When studying the subject of miracles they must be approached with objective reason and when questioning the existence of miracles we must first fully understand what the word ‘miracle’ means.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary a miracle is described as an extraordinary and welcome event attributed to a divine agency, a remarkable and very welcome occurrence or as an outstanding achievement. The word miracle originates from the Latin word miraculum meaning ‘object of wonder.’ A miracle is a supernatural event that consists of divine intervention into the natural order as a demonstration of God’s power and mercy, all of these properties are seen in the Acts of the Apostles as God does intervene in human events and they can be seen as responses and as a reward for faith.
The Acts of the Apostles contains many miracles however all of these miracles are not the healing of those with demons but the spread of Christianity through the early church in both Paul and Peter’s missionary journeys. St. Paul can be seen by some as a fake apostle because he was not one of the chosen twelve and therefore had not experienced a close relationship with Jesus, this is turn may have threatened the apostles at first. However St Paul managed to become one of the apostles greatest assets as he went on to teach to not only Jews but to pagans also. “Because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel.” Acts 9:15. This allowed the Christian church to grow as more believers were joining thus the Christian church’s faith began to grow.
Two of the best known definitions of a miracle are that of St. Thomas Aquinas who believed in miracles and that John Stuart Mill who did not.
St. Thomas’s definition of a miracle is this:
A miracle is something beyond the order of created nature. Therefore since God alone is not a created being, He also is the only One who can work miracles by His own power. In this the word nature can be used in three senses, it may mean “all that exists”, “all created things”, or “all material things”.
John Stuart Mill’s definition of a miracle is:
A phenomenon not preceded by any antecedent phenomenal conditions sufficient again to reproduce it.
This definition implies that there is nothing but the material world in existence. It takes no account of the human will, still less of the will of God.
The purpose of miracles in the new testament itself comes in two parts – the first part is that they were used for confirmation as they confirmed who Jesus was and that Jesus and his apostles message was that of God’s, the second part is that they were carried out in order to cause belief in the listeners in Jesus.
In the New Testament we see confirmation that Jesus is in fact who he is said to be when we see the miracle in Acts 3:6 where Peter and John are going to the temple and cure the lame man who is sitting as the beautiful gate, Peter says to the lame man ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ, walk! This incident brings us face to face with the question of miracles in apostolic times and shows us that Jesus had the power to perform miracles through his apostles.
We also see within the New Testament that the miracles were carried out to cause belief in Jesus as in Acts 8:4-8 were those who escaped one of which was Philip from the arrest of Saul to Samaria proclaiming the Christ. “The people united in welcoming the message Phillip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves.” Acts 8:6. This helps us understand that miracles or even the stories of miracles help us to believe in Jesus as the son of God.
However people who believe that miracles do not happen in today’s society may argue about the existence of miracles that miraculous power was passed on by the laying on of the apostles hands and as no-one today could possibly qualify as an apostle of Jesus then no-one today could possibly have the power to perform miracles. Those who believe this refer to Acts 1:21-22 where it states that the apostles “must therefore choose someone who has been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was travelling round with us right from the time when John was baptising until the day when he was taken up from us – and he can act as a witness to his resurrection.” These three conditions therefore conflict with any hope of miracles happening today.
It is commonly agreed that miracles are the reward and result of faith; however faith in God should not be based on miracles. They should be seen as the work of God rather than the essence of God. Moreover some people believe that if Jesus had not performed these miracles then their faith in him may not be as strong.
In order to be able to perform a miracle the person wanting the miracle must have faith in God and those performing the miracle must have a strong relationship with God, in order to have such a good relationship with God a person must pray in order to strengthen their relationship. Many people may say that in society today, there are those who have a strengthened relationship with God such as Priests, Nun’s and Monks. This may mean that they have the power to perform miracles however the person wanting the miracle may not have enough faith in God in order to support the miracle.
Another argument that could be used in order to prove that miracles do not occur today is that God confirmed his word through miracles, signs and wonders during Jesus’ life on earth; therefore he does not need to reconfirm his existence to this generation as we have enough proof in biblical readings in order to prove his existence.
Although miracles benefited the individual, their true purpose was for confirmation, even though they were often motivated by compassion and belief of those observing.
Today some people may believe that miracles still do happen but not in such a magnificent way as they did back in the time of Jesus. People do nevertheless believe that in order to receive a miracle you must have a strengthened relationship with God through prayer and acting on spirit.
Some people may argue with the second circumstance in the sense that they cannot strengthen their faith in God because there are no miracles today that allow them to expand their belief.
