Posted in jesus, miracle, signs

Back to Basics: What is a miracle?

Helix Nebula, Creative Commons photo

Miracle is one of those words that gets overused and then its meaning it diluted, like “awesome”.

“This ice cream is awesome!”
“God is awesome!”

The dramatic rise in people accepting and even seeking the charismatic gifts means that more people believe that people are performing miracles, and believing that God is doing miracles left and right. Healings, gold fillings, gold dust falling, a wind coming up at just the right time, a financial windfall…all are claimed as miracles. But are they? What exactly are miracles, according to the bible? And does God do miracles today?

While cessationists like me by no means deny that God has always had the power and will to do a miracle, and does them today, they are much less frequent than we suppose, IF in fact, perhaps nonexistent. But nowadays, everyone is claiming a miracle.

Today, we hear an awful lot of talk about miracles, somebody says, “I had a financial need and a miracle happened. The mailman came and in the mail was a check for just the amount of money I needed. It was a miracle.” Or you hear someone say, “I went to the mall and there was a parking place right by the entrance. It was a miracle.” Or a mother might sense something wrong in an adjoining room and investigate just in time to stop her little toddler from putting a paper clip into an electrical outlet, and say, “It’s a miracle.” Or maybe you were thinking and praying for somebody and just seemingly at the time you were doing that, the phone rang and it was the very person you were thinking about, and they were right there to be encouraged and you say, “That was a miracle.” Well, we call those things miracles, but they’re not miracles. A miracle is a supernatural event which has no human explanation. More than that, a miracle is a supernatural event which suspends natural law. (Source)

A miracle gives full warrant that it is from God.
~Augustus Strong

The popular African charismatic evangelist Angus Buchan, of the movie Faith Like Potatoes, planted potatoes and said it was a miracle that they grew. To be sure, the soil in his field was not conducive to bumper crops of potatoes, and he had been warned if a high probability of failure, but he attributed the fact that potatoes grew to a supernatural, direct and divine miracle.

Christian Apologetics and Resource Ministries defines miracle as

A miracle is an out-of-the-ordinary direct and divine intervention in the world. Examples would be the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus walking on water, the resurrection of Lazarus, etc. Some hold that it is a violation of the natural order of physical laws. Others maintain that there is no such violation upon God’s part but only a natural manifestation of His work.

They are also known as powers and signs (Mark 9:39; Acts 2:22, 19:11) and mighty works (John 10:25-28). They are a manifestation of the power of God over nature (Joshua 10:12-14), animals (Num. 22:28), people (Gen. 19:26), and illness (2 Kings 5:10-14). They are produced by God’s power (Acts 15:12), Christ’s power (Matt. 10:1), and the Holy Spirit’s power (Matt. 12:28).

I like Augustus Strong‘s definition,

A miracle is an event in nature so extraordinary in itself and so coinciding with the prophecy or command of a religious teacher or leader as fully to warrant the conviction on the part of those who witness it, that God has wrought it with the design of certifying that this teacher or leader has been commissioned by him.

Why are there miracles?

Strong again:

Miracles are the natural accompaniments and attestations of new communications from God. The great epochs of miracles—represented by Moses, the prophets, the first and second comings of Christ—are coincident with the great epochs of revelation. Miracles serve to draw attention to new truth, and cease when this truth has gained currency and foothold.

Some of the miracles in the Incarnation of Jesus’ time were making the blind to see. Do you realize there was no other recorded healing of this type in the Old Testament or the New, until Jesus did it? John 9:1-7 records Jesus performing a miracle of making an adult man born blind to see.

This is an amazing case, because Jesus didn’t cure a temporary condition recently onset, he reversed a biological, genetic defect.

The case of Lazarus was also a bona fide miracle, because Jesus raised a man who had been dead so long. Once again, He reversed biology by renewing the man’s very cells at the same time He gave Lazarus life again.

Finding a parking space in the front row, by comparison, is not a miracle.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines miracle as:

An event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message (John 2:18; Matthew 12:38).

