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

Defining the Test of Purpose and Verifiability

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

This test deals with the very purpose and function of miracles, signs, and wonders. It also deals with the relationship between faith and miracles. Because of the fundamental nature of the issues involved in this test we are going to spend some time with this portion of our examination.

First, we will familiarize ourselves with the basic vocabulary.

In the Old Testament, there are six words that are used to refer to signs, wonders, and miracles. As the definitions below will demonstrate, there is broad overlap between these three Hebrew and Aramaic words. (The bolded sections highlight the overlap in both usage and definitions.)

04159 tpwm mowpheth mo-faith' or tpm mopheth mo-faith'
from 03302 in the sense of conspicuousness;
TWOT-152a; n m
AV-wonder 25, sign 8, miracle 2, wondered at 1; 36
1) wonder, sign, miracle, portent
1a) wonder (as a special display of God's power)
1b) sign, token (of future event)

0226 twa ‘owth oth
probably from 0225 (in the sense of appearing);
TWOT-41a; n f
AV-sign(s) 60, token(s) 14, ensign(s) 2, miracles 2, mark 1; 79
1) sign, signal
1a) a distinguishing mark
1b) banner
1c) remembrance
1d) miraculous sign
1e) omen
1f) warning

06381 alp pala' paw-law'
a primitive root; TWOT-1768; v
AV-(wondrous, marvellous...) work 18, wonders 9, marvellous 8, wonderful 8, ...things 6, hard 5, wondrous 3, wondrously 2, marvellously 2, performing 2, misc 8; 71
1) to be marvellous, be wonderful, be surpassing, be extraordinary, separate by distinguishing action
1a) (Niphal)
1a1) to be beyond one's power, be difficult to do
1a2) to be difficult to understand
1a3) to be wonderful, be extraordinary
1a3a) marvellous (participle)
1b) (Piel) to separate (an offering)
1c) (Hiphil)
1c1) to do extraordinary or hard or difficult thing
1c2) to make wonderful, do wondrously
1d) (Hithpael) to show oneself wonderful or marvellous
2) token, ensign, standard, miracle, proof

06382 alp pele' peh'-leh
from 06381; TWOT-1768a; n m
AV-wonder 8, wonderful 3, wonderfully 1, marvellous 1; 13
1) wonder, marvel
1a) wonder (extraordinary, hard to understand thing)
1b) wonder (of God's acts of judgment and redemption)

0852 ta ‘ath (Aramaic) awth
corresponding to 0226; TWOT-2617; n f
AV-sign 3; 3
1) sign, miraculous signs, wonders

08540 hmt t@mahh (Aramaic) tem-ah'
from a root corresponding to 08539; TWOT-3060; n m
AV-wonder 3; 3
1) wonder, miracle

From the overlap in both definition and usage evidenced by the definitions above, we can see that these six Hebrew and Aramaic words are virtually interchangeable. Therefore, there is really no functional distinction between a sign, a wonder, and a miracle. They all serve the same purpose and are basically three different words for virtually the same concept.

The same is true of the words translated sign, wonder, and miracle in the New Testament.

4592 shmeion semeion say-mi'-on
from a presumed derivative of the base of 4591;
TDNT-7:200,1015; n n
AV-sign 50, miracle 23, wonder 3, token 1; 77
1) a sign, mark, token
1a) that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and is known
1b) a sign, prodigy, portent, i.e. an unusual occurrence, transcending the common course of nature
1b1) of signs portending remarkable events soon to happen
1b2) of miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God's

1411 dunamiv dunamis doo'-nam-is
from 1410; TDNT-2:284,186; n f
AV-power 77, mighty work 11, strength 7, miracle 7, might 4, virtue 3, mighty 2, misc 9; 120
1) strength power, ability
1a) inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth

1b) power for performing miracles 1c) moral power and excellence of soul
1d) the power and influence which belong to riches and wealth
1e) power and resources arising from numbers
1f) power consisting in or resting upon armies, forces, hosts
For Synonyms see entry 5820

5059 terav teras ter'-as
of uncertain affinity; TDNT-8:113,1170; n n
AV-wonder 16; 16
1) a prodigy, portent
2) miracle: performed by any one

As was the case with the Old Testament, the overlap in both definition and usage for these Greek words indicates that they are virtually interchangeable and that there is really no functional distinction between a sign, a wonder, and a miracle.

Now that we know that signs, wonders, and miracles are all basically the same thing, we must answer the question, "What is the purpose or function of signs, wonders, and miracles?"

The initial hint comes from the definitions themselves. The final answer will come from our examination of the Biblical texts in which these terms occur.

In the above definitions, several key phrases give us a clue to the purpose of signs, wonders, and miracles. In those definitions we find such phrases as "a distinguishing mark," "to separate by distinguishing action," and "proof." And perhaps most telling is the definition "of miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God's." This is critical and it ties in with the very term "a sign." For the mention of "a sign" begs the question, "a sign of what?" In general, the answer is "a sign that the speaker or the message is from God and should, therefore, be adhered to."

Before we get into surveying the usage of these terms in the Bible, we should first take a few moments to discuss the proper relationship between faith and miracles. This relationship will then be demonstrated thoroughly as we continue with the survey.