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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

Hebrews 6:1-5 includes “the laying on of hands” among the “elementary teachings” of the churches addressed by that letter:

Hebrews 6:1-5—“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers (dunameis lit., “miracles”36) of the coming age…”

Besides bestowing the Spirit and spiritual gifts37, the “laying on of hands,” mentioned in the list of elementary teachings, is one of the principle means of prayer for healing in the New Testament (Mat. 9:29; Mk. 1:41; 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 16:18; Lk. 4:40; 13:13; Acts 9:17; 28:8; Jas. 5:14, “let them pray over [epi] him”).38 It follows that prayer for healing and prayer to convey the power and gifts of the Spirit were included in the “elementary teachings” of the Early Church. Did such “elementary teachings” and experiencing the “powers of the coming age” apply to apostles and their associates only?

Are all the elders apostles through whose prayers James 5:14-15 affirms the Lord will “make the sick person well”? Are the members of the congregations addressed by James 5:16 all apostles: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed”?

Romans 12:6-8, I Corinthians 12-14, Galatians 3:5, Ephesians 4:11, I Thessalonians 5:20, James 5:14-16, I Peter 4:10, and other passages throughout the New Testament suggest that the congregations of the Early Church continued to experience the gifts of the Spirit, miracles, and signs and wonders, quite apart from the apostles. Why should it be any different for churches today?

It is also suggested that the apostles are not examples to Christians in certain areas, presumably in healing ministry and spiritual gifts:

Thus the apostles and other New Testament writers must be viewed as something more than proto-Christians, models of what all other Christians should enjoy and experience.39

But what more should the apostles be viewed as? Where does Scripture ever teach that the Lord Jesus and the apostles should not be viewed as models for all Christians in every aspect, including healing ministry and gift-based ministry? Scripture seems to teach just the opposite:

I Corinthians 11:1—“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” Paul tells the Corinthians.

Philippians 4:9—“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice…”

I Thessalonians 1:5-6—“Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” Philippians 4:9 seems rather all-inclusive. Paul does not say “Whatever you have learned or … seen in me except for signs and wonders, healing and spiritual gifts…”40

The New Testament evidence shows, then, that Christians throughout the early churches also imitated the way the apostles exercised spiritual gifts, proclaimed the gospel, and preached the Word with healing and gift-based ministry: Acts 6:8; Acts 8:5-7, 13; Acts 9:11-12 (22:12-13); Acts 19:5-6; Acts 21:9; Rom. 12:6ff.; I Cor. 12:8-10, 28; and I Cor. 14:1, 5, 13-15, 18f.; Gal. 3:5; Eph. 4:7-11; I Thes. 5:20; James 5:14-16; and I Peter 4:10.




Part 2 Continues Next Issue …

III.      Signs, Wonders, and Miracles Are Intended to

            Encourage Belief and Deepen Faith in Christ

  1. Signs, Wonders, and Miracles Illustrate God’s Grace

            in the Gospel

  1. Signs and Wonders Versus “The Sign from Heaven”
  2. Past Signs and Wonders versus Ongoing

            Signs and Wonders



1 E. Roe, ed., Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story (Ventura: Regal, 1990), p. 68; citing Barbara Hudson Powers, The Henrietta Mears Story (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), pp. 100ff.

2 Roe, ed., Dream Big, p. 68.

3 Ibid., cited on title page.

4 Ibid., p. 333.

5 Jn. 14:12 (examples of all spiritual gifts, except perhaps tongues and interpretation, can be found in Jesus’ ministry and miraculous works according to the Gospels; see scriptural evidence presented by D. Pytches, Spiritual Gifts in the Local Church [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985], pp. 50-55; J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], pp. 68-73, 163-170, 172-173, 210-211); I Cor. 12:7; 14:1, 5, 12-13, 24, 31; Mat. 7:7-11; Jas. 4:2b. I Corinthians 12:28-29 speaks of appointments “in the church”—regular gift-functions in the church—and not of how many gifts one may potentially experience or utilize. Such passages as I Cor. 12:31, 14:1, 5, 12-13, and Rom. 1:14 seem to suggest we can seek and potentially receive from God gifts we do not already have (see also Don William’s chapter in this book, remarks on I Corinthians 12).

6 I Cor. 12:8; 14:24-25. It is evident that for the Early Church, whose Bible was the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), the “word” (Greek logos) in the phrase “word of knowledge” denoted “divine revelation” (hence “word of knowledge” = “divine revelation of knowledge”) as the Hebrew dābār “word,” which Greek logos renders in the Septuagint, frequently denotes (Hebrew dābār denoting “divine revelation,” I Sam. 3:7; 9:27; II Sam. 7:4; I Kg. 17:2, 8; 6:11; 13:20; Jer. 1:4, 11; 2:1; 13:8; 16:1; 24:4: 28:12: 29:30; Ezek. 3:16; 6:1; 7:1; 12:1; Hos. 1:1; Mic. 1:1; Zeph. 1:1; Isa. 2:1; BDB, p. 182b [meaning III.2]; O. Procksch, “logos,” TDNT, vol. 4, pp. 94-96).

7 Carson in Horton, ed., Power Religion, p. 90.

8 Ibid., p. 92.

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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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