Miracles Considered

Some people today have trouble believing the Bible because it contains accounts of miracles.  They feel that we live in an age of science and that biblical documents, coming from a pre-scientific age, don’t have credibility.  This is an unwarranted rejection of reliable historical documents.  To help such people address their qualms about miracles, here are some points to consider.

1. Miracles were rare in Bible times.  It is not as though every page of the Bible contains a miracle.  On the contrary, miracles are comparatively rare in biblical times.  When they did occur, they sometimes came in bunches – most notably in the life of Jesus of Nazareth which is part of what made His life so noteworthy. 

2. Miracles are rare today.  Many false claims of miracles are made today – some by hucksters seeking fame or fortune, and some by sincere but misguided folks whose wishful thinking leads them to exaggerate and rationalize.  Thus, biblical times and modern times are quite similar in the sense that true miracles were and are rare, and that false claims were and are abundant.

3. God usually doesn’t perform miracles to prove Himself.  When He was raised from the dead, Jesus appeared to His disciples and not the Pharisees or the Romans.  Thus miracles are a favor to the believing, not the unbelieving.

4. God doesn’t grant miracles on demand.  Miracles come as He wills, not as we want.  Therefore, we can’t set up a science lab, have a control group, and do all the things that our science teacher would be proud of.  We have to be content with the approval of our history teacher who would have us examine the historical record and pay attention to eyewitness accounts.   

5. Miracles are different from wonders.  Wonders are present all through creation.  It’s a wonder that we are walking around on the side of a spinning sphere that is flying through space without falling off or even getting chapped lips.  This has happened for all of known history though, so we become dulled to the wonder of it.  A miracle, then, is an extraordinary wonder.  Their rarity keeps them from being wonders which get taken for granted.  If God can perform wonders every day, what’s so strange about a miracle once in a while?  

6. Miracles are seamless with creation.  Since the God of creation is the God of miracles we should not be surprised that miracles, in some ways, look like normal life.  They are seldom accompanied by great fanfare or dramatic flourish as we would see in a magic act.  They are momentary alterations from the ordinary. 

7. Miracles are not a suspension of the laws of physics.  God no more suspends the laws of physics to perform a miracle than humanity suspended the law of gravity to achieve flight.  We can only benefit from the laws of physics to the degree that we know and understand them.  God has an advantage over us in that regard, and we see that advantage exploited in the execution of a miracle.

8. Just because biblical societies weren’t scientific doesn’t mean they weren’t skeptical.  While biblical society may not have had as many science books as we do, they certainly had as much skepticism.  When the rare miracle did occur, it was disbelieved, rationalized away, or otherwise ignored just as much as it is today.  Not everyone believed then, just as not everyone believes now.

9. The miracles of Jesus were expressions of His kindness.  When Jesus fed the 5,000 He was feeding hungry people.  When he brought back to life the dead son of a grieving widow He was comforting her.  When He walked on water toward His storm-tossed disciples He was saving them.  Don’t let the splendor of His miracles divert you from seeing what His acts were at their root: love in action. 

10. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the most important miracle, and the key to understanding all the others.  The only miracle in the Bible necessary to know about, understand, and believe is that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures.  If you believe in Him, you can then believe in Jonah and all the other miracles…because He believed them.

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15 Responses to Miracles Considered

  1. Kendrick Brix says:

    “Some people today have trouble believing the Bible because it contains accounts of miracles.”

    I’d argue people have trouble believing it because there’s almost nothing in it that’s accurate!

    “The only miracle in the Bible necessary to know about, understand, and believe is that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. If you believe in Him, you can then believe in Jonah and all the other miracles…because He believed them.”

    We know almost nothing about Jesus as he never wrote a word himself and all four Gospels were written decades after his life & death by people who weren’t eyewitnesses to anything and didn’t even speak the language spoken in Judea during the time of Christ! If you believe he rose from the dead with that as evidence, you’d believe anything!

