Before we attempt to understand the purpose for miracles, we should probably be clear about what a miracle actually is…at least according to Scripture. A good definition for Bible miracles would be, “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” This is actually the first definition from Websters. Incidentally, the second definition they list – “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment” – is the more common use today and is not what is intended by this question. Understanding the purpose for miracles (also “signs” or “wonders”1,2,3,4,5,14,15,16) has some real bearing on other commonly held beliefs and doctrines today, not the least of which is how the Holy Spirit works today.

How Scripture answers "What was the purpose for miracles?"

The purpose for miracles is consistent throughout Scripture1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16. Jesus performed them to confirm that He was the Son of God1,4,5,7,8,10,12 with the authority to forgive sins8. It was the evidence by which people believed3,10,12,14,15 (e.g. established their faith). Not only was this the case with Jesus1,5,7,8,10,12,14, but the purpose for miracles was the same for those that came before Him9,11,13 (God doesn’t change) as well as for those that came after Him2,3,4,6,15,16. These ‘miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit14 performed in the first century confirmed their God-given authority to speak His word2,6,15,16.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—

All Israel, here what we say: You know that Jesus of Nazareth was a man proven to be from God through the miracles he performed in your midst by the power of God.

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter gives the reason for Jesus performing miracles – to certify or prove that He was from God, the son of God.

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

After speaking with them [the apostles], Jesus was taken up to heaven, sitting at the right hand of God. And they went out preaching the good news while performing miracles through the Holy Spirit (“the Lord”) in order to confirm their message.

The closing statement of the gospel of Mark following a summary of final events after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into Heaven (and why “the Lord” here would have to be the Holy Spirit).

Scripture-block application to this question

Miracles were performed by the apostles through the Holy Spirit in order to confirm the word they spoke as from God.

For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Paul is confirming his effort to preach Christ to the Gentiles in order that they might obey. He used his words and actions supported by signs and wonders from the Holy Spirit. He accomplished preaching the gospel of Christ throughout the region.

Paul has made the case that the gospel is for all – Jew and Gentile – and that all are in Christ through the obedience of faith.  Paul referred to himself as the “apostle to the Gentiles” in the previous chapter.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul’s preaching of the word to the Gentiles was accompanied by miracles and the power of the Holy Spirit in order to bring about obedience.

For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The message spoken through angels was “firm” (rigid).  However, an “escape” is provided with the “great salvation” (new message/covenant) which was spoke first by Jesus and then those who heard him (apostles).  Their preaching (“witness”) was confirmed by God with miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These signs and gifts were distributed by God’s authority.

The Hebrews letter is all about holding firm to the gospel message and showing why it was better than what the Jewish Christian had left behind (the Mosaic law).  In the opening of this letter, the writer is reminding of Jesus’ superiority over the angels (chapter 1).

Scripture-block application to this question

Reiterates the progression of the gospel message beginning with Jesus, those that initially heard Him and believed (the apostles), and those that carried it forward (early disciples).

Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night and stated that the Pharisees and Jewish ruling council, of which he was a member, knew that He was from God because of the miracles He performed.

The early days of Jesus’ public ministry.

Scripture-block application to this question

Nicodemus testifies that the purpose for miracles was to confirm that Jesus (and His message) were from God.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

Many miracles that consisted of signs, wonders and mighty works were patiently performed among you by only true apostles.

In his second letter to the young church in Corinth, Paul must defend his apostleship against what he calls “super-apostles” – false teachers discrediting the gospel message and Paul’s authority.

Scripture-block application to this question

Only the true apostles – with the authority from God to speak – performed signs, wonders and mighty works (aka miracles).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
The words I speak are greater than those of John [the Baptist].  For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish I am doing and they testify to the fact that the Father sent me.

Jesus is in Jerusalem and healing on the Sabbath day and stating that He was the son of God. “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (vs 18)

Here Jesus is differentiating between the testimony of His work coming not only from John the Baptist (a man), but God Himself.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus states that the works (miracles) He is doing testify (prove) who He is and that He is from God.

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise, take up your bed and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he said to the paralytic— I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.
What is easier to say to the paralytic – your sins are forgiven or rise and walk?  In order that you know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I have healed him by saying rise and walk.

