Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Questions About Biblical Miracles (Part 3): When Jesus said believers will do the works He did, and even greater works (John 14:12), would this not indicate miracle-working today?

Any interpretation of a scripture which involves an absurdity or an impossibility must be false. Among the many other miraculous works Jesus performed, He turned water into wine (John 4:46), fed multitudes with little food (Matt. 14:15-21), calmed storms (Matt. 8:26), walked on water (John 6:19), restored maimed and severed body parts (Mark 3:1-5; Luke 22:50-51), and raised the dead (John 12:1). No one on earth today (despite a number of exaggerated claims) can genuinely reproduce these amazing miraculous feats, much less even greater ones! To understand what Jesus meant by His statement in John 14:12, should we not first consider the context?

The Lord was with His apostles when He instituted the Lord’s supper (Luke 22:14 ff.) and therefore was speaking directly to the apostles in chapters 13, 14, 15, and 16 of John’s Gospel. The statement in John 14:12 was directed to the apostle Philip, who apparently, like the others, was struggling at the time with his beliefs (vv. 8-12). The apostles did go on to do similar miraculous works to what Jesus had done (Acts 2:43; 5:12; etc.), but there is no record of them performing greater miracles than He did. What, then, were the “greater works” of which the Lord spoke? 

The second occurrence of the term “works” in John 14:12 was not in the original text but was supplied by the English translators. Jesus actually said to the apostles, “greater [things] than these he will do.” To what would this have reference? For one thing, the ministry of Jesus was limited primarily to Judea and Galilee, but the ministry of the apostles was to extend throughout the world (Acts 1:8). Jesus did not publicly proclaim His death, burial and resurrection, but the apostles did (Acts 2:14-24). During His earthly ministry the Lord brought no one into His spiritual kingdom, but the apostles did (Matt. 16:18-19; Mark 9:1). Christ baptized no one into His death, burial and resurrection or in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the apostles did (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 6:3-5). In a general sense we can also do these “greater [things],” but there is no one living on earth today who can do the same (much less greater) miracles than those performed by our Lord.

-- Kevin L. Moore

*Originally appearing in The Exhorter (April-June 1998).

Addendum“Jesus performed miracles but didn’t advertise them. We advertise them but don’t perform them” (Vance Havner).

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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Questions About Biblical Miracles (Part 2): Since the Lord obviously performed miracles in the past, and He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), should we expect miracles today?

The statement in Hebrews 13:8 emphasizes the Lord’s consistent nature, but has nothing to do with the particular ways He has chosen to carry out His overall purpose. Even if God happens to change His mind (e.g. Gen. 6:6-8; 18:20-32; Num. 16:20-24), this does not affect the consistency of His nature. The divine will has been communicated to man in different ways throughout history (Heb. 1:1-2), but the Lord remains the same. At one time God required animal sacrifices, Sabbath observance, a priesthood of Levi’s descendants, circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, etc., but He subsequently changed all these things (Heb. 7:12; 8:6-13). God created the universe in six days (Gen. 2:1-2), but He is not currently continuing that activity. God made the first human beings supernaturally (Gen. 2:7, 22), but no one today is being formed directly from dust or a rib. The point is, God worked miracles in the first century AD in order to communicate and confirm His will during a time when the Bible was not yet complete in its written form. But once God’s written word had been finished, these miracles had served their purpose and were no longer needed (cf. John 20:30-31). 

-- Kevin L. Moore

*Originally appearing in The Exhorter (April-June 1998). The current article published 19 August 2020.

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Questions About Biblical Miracles (Part 1): Does Mark 16:17-18 indicate that miraculous gifts are for all baptized believers?

The first consideration is the historical context of this statement. Even if these miraculous abilities were promised to everyone who believes, they were imparted through the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18) and were limited to the first-century church (1 Cor. 13:8-13). Moreover, no Christian possessed all the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28-30) except maybe the specially-chosen apostles (cf. Matt. 10:1; 2 Cor. 12:12). But when the entire context of this passage is considered, it doesn’t necessarily say what many have assumed. 

