I CORINTHIANS 12 SUPPLEMENT


MIRACLES AND HEALING

A miracle is an event that requires some of the normal laws of the universe to be temporarily set aside. A miracle occurs only because God temporarily suspends some of His laws and so allows it to happen. We must not confuse our idea of a miracle by using it to describe events that are rare or mysterious. All unusual events that surprise or puzzle us are not miracles.

The word "miracle" in I Corinthians 12 is a translation of the word dunamis. This Greek word is sometimes used in the Bible for physical miracles and sometimes for the salvation of the soul by means of the Gospel (Acts 1:8, Rom. 1:16, I Cor. 1:18, Gal. 3:5, 6, Phil. 3:10). If we want to apply a physical dimension to the word dunamis in I Corinthians 12, then, based on the rest of the data in the Bible, some members of the church at large did indeed perform miracles, such as Peter and Paul. We do not read about any members of the church at Corinth possessing that gift. Instead, Paul emphasized the spiritual dimension of that word, namely, members of the church ought to bring the Gospel, which results in the miracle of salvation of sinners.

Two other Greek words are used to express the idea of a miracle. One is semeion. It is translated "miracle" or "sign." It is commonly used in John for the miracles of Jesus (John 4:48, 54). Another is teras. It is translated "wonder" and used for the works of Jesus and some of the disciples (Acts 2:22). These last two words are particularly associated with the mighty works of God in the physical universe. They are not found in I Corinthians 12.

The following items demonstrate why we are not to expect miracles today as they were performed in the Bible and as are commonly reported by people today.

From Hebrews 2:3, 4, we learn that miracles were acts of God to authenticate His messengers and His words which they brought. These displays were part of the apostles' credentials (Rom. 15:18, 19, II Cor. 12:12; for example, Acts 5:12, 9:36, 14:3). It was vital that their hearers received what they said as the very words of God (I Thess. 2:13, II Pet. 3:15, 16). Today, the Bible is complete. No further articulated revelation comes from God beyond what we have in the Bible (Rev. 22:18). The Bible testifies to its own authenticity and sufficiency (John 17:17, II Tim. 3:16). Therefore, we do not need miracles today as a witness to the genuine trustworthy character of God's Word we have today.

We should add that even before the Bible was complete, God did not promiscuously distribute the gift of miracles. The authority to perform miracles was not a common gift. This fact is implied in I Corinthians 12:10, 29. In New Testament times, Jesus performed most of the miracles while the few done by His disciples were limited to the area of miraculous healing. The number of these incidences quickly reduced to none in the years after Jesus' ascension.

Matthew 8:16, 17 tells us that Jesus had fulfilled the physical dimension of any Old Testament Scriptures predicting His miraculous works in His earthly life and death. No further physical miracles are required since that dimension of the Scriptures is now fulfilled. For example, I Peter 2:24,25 explains that the cross was the true fulfillment of a passage like Isaiah 53:5, that might seem to be predicting physical healing. That is, it is really announcing healing from sin. So, Old Testament promises were primarily spiritual.

Luke 4:18-21 shows that Jesus' work was to bring the message of the Gospel of release from sin's captivity and give spiritual sight to those blinded in sin (John 9:39). Therefore, as we read in Matthew 9:6, as well as John 20:30, 31, the physical miracles Jesus performed were pictures that displayed Jesus' real mission which was to heal the sickness of sin by going to the cross. Even the few evidences in Acts of physical miracles were pictures of God's redeeming power in salvation of people's souls. The physical miracles were neither numerous nor the expected benefits of salvation.

The Bible clearly teaches in Luke 16:31 that even the greatest miracle of all will not produce faith in someone who has no faith to begin with. That is why we read in Matthew 13:58 that Jesus did not do many miracles in the sight of those among whom He grew up. As God, He could do as He willed, but there was no point in performing any mighty works, since, according to verses 55-57, no one believed. And, as God, He knew that the kingdom of God does not reveal itself by means of observation of physical events (Luke 17:20). Rather, saving faith is a gift of God (John 6:29), not dependent upon any physical support. Entering the kingdom of God is an event that is not noticeable physically until after it has taken place (John 3:7,8).

