In a related question, it is stated that the practice of apostolic gifts declined during the lifetimes of the apostles. For example, Norman Geisler in his book Signs & Wonders writes (p. 137):

...the same apostle who could heal everyone on a whole island (Acts 28:9) could no longer heal his coworkers in the ministry. The apostles could heal a person born lame (Acts 3), but Paul could not give Timothy miraculous relief from a simple stomach ailment and had to recommend that he take medicine for it (1 Timothy 5:23)...the same apostle who once had the power to raise the dead (Acts 20) now cannot even raise his needed friend Trophimus from a sick bed (2 Timothy 4:20)

Does this indicate that there was a decline in the number of miracles in the first century? If so, how would continuationists respond to such an observation? Or, is this a case of the absence of evidence not being the same as the evidence of absence?


2 Answers 2


This argument was famously made 2000 years ago. While Jesus was on the cross the chief priests mocked Him with these words:

He saved others; himself he cannot save. (Matt. 27:42)

On their view, even if Jesus' earlier miracles were real, He had apparently lost the power to perform miracles because, in this particular setting, He was not performing a miracle (or so they thought!!).

The Christian response to this, of course, was that God's plan would have been frustrated if Jesus had not carried out His atoning sacrifice, and so the power of God was not employed to prevent suffering on this particular occasion.

This principle can be generalized to suffering on other occasions: that God does not immediately eliminate suffering in one time or place does not mean He has not done so in the past nor that He will not do so in the future. Nor does it mean God could not have some greater purpose in mind.

The crucifixion preceded the healings performed by the apostles in the Book of Acts, so if we carried this argument out all the way, we would not see a decline in miracles, but a roller coaster of miracles, with significant increases & decreases along the way.

Pointing out that a miracle was performed circa AD 60 (Acts 28), but that circa AD 63 there was a circumstance in which a miracle was not performed (1 Timothy), does not identify a trend anymore than it did in Matthew 27. This is a case of absence of evidence: if there was a decline in the frequency of miracles over the course of the apostolic ministry, the New Testament doesn't really say much about it.

  • Good answer. Points out that miracles are not done at the will of man but of God. i.e. It is not that Paul was unable to heal Timothy, for instance, but that it was not God's will since Timothy did not need miraculous confirmation of the Gospel (thorn in the flesh type thing to keep him humble). +1 Aug 26, 2022 at 13:18

The purpose of miracles is to convince skeptical observers, that particular, improbable, often unimpressive persons are appointees of God, and therefore, should be carefully attended to and obeyed. Consider the miracles, or miraculous deliverance's associated with Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, Samuel, Galilean Jesus, Galilean & uneducated Peter, and Pharisee Paul. Others, (Daniel, Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah...) made extraordinary, unlikely, improbable, even unpopular predictions, which, by happening exactly as predicted, validated having been appointed by God. When no validation was needed (e.g., the inter-testament period), none was given. In the face of extraordinary skepticism and resistance (Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Peter, and Paul), extraordinary miracles were performed.

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