Have Miracles Ceased?
There are three major time periods seen in the Bible (see "The Bible," subject index on Achieves page). Patriarchy was a period in which God dealt with man through the patriarch or father of the family. This age was inaugurated by miraculous manifestation that we know as miracles. In fact, man himself was miraculously begun (Gen. 1, 2). After a similar fashion, the Mosaic Age was introduced. The ten plagues, miracles in the wilderness, and the miracles of dividing and crossing the Red Sea were all phenomena that irresistibly attested to the divine involvement. Christianity also had its beginning in the climate of divine manifestation. The gospel, the church, and forgiveness of sin through Jesus' blood all began in the presence of miracles (Acts 2). The New Testament is replete with the presence of the phenomena we call miracles (Acts 2: 43, 4 16, 5 12).
The miracles of the New Testament are unmistakable and undeniable. The case of the restoration of the known lame man who had been cripple from birth is a good case study (Acts 3: 1-11). The man was well established as a serious cripple (Acts 3: 2, 10). "Immediately his feet and ankle bones receive strength," we are told (vs. 7). The healed man then leaped up, stood, and walked (vs. 8). He continued walking and led a normal life (vs. 8, 4: 14). The Sanhedrin that was determined to crush Christianity could not deny this miracle. "And beholding the man which was healed standing with them (apostles, dm), they could say nothing against it" (Acts 4: 14). The historian records the difficulty in which the Sanhedrin found itself: "Saying, what shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4: 16). Beloved, genuine miracles were so evident (no other explanation) that even the rank enemies of Christianity had to admit they were true miracles! (Click on "The Raising of Lazarus" to study more.) However, were these miracles meant to continue indefinitely or did they have an intended end?
The purpose of miracles. Biblical miracles had an evident role and purpose. First of all, New Testament miracles confirmed the spoken word (Mk. 16: 20). The apostles did not have the New Testament as we have to prove what they taught was correct. Hence, they needed some means of validation. Therefore, we read: "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit..." (Heb. 2: 4). Not only did these signs and wonders confirm the spoken word, but also they produced faith. When Jesus raised the dead, the people believed (Jn. 11: 45). As a result, when Sergius Paulus beheld the miracle performed by Saul, he " believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord" (Acts 13: 12, 6-12).
The duration of biblical miracles. Beloved, I want to call your attention to three descriptive words that are crucial in our study of the duration of miracles: "fail" (katargeo), "cease" (pauo), and "vanish away" (argethesetai). These words are used to describe the length of time of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge (miraculous knowledge), respectively. Hear Paul, "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away" (I Cor. 13: 8-10). When would the miraculous (the three gifts stand for the miraculous) end?
The inspired apostle Paul supplies the answer: "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (I Cor. 13: 9, 10). Concerned reader, the "in part" (meros) was fragmentary and incomplete. The "in part" state corresponds to the state of miraculous gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4: 8-12. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul mentions five offices or functions that were miraculously assisted (vs. 11, cp. vs. 8). This temporary system involving the miraculous was for the edification and stability of the early church (Eph. 4: 12, cp. I Cor. 14: 1, 5, 12, 17, 26). The corresponding text in Ephesians also stipulates a time period, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man "(Eph. 4: 13).
What do "that which is perfect" and "the unity of the faith" mean? There are essentially two explanations and answers offered. The first is that the time expressions refer to Jesus, his Second Coming and the second view states the completion of revelation is meant.
The Second Coming of Christ. If the return of Christ is meant, why did not Paul write, "but when the Christ is come (oh Christos)?" Instead, Paul used the neuter gender, referring to a thing, not a person (see addendum 1). Moreover, if the Second Coming of Jesus is meant, then we are in the "in part" state. This presents a serious problem in view of all the scriptures that emphasize the completeness of revelation and of our present system being complete (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17, 2 Pet. 1: 3). Paul wrote, "And ye are complete in him " (Col. 2: 10, the illustration of I Corinthians 13: 11-13 can also be understood of the word, see James 1: 23-25). Also, the stated purpose of Jesus' miracles is that of producing faith (Jn. 20: 30, 31). Why the need of ongoing miracles? In addition, we have the written word and the written word confirms itself; hence, no need of miracles. We test teachers by their teaching, because we have the complete revealed revelation (2 Jn. 9-11, compare I Jn. 4: 1, 2: 18-20).