Notice in Mark 16:10-20 the frequent use of plural pronouns (“those,” “they,” “them,” “their”) in reference to the apostles. They did not believe and Jesus rebuked their unbelief. In giving the Great Commission (vv. 15-16) Jesus changed to the singular pronoun “he” to refer to the recipient of the gospel, but then changed back to the plural in referring to the unbelieving apostles. Christ promised the apostles that if they believed, miraculous signs would follow them (cf. Matt. 17:20). The last two verses of Mark 16 show that this promise was fulfilled in them: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs. Amen” (emp. added; cf. Acts 1:1-8; 2:4-8, 43; 3:1-8; 5:12; 16:16-18; 28:3-9; et al.).

-- Kevin L. Moore

*Originally appearing in The Exhorter (April-June 1998).

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Tuesday, 4 August 2020

First Impressions: When Paul Met the Two Philips …

There are two principal characters in the NT by the name of Philip: the apostle Philip and the evangelist Philip.1 The first meeting of Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Paul the apostle) with each of these men would have been most intriguing. 

At the beginning of the Christian movement Paul, originally from Tarsus of Cilicia on the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and the apostle Philip, from Bethsaida on the northeastern coast of the Sea of Galilee, were both living in Jerusalem (John 1:44; Acts 1:12-13; 7:58; 22:3). It is unlikely, however, they were personally acquainted at the time. 

Whether or not Paul was an official member of the Sanhedrin is debated, though he was certainly associated with this body of adjudicators and a pupil of one of its leading members (Acts 5:34; 22:3; 26:10). Philip and his apostolic colleagues were confronted by these Jewish authorities, arrested, interrogated, beaten, and given strict orders to no longer speak in the name of Jesus, a mandate they could not obey in deference to the greater authority of God (Acts 5:17-42). 

As hostilities continued to escalate in the Jewish capital, seven men were appointed to coordinate the church’s benevolent ministry, one of whom was also named Philip (Acts 6:1-6). He and his coworkers are not specifically called “deacons,” although the noun diakonía (“service,” “ministry”) and verbal diakonéō (“serve”) are used to describe their work (vv. 1-2). The apostles prayed and laid hands on these men, at least two of whom (Stephen and Philip) went on to publicly proclaim the gospel with confirming miraculous signs (v. 8; 8:5-6). Thus Philip is later referred to as “the evangelist” (Acts 21:8).2

When Paul Met Philip the Apostle

As a relatively “young man” (Acts 7:58), Paul participated in a fierce persecution against the Jerusalem church, forcing believers to flee except the apostles (Acts 8:1). Seeing that Ananias in far-away Syria was aware of Paul and his brutal exploits, Philip and his fellow apostles in Jerusalem almost certainly were as well (Acts 9:13, 26). 

About three years after Paul had departed from Jerusalem to extend his vicious campaign, he returned (Gal. 1:18). Even though he had been converted to Christ in the meantime, the local disciples were understandably apprehensive and skeptical (Acts 9:26-27). Since he had been responsible for the maltreatment and deaths of a number of their brethren,3 it would be natural to expect some degree of lingering animosity.

This is the setting where Paul first met the twelve apostles, notwithstanding potential encounters or reports via the Sanhedrin. Compared to the time spent with Peter and the Lord’s brother James (Gal. 1:18-19), Paul’s first meeting with Philip and the other apostles would have been fairly brief.4 Was it tense? Awkward? Joyous? We don't know. But thanks to Barnabas’ positive intervention (Acts 9:27), Paul gained the trust and respect of his apostolic brothers.5

When Paul Met Philip the Evangelist

Not long after Paul met the apostle Philip, he would have had the opportunity to meet the other Philip. The evangelist Philip and his family were living in the coastal city of Caesarea at the time (Acts 8:40; 21:8-9), having been forced to relocate after Paul had participated in the murder of Philip’s coworker Stephen and then violently drove disciples out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-5; 11:19; 19:20). Now that Paul himself was a Christian, Hellenistic Jews were attempting to kill him, so the brethren escorted him from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 8:29-30). The Acts narrative does not say how long Paul stayed in the port city awaiting his voyage to Tarsus, or what he did or with whom he made contact. 

