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and Faith Movements
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
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
| Section 5
enough, the first time I saw the "Sign Sign-Giver" process
articulated was in a book that had nothing to do with Charismatic
gifts, or miracles, or prophecy at all. Instead, it was in
a book by author William A. Dembski, entitled Intelligent
Design. William Dembski has Ph.D.'s in both mathematics
and philosophy and in this book he argues against atheistic
evolution by presenting evidence of intelligent causation
for life. It was in chapter 1 that Dembski began to articulate
from Biblical examples the mechanics and rational behind the
ancient understanding of how signs operated as communication.
Oddly enough, it was at that same time that the initial groundwork
was being laid for this study into the Charismatic Movement.
And it did not take long before I realized the implications
that Dembski's description had upon the issue of modern Charismatic
The question implied in the title of that first chapter is
relevant to both biology and to miracles. The title for this
first chapter is "Recognizing the Divine Finger." And the
question is "How do we recognize the Divine Finger?" Or in
other words, how do we determine when something is God's doing
and when it is not?
In chapter 1, Dembski defines several basic terms that become
the foundation for his description of this process of determination.
Those basic terms are defined as follows (and can found on
page 28-29 of Intelligent Design.)
1.) Sign - the event, which functions as confirmation
of the will of another party.
2.) Sign-seeker - the party who asks for or receives
3.) Sign-giver - the party from which confirmation
is sought, the party that gives the sign.
While this process can apply broadly to a whole host of non-religious
scenarios, in the Biblical scenario, man is always the sign-seeker
and God is the sign-giver.
And as Dembski also points out, it is necessary that the sign
be extraordinary and unique to the sign-giver.
Signatures, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers
demonstrate the necessity that a sign be unique to the sign-giver.
Imagine if everyone could make your signature. Signatures
would cease to be adequate as signs of individual approval.
Or what if instead of a signature, everyone just made an "X"
mark. How would we know who made what "X" mark? How would
we know whether specific individuals made their mark of approval
or someone else?
Or in a historical setting, consider the royal seal. Royal
seals were designed as marks of the king's approval. But what
if a royal seal was easy to copy? Then anyone could make that
mark and it would no longer serve as proof of the king's approval.
Commonly occurring events and events that can occur through
other causes besides the sign-giver do not adequately function
as signs. Or, in other words, if an event can be produced
by other agents or causes beside the sign-giver, then it is
useless as a sign because it could occur without being given
by the sign-giver. In such cases, we don't know if it was
the sign-giver who caused it to occur or merely some other
factor. Therefore, commonly occurring events or events can
be produced without the sign-giver do not indicate the sign-giver's
approval. For this reason, in order for the Sign Sign-giver
process to work, the sign must be unique to the sign-giver
and the sign must be extraordinary so that when it occurs
we will know that no other factor other than the Sign-giver
caused it to happen.
And we will see these principles explicitly in the Biblical
occurrences of signs as well.
However, as we begin to talk about signs as confirmation of
the will of the Sign-Giver (God) it is important for us to
state that we are NOT making the arguments asserted by Gregory
the Great and many others since his time. As we saw earlier,
when faced with the dilemma that the gifts had passed away
by his day (600 AD), Gregory the Great explained this cessation
by asserting that the miracles "were necessary, in the beginning
of the church" in order to establish it. Consequently, according
to that line of thinking, once this confirmation or establishing
of the Church was complete, the gifts passed away. As we will
discuss in greater detail later on, this explanation for the
passing of the gifts is inadequate.
Instead, when we talk about miraculous signs acting as confirmation
of God's will, we are merely establishing the role that signs
play in the process of divine communication. Our purpose is
to demonstrate that when signs are ambiguous, obscure, or
commonly occurring they fail to function in the Biblically
prescribed manner and, therefore, cease to be signs at all.
We are NOT building a case that the gifts were supposed to
For the sake of simplicity, since we have shown that signs,
wonders, and miracles are effectively interchangeable in terms
of both definition and usage, from this point forward we will
simply use the term "sign" to refer to all three. We now turn
to the Biblical record to explore the function of signs from
the earliest example in scripture. From this examination of
signs in Biblical precedent we will be able to learn the requirements
necessary in order for signs to work.
Psalm 78:43 How he had wrought his signs in Egypt,
and his wonders in the field of Zoan.
Psalm 105:26 He sent Moses his servant; and
Aaron whom he had chosen. 27 They shewed his signs
among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.
