Lesson 8: Five Reasons Sign Miracle Have Ceased
Henry Thiessen’s definition is an exhaustive one.
A genuine miracle is an unusual event, accomplishing some useful work, and revealing the presence and power of God (Exod. 4:2-5; 1 Kings 18:24; John 5:36; 20:30f.; Acts 2:22). A spurious miracle, if not a mere deception, is a freak exhibition of power, wrought for show and ostentation, and inferior to the genuine miracle. It may also be effected by Satanic or demonic means (Exod. 7:llf., 22; Matt. 24:24; Acts 8:9-11; 13:6-g; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13).
A genuine miracle is an unusual event in that it is not a mere product of so-called natural laws.
In relation to nature, miracles are of two kinds: (1) those in which the natural laws are intensified or augmented, as in the deluge, in some of the plagues in Egypt, in the strength of Samson, etc., and (2) those in which all participation of nature is excluded, as in the budding of Aaron’s rod, the bringing of water from the rock, the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, etc. Often the timing itself is miraculous, as in the case of the separation of the Red Sea. A genuine miracle accomplishes some practical and benevolent work. The miracles of Christ were for the benefit of those to whom he ministered.
Genuine miracles are a special revelation of the presence and power of God. They prove his existence, presence, concern, and power. They are occasions on which God, as it were, comes forth from his hiding place and shows to man that he is a living God, that he is still on the throne of the universe, and that he is sufficient for all of man’s problems. – Thiesan Lectures in Systematic Theology.
Events which unmistakably involve an immediate and powerful action of God designed to reveal His character or purposes. Words used in the Scriptures to describe the miraculous include sign, wonder, work, mighty work, portent, power. - Holman Bible Dictionary.
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. It is an occurrence at once above nature and above man. It shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power. – Easton
Miracles by their definition must be rare or they really aren’t miracles. – Kris Minefee
Defining a New Testament Sign Miracle
In the New Testament, the miracles that took place after Jesus’ resurrection occurred at the hands of the apostles and others within the church. The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the church as God’s new house of witness, replacing for this time period, the Temple.
Acts 2:1-4 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. …14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.
Reason 1. Sign Miracles Mostly Occurred During Specific Times of God’s Plan
We can see from studying the Bible that miracles were rare, occurring mostly during times of special revelation or workings of God.
1. Creation / Genesis 1-3
2. Abraham, Sarah, Lot, Jacob / Genesis 11-20
3. Moses, the Exodus, Joshua / Exodus - Joshua
4. Elijah and Elisha / 2 Kings
5. Christ Ministry / Gospels
6. Early Church / Acts
7. Tribulation / Revelation
Though there are miracles outside of these time periods, the vast majority of the Bible is without miracles of any kind. It is also worthy of note that most of the times of sign miracles were or will be times of great disbelief and sin.
It has been said, “Miracles do not produce faith.” You can see the sins and rebellion of the Exodus, the disbelief of Abraham, Sarah and Lot, the idolatry of Israel during Elijah and Elisha’s ministry and even the end of Christ ministry of earth, which ends in His crucifixion. All these miracles did not produce faith. The next time of great miracles will the tribulation and we all know how that ends.
Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” While Jesus was even more adamant, telling the Jews, “A wicked and idolatrous generation seeketh after a sign.” Miracles don’t produce faith but instead are God’s proof of His revelation and at special times in His plan a means by which He helps His people. The church age now is not such a time.
Reason 2. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches the Sign Miracles Would Cease
1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity (love) never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
Paul points to the sign gifts, the miracles God used to authenticate the Church of Jesus, tongues, wisdom and knowledge. He says that these gifts would fail, vanish and cease to exist.
1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
Paul says these gifts or signs were partial, we would call them temporary, or imperfect.
1 Corinthians 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
In verse 10 he says when this will take place. "When that which is perfect is come then that which is in part shall be done away." It is easy to understand "that which is in part" refers to to the sign gifts. However, "that which is perfect" has been the source of much debate.
So in order to interpret this correctly we must first know what does the word “perfect” means.
The word comes from Greek word teleios, which means 1) brought to its end, finished 2) wanting nothing necessary to completeness.
In addition to looking at the definition of the word we must look at the context in which it is being used.
What is the setting the subject of chapter 12 they brought Paul to tell us of the the more excellent way of love?
The use of gifts in the church, particularly of the sign gifts or miracles of revelation, such as tongues, prophecy, and word of knowledge.
So we see that in 1 Corinthians 10:10, the word, “that” cannot refer to Jesus or to His return, since Jesus is never referred to the in neuter gender and neither He nor His return are anywhere in the context. Therefore, “that which is perfect” refers to the perfect, complete revelation of God which is in keeping with the context
Perfect does not refer to sinlessness but to completeness. The subject has been imperfect knowledge or revelation which will be superseded when perfect, complete knowledge is given. That will be when God’s revelation for this age was completed. This took place with the completion of the Bible when John wrote the final book of Revelation.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
This is plain teaching is confirmed in other scriptures that deal with revelation from God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
What does it say brings a child of God to completeness?
The verse says that scripture provides all that is needed to serve God, therefore, we do not need more revelation outside of God’s word, the Bible, unless we would believe that God's word is somehow deficient and incomplete.
Jude 1:3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
What does the phrase, "faith once delivered unto the saints" mean? The tense here, is perfect which mean an action in the past which continues into the future. The faith (truth, doctrine, teaching, way of life) was given one time and no more can be added it.
