The Miracles of Jesus

[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?

15 thoughts on “The Miracles of Jesus

  1. To be honest, I have never really thought this deeply into the context of Jesus’ miracles to understand how our modern views effect them. I too make the mistake of putting Jesus and his entire ministry (including miracles) into our modern theological categories. This is because I fit Jesus into what I expect him to be because of my perspective that I have. But there is a serious mistake in doing this because if we put Jesus in a box or category, the true meaning of his teachings and miracles can be lost. This affects the way a modern reader understands the miracle stores in the Gospels in a large way. Since everyone has their own perspective made from the events that happen in their lives, the understanding of these miracles are so different. The perspective at the time of the miracles must be identified in order to understand the meaning of the miracles. It was very interesting to learn that during the second temple period, people believed that the messianic age would involve miracles. They believed this to the extent that, “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” (P.Long). I believe that Jesus is beyond all of our expectations, so by putting his ministry in our modern categories, we are losing a lot of the purpose. For example, many of our modern perspectives believe that a miracle is something that can’t be explained because we have not discovered it in our culture. So when Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man in Matthew 9, modern perspectives might discount this as something that cannot be explained yet and the true meaning of it is guarded against. Since we are looking though many different modern perspectives, we fit Jesus into our theological categories which hides a lot of meaning and understanding.

  2. I think that thinking of Jesus and his miracles in our modern time thinking can’t be done. Modern time has so much more science into our society than Jesus’ time. We think that there has to be a trick behind each magic trick, or some type of science behind it, we don’t take anything that can be passed as magic at face value anymore. For us we need answers to everything. To use our scientific minds to think of trick behind Jesus’ miracles is writing off Jesus and what he was able to do back then. If we keep trying to do that someone will come up with some bizarre scientific reasoning behind all of Jesus’ miracles and write Jesus off as a fraud. Strauss says in his book saying, “If we assume miracles are impossible then the account will of course be rejected. If we affirm that miracles are possible and that Jesus was an exceptional person viewed by his contemporaries as a miracle worker then it is reasonable to conclude that the event took place” (Strauss 459). If we just take our modern minds out of thinking of Jesus and his miracles, I believe, Jesus will become an even more greater and powerful person.

  3. Professor Long, I thought it was interesting how you pointed out in your fourth paragraph that the Pharisees did not argue whether or not the miracles happened, but rather, how they happened. I think this gives us great insight into how the people of the time of Jesus thought towards miracles in comparison with how we view them today. “There is nearly universal agreement today – among liberals and conservatives alike – that Jesus was viewed by his contemporaries as a healer and an exorcist. The Gospel tradition is permeated with the miraculous” (Strauss, 458). Having lived in East Africa for ten years, I have heard of and witnessed more tangible encounters with the spiritual realm. This helps me understand some of the firm belief people would have had in miracles, especially in the time of Jesus. In all honesty I believe that all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26), so it is actually kind of hard to imagine what it would be like to NOT believe God could do these things. Putting myself in this position, however, helps me understand how people around me in this modern culture would read texts from the Bible concerning miracles.

  4. Ephesians 4:14 “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” I really appreciate the way that Strauss explains the controversy of miracles, “In most episode, there is little information outside of the account itself by which to judge it (the miracle). Much therefore, depends on the attitude and approach one takes to the Gospels” (Strauss 458-459). The scientific world of today greatly affects the way that miracles are viewed. People want explanations for things, hearing and reading it is not good enough, they want proof. Hume’s argument would appeal to a lot of modern day Christians. His four arguments on page 456 and 457 of Strauss might draw modern Christians in. There are no educational witnesses, people love to believe the supernatural, miracles were done among ignorant people, and miracles happen in other religions so they nullify each other. The majority of modern Christians have not claimed to have experienced a supernatural miracle. Since the world today seems to revolve around the individual, if I haven’t experienced it, then it must not have ever happened. The argument that Jesus didn’t really do miracles greatly affects how a modern day reader interprets the Gospels. It allows them to take a deistic approach and maintain their materialistic (Strauss 456) world view.

