[The] modern man acknowledges as reality only such phenomena or events as are comprehensible within the framework of the rational order of the universe. He does not acknowledge miracles because the do not fit into his lawful order. When a strange or marvelous accident occurs, he does not rest until he has found a rational cause (Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 37-8).
Since the Enlightenment, there has been a strong tendency on the part of intellectuals to deny the validity of miracles. This belief that miracles are impossible becomes an assumption before approaching the text of scripture. If one does not believe in miracles, then one must explain the miracles of Jesus in a natural way (psychosomatic healings, for example), or to argue that the early church created miracles in order to build up the authority of Jesus.
Twelftree traces this to David Hume, whose argument against miracles has influenced modern thought on the possibility of miracles. Hume argued that for an event to be believed as true, it must have sufficient witnesses. Since a miracle is something that is outside of the laws of nature, the witness to a miracle must be especially strong. In fact, there is no witness to a miracle that Hume would accept as reliable, therefore there are no accurate reports of miracles, therefore miracles never happen.
In a “scientific age” things that once were thought to be miraculous can be explained. Honestly, I am extremely skeptical when someone tells me they have experienced something supernatural (a ghost, for example). My modernist mind pretty much goes into Penn & Teller mode and I look for the logical explanation behind the experience. There is simply no way I am going to believe a ghost appeared, no matter who was telling me the story. This skepticism is a product of the modern age. Arthur C. Clarke once said that technology in a primitive culture is indistinguishable from magic. Mark Twain makes a similar point in A Connecticut Yankee. A miracle is just science or technology which has yet to be discovered in a particular culture.
Two observations are appropriate here. First, my modern skepticism has no business trying to explain the miracles of Jesus. In the Second Temple Period, miracles happened. In fact, people expected that the messianic age would be accompanied by miracles, including healing and resurrection. If Jesus had appeared in Galilee and announced he was the messiah and could not do miracles, he would have been dismissed as a pretender, a fraud. In fact, the conflict Jesus has with the Pharisees is not if he did miracles, but rather the source of his power to do miracles.
Second, anyone who dismisses Jesus’ miracles is imposing their modern worldview on a pre-modern worldview. We are expecting Jesus to act like a proper Evangelical Christian, or Lutheran, or Pentecostal, or what ever our theological assumptions are. The fact is, Jesus does not fit the categories of modern theological talk very well and it is a serious mistake to make him out to be exactly what we expected him to be.
In fact, I think I would call that idolatry.
Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), 37-38.
Graham Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle-Worker, (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1999), 38-53.
18 thoughts on “The “Problem” of Miracles”
Something that came to mind when reading this blog was the movie Prince of Egypt, that cartoon that came out in 1998. The movie is obviously about Egypt and the miracles Moses performed there in the name of God. The first few miracles were imitated exactly by the Pharaohs sidekicks and made Moses look like a phony, until they started getting harder, and the rest is history.
I agree that as humans we search desperately trying to rationally and logically explain everything that happens. But we also have to keep in mind that God created the entire universe, so absolutely nothing is impossible for him. The verses in John chapter 10 when Jesus is being questioned by the Jews about his validity as the Son of God pertains to this exactly. Jesus says in verse 25 “…I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice…” It is all about blind faith, and even though eye witness accounts may be shaky and hard for us to believe, to put our faith in Jesus Christ means we must believe the miracles and associate them with the power of the living God.
That is exactly what we as humans do all of the time. We want an explanation for everything that happens in life. I know for me personally, I am very rational person. I guess more along the lines of why people act the way that they do. I know that no matter what God is always in control of each and every situation. There is always a reason behind it, even if we do not know what that is. Job 37:15, “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?” God even has control over the weather. We just need put our faith in God. Which I know is easier said than done at times, but there is even logic behind that as well.
It is actually quite amazing that so many Christians (churchians?) do not believe in miracles. Well, maybe it’s more amazing that some Christians do, when we consider that so many preachers preach against the miraculous.
Miracles happen where miracles are expected. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12 & 13)
Thanks for your timely, well thought-out message.
PS: to Joey S. – I think I get what you mean by ‘blind faith.’ May I suggest that you probably mean ‘intelligent, bold’ faith?
That has always been the dilemma. It’s always going to be difficult to convince everyone about something. Let alone, miracles. But, that’s to be expected. I, for one, am a believer of the miracles said in the bible. One of the reason why is that it explains why Jesus became so popular so fast. People flocked to Jesus because they wanted to be healed. This tells me that Jesus healed people with great success.
