There are certain presuppositions which need to be stated in the outset of this paper. The entire consideration of miracles as they are recorded in the book of Acts will be discussed under the presupposition that Acts is divinely inspired scripture. The record of the miracles in Acts is accepted as valid.
A second presupposition is that Luke is the author of Acts and that it was written as a continuation of the gospel according to Luke. The oldest manuscripts available of Luke and Acts support the validity of the accounts of both the miracles of Jesus and the apostolic miracles. Many form critics do attack the miracle stories in both Luke and Acts as myths, but have no objective authority on the basis of omission from early manuscript. There are few suggestions that these stories were inserted by scribes or translators. Luke approaches the life of Jesus and the continuing ministry of the resurrected Lord as a historian. He does not record as many of the Lord’s miracles as does Mark, but he is careful to describe the ministry of Jesus as miraculous. There are at least seven narratives in the gospel of Luke that describe miraculous events or at least are events which are quasi-miraculous in nature.
Miracles form an essential portion of the New Testament and they are intertwined into the essential message of the word of God.Alexander B. Bruce, The Miraculous Elements in the Gospels (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1906), p. 115. However, the miraculous element, while forming an essential part of the New Testament narrative, is not extremely prominent. This is not only true in the gospels but it is also true in Acts. Luke could hardly be accused of “miracle mongering.”
The validity of miracles has been under attack since New Testament times. When the Jews with their rigid monotheism could not explain the miracles of Jesus as collusions or sleights of hand, they concluded that his miracles were the works of the devil. They said, “This fellow doth cast out devils but by Beelzebul, the prince of devils” (Matt. 12:24). Other explanations have been offered. Many have denied the truthfulness of Luke and other New Testament writers. It behooves any New Testament student to study these denials, but the purpose of this paper is not enhanced by such a study. May it suffice simply to say that this paper is written upon the basis that the miracles recorded by Luke in the book of Acts are historical and factual.
A miracle is a marvelous occurrence taking place in human experience which could not have been exercised by human power or by the power of any natural agency. It is an event that must be attributed to divine intervention. It is usually thought of as an act which demonstrates divine control over the laws of nature.J. M. Thompson, Miracles in the New Testament (London: Wedward Arnold, 1911), p. 1.
Miracles have been described as the untiring work of the Lord God. This work of God usually is seen in natural law, but sometimes God steps out from his concealment behind natural law and demonstrates openly his work. When God does this, he operates above and beyond the laws of nature. He does this because he is working toward other ends. Men call this a miracle.Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Company, 1908), p. 13. A miracle is not a greater manifestation of the power of God but it is a different manifestation. Therefore, it is not against or in violation of natural law but is above and beyond natural law. Some would conclude that this definition of miracles creates problems. Their conclusion is that events can occur in the material world which do not comply with natural law. Their explanation is that when such events occur, they are best explained by simply saying that there is natural law which is not known.Thompson, p. 5.
The above definition of miracles, however, produces no problem unless one places a very rigid emphasis upon the uniformity of natural law, or unless the universe is conceived as a closed system.
The meaning of miracles in the book of Acts is best understood by defining the words used to describe these miracles. The word σημειον is used thirteen times in the book of Acts in reference to miraculous events. This word means a sign, or token. Thayer defines it as an unusual occurrence transcending the common course of nature. It may predict a remarkable event that is soon to happen, such as in Acts 2:19; or it may describe a miracle or wonder by which God authenticates the men sent by him or by which men prove that the cause which they are pleading is God’s cause. The word itself is a development of the Doric word σημα which simply meant a sign or characteristic. Though the word was not in the beginning connected with religion, it was used in relation to specific perception or insight on the part of men.For an excellent discussion of the background of this word, see G. Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 200-266.
Nine times in the book of Acts the word is coupled with τερας, and it occurs four times alone. The word is used twice in Acts 4: 16, 22. Peter healed a man who had been lame for forty years in the temple court. This miracle is described as a sign. It is also used in relation to Philip in 6:5 and is used again in 8:6. In 8:13 σημειον is used with the word τερας. It is probably correct to understand that σημειον in the book of Acts has the same meaning as it does in the synoptics and in John’s gospel. It then expresses the christological and kerygmatic reference of miracles in which Jesus, who has been rejected by the Jews, proclaims that he is the Messiah and that those who were commissioned by him are authenticated.Ibid., p. 240. The difference in the signs of the gospels and in Acts is simply that the signs were performed by Jesus in the gospels, but in Acts they are performed by the followers of Jesus in the name of Jesus. In Acts the dimension of the resurrection of Jesus has been added. Therefore, when miracles are done in the name of Jesus, Luke vividly points out that they are signs which cannot be overlooked.
