Luke 16:31—Do miracles prove Jesus’ divine mission?

Problem: Beginning with Moses, miracles were given as a proof of the divine mission of His servants (cf. Ex. 4:1–17). Nicodemus knew Jesus was sent from God because, he said to Jesus, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Luke tells us that Jesus was “attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him” (Acts 2:22). The writer of Hebrews declared that God bore “witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4).

On the other hand, it is evident that miracles do not work to confirm the divine message to those who do not believe. Jesus Himself admitted this fact in this passage when He said, “Neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). And in a pivotal verse in John, after Jesus performed His many miraculous signs, John conceded, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him” (12:37). So, it would seem from these verses that miracles do not really work to confirm a divine mission.

Solution: The reason for this discrepancy is not difficult to find. There is a difference between proof and persuasion. Given the theistic context, Jesus’ miracles were a confirmation of His claims, but that does not mean everyone who saw them would be convinced by them. They were an objective demonstration of His claims, but not everyone was subjectively convinced by them. Even the best evidence is effective only on the willing, not the unwilling. Those who are closed to God will hear only “thunder,” while those who are open hear the very voice of God (cf. John 12:27–29).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.