Check out Acts 8 – Philip went to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there … and there was great joy in that city.
We could use a little joy in our cities.
“Almost every doctor who has bee in practice for some length of time can testify to having treated patients who have been inexplicably healed of serious ailments shortly after times of intense prayer on their behalf. Other well-documented “paranormal” events show how little science really can make absolute pronouncements after all. Indeed, many New Testament scholars today are prepared to grant that Jesus performed genuine healings, even if they do not accept every detail that the Gospels record about those healings” (310). It would be a lot easier to believe that Jesus did miracles if we were actually there to see them, but obviously we weren’t. What we have today is the word New Testament scholars and doctors who have been in practice for sometime. They even said that after intense prayer, people have been healed. Why did Jesus perform miracles? “Instead, each of the more unusual “nature miracles” coheres closely with Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, teaching that is widely accepted as authentic. Indeed, it is interesting how themes from Jesus’ parables, regularly cited as among the most indisputably authentic parts of the Gospels, closely match the points of his nature miracles. They are enacted “object lessons” about the nature and arrival of the kingdom of God. In this light, we should perhaps think twice before automatically dismissing them as impossible”(Pg. 311). We not only have one, but two kinds of miracles-healing miracles and nature miracles. When calming the storm in Mark 4:41, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him. All of the details of the story highlight Jesus’ sovereign authority and calm in the midst of chaos” (311). “Even after the storms have calmed (unlike Matt 8:26), Jesus rebukes his followers: Why are so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40)” (311). We as Christians need to believe that Jesus performed these miracles and not ask for any proof. The only proof that we have is the God’s word that He has given to us. We can not ask for anymore than that. We just need to have faith that Christ did actually perform these miracles. There will be storms throughout our own lives. Jesus will not always make the storms that come along still. However, He will still be with us as long as we put our faith in Him.
Something I wonder about is why Jesus even did miracles. Blomberg said, “Countless generations of Christians have applied this passage (Stilling the Storm) as if it were a promise that Jesus would “still the storms of this life.” In context, all three Synoptists agree that it had a very different purpose: to make people address the question, “Who is this?…” (311). When it comes to supernatural happenings, like P. Long, I too am very skeptical about things. Even if we have the negative mentality about miracles because of the scientific era, I think it is very important that we reverse our thoughts. The biggest reason why we should not be doubtful of Jesus’ miracles is because of the power behind them and who He is. Since Jesus is fully God, that means He has all of the same attributes of God the Father. Jesus is Omnipotent (Matthew 8:26), Eternal (John 8:58), omniscient (Mark 2:8), and Omnipresent (Matthew 18:20). We have to remember Jesus is fully God and there is no reason why God can’t do anything. Here is a question for the doubters: If we can’t trust Him regarding miracles, can we trust Him with our souls?
“Second, anyone who dismisses Jesus’ miracles is imposing their modern worldview on a pre-modern worldview. We are expecting Jesus to act like a proper Evangelical Christian, or Lutheran, or Pentecostal, or what ever our theological assumptions are. The fact is, Jesus does not fit the categories of modern theological talk very well and it is a serious mistake to make him out to be exactly what we expected him to be.
In fact, I think I would call that idolatry.”
I agree. There is a danger in reading our world-view and culture into the Bible. However, this is so hard not to do. What we think, what we do, what we read all goes through the lens that we have grown up with. If someone is opening the Word of God and speaking in front of everyone we have a picture in our minds where that person is (usually the pastor) and we even imagine what he would be wearing! This creeps over into our view on Jesus and his miracles. Our modern mindset is just like P. Long is saying, we are highly skeptical of miracles. We try to rationalize things and figure out what happened and we ignore the context and God’s power through it all.
I do like how you put it at the end of the post. If we put Jesus as a white Evangelical Christian then we are making him something he never was. We are turning Jesus from our Savior God to a god we can control and interpret. He behaves, thinks, and his actions are determined through your worldview. That is wrong. As Christians we should be seeking to understand Jesus through his own culture and then build a bridge to our culture.
I agree with Joey and Cary and everyone else. We do want an explanation for everything that happens and we try to make Jesus something he is not. Why do people think that Jesus can’t do miracles. Since He did create this world, can’t He do anything He wanted. I think a lot of the time we limit things to what He actually can do.