The second word is τερας. This word means wonder but is used in connection with σημειον. The word is used in the plural (τερατα). It probably came from the verb τηρεω. If so, it has the idea of something that is so strange it causes one to watch or to observe. It is sometimes translated miracle, at other times wonder. In the New Testament the word is always joined with σημεια. Τερατα joined with σημεια is not found in Luke’s gospel but occurs nine times in Acts. In the gospels, signs and wonders accompanied the activities of Jesus demonstrating messianic expectation. In Acts, with the dimension of the resurrection and Pentecost added, σημεια και τερατα become a pledge of fulfillment of messianic promises. The signs and wonders of Acts say that the resurrected Jesus is the Messiah. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles continued the demonstrating work of the resurrected Christ.
The word δυναμις is used to describe miracles in Acts. This word means power. The disciples thought of miraculous acts as acts of power, but the power was derived directly from God. When Peter was asked by what power he healed the lame man at the gate of the temple, he said, “Be it known unto all of you and to all of the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him, that this man stands before you whole” (Acts 4:10).
Another word which is used in several passages in the synoptics to describe miracles is θαυμαξω. This word occurs four times in the book of Acts but in each case, rather than referring to the act of a miracle itself, it refers to the response of those who saw a miracle. In Acts 2:7 the people marveled at the miracle which they saw at Pentecost. In 3:12 the people marveled having seen Peter heal a lame man. The other two occurrences of the word do not refer to miraculous deeds. The response of awe or even fear is experienced by those who observed the miraculous deeds of God.
The Miracle of Pentecost
The miracle of Pentecost perhaps serves as an introduction to all of the miracles of the book of Acts, for at Pentecost the Spirit of God came to empower Christians with a heavenly force which made it possible for them to effectively bear the message of Christ to the world. God planned salvation for men. In doing this, he purposed to send his Son to die on the cross and to send his Holy Spirit that he might empower men to bear a witness to his Son. The Spirit of God came upon men at Pentecost in fulfillment of the promise of God. Jesus had promised that the Spirit would come. He did come to empower the disciples of Jesus so that sinners would be converted. There can be no doubt that the events of Pentecost fulfilled the promises that were made by Jesus concerning the advent of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God has been working all through man’s history, but at Pentecost he came as he had never come before. Man’s relationship to God through the personality of the Spirit became something that it never had been before. This power gave men a new spiritual fellowship with God and with one another.
On the day of Pentecost the disciples of Jesus had a great transformation. No longer were they trembling weaklings; they were heaven-sent evangelists. Instead of trembling with fear in an upper room, they boldly preached the word of God. The Spirit of God made their message a heavenly message rather than an earthly message. As the result, many people were suddenly converted.
The Spirit of God came to empower individuals as believers in Christ in order that they might proclaim the message of salvation and to empower the church collectively. With this power, God began a new day for the church. He came upon his disciples as a tongue of fire. Jesus had promised that they would be baptized with fire. These Christians were also acquainted with the fact that Moses had seen God in a burning bush, and they could remember that God had accompanied the people of Israel in a pillar of fire. No doubt they recognized that God appeared as fire. The Spirit now came with the out ward sign of cloven tongues of fire. The Spirit had come to burn the saving message of Christ into the minds and hearts of those who had not believed.
This magnificent power of God which came upon the people enabled them to speak the message of Jesus Christ in tongues they had never used. People had gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecostal feast from the entire Mediterranean world. No doubt these people were Jews or Jewish proselytes, and probably most of them spoke Aramaic. When Peter preached to them, he preached in the Aramaic language; but before he spoke to them in this language which they all understood, the believers were given the ability to speak in the various languages spoken in the home provinces of these Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem. This is, of course, a miracle. There is not any evidence of an unknown or ecstatic tongue being spoken at Pentecost. God enabled the Christians to speak foreign languages and every person heard the message of Jesus Christ spoken in his own language. The people marveled as they heard this, and many of them believed.
