By James M. Tolle
A miracle, as the term is used in the Bible, is an act of God superseding or suspending a natural law. It must not be confused with a work of nature, which is an effect resulting from a natural law of God; neither should it be confused with a work of providence, which is an effect produced by a special act of God through natural means. An example of the working of natural laws is the birth of children resulting from the physical union of men and women. The birth of Samuel, the prophet, in answer to his mother Hannah’s prayer is an instance of natural laws being used in the providential working of God. See 1 Samuel 1:1-20. The virgin birth of Jesus is an example of the performance of a miracle, in that it was an act of God superseding the natural laws pertaining to biological birth.
It is not the purpose of this booklet to present evidence in favor of the reliability and validity of the miracles recorded in the Bible. The writer assumes that the readers firmly believe in these miracles. But this study does purpose to answer in the light of Bible revelation the pertinent question: Have miracles ceased?
There are countless numbers of people in the world today, representing many religious organizations, who claim to believe that miracles are currently being performed by the power of God. By various forms of communication reaching a large section of the population – in newspapers and magazines, over radio and television, and in books and pamphlets – men are making bold and blatant assertions that God is performing miracles through them in such acts as healing the sick, speaking in tongues, preaching by direct inspiration, seeing visions, and raising the dead. Let us carefully search the scriptures to find out whether or not these claims are worthy of acceptance by rational, reverent Bible believers.
In order to understand the New Testament teaching on the subject of miracles, it is necessary to learn the various measures in the operation of the Holy Spirit; for it is only through the Spirit’s influence that individuals have been able to perform miracles by the power of God. The different measures of the Spirit will be presented as this discussion is developed.
THE LORD’S MIRACLES
Jesus, the Son of God, was endowed with the Spirit to an unlimited extent. “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:34,35).
All the miracles of Jesus (whether miracles such as healing the sick or the miracle of inspiration) were performed through the influence of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 4:18,19 Jesus applies to Himself a passage from the book of Isaiah, a prophecy which sets forth the power of the Spirit in His life: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering the sight of the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Further Bible citations declaring the power of the Spirit in the miraculous works of Jesus are the following: “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and a fame went out concerning him through all the region round about” (Luke 4:14), “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall declare judgment to the Gentiles (Matthew 12:18), and “But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Cf. Matthew 4:1. Since Jesus received the Spirit without limit, His power in the performance of miracles was unlimited.
The basic purpose of the Lord’s miracles is expressed in John 20:30,31: “Many other signs therfore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.” John affirms ion this passage that the miracles of Jesus prove Him to be the son of God. Cf. John 3:2 and Acts 2:22.
Before the New Testament was written, it was necessary that men believe in Christ on the basis of verbal teaching concerning His miracles (thus the significance of the apostles’ preaching, which we shall consider in the next phase of this study.) But now that the New Testament has been completely written, the basis of belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, are the signs or miracles performed by Jesus which are written, even as John affirms. Men today are to believe in Christ because of His miracles which are recorded in the New Testament. Those who believe that Christ’s glory and divinity cannot be upheld today without the current performance of miracles deny the validity of John 20:30,31.
THE APOSTLES MIRACLES
Among the last words Jesus said to the apostles before His ascension into heaven were: “For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). The fulfillment of this promise is recorded in the second chapter of Acts. The baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit gave the apostles power to perform various miracles: speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4), healing the sick (Acts 3:6-8), raising the dead (Acts 9:36-41), preaching by direct inspiration (John 14:26), etc. See Acts 1:8; 5:12.
With very few exceptions, modern miracle workers maintain that they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. If they are right in this, then they have the same power received by the apostles: speaking in tongues, raising the dead, etc. But why is it that these claimant miracle workers when going to a foreign country must study the local language in order to communicate with the inhabitants? Surely, if they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they should have the same power as enjoyed by the apostles in being able to speak in tongues not previously learned. Carefully read Acts 2:4-11. Furthermore, why must these wonder workers read and study the Bible in order to know anything about what it teaches? Obviously, if they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they should be able to express “all truth” (as did the apostles) without the necessity of any precious Bible study whatever.