Jeremiah 32:21 And hast brought forth thy people Israel
out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders,
and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and
with great terror.
In the Bible, the first major occurrence of signs, wonders,
and miracles takes place in the story of the Exodus when God
sent Moses and Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt. As is
very often the case, we can learn a lot about the function
of signs, wonders, and miracles from this first occurrence.
This theory that terms or concepts are typically defined in
the context of the first time they are mentioned is known
as the Law of First Reference.
Actually, when we examine in detail the Bible's description
of the signs in Exodus, we find "why" God used signs in this
incident. Or, in other words, we find out what the purpose
of these signs was.
First, as the following verses demonstrate, God provided signs
as proof to the Israelites.
Exodus 3:12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee;
and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee:
When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye
shall serve God upon this mountain.
Exodus 6:6 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel,
I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens
of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage,
and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with
great judgments: 7 And I will take you to me for a people,
and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am
the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the
burdens of the Egyptians.
Exodus 10:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go
in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart
of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:
2 And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and
of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and
my signs which I have done among them; that ye may
know how that I am the LORD.
Deuteronomy 4:34 Or hath God assayed to go and take
him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations,
by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty
hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors,
according to all that the LORD your God did for you in
Egypt before your eyes? 35 Unto thee it was shewed,
that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is
none else beside him.
From the verses above we can clearly see that the miraculous
signs done in Egypt to bring the Israelites out served the
purpose of proving to Moses that God was with him and had
sent him, proving to the Israelites that God had sent Moses,
and proving to the Israelites that the God Moses preached
was the one and only God. In short, these miracles were proof
to God's people that Moses had been sent by the one and only
God, not by some other god and not by Moses' own power.
And these signs had a similar function for the Egyptians.
Exodus 3:19 And I am sure that the king of Egypt
will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand. 20 And I will
stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders
which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he
will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favour in
the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that,
when ye go, ye shall not go empty.
Exodus 4:1 And Moses answered and said, But,
behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto
my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared
unto thee...8 And it shall come to pass, if they will
not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the
first sign, that they will believe the voice of the
latter sign. 9 And it shall come to pass, if they will
not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto
thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river,
and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou
takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.
Exodus 8:8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron,
and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the
frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people
go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD. 9 And Moses
said unto Pharaoh, Glory over me: when shall I intreat
for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to
destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may
remain in the river only? 10 And he said, To morrow.
And he said, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest
know that there is none like unto the LORD our God.
From the above passages we can see that from the very beginning
Moses is concerned that Pharaoh and the Egyptians will not
believe his message that God had sent him. And, in order that
the Egyptians might believe that God had sent Moses and should
listen to Moses' words, God did through Moses and Aaron these
signs before the Egyptians. The signs acted as proof that
Moses had been sent by the one and only God and, therefore,
his words should be listened to.
In short, from this first major use of signs in the Bible
we learn that the function of miraculous signs is to validate
that the messenger has been sent from God and, therefore,
that the message should be obeyed. This then is the function
of signs. They identify for us who to listen to and who not
to listen to.
Further explanation for how signs work can be seen in the
two examples of Gideon and King Hezekiah.
Judges 6:36 And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt
save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, 37 Behold,
I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew
be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside,
then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand,
as thou hast said. 38 And it was so: for he rose up early
on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed
the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39 And
Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against
me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray
thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only
upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
40 And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the
fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
Here in Judges 6, we see Gideon specifically articulating
the "If-Then" formula that was implied in the Exodus account.
In Exodus it was not spoken but it was directly required that
"IF Moses performed extraordinary signs, THEN God was with
Moses." Here we see Gideon specifically applying that test.
Gideon asks for two signs using this "If-Then" formula. First
he asks, "IF the dew is on the fleece only, THEN I will know
that you have sent me." This happens but to be sure, Gideon
asks for a second sign, "IF the dew be on the ground and not
the fleece, THEN I will know that you have sent me."
This is exactly consistent with what we saw in the Exodus
account and it is the way in which signs function. The basic
formula and function of signs is this: IF the sign, THEN there
is divine mandate. Or in other words, IF the sign, THEN God
has sent that messenger and his message should be believed.
This is why we find the following test for true prophets in
Deuteronomy 18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume
to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him
to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even
that prophet shall die. 21 And if thou say in thine heart,
How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if
the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing
which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken
it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
The test of whether or not a prophet had actually been sent
by God is if the thing, which he speaks comes to pass or not.
