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Some "hardcore" Cessationists deny all possibility of modern godly miracles. Other Cessationists, who are a bit more open, do believe in the possibility of modern miracles -- it's just that they reject the continuation of the "sign gifts". My question is targeted to this latter group.

How do Cessationists who believe in modern-day miracles (but not in modern-day sign gifts) judge the credibility of modern miracle claims?

What criteria do they use to inspect a modern miracle claim and decide whether it is believable or not?

What would be concrete examples of modern miracle claims that this kind of Cessationists would consider to be believable?


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    Why do you suppose Cessationists have a different criteria than a general critical thinking Christian on what counts as a miracle? It's just that Cessationists don't believe in people invested with the gifts of healing others anymore. Occasional being used by God to heal in missionary context does not count as possessing "gift of healing" although genuine miracles CAN happen (see excellent article Why I Am a Cessationist). Dec 13, 2021 at 13:01
  • @GratefulDisciple - what do you mean by "general critical thinking Christian"? I've chatted with hardcore Cessationists on other sites who would deny every miracle claim I threw at them, including those reported by Craig S. Keener in his book "Miracles" and other cases published in peer-reviewed journals. Atheists display critical thinking skills as well, and they are skeptical of every miracle claim, including the resurrection of Jesus. (Recommended debate, recommended post-debate analysis). Dec 13, 2021 at 13:23
  • Your debate link is about the reasonableness to believe the historicity of the miracle of resurrection. They're not debating whether to call Jesus's resurrection (defined as a person who is medically declared dead and came back to life) a miracle or not. All miracles mentioned in the Bible are common sense miracles that every "general critical thinking Christian" (including Cessationists) wouldn't hesitate to call it a miracle. Dec 13, 2021 at 17:18

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What criteria do Cessationists use to inspect a modern miracle claim and decide whether it is believable or not?

Cessationists would use the same criteria that a general critical thinking Christian uses: a supernatural event that is not explainable by natural or scientific laws. (see Wikipedia article on Miracle). Although different than atheists who may a priori eliminate even the possibility of a miracle (i.e., they exclude any kind of supernatural causes), Cessationists (who because they are Christians allow the possibility of God performing miracles) ask for roughly the same rigor of evidence an atheist would ask.

For example, if the claim is resurrection from the dead, Cessationists would ask for the following medical evidence:

  1. Doctor's report on the cause of death
  2. A period of time when the patient is confirmed to be dead
  3. A period of time when the patient is confirmed to be alive

To be more precise, let's use Aquinas's scheme of 3 degrees of miracles described in Summa Contra Gentiles (quoted here). I believe Cessationists / general Christian would allow the first two degrees as miracles, and possibly the third one as well (case by case):

  1. Highest rank: nature can never do. Examples: an amputated leg was restored, sea open up and offer a way through which people may pass.

  2. Nature can do, but not in this order. Examples: a patient who has been brain-dead longer than 10 minutes came back to life without permanent brain damage, a blind person from birth can see (and his vision stays for the rest of his life). Jesus's resurrection would most likely be in this category.

  3. God does what is usually done by the working of nature (thus beats statistical probability). Examples: a person may be cured by divine power from a fever which could be cured naturally, rain suddenly poured down when all weather scientists say it's extremely unlikely, etc. About the sudden reversal of Joy's bone cancer in Nov 1957 C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter: "the cancerous bones have rebuilt themselves in a way quite unusual and Joy can now walk" and regarded it as a miracle, even though the cancer came back about 2 years later.

In all 3 degrees above, there is an empirical evidence, which can enlist an instrument to aid regular human perception, such as a microscope, genetic analysis, multi-spectral video to allow infrared / radio signal, etc. Obviously, the first two degrees are easier to prove, and help exclude the usual objections: lack of proper verification, psychosomatic, temporary healing, etc.

Addressing connected issues

  1. The criteria has nothing to do with Cessationists's not believing that some people today are still invested with the gifts of healing others. A miracle happens or not happens. A person occasionally being used by God to heal in missionary context does not count as possessing "gift of healing"; if someone is medically verified as dead and if the person comes back to life after the missionary prays over the person, it is STILL a miracle. So Cessationists allow that genuine miracles CAN still happen. See an excellent 2014 article Why I Am a Cessationist by an NT scholar Thomas Schreiner who later wrote a 2018 book Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter.

  2. The criteria also has nothing to do with the debate over whether a historical miracle (recorded in the Bible) should be regarded as a miracle or not. You brought up the April 2021 debate Is belief in the Resurrection reasonable? between Catholic Trent Horn and Atheist Matt Dillahunty. What's being debated is the reasonableness to believe the historicity of the Resurrection given the lack of direct medical evidence. Mr. Dillahunty asked Trent a question point blank: "Do you believe the resurrection simply based on testimony without medical evidence?" Mr. D said (min 50:00)

    I am here to find out what's reasonable. Here's the crux of it ... You are willing to accept that an extraordinary miraculous event occurred based only on testimony and I AM NOT. That's it! That is the foundational difference between our epistemologies. I will not accept that the physical understanding of the universe was suspended for an individual based only on testimonial accounts. It is unreasonable. That's how you get conned!"

    The epistemology that Mr. D. was talking about is about the nature of believable testimony, not the standard for calling something a miracle or not. Both Mr. D and Mr. Horn agree that for a miracle to even be possible, a uniformity of the laws of nature is a prerequisite (around min 51:26). It's just for Mr. D., non-medical & non-scientific testimonial evidence alone is not enough regardless of how credible the eyewitnesses were, primarily because the claim is so extraordinary that the level of testimony needs to be much higher than for something mundane such as "I got a new puppy last night" (min 53:50).