The failure of the modern miracle workers to duplicate the miracles of the apostles is indisputable proof that they have not received the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit. And, in fact, no man living in the world today has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Paul, writing to the Ephesian saints in about A.D. 64, several years after the administration of Holy Spirit baptism to the apostles, said, “There is… one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4,5). That this one baptism is water baptism is plainly evident in consideration of the following facts: the entirety of the present dispensation, men are to administer the baptism ordained in this commission, and the only baptism administered by men as recorded in the New Testament is water baptism. Read Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 8:36-39. Holy Spirit baptism was promised in Matthew 3:11, but according to this passage the Savior was to administer it, not men. Thus Holy Spirit baptism cannot be the baptism of the great commission. The administration of baptism in the Spirit occurred many years before Paul declared, “There is one baptism.” But at the time of this writing the great commission was in force, and will be until the end of time; and the only baptism enjoined therein is water baptism. (1)
When the apostles began their work in leading souls to Christ, there was not in existence a written New Testament from which they could preach. According to the promise of Jesus, they were enabled to proclaim the gospel by direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you” (John 14:26). “Howebeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13). The reader will observe that the apostles were to be guided by the Spirit into all the truth. This complete truth which they preached was eventually put in writing to compose the books of the New Testament, the last book having been written by time of the death of the apostle John in approximately A.D. 96.
Modern miracle workers who maintain that they are divinely inspired in their preaching, who claim to receive new revelation by the Holy Spirit, deny that the promise Jesus made to guide His apostles into all the truth by inspiration of the Holy Spirit has been fulfilled. They deny the all-sufficiency of the holy scriptures, thus making a lie out of such passages as 2 Timothy 3:16,17 and 1 Corinthians 4:6. They deny the truth expressed by 2 Peter 1:3, “Seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue.”
The apostles in preaching all the truth necessarily proclaimed the miracles of Jesus, as well as His perfect life and sacrificial death, for example, Peter in Acts 2:22; 10:38. But the mere fact they faithfully preached the miraculous works of the Lord would not alone prove to unbelievers that their testimony was true. Their word alone was not sufficient to prove to the satisfaction of intelligent men that their commission to preach was from the Son of God and that the message they presented was of divine origin; hence, it was necessary that they perform miracles to confirm their preaching. Carefully note Hebrews 2:3,4: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? which having at first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by maniforl powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” The reference here to “them that heard” is the apostles. See 1 John 1:1. The message of the apostles was confirmed, as teh writer of Hebrews affirms, by the miracles they performed. In other words, these miracles proved to unbelievers that the apostle’s message was divine in origin and that the claims they made to substantiate the Lord’s miracles were reliable.
Not only were the apostles’ miracles intended to confirm the word of God to those who received their verbal teaching but also to those of all subsequent ages who would read the New Testament. The word confirm, is defined by Webster as meaning “to make firm, to establish, to give certainty, to verify, to corroborate.” Those who believe that miracles are still in force deny that the apostles’ miracles were sufficient in confirming the divine word. But with the New Testament completely written at the death of John, fully confirmed by the miracles of the apostles, the Lord’s word was established, verified, corroborated, and made firm for all generations to follow. Miracles ended with the passing of the last apostle.
1) Those who teach that men today are baptized in the Holy Spirit offer as a proof text 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body…” If this passage affirms that Holy Spirit baptism is still in force, then we must conclude that there are two baptisms applicable today: Holy Spirit and water. This would make false the plain statement of Ephesians 4:4,5: “There is … one baptism.” H.A.W. Meyer has translated 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by means of one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” “In one Spirit” or “by means of one Spirit” obviously refers to the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit. When individuals are baptized in water (the one baptism) in obedience to apostolic precept, they are acting under the guidance, direction, and influence of the Holy Spirit, who directly endowed the apostles with the gospel message. Read John 14:26 in connection with Acts 2:38. Cf. Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12.
During the early days of the church, while the apostles were still living and the written New Testament was in the formative stage, many Christians were endowed with special powers, called spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1. These powers or miracles were necessary in sustaining the wrok of the church before the written New Testament was completed.
In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 nine spiritual gifts are mentioned, including prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (supernatural). In the next chapter, verse 8, the writer states, “…but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away.” Paul maintains in this passage that miracles would be done away. In the statement to follow, verses 9 and 10, he tells us when this would happen: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.” At the time Paul wrote the foregoing, the New Testament was in the process of being written. No one inspired man among the Christians to whom Paul is referring was endowed with all knowledge: but when the written New Testament (called by the apostle “that which is perfect” and designated in James 1:25 as “the perfect law of liberty”) was completed, then that which was in part (the various spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, including supernatural knowledge) was done away. The written New Testament now furnishes the church with everything essential for its members to acceptably serve God.