On the other hand some would say that miracles still do happen today through the work that Doctors, surgeons etc. can do which in apostolic times would have been regarded as miracles.
A modern miracle story would be that of an atheist couple and their little girl, the couple never told their daughter anything about the Lord. One night when the little girl was 5 years old, the parents fought with each other and the dad shot the Mother, in front of the child. Then, the dad shot himself. The little girl watched it all. She then was sent to a foster home. The foster mother was a Christian and took the child to church. On the first day of Sunday school, the foster mother told the teacher that the girl had never heard of Jesus, and to have patience with her. The teacher held up a picture of Jesus and said, “Does anyone know who this is?” The little girl said, “I do, that’s the man who was holding me the night my parents died.”
In my eyes this example can be seen as a modern day miracle as it shows Jesus helping a little girl through a time of mourning and grief.
A miracle found in Acts that can be seen to contrast to this modern day story would be that of the shipwreck in Acts 28. In this Paul, the centurion and his men all rely on God for strength through his intervention to Paul in Acts 28:24 an angel appeared to Paul and told him “Do not be afraid, Paul. You are destined to appear before Caesar, and for this reason God grants you the safety of all who are sailing with you.”
This contrasts with the modern day story of the little girl as they both show God giving strength to those in need.
Another modern day miracle is this of Rowena Angell.
Since 1982 Rowena was only able to walk short distances. By 1986 Rowena was using two walking sticks and to go any distance she had to use a wheelchair. The pain never went away.
Life continued in this way until 1991 when Rowena was diagnosed as having Lupus. Just after Christmas in 1998 God told Rowena that she was going to be healed from the awful pain and a few weeks later Pastor Revd. Alan Clarredge told her that when she was baptised she would be healed. Rowena had told no one what God had told her so she knew Alan was confirming what God had already told her.
On Sunday the 20th January 2002, she with others went up to the front for prayer. The pastor was directed by God to pray for healing for her. It was tremendous, amazing, the Holy Spirit was so strong!
After the meeting ended her Husband Henry went to get the car and as she walked to meet him, a voice said to Rowena “why are you using your stick”. She thought about that voice all the way home, was it real? Did she imagine it? When she talked it over with Henry, his reaction was to go in faith he said.
Rowena went in faith and the pain has gone away for the first time in 27 years, the joy of waking in the morning with no pain. A few months later a test showed that there was no trace of Lupus in Rowena’s body! She was totally healed!
She will never forget the pain she had and she will serve God with whatever he leads her to do, with joy in my heart she dedicates her life to Him to do, as He wills. Praise the Lord for He is merciful.
These modern day miracles are very different from those at the time of Jesus and shortly after. They can be thought of as a persons calling or saving, this can impact highly on a person’s life especially if they were not brought up with Christianity.
In Acts 9:32-35 Peter heals Aeneas at Lydda. This miracle proves to Aeneas and all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon who were watching that Peter had a close relationship with Jesus and also shows how much power he had inherited from the Holy Spirit as instead of Peter saying ‘I cure you’ Peter said to Aeneas ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you get up and fold up your sleeping mat.’
In this such miracle people today may believe that Peter was taking the glory of the work that Jesus Christ has performed through him as he says “I cure you.” Also in the modern day miracle the shape of Jesus suffering for all of mankind on the cross can be seen to some as the sign that it was Jesus who performed this miracle.
On the other hand in the miracle which Peter performed on Tabitha in Acts 9:26-43 the women is not healed in by Peter however it was in the name of Jesus which helps people understand that the miracles that are happening both today and in the time of the New Testament are performed through the power of Jesus.
William Barclay argued that miracles can happen apart from “we think too much of what we can do and too little about what Jesus Christ can do through us.”
Miracles altogether play a huge role on the church today as they are an important part of individual’s religion as it gives them something to believe in that only Christ is able to do. I personally believe that these modern day miracles allow peoples faith in God to be strengthened as it allows us to understand that if we need it – even if we do not want it God will be there for us.
Both of these miracles found in Acts are important to Christians today as they are a sign of God’s power, they also show that Jesus lives and has power through the Holy Spirit and the invocation of his name.
David Hume however is the arch-enemy of miracles who said that “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature” he also said that “It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die suddenly: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event; otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.”
However I do not agree with David’s Hume’s views and myself I believe that a miracle is a God-powered supernatural event.
Overall I believe miracles today and miracles in Acts of the Apostles contrast well with each other as they are both God centred and can be directed at both believers and non-believers.
William Barclay – the new daily study bible – Acts of the apostles
The Jerusalem bible new testament