We will now consider a couple of arguments that frequently are employed in an attempt to prove that miracles did not cease with the apostolic age.
First, some contend Paul taught that spiritual gifts would continue to the very end, i.e., unto the coming of Christ. First Corinthians 1:6-8 is cited to establish this. We offer the following points. It is not certain that miraculous gifts are even in view within this context. Meyer argues that spiritual blessings in general are under consideration, not miraculous gifts (1879, 19). Even if miraculous gifts are in view, the text no more asserts that they will be operative until the Lord’s return, than it does that the Corinthians themselves would remain alive until that event. The word “end” can mean “to the uttermost” (cf. John 13:1), and thus the reference may not be to the end of time. One may be confirmed (sustained) through the message of the inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16,17), hence, be unreprovable in the day of Christ, without needing to possess supernatural gifts.
Second, it is claimed that the Lord is as powerful today as he was in the first century; and so, he can perform signs today. But the question is not one of God’s power; it is a matter of his will. Does he will to perform miracles today? He does not will to create men directly from the dust of the earth. He does not will to feed us with manna from heaven, etc., though he is powerful enough to do such feats. The “he-has-the-power” quibble proves nothing.
The scholarly T.H. Horne presented a remarkable summary statement of this matter that is worthy of consideration.
Why are not miracles now wrought?—we remark that, the design of miracles being to confirm and authorize the Christian religion, there is no longer any occasion for them, now that it is established in the world, and is daily extending its triumphs in the heathen lands by the divine blessing of the preached gospel. Besides, if they were continued, they would be of no use, because their force and influence would be lost by the frequency of them; for, miracles being a sensible suspension or controlment of—or deviation from—the established course or laws of nature, if they were repeated on every occasion, all distinctions of natural and supernatural would vanish, and we should be at a loss to say, which were the ordinary and which the extraordinary works of Providence. Moreover, it is probable that, if they were continued, they would be of no use, because those persons who refuse to be convinced by the miracles recorded in the New Testament, would not be convinced by any new ones: for it is not from want of evidence, but from want of sincerity, and out of passion and prejudice, that any man rejects the miracles related in the Scriptures; and the same want of sincerity, the same passions and prejudices, would make him resist any proof, any miracle whatever. Lastly, a perpetual power of working of miracles would in all ages give occasion to continual impostures, while it would rescind and reverse all the settled laws and constitutions of Providence. Frequent miracles would be taught to proceed more from some defect in nature than from the particular interposition of the Deity; and men would become atheists by means of them, rather than Christians (1841, 117).
What About Modern “Miracles”?
How does one deal with the alleged “miracles” of this modern age? In the first place, we really are not obligated to defend as divine a modern event simply because it may have certain elements that are difficult to explain. There are many illusions that modern magicians perform which the average person cannot explain; but they do have natural explanations. They are not miracles.
That aside, there are several possible bases for so-called modern miracles. As an example, let us focus upon alleged faith healings.
Some instances of faith healings are pure fakery. Consider the case of Peter Popoff, miracle-working cleric of Upland, California. Popoff, who claimed the supernatural ability to provide secret information about people in his audiences (in conjunction with “healing” them), was receiving such data through a tiny hearing aid, the messages being transmitted by his wife from backstage.
Prominent magician James Randi exposed the entire affair on nationwide television (1987, 139-181). Randi also demonstrated that Popoff was providing rented wheelchairs for people who could actually walk; then, at his services, he was pronouncing them healed.
Some “miracle cures” are claimed by people who honestly believe that God has healed them. The fact is, however, they had nothing organically wrong with them. Their ailment was psychosomatic. This means that though some bodily feature was actually affected, the real root of the problem was mental or emotional; hence, by suggestion a cure might be effected.
It has been estimated that some fifty-five percent (or more) of the patients applying for medical treatment in the United States suffer from psychosomatic illnesses. In fact, Dr. William S. Sadler has written:
It is generally believed by experienced physicians that at least two-thirds of the ordinary cases of sickness which doctors are called upon to treat would, if left entirely alone, recover without the aid of the doctor or his medicine (1929, 15).
Taking advantage of this type of sickness, the faith-healer, in an atmosphere of hysteria and feverish emotionalism, produces some phenomenal “cures.” But there is nothing miraculous about such cases.
A physician in Toronto, Canada investigated thirty cases in which Oral Roberts claimed miraculous healing was effected; he “found not one case that could not be attributed to psychological shock or hysteria” (Randi 1987, 288). Dr. Sadler affirmed that after twenty-five years of sympathetic research into faith-healing, he had not observed a solitary case of an organic disease being healed.
It is commonly known that an African witch-doctor can literally command a believer in voodoo to die, and within the prescribed time, the victim will expire. This evidences the powerful control of the mind over the body. Surely no one will claim, though, that a witch-doctor has the Spirit of God.
Another explanation for some so-called faith cures is a phenomenon known as spontaneous remission. Spontaneous remission is an unexpected withdrawal of disease symptoms, and an inexplicable disappearance of the ailment. It occurs in about one out of every eighty thousand cancer patients.
Joseph Mayerle of Bremerton, Washington had exploratory surgery; it was discovered that he was consumed with cancer. His physicians gave him only a few months to live. Months sped by and his disease utterly vanished. There was nothing miraculous about it. According to newspaper accounts, Mr. Mayerle, a bartender, made no claim to faith, prayer, or a miracle-cure. Wouldn’t a faith-healer have delighted in taking credit for that case?
There is one final point of this presentation that needs to be pressed with great vigor. There is no alleged miracle being performed today by Pentecostals, or those of a similar “Christian” persuasion, that cannot be duplicated by various cults and non-Christian sects.
Those who practice Christian Science, Mormonism, Catholicism, Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, Psychic Healing, Scientology, New Age Crystal Healing, etc., claim the same type of signs as the Pentecostals. In fact, more than 20 million Americans annually report mystic experiences (including healing) in their lives (Psychology Today 1987, 64).
Since the Scriptures clearly teach that the purpose of miracles, as evidenced in biblical days, was to confirm the message proclaimed, hence, to validate the Christian system, do the multiple alleged examples of miracle-workings indicate that the Lord has authenticated all of these woefully contradictory systems? Think of the implications of that—especially in light of Paul’s affirmation that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
There is abundant evidence that genuine miracles were performed by divinely appointed persons in the first century, but there is no proof whatever that such wonders are being replicated in this modern ag