On several occasions, Jesus Christ assured His inner circle of 12 disciples that they would be able to do miraculous things, but are these assurances also applicable to His subsequent followers (i.e., Christians), including those who are living today? In this article, we will try to determine if God still empowers certain people with the ability to perform miracles.
Scriptures Regarding the Ability to Move Mountains
With regard to this first category of scriptures, we will focus on three that we think are the most relevant in trying to answer two questions: (1) Does the scripture actually pertain to the ability to perform miracles, and (2) If the scripture does pertain to the ability to perform miracles, is this ability applicable to Christians in today’s world?
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
In this scripture, Jesus Christ declares to His 12 disciples, “[I]f you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible does not specifically state whether or not this scripture pertains to the performing of miracles, but he seems to imply that it does. However, Gill does not give any indication that this scripture is applicable to anyone other than Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples. According to Gill,
[Saying to the mountain, “Move from here to there,” means,] not that it would be ordinarily or ever done in a literal sense by the apostles, that they should remove mountains; but that they should be able to do things equally difficult, and as seemingly impossible, if they had but faith, when the glory of God, and the good of men, required it. . . . [I]t was meant that they should, and besides, have done, things equally as great as this, and which is the sense of the words.
[The statement that nothing will be impossible for you means that the disciples would] not only be able to perform such a wonderful action as this, were it necessary, but any, and everything else, that will make for the glory of God, the enlargement of [Jesus Christ’s] kingdom and interest, the confirmation of truth, and the good of mankind.
In contrast with Gill, Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible indicates that Matthew 17:20b relates to the performing of miracles. Furthermore, Poole expresses the belief that the ability to move mountains was applicable to only the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. Poole asserts, “The promise of working miracles by a Divine power committed to them, was a particular promise made to the disciples. . . .”
Assessment of Matthew 17:20b: Only one of the two commentaries that address this scripture indicates that it pertains to the performing of miracles. Also, only one of these two commentaries clearly expresses the belief that the ability to move mountains was applicable to only Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples. And, previously, verse 19 indicates that Jesus comments about the ability to move mountains were made just to the 12 disciples.
Similarly to what Jesus Christ told His 12 disciples in Matthew 17:20b, He asserts in this scripture, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will . . . say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible expresses the belief that this scripture pertains to the performing of miracles, and that Jesus Christ’s promise is not applicable to anyone other than His 12 disciples. According to Barnes,
This promise was evidently a special one, given to [the 12 disciples] in regard to working miracles. To them it was true, but it is manifest that we have no right to apply this promise to ourselves. It was desired especially for the apostles; nor have we a right to turn it from its original meaning.
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible is not clear as to whether or not the “wonder-working faith” that he mentions in regard to Matthew 21:21b-22 pertains to the performing of miracles. Also, Henry does not address to whom such faith is given. Henry says,
The power and prevalence of [wonder-working faith is] expressed figuratively. . . . Whatever was the intent of [the term this mountain], the same must be the expectation of faith, how impossible soever [sic] it might appear to sense. But this is a proverbial expression intimating that we are to believe that nothing is impossible with God, and therefore that what he has promised shall certainly be performed, though to us it seem impossible.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible expresses the belief that the same scripture pertains to the performing of miracles, but Pett does not address to whom this ability is given. According to Pett, Jesus Christ “points out that nothing is impossible to faith, even the withering of fig trees and the moving of mountains and casting of them into the sea. . . .”
The following comments by Poole in reference to Matthew 21:21b-22 seem to express the belief that this scripture pertains to the ability to perform miracles and only Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples have been given this ability:
I see no reason to discourse of a faith of miracles as different from other faith; which only thus differed, that the disciples (the apostles I mean) had a power given them, and a promise made to them, that they should be able to work miraculous operations, which is not given to other Christians serving only the particular occasions of that time, to give credit to the gospel.
