Signs and wonders


  • Question 114: From LJ, USA

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    Dear freelance theology: I see the use of the term(s) “signs and wonders” numerous times in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels signifying Jesus’ ministry. In my reading of Christian books, I cannot seem to find a description or definition of exactly what “signs and wonders” are. I see where “wonders” could mean the miracles themselves that Jesus performed, but what is a “sign” that Jesus would have used and what is its significance? Can you help me out, please.

    There are several Greek words used for miracles in the New Testament. Words like dunameis (powerful act) or teraton (literally ‘wonders’) are frequently used, as well as the word semeia meaning ‘signs’.

    Generally the attitude of the gospel writers is that miracles testify to the truth of Christianity. In Romans chapter 15, verse 19, Paul links his performance of miracles with the conversion of gentile believers. When Jesus is asked by John the Baptist’s followers whether he is the messiah, he instructs them to: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised…” (Luke chapter 7, verse 22). The miracles are the ‘proof’ as it were of Jesus’ messiah-ship.

    As such, the miracles were also ‘signs’ to those who had the ability to see deeper. This is drawn out explicitly in the fourth gospel, where the author doesn’t include the huge number of miracles attested to in the Synoptic gospels, but those miracles that are included are referred to as a ‘signs’.

    There is a large amount of symbolism at work, so for example the healing of a man born blind in John chapter 9 is contrasted with the ‘spiritual blindness’ of the Pharisees. The miraculous provision of wine at the wedding in Cana (John chapter 2) contains a huge amount of theological symbolism, not least in the use of water that was intended for Jewish purification rites being transformed.

    The ‘sign’ then is the deeper meaning of a reported miracle, either in attesting to who Jesus really is, or making some kind of theological point.

    Thanks for your question, LJ.

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