The Apostles performed bona fide miracles also. They healed, raised the dead. Philip was whisked in a lateral ‘rapture’ or snatching away from one place to another. (Acts 8:39-40). That was a miracle. I’m hoping that in the New Jerusalem we can all travel that way 😉

Wisps, CC, by The Mighty Tim Iconnu

To look at what a miracle is, let’s look at why they exist. S. Lewis Johnson said in his sermon “Divine Providence, or What About Miracles?” (Matthew 12:25-30),

Now you can see from just these passages that in our Lord’s mind, the miracles were not done simply to give evidence of the power of God, but they were given and performed by him with reference to a particular Messianic purpose. That is, the ultimate coming of the Messianic kingdom.

As for the apostles, the reason they were given power to do signs, is as Dr Johnson explains in the same sermon,

2 Corinthians 12:12, “Truly, the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience in signs, wonders and mighty deeds.” Now notice here the expression, “The signs of an apostle.” And he goes on to say that the signs of the apostles are signs, wonders and mighty deeds. Miracles were the signs of the relationship of the apostles to our Lord. They were the signs that they were apostles, and they also were signs that in their ministry there was a connection between what they were saying and the kingdom of God that would come upon the earth.

Miracle of the Fishes, 1874 Alexander Bida

We don’t need people to perform a miracle any more because the bible now tells us about the Kingdom. We were not alive to hear Jesus in His incarnation, but the Spirit recorded the words through men, and we can read them and hear them. The signifying events are no longer necessary.

Miracles were done in in Moses’ day; in Elijah and Elisha’ day; in the day of our Lord and the apostles. He performed the miracles Himself or through men so as to accomplish His redemptive purposes. The miracles were signs of the accomplishment of his purpose of salvation. He will perform miracles again, Himself, via angels, and through men during the times prophesied in Revelation.

Here is a list of all the miracles, according to ATS Bible Dictionary,

The creation of all things, Genesis 1:1-31.
The deluge, comprising many miracles, Genesis 6:1-22.

Moses &the Burning Bush, illustration from 1890 Holman Bible

The destruction of Sodom, etc., Genesis 19:1-38.
The healing of Abimelech, Genesis 20:17,18.
The burning bush, Exodus 3:2-4.
Moses’ rod made a serpent, and restored, Exodus 4:3-4 7:10.
Moses’ hand made leprous, and healed, Ex 4…6-7.
Water turned into blood, Exodus 4:9,30.
The Nile turned to blood, Exodus 7:20.
Frogs brought and removed, Exodus 8:6,13.
Lice brought, Exodus 8:17.
Flies brought, and removed, Exodus 8:21-31.
Murrain of beasts, Exodus 9:3-6.
Boils and blains brought, Exodus 9:10,11.
Hail brought, and removed, Exodus 9:23,33.
Locusts brought, and removed, Exodus 10:13,19.
Darkness brought, Exodus 10:22.
First-born destroyed, Exodus 10:29.
The Red Sea divided, Exodus 14:21-22.
Egyptians overwhelmed, Exodus 14:26-28.
Waters of Marah sweetened, Exodus 15:27.
Quails and manna sent, Exodus 16:1-36.
Water from the rock, in Horeb, Exodus 17:6.
Amalek vanquished, Exodus 17:11-13.
Pillar of cloud and fire, Numbers 9:15-23.
Leprosy of Miriam, Numbers 12:10.
Destruction of Korah, etc., Numbers 16:28-35,46-50.
Aaron’s rod budding, Numbers 17:8.
Water from the rock, in Kadesh, Numbers 20:11.
Healing by the brazen serpent, Numbers 21:8,9.
Balaam’s ass speaks, Numbers 22:28.
Plague in the desert, Numbers 25:1,9.
Water of Jordan divided, Joshua 3:10-17.
Jordan restored to its course, Joshua 4:18.
Jericho taken, Joshua 6:6-20.
Achan discovered, Joshua 7:14-21.
Sun and moon stand still, Joshua 10:12-14.
Gideon’s fleece wet, Jud 6:36-40.
Midianites destroyed, Jud 7:16-22.
Exploits of Samson, Jud 14:1-16:31.
House of Dagon destroyed, Jud 16:30.
Dagon falls before the ark, etc., 1 Samuel 5:1-12.
Return of the ark, 1 Samuel 6:12.
Thunder and rain in harvest, 1 Samuel 12:18.
Jeroboam’s hand withered, etc., 1 Kings 13:4,6.
The altar rent, 1 Kings 13:5.
Drought caused, 1 Kings 17:6.
Elijah fed by ravens, 1 Kings 17:6. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—(Galatians 3:5).
Meal and oil supplied, 1 Kings 17:14-16.
Child restored to life, 1 Kings 17:22-23.
Sacrifice consumed by fire, 1 Kings 18:36,38.
Rain brought, 1 Kings 18:41-45.
Men destroyed by fire, 2 Kings 1:10-12.
Waters of Jordan divided, 2 Kings 2:14.
Oil supplied, 2 Kings 4:1-7.
Child restored to life, 2 Kings 4:32-35.
Naaman healed, 2 Kings 5:10,14.
Gehazi’s leprosy, 2 Kings 5:27.
Iron caused to swim, 2 Kings 6:6.
Syrians smitten blind, etc., 2 Kings 19:35.
Hezekiah healed, 2 Kings 20:7.
Shadow put back, 2 Kings 20:11.
Pestilence in Israel, 1 Chronicles 21:14.
Jonah preserved by a fish, Jonah 1:17 2:10.

