Saturday, October 21, 2017


This post ties into three recent ones on continuationism and making normative the Macedonian call (parts one and two).  I've written on this in the past too (here).  I've also written on the leading of the Spirit [here] (and that might not be all; it was a quick look).  Here are six parts on a related subject.  Here is the seventh part after the six on the related subject.  And here's something on what's normative in Acts.  I've also written on this issue as related to prayer.

I have a friend, whose brother-in-law on regular occasions, when something nice happens in his life, exclaims, "smiracle," short for "it's a miracle."  Smiracle.  His package arrived a day early.  Smiracle.  An old friend shows up at his door.  Smiracle.  He remembers an address.  Smiracle.  It was supposed to rain, and it didn't.  Smiracle.

Smiracle reminds me of the overuse of "awesome."  Maybe ten years ago or so, almost everyone was using awesome to describe some of the most mundane.  Snow day at school.  Awesome.  Sticking a skate board move.  Awesome.  Grandparents picked up and grandpa gives his grandson a high five with an accompanying, "Awesome!"  Awe was no longer reserved for God.  Evangelical congregations used it for God, but with little to no sense of awe.

It's not theologically correct now to reject a use of the word miracle.  You can't justify denying someone his miracle.  You should just be happy.  It means, here's someone who thinks God has done something.  Accept it.  He's giving God credit.  In the contemporary system, it's far worse to repudiate a miracle than it is to pervert the usage.  It's, you know, OK that people don't know what it means.  There's a lot they don't know.  This one isn't a big deal.

If anything can be a miracle, then nothing is a miracle.  When something is a miracle and when it is not then become indistinguishable.  The classification of a circumstance as a miracle becomes completely subjective.  The experience authenticates a person's spirituality as evidence of God's working in his life.  The problem is, it's not a miracle.  It's called one and then depended upon as spiritual confirmation.

What is the beef about smiracles?  Two words are translated miracle in the New Testament (Thomas Ross has written on this), dunamis some and usually semeion.   Someone can just look this up.  It's no great expertise on my part.  The latter is also translated, "sign."  In the English (KJV), miracle or miracles is found 37 times.  Five are Old Testament.  Of the 32 in the New Testament, 9 are dunamis and 23 are semeion.  A miracle is a sign.  Sometimes the word miracle refers to a type of sign and other times, it is a sign.  In the New Testament I would differentiate walking on water or feeding the 5,000 from speaking in tongues and the gift of healing.

Salvation is never called a miracle in scripture. Never.  You may say, I'll call it one anyway.  OK, but the Bible doesn't call it one.  No matter.  You call it one.  The reason.  It is!!  Why?   It is!!  One of the better arguments I've ever heard for salvation being a miracle is, "So you're saying that salvation isn't a miracle?"  If you say, "No," that means you think that salvation is a work or something that is just natural, not of God.  It's argument by insult.  I said it's one of the better arguments though.  You can't argue from scripture.

Everything that happens on earth in one sense is supernatural.  By Jesus all things consist.  God holds everything together.  So that means everything in that sense is supernatural.  Even on the natural and supernatural, we have designated only certain events or circumstances as supernatural, operating outside of natural laws.  If I fall from a cliff and go down, that's natural, but if I go up, that's supernatural.

Miracle is an English word.  It translates mainly semeion, which is also translated, "sign."  When "sign" is translated "miracle," it is still a "sign."  Semeion occurs 77 times in the New Testament.  "Sign" is found 30 times in the New Testament (KJV) and "signs," 23.  If you add the times semeion is translated "miracle," that about covers the translation of the word in the English (KJV).

Tell-tale in the usage of semeion is one in Hebrews 2:3-4:
3  How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
Also interesting in these two verses is that you can see "signs" and "miracles."  According to Greek grammar, these two verses tell us that "signs" and "miracles" have ceased or ended.  They are no more.  "Was confirmed" is an aorist passive verb.  The aorist says that the confirmation of signs, wonders, and miracles was completed in the past.  The confirmation of the words of the Lord and those who heard him is completed.

1 Corinthians was written around AD50 and Hebrews around AD63-64, thirteen or fourteen years later.  You can read that signs were wrapping up in 1 Corinthians.  They were done by the time Hebrews rolled around.  Between 1 Corinthians and Hebrews the confirmation process of the words of Jesus and the Apostles was completed.

So someone says, salvation is a miracle.  That means that miracles were not done by the time Hebrews was written, therefore, contradicting Hebrews, or countering the Word of God.  What Hebrews says then according to this claim would be wrong, saying, "No, miracles are still today, as seen in salvation."  Hebrews 2:3-4 say they are done, so how do I know or why do I say miracles continue today?  Basically because I say so or because I want them to, as part of my wish fulfillment.