Why did God perform such a miracle at Pentecost? He was bearing witness to the resurrected Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit with the outward signs of power proved the fact that Jesus who had been crucified was raised and was alive. The sound from heaven and the speaking in tongues gave witness to this fact. The Holy Spirit had come to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus had said, “I will send another comforter.” That comforter is the Holy Spirit who had now come to glorify Jesus, to speak in behalf of Jesus, and to live in the believers.
The signs or miracles that were evident at the advent of the Holy Spirit were three. They were the mighty rushing wind with its great sound, the cloven tongues of fire and people speaking in other tongues. Each one of these signs has a particular significance. The mighty rushing wind is known to men as a great power. Doubtless, God was indicating that a great power was coming upon his people. The cloven tongues of fire symbols of the authority from God. When the Bible says, There appeared upon each of them cloven tongues of fire,” it means that the tongues were separated, dividing themselves from one common source and coming upon each one of the disciples of Jesus.
The most controversial and interesting aspect of all of the signs was the disciples’ speaking in tongues. God suddenly gave to believers languages they had never used before in order that they might speak his message and be heard by unbelievers.
Many people have compared Pentecost to Bethlehem. Jesus entered the world through a miraculous birth. This was a miracle which would never be repeated. When people seek to create a new Pentecost, they succeed only in causing confusion. The Spirit of God came at Pentecost to dwell upon believers, and he has continuously been with believers. People have tried to imitate the miracle of new tongues. Doubtless some of the most dedicated Christians in the world are missionaries who are called of God to go into a foreign land and proclaim the gospel. It is necessary for them to study a new language that they might do the work of God. I have never known of one missionary who has been able to speak a foreign language without studying. Surely if God had intended to repeat the great miracle of Pentecost, he would have made it possible for missionaries who are dedicated to the spreading of the gospel to miraculously speak the language in which they wish to proclaim the gospel. This has not happened.
It is not a simple matter to dismiss the phenomenon of tongue speaking. However, it is not the purpose of this work to discuss that phenomenon. The miracle of Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit gave the believers who were present there the ability to speak in foreign languages. The languages or dialects of the people who were present are named in Acts 2:9-11. It is clear that the Christians did not speak in some unknown gibberish, but in intelligent languages. In Acts 2:4, Luke says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The Greek word which is translated tongue (y’A..w<r<ra) referred to the organ of speech. It had reference to the language which was produced by that organ of speech. The word which is translated other (fre po) means another of a different kind. It is evident that the believers spoke in languages different from the Hebrew language which was their native tongue. In verse 6 Luke says, “Every man heard them speak in his own language.” The Greek word for language is 8ia’A..eKT(p. The fact that the words tongue and language are used interchangeably certainly means that the other tongues of Pentecost were foreign languages. Paul believed that the gift of tongues was given for a sign to unbelieving Israel. He said,
In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe (1 Cor. 14:21-22).
When Paul said, “It is written in the law,” he was referring to Isaiah 28: 11-12, which says, “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” Isaiah was indicating that since the people of Israel would not listen to God in their own language, God would speak to them in another language. God purposed to speak to them in the language of the Assyrians and Babylonians in judgment because of their disobedience. Paul applies this passage to the situation which existed in the Pentecostal experience. He was explaining to the Corinthians the real meaning of tongue speaking. Paul was saying that God gave the believers at Pentecost the ability to speak in a foreign language to people in order that the nation of Israel, who had rejected Christ, might know that God had spoken.[ref]For a full discussion of the relationship of the Pentecostal miracle of tongue speaking at Corinth, see Robert L. Hamblin, The Spirit Filled Trauma (Nashville: Broadman Press, forthcoming).
The Miracle of Conversion
The conversion of Saul is described by many as one of the miracles recorded in Acts. According to the definition given of miracles, this certainly can be so classified. God intervened in the natural course of life in a miraculous way to convert Saul and to call him into Christian service. The record of this miracle is in Acts 9:1-19. As Paul journeyed to Damascus with authority from the high priest to arrest Christians in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem, he suddenly confronted a blinding light shining from heaven. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Paul inquired as to the identity of the voice arid was informed, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Saul was instructed to go into Damascus where he would receive instruction as to what he should do. When he arose from this experience, he was blind. He continued to be blind for three days. God spoke to a Christian in Damascus named Ananias. Ananias was told to go to the house of Judas on Straight Street where he would find Saul. He was informed that Paul was a chosen vessel under God, who would bear the name of Jesus before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. When Ananias found Paul and talked to him, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, received his sight, and was baptized.