Adam Clarke Commentary was the only Bible commentary which we consulted that states Matthew 21:21b-22 does not pertain to the performing of miracles, so whether or not Clarke believes this scripture is applicable to current followers of Jesus Christ, it is not relevant to this article. According to Clark,
Removing mountains, and rooting up of mountains, are phrases very generally used to signify the removing or conquering great difficulties – getting through perplexities. . . . He that has faith will get through every difficulty and perplexity; mountains shall become molehills or plains before him. The saying is neither to be taken in its literal sense, nor is it hyperbolical: it is a proverbial form of speech, which no Jew could misunderstand, and with which no Christian ought to be puzzled.
Assessment of Matthew 21:21b-22: A majority of the Bible commentaries which we have cited indicate that this scripture pertains to the performing of miracles by Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. None of these commentaries even implies that this scripture is applicable to subsequent followers of Jesus. And, verse 20 supports this point of view. Therefore, even if this scripture does pertain to the performing of miracles, we do not think there is enough reason to believe that it supports the belief that Christians living today have the ability to perform miracles.
In these verses, which are similar to what Jesus Christ says in the two previously-mentioned scriptures, He tells His 12 disciples, “I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
Henry unambiguously believes that Mark 11:23-24 pertains to miracles, but he does not indicate if this scripture is applicable to Christians who are living today, as well as to the 12 disciples of Jesus and other early preachers of the gospel. Henry states,
Now this is to be applied: To that faith of miracles which the apostles and first preachers of the gospel were endued with, which did wonders in things natural, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devils these were, in effect, the removing of mountains.
Pett not only indicates that the same scripture is applicable to miracles, but also implies that this scripture pertains to anyone who has sufficient faith in God. According to Pett,
[T]he faith that had enabled the withering of the fig tree was available to all who truly believed God. . . . [His disciples] must demonstrate their faith in God, and it is prayer of this kind that will prevent them from withering. Then impossible things will be possible. For when men trust God fully they will be able to cast a mountain into the sea with a word.
In contrast, the following comments by David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible indicate that he does not think that Mark 11:23-24 pertains to the performing of miracles and therefore, for purposes of this article, it does not matter whether or not he thinks that this scripture is applicable to Christians today. According to Guzik,
Mountain was a popular figure of speech for any insurmountable problem; Jesus is saying, as we believe, God can overcome any obstacle.
- “The phrase about removing mountains was a quite common Jewish phrase. It was a regular, vivid phrase for removing difficulties.” (Barclay)
- This promise of God’s answer to the prayer made in faith is made to disciples, not to the multitude.
Poole does not provide a clear indication as to whether or not he thinks that Mark 11:23-24 pertains to miracles. However, Poole’s preceding comments with regard to Matthew 21:21b-22 indicate that this scripture pertains to performing miracles, but only Jesus’ 12 disciples have been endowed with this ability. But, because Mark 11:23-24 and Matthew 21:21b-22 are evidently accounts of the same discourse by Jesus, it is reasonable to assume that Poole has essentially the same opinion about each of these scriptures.
Assessment of Mark 11:23-24: There is not a consensus among the preceding Bible commentaries as to whether or not this scripture pertains to miracles. Also, these commentaries do not agree as to whether or not this scripture is applicable to current followers of Jesus Christ. However, the scripture itself seems to imply that it is applicable to not only the 12 disciples, but also to other followers of Jesus.
Assessment of scriptures pertaining to the ability to move mountains: Considering all three of the preceding scriptures together, it is uncertain if the ability to move mountains refers to the ability to perform miracles. These three scriptures may be making only figurative statements in which Jesus was telling His followers that they could accomplish far more than what seemed possible, provided that they had enough faith. And, even if these scriptures pertain to the ability to perform miracles, it is uncertain if what Jesus Christ told His 12 disciples is applicable to anyone other than these 12 disciples, with the possible exception of some of His other early followers.
Scriptures Regarding the Ability to Perform Other Remarkable Feats
In reference to this second category of scriptures, there are only two that seem to be relevant.
In this scripture, Jesus Christ tells the disciples in His inner circle, “[T]hese signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
This scripture clearly pertains to several types of remarkable feats that would be regarded as miracles, so we need to determine only if such miracles can be performed by current followers of Jesus Christ, in addition to His inner circle of disciples and, perhaps, His other early followers.
