miracles really happen?
me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least
believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."
know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles... We demand
a new miracle, and we demand it now. Let the church furnish at least one,
or forever hold her peace."
Is it really necessary to believe in miracles?
A discussion on miracles
is critical to the believability of the Bible in at least two aspects. First,
Christianity is based upon the belief in certain miraculous events as fact.
There is no believing in Jesus without believing in miracles:
If there is no
resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if
Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
(1 Cor. 15:13,14)
Second, the idea of
miracles as literal historical events is a frequent reason given by unbelievers
as to why they doubt the Bible. "They violate the laws of nature," and "I
certainly don't see them going on today" were my own reactions.
On one hand, miracles
are easy to attack because no person can produce a miracle on command and
settle the issue. But on the other hand, miracles are simple to defend when
they are correctly explained to be the purposeful yet irregular actions
of God, not actions of men.
The Bible presents miracles
not only as critical elements, but presents them as sufficient proof with
which to believe in Christ. The quote from John 14 indicates this to be
true for Christ's immediate audience as well as for us. However, part of
the reason that some people are not convinced by the miracle accounts is
that those people may be harboring one or more of several common misconceptions.
1) what a miracle
2) what the laws of
nature really are, and...
3) just how and when
miracles are recorded as having occurred.
What is a miracle?
We have all heard comments
like, "It's a miracle I passed that test," or "It's a miracle someone wasn't
killed in that accident." This particular usage of miracle describes the
occurrence of a highly unlikely or unexpected event. But the miracles detailed
in the Bible are more than just unlikely events; they are specific, divine
The Greek New Testament
uses two different words that can be translated as miracle in English. One
is dunamis, meaning a work of power, and the other is saymeion,
which means a sign. Miracles described within Scripture are therefore conveying
events that are beyond the capabilities of man and beyond the regular workings
of the universe. Miracles:
1) call attention
2) are events that
may only be attributed to divine origin or intervention, and...
3) are rationally
unexplainable by probability or natural sciences.
One particular event
that has all the qualifications of a miracle, and is easily acknowledged
as having occurred, is the beginning
of the universe. This is the first recorded action of God in the
Bible. That the universe had a beginning is even officially
accepted among astronomers. Nothing in nature or natural reasoning
can explain how the universe (or even a pre-existent spaceless and matterless
environment of quantum laws) could have been produced by nothing from nothing.
It is not that the cosmos was simply an unlikely event; it was an impossible
Do miracles violate the laws of nature?
we to conclude that miracles violate the laws of nature?
To make such a conclusion might express a misunderstanding of what really
are the laws of nature. What we refer to as laws of nature are nothing
more than general descriptions of the mechanics of the universe.
Furthermore, these general
descriptions are relative to any particular point in time. For example,
the laws of nature as defined by today's scientist look quite different
from the laws of nature as defined by the nineteenth century scientist.
Thus nature's laws (more accurately described as human conclusions formed
from observations) are continually modified, revised, or completely
rejected as our understanding of the universe grows.
The physical universe
may contain inalterable principles, but codifying our incomplete understanding
of those principles with terms of finality such as "laws of nature"
has continually proven to be presumptuous.
The ever-changing laws of nature.
an event is observed violating whatever current laws are thought to exist,
get rejected, instead the laws get revised. For it is our understanding
of the universe that has just been proven inadequate and in need of rejection,
not the fact or factual event that has just occurred.
A good example of how
laws are revised is seen in the beliefs Einstein held about space and relativity
(and seen in the subsequent confirming observations). Observations of spatial
relativity severely violated what, in Einstein's day, were the laws of nature
- Newton's laws of motion and spatial absolutes.
As background to this,
recall that the 18th century philosopher David Hume had popularized his
belief that nothing could violate the laws of nature. Hume's argument was
made in the context of the laws of nature as they were defined in the late
1700's. Consequently, at the dawn of the twentieth century, those who blindly
adhered to Hume's 'nothing can violate nature' concept were doomed to reject
not only Einstein's discovery of relativity, but also Heisenberg's work
in quantum mechanics, and every other notable scientific leap to follow.
Eventually, sound reasoning
prevailed over Hume's logic and science once again chose to append the laws
of nature to account for what was legitimately observed.
Observations determine the laws; not vice versa.
determine the laws; laws never determine what can or will be observed. Observations
demand acceptance as part of reality even if and when they appear to violate
previously held so-called truths. By accepting the legitimacy of those
observations, we gain a more complete understanding of nature than if we
had refused to consider anything that appeared contrary to it.
The point of illustrating
how the laws of nature are continually redefined is to call attention to
the fact that our scientific understanding of the universe is incomplete.
As such, this indicates that we cannot presumptuously dismiss the possibility
that the miracles recorded in the Bible indeed occurred. Once again, miracles
are not measurable, repetitive occurrences like relativity or quantum motion.
