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Jesus and His Miracles: Some Interesting Features

In my discussion of whether the historian can deal with the category of miracle, I’m now at the point where I can deal directly with the miracles ascribed to Jesus.   This is an issue that I have dealt with in several books, including, most recently, Jesus Before the Gospels.   It will take three posts for me to cover the waterfront here.  This is how I began dealing with the issue in the book.



The Miracles of Jesus

When one discusses the activities and deeds of Jesus, it is very hard indeed to avoid talking about his miracles.   Miracles are everywhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.  He is miraculously born to a woman who has never had sexual relations.  From the beginning of his public ministry to the end he does one miracle after the other, conquering nature, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.   So abundantly attested are Jesus’ miracle-working abilities that even scholars who are otherwise skeptical of the supernatural biases of our sources sometimes claim that whatever else one can say about him, Jesus was almost certainly a healer and an exorcist.[1]

It has long been interesting to me that such moderate skeptics choose to believe that Jesus could heal people and cast out demons, but do not conclude, as well, that he could perform miracles with nature:  walk on the water, calm the storm with a word, multiply loaves, turn water into wine.   Is it because the healing and exorcism miracles are even more abundantly attested than the nature miracles?  Probably.  But could it also be because these nature miracles are so much harder to believe?  Possibly that as well.

I am not going to discuss the problem that historians have with the category of miracle.  I have already delved into that question at length in earlier books, and feel no need to repeat myself here.[2]  My strong conviction is that whether one is a believer or not, if one wants to discuss what probably happened in the past, it is never appropriate or even possible to say that miracles have happened.  That is not – absolutely is not – because of a secular, anti-supernaturalist bias (as some apologists gleefully love to claim).  I had the same view even when …

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Is There Sarcasm in the New Testament?
History is not the Past! Proving Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Miracles



  1. Avatar
    joemccarron  October 4, 2018

    “Supernatural miracles can never be established as probable occurrences. By definition they are utterly improbable.”

    You seem to be conflating two different definitions of the term miracle.
    1) an event that violates the law of nature. And 2) and improbable or rare event. But it’s important at the outset to know these are two very different definitions. We might say the Yankees winning in the ninth inning was a miracle comeback. But we don’t really mean any laws of nature were violated.

    In the same token several Christians believe a miracle happens at communion when the bread becomes Christ’s body and blood. This is literally confirmed by hundreds of thousands of believers every day at Catholic Masses. So according to them at least, it’s an event that violates the laws of nature, but it’s not exactly “rare or improbable.”

    Consider that there are two meanings for the word duck. One is a bird that likes water and the other is to bow down in order to dodge something. These are also two very different concepts that happen to share the same word. If I were to say a duck is a bird that likes water and often bows down to avoid attacks that would be conflating the two meanings. People would be right to point out that I am misunderstanding the terms.

    As to the main point, Jefferson’s bible came late and it excluded many miracles.

    What about Paul? He seemed clearly to believe in the resurrection correct? Paul also seems to have written about his own miracles 2 corinthians 12:12. Signs and wonders are the mark of a true apostle but Christ never did any? If Jesus wasn’t a miracle worker how was a dead man showing up and talking to Paul? It’s true he did not talk about many miracles of Jesus but he simply did not talk about Jesus’s actions very much. But what he did say does suggest his religion was one that involved miracles and wonders.

    Mark does have Jesus doing wonders. It’s true the early versions leave out explicit confirmation of the resurrection, but several other miracles come in.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2018

      When I say miracles are highly improbable, I don’t mean in the sense that it is highly improbable that the Cleveland Browns will win the Superbowl this year. I mean it in the sense that it is highly improbable that the moon is made out of green cheese.

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  December 4, 2019

        I’m not sure what the view that the moon is made out of green cheese has to do with miracles.

        Miracles are traditionally understood as God suspending the laws of nature. You can view this as extremely improbable but your view that it is extremely improbable is not based on historical method. Rather it is a philosophical view you hold. You agree that texts report many supernatural events. And you agree these very same authors, and indeed in the very same book/text, does provide historical evidence for other events. So why are only the supernatural events rejected as non-historical?

        It is your naturalism that leads you to reject any claim of supernatural occurrences – not any historical analysis. There is historical evidence that Jesus died and then was alive. It is multiply attested, reported fairly close in time etc etc. But historical evidence will always take a back seat for someone, who for philosophical/cultural reasons, has determined with certainty supernatural events (i.e., and event that would violate our normal laws of nature) have never happened.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 6, 2019

          It’s because historians have no access to what the realm of God, only to the natural realm. To say that God did a miracle presupposes a theological view that historians don’t have. Historians to *not* have to say that supernatural events definitely didn’t happen. They have to day that it is not a *historical* question of whether there is a divine being who is active in the world. It is a *theological* question. Look at it this way. Which histories of WWI, WWII, or Vietnam have you ever read that indicate that it was God who brought about a highly unusual result? Incredibly unusual things happen in war, but no historian ever says God did them. Why? Because God is outside of the realm of what historians talk about. It is simply not what *any* historian talks about, if they are talking about history. (They may talk about it personally, when they are sharing their personal beliefs; but not in their professional role as historians.

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