It is reasonable to suspect that Paul may have encountered the evangelist Philip on this occasion, seeing that Paul customarily visited with fellow Christians whenever he passed through communities where they lived (Acts 9:26-28; 15:3, 36, 41; 16:4-6; 18:22, 23; 20:2-17; 21:3-8, 16-17; 27:3; 28:14-15) and later enjoyed hospitality in Philip’s home (Acts 21:8-10; cf. 18:22). What would this first meeting have been like? Tense? Awkward? Joyous? We don’t know. But we do know, thanks to the backing of the Jerusalem saints, brotherhood triumphed over enmity.

Learning Opportunities

When Paul met Philip and Philip, he would have learned something about Christ-like love. Philip the apostle had been taught by the Lord, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus further instructed to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you …” (Matt. 28:19-20). The same directives were then passed on to Philip the evangelist (Acts 2:42-44; 4:31-35; 6:2-5). Years later Paul affirmed that love is not “resentful” (ESV), i.e., it “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (NASB), or “keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV) (1 Cor. 13:5d). Paul had personally experienced “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19) when he first met the two Philips.

As a mature Christian Paul believed in and taught the importance of forgiveness, from God through Christ (Eph. 1:7; 2:8; Col. 1:14) and toward one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Jesus had prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors (Luke 23:34), and Paul, as a persecutor himself (Acts 9:4), had heard one of the Lord’s disciples make the same request (Acts 7:60). Because of his sinful past, Paul felt somewhat inferior to the other apostles and saints (1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8). But he experienced divine forgiveness when his sins were washed away at baptism (Acts 22:16) and brotherly forgiveness when he met the two Philips. 

Although Paul felt compelled to share his faith immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20), it was necessary for him to go through a period of maturing, training, and preparation (approx. 11 years) before he was ready to be a full-time missionary (Acts 13:2). This included the mentorship of older, experienced Christians like Ananias, Barnabas, Peter, and James. But let’s not overlook the important contribution of the two Philips. Prior to meeting Paul, the apostle Philip had been faithfully serving the Lord as a disciple, discipler, and church leader (Matt. 10:1-25; Acts 2:14; 1 Cor. 15:5-9). The evangelist Philip was also a seasoned veteran of the Lord’s work (Acts 6:3–8:40). These men would have been worthy role models for the one now remembered for his invaluable service as an apostle and evangelist. 

Long before Paul wrote about imitating the affection, humility, selflessness, and suffering of Christ (Phil. 2:1-8), he had already observed these qualities in Philip and Philip. These men, having devoted their lives to preaching and defending the gospel, practiced the message they preached and defended, while exemplifying Christ in their daily walk. 


We learn from Philip the apostle and Philip the evangelist how important a first impression can be. As a follower of Christ, what impressions am I making on those who observe my behavior, hear me speak, and/or read my social media posts? How do my words and actions impact those younger in the faith and those outside the church? Do I harbor animosity, or epitomize a loving spirit? Do I forgive as I have been forgiven? Am I more concerned about souls than I am voicing my sociopolitical opinions? Am I contributing to the division of the Lord’s body, or promoting unity? Am I driving potential converts further from the Lord, or drawing them closer? We never get a second chance to make a first impression, and first impressions have long-lasting effects.

I wonder if Paul had the two Philips in mind when he wrote, “… pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:22b-26).

Let us be grateful for brethren like Philip and Philip, who demonstrate how disciples of Jesus are to live in a dark world amidst human imperfection.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 In addition to the apostle Philip (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:43-48; 6:5-7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9; Acts 1:13) and the evangelist Philip (Acts 6:5; 8:5-40; 21:8-9), we also read of Philip, the half-brother of Herod Antipas (Matt. 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:1, 19).
     2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the ESV.
     3 Paul’s violent campaign against the Jewish church targeted both men and women (Acts 8:3; 9:2; 22:4), involving threats, arrests, imprisonment, forced blasphemies, beatings, and death (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2, 13, 21; 22:4-5, 19; 26:9-11).
     4 See K. L. Moore, “Harmonizing Luke and Paul (Part 1),” <Link>, and “Part 2, <Link>. 
     5 Later encounters may have included Acts 11:29-30; 12:25, and certainly Acts 15:2-4; Gal. 2:1-10. See K. L. Moore, “Paul’s Apostleship,” <Link>.

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