If the sign does not come to pass, the prophet is not from
God. If the sign does come to pass, then he is. But as we
will soon see, this only works if the sign is sufficiently
extraordinary to the point where it is unique to God. If the
sign can be produced through other means besides God's involvement,
then the prophet cannot be believed because he offers no sign.
Notice also from Deuteronomy that the people were NOT to simply
presume that every prophet was from God. They had to make
a distinction and that distinction was based upon the sign.
But we also notice something else that is significant to the
"Sign Sign-Giver" process that from Judges 6. The fact that
Gideon asks for 2 signs is also very informative. Why does
Gideon ask for 2 signs? Well, simply speaking, Gideon had
to be sure that the dew arriving only on the fleece in the
first sign was more than mere coincidence. What Gideon understood
here was that it was entirely possible that ordinary factors
besides God could have cause the fleece to be wet with dew
while the ground remained dry. Or, in other words, Gideon
recognized that the first sign by itself was not sufficiently
extraordinary to the extent that it demonstrated the involvement
For this reason, Gideon asks for a second sign. This time,
he asks for the dew to be on the ground only while the fleece
remained dry. On its own, this sign could have been easily
caused by ordinary factors beside God as well. But the combination
of 2 signs was what made it extraordinary. As Gideon recognized,
for a fleece to be wet while the ground was dry could happen
without God's involvement. For a fleece to be dry while the
ground was wet could also happen without God's involvement.
But what were the odds that the fleece and ground would be
in the opposite condition on 2 days exactly what Gideon specified?
This was sufficiently extraordinary to convince Gideon that
it was God's doing.
Likewise, we see the same thing occurring in the mind of King
2 Kings 20:8 And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What
shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that
I shall go up into the house of the LORD the third day? 9
And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD,
that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall
the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?10
And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow
to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward
In this passage, the Prophet Isaiah comes to King Hezekiah
who is sick and declares to him that God will heal him. However,
Hezekiah asks for a sign to prove that this message from Isaiah
is truly from God. Again, this is very similar to the way
we have already seen signs working in both Exodus and Judges
6. The sign proves that the individual is being sent by God.
So, Isaiah tells Hezekiah that God will give him a sign. Isaiah
even tells Hezekiah to pick which way the sign will work.
If Hezekiah says so, the shadow on the sundial will go forward
10 degrees. Or, if Hezekiah says so, the shadow on the sundial
will go back 10 degrees. The fact that Hezekiah gets to pick
the way in which the sign will work is also reminiscent of
the story of Gideon. In the story of Gideon we can see that
Gideon was convinced in large part by the fact that the sign
worked exactly as he specified. Likewise, in this example,
God also tells Hezekiah to specify how the sign will work.
And notice how Hezekiah responds. Recognizing that it is a
common thing for the shadow on a sundial to progress forward,
Hezekiah decides that such an event would not be extraordinary
enough to indicate that God was behind Isaiah's message. After
all, that is how a sundial works in the first place. As the
sun moves across the sky, the shadow progresses and the forward
movement of the shadow indicates the progression of the hours
of a day. So instead, Hezekiah asks for the shadow to move
backward, an event that would be completely contrary to the
normal operation of a sundial. In this way, the backward movement
of the shadow was so out of the ordinary that it would indeed
have to be the work of God and, therefore, prove that Isaiah's
message was from God.
And there are other instances in the Bible where God allows
men to specify the sign so that they will know God is behind
Isaiah 7:10 Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz,
saying, 11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask
it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12 But Ahaz
said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.
13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small
thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold,
a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call
his name Immanuel.15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he
may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For
before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose
the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of
both her kings.
Here in Isaiah, the prophet goes before King Ahaz and God
tells Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove the prophet's message
is from God. God tells him he can ask for anything he wants
but Ahaz refuses. So, God himself chooses the sign. And the
sign God chose was that a child would be born and before that
child was old enough to know right from wrong the land of
Israel would be forsaken of both her kings. (Of course, this
prophecy also applied to Jesus Christ as the New Testament
would later reveal.)
So, from these examples we see that the Biblical basis for
signs requires that signs be unique or specific enough that
they could not have come from other causes but must have come
But what happens if the sign could be produced by some other
means besides God? The Bible tells us that also.
