The Historical Reliability of Jesus’ Miracles

There are a number of sources outside of the New Testament which indicate that Jesus had a  reputation for being a miracle worker.  The non-Christian writer has no real reason to create a Jesus that preformed miracles especially of those miracles were intended to validate his message.  While the evidence is meager, it is an indication that Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker was known outside of the Christian community by people that would have no interest in enhancing Jesus’ reputation.

Jesus Walks on the water

Josephus attributes miracles to Jesus, as does the Babylonian Talmud.   In the second century Origen quotes the heretic Celsus as thinking that Jesus learned his magical arts in Egypt, and when he returned to Galilee he did miracles in order to claim to be God (in Contra Celsus, 1.38, cf 1.160).  Celsus is late evidence since he is living at the end of the first century and likely only knows Jesus through the Gospel traditions.  A rather indirect piece of evidence is that the name of Jesus is associate with healing spells and exorcisms.  The evidence for exorcisms is rather late (AD 330), but rabbis forbid using Jesus name in healings as well.

The so called criterion of authenticity can applied to the miracle stories.  For example, all strata of the tradition indicates that Jesus did miracles, including Mark, Q, M/L, and John.  This ought to satisfy the criterion of Multiple Attestation since miracles appear in all of the various forms suggested by form criticism.  Given the methodology of even the Jesus Seminar, one can confidently conclude that Jesus had the reputation as a miracle worker, that he claimed to do miracles, healings, etc.

The criterion of plausibility argues that an event is more likely historical if it is a plausible event.  If this is applied to the miracles, many will dismiss miracles because they do not seem plausible.   What is or is not plausible is highly subjective, and very often implausible events actually occur.  To me, it is implausible that anyone claiming to be a messiah in the Second Temple Period would not do miracles.  While the modern worldview would dismiss miracles as implausible, the Second Temple Period would require them if Jesus was to be taken seriously as the messiah!

The criterion of embarrassment is more helpful.  If a deed seems like it might have been an embarrassment to the growing theology of Jesus, and they passed it along anyway, it has a greater claim to validity.  The healing of the woman with the flow of blood, for example, has Jesus healing the woman without really consciously thinking about it, the power just “went out of him” and he did not know who it was that touched him.

In addition, Jesus was known to have been a man of prayer, yet there are no stories in which Jesus prays in connection to a healing.  If the early church were going to create or enhance the prayers of Jesus (which they very well may have), it is remarkable that they did not create prayers to be added to the miracles of Jesus. This means that Jesus did not heal in the same way Jewish holy men healed, through prayer and ritual.

In short, it is historically plausible that Jesus was known as a miracle worker during his own lifetime, even if the modern thinker dismisses the possibility of miracles.

12 thoughts on “The Historical Reliability of Jesus’ Miracles

  1. Again I believe the biggest single problem with the world not believing in Jesus’ miracles is the modern/enlightenment way of thinking. Professor Long said, “To me, it is implausible that anyone claiming to be a messiah in the Second Temple Period would not do miracles.” Like in everything we talk about so far in class, to get to the true understanding of Jesus we have to bring everything back to a first century Jewish perspective.
    P. Long also writes, “Isaiah 61:1-4 says that the age of the Messiah will bring physical healing and liberation from oppression.” If they were anticipating a messiah they would be accepting of miracles and would look and have faith in them. I have always wondered if God still works through miracles today. Could He still be doing miraculous things, but we are just too blind to see them. Is it because we don’t believe that miracles happen? Like Blomberg said, every doctor knows someone who has been healed after an intense time of prayer. Obviously God is doing something in their lives, but how come we don’t give credit to God for doing these amazing things?

  2. I would have to agree with the line of thought that was just brought up from Isaiah 61:1-4. Historically in the Jewish context Jesus preforming miracles makes sense. But, just as Isaiah had written hundreds of years before, Blomberg restates the notion that, ” Jesus never works a miracle solely to benefit himself.” Miracles were used to bring attention to the one true God, and his work at hand. But often times we do not notice the miracles that were preformed do to in part because of plausibility. “The criterion of plausibility argues that an event is more likely historical if it is a plausible event. If this is applied to the miracles, many will dismiss miracles because they do not seem plausible.”P.Long. We as humans tend to disregard the notion of miracles because of this point here, we want to make sense of what has transpired. Blomberg goes on to say” Faith based on signs may often prove inadequate.”

  3. Greg makes a good point in saying, “to get to the true understanding of Jesus we have to bring everything back to a first century Jewish perspective.” Sometimes I forget this. I know it is crucial but I think we are so caught up in our own culture that it is hard to understand another, especially a 2000 year old culture. We interpret everything through the lens history has given us. That being said, we need to delve all the more into the perspective of first century Jews.

    Miracles in Jesus’ day where powerful signs of His authority. In the O.T. Moses and Aaron performed miracles before Pharaoh that he might see the authority and power of their God. Jesus performed miracles that people might trust in Him as their Messiah. Miracles triggered a sense of wonder and awe in the people who are present at the time and those who here about them. Sometimes miracles were used to get someone’s attention. The burning bush sure turned Moses’ attention to God. Miracles reveal God’s glory and authority but they must be accepted in faith.