God had transcended the ordinary means of conversion through the proclamation of the gospel by miraculously confronting Saul of Tarsus. Perhaps the key to this miracle is best seen in the attitude of Ananias and God’s answer to him. Ananias said,
Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake (Acts 9: 13-16).
Apparently God had a very special purpose which could only be fulfilled in a very special way. Therefore he transcended the normal way in order to accomplish his will.
Miracles of Providence
These miracles demonstrate the providential care of God over his apostles and his church. Four of these miracles of providence are recorded in the book of Acts. Three of them tell of the deliverance of the apostles from jail. The first is recorded in Acts 5:17-25. The apostles had ministered many signs and wonders among the people. Great crowds were corning to them seeking healing. The high priest arrested the apostles and placed them in the common prison. Luke simply says, “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison oars, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
It is evident that God intervened in a miraculous way in order to accomplish his purpose of the continual proclamation of the gospel in Jerusalem.
The second of these providential miracles is recorded in Acts 12:1-11. Herod had killed James, one of the apostles, and found it to be a popular act with the people. Therefore he felt that he could arrest Peter. Perhaps he knew of the past experience of the deliverance of the apostles from jail, so he was very careful to place Peter under maximum security. The church prayed for him without ceasing. The night before the time for his delivery to Herod, while Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains to soldiers with the doors being guarded, an angel of the Lord came. Luke says that a light shined in the prison, and the angel hit Peter on the side and told him to arise up quickly. When he did, his chains fell off. He was told to dress and follow the angel. The Bible says that the iron gate of the prison opened of its own accord with Peter and the angel going out into the street, and the angel departed.
The third miracle of providence is contained in Acts 16:23-26. Paul and Silas were placed in a prison in Philippi. Luke says simply, “At midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.” There are some who do not classify this as a miracle. They say that the earthquake was a natural phenomenon and therefore instead of a miracle it was a coincidence. The results of the event seem to point out definite providential intervention. Paul’s deliverance from the prison occasioned the opportunity for him to proclaim the gospel to the jailer and his household. They were saved, and the work of Jesus was firmly established in Philippi.
The fourth of the providential miracles is recorded in the closing part of the book of Acts in 28:1-6. Paul was on his journey to Rome. He was shipwrecked on the Isle of Melita. When Paul was gathering sticks for a fire, he was bitten on his hand by a snake. The unbelievers on that island saw this and thought that Paul was a murderer or some kind of criminal and that he was being judged by providence. Paul simply shook this snake into the fire and, the Bible says, “felt no harm.” No doubt Luke is pointing out the providential care by God of his servant even by a miracle.
A Miracle of Power
Luke records a miracle of God’s power demonstrated in judgment in Acts 12:20-24. The account of this judgment of God is given by Luke in the context of Herod’s grave opposition to the apostles. Luke first tells about the death of James, then of the arrest and miraculous escape of Peter. While Herod was speaking to a group of people who sought political favor, this group shouted, “It is the voice of God, and not of man.” Luke says, “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”
As the result of this miracle Luke concludes, “But the word of God grew and multiplied.” Because Herod had stood in the way, by miraculous power God removed him in order that the word of God might continue to be proclaimed.
There are four Petrine miracles recorded in Acts. A lengthy narrative is given to the first of these. A lame beggar was healed by Peter at the gate of the temple. This miracle and its results are recorded in 3:1-4:22. Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. At the beautiful gate begging for alms was a man who had been lame all of his life. He asked Peter and John for a gift. Peter looked at the man and told him to look on him. The man gave heed to Peter expecting to receive something. Peter said,
Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:6-8).
Of course the people who were in the temple were utterly amazed when they saw the man walking. They all ran together in Solomon’s porch and inquired as to what had happened. Peter said,
Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus: whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him his perfect soundness in the presence of you all (Acts 3:12-16).
Peter used this occasion to preach to the people and call them to repentance. As the result of the healing and the preaching, Peter and John were placed in jail. They were brought before the rulers and elders and scribes for trial. When they were given opportunity to speak Peter said,
If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole (Acts 4:9-10).
This notable miracle opened the door for Peter to preach the gospel both to multitudes of people in the temple and to the rulers of Israel. No one could deny the miracle, and Peter gave the glory to God.