New Testament Miracles.
The star in the east, Matthew 2:3.
The Spirit like a dove, Matthew 3:16.
Christ’s fast and temptations, Matthew 4:1-11.
Many miracles of Christ, Matthew 4:23-24 8:16 14:14,36 15:30 Mark 1:34 Luke 6:17-19.
Lepers cleansed, Matthew 8:3-4 Luke 17:14.
Centurion’s servant healed, Matthew 8:5-13.
Peter’s wife’s mother healed, Matthew 8:14.
Tempests stilled, Matthew 8:23-26 14:32.
Devils cast out, Matthew 8:28-32 9:32-33 15:22-28 17:14-18.
Paralytics healed, Matthew 9:2-6 Mark 2:3-12.
Issue of blood healed, Matthew 9:20-22.
Jairus’ daughter raised to life, Matthew 9:18,25.
Sight given to the blind, Matthew 9:27-30 20:34 Mark 8:22-25 John 9:17.
The dumb restored, Matthew 9:32-33 12:22 Mark 7:33-35.
Miracles by the disciples, Matthew 10:1-8.
Multitudes fed, Matthew 14:15-21 15:35-38.
Christ walking on the sea, Matthew 14:25-27.
Peter walking on the sea, Matthew 14:29.
Christ’s transfiguration, etc., Matthew 17:1-8.
Tribute from a fish’s mouth, Matthew 17:27.
The fig tree withered, Matthew 21:19.
Miracles at the crucifixion, Matthew 27:51-53.
Miracles at the resurrection, Matthew 28:1-7 Luke 24:6.
Draught of fishes, Luke 5:4-6 John 21:6.
Widow’s son raised to life, Luke 7:14,15.
Miracles before John’s messengers, Luke 7:21-22.
Miracles by the seventy, Luke 10:9,17.
Woman healed of infirmity, Luke 13:11-13.
Dropsy cured, Luke 14:2-4.
Malchus’ ear restored, Luke 22:50-51.
Water turned to wine, John 2:6-10.
Nobleman’s son healed, John 4:46-53.
Impotent man healed, John 5:5-9.
Sudden crossing of the sea, John 6:21.
Lazarus raised from the dead, John 11:43-44.
Christ’s coming to his disciples, John 20:19,26.
Wonders at the Pentecost, Acts 2:1-11.
Miracles by the apostles, Acts 2:43 5:12.
Lame man cured, Acts 3:7.
Death of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:5,10.
Many sick healed, Acts 5:15-16. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4).
Apostles delivered from prison, Acts 5:19.
Miracles by Stephen, Acts 6:8.
Miracles by Philip, Acts 8:6,7,13.
Eneas made whole, Acts 9:34.
Dorcas restored to life, Acts 9:40.
Peter delivered from prison, Acts 12:6-10.
Elymas struck blind, Acts 13:11.
Miracles by Paul and Barnabas, Acts 14:3.
Lame man cured, Acts 14:10.
Unclean spirit cast out, Acts 16:18.
Paul and Silas delivered, Acts 16:25-26.
Special miracles, Acts 19:11-12.
Eutchus restored to life, Acts 20:10-12.
Viper’s bite made harmless, Acts 28:5.
Father of Publius, etc., healed, Acts 28:8,9

