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Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible, Part 4, by Wayne A. Grudem

24. Doesn’t John’s Gospel show us that miracles lead to inferior faith and to the rejection of the gospel?

This objection is argued clearly by D. A. Carson, based on his understanding of several verses in John.55  I can respond to his argument with the following questions.

A. Did Jesus rebuke the official at Capernaum for seeking his son’s healing? In John 4:48, where Jesus says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,”56  Carson calls this a “firm reproach”57  (his commentary calls it a “sweeping rebuke”).58

But there is certainly room to doubt whether this is any kind of reproach at all—there is no explicit indication of reproach in the context. John 4:53 shows that this “sign” (miracle) led to faith for the official: “He himself believed, and all his household.” John continues his theme of emphasizing the value of miracles (which he calls “signs”) in the next sentence. “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee” (John 4:54).59

B. Did Jesus’ miracles lead to inferior faith? In John 10:37-38, Jesus says, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”60  Carson says of this passage that Jesus sees faith that is based on miracles “as of inferior quality, but certainly better than unbelief.”61

It would be hard for John to be any more explicit in showing that the amazing signs Jesus did brought great multitudes of people to follow Him and believe in Him.

But this is a misleading way to express it. Jesus does not see this “faith” as saving faith at all, for it is the kind of belief possessed by those who will not believe in Him (“even though you do not believe me“; Greek kan emoi mê pisteuetê). Rather, He is asking that they at least have some intellectual acknowledgement that God is working through Jesus: “That you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38). This knowledge that a fact is true is certainly not saving faith. Therefore, Carson’s conclusion here that genuine faith occasioned by miracles is of inferior quality is not a correct one—this text does not talk about saving faith at all.

C. Did Jesus’ miracles lead to spurious faith? Carson says, “Not all faith triggered by Jesus’ signs proves valid: some of it is spurious ([John] 2:23-25; cf. 8:30-31).”62

But the verses Carson Cites do not prove that the faith of some people who believed was “spurious.” John 2:23 simply says, “Many believed in his name when they say the signs which he did”—the verse says nothing about “spurious” faith.63  Similarly, John 8:30 says, “As he spoke thus, many believed in him.” It says nothing about signs and wonders in this passage, nor does it say anything about people having spurious faith as a result of signs and wonders. I fail to understand how Carson can use these two passages—neither of which says anyone had spurious faith, and both of which report many believed in Christ—to say some people have spurious faith triggered by signs and wonders. The passages do not prove that.

D. Did raising Lazarus lead to rejection and anger? In John 11-12, regarding raising Lazarus from the dead, Carson notes that some religious leaders became angry as a result of this miracle. “The religious leaders are convinced that Jesus is actually performing miracles whose reality they cannot deny, but that does not foster faith: rather it fuels their rejection and anger.”64

At this point I agree with Carson, that the miracles performed by Jesus led to rejection and anger in the religious leaders. However, I differ with any suggestion that John is warning us against miracles in the story of Lazarus. It is true that the religious leaders became more hostile, but that simply makes their unbelief more culpable. In the very context of John 11, John is showing that because of Jesus’ miracles many people “believed in him” (John 11:45; cf. 12:10-11). The miracles should have led to faith for the Pharisees as well, but instead they became more hostile in their hardness of heart. John does not use this fact to show the harmful effect of miracles, but rather the amazingly hard hearts of the Pharisees.

The contemporary application should be clear. Miracles will always engender faith in some and hostile opposition in others—especially religious leaders who are jealous because of their loss of power and influence when genuine miracles are occurring and people are coming to faith outside of their influence.

E. Did Jesus give a negative evaluation to Thomas’s faith because Thomas saw Jesus after His resurrection? Finally, Carson mentions the time when Thomas saw Jesus after His resurrection and then believed in Him. Carson’s conclusion is that “the same relatively negative evaluation is given” to the value of seeing the miracle of the Resurrection, showing the superiority of faith that does not rest on miracles. Carson says, “Better than the kind of faith that insists on seeing Jesus’ signs first hand is the faith that rests on the reports of the unique signs of Jesus (John 20:29-31).”65

But I do not think he has reasoned correctly from the redemptive-historical context of the verse. The contrast in the passage is not between seeing miracles and not seeing miracles. Rather, the contrast is between seeing Jesus in the flesh and not seeing Jesus in the flesh. Jesus does not say, “Have you believed because you have seen a miracle? Blessed are those who have not seen a miracle and yet believed.” Rather, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). There is a redemptive-historical reason for this: Jesus is ascending to heaven, and will no longer be on earth to be seen. The passage does not at all imply that miracles will cease, but that Jesus will be absent.

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Category: Fall 2000, Pneuma Review, Spirit

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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