    But I wager that if Mr. Dillahunty:

    • were present with Jesus throughout the 3 days between crucifixion and resurrection,
    • had with him the medical equipment he needed to certify the death, and
    • had never left Jesus's side (i.e. stays inside the burial cave) until Jesus came back alive again

    he would have agreed with Christians calling the resurrection a miracle.

    Therefore, the main difference between Mr. D. and Christians is that we believe that the apostles' and the 500+ people's common sense testimony that Jesus's bodily resurrection happened was sufficient evidence for a miracle, since for us apostolic credibility matters (!) and the miracle is rational enough to be believed (considering we also believed God's other resurrection miracles in the OT).

  3. There are some "miracles" attributed to God that can not be empirically verified such as the miracle of the Catholic notion of the Eucharist (transubstantiation), the sudden conversion of a very stubborn atheist, etc. For these, even a general Christian (not necessarily a Cessationist) will have a difference of opinion whether to call it a miracle or not.

  4. Some events that seemed wondrous to people 4,000 years ago may not be wondrous to us anymore because we now know the cause, such as the eclipse of the sun. Again, this has nothing to do whether one is a Cessationist or not. And fortunately most important miracles needed by Christian theology are STILL considered miracles by 21st century standard: the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the calling down of fire by Elijah, the virgin Birth, the raising of Lazarus, turning water into wine, the resurrection of Jesus, etc.

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  • 1) Do you have any concrete examples from real life though? You talk about hypothetical situations that would be trivially identifiable as miracles, but what about concrete, real life, documented examples that cessationists have considered to be modern miracles? 2) Regarding Catholic miracles, isn't Catholicism continuationist? Dec 13, 2021 at 18:49
  • 3) Regarding the resurrection of Jesus, an atheist would say the evidence is not compelling whereas a cessationist would say it is. Therefore, there is a clear epistemological difference between the two as to how they evaluate the evidence. Dec 13, 2021 at 19:09
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator I propose a definition (albeit 'trivial') that is objective: it can prove its own worth, regardless whether the spectator is atheist, cessationist, or continuationist. Problems crop up when one tries to reduce the threshold, which leads to confirmation bias, subjective bias, non rigorous verification, etc. As for 3), the issue is "insufficient" evidence, NOT disagreement of epistemological standard. Thus the key question is whether Mr. Atheist can accept resurrection miracle if he were present. If not, it's a priori bias that both Cess. & Cont. do not have. Dec 13, 2021 at 19:53
  • Judging the evidence to be "insufficient" has everything to do with epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know (or claim to know). If people have different standards to decide what counts as "sufficient" evidence, that's a difference in epistemology. Check out Matt's cross-examination of Trent to understand how their epistemologies differ. Dec 13, 2021 at 20:26
  • But anyways, do you know any concrete, documented examples of modern miracle claims accepted to be (very likely) true by cessationists? Dec 13, 2021 at 20:29
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How I judge the credibility of modern miracle claims.

As a cessationist I'd say this is a fairly simple question. Any miracle that I am not a part of I don't judge at all. I simply allow another person to believe it is a miracle and I move on with my day. There are so many crazy people who claim miracles I have no time, interest or right to judge them, their situation, or God. That "miracle" is between them and God.

God can do whatever He wants. My faith has no need or expectation of miracles. I don't feel left out, lost, or unsaved just because I don't have any personal miracles. I don't feel threatened by people who claim to have them or to have them regularly. It simply isn't part of my relationship God, it is part of theirs. God can change that at anytime, but I don't worry about it. Honestly it is a blessing that I don't need a miracle. I have a stable and blessed life that is more than I deserve. Perhaps that is a miracle in itself, I don't know.

I may have had miracles, but I don't acknowledge them as miracles but rather blessings. Everything in my life can fit into a logical earthly explanation. My wife would disagree and call a number things in my life and hers miracles. I only offer this to say that the term miracles itself is viewed and understood by people differently.

My grace allows me a relatively mundane life and yet to have faith in a miraculous God. I can speak to and relate with people who think like me and have experienced life like me. I can also have peace with those who have a different walk with God.

Hope that helps.

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  • This answer contains 3 "me"s, 8 "my"s, and 20 "I"s. By most Stack Exchange standards, zero would be the best number of such words in an answer. Dec 13, 2021 at 2:01
  • @AdamHeeg - but do you think there are legitimate situations where God does perform miracles today? Do you believe miracles are valuable and useful today, theologically speaking? I'm assuming that you do believe in modern miracles, right? Dec 13, 2021 at 2:39
  • @RayButterworth the question seems highly opinion related to me and I expect it to be closed. I'm not aware of any official cessationist theology. If i'm wrong feel free to point it out.
    – Adam Heeg
    Dec 13, 2021 at 10:26
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I'd think anyone who believes the bible at all accepts God can do a miracle any time he wants, I do. I would agree that miracles would be highly useful - I don't understand why we all don't get visions and quests like Paul. I believe more people would come to faith if such a thing were more common. Or if God appeared as fire and spoke to our leaders. However, God doesn't agree with me...
    – Adam Heeg
    Dec 13, 2021 at 10:29
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I am not aware that the cessation of supernatural gifts in followers of God/Christ is the same as cessation of miracles by God.
    – Adam Heeg
    Dec 13, 2021 at 14:50

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