The second view, the completion of revelation. The word "perfect" (telios) means full, complete, or mature (telios is translated "of full age" in Hebrews 5: 14). James wrote, "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty " (Jas. 1: 25, same word as I Cor. 13: 10, see also Rom. 12: 2). The idea of complete revelation is set forth in Ephesians 4: 13, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith " (telios is also used in the expression "unto a perfect man," ibid.). During the "in part" time period, a prophet would prophesy a truth. However, such was in part and depended on a vulnerable process (I Cor. 14). However, with complete revelation (New Testament), we have the total revealed truth as a unit ("unity of the faith," Jn. 14: 26, 16: 13). This, then, explains why the "perfect thing" (Nestle's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, to teleion) is used by Paul as opposed to the "Perfect One" (see addendum 2).
Beloved, there are many today that claim to have seen a miracle performed or maintain that they themselves can perform miracles. In all seriousness, are these so called miracles of the type found in the New Testament? Remember, even the enemies of Christianity could not deny the fact of the wondrous miracle in Acts 3 (4: 14, 16). New Testament miracles were open, tangible, and no other explanation could be offered other than they were miracles (see "The Miracles of Jesus," introduction, subject index on Archives page).
Alleged miracles today are often deflective, they take the authority and the validation from the scriptures and place it on the often subjective, sensational, and manipulative (2 Jn. 9-11). Also, we must remember there are "lying wonders" and false religion used "miracles" to promote itself (2 Thes. 2: 3-12).
As we have seen, God introduced different time periods with miracles. In the case of Patriarchy, after God miraculously created man He allowed his natural laws of reproduction, etc., to take over. Intelligent reader, I submit it is the same with Christianity. God introduced Christianity with miracles, but God's "natural" laws govern and procreate today (his word, I Pet. 1: 23). The severed body members, turning water into wine, and the dead being raised are not being done today because miracles have served their purpose and have "failed,""ceased," and "vanished away" (Lk. 22: 50, 51; Jn. 2: 1-11; Jn. 11: 43-46; I Cor. 13: 8-10). Our attention should be focused on the word and "proving all things and holding fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5: 21). Instead of wanting to return to the incomplete (in our case, pseudo miracles), we should take advantage of the complete, the "perfect law of liberty" (Jas. 1: 25). (For a detailed study of the crucial text pertaining to the duration of spiritual gifts, click on "That Which Is Perfect".)Addendum 1: In all fairness, the neuter gender is used in I John 1: 1-3. It is contended by the proponents of "miracles" today that certainly John is referring to Christ in this passage. Their conclusion is I John 1: 1-3 proves "that which is perfect" in I Corinthians 13: 10 is referring to Christ. If such were the case, we are now in the "in part" state. Allow me to offer another explanation: John is not simply referring to Christ, but to Christ and to all that appertained to Christ (the gospel system, etc.). Such constitutes the grounds of fellowship (I Jn. 1: 3). You see, just the person of Christ alone is not sufficient grounds for fellowship, Jesus' teaching must also be accepted (2 Jn. 9-11, 2 Jn. 6). Hence, "that which" is comprehensive and is grammatically correct.
Addendum 2: "With the completion of the canon of Scripture prophecy apparently passed away, 1 Cor. 13:8, 9. In his measure the teacher has taken the place of the prophet, cp. the significant change in 2 Pet. 2:1. The difference is that, whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the message of the teacher is gathered from the completed revelation contained in the Scriptures." * [* From Notes on Thessalonians by Hogg and Vine, pp. 196,197.] (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, comments found under "prophesy," dm.)