    Why is this post tagged with science?

    • Mike says:

      Since the gospels present themselves as eyewitness accounts, upon what do you base your opinion that they are not?

      • K.J. Brix says:

        The Gospels do not read as eyewitness accounts and they were written in Greek, between 35 & 65 years after the
        death of Christ, so clearly not eyewitnesses.

        Can you point to any evidence suggesting the Gospels were written in real time?

        • Mike says:

          I don’t see why anyone would expect the gospels to have been written in real time. These eyewitnesses were spreading the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah by preaching. It’s not as though they lived in the 21st century and therefore got a book contract with Simon & Schuster with guarantees of an advance as well as booking on the Oprah Winfrey show. One would expect their knowledge about Jesus to be transmitted orally in that culture, for indeed ancient peoples in general and the Jews in particular were very adept at oral transmission of knowledge – much more so than we are today. As our calculators have made us neglect memorization of our multiplication tables, so our many resources for the written word have made us less capable of effective oral knowledge retention and transmission.

          That some datings of the gospels are 30 or more years after Jesus life actually makes perfect sense because that would be when the apostles were approaching death. Obviously, things would need to be written down because oral transmission was about to be shut down. And the similarity of the synoptic gospels is consistent with such an oral tradition. They are similar without being identical. It is quite easy to imagine many of their passages being spoken over and over again before they were written down.

          As to the fact that they were written in Greek, what is so surprising there? Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world. If you wanted to communicate widely, which was their goal, you’d go with a language most people understood. Did the apostles of Jesus know Greek or were they dictating to people who did? I don’t know, though Bible scholars might. What difference would it make? The answer is immaterial to understanding what these eyewitnesses said they saw and heard.

          As to your saying that “the gospels do not read as eyewitness accounts,” I am quite puzzled that you would say this. The gospels are replete with specifics that only eyewitnesses could claim to know. If you say you don’t believe these accounts, that’s one thing. But if you say they don’t read like eyewitness accounts you’re going to need to be more specific about why that’s the case for you.

          • K.J. Brix says:

            I am working on an article for my site about the absence of evidence. When it is completed, I will gladly point you to it. If you’re interested, I wrote my thoughts about the New Testament in a post called Jesus and the Giant Game of Telephone.

            • Mike says:

              I read your post “Jesus and the Giant Game of Telephone” and was disappointed. I left you a comment there explaining why. You make broadbrush statements without proper support. Uninformed readers might be swayed by what you write, but informed readers will know that either you have not properly researched your facts or you are relying on a source who has not properly researched the facts.

              If we’re going to learn from each other, we are going to need to have a common respect for research and facts.

              • K.J. Brix says:

                Mike, I love research and facts are my ultimate goal. The problem with using the New Testament as the basis for your research is that it’s not corroborated. Without independent confirmation of something you read in a book, it can’t be considered factual.

                Do you consider the Koran to be factual? It’s an ancient holy text after all.

                Let’s just use a quick example: Mary was impregnated by God indirectly by the Holy Ghost, and the fertilized egg was Jesus. How do we know this? The authors of the Gospels wrote in down. How did they know it? An Angel told them. Your research has to end because you can’t challenge the source. I can’t check the Angel’s credibility or where the Angel got his information or if in fact, the Angel ever spoke with these gentlemen or even exists! That’s not factual Mike, that’s fantasy. You can choose to believe it if you wish if course, but the burden to prove it’s factually accurate is solely on you if you assert it as such. You’re going to have to produce evidence to support your assertion and if your claim is that extraordinary, that the Creator of the Universe sent a Ghost to impregnate a Middle Eastern woman so she’d give birth to a god-man, you’re going to need some pretty extraordinary evidence.

                • Mike says:

                  There is no disagreement between you and me regarding the need for multiple attestation of a fact. In fact (no pun intended), this is a long-established element of Jewish and biblical thought. For long before you or me or even Herodotus, Moses had said “Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses let every fact be established,” and the apostle Paul some 1,500 years later was still appealing to this principle.