In the concluding verse of 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says, “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these threee; and the greatest of these is love.” After the nine spiritual gifts enumerated by the apostle were done away at the completion of the written New Testament, only faith, hope, and love were to abide, “These three.” Were miracles to be perpetual during the New Testament dispensation, Paul would have said, “But now abideth… these twelve” (the nine spiritual gifts plus faith, hope, and love).
The miraculous gifts received by various members of the early church, as well as the miracles of the apostles, were manifestations of the Holy Spirit. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit, etc.” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7,8 ff), The particular measure of the Holy Spirit Paul is here describing was imparted by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.(2) Read Acts 8:17,18; 19:6; Romans 1:11; and 2 Timothy 1:6. The difference between this measure of the Spirit and the baptismal measure was mainly a matter of degree rather than of kind. Whereas the baptismal measure of the Spirit granted each apostle the power to perform all the miracles God worked through men, the laying-on-of-the apostles hands measure gave each person receiving it only limited miraculous power. See 1 Corinthians 12:8-11.
2) The laying-on-of-the-apostles’ hands measure of the Holy Spirit is not to be confused with the normal indwelling measure of the Spirit received by the baptized believer. Every person who obeys the gospel, becoming a child of God, is immediately given the Holy Spirit by the Father. “… The Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32). “And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). “Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Cf. Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 13:14; and Galatians 5:16-26.
Those who received the power of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the apostles’ hands could not transfer it to others, for example, Philip, the evangelist, could work miracles, but he was incapable of imparting this power to others.(3) Read Acts 8:13-18. All miraculous power ended with the death of the apostles. The revelation of God was then full and complete in the written New Testament and miracles were no longer needed.
3) The case of Ananias laying his hands on Saul of Tarsus is often referred to as justification of the perpetuity of miracles. The passage cited is Acts 9:17, “And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Bother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:12 proves that the sole purpose of Ananias laying his hands on Saul was to restore his sight: “And he hath seeen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might received his sight.” Ananias in baptizing Saul (Acts 9:18) made it possible for him to “be filled with the Holy Spirit,” for the Spirit is given to all those who obey the gospel. Cf. Acts 2:38.
All who set themselves forth as miracle workers must positively and plainly prove the power to work miracles or else be branded as imposters. Merely their vociferous assertions of the ability to heal the sick, raise the dead, speak in tongues, etc., do not prove to intelligent people that they have the power to perform genuine miracles. Those who truly respect God and His word readily follow the injunction of 1 John 4:1 in testing the claims of the modern miracle workers: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
When pressed for proof of actual miraculous power, the contemporary wonder workers invariably cease their boasting and assume an air or becoming modesty. They piously express reluctance in “showing off” their miraculous power. Quite to the contrary, the apostles never made a false show of humility by hiding their miracles. Observe 2 Corinthians 12:12, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works.”(4) No man today can perform miracles by the power of God. The inability of all the modern workers of miracles to back their bold claims with real proof marks them as false prophets.
4) Those today who boast of having the “signs of an apostle” in the working of miracles are exceedingly presumptuous. How can they have the signs of an apostle when they are not apostles? Can one rightfully wear the badge of a policeman who is not a policeman?
Already in this discussion we have learned that miracles passed away with the completion of the perfect law, the New Testament; and on this basis alone we can be sure that no man today can perform genuine miracles. But to even more emphatically understand that fact that miracles have ceased, let us observe the characteristics of New Testament miracles in contrast to the charlatanry that men today attempt to foist on the public as being miraculous.
1. The miracles of the New Testament were convincing to non-believers as well as to believers.
In Acts 3:1-10 is recorded the story of Peter and John healing a lame man at the gate called Beautiful in Jerusalem. The news of this miracle was noised abroad in the city, being finally brought to the attention of the Sanhedrin. Acts 4:14-16 states, “And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought through them is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.” The entire city, unbelievers as well as believers, had to admit that a miracle had been performed by the apostles; and even the august Sanhedrin, whose members could hardly be charged with having a predilection toward the apostles, would not deny this miracle. But whom do the modern miracles convince? Skeptics like the members of the Sanhedrin? Not at all. Those who are convinced by these false miracles are only people who stubbornly hold to the idea, aside from the teaching of the Bible, that God is still working through miracles.
