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



The Sign Sign-Giver Process

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



Oddly 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 gifts.

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 a sign.
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 cease.

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.

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 of God.

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 Hezekiah.

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 ten degrees.

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 the message.

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 from God.

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 had said.

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 had said.

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 or mandate.

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 Jonas.

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. Amen.

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.