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Particulars of Christianity:
310 Pentecostalism,
the Charismatic
and Faith Movements



On Faith and Miracles

5 Tests for Authenticity: The Test of Apostolic Continuity
The Test of Origination
The Test of Quality (or Ecstasy)
The Test of Heresy
Defining the Test of Purpose and Verifiability
On Faith and Miracles
The Sign Sign-Giver Process
Applying the Test of Purpose and Verifiability (Part 1)
Applying the Test of Purpose and Verifiability (Part 2)

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4
| Section 5



What if an event occurs and whether or not it is supernatural is not evident at face value? What if an event happens and we're not sure if it's miraculous or just the result of ordinary causes or coincidence?

For example, what if I told you to pick a number between 1 and 10 and then I guessed the number without you telling me? Would you believe that I had the power to read your mind?

Like guessing the number between 1 and 10, some events do not require supernatural power (such as mind reading) in order for them to occur. In fact, the vast, vast majority of the events we experience in life can be explained by natural causes and ordinary factors. If a ball drops to the ground when I let go of it, it's not a miracle. It's gravity. If wood floats to the top of a pond, it's not a miracle. It's a matter of density. If I see paint beautifully and perfectly arranged on a canvas, it's not a miracle. Someone painted it. The painting I see is the product of another human's activity. And if I guess the number you picked, it's not a miracle. I'm probably just a good guesser or maybe just lucky.

And if I offered any of these events to you as a miracle, you would know that no miracle had occurred. If I said to you, "the floating wood is a miracle proving that God wants you to give me all your money," you would know that there is no need to give me your money. Wood floats all the time. It's no miracle. Because it is naturally explainable, the floating wood offers no proof that God wants you to give me your money.

Such events can be explained by natural causes. Thus, there is no motivation to assume something supernatural has occurred. And, therefore, we can see that any event, which can easily be explained by natural causes, should not be viewed as a miracle because, like the floating wood, it provide no evidence that something supernatural is going on. And if someone appeals to such a naturally explainable event as supernatural evidence for their claims, we would have no reason to believe their claims.

To illustrate, suppose someone comes to you and says, "I am the true messiah. Have faith in me." Should you believe him? At this point, you have no reason to believe in him other than the fact that he claims to be the "true messiah." But what if he's wrong, confused, or lying to you? How do you know that his word on this matter is reliable? If you put your faith in him now it will be entirely without reason.

Well, suppose that you are trying to be open-minded, so you say, "How do I know you are the true messiah?" And then he says, "Because I can perform a miracle." Now you're really intrigued, so you reply, "OK, do a miracle." And he says, "Alakazam! Presto!" You wait a few seconds and then suddenly a bird flies overhead and he exclaims, "See, I made that bird and caused it fly over us." Would you believe this man?

Suppose you are still reluctant to accept this man as your "true messiah." After all, birds are known to fly overhead. That's a common occurrence. So you say, "I don't know," at which point he agrees to perform another miracle for you. "Alakazam! Presto!" Again you wait a second or two. Then a gentle breeze blows and he exclaims, "Ahha! You see! I made that breeze to blow. I control the weather." Would you now believe him?

Perhaps you are still reluctant to make such a big change and accept this man as your "true messiah." After all, breezes blow all the time. So you say, "Those things could have happened anyway. How do I know that you caused them?" And then the man looks reassuringly into you eyes and with a heartfelt smile, he says, "You just have to have faith that I did."

This man's so-called "miracles" can be explained by various factors besides the idea that he is the "true messiah." The miracles are supposed to be proof that his claim is correct. But the miracles themselves require just as much faith as if you believed his claim without the miracles. If you put your faith in him now it will be entirely without reason, just as it would have been without the so-called "miracles." The miracles in this scenario added no weight to his claims because they could easily be explained by natural causes. Therefore, the miracles serve no purpose.

When alleged miracles can be explained by natural causes, you are right back in the same position you would be in if no miracle occurred at all. In such cases, belief becomes nothing more than circular reasoning and a blind leap of faith and there is no way to distinguish between something that should be believed and something that should not be believed. If belief is supposed to occur without substantiation then all truths claims are equal since they are accepted regardless of evidence. Thus, there is no way to distinguish the true from the false because evidence is not considered as a basis for faith.

As we can see from this illustration, any event that can be explained by natural factors provides no basis for faith, because there's no reason to believe anything supernatural has happened. Or in other words, if there are other ways to explain an event besides God's direct intervention, then we have no reason to assume that God was involved in that event any more than a ball falling to the ground, a piece of wood floating in a pond, or me guessing the secret number in your head.

On the other hand, as we will see, the proper relationship between faith and miracles is that the miracle provides evidence or proof that the miracle-worker is from God. Consequently, rather than faith substantiating that a miracle has occurred, the miracle provides substantiation for faith in the claim. To reverse these two will have you believing without proof every claim that a miracle has occurred and every religious claim that accompanies it. In essence, you'll end up believing every new guy who claims to be the "true messiah."

For this reason, so that we might know who to believe and who not to believe, God has provided miracles as proof. This, in turn, means that the miracle itself must be of such quality and character that there's no way it could have come from any other source besides the supernatural. In conclusion, a miracle that can easily be explained without the supernatural provides for us no help whatsoever in determining who to believe and who not to believe, what to have faith in and what not to have faith in.

However, as we have already stated concerning the Test of Heresy, whether or not an event is legitimately supernatural is not the ultimate test of authenticity.

Deuteronomy 13:1 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, 2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; 3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. 5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.

In this passage in Deuteronomy we see that if a prophet arises and he gives a sign that does actually come to pass, he is not to be obeyed or followed if what he teaches misleads the people away from the commands of God. Therefore, sound doctrine is the ultimate test of authenticity and any miracle that accompanies teaching, which contradicts the Bible, is by definition a lying sign and must be rejected as counterfeit.

Now that we understand that miracles provide substantiation for faith and not the other way around, we can move ahead to examine in detail how miracles perform this validating function throughout the Bible.