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According to Paul and Jesus, the signs and wonders they performed attested to the authenticity of their callings:

12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. [2 Corinthians 12:11-12, ESV]

20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. [Luke 7:20-22, ESV]

However, in Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus seems to suggest otherwise -- that signs and wonders are not evidence of an authentic calling:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ [Matthew 7:21-23, ESV]

Are signs, wonders and miracles evidence of an authentic divine calling or not?


Related: Who/what is the source of the power behind the miracles, signs and wonders in Matthew 7:22?

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  • 1
    Your second quotation is not about the authentication of divine calling, generally, it is in regard to the authentic arrival of the Messiah, the one whom John was to preempt.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 7, 2021 at 8:32
  • Did I not proffer an answer to this question recently?
    – Dottard
    Nov 7, 2021 at 8:41
  • An extended analysis of this passage from a non cessationist perspective can be found here: samstorms.org/all-articles/post/2-corinthians-12:11-13:14
    – Jess
    Nov 8, 2021 at 2:56

4 Answers 4

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Your first text, 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 - This shows that when Christ's chosen apostles performed signs, wonders and miracles in the first century A.D., that could be taken as confirmation that they were called of God, as ambassadors for Christ. But it wasn't the signs, in themselves, that were the proof (see my answer further down) - they were confirmation.

Your second text, Luke 7:20-22 - This has nothing to do with evidence of an authentic, divine calling, because it was Jesus' response to John the Baptist's query about whether Jesus was the foretold Messiah or not. John the Baptist was in prison, his life under threat, and he had not seen any re-establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (as most Jews expected would literally happen, when Messiah came.) Jesus performed miracles for the messengers to report back to John with, that Messiah surely had come. John the Baptist himself is not recorded as having performed any miraculous signs or wonders yet he unarguably had a divine calling - to prepare the way for Messiah. Obviously, if Messiah performed no signs, wonders and miracles, that would show he was not the Messiah, given all the Old Testament prophecies about that, but what Jesus did there in response to John's concerns was to assure John that his ministry of preparation had not been in vain. Messiah was here! Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus" (Acts 19:4). As John knew his ministry was ending, he sought assurance from Jesus that his ministry had not been in vain, and Jesus assured him.

Your third text, Matthew 7:21-23 - This was in context of Jesus just having warned his followers about false prophets creeping in to deceive. Despite claiming to have performed signs, wonders and miracles, Jesus would disown them on the Day of Judgment, and cast them away. Jesus does not judge by outward appearances. He is not fooled by counterfeit signs. He made the simple point that false prophets have the bad 'fruit' of false prophecy. That is how Christians are to test their claims - not go by outwards signs or appearances. But the false prophets are most anxious never to draw attention to prophecies they made that turned out to be false - they point to the signs and wonders they claim to do.

So, the point Jesus made is that authenticity of a divine calling is for any prophecies uttered in Jesus' name to happen, as foretold. Never mind showy, entertaining performances those ones might do get people gasping in wonder. Check out their words. It is authentic ministry of the word that can save souls, not getting them to jump up in an auditorium, saying they feel 'healed'. Paul's ministry was to "reason with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:2-4). An authentic, divine ministry will speak words of truth about Christ, and the gospel, and that will bring forth the good 'fruit' of souls saved.

Please also note how the New Testament exposes even truthful statements that have demonic spirit powers at back of them - as with the girl who publicly acclaimed two apostles and their message - they cast that spirit of divination out of her.

The supreme evidence of an authentic, divine calling is proclamation of the authentic, biblical gospel. Note how Paul and Barnabas warned the citizens of Antioch that "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you, but seeing ye put if from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). The proclaiming of the true gospel is the vital evidence of those whom God has called. Especially in this day when so many false gospels are attracting millions! Indeed, Revelation warns of a particular 'false prophet' that will arise to mislead the whole world with miraculous signs and wonders. It also speaks of a global system designed to make people think this is "the lamb" of God, but when it speaks, it speaks as a dragon and deceives all who dwell on the earth by means of its signs (Revelation 13:11-14 & 16:13-14).

Conclusion of the Matter - The truth has to be spoken by authentic, divinely called ministers of Christ. That's the evidence - proclaiming gospel truth, unadulterated by man-made additions or subtractions - for it is the Spirit of Truth that fills them (John 16:13). But if people will not harken to gospel truth, neither will they be persuaded if miracles are performed. Those who seek signs and wonders will get them all right, but the spirit behind them will be demonic, especially as we approach Christ's sudden return. Not even that angel symbolically flying in mid-heaven, declaring the everlasting gospel, will be heeded. No call to fear God, to repent, and to worship him will cause sign-seekers to repent (Revelation 14:6-7). This means that the answer to your question is, "No - at best they can only ever be back-up, confirmation, of the divine calling to proclaim the truth of Christ."

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  • Great answer overall (+1). The only thing I would criticize is this: Paul's ministry was to "reason with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead", to which I would respond with 1 Cor 2:3-5: 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Nov 8, 2021 at 13:58
  • And Romans 15: 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience— by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God —so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; Nov 8, 2021 at 14:00
  • Up-voted. The 'demonstration of the Spirit and of power' was seen in the effect upon the Corinthian believers : their faith, their fruits, their character, their behaviour. This is powerful testimony indeed. Signs might follow this, but this is the heart of true religion, as saith James.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 8, 2021 at 15:39
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The true miracles that were performed in the first century AD, and in earlier times throughout the record of the OT were the proof to the people that the word / message the prophets & disciples brought to the people was really from God above. That was always the purpose of the miracles - to confirm and authenticate the message and its source (Acts 2:22).

