Jesus said: “These signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17) (Part 7)
Three passages are critical to our understanding of the miracles about which our New Testament speaks. One of them is the passage above, with which this series of articles began, and around which it is based. The other two will be discussed below.
This being the final of a 7-part series, we will give a brief summary of the previous articles. We have thus far argued that:
2) The biblical miracle is, by definition, a rare event. Some would have us to believe that history is saturated with miracles. This is simply not so, as we argued from the Scriptures, here.
3) In the fourth article, we examined the designed purpose of miracles as revealed to us in the Bible, which implied certain limitations on their use.
In this final article, we look to two more passages that further modify our understanding of the biblical miracle, and further limit their use and duration.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13. This passage clearly teaches that miracles would cease. Looking at these few verses alone, this is difficult to see, but in its fuller context, it is quite clear. Chapters 12 and 14 are a discussion of miraculous gifts in the church, and how they were and were not to be utilized. In other words, there were guidelines and limitations upon their use. But chapter 13 introduces us to the “better way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
The better way is love – sincere and self-sacrificial. Love is brought to the forefront of this section on miracles to point out that, not only is it a superior way to bring about unity to our faith and strength to our bonds as Christians, it is actually, chronologically, the more enduring of the two.
Numerous miraculous gifts are listed in the opening verses of chapter 13, and Paul minimizes their importance compared to love. There are things miracles simply cannot do. What is better? What will endure? What is complete? What never fails? Love (1 Corinthians 13:8).
What is not better? What will not endure? What is partial? What will fail, or cease? Miracles – e.g., “gifts of prophecy…tongues…[miraculous] knowledge…” These will be done away with (1 Corinthians 13:8-9).
When? When “the perfect” comes (1 Corinthians 13:10). What is that? It is the full knowledge of Christ and his way, which was being revealed miraculously through apostles and prophets of the first century. When that knowledge was fully revealed, the purpose of the miracles would be fulfilled, and their use would fall away.
Paul describes it as the difference between boyhood and manhood, between a tinted glass and clear (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).
Ephesians 4:11-13. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (NASB).
This passage is a complement to 1 Corinthians 13. God ordained various offices in the church, some of which were temporary and miraculous (apostles and prophets), some of which were permanent and non-miraculous (evangelists, pastors, and teachers).
Why? To equip saints to serve and edify one another. For how long? Until they attained “the unity of the faith.” In the early days, as the New Testament was being revealed, unity of the faith was attained through miraculous and temporary means. Going forward, a better way would endure, the way of love.
Two other passages are relevant to cite as we conclude this study. Peter, writing near the end of his life, and about 30 years after Christianity began, said God granted them “all things that pertained to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Also, Jude said that the faith (the Christian system) had been delivered “once for all” to saints (Jude 3).
These passages imply that God delivered the entirety of his word – the New Testament – by the end of the first century. And if the New Testament was finished, then the miracles, whose sole purpose was to confirm that revelation, ceased as well.