Referring to the miracle of Peter in raising Dorcas from the dead, Acts 9:42 says, “And it became known throughtout all Joppa: and many believed on the Lord.” How widespread is the current news of a supposed instance of one being raised from the dead? Such news travels just about as far as the swaggering boasts of the imposter who claims to have worked such a miracle can reach among gullible people, and no farther! And how many intelligent, discriminating people believe on the Lord as the result of hearing the report of such a fraudulent miracle? Not a one!
1 Corinthians 14:22 declares: “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe but to the unbelieving…” In the early days of the church when certain men were enabled to talk in foreign languages which they had never studied, such miraculous utterances were used to convince unbelievers that those so speaking labored under a divine commission. Surely, if an American were to speak in fluent German, a language which he had never studied he would convince many unbelievers of his ability to work miracles and therefore of his divine mission. But who can so speak today? None at all. The incoherent, nonsensical babbling of the modern tongue speakers convinces no one but the deluded believers in miracles. And when these speakers in tongues go as missionaries to a foreign land, they either learn the native language by dint of diligent study or they find themselves unable to communicate directly with the natives.
2. The miracles of the New Testament involved circumstances completely ruling out the possibility that they were performed by trickery or that they were manifestations of natural laws.
The eleventh chapter of John presents the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Verse 39 says, “…Martha, the sister of him that was dead saith unto him, Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days.” No one could justifiably accuse Jesus of using trickery or charlantanry in raising a body that had been in the tomb four days, in a decaying condition, which fact was known to the members of the dead man’s family and most of his friends. Lazarus was not in a trance nor alive under circumstances in which the heart beat could not be detected. He was plainly dead, and the only way he could come to life again was by miraculous power. Can anyone present a single authenticated case since apostolic days in which a person dead four days, in a decaying condition, has been brought back to life? Just one case? The fraudulent miracle workers, notwithstanding their brazen claims of having power to raise the dead, are absolutely helpless in the face of death.
The lame man healed by Peter and John, previously referred to, had been crippled from his mother’s womb (Acts 3:2), ruling out any possibility of his affliction having a psychosomatic basis and therefore curable by psychological means. His affliction was known to many unbiased observers; hence, it could not have been rigged by the apostles so that a fake cure could be facilitated which would leave the impression of a miracle being performed. His recovery was instantaneous and complete, ruling out any possibility of a cure being wrought by natural means.
Modern divine healers never actually present authenticated cures such as the foregoing. Their cures either involve cases of feigned affliction or those based on psychological disorders – but never genuine cases incurable by natural means!
Matthew 12:10-14 relates the narrative of Jesus healing the man with a withered hand. Verse 13 states, “Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole as the other.” A withered hand made whole and complete, just as the other, was within the scope of New Testament miracles as well as the healing of all other kinds of affliction. Read Matthew 9:35. Such an instance would not allow the remotest possibility of it being a feigned affliction so that a fraudulent cure could be presented; neither was there any way in which it could be healed by natural means. And, undoubtedly, the miraculous power that could make a withered hand whole could also restore missing eyes, ears, and limbs. See Luke 22:51. What man today has ever been able to restore missing members of the body: eyes, arms, hands, legs, feet, etc? The religious quacks and charlatans who pose as miracle workers are helpless in doing anything that involves a genuine miracle, such as the restoring of missing members of the body.(5)
The preceding comparison of New Testament miracles with the claimant miracles of the present day marks the latter as being fraudulent, unworthy of acceptance by intelligent, rational people who genuinely love and respect the work of God.
5) Faith healers, when sorely pressed by this charge, try to escape personal blame for the failure of cures being wrought by accusing the afflicted ones with lacking the necessary faith for the manifestation of miraculous healing. But faith on the part of those afflicted and ill was not always necessary during Bible times for the working of a miraculous cure. The record of Mark 2 is silent about the paralytic who was healed by Jesus having personal faith. In fact, verse 5 in the context implies that it was the faith of the four men who brought the paralytic to Jesus which made it possible for him to be healed. Nothing is said about Malchus, the servant of the high priest, having faith in order for Jesus to heal the ear that had been cut off by Peter’s sword (Luke 25:50,51; John 18:10). How much faith did Lazarus have while he lay dead in the tomb? Yet, miraculous power raised him to life.