                  If the New Testament were a single book by a single author I would be standing right with you in demanding some corroboration, but the New Testament is not such a single witness. It is a collection of the attestations of multiple witnesses recorded at different times and in different places. This is a claim that cannot be made for the Koran.

                  As for the virgin birth, neither Jesus nor the apostles ever made it an issue in their teaching. For one thing, it was not central to the gospel of the kingdom they were preaching. For another, there was the limited attestation that was possible. However, you should note that you have overlooked the one human witness whose testimony would be valid – the mother. For she indeed would know whether or not the story was true. Even so, she would only be one witness so we do not see the apostles bearing witness to it in their preaching or calling on people to accept it. They merely reported it in the gospels. As for their central message, they declared Christ’s resurrection from the dead – which many more than two or three of them experienced.

                  You can say you disbelieve them if you want to, but you cannot say that we have not been given multiple attestations of the fact they were seeking to establish.

                  • K.J. Brix says:

                    I’m glad we agree there’s no evidence to support that Mary was impregnated by a ghost. The fact that it’s in the gospels should cast doubt on the veracity of the rest of the text, but we’ll leave that be.

                    The gospels suffer from lack of evidence Mike. Independent, verifiable confirmation of the most extraordinary tale written by men; that the Creator of the Universe felt he needed to have a son, who was also him, live and die on Earth so he could save man from sin. Besides the many questions such a tale raises, like why an omnipotent being would have to do that in the first place, the lack of evidence dooms this tale to the fantasy shelves, albeit a very popular and persistent fantasy.

                    Eyewitness testimony has put met on death row, and that was first hand eyewitness testimony, right from the horses mouth, only to have DNA evidence show these men were innocent. It is a wholly unreliable source of evidence.

  2. KC says:

    1. True, but proof of nothing.

    2. Same.

    3. All the more reason to disbelieve those disciples as they are already pre disposed to belief. A miracle that changes someone’s mind would actually be more compelling.

    4. True I guess but it presupposes that miracles even exist and is entirely speculative as to when why and how god delivers those miracles.

    5. You presuppose an interventionist god which has not been proven.

    6. Pure speculation. You have no basis for this statement.

    7. Also pure speculation.

    8. You’ve made this point elsewhere and it doesnt really prove anything. We know that there were skeptics of Jesus’ divinity. What exactly does that prove?

    9. With all due respect this is just gibberish. There is no substantive logical argument here. Its simply propaganda.

    10. Fair point, except that the fact that some of the same people attesting to the resurrection attest to other alleged miracles so it calls into doubt their veracity. I think there is reason enough to disbelieve the resurrection in any event.

    • Mike says:

      1. and 2. I appreciate your acknowledgement of these facts. I’m not disappointed that you do not consider them as proof of anything because I was not offering them as proof of anything. I was only wanting to inform the discussion by correcting false conceptions people have about these two issues. The “Why Doesn’t God Heal Amputees” straw-man argument is based on the false premise of misconceptions about these facts.

      3. If you’d be more impressed with a miracle that changed someone’s mind, why aren’t you impressed with Thomas’ testimony (he of “doubting” fame)?

      4. through 7. You accuse me here of speculation and presupposing God’s miraculous power. I think I’m “guilty” of something a little different: I’m acknowledging that God’s existence and His miraculous power are inseparable ideas. You can’t reject one without rejecting the other, and you can’t embrace one without embracing the other. If God can create a full-grown human being from a microscopic seed, what’s so hard about recreating one from a particle of dust? These four concepts either come from the Bible or are logical extensions of what comes from the Bible. You can, of course, reject them, but I wanted to present each of them as the whole that it is.

      8. That there was skepticism in biblical times disproves the notion I often hear that the reason miracles were believed by Jesus’ followers but not today is that they lived in a gullible and superstitious age while we live in a reason-based scientific age. This is a specious argument and I’m trying to make that clear.

