I received a question today about the existence of miracles and prophecy today. Always a fun topic. Here’s my answer.
This is going to be kind of long, but it’s a little bit of a complicated question. Such issues often rise from a whole host of wrong ideas. To effectively answer such issues, you have to do some work to see what Scripture really says about these things. There’s no place in the Bible that says that these gifts will always be in the church, or that they definitely cease at a certain time. But by seeing what the Bible says that prophecy is and how to tell legitimate miracles from fake ones, we can see whether ‘miracles’ today fit the Biblical definition. Also, as we see what miracles were used for in the Scripture, we can see whether or not we should expect to see them today.
Prophecy occurs when someone has a message from God to give to other people. This message can involve predictions of the future, but they don’t need to. Anytime someone comes claiming to have the word of God, that person is claiming to be a prophet. In this sense, every time a Christian witnesses about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that person is acting as a prophet. We all have the Bible, and the Bible is the word of God. So I don’t have to have dreams or visions to be a prophet.
What you’re talking about, though, is making predictions about the future. I’ll lump that together with miraculous healings and speaking in tongues, and deal with it all together as “miracles”.
In the Bible, miracles do not occur uniformly. Many great men of the Bible have no recorded miracles. David worked no miracles. Abraham worked no miracles. Noah worked no miracles. In fact, what you see is three periods in the Bible when a lot of miracles occur: First, in the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt; Second, in the time of Elijah and Elisha and the beginning of the great Prophetic era; and third, the coming of Jesus and founding of the early church. In each case, the miracles were given to accompany a new giving of the word- first the Law of Moses, then the prophecies of the major and minor prophets (the history books, and the books of Isaiah through Malachi), and finally the New Testament and the Gospel of Jesus. Miracles have never occurred constantly and willy-nilly- just for the fun of it. Miracles occur to confirm the word of God. But we have the word of God complete now and it confirms itself, so there is no more need for miracles.
Even though Jesus worked many miracles, He said it was a “wicked and perverse generation” that looks for miracles (Matthew 16:1-4). In another place, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), the rich man claims that he would have believed, and his brothers would believe, if only a miracle occurred. Abraham responds that they “have Moses and the prophets” (that is, they have the Bible). And if they do not believe because of the Bible, then they will not believe even if they see a miracle.
Therefore, miracles are given to confirm the word of God, but we should not look for them. Faith in the teaching of the Bible is what will save us, and if we do not believe in the Bible, then miracles won’t change anything. This includes healings, tongues and telling the future.
About the actual practice of future-telling: frequently, prophecy as it’s practiced in the church today is about the same as a fortune-cookie- you will find true love, God wants us to send missionaries to Africa, etc. Vague prophecies like that are no better than parlor tricks, and no evidence of a miracle. Any palm-reader can make vague generalizations about the future. Prophecy in the Bible was in very specific terms, naming people who would do things sometimes hundreds of years in the future, sometimes very shortly. Deuteronomy 28:20-22 says that if a man comes claiming to be a prophet, and made a prediction that didn’t happen, that they were to put that man to death because he wasn’t a real prophet. So ask your friends- do their prophecies make specific predictions about things to come and do those things happen 100% of the time? If not, it’s not real prophecy. (You don’t need to stone them, though!) The people who believe in prophecy have been making predictions about when Jesus was going to come back for a couple of hundred years now, and they’re always wrong, but they keep doing it, and their churches never get wise that they are not real prophets.
Also, Deuteronomy 13:1 says that men will come to the people of God, doing signs and wonders, and saying “Let us follow after other gods”. God says that He sent such men to the people to test them, to see if they will really follow Him or not. This means that if a man comes doing miracles then the people of God are also required to test the doctrine of the miracle worker. Is he teaching the truth about God? If not, it doesn’t matter what signs and wonders he does.
So, there is a twofold test. One, is the miracle real? Does the prophecy actually occur? And two, is the man’s doctrine true to Scripture? If the man fails either of these tests, then he is a fraud and a charlatan. On this basis, pretty much all of the miracle working that occurs today is not authentic.
Why do healers today do their healings in tent meetings and TV studios, in controlled environments? If they were healing like the Apostles healed, they’d be doing it in hospitals and shopping malls. Miracle working today looks the same as a magic show, and has as much reality.
About the passages you referred to specifically- Joel 2:28 is a prophecy about Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples after Jesus went back to heaven, and they performed many miraculous signs. In fact, Acts 2:16-17 (the other passage you gave me) specifically says that Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy in Joel. That prophecy has already been fulfilled, so we don’t need to look for it to be fulfilled today. 1 Cor 12:10 talks about the different kinds of gifts that people are given, both supernatural gifts and more natural gifts such as teaching, administration and so forth. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether we should expect to see those gifts today. They existed at the time, and Paul was telling them how to understand what those gifts were for and how they should be used. And note that in that section in 1 Corinthians, in 1 Cor 14, Paul says that prophecy, understood as teaching doctrine, not as telling the future, was better than miraculous signs, and that above all in church we should value teaching, and that everything is done in an orderly fashion. I haven’t been to too many Charismatic or Pentecostal churches that could be described as ‘orderly’, or that put a high value on teaching doctrine.
There’s a lot more that could be said on the subject, but hopefully this will get you started.
UPDATE: Rusty has a related post on New Covenant today.