Is The Supernatural Possible?

The third question Wilkins and Moreland use to introduce Jesus Under Fire concerns miracles. All scholars of historical Jesus have to ask, “Is the supernatural possible in ancient and modern times?” To me, this is two questions, are miracles possible, and if they are, were they present in the ministry of Jesus and his followers? (For the purpose of this post, I do not really want to deal with the second half of the question, are they present in the modern world.)

All four of the Gospels present Jesus as a miracle worker. He demonstrates his control of nature (walking on water), he heals, casts out demons from possessed people, and even raises the dead. In a pre-modern worldview, miracles can and do happen. God heals or reveals himself in extraordinary ways. Until the modernist worldview was applied to the Bible, there was no reason to doubt Jesus’ miracles.

A worldview based on the Enlightenment would never accept these stories because the supernatural simply cannot happen.  Or maybe a better way to say this it is that the record of an ancient miracle can never be submitted to a scientific test to determine if it is really a miracle.  Think of the Mythbusters as a classic example of rationalism. If someone walks on the water, Adam and Jamie are going to look for the rocks, proving that there is a rational reason for the apparent miracle.  They will “bust the myth” since they assume that miracles are impossible.  The same rational mind that dispensed with “ghosts and goblins” also got rid of waking on the water.

Post-modernism is more open to the supernatural.  Although someone with a postmodern worldview might be antagonistic toward Jesus, they would not rule out the possibility of the supernatural occurring. The problem with postmodern approaches to the Gospels is that the historical value of the text really does not matter for much.  The literary meaning of the text is more important, what the read draws out of the text that is meaning.

For the evangelical Christian there should be no problem with the idea that God did miracles in the biblical materials. The definition of a miracle is important. A miracle is a supernatural event which reveals something about God. A miracle is outside nature, something which by definition the Mythbusters can’t test. But it is also something which reveals God, not simply a strange event which has no real explanation. (Please note: this does NOT mean that God is going around appearing on moldy tortillas in Guadalajara to reveal himself!)

In the gospels, Jesus does miracles in order to reveal something about himself and his relationship with God, specifically that he is the Messiah. If a messiah appeared in the first century and he did not do miracles, he would not have been taken seriously as a messiah. In Matthew 12:38, for example, the Pharisees ask Jesus to do some sort of sign. This indicates that for the Pharisees, the messiah ought to be giving a sign of some kind. (Ironically they do not believe the miracles he has done, and when asked, Jesus does not give them a sign.)

Of the three questions I have used to introduce historical Jesus studies, this is the one that requires a certain amount of faith. I can show rationally that there was a Jesus and that much of what is said about him in the Gospels is accurate. I can show that the gospel writers were not creating myth but explaining who Jesus was and what he claimed to be. But it is very difficult to show that Jesus did miracles without falling back to my pre-conceived view that God can do miracles if he wants to.

6 thoughts on “Is The Supernatural Possible?

  1. First… imagine this… I’m reading the blog and commenting and its not for a grade.
    Second… The is great revelation and truth. Of course Jesus had to do something to show he was the Messiah. Otherwise any random person could have said they were Messiah.
    Third… I miss your classes.
    fourth… I would love to hear your opinion on the supernatural happening in the modern world.

    P.s. I’m hoping I get a shoutout in one of your Bible classes for commenting on this.. hahaha…

    • I am reading your tweets from Thailand , and do miss having you around! I like it that you are learning for free.

      As for miracles today, there are a huge number of things that go on in this world which I cannot explain, but they are not really the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did. There is certainly a shift in the later NT away from signs as a confirmation of the Gospel to the Scripture as a confirmation. I find it hard to believe a particular teacher is “from God” when they claim to do miracles yet contradict Scripture. I think there is a problem claiming messianic miracles since the point was to prove Jesus and his followers were part of that messianic community. In the present age, that is not necessary – sola scriptura!

    • Keener’s book is massive, more of a defense of miracles in general rather than a study of Jesus’ miracles (like Twelfthree, or Meier’s Marginal Jew, vol 3 (I think that is the right vol)

  2. I think that in society today, and in the first century, our minds are trained or maybe even born with a “Mythbuster” mindset. When we see something that just doesn’t seem to be possible (a miracle), we automatically try to rationalize it. We must be satisfied with an explanation for the impossible. Like we know that the magic trick happened but we know there is a secret behind it. This is why we must truly rely on faith in Jesus and who He is, especially regarding first century miracles. At least for me, from a non-faith perspective, it is a lot easier for me to believe that today a friend was healed from cancer in a miraculous way because I can see that it happened, rather than believe that Jesus walked on water. Also, we may believe a miracle happened but may not believe that God is responsible for it. Faith is the only thing we have to truly say that Jesus did do miracles and for me that is enough. And as you said, “… it is also something which reveals God, not simply a strange event which has no real explanation.” That could be what it is really about, to show that God is THE healer more than the fact that he can give sight to the blind.

    • I agree that our mindset is on being myth-busters. Everything that we hear and see, our first reaction is to doubt or be skeptical about it. It seems that if something is not tangible enough for us to be real, we rule out completely as being false or fake. We even go to the extreme and try to explain what might have happened. We try in every way possible to explain what happened or what is happening and while doing that, we do our best to rule out the thought that it is supernatural. When skeptics read about Jesus and His miracles, they simply believe that He was a good man but give no credit to the miracles that He did. They believe that there is an explanation for the miracles and don’t believe He really did them. Our society is all about, “seeing is believing.” This makes it hard for people to believe in something they not only can’t see because it happened in history, but the fact that those things don’t necessarily happen today.

Leave a Reply