[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 they 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 (Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 37-8).

There is a strong tendency in modern Christianity to dismiss the miracles of Jesus as myth-making. Usually there is an assumption miracles are impossible, so that a reader of the Gospels must explain the miracles of Jesus in a natural way (psychosomatic healings, for example) or to assume the early church created miracles in order to build up the authority of Jesus.

Like most who have studied the miracles of Jesus, Graham Twelftree traces line of thinking to David Hume. 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.

Miracle PuzzlersIn a scientific age, events once 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 MythBuster 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. 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. To most modern minds, 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 who expected as messianic age believed it would be accompanied by miracles, including healing and resurrection. If Jesus had appeared in Galilee and announced he was the messiah did not do any miracles, he would have been dismissed as a fraud. In fact, the conflict Jesus has with the Pharisees is not whether he did miracles, but 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, etc.) The fact is, Jesus does not fit modern theological categories and it is a serious mistake to make him out to be exactly what we expected him to be.

How does this affect the way a modern reader understands the miracle stories in the Gospels?