” Hume argued that for an event to be believed as true, it must have sufficient witnesses. Since a miracle is something that is outside of the laws of nature, the witness to a miracle must be especially strong. In fact, there is no witness to a miracle that Hume would accept as reliable, therefore there are no accurate reports of miracles, therefore miracles never happen.” I do not agree with this because who said that we need to have a witness there? I know someone that has had a miracle in life and no witness was around, does that now mean that they were lying and it wasn’t really a miracle? A verse that I really like that I feel people didn’t believe in His miracles is John 10:32 “but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
I look at the Miracle “problem” like this: picture somebody coming back from the future. If they showed us that people can fly on their own in the future with technology we have never seen or dreamed of before we would try to explain it in the only way we know how, which is what we see here and now(our perception of reality). Miracles will only be able to be explained when we get to heaven depending if God lets us understand His power or not. God has control of all the atoms and molecules of life he can do what he wants with them. God writes the rules of nature in each atom or piece of DNA. I am sure God tamed down the Miracles he displayed in Bible times if he didn’t, the witnesses’ minds would have literary fried and passed from existence.
Back to the problem if people really think they can look at the Bible without Miracles there are going to be some major gaps. Case and point, some of the clashes with the Pharisees such as Matthew 21:23 where they ask “By what authority are you doing these things” or in Luke 11 where Jesus drives out the demon and the people think Jesus is controlled by a demonic power. All the teachings that Jesus gave to the people who question His power to do Miracles would not be important anymore.
If we can’t believe Jesus for His miracles can we believe Him for the salvation of our souls?
Why are miracles even an issue among believers? Jesus did the miracles, ( the Gospels) Peter did the miracles, (Acts 3) Philip did the miracles, (Acts 8) Paul did the miracles, (Acts 28).
Jesus commended those who showed they had faith in Him, and reprimanded those who failed to have it when they should have had it.
Here’s what we need to pay more attention to – “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” -Jesus (John 14:12-13)
The question is not whether Jesus did miracles, but whether we who believe are doing them.
“The question is not whether Jesus did miracles, but whether we who believe are doing them.”
This statement really stretched my mind wellwateredgarden, because I feel like I do agree with you, in that I have no problem believing that Jesus actually did miracles. I have no problem believing that Peter and the other apostles did miracles as well. I have no problem believing that what the Word of God says actually happened. I only wish I knew how their faith differs from the faith of believers today. Are we actually believers if we even compare our faith to the faith of the early church members? Can we see the same kind of miracles that Jesus preformed happen in our lives?
I also wonder why it’s so hard for people to believe in the miracles that Jesus preformed and yet they have no problem believing in the resurrection of Jesus? I would think that would be the greatest “miracle” of all miracles. I don’t have a scientific mind so I don’t feel that I have to prove every miracle that Jesus did in order to fully believe in Him.
Does a person have to believe that Jesus preformed miracles, not just the resurrection, in order to fully believe in Him? Or can a person get away with believing only in the resurrection and not the miracles and still fully believe in Jesus?
“Miracles happen where miracles are expected” (wellwateredgarden). I think this is an accurate statement. If you are looking for miracles you will see them. If you are looking for logical and systematic proofs then you will see them. Whatever angle you come at miracles from will affect what you see in them. Jesus acknowledges this very fact when he speaks about those ever hearing and ever seeing without acknowledging the truth. I can think of several friends who cannot wrap their minds around miracles or even faith in God because they are not satisfied with any reasoning presented to them. These scientifically minded friends of mine, will not see what I see as truth because it cannot be proven with theories and scientific studies. I have an element of faith and trust in my person that they seem to lack or have forgotten.
The last few posts are quite interesting. I would like to add a couple thoughts that we’ve been learning in dispensational theology class. Blomberg writes on page 311, “each of the more unusual ‘nature miracles’ cohere closely with Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, teaching that is widely accepted as authentic.” Blomberg first makes a point that miracles that Jesus performed were closely alligned to his ministry of expressing the Kingdom.
Another point is that through most of the old testament a prophet would speak and what brought authority to their statements proving to be of God would be their use of a miracle or sign. An example is with Moses and how he turned his rod into a snake. Later Paul writes that Jews demanded miracles or signs to believe in a message. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;” – 1cor1:22
The miracles that Jesus performs was unique to his ministry to the Jews. The dispensational class mentions that we are now in a new dispensation. The dispensation of Grace, Eph 1. Although Jesus does mentions in John 14 about doing greater things then he did, it is important to know the context and dig dipper into what Jesus is saying here. It could be referring to the Jewish church where believers are inaugurated. We see this function in Acts 2 at Pentecost where the Jewish belivers are given signs when the Holy Spirit comes upon them to proclaim to other Jews the message of Christ.
Just some quick thoughts.