Your salvation is supernatural.  It is of God.  It isn't a miracle.  It isn't a sign.  God worked for you to be saved, if you are saved.  There may have been some amazing circumstances.  You could call those the providence of God.  None of it was a miracle.  When we blur these terms, we don't help.  We hurt.  We should stop and be more precise or accurate.  There are bad consequences for not doing so.

Signs have a very narrow purpose.  They authenticate, confirm, or validate the words of God or the prophets or apostles who speaks those words.  Since the canon is complete, we don't need more validation or confirmation or authentication.  Miracles -- signs -- have ceased.  My friend, Pastor Dave Mallinak, disagrees:
Our world is a miracle, and a continual sign to unbelievers of the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-3; Romans 1:20). We miss some of the miracles of the created world because it is a miracle on a large scale.
Dave is saying that our world is a miracle and a sign. This abuses the meaning of signs in the New Testament, rendering them meaningless.  God reveals Himself through creation, no doubt, but His creation isn't a sign.  This is a blatant corruption of signs.  With all due respect, it's not his only problem in only those two sentences (there are too many for me to deal with in his whole post at this time).  Unbelievers don't need signs to understand God through creation.  Creation isn't a sign.  It is itself the revelation of God Himself.

Psalm 19 and Romans 1 say that what God reveals through creation, He reveals to everyone.  No one misses, as Dave says above, what God reveals through creation, which is why the revelation is general revelation, general in its audience.  Everyone understands it.  No one misses it.

Turning such things as the whole world itself or creation into a sign doesn't mark anything.  It doesn't mark anything.  It's not a sign of anything.  It's putting black against a black backdrop, white against a white backdrop, sprinkling dirt on top of dirt.  There isn't anything unique enough to it to call it a sign, that is, a miracle.

I've already laid out in my previous posts the issues that come with continuationism of whatever variety.  We really do need to confine ourselves to scripture for our doctrine.  More could be said there.  Smiracle is no exception.


James Bronsveld said...

(I didn't know whether I should post here or at the village smithy first, but then my google account suddenly worked over there, so I knew it was a sign. 'Smiracle!)

In all seriousness, I think the greater concern is not that the ministry of the Holy Spirit for today is being denied, but rather that many, in their fear of not ascribing all things to God, go beyond Scripture to call things miracles that aren't miracles. I only have a certain stripe of independent Baptist churches in my background (and not as much experience in those churches as perhaps many on this blog might have), but I have rarely heard any significant preaching on the providence of God, and have had to search long and hard to find any in-depth treatment of it by modern Baptists in writing. Perhaps I'm just looking in the wrong places, but for the sake of interest, many of the older confessions of faith set aside an entire section of their confessions to "Divine providence." (General, Mennonite, LBCF) Fast forward to the New Hampshire confession, and the word "providence" appears only once, in relation to the perseverance of the saints. (I see that the Freewill Baptists initially excluded it, but added it in a later edition). I'm speaking off the cuff here, but I wonder (should someone care to dig deeper on this) if this is part of the issue. Perhaps we have ceased most teaching and emphasis on Divine providence, leaving the saints to seek some other way to ascribe to God glory they desire to give. I'm not saying this is true for all smiracles, as some of them definitely fall along the lines of revivalism and soft cessationism, but I wonder if there is a lack of understanding and teaching about Divine providence. I'm curious as to how long it has been for pastors frequenting the comment section here since they preached (not merely referenced) about God's providence. Again, it may all come back down to the IB churches I came out of.

Tyler Robbins said...


I hear what you're saying. I think part of the problem is that fundamentalist Baptist pastors generally don't read broadly, and our own fundamentalist tradition is theologically weak. In order to read about God's providence, you'll generally have to go back before the 20th century or read some material from people who aren't in "our camp."

Pastors need to read broadly, from different traditions, and much of this nonsense will go by the wayside. To be sure, you'll disagree with some stuff you read, but you'll be enriched beyond words by a lot of it. I'm reading a new book on the Trinity from a Lutheran theologian now, and it's excellent. I'm also listening to a series of lectures on medieval church history - and some of these guys were brilliant men. I plan on reading Anselm's book on the incarnation soon, so I can hear about the satisfaction theory of atonement firsthand. None of these guys and fundamentalist Baptists! But, I'm learning from them - and discarding a lot, too.

If church leaders began reading broadly and thinking more critically, this would filter down to the pews.