In Matthew 7:22, Jesus was speaking of the claims of works done by those whom He did not know. This was an earlier answer from a question about good works, where the distinction was made that the works were not the saving power. We cannot earn our way into heaven by performing good works, or miracles. See answer here.

Jesus was telling them that the determining factor was that He never knew them, or IOW they had never been immersed into His death, burial, and resurrection according to the instructions given to the disciples all throughout the gospels and the book of Acts to believe and be "baptized" / immersed for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Because they had not obeyed that command, Jesus did not know them. All the "good" works they claimed to have done meant nothing outside of His passover saving grace.

So, just because they claimed to have prophesied and cast out demons does not mean they really did. Therefore, Matt 7:21-23 is not about confirming the message, nor about the miracles. It does not negate the authenticity or proof of the miracles.

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Signs and wonders can either be genuine or fake - see appendix below. There were periods in Paul's ministry where no signs and wonders were manifest, but he remained a true apostle.

Thus, signs and wonders (miracles) which are genuine, are evidence of a genuine divine calling, but clearly not essential.

However, no man ever converted anyone to Christ - that is always a miracle of the Holy Spirit on the individual's heart! Thus, it might be considered that an apostle that does nothing more than achieve a series of conversions and new disciples has actually participated in miracles (of the heart).

APPENDIX - Signs and Wonders in the Bible

The frequent Scriptural references to “signs and wonders” naturally fall into two obvious categories of the genuine and false. It is clear from Matt 12:38 & 39, 16:1-4, Luke 11:16, John 4:48, 6:26, 30, that the scribes and Pharisees had trouble distinguishing the two. See also 1 Cor 1:22, 14:22.

Genuine

The genuine signs and wonders attest their divine origin and serve to strengthen faith.

  • John 2:11, 3:2, 4:54, 6:2, 10:41, 20:30 are all references to Jesus’ miracles.
  • Acts 2:22, Mark 16:20 also refer to Jesus’ miracles.
  • Matt 10:8, Mark 16:17, 20, Acts 2:22, 43, 4:30, 5:12, 6:8, 8:6, 13, 14:3, 15:12, 19:11, Rom 15:18, 19, 2 Cor 12:12, Heb 2:4 speak of the signs and wonders accompanying the apostles’ ministry.
  • Ex 7:3, Num 14:11, Deut 6:22, 7:19, 10:21, 26:8, 29:3, 34:11, Neh 9:10, Job 5:8-11, Ps 105:27, 135:9, Isa 8:18, Jer 32:20, 21, Dan 6:27 recall the miracles done for ancient Israel, eg, to free them from Egypt.
  • Dan 4:2, 34 records Nebuchadnezzar’s hymn of praise for God’s signs and wonders.
  • In Luke 7:18-23, Jesus’ only answer to John the Baptist about Jesus’ identity (as Messiah) is to list His miracles: “the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are given the good tidings…”

False or Lying Signs and Wonders

Pseudo (false) signs and wonders are invariably produced in order to deceive the wicked.

  • Matt 24:24, Mark 13:22 predict false signs and wonders performed by false Christs and false prophets
  • 2 Thess 2:9 predicts the rise of the lawless one accompanied by false signs and wonders
  • Rev 16:14 predicts that demons will perform false signs and wonders
  • Rev 13:13, 14 19:20 predict that the great false prophet (third beast of the Beast Trinity) will perform false signs and wonders

It should be remembered that Deut 13:1-5 contains a stern warning about the veracity of signs and wonders to see if they are genuine. Similarly, Matt 24:24 contains Jesus’ warning not to base one’s faith purely on Signs and Wonders.

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    +1 How about that Jesus in John mentions more than one witness supporting him. He also includes all his works, not just miracles.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 7, 2021 at 13:20
  • 1
    @PerryWebb - good point - I agree, the only reason I did not include that was it did not mention signs wonders or miracles.
    – Dottard
    Nov 7, 2021 at 20:04
  • Good point that I missed.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 7, 2021 at 20:11
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John the Baptist never did any miracles (John 10:41). Yet, Jesus included him as a prophet by saying "all the prophets prophesied until John." (Matthew 1:13)

If the first canonical apostles, who were followers of Jesus, never did any miracles the New Testament could still be considered the reliable Word of God for us today. That's because a Christian evidential apologetic does not depend on miracles to confirm the authority of the apostolic Word. The authority to authorize Scripture flows from the promise of Jesus to guide his core disciples and bring to remembrance all that he taught (John 14:26).

Miracles are beneficial to confirm the faith, but are not necessary. And even today, In classical Christian theology, God is totally sovereign. If he so desires, God could withdraw his charismatic gifts and be a cessationist by hiding his tracks in, with and under the autonomy of nature. For all intensive purposes, God could function as an absentee landlord with blind, random chance being all that is observable in a phenomenological sense.

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