While it is true that God is the same in all ages (Heb. 13:8, James 1:17), and while miracles were sometimes included in His dealings with men, He, nevertheless, does change His methods. For example, I Corinthians 10 explains that the mighty works which God performed for Israel of old in the wilderness were pictures of instruction to His church in the New Testament (I Cor. 10:11). Once that instruction was set down in the Bible, He did not have to repeat the miracle today. To put it in another way, God has His same plan of salvation, but works out His plan with different physical devices and props which in themselves are dispensable. For example, God does not deal with sin by means of a worldwide flood as He once did. And true believers are not expected to make sacrifices in Jerusalem as the faithful Israelites had to long ago.

One miracle which continues today is the miracle of salvation, that is, when someone becomes born again. This is a miracle in the truest sense. In Romans 6:26, we read that the wages of sin is death. This is a law like all of God's laws. It is inviolate and governs events in God's creation, physical and spiritual. Since all men are sinners, all men have died spiritually (Rom. 5:12, Eph. 2:1). As sinners, all men additionally await both physical death and the judgment of God which follows (Heb. 9:27). God has a miraculous solution to this mess.

Unlike some of God's other laws, the law of punishment for sin can never be broken because God's holy righteousness must be maintained. The judicial liability incurred by sin must be satisfied. So how can sinners be saved from that punishment? The answer is that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for His people. They sinned, and the required death as a judgment took place. God's Law was obeyed as expected. However, Jesus Christ was the One who satisfied the Law's demands by means of His death. Because of Christ's work, God's people were free from the condemnation of the Law. Then God miraculously applied that salvation to their lives. Those who were spiritually dead, God has made alive. They live a life through faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. The normal laws that state death follows life are set aside when someone is saved, in the sense that those who were dead are alive once more (Eph. 2:5, 6, Col. 2:13).

Matthew 12:38, 39 specifically condemns anyone who looks for physical miracles or signs. The word for "sign" used here is semeion and not dunamis, as found in I Corinthians. Semeion is used for physical miracles such as Jesus performed, and dunamis can refer to both physical and spiritual works of God. Therefore, in light of Matthew 12, we can see that the emphasis of the word translated "miracle" in I Corinthians 12 is the spiritual dimension of salvation. Well then, who has been given the gift of miracles which is mentioned in I Corinthians 12? As with all the gifts listed, we must consult with the rest of the Bible for an answer. Since God saves through the means of His Word (Rom 10:17), all believers who bring that Word are used by God to bring the miracle of salvation to others.

One very serious warning concerns the role of miracles at the end of time. During the entire time before Jesus' ascension and only a few years after, signs, wonders, and miracles were the work of God and His disciples (Heb. 2:4). At the end of time, miracles are associated, not with God, but with Satan and unbelievers (Matt. 7:21-23, 24:24, II Thess. 2:9, Rev. 13:14, 16:14, 19:20). In this regard, we should be careful to understand miracles from a slightly different perspective. In a way, we can look at miracles as events in which the physical world is penetrated by the spiritual world, because normally the supernatural is not observable in the natural world. One of the greatest expressions of this is Jesus' conception and birth (John 1:14, Gal. 4:4). As in all things, God alone performs miracles, since He is in control of all the laws of the universe. Except, He does allow the spiritual forces of evil to penetrate in special cases. One of these cases is the end time phenomenon of speaking in tongues, and the other is the phenomenon of falling over backwards. Both of these are events or miracles associated with Satan and his false prophets at the end of time.

At this point, it would be good to mention Deuteronomy 13:1-3. The first two verses seem to imply that a false prophet has the ability to predict and fulfill his promises of a miracle. Verse three shows that such a person and his actions are a test for God's people. The verses are put into the Bible to test the church and to encourage those who insist that people can still perform miracles. No one can make a sign or wonder come to pass, certainly not a false prophet. (The witch of Endor only created an appearance to make a trick for Saul; she had no power over God's prophet Samuel.) Only God is in control of the laws of the universe, and only He can set them aside as He sees fit. Anyone can make it appear to make his dreams come to pass, but who has the power to really do it? Only God has that power.

