«      »

In the Early Church How Often Did Christians Who Were Not Apostles Perform Miracles?

By Max Aplin

There are some Christians who claim that believers today should not expect to be used by God to heal miraculously or perform other miracles. Others are not quite so categorical, but still say that we should not expect Christians to work miracles more than very occasionally. (The Bible at times speaks of Christians working miracles and at other times of God working miracles using Christians. In both these ways of phrasing things the idea is obviously of God working miracles through the agency of Christians. I will use both types of phrasing in this article without any difference of meaning.)

In an earlier article entitled ‘God Wants To Do More Miracles Today’ I presented a general case for believing that it is God’s will for many Christians to perform miracles in our time. However, when I wrote that article, there was one commonly used argument against miracle-working today that I did not mention, but which I have since decided deserves some attention. This present article is an attempt to focus in on that argument and refute it.

The argument runs as follows: In the early church miracles were almost always performed by the apostles, and because there are no apostles today, Christians should not expect to be used by God to work miracles, except perhaps very occasionally.

I am sure that this line of argument does not hold water. Here is my attempt to refute it:

Whether the ministry of apostle is one that continues through the church age is actually debated in Christian circles. It seems reasonable to believe that there are no apostles today who have anything like the same level of apostolic authority as the first century apostles.

Whether there are apostles today in a weaker sense is another matter, and one that I personally am not completely clear about, although I do think that Scripture most naturally suggests that the apostolic ministry ceased in the first century. If it is true that there are no apostles today, this would mean that if miracles were basically an apostolic thing in the early church, we might well not expect more than a very few miracles to be performed by Christians today.

We therefore need to ask whether it really is true that almost all the miracles that occurred in the early church were performed by the apostles.

Before trying to answer this question, we need to spend a moment considering exactly what we mean by an apostle of the early church.

Different New Testament authors actually use the term in different ways. Luke usually uses it to refer to the 12, although in Acts 14:4, 14 he exceptionally refers to Paul and Barnabas as apostles. Paul, however, always uses the term more broadly to refer to more than just the 12. For example, he frequently refers to himself as an apostle; in 1 Cor 15:5, 7, referring to a time when he was not yet an apostle, he distinguishes ‘the twelve’ from ‘all the apostles’, thus implying that there were more than 12 apostles at that time; and in Gal 1:19 he includes James the brother of the Lord as an apostle.

When Paul refers to the apostles, he seems to be including all those who were commissioned for ministry by the risen Jesus, as well as himself, although he didn’t actually receive his own commission until after Jesus’ ascension. We know the names of at least 17 apostles of this type, although there will have been more.

Paul’s definition of what we mean by an apostle seems to have been the more common one in the early church, and it is the one I will use in this article (except in quotations from Acts, where ‘apostles’ will usually refer to the 12).

There is no question that the first apostles were used by God to work a lot of miracles. In Acts 2:43 we are told that in the period immediately after the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost ‘many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles’. Similarly, in 5:12 we read that ‘through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people’. Acts also gives examples of miracles happening specifically through the ministries of Peter, John, Paul and Barnabas. Paul’s miracle work is also referred to on several occasions in his letters. And Heb 2:4, although not explicitly mentioning the apostles, implies that they performed miracles. Miracle working, then, was certainly something that the apostles were heavily involved in.

One important passage is 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul, referring to his earlier ministry at Corinth, says: ‘The signs of an apostle were performed among you in all endurance, in signs and wonders and miracles.’ Interpreting the Greek is not entirely straightforward, but it is highly likely that he is saying here that performing miracles is a major distinguishing feature of apostles.

At first glance, Paul’s words in this verse might seem to suggest that only apostles worked miracles. However, what he actually seems to mean is just that every apostle performed a significant number of miracles, without any implication about how often non-apostles performed miracles.

He must mean something like this for the simple reason that Paul himself bears powerful witness to the fact that non-apostles performed miracles in the early church. A matter of months before writing 2 Cor 12:12, he wrote 1 Cor 12, where this subject is discussed. (1 Cor 12 is unusual in distinguishing healing from miracles; usually in the Bible the term ‘miracles’ includes healings.)

It is abundantly clear in this chapter that gifts of performing miracles and healing were given to non-apostles. In vv. 9-10 Paul speaks of one person in the church being given gifts of healings, and another a gift of miracle-working, with no suggestion whatever that only apostles are the recipients. Vv. 28-30 are even clearer. In these verses Paul distinguishes apostles from Christians with other gifts including healing and miracle-working. While this of course does not imply that apostles did not have some of these other gifts or that non-apostles never fell into more than one of the categories he mentions, it is clear that Paul is envisaging many healers and miracle workers who are not apostles. 1 Cor 12 by itself therefore disproves the idea that in the early church almost all miracle working was done by the apostles.

Galatians 3:5 backs this up. In this verse Paul asks the Galatians: ‘Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the deeds of the Law or by the hearing of faith?’ where the implied correct answer is ‘by the hearing of faith’.

The first point to note about this verse is that the miracles Paul has in mind are very probably ones that involve God using a human agent. Only on a few occasions in the New Testament does God perform miracles without a human agent, and there is no suggestion that there is no agent in view here. The fact that the miracles in question are said to be by the hearing of faith makes it even more likely that the miracles Paul has in mind involve a human agent.

Second, we must note that Paul says that God ‘works miracles’, not ‘worked miracles’. It is therefore not possible to take Paul’s words simply as a reference to miracles performed by him when he was with them in the past.