Good thoughts Joe. My only question is that if i am coming from a different theology [perspective], how do you not come to believe in miracles anymore? One of the difficulties in people not believing in miracles is what Anna talks about, that people who are expectant of miracles will see them [right or wrong], and people who try to explain them theoretically or scientifically will see that as well [right or wrong]. This topic brings me to Matthew 17 where Jesus appears frustrated with almost everyone in the passage for their unbelief in who He was. The disciples couldn’t heal the boy with a demon, and they themselves were wondering why. Jesus answers pretty frankly, “because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from her to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” [Matthew 17: 20 ESV]. Now this brings a ton of questions… how do we remedy the people who do have faith…even more than myself, faith that can indeed move mountains, but their parents or loved one is suffering from cancer? I know of a time where my family and I were praying for months on end [with constant family prayer meetings] for my grandpa who was with cancer. In the end, I don’t think he was healed, but I had to learn in that moment if God were to answer every prayer that I had, regardless of my mountain moving faith [not saying that I do have that], there’d be no need for Him to be God of my life. I think because people hold healing dear to their hearts, they [we] forget that healing isn’t a means to an end, it’s to point back to Jesus and who He is.
I believe the number one reason modern-day believers cannot get their minds around, nor expect, miracles is they do not understand or appreciate the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Most people attending church are taught that the New Testament is simply a continuation of the Old Testament and as result, by default, live under the Law. (See 2 Cor. 18-20; 3:13-16)
Jesus said that believers in Him must be born again, and that is a totally spiritual matter, whereas living under the Law was/is a totally natural matter, not all bad, but not good enough.
The fact that the Law cannot be kept doesn’t seem to matter to the teachers/preachers, we are told to strive to keep it. But that is a losing battle and exactly the reason Jesus had to come to free us from that.
Unless the Son sets us free, we are not free at all but simply burdened with trying to live good lives in order to appease God’s anger/disappointment with humans.
Jesus did the miracles to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that He was the Christ, the Messiah, sent and blessed by God, and His resurrection proved/clinched it.
If any one of us got serious about what God requires of us, (such as the early disciples did) that is, our personal ‘calling’, then we would soon enough hear from Him, receive our personal calling and be empowered to carry it out, and we would soon experience that where our abilities stop God will take over through the miraculous and the results will astound an encourage us.
The way I see it, anyway …
PS: It’s real good to talk about these things. Thanks all.
This point of our culture, even the Christian sector, being ill-informed or simply mis-taught about the validity and relevance of the Old Testament is completely agreeable. Not only have we been raised in a traditionalist view of the world, we simply cannot wrap our minds around the idea of miracles. Sure, we have no problem saying, “This has to be a miracle” or “Surely God performed a miracle here” in the case of medical illnesses or near-accidents, but deep down, we cling to the idea that logically, man is responsible for seemingly miraculous events. In the Old Testament, and partly the New, people understood miracles as an absolute evidence of God. The problem with our Western-thinking society is that the acceptance of miracles is a personification of weakness, or lack of understanding. If we believe something is miraculous, it is thought that we lack the proper intelligence to prove the occurrence logically.
While post-modern thinking is slowly allowing more abstract, expressive thoughts, thus being more acceptable of miraculous events, our society is still refusing of God interceding where man is. However, the basis of our faith rests upon the hope of Jesus, which is, itself a miracle.
Before coming to GBC, I never even knew there was an argument of Jesus’ miracles being real or not; I just grew up believing that the bible was fully the inspired word of God, and that there was no fault or flaw within it. I can see why it is a problem in our culture today, especially with everyone needing solid proof for everything. Our culture has shifted away from having faith, and towards needing proof for everything. Obviously with something such as Jesus’ miracles, the closest you’re going to get to proof is what you read in the Bible. It requires faith in the inerrancy of scripture. I think the word miracle has somewhat changed in today’s society. Blomberg says that every physician today has seen something related to a miracle, and I am sure that many of those same physicians said something along the lines of “It’s a miracle”. But how many of those physicians have actually thought of what that word means. Is it something that is just pretty rare and unlikely to happen? Or is it something that could not happen without God intervening and taking control of the situation? I really like what Joe P said about the resurrection being the greatest miracle, and it’s no problem for most to believe in that. Why is it so hard for us to believe that Jesus walked on water, when He conquered death!? He can do anything He wants, when He wants. I understand that like many things we are talking about, there is strong apologetic value in the concepts, but this issue holds an argument that will never be proven, and therefore is just based on faith, or lack of.