I’ve some friends who know the “signs and wonders” movement pretty well. We’ve seen the backstage planning of a “miracle” crusade, the selection of those to be healed, the bravado in the green rooms, the falsified twitter feeds, the manipulation of youthful naïveté, and even the post event cash-money exchanges behind hotel doors in some destitute third world nation… smoke and mirrors… all of it.
So, it poses the question, is this form of miracle-manipulation part of biblical history? Well, Acts 8 indicates it was:
When Simon saw how the Spirit was given through the apostles’ laying their hands upon people he offered them money with the words, “Give me this power too, so that if I were to put my hands on anyone he could receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “To hell with you and your money! How dare you think you could buy the gift of God! You can have no share or place in this ministry, for your heart is not honest before God. All you can do now is to repent of this wickedness of yours and pray earnestly to God that the evil intention of your heart may be forgiven. For I can see inside you, and I see a man bitter with jealousy and bound with his own sin! [Acts 8:18-23]
Once we realize miracle manipulation was part of biblical history a subsequent question asks if extra biblical revelation and miracle manipulation was part of church history? Again the answer is affirmative. Miracle manipulation has always been around. In fact, dating back to A.D. 156 one can research the assault on orthodox Christianity by a charlatan named Montanus. Montanus came from Asia Minor along with two “prophetesses” named Prisca and Maximilla. His sect of followers insisted that opposition to their versions of prophecy was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and caused many churches to split. Sound familiar?
Medieval charlatans in the church were also famous for evoking “miracles” to enhance their authority, even going so far as to prove their new doctrine of purgatory by “bringing people back” from the dead. Sir Keith Thomas a noted historian at Oxford writes, “The medieval Church thus found itself saddled with the tradition that the working of miracles was the most efficacious means of demonstrating its monopoly of truth.”
The renaissance humanist and Catholic priest Erasmus also spoke heavily against the forms of “ecclesiastical trickery” prevalent in his day. In his brief of stories titled The Repentant Girl he describes the nuns of a convent frightening new members with the appearance of a “ghost,” calling in the priest to “exorcise” a ghost who wasn’t there! He writes, “These are the ones of whom I speak, the ones who find joy in either hearing or telling monstrous lies and strange wonders. They never get enough of such stories, so long as prodigies are recounted, involving banshees, goblins, devils or the Iike.”
In more recent history, signs, wonders, and tongues, have been associated with change of brain state and psychological trauma. Studies have been done linking trance like states and xenoglossy, including possession by the Kalabari spirits of Zulu religion.
Because the falsifying of miracles doesn’t begin with modern day forgeries like Bethel Church and the N.A.R. (New Apostolic Reformation) and clearly runs the course of church history, it is important that we begin our assessment by defining what is considered a true miracle vs. what is considered a false miracle. Is a cloud of glitter dust really God’s work? Are falling feathers a sign? Does a dream come from God, a demon, or indigestion? Knowing the biblical definition of a miracle will provide us a foundation or litmus as we study the many egregious acts of historic charlatans and frauds.
For the sake of brevity and fairness let’s use a definition of miracles that could be accepted by a wide range of scholars and churchmen. Biblically speaking, a miracle is an observable phenomenon delivered powerfully by God directly or indirectly though an authorized agent (dynamis) whose extraordinary character captures the immediate attention of the viewer (teras), points to something beyond the phenomenon (semeion), and is a distinctive work whose source can be attributed to no one else but God (ergon). Regarding miracles, the Bible uses the word “sign” (Hebrew oth; Greek semeion), the word “wonder” (Hebrew mopeth; Greek teras), and “mighty work” (Hebrew gburah; Greek dynamis). Most have heard these terms conjoined as “signs and wonders” always used in context of inspiring awe and amazement that (God) or some(one) extraordinary is at work. A simple way of saying it would be a miracle is God suspending, or working counter to, natural laws and personally reaching into life to rearrange people and their circumstances according to his will.
The basis of this definition is that whether we consider a floating axe head (2 Kings 6:6) or water turned to wine (Jn 2:1-11), or a man crippled forty years suddenly jumping up and down (Acts 3), the events were clearly outside the normative laws of nature, including known science, and medicine. Note, this definition does not assert miracles themselves have ceased (a common misapplication by opponents of classic cessationism) but only that what qualifies as a biblical miracle is much more robust than often offered by Third Wave/N.A.R. and many charismatic proponents. Clearly this is not an attack on the supernatural but actually intended to strengthen respect for the supernatural because if we qualify everything as a miracle we ultimately limit the realization and wonder when a real miracle takes place.
Also, observe this definition doesn’t cross into deism – limiting God to “direct intervention” while assuming that his constant providential sustenance of the world is “indirect” or “hands off.” Sovereignty demands God’s eternal decree and continual providential work in, through, and unto His creation (Rom 11:36) meaning that even when He’s not conducting properly defined miracles, the “word of His power” is providentially guiding all things to His perfectly determined end. In essence, God works a miracle by “stilling” the sun in the sky and also works providentially by causing your tax refund to show up at just the right moment!
Based on this accepted definition of miracles, we must immediately admit that many, if not most, of the “miracles” done by modern healers or “prophets” are not really miracles at all. These men and women are not stopping the sun, walking upon water, turning water into wine, or even healing a lifelong ailment instantly. Even if they are infusing a “healing” it is simply God’s providential and precious timing based on prayer.
More importantly, the major defining characteristic of NT miracles was the authentication of the Gospel. Nicodemus acknowledged this to Jesus (John 3:2), the Jews said this about Jesus (Heb 2:4), the Samaritan woman said this about Jesus (John 4:29), the multitudes said this of Philip (Acts 8:6-8), the residents of Lydda and Sharon said this of Aeneas’ healing (Acts 9:35), the disciples practiced this (Matt 10:7-8, 9:35, Acts 8:13). True miracles always pointed to the message of Christ. Therefore if the glory of God and Good News of Christ aren’t clarified or enhanced by a supposedly extraordinary act, it isn’t a miracle of God. Consequently, if it’s not of God, then who is it from?
In summary, true miracles will be outside of (or in opposition to) the laws of nature and always authenticate clear Gospel teaching. Further, miracles need to be properly defined because miracle-manipulation was part of the early church, has existed throughout church history, and certainly creeps into many pockets of modern “name it claim it” theology. Knowing these truths force us to examine the “miracle” claims of Bill Johnson, Todd White, Benny Hinn, Heidi Baker, and groves of the N.A.R. movement along with the tactics and theology used to purvey these claims.
So, is the young drummer at your church really an N.A.R. apostle? Are grave sucking and glory clouds really miracles? Is the glitter from God? Is Beni Johnson really conversing with the angel Gabriel? Are churches like Bethel in Redding really a hub of God’s next great work on planet earth?
The bible provides an emphatic “no.” It’s just another hoax from the enemy.
 K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, London, 1971, p. 26. [Note: many scholars believe this is why John Calvin adopted a quasi non-miracle stance]
 H. H. Hudson, The Praise of Folly, Princeton N.J., 1970, p. 55.
 For more on controversial instances of tongues related to witchcraft and mediums see Craig S. Keener, Acts an Exegetical Commentary (vol. 1), Baker Academic, p. 817. [Note source material]
 Mundle, Hofius, and C. Brown, Miracle, Wonder, Sign,” NIDNTT 2:620-35 [An extensive article on NT vocabulary for miracles can be found]
 This is an aggregate definition coalesced from modern evangelical theologians i.e. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Baker Books, 1998, pp. 431-434. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pp. 355-375. John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, 2017, p. 217