Biblical Miracles Defined

In affirming the great salvation that is in Christ, the writer of the book of Hebrews attests to its authority and validity  by reminding his readers, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4).

 Here we have four different terms used to describe the confirmation God offers to Scripture as being His infallible word. The first term, sign (semeion), refers to a sign by which something is designated or distinguished, a token or proof, a sign by which the divine power in majesty is made known; thus a supernatural event by which the power and presence of God is manifested, either directly or through the agency of those whom He sends (The Complete Word Study Dictionary -- New Testament -- all definitions of Greek terms are from this source).

 The second term, wonder (teras), is closely associated with the word sign, and does not refer to a different type of miracle, as much as to how it is perceived. Due to its extraordinary character, it is apt to be observed and kept in the memory. It is a miracle regarded as startling, imposing or amazing.

 The third term, translated miracle, comes from the word for power (ounamis). While it can refer to human strength, here it is rightly translated as miracle, as it reveals the divine source for the working of miracles, the authority by which such power was given. Paul speaks of this in Romans 15:18-19, "For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto lllyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ."

 The last phrase, "gifts of the Holy Ghost," uses the word gift (merismos),and refers to the distribution of these miraculous abilities, God, through the agency of the Holy Ghost, gave them to each whom He chose according to His own will. As Paul spoke of the miraculous power some had in the church of Corinth, "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (1 Corinthians 12:11).

 The point of this terminology, taken together, is to distinguish a miracle from anything a human being can do separate and apart from God, merely through one's natural ability. They are also distinguished from what God provides through His providence, meaning through the laws of nature He established for creation, through which the world functions. Miracles, clearly and unmistakably, reveal the power of God at work in the lives of men. The Hebrew writer reveals this had to do with confirming the message of the gospel, to show it was not of human origin, but from God through the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

 A miracle, then, is a supernatural event by which the power and presence of God is manifested. By its very nature, it arrests one's attention, something to be kept in memory. Its source can be none other than God, given through the agency of the Holy Ghost. The purpose of miracles was to show, clearly and unmistakable, that Scripture is the Word of God, and as such, should be heard, obeyed, and lived by. This is what the apostles preached and confirmed. "And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen" (Mark 16:20). Scripture still possesses this ability to confirm and convict, to offer life and eternity, if we will listen and obey. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12-13).

 Robert Johnson, Longview, TX