Modern religious people tend to believe miracles are instances when God intervenes in human events by doing something that violates the laws of nature. However, definitions like this do not actually fit the Bible’s definition of a miracle. So, how does the Bible define a miracle? Let’s take a look.
God is Actively Involved in the World
Unfortunately, modern Christians have been heavily influenced by secular thinking. We tend to think of the universe as a big machine that has been preprogrammed and set on autopilot. We tend to see miracles as moments when God stepped in, temporarily stopped a bit of the machine, and then stepped back out and allowed the machine to go back to running its program. This is why we tend to think of miracles as times when God “intervened” or violated the laws of nature.
The Bible, however, does not give us this view of God or the universe. For instance, the writer of Hebrews says that the Son of God not only created the world, but also, “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” In other words, Jesus is actively “sustaining” (NIV), “maintaining and propelling” (AMP), or holding everything together in the universe. He is doing this through his powerful commanding word.
Maybe this is why G.K. Chesterton imagined God, who never gets tired, constantly commanding the universe to do what it does:
“It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”
To say that a miracle is God “intervening” in the world is to reveal our incorrect assumptions that God is not already actively involved in the world. Miracles are not the only times that God has been involved in the world, he is always at work in the everyday, ordinary, and expected. After all, Jesus says that God actively clothes the flowers and feeds the birds (Matthew 6:25-34).
So, if a miracle is not a divine intervention in the natural world (because God is already constantly involved in the natural world), what is the definition of a miracle?
Miracles are Displays of God’s Power
In the New Testament, the word most often translated “miracle” is the Greek word, “dunamis.” It is the word from which we get, “dynamite.” According to the BDAG Lexicon, it means, “power, might, strength, force, capability.” When it is translated as “miracle,” it specifically means power that leaves people in awe or amazement.
Consider the account in Acts 8:9-25. Simon was a magician who “amazed the people of Samaria” with his magic. However, Simon met a Christian evangelist and after “seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.” Apparently, even Simon the magician had never encountered real power, God’s power, like this before. He was so impressed, he asked if could purchase the ability to wield this power himself.
So, in one sense, a miracle is simply a display of God’s power that results in people being amazed.
Miracles are Unexpected or Extraordinary
As we said earlier, God is actively involved in ordinary natural events. When the earth rotates around the sun or the wildflowers bloom in the Spring, Christians should give credit to God and not, “Mother Nature.” These events are ordinary and expected, but they are still the work of our actively involved God.
A miracle, on the other hand, is God doing something new, unexpected, or extraordinary (out-of-the-ordinary). The Greek word for this is “paradoxa.” The miracles of Jesus, for instance, are described with this word.
Luke 5 says about Jesus, “The power of the Lord was with him to heal” (vs. 17). As Jesus was teaching, a paralyzed man was brought to him. Jesus told the man to pick up his bed and go home. Luke records, “Immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today’ (vs. 25-26).
Again, with nearly every miracle in Scripture, we see similar words and themes: power, amazement, awe, and glory. We can add to that list, a sense of the “extraordinary.” A miracle is a display of God’s power in a special, unexpected, or extraordinary way.
Miracles are Often Described as Signs and Wonders
If a miracle is a display of God’s power that leaves people amazed, then it makes sense to call a miracle a “wonder” (Greek, “terata”). A “wonder” is an act of God that causes people to “marvel” and “wonder.” Again, the implication is that this event deviates from what is expected, from the events we typically observe in the world.
Another word used for miracles in the New Testament is, “signs.” The idea here is that a miracle communicates a message, it points to something outside of itself. If you are driving down the road and pass a sign, the sign is an actual object possessing its own unique properties. However, it primarily exists to communicate and point to something outside of itself (an upcoming exit, town, business, etc.).
The signs (miracles) performed by Jesus and the apostles were events that blessed real people. They solved real problems, changed real lives, and were significant events in and of themselves. But they are called “signs” because they also pointed to a bigger reality. They communicated that God’s rule and reign (kingdom) were arriving.
The “signs” in the New Testament are pointing forward to the fact that what God has done for a few, he will someday do for all of his people (and for all creation). God will eventually take away all disease, rid the whole world of sin, unite people of every nation and language, and make all things healthy and new forever (see Romans 8). The Holy Spirit’s “signs and wonders” point to this coming reality.
Therefore, a miracle could be defined as an extraordinary and amazing display of God’s power that evokes awe. Miracles are not the sorts of things God does every single day. They are the things he has done at special moments to get people to take notice of his power. For this reason, some of the miracles in the New Testament were called “signs,” because they were accompanied by the message of God’s kingdom (see Mark 16:15-18).
I believe, when it comes to miracles, we must avoid two extremes. First, we must not expect miracles to be everyday occurrences. A miracle is, by very definition, something that does not ordinarily happen. Second, we must also avoid thinking God has become inactive in the world. I am convinced that God is still active in BOTH ordinary and extraordinary ways. In other words, he makes the sun to rise and he sometimes answers a prayer in a powerful and inexplicable way.
But perhaps the most extraordinary work of God today is in saving and transforming people. People do not ordinarily change. However, the Holy Spirit changes people in powerful and noticeable ways (see Galatians 5:16-24). When we walk by the Spirit, the Spirit transforms us to be more like Christ. The most enduring “sign” of the age to come is the love and unity of the church (see 1 Corinthians 13).
I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the transformation of God’s people is a miracle. It is an extraordinary and amazing display of God’s power that evokes awe.
I love you and God loves you,