Thursday, April 12, 2012
Paul's "signs and wonders" in Romans 15:19a
The message last Sunday was Fully preaching the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:14-19). I spent a good bit of time meditating on Paul’s reference to his apostolic use of “signs and wonders” and how this does not justify modern day continuationism. Here are some notes from the exposition of vv. 18b-19a:
Romans 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, 19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Paul says here that the winning of the Gentiles under his ministry came “by word and deed” (v. 18b). This is expanded in v. 19a, as Paul reflects on his apostolic ministry. The early church had extra-ordinary offices (apostles and prophets) that have now ceased. Now, we have ordinary offices (elders and deacons; cf. Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3).
Paul and the other apostles were both preachers (by word) and miracles workers (by deed). Paul convinced Gentiles, in particular, of the truth of the gospel by powerful preaching and “through mighty signs and wonders” (v. 19).
We find this is the pattern if we examine the ending of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus commissions the eleven (Mark 16:15) and then Mark records, “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (v. 20).
Note that the extraordinary signs in apostolic times were limited to these office bearers. Compare Acts 5:12: “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people….”
Acts certainly bear witness to the powerful way that God worked through Paul, in particular:
At Iconium Paul is stoned and left for dead but God raises him up (Acts 14).
At Philippi Paul commands an evil spirit “in the name of Jesus Christ” to depart from a young girl who has been manipulated by her handlers to serve as a soothsayer (Acts 16).
At Troas he raises Eutychus to life after he fell from the third floor of a building (Acts 20).
At Malta he survives a deadly snakebite after being shipwrecked and then successfully prays for the healing of the father of Publius, “the chief man of the island” (Acts 28).
This aspect of Paul’s ministry is especially summed up by this comment about his ministry in Ephesus: “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11).
To the Corinthians he could write, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Cor 12:12). Note well that these were “the signs of an apostle,” not of Christians generally.
This was a special or extra-ordinary gifting granted to the apostles before the completion of the NT canon, and it ceased when the last apostle died.
Even when the apostles had these powers many remained skeptics and gospel rejecters!
In 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul cites his opponents who have disparaged him, “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
In Jesus’ account (not a parable) of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, Father Abraham tells the Rich Man who has begged for someone miraculously to come back from the dead to warn his brothers, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
The age of the apostles has ended. We now have the Scriptures and the ordinary means of grace in reading, preaching, and teaching the Word.