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I've heard Cessationists say many times that there is a difference between spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12) and healings & miracles from God.

I have two questions:

  • On Discernment. How do Cessationists distinguish between miracles from God and spiritual gifts? What does a miracle from God look like? What does a spiritual gift look like?
  • On Biblical basis. What is the biblical basis for this discernment? Where does the Bible define miracles from God & spiritual gifts in that manner? Where does the Bible teach how to discern between the two?
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    To avoid misunderstanding, I recommend clarifying the question that the difference is between spiritual gifts as charism to help others and healings & miracles as one-time / occassional gifts to an individual beneficiary. Feb 18, 2022 at 18:55
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    This page gives an example as "Whereas “healing” still exists in the life of the church, “healers” do not. God’s people may still experience miracles, but God no longer empowers “miracle workers.”" zondervanacademic.com/blog/… Feb 19, 2022 at 0:00

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Spiritual gifts are at least in part connected to an individual Christian. A Christian exercises a spiritual gift of their own volition. A spiritual gift can result in a miracle, but it does not have to, some spiritual gifts are more ordinary such as teaching, or administrative work. Someone claiming to have the gift of healing would therefore intentionally act to heal someone. Of course it is still God's work and God's will that any such healings take place, but it's not solely God's will. Possibly there are some Christians who claim to heal without intention, like those in Acts 5:15 who thought Peter's shadow would heal (though Acts doesn't say they were right to think that). I haven't heard of any Pentecostal healers who say this though; to my knowledge intention does always seem to be part of it.

A non-spiritual gift miracle is solely the work and intention of God. God can heal anyone at any time, without working through human agents. God can heal without the Church even praying for healing.

So this is not an issue of discernment but just two clearly distinct concepts. There are two orthogonal axes:

Ordinary providence Supernatural laws-of-nature defying events
Ordinary talents Ordinary life Miracle from God's will alone
Spiritual gifts Non-miraculous gifts of the church Miraculous spiritual gifts

The only thing the cessationism/continuationism debate concerns is the bottom right box: miraculous spiritual gifts.

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  • Sure, all of life is a miracle. Every sunset is a miracle. And we have technological miracles in our 21st century.
    – Jess
    Feb 19, 2022 at 14:13
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    @Jess Perhaps I should make it clearer, but I'm using the word "miracle" as Christians traditionally have, to mean a supernatural, laws of nature defying act of God, as compared to God's equally active providential acts which follow the laws of nature he set down. Sunsets are wonderful, but not miracles.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 19, 2022 at 14:16
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From an epistemological point of view I don't think a strict and normative cessationist can authenticate something as a miracle apart from some sort of human agency and a tie into a promise of Scripture being involved. Apart from that, at best, they will only be able to describe something extraordinary in terms of it being an anomaly.

For example, suppose public prayers occur for a person who is not physically well. Than that person experiences a dramatic improvement in health. How would a cessationist know for sure that it is not just coincidence that they got better? If all the promises for healing through prayer are time bound to the formation of the canon, how can they presume to know that God has actually intervened?

C.S. Lewis urges in his book Miracles, that Christians need to develop a nose like a bloodhound for the concealed assumption that miracles are impossible, improbable or improper. He writes, If we admit God, must we admit Miracles? Indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.

The Lutheran theologian and Christian apologist, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, gives a helpful view of how authenticating miracles involves a simple test:

We must suspend disbelief, check out the evidence with the care demanded for events in general, attempt to formulate explanatory constructs that best fit the facts, and at the same time be willing always to accept facts even if our best attempts to explain them prove inadequate. If we are religionists, we must avoid the orthodox presupposition (i.e. cessationism, my edit) that supernatural events must be limited to biblical timess, and the even less satisfactory presupposition of liberal theology that all supernatural occurrences, including biblical miraces, are the product of the naïve, world- view of pre-modern man. (Principalities and Powers, page 46)

Montgomery further clarifies:

The care demanded is no less than, but also no greater than, that required for events in general...Not knowing the universe as a whole, we have no way of calculating the probabilities for or against particular events, so each event must be investigated ad hoc, without initial prejudice. (Principalities and Powers, pages 193-194)

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