Thursday, November 22, 2012

God, man, and miracles

Since it is God who causes miracles to happen, not the apostles or Paul as “miracle workers,” it is a moot point whether miracles should always, or at least ideally, accompany the proclamation of the gospel. It is God, not the missionary, evangelist, or the local church, who determines whether miracles happen. Christians believe God can work through miracles today, and they pray for the sick to be healed, as the risen and exalted Jesus Christ continues to have the power to heal the sick and to drive out demons. At the same time, Jesus’ power did not prevent Peter from being thrown into prison (4:1; 5:18; 12:3), Stephen and James from being killed (7:58-60; 12:2), and Paul from being shipwrecked (27:13-44).

E. Schnabel, Acts (Zondervan 2012), 1098.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I agree with everything except it being "moot". It's not always necessary, but I think (rightly or wrongly) it is nevertheless "ideal" for signs and wonders to accompany the proclamation of the Gospel (i.e. in the context of evangelism or mission work).

    There are many "Jehovah" compound names in the OT. But the most well known are the following 8.

    1. Jehovah-Jireh ("Jehovah/YHWH is our Provider"), compare with Rom. 8:32
    2. Jehovah-Tsidkenu ("...our Righteousness") , cf. 1 Cor. 1:30
    3. Jehovah-Mekaddishkem ("...our Sanctifer"), cf. 1 Cor. 1:30
    4. Jehovah-Raah/Roi/Rohi ("...our Shepherd"), cf. John 10:11-14; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 1 Pet. 5:4
    5. Jehovah-Shammah (" There [i.e. present, here and with us]"), cf. Matt. 28:20; Eph. 2:13
    6. Jehovah-Shalom (" our Peace"), cf. John 14:27; Col. 1:20
    7. Jehovah-Nissi (" our Banner [i.e. victory]) cf. Col. 2:14-15; 1Cor. 15:57

    Most of us have no problem affirming and proclaiming the first 7 I've listed, but when it comes to the 8th, Jehovah-Rapha/Rophi/Rophe ("Jehovah is our Healer/Physician"), we are often hesitant to share and proclaim this redemptive name and it's benefits. Even though it's also taught in the NT. Compare with Act 9:34; Matt. 8:16-17; James 5:14-16, Mark 1:41 etc.

    From what is recorded in Scripture, Jesus seems to have never turned anyone away who (in faith) asked for healing except the Syrophoenician woman. In essence He told her it wasn't God's will (i.e. revealed will) to heal her (since His ministry calling was specifically to the House of Israel). But even after the very representative and "voice of God" said "No", she still got what she asked for because of her persistent faith (with His commendation BTW). If Jesus Christ is still the same today (Heb. 13:8), then it seems to me that we should assume that "all things being equal", His will is to heal us. That's even if in God's sovereignty and omniscience (i.e. "all things considered") He sometimes chooses it's best not to heal at times.

    Speaking from a Calvinist understanding of God's providence: Not pursuing healing because it might not be God's will to heal (in situation X) is like not pursuing holiness because it might be the case that God has ordained that one would sin (in situation Y). Even though God seems to have made it clear what His general will is regarding Holiness (Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16) AND Healing (James 5:14-15; Luke 13:15-16; Luke 14:4-5; Ps. 103:3; Ex. 15:26; Mal. 4:2).

  3. Why do I think it's "ideal"? Well, it's true we can't get an "ought" from an "is" (or a "was"). Nor can we derive imperatives from examples or historical narratives. However, the NT does seem to connect the preaching of the Gospel with signs and wonders (in some sense and to some degree). Almost as if they are part and parcel of each other. For example, in every case of Jesus commissioning laborers into the harvest, He also expected them to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons" (Matt. 10:7-8). He expected this not only of the 12 (i.e. the Apostles) but also of the 72 disciples who were later sent (Luke 10:1-20). Jesus SO expected this that He wasn't satisfied with the fact that the disciples had preached the Gospel of the Kingdom to the people, but He actually got angry at the disciples for not getting a boy delivered from a demon (Matt. 17:17-20; Mark 9:18-19; Luke 9:40-41).