Jesus has returned home (vs 1) and is brought a paralytic to heal.  After witnessing their faith (vs 5), He tells him his sins are forgiven.  This caused some to accuse him of blasphemy (vs 7), acknowledging that only God can forgive sins.

Parallel accounts are in Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke:5:17-26.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus asks a rhetorical question and explicitly states that His healing of the paralytic was in order to prove the authority He had from God the Father.

But the Lord said to Moses, Put out your hand and catch it by the tail—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.
God said to Moses, “Put out your hand and pick it [serpent] up by the tail.”  So he did, and it returned to a staff.  “Do this that they may believe that the God of their fathers has appeared to you.”

God is commissioning Moses to petition Pharaoh for the peoples’ release from Egypt.  Moses has two main objections.  First, he’s not a good speaker (so God gives Moses Aaron as his spokesman, or his “prophet”).  Second, he believes he lacks the authority to be convincing (so God gives him specific signs and performs the ten plagues).

Scripture-block application to this question

Miracles were explicitly used by God through Moses and Aaron to confirm their God-given authority to the people (and Pharaoh).

And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Many more believed because of His word.  They said to the woman that they no longer believed because of what she said but because of His word and they knew He was the Savior of the world.

Jesus teaches the woman at the well, a Samaritan.  She went to town and told many of His miracle to her – knowing all that she ever did (vs 39).

Scripture-block application to this question

The people originally took notice because of the miracle Jesus did with the woman, but it only served to confirm His word – which they ultimately believed.

And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

The woman told Elijah that she believed he was a man from God and that the words he spoke were truly from God.

The great prophet Elijah has just raised a woman’s son from the dead.

Scripture-block application to this question

Elijah performed miracles to confirm that his authority and message came from God.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
While at Cana in Galilee, Jesus did the first of many miracles which manifested his glory.  And as a result, his disciples believed him.

Jesus has just performed His first public miracle where he turned water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus performed miracles to make His glory clear in order for people to believe Him.

For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?

Consider the past days you’ve been told about and compare them with all you’ve known going back to the beginning, when God created man. In all the earth and heavens, have you ever heard of anything greater? Do you know of any people to survive a god speaking from a fire that survived?

Moses is retelling the Law given to him by God on Mt Sinai.  This is to a new generation of people after the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and just before entering the Promised Land. Specifically, Moses recalls to their minds (vs 12) God speaking at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law (Exodus 19-20).

Scripture-block application to this question

Moses is relating to a new generation (those that had not seen first-hand) the demonstration (e.g. evidence) of God’s power in order to prove God’s sole authority.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus did many other signs not recorded here but with the witness of the disciples. The signs recorded were for you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and because of your belief have life in His name.

Jesus has risen and demonstrated His complete bodily resurrection after appearing to many of them including Mary (vs 15) and the apostles (19) and finally to Thomas (vss 24-29).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus’ miracles were witnessed and recorded so that all may believe and have eternal life.

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
And now Lord [God, the Father], observe their [Jewish leaders] threats and give your servants [apostles] continued boldness to proclaim your word, while you confirm it with miracles performed by the authority of your holy servant Jesus.

Peter and John have just been released from prison (vs 3) and standing trail before the Jewish council of leaders (vs 5) after preaching and healing a lame man (chapter 3). Having returned to the disciples in Jerusalem (vs 23), they are offering a prayer (vs 24) for their continued safety and boldness.

Scripture-block application to this question

The first disciples understood that God’s power through miracle (e.g. “signs and wonders”) was to demonstrate that it was His word that the apostles were preaching.

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
[Paul and Barnabas] remained there [in Iconium] for quite a while boldly speaking as messengers of God, who also participated by bearing witness to the word of His grace by granting that miracles be done by their hands.

Paul, with Barnabas, is completing his first missionary journey throughout the region of Galatia (covering chapters 13-14).  Having covered many in Derbe (vs 20), “they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Scripture-block application to this question

Miracles “bore witness” that Paul and Barnabas were speaking for God.

Leave your comment below…

…and if you’re wondering more about what we’re doing and why, here are some links we hope can help explain it (and maybe even get you excited about contributing):

what do you think?

related to 'What was the purpose for miracles?'

lend your own study to the discussion

PUBLIC COMMENT POLICY: While your email is required, it will not be posted publically.
All comments are vetted for potential spam before being published, but will not be restricted otherwise.