witness to His resurrection (Acts 2:22; 3:13):

Acts 3:12-13, 15-16—“When Peter saw this, he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus… You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you all can see.”

Discussing this passage, Dr. Cyril Powell points to the function of healing works to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus:

Face to face with a man in need, Peter acts as he knows his Lord would have acted in similar circumstances… His work is clearly being continued by His men… In verse 33 [Acts 4:33] it is stated: “And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” By the “power of God manifested in mighty works” (F. F. Bruce), the Apostles went on giving this testimony.64

The claim is also made by some that healing and gift-based ministry in Christ’s name does not reflect the power of the gospel or the power of God that saves sinners. Boice articulates this view as follows:

The power of God that saves sinners is not seen [italics his] in any contemporary miracle, but only in the death of Christ on the cross.65

Such an unfortunate statement can be substantiated nowhere in Scripture. Scripture teaches just the opposite, as attested by New Testament scholars, who have studied the evidence carefully. Dr. Alan Richardson, for example, observes that the power of the gospel is seen in miracles:

The New Testament … sees in the miracles of the Lord a revelation of the power and of the saving purpose of God… The miracle-stories do not constitute a secondary stratum of the Gospel tradition which is somehow foreign to the ethos of the Gospel in its primary sense.66

Prof. Walter Grundmann stresses that the power of God which is the power of salvation, in the New Testament’s view, is expressed in miraculous healing in Christ’s name as well as in proclaiming the gospel:

In the message of Christ we thus have the power of God which is the power of salvation… The dunamis Theou [“power of God”], which is the Gospel, is not an empty word… The risen Lord associates Himself with them [the apostles] and gives them His power, in which they work… The apostles continue the activity of Jesus, both proclaiming the Christian message (… Acts 4:33) and also working miracles (… Acts 4:7 … Acts 4:10). Luke gives us a similar picture of Stephen … in Acts 6:8. This dunamis [“power”] is expressed in proclamation on the one side (6:10) and miracles on the other (6:8).”67

The fact that dunamis is polysemous in Greek—has several different but related meanings—and denotes both “power” and “miracle” in the New Testament shows, as Grundmann points out, that miracles done in Christ’s name are an illustration of God’s power to save sinners through Christ.

IVb. Proclaiming the Gospel in Word and Deed

In Romans 15:18-19, Paul uses the word plēroō “fill, fulfill, bring to full expression”68 to state that he brought the gospel to full expression:69 peplērokenai to euaggelion tou christou literally, “(I) to have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” Paul says he proclaimed the gospel not only in word (logō) but also in deed (ergō). And what were the deeds which proclaimed the gospel? They were “signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit” (en dunamei sēmeiōn kai teratōn en dunamei pneumatos, Rom. 15:19). Thus, the gospel is also revealed and given expression through signs and wonders which act as a symbol of God’s grace and God’s power to save sinners through the gospel.

Similarly, Paul explicitly says the gospel came to the Thessalonians “not only in word” (ouk egenēthē eis humas en logō monon). But the gospel also came to them and was revealed to them “in power (en dunamei) and in the Holy Spirit (en pneumati hagiō)” (I Thes. 1:5). The association of “power” (dunamis) and “the Spirit” (pneuma) with signs, wonders, and miracles of healing and deliverance throughout the New Testament70 suggests that what is being referred to in this passage is the miraculous deeds of the Spirit’s power through which the gospel was manifested alongside Paul’s preaching.71

While some evangelicals dissent, suggesting that “there is a danger here [I Thes. 1:5-6] of equating ‘power’ with ‘miracles,’”72 mainstream New Testament scholars who have studied the evidence carefully confirm such a view.73 While the concept of God’s “power” in such passages is not restricted to miracles, it clearly includes them as a basic element of the notion of God’s “power.” As noted above, Dr. Gatzweiler points out that the concept of “power” cannot be explained in such passages without reference to the lexically related concept of “miracle”:

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.74

 

IVc. Signs of God’s Forgiveness and Signs of God’s Rule in Christ

Dr. Alan Richardson similarly affirms that the Gospels show miracles of healing to be symbols of God’s forgiveness and redemption through Christ:

The connexion between healing and salvation (in the religious sense) is a characteristic feature of the Gospel tradition. Miracles of healing are, as it were, symbolic demonstrations of God’s forgiveness in action…
The verb sōzein [“save, heal”] is itself ambiguous, meaning, on the one hand, to heal to rescue from danger, to keep safe and sound, and on the other hand, to “save” in the technical biblical-religious sense. The same is true of iasthai [“heal, restore”].
The Christian picture of Jesus as the Good Physician, the Saviour of both body and soul, is derived from the miracle-story tradition, which makes use of the healing narratives to convey spiritual teaching concerning salvation. A story recorded by St. Mark culminates in a terse saying of the Lord, which doubtless illustrates the connexion which He Himself perceived between His own healing ministry and His redemptive work: “They that are whole (hoi ischuontes) have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark ii. 17).75

In this story [of the healing of the Paralytic, Mk. 2:1-12] Jesus deliberately implies that His healing work authenticates His power to forgive sins… The importance of this story as part of the teaching material of a Church which claimed in the name of its Lord to be able to forgive sins and to heal the sick (cf. Jas. v. 14f.) is obvious.76

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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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