    Stephen is another example of someone who wasn't an Apostle but was able to perform [by God's grace] signs and wonders (Acts 6:8). Even those not part of Jesus' group were able to perform signs and wonders in Jesus' Name (Luke 9:49-50). It's prophesied that during the Messianic Age that even sons, daughters, young men and old men would see visions, dream dreams and would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18; Acts 21:9). If these things were to happen among those not officially in the ministry, how much more those who are?

    Paul's questions in Gal. 2:4-6 seem to imply that he assumes the preaching of the Gospel includes signs and wonders not only at the time of preaching, but to be continued in the Church after a local congregation had been established.

    4Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?


  4. The Messianic Age has arrived and as the Messiah was to heal the sick (Luke 4:18-19, Isa. 35:5-6; Isa. 61:1-2a; Acts 10:38), so the Church as the representatives/ambassadors of the Messiah ought to do the same (Luke 6:40; John 14:12-14). The Dispensational teaching of the "Great Parenthesis" is patently false. The NT clearly teaches that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated (even if it hasn't fully arrived). Paul said, "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (1 Cor. 4:20) and "and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4). Paul also seemed to tie signs and wonders with the proclamation of the Gospel in Rom. 15:16-19.

    If some Dispensationalists (e.g. Non-Lordship Salvationists) are in error in teaching one can preach Christ as Savior without requiring people to also accept Him as Lord; then, maybe it's mistaken not to preach Christ as HEALER and DELIVERER, (and dare I say, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit?) along with being Savior and Lord?

    Finally, it's also an established historical fact that signs and wonders continued in the Church beyond the Apostolic Age. Their occurrence fluctuated in frequency but they never completely disappeared from the Church but rather continue down to the present time. If they completely stopped at the end of the Apostolic Age, then it would be much plausible to argue that such "demonstrations" of the Gospel are not part and parcel with its oral proclamation. Their continuation are not a sufficient condition to prove my case, but they are a necessary one.

    Here are two books I've posted before documenting the history of the miraculous in the Church.

    The Ministry of Healing by A.J. Gordon
    Can be viewed Here or Here or Here

    The Suppressed Evidence by Thomas Boys
    Can be viewed Here

    By the way, some in the charismatic movement think that in the past 10 years there has been an exponential growth of signs and wonders the likes of which hasn't happened since the beginning of the 20th century.

  5. Since it is God who causes miracles to happen, not the apostles or Paul as “miracle workers,”

    As a Calvinist I agree that it's true that God is ultimately the one who performs miracles. But the same can be said of the miracle of regeneration. Yet, just because regeneration is only in the hands of God (that is, assuming Calvinism's soteriology is true), that doesn't mean that we have no duty to believe. The same is true of sanctification (which has been seen by some Calvinists as synergistic). We aren't to sit idly by waiting for God to zap us to greater holiness. We need to strive after and pursue holiness even if the degree of progress in sanctification is ultimately in God's hands (Phil. 2:13; Heb. 12:14).

    Jesus rebuked Peter for not continuing to walk on the water (i.e. perform a miracle) because of his unbelief (Matt 14:31). Jesus rebuked the disciples for not delivering the demon possessed epileptic boy because of their unbelief (or smallness of faith) (Matt. 17:19-20). It seems Jesus may have rebuked the disciples for not having enough faith to calm the storm themselves (by the use of His name). Paul tied the ability of the Galatians to experience signs and wonders on the fact that they didn't rely on their merits but on the freeness and graciousness of God's salvation in Christ. In which case, they could have lost the experience of them if they started to depend on their works (similar to how Peter lost the ability to walk on water). Hence, their ability to experience such miracles was dependent on their proper understanding of the Gospel of grace and their faith in that Gospel. The Galatians may very well have lost the miracle power of God when they started believing the false gospel of the Judaizers.

    Only God can cause a sermon to touch a person's heart, but that doesn't relieve the preacher of having to study and prepare a sermon. Just because the gifts of the Spirit are sovereignly given (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4) doesn't negate the command that we are to pursue and earnestly desire spiritual gifts (especially the gift of prophecy) (1 Cor. 14:1). Elijah knew that God would cause it to rain again, but that knowledge didn't make him lazy to pray down the rain. The apostle James uses that example as encouragement to pray for the healing of the sick (James 5:16-17 in connection with the preceding verses James 5:14-15).