The next Petrine miracle is recorded in Acts 5:12-16. Here Luke says, “By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.” Peter was not the only one performing miracles. Apparently all of the apostles were doing so, but no particular apostle is pointed out. Luke says that an awe had come upon the multitudes concerning these people, and many believers were added to the Lord as the result of the miraculous work being done. He says that such great miracles were being wrought that
people . . . brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
Luke does not say that the shadow of Peter passing over the people healed them, but this is implied. He does say that the sick people who were brought to the apostles were healed. It is irrefutable that the power of healing was given to the hands of these men.
The next of the Petrine miracles is recorded in Acts 9:32-35. Peter came to Lydda, where he encountered a man named Aeneas who had been sick of the palsy for eight years. Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed.” The scripture says that he immediately arose. As a result of this miracle the Bible says, “And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.”
The last of the Petrine miracles is recorded in Acts 9:36-43. This miracle took place at Joppa. There was a woman there who is simply described as a person who was full of good works and almsdeeds. Her name was Dorcas. She became ill and died. Her body had been ceremonially cleansed and placed in an upper chamber. When the Christians heard that Peter was in Joppa, they sent two men to hastily bring Peter to Dorcas. When Peter arrived and saw the people mourning, he asked them to leave the room. He knelt down and prayed and, turning to the body of Dorcas, told her to arise. She opened her eyes and sat up. Peter gave her his hand and lifted her up. The scripture says, “And it was known through all Joppa: and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42).
Miracles at the Hands of Philip
In Acts 8:6-13 the Bible tells of miracles done at the hands of Philip, one of the seven. Philip had left Jerusalem after the death of Stephen and had gone to Samaria to preach Christ. Luke says,
And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8).
Luke does not give a chronicle of the miracles performed, but he is suggesting that many miracles were done at the hands of this deacon.
Some light is thrown on the nature of God’s miraculous working in the experience which Philip had with a man named Simon who practiced sorcery. When Simon saw the crowds listening to Philip’s sermons, observing his miracles and believing on Christ, he also made a confession of faith and was baptized. He did this because he wondered at the miracles and signs that were done. The apostles came to Samaria to confirm the work of Philip and when they laid their hands on the Christians there, these believers received the Holy Ghost. When Simon saw this, he offered money that he might have the power that was attendant upon the reception of the Holy Ghost. Peter condemned him for this and told him that he needed to repent and pray to God for forgiveness because he was in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. Peter was saying that the power of God was not available to those who wished to buy it for their own needs. It was available only through faith.
Luke records six miracles which were done at the hands of Paul in the book of Acts. The first of these miracles is found in Acts 13:6-12. When Paul was on the Isle of Paphos, he encountered a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus. When Sergius Paulus sent for Paul and Barnabas, desiring to hear the word of God, Bar-Jesus withstood Paul, trying to turn Sergius Paulus away from the faith. Luke says,
Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord (Acts 13:9-12).
There are two notable points concerning this miracle. The opposite of healing takes place. This is a miracle of judgment rather than compassion. The result was that Sergius Paulus believed. Undoubtedly the purpose of the miracle was directly to pronounce judgment upon Bar-Jesus and indirectly to attract Sergius Paulus to the faith.
The second of the Pauline miracles is recorded in Acts 14:8-18. Paul encountered a crippled man at Lystra. He is described as an impotent man who had been crippled all of his life. Luke points out that when Paul looked at him he perceived that the man had faith to be healed. Paul then spoke to him, telling him to stand upright on his feet; and he leaped and walked. The element of faith was often mentioned in relation to miracles done by Jesus but is not often mentioned in Acts. The people responded to this miracle by proclaiming that Barnabas and Paul were gods. They thought Barnabas to be Jupiter and Paul to be Mercury. Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes because they thought this to be blasphemy. They used the occasion to explain the message of Jesus to the heathen people at Lystra, but they were scarcely able to keep the people from making sacrifices to them.
Paul’s third miracle takes place at Philippi. The narrative is recorded in Acts 16:16-22. It is a miracle of exorcism. While Paul and Luke were on their way to a prayer meeting, they encountered a girl who was “possessed with a spirit of divination.” This girl was held in slavery by certain men of that city who used her as a fortune teller. Luke says that the girl followed Paul and his party and cried out, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” After she had done this for several days, Paul was vexed with her; and he spoke to the spirit which was within her saying, “I command thee in the name of Jesus to come out of her.” Luke says that the spirit came out. The men who held this woman in slavery brought charges against Paul and Silas, and they were put into prison for this deed. There is no mention of this miracle resulting in unbelievers turning to Christ.