  5. Many people try to limit the power of Jesus, and they like to decide what Jesus is capable of doing and what he is not capable of doing. I understand that it is hard to believe something if I have not seen it first hand. Knowing who God is and all the things He has done for me makes it easier for me to believe. Hebrews 11:1,6 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen for without faith it is impossible to please Him for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Without the Holy Spirit, it would be difficult to believe that Jesus could just speak or touch and the person would be healed. “Much therefore depends on the attitude and approach one takes to the Gospels. If we assume miracles are impossible, then the account will, of course, be rejected. If we affirm that miracles are possible and that Jesus was an exceptional person viewed by his contemporaries as a miracle-worker, then it is reasonable to conclude that the vent took place” (Strauss 459) I’ve seen people trying to imitate miracles and try to heal people, but it is not the same as when Jesus heals or performs miracles. It is just like Pharaoh’s magicians trying to give a scientific answer to the 10 plagues. God works outside of evidence and science because you cannot put a limit on God.

  6. In our modern world today it is hard for some people, Christians and non-Christians, to believe that Jesus really did perform miracles. This stems from the feeling that we need to have a scientific explanation for every event that occurs. One of the ideas now people cannot seem to understand is that God created this world, so they have made up scientific solutions like evolution. In the same way it is difficult for people to grasp that Jesus’ miracles were real events that took place. It is interesting, because like it was mentioned in the blog, in Jesus’ day no one doubted that the miracles were not real. It was said in the blog that the Pharisees were more concerned with where the authority came from that Jesus got to perform miracles, rather than the fact that he was performing real miracles. We need to be careful not to buy into the skepticism of the day, but rather believe that with God anything is possible. Strauss says, “If we affirm that miracles are possible and that Jesus was an exceptional person viewed but his contemporaries as a miracle-worker, then it is reasonable to conclude that the event took place.

  7. Well, modern readers today believe and count things as true as they see fit. I made some notes on this blog. The first paragraph used the term modern man. I use the term atheist man. The second paragraph links itself to “modern Christianity”, but I’ve never met this group of people, so I find that very interesting. Why doesn’t David Hume think the disciples are a reliable source? If a modern reader thinks these things about the miracle stories in the gospels. Then what about the flood, ten plagues, burning bush, the birth of Jesus, and the million other miracles that take place in scripture? It affects the readers understanding of God’s character and power. It seems like that’s the norm for our culture today, and that’s pretty scary.

  8. I have always wondered if I had been one of the people who saw and heard Jesus in person, would I have believed? I can be so skeptical of things that do not have significant proof. While I would not consider myself to have a scientific mind, I require substantial reasoning before I will accept something at face value. In that line of thinking, I found it interesting that those who were expecting the messiah would have expected miracles to accompany him. That fact alone gives understanding to why those who were His followers, and experienced these miracles firsthand, were convinced He was the messiah (Strauss 551). I can only hope that perhaps I too would have believed if I were there in person! It also surprised me that the Pharisee’s did not have issue with His miracles, but rather what His power was. This is another example of what the people of that time were expecting of a messiah and is a good reminder that our modern lens of viewing miraculous events cannot interfere when reading the Bible. As we have learned throughout this class so far, we must approach the scriptures in the context of when they were written. If miracles were an expected attribute of the coming messiah, then our modern skepticism has no merit in discounting or questioning Jesus’ miracles.
    You mention David Hume in the blog as one who rejected the notion of miracles. His argument that there are not enough witnesses to prove any miracles is puzzling to me. How would he explain 1 Cor 15:6 when “Paul spoke of over five hundred witnesses who saw Jesus alive after his death” (Strauss 549)? I am curious if Hume would not have considered the resurrection an actual miracle, or if he just did not believe it happened at all? Would he have believed Jesus suffered a resuscitation or revivification (Strauss 556)?

  9. this shouldn’t affect modern day readers. personally i feel the miracles did happen and it showed how powerful Jesus was. if I witnessed any of these miracles as a disciple in Jesus time i would believe even harder. you cant question something you don’t even understand. also the article points out something deep. the pharisees didnt stop him from doing miracles but questions his power. this is another defense tactic they used to keep doing unethical things that Jesus wanted to put an end to. Jesus told them many times where his power came from by saying he doesnt act on his own behalf. things like this comes down to how open a person mind and heart is. if your open and believe in miracles then these parables will be believed but if a person doesnt really believe in that stuff then theywill argue against the parables. Jesus had the same problem in his day while performing the miracles, some believed and some didnt.