      9. My characterization of Jesus’ miracles as acts of kindness at their root is not propaganda but actually my honest characterization of what I read in the New Testament. This is something I didn’t notice at first but that gradually dawned on me as I thought about His various miracles.

      Propaganda would be if I fabricated or inflated His record. I’m just reporting what I’ve read and understood.

      10. Yes, there are reasons to disbelieve the resurrection. Perhaps the most common one is that popular opinion is against it. I just don’t find it, or any of the other reasons to disbelieve it, nearly as strong as the reasons to believe it.

  3. Mike says:

    K.J.,

    You put words in my mouth regarding the virgin birth. I did not say that there was no evidence for it. I said there was only one human witness who could verify it, and that this fact was not central to the message that Jesus and His apostles preached and taught. Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly true…and the only reasonable way that God could enter the human race.

    You also put words in the apostles’ mouths. You seem unaware that Jesus never professed that He was God during the days of His flesh. In fact, He never even publicly proclaimed He was the Messiah, and urged silence about that fact on anyone who recognized Him as such. Once He was raised from the dead, He commissioned His disciples to proclaim Him as Messiah (but not God). The realization that He was God would come with the Second Coming which occurred late in the 1st Century A.D. This progression of realization is very important to understanding how humanity has digested the story, and why superimposing 21st century mindsets on 1st century people distorts history and cripples your understanding. You keep saying there’s no evidence when 27 documents from antiquity are staring you in the face. I agree with you that if you reject exhibits A through Z plus one, you have slim evidence, but you’ve offered no reason to reject them other than the unproven theory that they were falsified.

    But what’s the use of having eyewitness testimony anyway? As you say, it’s so unreliable. That’s why no one wishes there were any reputable eyewitnesses outside the apartment of Nicole Brown Simpson that fateful night. They would have just muddied the issue. We’re much better off with just the DNA.

  4. K.J. Brix says:

    “Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly true…and the only reasonable way that God could enter the human race.”

    Christians can and do believe as you do Mike, but it is not even close to undoubtedly true. Why would that be the only way to enter the human race for an omnipotent being?

    “You keep saying there’s no evidence when 27 documents from antiquity are staring you in the face.”

    They’re books Mike, words on parchment. Not evidence. It’s good enough for the faithful which is why there’s Christianity, but it’s not independent, observable, verifiable evidence.

    I find it interesting that the faithful will reject physical evidence of human ancestors. Actual skulls and skeletal remains, dated to millions of years ago. Things they can see in a museum, yet believe wholeheartedly in some words written by unenlightened men thousands of years ago telling an improbable tale. But thus is the nature of religious indoctrination and why I believe it’s so harmful for mankind and the societies we try to build. The story of the natural world is exponentially more fascinating Mike, I promise.

    Take care of yourself. It’s been good sharing some thoughts with you.
    Brix

    • Mike says:

      Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly true

      Undoubtedly for me, not you…yet.

      Why would that be the only way to enter the human race for an omnipotent being?

      I said the only reasonable way. Nevertheless, I stand corrected. A more precise point would have been “an eminently reasonable way.”

      As for skulls, skeletal remains, and parchment, indeed such artifacts bear some similarity. They call for us to guess at dates, speculate about circumstances, and wonder at possibilities – all good efforts in the quest for knowledge. However, when the parchment has ink on it which takes the form of coherent words whereby people from an earlier age can actually tell us their thoughts, allowing us to set mere inference aside, and we dismiss the study of those words on the basis that they were written by men less enlightened than ourselves who could not possibly be correct about anything important…well, then we have proven that arrogance nurtures ignorance and corrupts any honest quest for knowledge.

      By the way, and please don’t take offense because I like you, K.J., but do you realize that you spend more words proclaiming the logic of your positions than you do demonstrating it?

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