Vol. 9, No. 3
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In Acts 2:22, we find, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know." It seems evident that there is some difference in those three things, or the Holy Spirit would not have used three different words to describe them. Because the Greek words that are here translated as wonders and signs are often translated as miracles, some assume that the words are synonyms. That is not so. A simple illustration may help to clarify that. Every mule is an animal, but not every animal is a mule. Every miracle was a sign and a wonder, but not every sign or wonder was a miracle. A short and incomplete indication of the difference in the meaning or implication of the words is this: A "sign" (seemeion or seemainoo) is intended to appeal to the understanding, a "wonder" (teras) appeals to the imagination, a "power" (or "miracle"--dunamis--as the word is used in Acts 2:22) indicates its source as supernatural.
Perhaps a listing of some information about those three terms would be helpful. The word here translated "miracles" is used 116 times in the New Testament. It is translated by such terms as "mighty works," "power," etc. In Romans 1:16, "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation" the word is used. However the word is translated "power"; it always indicates special power.
The word translated in Acts 2:22 as "wonders" is used only 16 times in the New Testament and is always translated "wonders" in the plural form. In Acts 3:8 we find Peter performing a miracle of healing on a lame man. When the people saw it, they said in verse 10 that they were filled with "wonder and amazement." They were full of wonder because it was a wonderful thing they had seen. In Acts 4:16, the Jewish counsel recognized it as a sign that there was a higher power operating and the KJV translates it, "indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it." So it is easy to see that this wonder was a miracle, but not all wonderful things are miracles, although all miracles are wonders.
The word translated in Acts 2:22 as "signs" is found 61 times in the New Testament. The sign could be a sign of a higher power, such as a miracle, or it could be simply a sign like Judas was said to give in Matthew 26:48, "Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast."
So we should not be confused by the fact that more than a dozen times, the word translated here as "sign" is translated "miracle." The reason is that although the event may have been a "miracle-dunamis--the Holy Spirit in those cases was simply emphasizing that this event was a sign that a higher power was operating.
It is our considered judgment that when we speak of a "miracle" we should use the term as indicating the power of God that could be recognized as something not only out of the ordinary, but as occurring because of the operation of the power of God. A "wonder" would be something out of the ordinary, but not necessarily a demonstration of some special operation of the power of God. For example, when we look at Niagara Falls, or the Grand Canyon, we stand in wonder and amazement. We even recognize the awesome power of God. But we do not classify those things as miracles, for although they occurred by the power of God, they do not of themselves demonstrate a supernatural operation. When Jesus raised Lazarus, or when Peter cured the lame man, those events were clear evidence of supernatural power.