“Self-authenticating testimony” refers to written statements concerning a past event that must be regarded as accurate if both the writer and recipient of the correspondence shared first-hand knowledge of the event. This rule works for direct written correspondence (not hearsay or non-correspondence), and it obviously doesn’t apply to anonymous letters or forgeries. People can lie about what happened to them personally. They can exaggerate about what happened to somebody else. But people can’t get away with inaccurately reporting events that happened to both themselves and those to whom they are writing.
To illustrate this, let me use a couple modern examples. Imagine that I come to your home for dinner. While we chat, you and I begin to fiercely disagree over a political issue. I become so irate that I throw a whole bowl of potatoes at you then smash all your dishes before stomping out in a rage, vowing never to speak with you again. Then, two days later you receive a thank you letter from me that says the following: “Dear friend, thanks for the delightful evening. I genuinely enjoyed the meal and the splendid fellowship, especially the pleasant and stimulating conversation. It’s so good to know that we see eye-to-eye on things. I look forward to seeing you again soon.” Now, if you received that note, you would probably think I had either lost my mind or needed an exorcist. The fact is, nobody except a lunatic would write such a wildly inaccurate account to people who would know better.
Let me move this example into another realm. You invite me over to lead a small group Bible study. I arrive, give a brief lesson, spend time answering questions, pray, then leave. Nothing remarkable. The next week, however, your group receives a letter from me that says the following: “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I really enjoyed the time we had experiencing the Holy Spirit. I was especially amazed at the signs, wonder, and miracles God did through me, demonstrating Christ’s awesome resurrection power in your very midst. I look forward to doing this again real soon.” If your group received that letter, I would lose all credibility because I hadn’t done any signs, wonders, and miracles. Nobody but a lunatic would make such claims in written correspondence if his recipients would know it wasn’t so.
Now for a biblical example. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians is a written correspondence referring to events that his readers would have been able to confirm or refute. (Remember, even liberal scholars regard 2 Corinthians as one of Paul’s “Hauptbriefe,” German for “primary letters”; that is, 2 Corinthians is universally regarded as an authentic letter of Paul, not a later forgery.) In this letter Paul wrote, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Corinthians 12:2). As he tried to assert his God-given authority as an apostle, Paul reminded his readers about the signs, wonders, and miracles he did when he was with them. This fits our description of self-authenticating testimony. Just as in my own illustration above, if Paul had done no signs, wonders, and miracles while he was in Corinth, he would have lost all credibility the moment the church read that claim. Why? Because they would have known better. So, we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul did, in fact, perform miraculous deeds in Corinth.
These were not the T.V. healer kind of “miracles” that are unverifiable, faked, or exaggerated. The people in Corinth would have known immediately whether the miracles Paul performed were real or not. People of the ancient world may have believed in the supernatural (like most people today), and may even have been somewhat superstitious (like many people today), but they weren’t all ignorant and gullible. With all the wonder-working charlatans running around the Roman empire in those days, Paul’s signs, wonders, and miracles had to have stood out if he were to point to them later as proof of his divine authority. Furthermore, Paul’s actions were more than just one or two isolated events. Paul said he did multiple signs, wonders, and miracles—not just “a miracle” or “a sign.” And he did them “among you [plural],” not to some unknown individual whose story could be exaggerated. These had to have been major memory-makers for Paul to rely on the events to build his credibility in 2 Corinthians.
What does this mean for us? Hebrews 2:3–4 says, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord [Jesus], it was confirmed to us by those who heard [the apostles], God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” The writer of Hebrews claims to have been part of those who were on the receiving end of the signs, wonders, and miracles of the apostles. And the implication is serious: because God enabled them to perform these miracles to confirm that their message about Christ was from God, we must pay close attention to their claims. The same is true today. We don’t need to have seen Paul’s miracles to know, based on his self-authenticating statements, that he actually did them. Second Corinthians 12:2 proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually and literally performed signs, wonders, and miracles.
So, Paul did miracles, proving that the message he preached came from God. He preached Christ as God’s Son who became man, died for our sins, rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of his disciples . . . and then appeared to Paul, who had been working against Christians until that moment (see 1 Corinthians 15:1–9).
If you’re still skeptical about Paul’s claims, you might want to take another look. . . .