    While it's true that Peter didn't take credit for healing the lame man, he also said "...but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" Moreover, he actually took the man by the right hand and raised him up not thinking either 1. the Holy Spirit needed help, or the opposite 2. since God alone performs miracles, there's no point in helping the man up on his feet

  6. It's clear Paul himself understood that a person's faith sometimes can contribute to their healing. As can be seen when he saw a crippled man "have the faith to be healed" (Acts 14:7-10). Paul echoed Jesus' practice in that He often said words to the effect "your faith has healed you" (Matthew 8:13; Matt. 9:29; Matt. 15:28; Luke 7:50; Luke 18:42). Thus showing there's sometimes a connection between the degree or amount of faith and the experience of a miracle. We would all say that Jesus as God could perform any miracle any time He chose. Yet, by God's decree/decision the working of miracles is often associated with the degree of faith of the person who is sick such that there's a sense in which even Jesus couldn't perform many miracles in Nazareth because of THEIR unbelief (Mark 6:5-6).

    Operating in the gifts of the Spirit can take striving and effort. It's not always automatic. "So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church." (1 Cor. 14:12). Peter admonished his readers to operate in the gifts of the Spirit correctly 1 Peter 4:10-11. The very fact that the gifts of the Spirit were being abused by the Corinthians shows that there's a role for humans to play in their operation (or misoperation). This is the reason why both the apostles Paul and John commanded the testing of prophecies and prophets/teachers(1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1).

    I'm convinced that God can work miracles with the presence of faith or without the presence of faith (i.e. sovereignly). But God's usual and preferred way (under the new Covenant) is to work them with faith either of the prayee AND/OR pray-er. That's why we are supposed to strive to have miracle working faith. Even though faith is itself the gift of God (as I believe as a Calvinist). Btw, I'm now convinced the burden of faith shouldn't be on the sick (prayee), but on the pray-er (per James 5). That's not to say that Jesus didn't have adequate faith in Mark 6:5-6. Jesus may have just waited for them to express enough faith to come to Him for healing but they just didn't come. Nowhere did Jesus say to someone, "You failed to get well because you didn't have enough faith". Rather Jesus blamed the disciples (i.e. pray-ers) for not getting the job done (Matt. 17:19-20).

  7. In summary, it seems to me that there are two errors to avoid:

    1. a Semi-Pelagian view of healing which some Pentecostals and Charismatics virtually have when they so emphasize faith that miracles are ultimately in the hands of man; and

    2. a perverse "sovereign" (falsely so called) view of healing that denies the fact that God often uses means to perform miracles and/or healings (e.g. Moses' staff, a poultice of figs, prayer, faith, laying on of hands, anointing oil, preaching, Scripture et cetera).

  8. Steve, your profile indicates that you are a semicessationist. What are your arguments for why the “sign gifts” should not be normative today as they were in the first century Church? The church I attend is beginning to take on a more charismatic edge, and I’m not sure how I should think about it.

    1. Isn't "semi-cessationism" defined differently by different folks? If so, in what sense would you (Steve) consider yourself one? I could say the same about "semi-continuationism", but resolve and I are more interested in your views.

  9. I don't think we need to take a position on whether or not the sign-gifts are normative today. If they are normative, God would confer the sign-gifts on Christians throughout church history. It's not something we're in a position to make happen. That's not up to us. Taking a position one way or the other doesn't change anything one way or the other, where the outcome is dependent on God's unilateral action.

    By the same token, if the sign-gifts aren't normative for today, their characteristic absence would be expected.

  10. If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that we don’t need to take a position on whether the sign gifts are normative or not, because, given their characteristic absence throughout church history, it is evident that they are not normative.

    If I am understanding you correctly and that is the case, how should we think about those churches that consider them normative? Should we avoid such churches? What are we to make of their manifestations of “sign gifts”?