“A Sign, Mark, Token”

By Larry Ray Hafley

“Sign” is the most frequent translation of the word semeion. It means “a sign, mark, token” (Thayer, p. 573). When reference is made to a miracle, semeion characteristically implies that the act indicates a power or meaning behind it. That is natural and logical, for what is a sign if it is not an indicator? This use is emphasized in the gospel of John. John did not use words to express the wonder that a miracle incites in the beholders, nor did he stress the mighty power inherent in it 1ohn stressed the sign, the mark, the token, the indication of the miracle.

In that memorable and notable statement of purpose, John said, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn. 20:30, 31). These miracles were wrought as marks, indicators, “that ye might believe.” That Jesus was fully cognizant of this goal of his miracles is seen in John 10:37, 38, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him.” Nicodemus’ statement reveals that the rulers of the Jews also were aware that Jesus’ miracles were signs or tokens of his special link with God. “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles (semeion) that thou doest, except God be with him” (Jn. 3:2). The miracles were the signs that indicated the fact.

Divine Definitions

The word sign, semeion, is divinely defined in numerous New Testament Scriptures. In Luke 2:12, “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The specific garment and resting place of the baby was a sign, an indication showing they had found the right baby, the “Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” In John 2:11 semeion, here translated “miracles,” is defined. “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” The miracles were signs that were tokens of his glory, that is, they “manifested forth his glory.” In a third place, we find a negative, back door, or “left handed” definition of semeion. “But though he had done so many miracles (signs) before them, yet they believed not on him” (Jn. 12:37). The inference is that with all the miracles he had performed they should have believed–for they were done for that purpose. The result, though not achieved, shows the point of the word.

Jesus, as stated, accredited his works as indicators. Perhaps the most direct occasion is recorded in Matthew 9:2-8. Though semeion, sign, is not used here, this text also serves to define our word. When certain of the scribes ascribed blasphemy to his forgiveness of the paralytic, Jesus stoutly defended his act with a sign, “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) arise, take up thy bed and go unto – thine .house.” “But that ye may know” says, “Here is a sign that shows I have the authority to forgive sins.” This is the essence, the substance of the meaning of ,the New Testament word “sign,” semeion.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:45, p. 8
September 19, 1974