Barnes believes that Mark 16:17-18 is applicable to only Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples and His other early followers, not to Christians who are living today. According to Barnes,
[Those who believe refers to] the apostles, and those in the primitive age who were endowed with like power. This promise was fulfilled if it can be shown that these signs followed in the case of any who believed, and it is not necessary to suppose that they would follow in the case of all. The meaning is, that they would be the result of faith, or of the belief of the gospel. It is true that they were. These signs were shown in the case of the apostles and early Christians. . . . [T]he Christian should be satisfied that the promise was fulfilled if these miracles were ever actually wrought, though they do not occur now; and the believer now should not expect a miracle in his case. Miracles were necessary for the establishment of religion in the world; they are not necessary for its continuance now.
Similarly, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible expresses the belief that the same scripture is not applicable to Christians today, although it was applicable to Christians who lived in the relatively early years of Christianity. Calvin states,
As the Lord, while he still lived with men in the world, had ratified the faith of his gospel by miracles, so now he extends the same power to the future. . . . When he says that believers will receive this gift, we must not understand this as applying to every one of them; for we know that gifts were distributed variously, so that the power of working miracles was possessed by only a few persons. But as that which was bestowed on a few was common to the whole Church, and as the miracles performed by one individual served for the confirmation of all, Christ properly uses the word believers in an indefinite sense. The meaning, therefore, is, that believers will be ministers of the same power which had formerly excited admiration in Christ, that during his absence the sealing of the gospel may be more fully ascertained, as he promises that they will do the same things, and greater.
Though Christ does not expressly state whether he intends this gift to be temporary, or to remain perpetually in his Church, yet it is more probable that miracles were promised only for a time. . . .
Likewise, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible indicates that Mark 16:17-18 is applicable to only Jesus Christ’s early followers, not to subsequent generations of believers, including Christians living today. Gill declares,
Not all of [the signs], but some; and not always, only for a time; and which were necessary for the confirmation of the Gospel, and the establishment of Christianity in the world; and not only believing hearers, but believing ministers of the word, are chiefly designed; and this is said, for the encouragement both of those that preach the Gospel, and of them that hear, believe and obey.
Henry expresses the opinion that the ability to produce the “signs” (i.e., miracles) mentioned in this scripture is applicable to only Christians who are actively involved in spreading the Gospel. However, he does not indicate if he believes that this ability is possessed by Christians who are living today. According to Henry,
Not . . . all who believe shall be able to produce these signs, but some, even as many as were employed in propagating the faith, and bringing others to it for signs are intended for them that believe not (see 1 Corinthians 14:22). It added much to the glory and evidence of the gospel, that the preachers not only wrought miracles themselves, but conferred upon others a power to work miracles, which power followed some of them that believed, wherever they went to preach.
With regard to Mark 16:17-18, The Pulpit Commentaries seems to imply that the ability to perform miracles was applicable to only early Christians, as follows:
[With regard to the statement that “these signs will follow those who believe:”] Such evidences were necessary in the first dawn of Christianity, to attract attention to the doctrine; but our Lord’s words do not mean that they were to be in perpetuity, as a continually recurring evidence of the truth of Christianity.
Assessment of Mark 16:17-18: There is no doubt that this scripture pertains to miracles. However, in their comments regarding this scripture, a majority of the previously-mentioned Bible commentaries assert that the ability to perform miracles was applicable to early Christians only, albeit not to all early Christians.
In these verses of scripture, Jesus Christ tells His inner circle of 12 disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
This scripture, unlike Mark 16:17-18, does not clearly pertain to miracles. Therefore, we will attempt to determine if most Bible commentaries express the belief that John 14:12-14 pertains to miracles. Then we will try to ascertain if this scripture is applicable to followers of Jesus Christ who are living today, as well as to His inner circle of disciples and, perhaps, His other early followers also.
