Signs of an Apostle
In this passage Paul explains why "in no respect" was he "inferior to the most eminent apostles." Everything that could possibly be demanded of a true apostle characterized his ministry in Corinth. He was "in nothing inferior" because, as he now reminds them, the "signs of an apostle" were done among them. But he is also "a nobody" because they were done in the context of extreme suffering and endurance.
In keeping with their triumphalism, the Corinthians evidently wanted miracles without suffering and triumphs without trials. But Paul makes clear that all the true signs of apostolicity, as well as the miracles that accompanied his ministry in Corinth, were wrought in the context of endurance of extreme suffering. The "endurance" in Paul's case would most likely refer to those things mentioned in 2 Cor. 11:23-33, as well as 2 Cor. 4 and 6.
Does 2 Corinthians 12:12 teach that signs and wonders are a "sign" of a true apostle, thus ruling out the possibility that other, non-apostolic, Christians might perform miracles (as the cessationist contends)? Contrary to popular belief, the answer is No. The NIV contributes to the confusion by translating as follows: ?The things that mark an apostle --- signs, wonders and miracles --- were done among you with great perseverance.' This rendering leads one to believe that Paul is identifying the "signs/marks? of an apostle with the miraculous phenomena performed among the Corinthians. But the "signs/marks? of an apostle is in the nominative case whereas "signs, wonders and miracles? are in the dative. Contrary to what many have thought, Paul does not say the insignia of an apostle are signs, wonders and miracles. Rather, as the NASB more accurately translates, he asserts that ?the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by [or better still, accompanied by] signs and wonders and miracles.'
Paul's point is that miraculous phenomena accompanied his ministry in Corinth. Signs, wonders and miracles were attendant elements in his apostolic work. But they were not themselves the "signs of an apostle.' The signs of an apostle, the distinguishing marks of true apostolic ministry were, among other things:
(1) the fruit of his preaching, i.e., the salvation of the Corinthians themselves (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1b-2, ?Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, as least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord?; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-3);
(2) his Christ-like life of holiness, humility, etc., (cf. 2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3-13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6,23-28); and
(3) his sufferings, hardship, persecution (cf. 2 Cor. 13:4; 4:7-15; 5:4-10; and all of chp. 11).
Paul patiently, in perseverance, displayed these "signs? of his apostolic authority. And this was accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles he performed in their midst.
Let us also remember that Paul does not refer to the "signs? of an apostle nor to the miraculous phenomena that accompanied his ministry as a way of differentiating himself from other, non-apostolic Christians, but from the false apostles who were leading the Corinthians astray (2 Cor. 11:14-15,33). ?In short,? writes Wayne Grudem, ?the contrast is not between apostles who could work miracles and ordinary Christians who could not, but between genuine Christian apostles through whom the Holy Spirit worked and non-Christian pretenders to the apostolic office, through whom the Holy Spirit did not work at all" ("Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible," in The Kingdom and the Power, ed. Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer [Ventura: Regal, 1993], 67).
Nowhere does Paul suggest that signs and wonders were exclusively or uniquely apostolic. My daughter took dance lessons and especially enjoyed ballet. She had incredibly strong and well-developed calf muscles. Indeed, it might even be said that the "sign? of a ballet dancer is strong calf muscles. But I would never argue that only ballet dancers display this physical characteristic. I simply mean to say that when taken in conjunction with other factors, her lower leg development helps you identify her as one who dances on her toes. Likewise, Paul is not saying that signs, wonders and miracles are performed only through apostles, but that such phenomena, together with other evidences, should help the Corinthians know that he is a true apostle of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the fact that miraculous phenomena and certain of the charismata served to attest and authenticate the apostles and the message of the gospel in no way proves that such activities are invalid for the church subsequent to the death of the apostolic company.
Note: Acts 18, the account of Paul's ministry in Corinth, contains no record of miracles done there. This again reminds us of the selective nature of Luke's narrative. It also is a warning not to draw conclusions on the frequency of the miraculous based on the silence of the NT.