Third, there is nothing in the text to suggest that the miracles in question are performed only through the agency of some other apostles who visit the Galatians. It is far more natural to understand the Galatians themselves to be God’s agents.

Galatians 3:5, then, supports the view that in the early church miracles were often performed by non-apostles as well as apostles.

I could probably rest my case at this point, but there is much more evidence that points in the same direction:

(1) Acts tells us that Stephen and Philip the evangelist (not to be confused with the Philip who was one of the 12), performed miracles. We have no reason to believe that either of these men was an apostle.

Acts 6:8 says that Stephen ‘performed great wonders and signs among the people’. The Greek verb translated ‘performed’, epoiei, is in the imperfect tense, showing that Stephen’s performance of miracles was an ongoing one for a time.

Acts 8:6-13 tells us that Philip performed signs and miracles when he was in Samaria, including healing many sick and demonised people.

There are some who believe that the miracles Stephen and Philip performed were somehow apostolic miracles by proxy, because, when they were first commissioned, they (and five others) had had hands laid on them by the apostles (Acts 6:5-6).

This is a very dubious conclusion to draw, however. We can note that in Acts 13:1-3 ‘prophets and teachers’ (no apostles are mentioned) actually lay hands on the apostles Paul and Barnabas to commission them for their impending mission. Obviously we would not say that the miracles Paul and Barnabas went on to perform in chs. 13-14 were somehow non-apostolic miracles by proxy!

Just as we should see Paul’s and Barnabas’ miracles as their own despite the fact that they had had hands laid on them by others, so it makes sense to see Stephen’s and Philip’s miracles as their own despite the fact that the apostles had laid hands on them.

(2) In Acts 9:10-19 we hear of Ananias, a Christian ‘disciple’ who laid hands on Paul, as a result of which Paul’s blindness was healed (and he was filled with the Holy Spirit). There is no reason to believe that Ananias was an apostle.

(3) During His time on earth Jesus sent out the 12 to do ministry that included performing healing miracles (Matt 10:1, 7-11; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). But he also sent out the 70 (or 72) to do likewise (Luke 10:1, 9), and most of these surely never became apostles. Because both apostles and non-apostles were significantly involved in miracle work in an evangelistic context during Jesus’ earthly ministry, all other things being equal we would expect both groups of Christians to have been involved in similar miracle work in the early church too.

It is true that the impression we gain from Acts is that in the first 30 years of the church the apostles performed a majority, perhaps a large majority, of the miracle work that took place in an evangelistic setting, and there is no reason to believe that this impression is misleading.

Nevertheless, we have seen that the ministries of Stephen and Philip were exceptions to this. And we must bear in mind too that most of what happened in the early church has not been recorded. To argue from silence, therefore, that Stephen and Philip were the only non-apostles who performed miracles in evangelism, or that only very rarely did other non-apostles do this, is to stand on shaky ground.

(4) There is no doubt that in the early church many non-apostles had the ability to prophesy (Acts 2:17; 11:28 and 21:10-11 (probably not an apostle); 19:6; 21:9; 1 Cor 11:4-5; 12:10, 28-29; 14:1-40; Eph 2:20; 3:5, etc.). If prophecy is on balance a greater gift than miracle gifts (including healing), as 1 Cor 12:28 and 14:1 clearly imply, then we would expect the lesser gifts also to have been frequently practised by non-apostles.

(5) Similar to the previous point, Joel’s prophecy of God’s Spirit being poured out on all Christians (Joel 2:28-32, cited by Peter in Acts 2:16-21) makes better sense if miracle work in the early church was performed widely by non-apostles as well as apostles.

(6) In John 14:12 we find Jesus asserting: ‘Truly, truly, I tell you, the person who believes in Me, the deeds that I do, he will do also, and greater deeds he will do, because I go to the Father.’

Although interpreting this verse is not straightforward, and it would be taking it too literally to say that it means that every Christian should be able to perform miracles, it most naturally suggests that in the early church Christians other than apostles were often able to perform miracles.

(7) In James 5:14-16 elders generally are instructed to be involved in miracle healing work. Obviously most of these elders would not be apostles.

When the biblical evidence is set out, it becomes clear that in the early church many Christians who were not apostles were used by God to perform miracles, including healing and expelling demons. The claim that almost all the miracles were performed by the apostles is simply not a reasonable one.

There would be even more support for this conclusion if we were to include evidence from Mark 16:17-18, which tells us that those who believe in Christ will expel demons and lay hands on the sick for healing. Mark 16:9-20 is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Mark that we possess, however, and, to cut a long story short, we are probably best not to regard this passage as Scripture. Yet even without it, the evidence that many non-apostles performed miracles in the early church is overwhelming.

Even if, then, there are no apostles today of any kind (as the most natural reading of Scripture would seem to suggest), the absence of apostles would be no good reason for claiming that God does not want to use many Christians to work miracles in our day.

I refer readers to my previous article for positive reasons to support the view that Christians should be involved in miracle work at the present time. God is doing miracles today and wants His children to be involved in this work. Let us heed His voice.

I have been a Christian for over 25 years. I have a Ph.D. in New Testament Language, Literature and Theology from the University of Edinburgh. I am a UK national and I currently live in the south of Scotland.

Article Source: http://www.faithwriters.comCHRISTIAN WRITER

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Stay Up to Date with TheHolyStory News!
    Get Your TheHolyStory News here!
    * indicates required
  • Categories
  • Search the Net from here!
    Custom Search
WP Flex by WP Queen
Wordpress theme developed by Simpler Computing and others - Wordpress and WPMU Plugins, custom code and more.