So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 9 - A look at Old Testament Miracles/Signs and Wonders...

Well, it appears that there’s a few bites of salad left until we get to the main course, but we’re getting close, although sometimes it seems like this meal is taking forever. So where am I going? Well, before we jump into the Gospels and Acts (among other places), I think it would be wise to take a quick flight through the Old Testament and examine the historic frequency of miracles/signs and wonders, as well as any teaching on their purpose(s).

Before we get running, I should also clarify something. In this post when I refer to ‘miracles/signs and wonders’, I’m not talking about a miracle or miraculous sign done exclusively by God, like creation or regeneration. I am talking more specifically, about miracles or signs performed by God via human agents, like healings or the multiplication of food or other things of that sort. The Cessationist and Non-Cessationist both would agree that God performs miracles, independent of any agent, whenever he wills to do so. If a person is sick and the church prays for him and he’s ‘miraculously’ healed, I would suggest that both sides of the debate would not challenge accrediting such a healing to God. The disagreement comes when the Cessationist and Non-Cessationist talk about miracles (and this is specifically really talking about 'healings') that are performed by human agents. An example of this would be the variety of miracles performed by God through the agent of Elijah, or the various healings performed by the apostles.

Now, back to our quick run through the Old Testament:

1. The first recorded miracles in the Old Testament, performed by a human agent, were the three signs that God gave Moses in Exodus 4:1-9. The life of Moses was most certainly marked by the miraculous; there were the Egyptian plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the bringing forth of water from the rock, the bronze serpent, and many more. The miracles of the exodus did not occur only in Moses’ life; several miracles occured under Joshua. Interestingly, Exodus clearly gives the purpose of the miracles of Moses in Exodus 4:1-9; God explicitly states why he gave Moses the three signs/miracles. Exodus 4:5 says

"This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you."

The miracles verified the messenger and his message, that they were both from God.

I would also suggest that it would be fair to say that the period of the exodus (Moses' and Joshua's time of leadership over Israel) was somewhere around 65 years, from around 1491BC (rough date of the Exodus) to 1426BC (rough date of beginning of the period of the Judges).

2. The next period of miracles/signs and wonders occured during the lives of Elijah and Elisha. As for the question of purpose, 1 Kings 17 says something interesting. After Elijah has fed the widow at Zarephath for many months, and raised her son from the dead, what does she say? 1 Kings 17:24 records it:

Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."

Again, the miracles verified the messenger and his message, that they were both from God.

Elijah performed miracles starting in Zarephath (1 Kings 17), which would be somewhere around 918 BC until the death of Elisha during the reign of Jehohaz, which ended around 825 BC.

These are the two periods in the Old Testament where the miraculous, as performed by God via human agents, was frequent, and in both times we see that they have the same purpose: The verification of the messenger and message; to confirm that both were from God.

Beyond that, there is a small point to be made from the sheer historical frequency of miracles/ sign and wonders. In 4,000+ years of Old Testament History we have recorded miracles/ signs and wonders occurring for around 160 years.

That suggests that the miraculous was 'normative' around 4-5% of the time, The argument from sheer recorded instances of miracles/ signs and wonders isn't that strong an argument (admittedly), but it definitely suggests strongly that in the Old Testament, miracles/ signs and wonders weren't the normative occurrences of daily life. I'd guess, maybe, that for such a reason the miracles were recorded; so that people wouldn't forget the miracle/sign that occurred 'hundreds of years ago.'

The historical pattern is a point of interest, and is not a clinching argument for cessationism. It is only one brick in a large wall. The purposes of the miraculous are much more important though, just as a point of note.

Miracles/ signs and wonders never were a purpose unto themselves. They did not happen for the sake of anything short of the verification of a messenger from the Lord, at least in my study of scripture.

My purpose here is to only lay a foundation of an Old Testament understanding of miracles/signs and wonders, and specifically in the context that I’m discussing: miracles or signs performed by God via human agents. I know this will generate exponentially more questions than answers, but that cannot be helped. I can only go one step at a time. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


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