On the positive side, Matt. 6:33 commends believers to be single-minded in their search for the valuable things He has for them. II Corinthians 5:7 reminds believers that they must walk by faith and not by sight. Hebrews 11:16 illustrates the desire of believers to seek heavenly and not earthly things. If we are true believers, our interest and focus is not upon anything physical, but rather upon those things we cannot see with our physical eyes (II Cor. 4:18). Instead of miracles and tongues or any other spectacle, I Corinthians 12:31-13:13 shows us a better way, love.

Physical healing is often associated with miracles, although they are not exactly the same thing. All healings are the work of God. All of the healing today follows the natural laws of the universe which God has designed for that purpose. When someone cuts his finger or has an infection, restoration is the result of God's gracious work and His work alone. God's biological mechanisms constantly work to repair damage caused by injury and disease. Today, we can say that God heals as He has always healed. God does not perform miraculous healing today, nor does He promise miraculous physical healing today as a part of the Gospel message. I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 explain that at the end of time all believers will be given new, uncorrupted spiritual bodies. However, today, all men suffer the common maladies associated with a cursed world.

The miraculous healings recorded in the Bible are true events. However, for the same reasons described for miracles above, miraculous healings are not part of God's program for today. Let us see why we are not to expect miraculous healing today as it was performed in the Bible and as it is commonly reported by people today.

When Jesus came to earth the first time, His concern was not for physical healing. God cares for all His creation (Gen 1:31, Ps. 104). The promise of restoration of the universe is for the future (Rom. 8:19-21, II Peter 3:13). Jesus healed many when He was on the earth, but He did not set up clinics to help all the physically disabled in Israel. In fact, neither did God in the Old Testament (Luke 4:27). Jesus did not perform mighty acts everywhere He went (Matt. 13:58, Luke 4:23-30); His real purpose was the Gospel of salvation from sin (Luke 4:43, 44). Jesus recognized that many who heard His voice would die of disease, accident, neglect, and war, but He did not set up a program to prevent it.

Today, a true believer's goal is not physical health. Health is a thankful blessing from God, but to die and be with the Lord is far better (Phil. 1:21, II Cor. 5:1-8). A threat to our physical life is far less important than a threat to our soul (Luke 12:4, 5). Besides, unless the Lord comes in their lifetime, all people eventually die physically. There is no relationship between a person's faith and his appointment with physical death.

Nevertheless, claims are made that miraculous healings occur. It would be a good idea to make a few comments about them and to point out possible alternative explanations for them.

First of all, reports of many events are always "out there" someplace and unverifiable. Such unsubstantiated reports coming to us third-hand can never be the basis for our belief in miraculous events. Secondly, some people who purport to be witnesses of miraculous healings never report about miraculous healings of obvious physical problems. For example, missing limbs are never restored. The reported miracles are always about internal problems or the movement of whole limbs. Such events obviously are not convincing miraculous events. Thirdly, much of the reported healings are, unfortunately, trickery or staged shows designed to deceive an audience. Fourthly, sometimes reported healings are a self-deception, either because certain psychosomatic tensions are temporarily relived through a religious experience, or because people want to believe in miracles so much that they "see" one when all objective evidence is to the contrary. Fifthly, medical doctors' knowledge is limited. Any diagnosis necessarily contains inaccuracies, and a person's medical problems are not always completely understood. Therefore, we cannot decide that a recovery is miraculous inasmuch as we are working with limited data. Finally, a very important point is that we do not decide upon what is true by basing our conclusion upon a person's experience. Whether we watch a television program or listen to a person's testimony in person, we cannot decide that he experienced a miraculous healing based upon his enthusiasm or claim of a changed life. Whether a person is a true believer or not is something which only God knows. The only evidence which we can see is a person's consistent trust in the Bible as his only authority and his desire to live obediently to it.

As a summary, we could say that the issue reduces to this: A true believer is completely content with the spiritual salvation of his soul from the wrath of God. His confidence rests upon the Word of God alone and not a physical experience, certainly not upon physical miracles and miraculous healings. 

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