Does the Word Miracle mean the Same Thing Today as in Bible Times?

The subject of modern day miracles is a controversial one, to be sure. A subtle war is being held on several fronts between Christians who believe that God acts with overt miracles much as he did in Biblical days, and those who believe that – if God does any modern-day miracles – they are subtle ones intended for his purposes – not showy ones like the kind that prophets and apostles performed.

Signs and Wonders

The Miracles of scripture served a very specific purpose, related to the testimony of prophets. The benchmark for miraculous deeds was set by Moses. Asked by God to go and free his people from Pharaoh, Moses complained that no one would believe him. After this specific complaint, God gave Moses miraculous signs to perform in order to bear testimony that he spoke on behalf of God. Thereafter, practically every prophet of God did something miraculous in order to prove that they were speaking the words of the God of Abraham.

This was a principle well-understood by ancient peoples. Jesus, one may note, was asked on more than one occasion what sign he would give that he spoke the words of God. And in his day, Mohamed was asked for a sign that he was a prophet, and refused to give one.

Hence, for ancient peoples, Miracle was a word used to indicate a sign or wonder given by a prophet as proof they spoke for God. Frequently, the Miracles weren’t even particularly beneficial to the audience. Moses’ trick of turning his stick into a snake and vice-versa, had no purpose but to show he spoke for God. This as opposed to the parting of the Red Sea which both showed the power of God and became the penultimate event in the freeing of Israel from Egypt. Elijah’s trick of bringing on a drought and calling fire down from heaven did no one any good, but it definitely proved that there was a God in Israel.

Miracles as Blessings

The real difference came to pass in the days of Christ. No longer were miracles showy events meant more to impress than anything else – practically every miracle Christ performed was beneficial to the subject (with the possible exception of the cursing of the fig tree). In fact, when Mary insisted that Jesus do something about the wine situation at a party, Jesus chided her saying that his time had not yet come. Presumably he was saying that, since he had not begun his ministry yet, any miracles he performed would not serve the intended purpose of giving authority to his teachings.

Jesus freed people from demons, healed their illnesses, raised them from the dead and fed them when they were hungry.

After Jesus, the Apostles did the same: healing and casting out demons in order to show that they spoke on God’s behalf.

It is probably because of the nature of latter-day miracles that in the modern mind, a miracle is identical with a “blessing.” A person has a rapid recovery from a fatal illness, and it is praised as a miracle. A person is in a destitute situation, and they pray to God for a miracle. A person helps another in an unexpected way, and they are called a “miracle worker.”

Given his providence in human affairs, God is undoubtedly involved in these blessed and fortunate events, but it is difficult to argue that these are supernatural acts of God directly intervening in natural processes – and not God using natural processes in order to bring about some kind of blessing.

By the ancient definition the curses of God on the Egyptians as well as Jesus’ cursing of the Fig Tree were, by their definition, “miraculous.” They were also less than joyous and pleasant events.

In addressing the ancient definition of Miracles, Caleb Johnston – a member of The Mentionables Network – says:

“[The Modern definition of miracle is] Fairly straight-forward (at least it seems so to us), not so much in Hebrew. Keep in mind that Hebrew has a unique language feature: word meaning is often very dependent on context within the sentence. This feature makes a study on an English word very difficult but in the same way it raises interesting connection. So let’s take a look at a few words:

  • נֵס(nes) a standard, ensign, signal, sign
  • מוֹפֵת(mopheth) a wonder, sign, portent
  • אוֹת(oth) a sign
  • תִּמְהִין(temah) a wonder
  • מִפְלְאוֹת(miphlaah) a wondrous work
  • פֶּ֫לֶא(pele) a wonder
  • יָצָא(yatsa) to go or come out

…In English we find that the primary definition of miracle is somewhat dependent on the existence of a materialistic worldview. However, in Hebrew we don’t see this dependence. Instead we see that the focus is not directed towards the act as much as it is who is causing the said act.”

So in brief: yes. The ancient meaning of ‘Miracle’ was a sign from God. The modern definition is essentially an unlikely and fortunate occurrence that directly benefits someone.

Joel Furches is a writer who has worked for 15 years researching and writing on topics of religion. He has a BA in psychology and an MA in education. He can be found online at


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Have You Seen a Miracle?

What is a miracle? defines the word as an “extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.”

How do you define a miracle?

Is the birth of a child a miracle – the spark of life given human form by a loving Creator? Or is it a biological process that developed by itself and perpetuates merely due to natural law?

What about stories – whether tales from history, or from someone you actually know – about inexplicable or “miraculous” events? The teller of the tale might be lying or exaggerating, or there might be a perfectly logical explanation. Or perhaps it really was a miracle – defying all logic, not provable by science, and done by God.

Have you ever witnessed a miracle? If you have not seen or experienced a miracle, do you believe that they can and do happen?