Monday, January 12, 2015

Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles? (Part 1a)

The following is a multi-part series dealing with Jesus' miracles and their historicity. In Part 1, which will come in a few installments, Antonio offers his response to the question. Part 2 will feature Thomas' response.

Question: Did Jesus really perform miracles?

AP: In this day and age, scientifically speaking, the whole concept of "miracle," which implies the acceptance of an event that breaks the laws of nature, sounds a little outdated. Likewise, when it comes to related phenomena such as exorcisms and healings, many people consider the field ripe for charlatans and tricksters. And if you are talking about the possibility of resurrecting the dead or multiplying loaves of bread, there is no doubt that most people (especially young people) simply frown at the idea.

However, miracles are a very remarkable and important chapter in the "biography" of Jesus and the preaching of the early Church, which is found the text of the Gospels and Acts. In Mark's Gospel, miracles make up 35% of the narrative, and more or less the same in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. In John, they make up on 15% of the discourse. John only tells seven miracle stories, but he does so with great detail. Thus, we can see from the proportion of space devoted to miracles in the Gospels that they were very important for the early Christians.

Anyway it’s permissible to ask whether or not the miracles of Jesus are pure evangelical legends. In my opinion, it does not seem that everything that is said in the Gospels about Jesus' miracles is pure legend. And for one reason, because even his adversaries recognized he healed people and performed exorcisms. The only difference is they attributed his capacity to perform such acts to magic or a pact with the Devil. They said he healed people of their diseases through demonic power. I think Jesus was indeed a genuine healer, whatever the cause of each particular healing actually was.

It is very difficult to separate the healings from the exorcisms performed by Jesus because at that time it was believed that most diseases were caused by demonic possession. Therefore, to heal was usually considered to cast a demon out of someones body.

The basic text that enemies testify that Jesus performed inexplicable events is as follows: "The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, 'He is possessed by Beelzebub,' and 'He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons' (Mark 3:22 and Luke 11:14-23). Also be well understood the charges against Jesus by his opponents that he was a sort of demon or wizard: “The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” (John 8:48).

It is hard to imagine that such accounts performed by a renowned exorcist (i.e., "casting out demons”) were invented by his supporters, or the later Church, since saying Jesus did such things through the demonic power or like a wizard would not have favored the propaganda of a religion that had its foundation in Jesus. Therefore, such stories must have had some basis in reality itself.

In the present day, and without any scientific explanation, there are healers who heal psycho-physical illnesses because–I guess—they have the charisma to instill faith in their patients that they will be cured. And that Jesus practiced exorcisms in and of themselves, independent of healing, seems admitted today by virtually all researchers of early Christianity. It is considered "normal" in charismatic circles and performed nowadays with some visible results, at least according to some people.

3 comments:

  1. Hi, Thomas.

    Waiting for your comments about this topic!

    I check that this post comes from an interview to AP in Misteriored which I didn´t see until now (I retro-translate your post to Spanish and then I found it).

    Just two points to comment:

    First, I think that "to snarl" sounds too hard in English in comparison wirh the Spanish "fruncir el entrecejo", which I think is better translated as "to frown". (This is in fact the reason why I wanted to find the original text in Spanish because I think that "to snarl" in this context doesn´fit with AP's style.)

    Second and last, I think that a more balanced statement about this topic is in the AP's post dated on 2014, November 1st, and published in his blog, when compared with other AP's assertions in that interview. I mean this one: "Anyway, once admitted this, it is not in historian's hands to decide if a miraculous event has indeed happened".

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    1. Thanks, J.P. I made the change. Although my wife thinks "frown" is not strong enough. I suppose the English idiom would be "they frown on the idea" or something like that. Thanks for your comments! I'm looking forward to responding to these too. I'm afraid I feel like I'll begin to sound like a broken record. I think the Gospels are trustworthy, based on their historical worth and the fact that the Holy Spirit was involved in their composition.

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  2. Hi again. Well, with "fruncir" in Spain we can express anger, but also sorrow, grief, upset, displeasure, disapproval... I think that "frown" is a good equivalent in English.

    Yes, I know you believe in the full historicity of the Gospels. The most important point are not healings and exorcisms, since AP considers them to be historical (at least Jesus' s activity), but raising from the dead and those miracles that violate laws of nature. I guess you should focus on that (?).

    Regards.

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