  10. Really, I have never thought to place Jesus in a modern theological box. It has never crossed my mind to ask the question, ‘what denomination would Jesus fall into?’. When I read the gospels and the miracles of Jesus, I cannot speak for anyone else but myself, I think of them as a normal almost expected thing that Jesus or God does. My view of Jesus has not changed even though we are not in the second temple period, I still believe God does miracles today and I would argue it is very ignorant to say he does not. I do believe miracles are much easier to write off now with our massive amounts of technology and our “science”. We may not be seeing the lame walk, or the blind see on a regular basis, but neither did the second temple Jews until the ministry of Jesus. Miracles are not meant to be an everyday occurrence.

  11. Honestly, I’ve never really put too much thought into the miracles that have been performed. I grew up in a Christian household and whatever is in the Bible was taught to me to be one hundred percent true and accurate. After reading this it does make me think deeply about the nature of what actually happens when Jesus performs miracles. I think most people who don’t truly know Jesus or arent that close to Him hear of these miracles and think of Him as some type of wizard or magician or someone who can do supernatural things in context to the way we would think of someone in today’s world. So your question about it affecting the modern day reader I think it really does. In Jesus’ day where he was turning water to wine and feeding 5000 and saving people from furnaces and lions’ dens those things weren’t necessarily normal but the people had seen him perform many miraculous miracles as such but in today’s world we haven’t seen anything like that so I can see how that might be difficult for someone who isn’t a believer or follower to wrap their head around miracles. Not knowing Him and not understanding exactly who Jesus is could definitely make these things hard to believe in today’s world.

  12. First of all, a “miracle” is defined as an unexpected event that occurs against the laws of nature and science. The modern world commonly measures life and everything in it by the extent of science, especially when it comes to discussing creation. In the context of miracles, scientists challenge this idea so much. In this blog post of yours, and in the textbook, David Hume is discussed to believe and emphasize the need of evidence of a miracle for miracles to be able to occur (Strauss, p. 456). However, this fallacy has been evident in this world for the longest time. On the other hand, when a miracle is to occur, it often is a way to bring people to know and love Christ. My mother has told me a story that is so fulfilling, and is directly related to the topic of miracles. When my mother was twelve years old, she had a hole in her heart. Over time, and observation by the surgeons and doctors, this hole increased in size to where it was more than life threatening. This growth happened overnight, and the doctors were nearly worried for my mother’s life. As the doctors and surgeons prepped my mom for surgery, they saw that the hole was still present. However, as soon as they opened up her chest, they saw that the hole closed up. They thoroughly investigated to make sure that there was nothing more wrong with her heart, and found her to be healed. The head surgeon later approached my grandparents in awe of this event. The doctor, as an atheist, was in such great shock that he claimed that this is a miracle straight from God. Praise to the Lord that this miracle, under the nose of science, brought one individual to know Him better. Because of God’s immutability, He still has the power to perform miracles in His will. Believing this is an act of one’s own faith. Oftentimes, modern Christians, modern readers, do not perceive these miracles as still relevant.

  13. I believed that Jesus proved himself back then of his power and wanted to show that they can be done. He wanted to show that he was the son of God and wanted to really help our people. In my opinion in today’s world people would think that Jesus miracles would be unrealistic or doable. I believe that Jesus wanted us to improve our faith and he wanted to prove that he is the Son of God.

  14. Dr. Long,
    I want to comment on your statement that “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” (Long, 2014). As a Christian, it is very common to hear that the miracles of Jesus never happened because there was no one (in their terms) there that was reliable or “trustworthy” enough to witness them. Therefore, the miracles never happened. I have also heard the question: “Well, if the miracles really happened, why do miracles like that not happen now?” And my response to that is that miracles do happen, not in the sense that someone walked on water or turned water into wine, but those were miracles that needed to be performed by Jesus in order to further his ministry and there are modern day miracles that have happened. Miracles do happen and there are many people that have witnessed them and in my opinion, just because I was not there and did not see it with my own eyes, does not make the miracle false. In Luke it reads, “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27, ESV). So, even if man is not ever able to walk on water or turn water into wine, it still does not mean that it never happened because as Jesus said and recorded in Luke, what is impossible for us is possible with God.

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