The Bible's presentation of miracles is entirely to show something that
is not common, not explainable, and not something that
can be attributed to anyone or anything other than an all-powerful God.
Miracles are atypical
interventions of the living God with humanity. These can no more be repeated
and proven in a laboratory than can a particular person's birth be repeated
to prove that he or she exists.
Following this latter
practical example, what actually does constitute legal evidence of the details
of a specific birth; an event for which there may be no surviving witnesses?
The chief evidence is the written testimony of a birth certificate. This
is really no different to the biblical authors' written testimonies of miracles.
Of course, we know that
birth certificates and other forms of I.D. can be falsified. So
how can we tell if the biblical accounts are phony or not?
The best test of
miracles is not to argue their theoretical likelihood or impossibility,
but to determine if they, like any other event, have been legitimately observed.
Are the reported observations of miracles reliable?
Previous sections of
this site have already dealt with the general integrity of the biblical
writings. Those investigations into its authorship,
have hopefully established a rational justification that what we read today
in the Bible is substantially that which was written long ago. We have also
seen that the Bible claims to be
true, and we have reviewed some of the Bible's authors and their
testimonies (much more to come). But now we are asking if the information
specifically concerning miracles is true. Here are some questions that can
be asked in order to help determine whether or not the miracle accounts
are legitimate observations:
Are there extrabiblical confirmations of miracles?
the biblical accounts of miracles be corroborated by testimony other than
that of Scripture?
This is an excellent
question that suggests at least two objections to the idea of miracles.
The two are: "The authors made up the accounts because they were biased
toward Christianity", and, "If the miracles happened, why aren't they recorded
outside of the Bible?"
The fact is that some
miracles of the Bible are recorded outside of Scripture, and by people
who were not favorable to Christianity. Here are some excellent examples
collected by Josh McDowell and often cited in his many works:
Thallus, a writer
around AD 52, wrote to speculate on natural reasons that would explain away
the three hours of darkness that occurred during Christ's crucifixion. Although
the event corresponded with the monthly period of a full moon (which is
sufficient to prove that the darkness could not have been a lunar eclipse),
the most important point is that Thallus deals with Christ's crucifixion
and the accompanying darkness as factual events. These were events for
which he desired alternative explanations. A writer named Phlegon,
circa AD 140, wrote similarly in one of his books entitled Olympiads.
The point of the Thallus
and Phlegon examples is that if Christ's crucifixion and accompanying
darkness were only myths, ancient critics would not have sought alternative
explanations to deny the miraculous aspects of the events - they would
be denying the events altogether.
The writings of Flavius
Josephus also corroborate the Bible in a number of aspects. He was a
Jew who turned his loyalty away from Jerusalem to the empire of Rome. Between
AD 66-93, he wrote extensively of Jewish history. His works include detailed
mentions of King Herod, "John, surnamed the Baptist" 2,
and "James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ". 3
Josephus indicates some
acknowledgment of miracles or miraculous claims in a passage known as the
Testimonium Flavianum. Because it so thoroughly supports the existence
and reputation of Christ, some allege that early Christians must have altered
the Greek text of Josephus' words. Granting that possibility, here is a
translation of the same passage from an Arabic text. This would have been
far less likely to circulate in Christian circles of that time, and it is
admittedly less complimentary than other translations:
At this time there
was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and [he]
was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the
other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified
and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his
discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after
his crucifixion and that he was alive;.. 4
A rabbinical writing,
perhaps as early as AD 70, states that one called Yeshu (Jesus), "practiced
sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray." 5
This is further indication that many outside of Jesus' circle of followers
have associated irregular events with his person.
The Islamic Qur'an
even mentions Christ's virgin birth (Mary 19:15-22), his healing of the
blind and lepers, and his raising of the dead (Table 5:110-112).6
Finally, an unusual,
derogatory remark by Julian the Apostate, Emperor of Rome and great
foe of Christianity, describes Jesus as one
having done nothing
in his lifetime worthy of fame, unless anyone thinks it a very great work
to heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of
Bethsaida and Bethany. 7
Why aren't miracles as frequent today as they were in the Bible?
The truth is that miracles
were an extremely rare occurrence in history according to the Bible. In
this sense, we can say that miracles still are as frequent as they have
always been - not frequent at all! Miracles have generally been clustered
around the times of the creation, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. As Rubel Shelly
If miracles accompany
and authenticate divine revelation, they are exactly where we would expect
them to be. 8
Aren't miracle claims usually doubted and go against the grain of believability?
Yes and no. No
in the sense that if a special act of God or a miracle were performed in
a non-eye catching and naturally explainable way, we'd never know God did
it, would we?
But yes in the sense
that miracles were and still are generally recognized to be events without
natural explanations. Miracles recorded as having had many witnesses yielded
both believers as well as unconvinced skeptics. The biblical authors never
described miracles as the 'ultimate convincers that got everybody'. It is
precisely because these impossible events are described as having been received
in such a common and varied manner that these records appear more credible
than if every witness had interpreted them uniformly.