  4. I find the fact that Jesus is never shown to be praying for a miracle, or praying right before a miracle very interesting. There is a very direct separation between the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels, and the miracles of man throughout the rest of scripture and history. This show a very clear difference between Jesus, and the rest of humanity. I agree with what P Long was saying about the early church not enhancing any of Jesus’ prayers with prayers for miracles, if they indeed created or enhanced his prayers in the first place. If miracles were something concocted by the early church, there should be evidence in the recorded prayers, and some of the embarrassing aspects would have been left out, and I feel like there would have been bigger miracles recorded as well. Miracles that brought him more glory, weren’t done in as humble a manner, and were on a bigger scale would seem to be the type that would be made up about Him. The humility, and actual need of the miracles proves otherwise to me. These miracles were faith based. They weren’t to bring him glory or for any personal gain. They were in response to faithful followers who realized who he was and were looking for healing and wholeness.

  5. To add to what David said, I believe that the very fact that Jesus did not pray for miracles is a testament to him being God. It is that fact that he can perform these miracles of his own power; of Gods, shows that he is indeed the Living God. If he were dependent on another being to give him the power to do so then he would not be God.

  6. I wanted to find something to disagree about with you Anna but I can’t find anything. So I will internet troll in a different way. I want to know what was going on with Jesus spitting on the blind mans eyes, who then saw trees, only for Jesus to do it again and then see men. I tried allegorising this only to be weirded out myself. This to me almost seems like a failed first attempt. Now I use that phrase lightly. It’s just confusing that Jesus had to do it twice, I don’t recall this type of event happening before or again after the account. The reference is the Mark 8:28 miracle.

    • I think this is a symbolic miracle, not so much about healing a man (although that is important), but it is about the disciple’s growing realization that that Jesus is the Messiah. they understand that he is, but they do not totally understand, hence the “two part” miracle.

  7. I agree with Greg. The point that P Long brought up about that it wouldn’t make sense to him for someone who was claiming to be the messiah, in that time period in Jewish history, to not be performing miracles, stuck out to me. The Jews often required/demanded signs in order to believe (1 Corinthians 1:22) and signs often accompanied teaching in order to validate the speaker and his message. In todays day and age we are skeptical if you tell us that anything is unexplainable. We have seen things we thought were magical as children explained and accounted for, we learned Santa wasn’t real, and that the easter bunny doesn’t really like eggs. Also, the way in which Jesus preformed his miracles and the seeming motivation behind it differs from the norm and to me further validates them. As Blomberg talked about, if the early church had fabricated the miracles you would assume they would have made them in the fashion of the way miracles were done usually, with prayers and special words said beforehand.

  8. I agree with Greg that the single biggest problem with the world right now is that people do no believe in Jesus’ miracles. I believe that is the problem with people and the world today is that no one has faith and no one believes in miracles or anything that might be unable to be reproduced in a science experiment or a lab. This is saddening that we only trust what can be reproduced and “proven” to us.

  9. Matt, I heard a great sermon on that same miracle. The title of the sermon was “The Second Touch.” The pastor leaned towards this particular miracle being symbolic like P. Long stated. He went on to explain that the first touch is what people who don’t have Christ see (blur vision). The second of course is when some has Christ (see clearly). Not sure if that is the exact meaning but I liked that perspective.
    I have always considered miracles as a sign of the Kingdom. Throughout Jesus’ ministry He healed what was broken and made it new. His miracles were very much aligned with His messages. This probably was a great teaching method, people were able to see His miracles hands on (visual aid). These miracles did happen and like in the intro P. Long pointed out “that sources outside of the New Testament” that identify Jesus as a miracle worker. Miracles have been a debate over the many years since Christ. Can people have the authority to do miracles? Are they a thing of the past (Jesus time only)? Miracles were a tool used to bring people closer to God. I honestly think miracles do still occur.

  10. Going along with what David and Matt were saying, I too think it is rather odd that Jesus did not pray before miracles. However, this also goes to show he is GOD and because of the power he has he does not have to pray before he performs a miracle. I honestly have to admit that I never noticed that. But now knowing this it makes it that much more powerful knowing that that is how powerful he is!!

  11. While there may not be enough physical evidence to convince modern thinkers that Jesus performed miracles- I think not only is it plausible that Jesus was known as a miracle worker during his lifetime, I think that it is a statement of fact. This is not arguing that the miracles performed were real to modern thinkers who have doubts, but simply stating that Jesus was definitely known for performing them by his peers. This is evident from the numerous amounts of times we see people come to Jesus to ask him to perform miracles such as healings. Some examples of this are the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8, and the Capernaum official’s son in John 4. These people came to Jesus because they believed that he was indeed known as a miracle worker, and had faith that he could help them. If people did not believe this, then they would not have bothered to ask him for his help. To say that Jesus did not perform miracles is one thing, but in my opinion there is sufficient evidence that he was at the least known as someone who did by others.

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