Jesus said: “These signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17) (Part 4)
(This article is part of a continuing series. The previous article can be found here).
Are miracles still occurring today? That is not the same question as, “Do people still claim to witness miracles today?” People claim to witness miracles regularly. But a claim must be substantiated.
This is a somewhat touchy subject because if you say, “God is no longer working miracles as He did in the first century,” people might hear that as, “God is not active in people’s lives,” or, “God is no longer capable of performing a miracle,” or, “God does not provide healing at all,” or perhaps worse, “God doesn’t care about us.”
But these inferences are not necessary at all. God can be active in people’s lives, fully capable of performing miracles, provide healing, and care about us, without ever performing a miracle (you might reference this previous article in which we argued that, for the most part, practically no one has ever witnessed a true miracle).
But in order to answer the question of whether miracles are still happening today, we must first uncover the purpose of the miracles. Then, we must understand what, if any, limitations were associated with biblical miracles.
What was the primary purpose of the New Testament-era miracles?
In Mark 16:17-18, our key text for this series of articles, Jesus promised his followers that certain “signs” would follow those who believed. But while many focus on what the particular signs, or miracles were, that is actually not the most important element to consider. The most important aspect is the designed purpose for which the miracles were done:
“And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20).
The phrase “confirming the word” is a statement of purpose. It lets us know the design of the miracles. They were to confirm the word. There was a reason, indigenous to the early church, why “the word” needed miraculous confirmation at this time: it was incomplete.
When Christianity began, the only revelation from God was the Old Testament (OT, Genesis-Malachi). But once Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:11-14), Christians stopped carrying out the dictates of the Law (though, questions about previous rites like circumcision did persist, re: Acts 15:1-24).
Why? The old covenant was brought to fruition in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18). It served its purpose (Galatians 3:24), and Jesus removed it through his cross (Colossians 2:14). That doesn’t mean the OT is not instructive or useful, but the rites are no longer binding to those in covenant with Christ. Why? That covenant was inferior and replaced by the greater lawgiver, priest and sacrifice: Jesus Christ (for further study: Hebrews 7:22-27; Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 9:13-16).
Consequently, the first Christians – while they used the prophetic evidence in the Law to corroborate their testimony of the resurrected Jesus – still had no written covenant for themselves. This new revelation of God came via apostles and prophets of the New Testament (hereafter, NT) era (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Ephesians 3:1-5).
However, an apostle couldn’t just start telling everyone what to do. He needed definitive proof that what he said was from God. This is why, as the gospel message spread around the world, miracles came along, “confirming the word with signs following” (cf. Acts 2:43; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:12; Acts 8:13; Acts 15:3; Romans 15:19; Hebrews 2:4). These are even called by Paul “the signs of an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12).
The designed purpose of the NT era miracles was to confirm new revelation from God. If they are still occurring today, then new revelation from God is still occurring, and some argue that this is so.
Unfortunately for that argument, the NT itself claims to have been once delivered to the early church in the first century (2 Peter 1:3; Jude 3). As W.E. Vine stated:
With the completion of Apostolic testimony and the completion of the Scriptures of truth (‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints,’ Jude 3, RV), ‘that which is perfect’ had come, and the temporary gifts were done away” (Commentary on First Corinthians, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951, p. 184; qtd. in Wayne Jackson, “Can Christians Speak in Tongues Today?“).
Of course, some allege that miracles are still occurring today. But it is not enough to make allegations. According to the purpose for miracles, if they are occurring today, we should be adding to the body of NT books.
One can disagree with the idea that miracles only accompanied new revelation and the temporary, apostolic ministry if they choose, but one must provide evidence from the Bible that supersedes the evidence of Mark 16, which teaches that miracles were designed for that purpose alone.
Furthermore, personal experience (witnessing/experiencing an alleged miracle) that contradicts the Bible’s teaching on this subject is not admissible, as it is entirely subjective and cannot be tested.
In the next article (here), we consider even further limitations of biblical miracles.