In reference to John 14:12-14, Pett expresses the belief that this statement by Jesus Christ includes the ability to perform miracles. And, Pett believes that the ability to perform miracles exists today, but he expresses the opinion that, with the exception of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, miracles in both the early church period and today have been relatively infrequent. Pett states,
[Jesus Christ declares that] “The works that I do, he [anyone who has faith in Him] will do.” We must undoubtedly see this as including His miracles. So the Apostles are empowered to heal all who come to them. . . . [I]t is often overlooked how widespread was the ministry of all the Apostles, but the same book makes clear the wide influence of their ministry.
No one who lays claim to healing powers today could make a claim like this. Rather they have to regret how comparatively few are healed (they can never say that all who came to them were healed) although the less spiritual try to blame the failure on other’s lack of faith. But Jesus and the Apostles never had to make this excuse. If men had even a little faith, . . . they were healed. The fact is that apart from the Apostles and a few chosen men, gifts of healing were severely restricted, both in the early church and now.
“And greater works than these shall he do because I go to the Father.” How could the Apostles do greater works than Jesus? Certainly not in the field of the miraculous. Rather it was in the fact that they would reach out to many nations with the Good News, while Jesus had been restricted to Palestine and the surrounding areas.
With regard to the same scripture, Barnes believes that the phrase “works that I do” refers to miracles and that the phrase “greater works than these” may include miracles. Although Barnes also says this promise by Jesus is not applicable to all of Jesus Christ’s followers, he does not give any indication as to whether or not Jesus’ promise may include any Christians living today. However, Barnes seems to believe that all Christians will receive whatever they ask God for (which may or may not necessitate miracles), provided that they ask in faith and according to God’s will. Barnes declares,
This promise had doubtless special reference to the apostles themselves. They were full of grief at his departure, and Jesus, in order to console them, directed them to the great honor which was to be conferred on them, and to the assurance that God would not leave them, but would attend them in their ministry with the demonstrations of his mighty power. It cannot be understood of all his followers, for the circumstances of the promise do not require us to understand it thus, and it has not been a matter of fact that All Christians have possessed power to do greater works than the Lord Jesus. It is a general promise that greater works than he performed should be done by his followers, without specifying that all his followers would be instrumental in doing them.
[With regard to the statement that greater works than these he will do,] interpreters have been at a loss in what way to understand this. The most probable meaning of the passage is the following: The word “greater” cannot refer to the miracles themselves, for the works of the apostles did not exceed those of Jesus in power. No higher exertion of power was put forth, or could be, than raising the dead. But, though not greater in themselves considered, yet they were greater in their effects. They made a deeper impression on mankind. They were attended [sic] with more extensive results. They were the means of the conversion of more sinners. The works of Jesus were confined to Judea. They were seen by few. The works of the apostles were witnessed by many nations, and the effect of their miracles and preaching was that thousands from among the Jews and Gentiles were converted to the Christian faith. The word “greater” here is used, therefore, not to denote the absolute exertion of power, but the effect which the miracles would have on mankind. The word “works” here probably denotes not merely miracles, but all things that the apostles did that made an impression on mankind. . . .
[The phrase “whatsoever ye shall ask”] referred particularly to the apostles in their work of spreading the gospel; it is, however, true of all Christians, if what they ask is in faith, and according to the will of God, James 1:6; 1 John 5:14.
Calvin neither expresses the belief that John 14:12-14 pertains to miracles nor does he give any indication as to whether or not he thinks Jesus Christ’s promise in this scripture includes Christians living today. According to Calvin,
Many are perplexed by the statement of Christ, that the Apostles would do greater works than he had done I pass by the other answers which have been usually given to it, and satisfy myself with this single answer. First, we must understand what Christ means; namely, that the power by which he proves himself to be the Son of God, is so far from being confined to his bodily presence, that it must be clearly demonstrated by many and striking proofs, when he is absent.
Clarke believes that Jesus Christ’s promise includes the ability to perform miracles, but he does not indicate if this promise is applicable to Christians living today, as well as to His 12 disciples and, perhaps, other early Christians. Clarke states,
[Jesus is saying that] the miracles which I have wrought could not have been wrought but by the omnipotence of God; but that omnipotence can work greater. And those who believe on my name shall, through my almighty power, be enabled to work greater miracles than those which l have ordinarily wrought.