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. (Daniel 4:2)

But in no way were miracles themselves proof of faith. Miracles confirm already existing faith, but rarely if ever catalyzed a person to faith. As A. Strong describes:

Miracles alone could not produce conviction. The Pharisees ascribed them to Beelzebub. Though Jesus had done so many signs, yet they believed not…. Though miracles were frequently wrought, they were rarely appealed to as evidence of the truth of the gospel. They are simply signs of God’s presence in his world. By itself a miracle had no evidential force.

Depiction of the Holy Spirit dove
(ceiling fresco in St. Charles’s Church,
Vienna, 1700’s)

There are interior miracles, and external miracles. An interior miracle would be prophecy, as the LORD gave words to the mind of the prophets and as the Spirit inspired the New Testament writers. Another interior miracle is the breaking of sin’s hold on a newly regenerated person. Justification is an internal miracle. We can’t see the actual breaking of bonds or the new heart, but we can see the effects of this interior miracle, the fruit of the Spirit.

The Spirit indwelling men is an internal miracle. The growth of a person in sanctification is another internal miracle. These are miracles because they are done by God without an intermediate instrument directly upon a person’s soul, heart, mind, and body. It truly IS a miracle when we are saved!! These are the miracles in works of grace.

An external miracle are all the others I posted above in the ATS Dictionary list. Consistently, the word for miracle in the bible is “sign”. A sign points to something. In the case of a miracle, the sign points to God.

John MacArthur said in his sermon, Does God Do Miracles Today?

And the types of miracles that are being claimed today are absolutely nothing like New Testament miracles, absolutely nothing like them. In fact, the types of miracles today could be distinctly seen as different than New Testament miracles. Jesus and the apostles instantly and completely healed people born blind, a paralytic, a man with a withered arm. All obvious and disputable miracles, even Jesus’ enemies didn’t challenge the reality of His miracles that He had the people there to verify them. He raised the dead, of course, as we well know. They never did a miracle that was slow, they never did a miracle that took time, they never did a miracle that was less than permanent. By contrast, most modern miracles are partial, gradual, temporary, sometimes reversed, and almost impossible to verify.

So before we go around claiming this or that miracle, let’s honor the Holy Spirit, our High priest

The Gathering of the Manna, c1470

Jesus, and Father God by pausing a moment to decide if we need to use different terminology. The miracles in the Old Testament and the New signify of God. There were miracles of creation, where He used no instrument but by the power of His word, created. Genesis 1:1 is an example of that. So was the coin in the fish’s mouth and the appearance of manna. There are miracles of healing, of triumphs over demons, of demonstration of power over nature, such as calming the storm at Galilee or shriveling the fig tree or causing rain or stopping the rain. There were miracles over animals, such as making Balaam’s donkey speak or the animals passively migrate to the ark or instructing the ravens to feed Elijah.

Miracles are a tremendous thing to ponder in scripture and to reverentially ascribe to God’s power, love, and creative artistry. Let’s not willy-nilly diminish that awe and reverence by calling mundane things miracles or ascribing to God what He has not done.

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Mark 13:22)

A final word. Providence. Readers of this blog know I speak of it often and I’m fascinated by it. In my opinion, one of the reasons I love God’s Providence is because it is a complicated and wonderful miracle. It is certainly a tremendous thing to part the Red Sea. But how much more tremendous to providentially direct each and every step of both Mary’s and Joseph’s ancestors’ lives since the time of Adam and Eve, so that the two would meet at the perfectly correct time, and produce the babe Jesus?

Orchestrating each and every molecule of all material matter at every moment so that God’s plan for His Son come to pass is such a miracle that my mind cannot comprehend a God who does this so easily and by the power of His word and His will. Our God is not to be trifled with, loving as He is. Miracles are done every day in sustaining this world alive, and all the people on it. Let’s not diminish that by rejoicing over a parking space at the mall. Convenient, yes. Miracle? No.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.