Friday, January 16, 2015

Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles? (Part 2b)

The following is a multi-part series dealing with Jesus' miracles and their historicity. In Part 1, which consists of two installments, Antonio offered his response to the question below. Part 2 features Thomas' response.

Question: Did Jesus really perform miracles?

TWH: Why all the interest in Jesus' miracles since the Enlightenment? Graham Twelftree offers a number of reasons:
"This interest has arisen for a number of reasons: because of the failure to show that miracles originated outside the Jesus tradition; the increased confidence in the historical reliability of the gospel traditions; the increased interest in and knowledge of the milieu in which Jesus lived; the use of social-scientific methods broadening ways of understanding miracles; methodological prudence in not being too hasty in judging what is historically not possible; the general sensitivity and sophistication in historical methods; and the participation of Roman Catholic, Jewish and evangelical scholars in Jesus research." ("The Message of Jesus I: Miracles, Continuing Controversies," in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 2518-2519)
That all sounds really positive, doesn't it? It sounds like the "search" for the historical Jesus and his miracles is a rather innocent search, at least from reading what Twelftree writes (which I highly recommend, by the way, for an overview). But I would like to propose another reason why the interest has increased and continually grown to the peak where it now is over the last two hundred years. That additional reason is, there is actually a quest to render the Gospels miracle-less, supernatural-less, truth-less, God-less, etc. And that part of the quest isn't pretty at all. Now, of course, not everyone who engages in critical approaches to the Gospels is trying to attack the Gospels in such a way. Some evangelicals join the quest thinking that they can prove the worth of the Gospels using  post-Enlightenmnet criteria. And sadly some of them have ended up giving up the veracity of different pericopes in the Gospels (e.g., the resurrections at the time when Jesus was crucified).

Scholars do not hesitate to affirm that Jesus performed exorcisms or healed people. But there is a caveat, generally. Exorcisms were performed, but devoid of anything supernatural. In other words, "demons" were really symbolic or they were the manifestation of something falling under the umbrella of natural occurrence. Healings, as I pointed out in the previous post, are generally affirmed, but not supernatural healings, such as the healing of the man with the withered hand. And what I keep coming back to on all of this is, if the New Testament authors wrote by their own volition apart from any involvement by God, then it is possible and most certain that errors and untruths are present in their discourses. But–and this is very important–if God was involved in the composition of the Gospels, Acts, the letters of the New Testament, and Revelation, just as the New Testament itself asserts, then the corpus bears the very character of God and the revelation contained therein is as trustworthy as God himself. I affirm the latter. No errors and no untruths. When I come to the biblical text, I am not talking in terms of probabilities. But that's because of my position on biblical inspiration.

Does God exist? If the answer is no, which it is for many skeptics, then of course there is nothing supernatural. Humans cannot do supernatural things. We are subject to the laws of nature. But, wait. Does God exist? If the answer is yes, which I believe with my whole heart, then why wouldn't he break into his creation at times of his choosing? And if he did, it is his prerogative whether he chooses to subject himself to the laws that he has ordered to govern the creation that he created or to act contrary to those laws. Jesus did not walk on the water every time he crossed the Sea of Galilee. The majority of the times he crossed he did so via boat. That's his prerogative. But when he decides to send his disciples on without him, saying he'd catch up with them later, and he walks on the water, that is his prerogative as well. He is not subject to all that he has subjected his creation to. He is God.

Can I share with you my favorite miracle account? It's Luke 5:17-26. If you haven't read what happened with the men who desperately wanted to get their paralytic friend up front where Jesus was so that he could be healed, then you simply have to read this passage. I actually want to point out something very important regarding miracles. In Luke 5:23 Jesus says, "What's easier: (1) to say 'your sins have been forgiven,' or (2) to say 'get up and walk'?" For everyone there that day, if we could have polled the onlookers, they would have said number two is more difficult. Jesus says in Luke 5:24, "But, so that you can know that the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus) has authority on earth to forgive sins, (he said to the paralytic) I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home." And you know what happened? That paralytic got up and went home using his own two legs. There is something really important to note here, and it is this: There is something far more difficult than healing a paralytic. To forgive sins is far more difficult. And for Jesus, securing that forgiveness is the hardest trial of his incarnate life; his death on the cross pays the price for the sins of the world. But what about imparting that forgiveness? Well, for Jesus it is as easy as saying, "Your sins have been forgiven." If Jesus can tell a paralytic to get up and walk, he can extend forgiveness to anyone who puts their faith in him.


  1. Hi, Thomas. What a coincidence! The Catholic priest I talked about some days ago, J. A. Sayés, uses the same miracle to prove Jesus's divinity. It is the most important miracle of all miracles in the gospels, in my opinion. I agree that the key of all NT studies is in how you approach the gospels. If you don't believe in a supreme being your results should be different if you believe in God. There would be agreements, of course, but the most important question is irrconcilable between both approaches: a sage of wisdom, an apocalyptic prophet (or a fanatic, nationalistic revolutionary, as claimed by a minority) or God-manifested-in-the-flesh.

    And I think that these different approaches (Christian believers and non-believers) will always birden any Historical Jesus Quest, past, present or future.

    1. J.P., here are two pretty interesting articles by Dave Farnell concerning the quests for the historical Jesus:

      I thought you might be interested. Check them out and let me know what you think.

  2. Thank you very much for the links to the articles.

    I sent you my thoughts by email since it is too long to be submitted as a comment.