Exodus 8:8 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron,
saying, 9 When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew
a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take
thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a
serpent. 10 And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh,
and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast
down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and
it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh also called the wise
men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they
also did in like manner with their enchantments. 12 For
they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents:
but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. 13 And he hardened
Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD
Here in Exodus 8, we see that Aaron's staff becomes a snake
and this is supposed to be a sign to Pharaoh that he is from
God. However, Pharaoh's magicians also throw down their staffs,
which also become snakes. Thus, since this sign can be produced
without the help of God, Pharaoh does not believe this sign
is proof that Moses and Aaron have been sent by God. The sign
is not extraordinary enough to function as proof of God's
involvement. Other means, such as the sorcery of the Egyptian
magicians, are sufficient to create this event.
Exodus 7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD
commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the
waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and
in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were
in the river were turned to blood. 21 And the fish that
was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians
could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood
throughout all the land of Egypt. 22 And the magicians
of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart
was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD
As we continue along a few verses later in the same chapter
of Exodus, we find a very similar event. Moses and Aaron turn
the water in Egypt to blood. But Pharaoh's magicians are somehow
able to do the same thing. So, once again, Pharaoh is not
convinced by this sign that Moses and Aaron are from God.
The fact that Pharaoh's magicians could do recreate the same
sign indicated to Pharaoh that the sign could be explained
by other factors apart from God's involvement. Again, the
sign was not unique enough to prove that Moses and Aaron had
a divine mandate.
Exodus 8:5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto
Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the
streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause
frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. 6 And Aaron stretched
out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came
up, and covered the land of Egypt. 7 And the magicians
did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon
the land of Egypt.
Once again, Moses and Aaron perform a sign, this time causing
frogs to cover the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh's magicians
do the same thing. So, once again, Pharaoh is not convinced
that Moses and Aaron are from God because the signs they had
offered so far could be produced by other means, means which
did not require God's involvement.
This is what happens when the signs are not extraordinary
or unique to God. If a sign can be produced through means
that do not require God's involvement, then those signs do
not sufficiently prove that the messenger is from God.
Exodus 8:16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say
unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the
land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
17 And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with
his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became
lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became
lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 18 And the magicians
did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they
could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.
19 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger
of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened
not unto them; as the LORD had said.
Finally, Moses and Aaron give a sign that the magicians of
Egypt cannot reproduce. And because they cannot reproduce
this sign, the magicians tell Pharaoh, "This is the finger
of God." Finally, the sign was unique to God alone and could
not be caused by other means. This was the proof (at least
to the magicians) that God was behind the work of Moses and
Aaron. And from this point forward, there is no mention of
the magicians being able to produce the rest of the signs
given by Moses and Aaron.
From all of these examples starting with the very onset of
the use of signs in Exodus to confirm divine mandate, we see
that it is a fundamental necessity that a sign cannot be produced
through common means and causes. So long as a sign can be
caused by other factors, that sign does not prove God's involvement
And this same model continues in the New Testament.
John 2:11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus
in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and
his disciples believed on him.
John 5:36 But I have greater witness than that of John:
for the works which the Father hath given me to finish,
the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father
hath sent me.
Just as Jesus specifically states in John 5:36 the miraculous
signs that he performed were proof that God had sent him.
This is identical to the case with Moses and Aaron. The signs,
which they performed, were given to prove both to the Israelites
and the Egyptians that God had sent them.
Matthew 12:38 Then certain of the scribes and of the
Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign
from thee. 39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil
and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there
shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet
The above account can also be found in Matthew 16:1-4, Mark
8:11-12, and Luke 11:16, 29-30. In this passage, Jesus metaphorically
declares that his resurrection will be the sign to that generation
that God had sent him.
Lastly, we come to Mark 16.
Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that
believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall
speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and
if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they
shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 19 So
then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received
up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20 And they
went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working
with them, and confirming the word with signs following.
Here in Mark 16, we see that Jesus specifically tells his
disciples that Christians will be able to perform miraculous
signs and that these signs functioned as proof that the word
they preached was from God. So, from start to finish we see
that the function of miraculous signs in the Bible remains
the same. Signs prove that God is behind the messenger and
his message. As such, signs must be extraordinary and unique
because signs that can be produced by other causes besides
God do not prove God is involved.
Once again, we are NOT making the argument made by Gregory
the Great (600 AD) and others since, that the charismatic
gifts continued only until the Church had sufficiently been
established and confirmed. That is not our contention at all.
Instead, we are merely demonstrating the Biblical necessity
that a sign must be extraordinary to the extent that it cannot
be produced from ordinary means that do not require God. A
sign that can be produced by means that do not require God
is no sign at all because it can occur without God's involvement.