The New Testament documents,
most of which circulated shortly after Christ's death, have many appeals
to specific persons as being witnesses of the events recorded within them.
Such appeals favor the belief that the biblical authors were fully convinced
of the miracles they witnessed and or recorded.
Believing the authors
were convinced of what they saw is a more rational alternative than believing
in some sort of conspiracy which began circa 1400 BC and continues today
all to pass off scriptural writings as true. If there were such a conspiracy,
it would have
to culminate in having its entire validity based on one man rising from
the dead; a detail which most people continue to reject. Thus the biblical
accounts cannot be rejected on the claim that the authors were clever liars
because gambling a conspiratorial pyramid of 3,400 years work on something
that most people reject without consideration is not very clever.
Neither can people reject
the Bible and its miracle claims for the opposite reason - that the Bible's
authors were either ignorant or insane. Ignorance and insanity do not explain
Scripture's perfect consistency, fulfilled prophecy, and the absolute inability
of the writings to be contradicted by modern archaeology, science, or history.
Many people still reject
the Bible, of course, but inevitably for the same non-intellectual reasons
people always have: pride, rebellion against authority, and the esteeming
of ourselves over others and especially over God.
But weren't people more gullible or at least more ignorant back then?
When Mary, a virgin
betrothed to Joseph, announced she was with child, he planned to quietly
divorce her. Joseph was fully convinced, as he thought others would be,
that Mary had lain with another man. There was no indication that he or
anyone else was going to calmly surmise, "I guess it's just another magical,
random happening in our mysterious existence." Natural explanations have
always been the first resort of believers and unbelievers alike.
The miracle accounts
frequently state that while some believed, others did not (assume half-and-half
for argument's sake). In that case, half of those who witnessed the event
were not so gullible and ignorant as previously accused, were they? We are
only left asking, "Which half? The half that believed, or the half that
Just as people at the
time of a miracle were divided on the issue, people today are still divided
over whether or not those same events happened. And the dividing line between
the believers and unbelievers has never run along the line of IQs, academic
achievements, or any other worldly attainments. Regardless of which half
is ignorant or gullible, there seems to have been negligible change in this
perpetual division since the time of Christ on up to today.
If miracles occurred, but failed to convince every witness, would that failure
disprove God's omnipotence or disprove the validity of the account?
Neither. The question
assumes God's intent to be one of robotizing every onlooker. That was never
a stated intent.
Miracles were much less
often performed as evidence to unbelievers as they were performed to defend,
heal, love, or assure those who had already expressed faith. Because miraculous
acts do not force into us what to think, God allows an ultimate kind of
freedom concerning miracles. We
can believe if we want, or we can not believe if we want. What more
could we want?
In review, we are forced
by reason into acknowledging that our best understandings of nature, even
as the twenty-first century dawns, are only tentative. Though we can predict
the regular workings of the universe with greater accuracy than ever before,
we know from past experience that our definition of the laws of nature will
always be different tomorrow. Therefore, as long as humanity lacks complete
knowledge of nature and of everything that can be observed, it is impossible
to state with finality what cannot be observed. As a consequence, we cannot
reject the possibility of miracles.
Realizing that miracles
could be possible, the next question is whether or not the biblical accounts
of miracles are legitimate observations. While we have seen minor acknowledgments
of miracles from ancient writers other than the biblical authors, one might
still ask, "Why don't we see more extensive accounts with lots of names,
places, and settings?" One possible reason why we don't see such accounts
is that the early church did, and those accounts were compiled into
what we today call the Bible.
It should also be reiterated
that miracles have always been rare. It is an easy error to skim
through several books in the Bible and receive the impression that miracles
happened right and left. In actuality, hundreds of years separate certain
biblical writings. Miracles are unique historical actions of a Creator interacting
with his creation. God does not vend miracles in exchange for token appeals
like some cosmic candy machine, nor have miracles always been uniformly
accepted by all that witnessed them first hand. History has shown that
when God performs a miracle, we have the apparent freedom to believe it
Lastly, there is probably
some specific miracle or miraculous event in the Bible of which you are
either curious or skeptical. I used to have a harder time believing in the
so-called large miracles (like the creation of mankind) than in the smaller
ones (healing the blind). But this overlooked the fact that any interruption
in the regular workings of the universe, big or small, are all equally impossible
in terms of natural explanations.
The miracle worth
special study is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Until you advance
to that section,
as foreign as miracles might seem to your current worldview, take a look
at the night sky. Try to imagine the vastness of the universe and know that
you share at least this one thought with the majority of the world's astronomers:
there was a beginning. Everything from nothing - a miracle by every account.
"A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect
has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and
that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature." 9
Isn't one interpretation just as good as the next?
there a God?
Was Jesus resurrected
from the dead?