The word miracle is used in many different ways. Newspaper headlines, for example, called it a miracle when the Boston Red Sox stunned the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.
Disney gave the title Miracle to a movie based on the true story of Herb Brooks, a player-turned-coach who led an underdog 1980 US Olympic hockey team to victory over a much stronger Soviet team.
Then there was the tragic story of the 2006 Sago mining accident in West Virginia. An explosion had collapsed a coal mine and trapped 13 miners. A report of a miracle rescue caused a premature celebration when a misunderstood communication indicated that all the trapped miners were alive. Later, however, the newspapers still talked about the miracle rescue and recovery of sole survivor Randal McCloy.
Although these examples fit one of the definitions of a miracle—an outstanding or unusual event, thing, or achievement—none of them describe the kind of miracles recorded in the Bible. Look at how the New Testament gospel of Luke describes the miracles of Jesus:
He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all (6:17-19).
According to Luke, people came great distances to hear Jesus and be healed by Him. The sick and disabled, believing that healing power flowed through Him, strained just to touch Him. He gave sight to blind eyes, restored withered limbs, and caused the deaf to hear.
Those who were cured didn’t know how Jesus healed them, but they didn’t hesitate to spread the word of what His healing touch had done for them. For three years the crowds followed Him asking for and watching Him perform miracles.
Even after 2,000 years there is controversy about Jesus’ miracles. While hundreds of millions stake their lives on the truth of the Gospels, others are not sure that the New Testament should be taken at face value—especially the miracles.
Let’s look at three important questions about the miracles of Jesus: (1) What kind of miracles did Jesus do? (2) Why did Jesus’ miracles create controversy? and (3) Why did Jesus do miracles?
How Does the Bible Use the Term Miracle?
The New Testament uses three words to describe a miracle: sign, wonder, and power.
Sign (Greek: semeion). The New Testament word for sign means a visible evidence of the supernatural working of God (matthew 12:38-39; john 2:11; 11:47; acts 5:12; 8:13; romans 15:19).
The use of signs to confirm the work of God has roots in the Old Testament. Genuine messengers of God were to be distinguished from false ones by the miracles that accompanied their message (see deuteronomy 18:15-22).
Because of this heritage, a first-century Jewish audience used miracles as a means of testing the claims of a supposed prophet. In this context, Jesus’ miracles served as an indication that He truly was a messenger from God.
Wonder (Greek: teras). Another New Testament word associated with miracles is teras, translated “wonder.” This refers to the astonishment a miraculous event generated in witnesses.
The Gospel records declare that in the presence of many witnesses, Jesus restored damaged or missing tissue in human bodies and even brought the dead back to life. The impact on those who watched was one of wonder (mark 2:9-12; acts 4:30; 5:12).
Power (Greek: dunamis). A third term used to describe a miracle is dunamis, the Greek word for power. When used in reference to miracles, power is the divine energy that produces them. The New Testament uses this word when describing the “mighty works” performed by Jesus and His apostles (matthew 11:20-21; 13:54; acts 19:11).
Within the wider scope of the Bible, God’s power created and sustains the laws of nature (see psalm 19:1; acts 14:15; hebrews 11:3). But at important moments in history, He uses His power to alter natural laws. To confuse the wonders of nature with miracles is to misunderstand why signs are rare and carefully placed events in history.
The fact that miracles are exceptions to natural laws is what makes them so important. These supernatural events point to a Person great enough to have created the cosmos and free enough to suspend His own natural laws when it serves His purposes.
With these biblical terms in view, we can offer the following definition of miracle: The expression of God’s supernatural power by altering natural laws to endorse God’s messenger and advance His purposes, bringing wonder to those who see it.