Reclaiming Biblical Words: “Miracle”

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The word miracle has been used in many contexts and in many ways by both the religious and non-religious. If someone survives a horrible car crash, it’s quickly labelled a miracle. When a baby is born, people thank God for His miracle. When a man is offered a job a week before his family is evicted from their apartment, it’s called a miracle. In addition to all of that, when Christ raised the dead and restored withered limbs, those were also called miracles. Are all of these events in the same category? As far as God’s love and His involvement in people’s lives is concerned, yes they are.

According to James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” When anything good happens in your life, give God the glory.

David sang:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:3–9

If the psalmist can praise God over something as normal as shepherding sheep in a field, then so can I. These are good things from the concern and hand of God. But to call sheep in a field, or the flight of a bird, or a school of fish a miracle would be to use the term differently than Scripture uses it. Because not every time God provides something or answers prayer is it called a miracle in the Bible. 

The word miracle in the New Testament is usually translated from the Greek word dunamis (δύναμις), where we receive our English word dynamite. That is why it is also often translated as power. This word is used over one hundred times in the New Testament. In most cases, this word is used for the power that inherently belongs to God. The fact that astonishes the people of God in Scripture, and should drive us to our knees today, is that the Creator of the universe decided to share that power with His creation! In the majority of cases, Scripture explains He has done so through “works of power” called signs, wonders, and miracles.

In Hebrews 2, the author brings up the saving message of the gospel. Then, he says:

how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

Hebrews 2:3–4

When the Bible speaks of a miracle, the Holy Spirit has in mind the times God has worked through the hands, tongues, and minds of men and women to do that which humans cannot naturally do. For instance: raise the dead, instantly heal the sick, cast out demons, and speak in tongues or languages never studied. The Bible is clear that God is always working in the lives of people on earth. But He is not always providing humans with miraculous abilities. Out of the 1600-or-so years of Bible history we have, only about 200 years include times people were performing miracles. And the reason for that is clearly given in Scripture. 

Yes, miracles help people—just ask the paralyzed guy or the leprous man Jesus healed. But helping people was actually not the primary purpose of miracles. The primary purpose was to confirm a new message for mankind that God was sending through a new messenger. And that’s why miracles are often referred to as signs in the Bible. Signs point to something, and miracles pointed to the origin of the message—God Himself.

Before Scripture was finalized, Jesus sent out His apostles to teach the entire world. They couldn’t appeal to the books of the New Testament the way we can for the simple reason that they hadn’t been written yet. So how were the people of the first century supposed to believe Jesus of Nazareth really was the Christ who had risen from the dead when anyone could claim something just as preposterous about himself or some guy down the street?

And they [the apostles and eyewitnesses of the resurrection] went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.

Mark 16:20

This was also the case with Moses is Exodus 3 and 4. And also as we have already seen, the New Testament message:

first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit…

Hebrews 2:3

So, when a baby is born, praise God, thank God, and involve God in raising that child. God has done an amazing work to answer your prayers. But reserve the word miracle for the times God worked powerfully through His messengers to confirm His gospel message in the past. Receiving a job offer at just the right time and when Peter raised Tabitha from the dead are both answers to prayer. But only one was a miracle according to the Bible. If we start applying the word miracle to every positive event in our lives, we cheapen what the Bible rightly refers to as a wonder

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