In Acts 19: 11-12 Luke tells about “special miracles by the hands of Paul.” He does not speak of any particular miracle being wrought upon a certain person, but he says that handkerchiefs and aprons were brought from the body of Paul to sick people, and diseases departed from them, and evil spirits went out of them.
Luke says that there were certain vagabond Jews who practiced exorcism who, having seen the miracles of Paul, went about searching out people who had evil spirits. They said to them, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” Seven men who were the sons of Sceva were doing this. Upon one occasion when they sought to practice exorcism the evil spirit answered them and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” When they had failed in their effort at exorcism, the man upon whom they were seeking to exercise the miracle of exorcism prevailed against them and they ran out of the house naked and hurt. Luke points out that as the result of this many Jews and Greeks who were dwelling at Ephesus believed on Jesus, confessed their deeds of sin and became Christians. Many even brought their books of magic and burned them. Luke concluded, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”
In Acts 20:9-12 Luke records the story of a very notable miracle which was done in Troas. Before Paul’s departure from Troas, he preached a very lengthy sermon to the Christians there. When he had preached past midnight a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell from a third story window. He was killed by the fall. Luke says,
And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted (Acts 20:10-12).
There are some who say that Eutychus was not dead. They say that when Luke says, “And was taken up dead,” he meant that the people believed him to be dead. Their claim is that Paul said that he was not dead when he said “for his life is in him.” It seems however that Luke is saying that the man was dead, and Paul meant that through the power of God life was still in him. It is not certain that Luke is claiming that the young man was dead and that he was raised to life by Paul, but it seems that this is the claim. This miracle was done in the presence of believers only. They were comforted by the deed, but it did not result in the spread of the gospel as did many of the other miracles recorded in Acts.
The last of the Pauline miracles is recorded in the conclusion of the book. Paul was on his journey to Rome and had been shipwrecked. God had already done a notable miracle in keeping Paul from harm after being bitten by a serpent. On the Isle of Melita the leader of the people was named Publius. Paul was invited to stay in the home of Publius, whose father was sick with what Luke calls “a fever and a bloody flux.” Paul prayed for him, laid his hands on him, and healed him. When this was done, many people on the island who had diseases came to Paul and were healed. Luke says that as the result of this the people of Melita honored them with great honor and gave them many gifts.
- The miracles form a vital part of the narrative of Acts. The message of Acts would be incomplete and Luke’s purposes would not be accomplished if the miracles were disregarded.
- They continued to attest to the deity of Christ. The importance of σημεια και τερατα in the first twelve chapters is significant. The Jewish portion of Acts significantly points to miracles as signs of Christ’s deity and something to cause wonder. However, the miracles are more than evidential in character and value.
- Many vital teaching instruments in the miracles of the continuing church are evident. There is neither any evidence in Acts to suggest that the miracles were to be continued beyond the apostolic age nor to suggest that they would cease. It is evident that certain miracles were done to accomplish specific things in God’s plan, and these things were accomplished, as in the Pentecostal miracle. However, there is no suggestion that God could not or would not transcend the laws of nature to accomplish his divine purpose at any time in history.
- Many of the miracles of Acts arose out of the needs of the people encountered by the apostles, but the purpose of compassion is not nearly so evident in Acts as it is in the miracles of Jesus.
- As in the miracles of the Lord, there is an emphasis on the accomplishment of the moral purposes of God in the miracles of Acts. It is evident that the tone of every miracle is set by the purpose of God.
- The miracles of Acts are set down as a continuation of the miracles of Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit made it possible for the church to continue the works of healing by the same power which Jesus had used.
|↑1||Alexander B. Bruce, The Miraculous Elements in the Gospels (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1906), p. 115.|
|↑2||J. M. Thompson, Miracles in the New Testament (London: Wedward Arnold, 1911), p. 1.|
|↑3||Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Company, 1908), p. 13.|
|↑4||Thompson, p. 5.|
|↑5||For an excellent discussion of the background of this word, see G. Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 200-266.|
|↑6||Ibid., p. 240.|