Perhaps the greater works refer to the immense multitudes that were brought to God by the ministry of the apostles. By the apostles was the doctrine of Christ spread far and wide; while Christ confined his ministry chiefly to the precincts of Judea. It is certainly the greatest miracle of Divine grace to convert the obstinate, wicked heart of man from sin to holiness. This was done in numberless cases by the disciples, who were endued [sic] with power from on high, while proclaiming remission of sins through faith in his blood.
Christ only preached in Judea, and in the language only of that country; but the apostles preached through the most of the then known world, and in all the languages of all countries. But let it be remarked that all this was done by the power of Christ; and I think it still more natural to attribute the greater works to the greater number of conversions made under the apostles’ ministry.
Poole expresses the belief that the mention in John 14:12-14 of doing greater works than Jesus Christ pertains to the ability to perform miracles. However, like all of the previously-cited Bible commentaries that address this scripture, Poole does not make it clear whether or not he thinks that other followers of Jesus, including Christians living today, would be able to perform miracles. According to Poole,
[Jesus states that this scripture is applicable to] not every individual soul that believeth on me; but some of those, particularly you that are my apostles, and shall be filled with the Holy Ghost in the days of Pentecost; you shall preach the gospel, and work miracles for the confirmation of the truth of the doctrine of it.
[You shall do] greater works than I have done: not more or greater miracles: the truth of that may be justly questioned; for what miracle was ever done by the apostles greater than that of raising Lazarus? . . . It is rather to be understood of their success carrying the gospel to the Gentiles, by which the whole world, almost, was brought to the obedience of the faith of Christ.
Likewise, Gill indicates that the term greater works includes miracles, but he clearly believes that John 14:12-14 is applicable to only the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. Gill says,
Having mentioned his [Jesus Christ’s] miracles as proofs of his deity, he [Christ] assures his disciples, in order to comfort them under the loss of his bodily presence, that they should do the same, and greater works; for we are not to understand these words of everyone that believes in Christ, of every private believer in him, but only of the apostles, and each of them, that were true believers in him. . . .
[The statement “greater works than these he (anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ) will do” means] not greater in nature and kind, but more in number; for the apostles, in a long series of time, and course of years, went about preaching the Gospel, not in Judea only, but in all the world. . . . though perhaps by these greater works may be meant the many instances of conversion, which the apostles were instrumental in, and which were more in number than those which were under our Lord’s personal ministry: besides, the conversion of a sinner is a greater work than any of the miracles of raising the dead, &c. for this includes in it all miracles: here we may see a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, quickened; one born blind made to see; one who was deaf to the threatenings of the law, and to the charming voice of the Gospel, made to hear, so as to live; and one that had the spreading leprosy of sin all over him, cleansed from it by the blood of the Lamb yea, though a miracle in nature is an instance and proof of divine power. . . .
Assessment of John 14:12-14: Most of the foregoing Bible commentaries regarding this scripture passage indicate that the term greater works includes miracles. But, only one of the commentaries seems to believe that the ability of Christians to perform miracles still exists in today’s world, but emphasizes that such miracles have not been as frequent as when the disciples of Jesus Christ were preaching.
Assessment of scriptures pertaining to the ability to perform other remarkable feats: With regard to most of the previously-mentioned Bible commentaries that address the two scriptures that provide relevant comments about such feats, there is agreement that these feats pertain to miracles. However, these commentaries do not agree as to whether or not the ability to perform miracles still exists.
Although there is no consensus among the Bible commentaries that we consulted regarding whether or not the Bible indicates that the ability of individual Christians to perform miracles still exists, we believe there is ample evidence that this ability does still exist, albeit to a much more limited extent than during the early years of Christianity. The basis for our belief is that there is significant empirical evidence provided by various credible religious organizations, particularly those that minister in foreign countries, that authentic miracles do occur in modern times.