Reason 3. The Gifts In Romans 12 lack the sign gifts
Romans 12:4-8 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Here are the Spiritual Gifts given to from 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
Word of wisdom: the communication of spiritual wisdom.
Word of knowledge: communication of practical knowledge.
Faith: not saving faith but great faith able to believe and see God do great things.
Gifts of healing: supernatural healing of disease and infirmities.
Workings of miracles: able to do supernatural wonders.
Prophecy: foretelling the future and forth-telling the judgment of God.
Discerning of spirits: Supernatural ability to judge spiritual forces
Divers kinds of tongues: ability to speak different languages.
Interpretation of tongues: ability to understand different languages.
Compare that to the gifts given in Romans 12:6-9
Prophesy (Judging, Discernment)
Ministry (Serving, Helping)
Teaching (Instructing, Guiding)
Exhortation (Encouraging, Uplifting other)
Ruling (Administration, Organization)
Giving (Contributing, Supplying)
Mercy (Comforting, Forgiving)
As you can see the “sign or miraculous gifts are missing.
Also keep in mind when both books were written. 1 Corinthians was written first around 54 AD while Romans was written second around 58 AD. The epistles to the Corinthians was written to deal with specific problems of division and sin within the church, while Romans was written as Paul’s “magnus opus” to give a full instruction of God’s righteousness, the Gospel, Sin, salvation and the Christian life.
It would seem that much had been happening and changing in the life of the church since its founding to the time of Paul’s writing to the Romans. Though the purpose of the gifts within the church was the same, the purpose outside the church was now different. Sign gifts and miracles, once used to identify God’s new house of witness, were phasing out or Paul knew they would be phased out. This is why the sign gifts were not taught to the church at Rome. The time to “walk by faith not by sight” would be the standard for the church in the future.
This does not mean God no longer heals or performs miracles but that it is not done as a “sign” to unbelievers, nor is it done through “gifted” individuals within the church body. The abuse and foolishness we see today in many churches is due to the belief that sign miracles are for today, therefore God’s Word is only a secondary source of communicating with God. Paul seemed to warn of this when he told the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 14:22-23 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
Reason 4. We can see sign miracles ceasing before the NT was finished.
If it was true that the “sign gifts” were being phased out, we should be able to see instances where they had ceased in the New Testament and that is exactly what we do see.
In Acts we are told “And God wrought special miracles by the
hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs
or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out
Paul of all the apostles was shown to be God’s man by the miracles he was able to do, even so far as being able to just send a cloth from him to the sick and they would be healed. But consider what we read later in his life.
Paul wrote to his “son in the faith,” 1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.
To the church at Philippi, he wrote concerning their messenger who almost died getting help to Paul, Philippians 2: 25-27 Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
Later Paul told Timothy that he had to leave a member of his missionary team behind sick. 2 Timothy 4:20 Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.
Why didn’t the miracle working Paul heal these men? He leaves one man sick, tells Timothy, his right hand man, to drink some wine as a medicine and also prayed to God for healing Epaphroditus, someone who had aided him greatly. Yet instead of healing any of these he prays and asks for prayer, just like you and I do today. The most sensible, Biblical conclusion is that the “sign-miraculous gifts” were fading. And even Pau who had seen the Lord on the Damascus road, was now walking by faith and not by sight.
Reason 5. History shows that the sign gifts were not occurring after the first century.
Historical Record - There is no mention of sign miracles recorded by any of the pastors or historians who followed the apostles. The so called Post-Apostolic Fathers say absolutely nothing about such miracles in their thousands of pages of writing. Later writers such as Justin Martyr, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine all considered tongues something that happened only in the earliest days of the Church.
The Tongues Revival - The idea that tongues or other sign miracles should still be happening today was introduced by the teaching of William J. Seymour and others during the 3 year Azuza Street Revival in Los Angeles that began in 1906. After the idea that sign and miracles were still a part of modern Christianity, those participating in the revival began to pray and fervently ask for the Holy Ghost. They were suddenly knocked from their chairs and began to speak in tongues. This is considered the beginning of the Pentecostal / Charismatic movement.
Of course we must ask why did these folks have to ask for the Holy Ghost to show himself through tongues, etc unless such signs had ceased. In fact history clearly indicates that tongues and the miracle gifts had ceased.
If the sign miracles were for this age then why did they not continue and why did it take a meeting with people specifically seeking such signs, to see them come back into the church? If however the sign gifts ceased as a part of God’s plan for his children to “walk by faith and not by sight” then this is exactly the history we would expect.
One other note about history and the sign gifts particularly tongues. Christians have long sent missionaries around the world to win others to Christ. If tongues were still a viable gift today as ti was in the infant church, then there would never be a need for a missionary to learn a new language. In fact, in the early days of Pentecostalism that is what they believed and sent out untrained missionaries to just use tongues to convert the lost. They all returned with the same conclusion, it didn’t work. Today if you go to a Pentecostal Bible school or college and attend their missions prep courses you will see that they are all, without exception be told they will have to learn the language of the people they are going to. Nothing could be more convincing that today’s tongues are not real.
The sign gifts were in operation until the word of God was completed. Around the time John wrote the book of Revelation all such revelation and sign miracles from God ceased. They were no longer needed. Walking by faith is the opposite of needing miracles to believe God. In fact, miracles do not strengthen faith, but will only weaken it, this especially when those miracles are not real.
The word of God is sure and it is all we need to trust, obey and walk with Him.