Although English speakers regularly use "miracle" to refer to a broad range of wondrous events, the biblical concept is limited to those not explainable solely by natural processes but which require the direct causal agency of a supernatural being, usually God. These occur throughout all major eras of history but do appear with greater frequency at key periods of God's self-revelation.
Genesis. The Bible begins with one of God's greatest miraclesthe creation of the universe out of nothing. However literally the various details are taken, Genesis 1-2 primarily describes not the "how" but the "who" of creation. Against somewhat similar stories in polytheistic religions, Genesis affirms the complete, cosmic sovereignty of the Lord God. All else is subordinate and never to be worshiped. Humanity is categorically distinct from the rest of creation by virtue of being created in the image of God ( Gen 1:26-28 ). The fall, followed by an increase in evil, begins to thwart God's creative purposes. The next major miracle, the flood, thus affirms both God's judgment on extreme wickedness and his grace in promising never again to destroy humanity so completely ( 6:3 ; 9:15-16 ). The promise does not preclude judgments of a lesser nature, though, such as Babel ( 11:1-9 ) or Sodom and Gomorrah ( 19:1-29 ). Miracles throughout the rest of Genesis deal primarily with God's preservation of his chosen line, when his promises to Abraham ( Gen 12:1-3 ) seem about to be broken, most notably Sarah's conception of Isaac at an advanced age ( 21:1-7 ). A seemingly miraculous provision of water in the desert preserves Hagar and Ishmael ( 21:14-21 ), reminding us of God's care for other peoples as well.
Exodus-Deuteronomy. The first major cluster of biblical miracles surrounds the central Old Testament act of redemptionthe exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Here too appear thirteen of the eighteen Old Testament uses of "signs and wonders, " an expression that focuses on the miracles' redemptive significance. In the burning bush, God reveals his name (Yahweh) to Moses as the eternally existing one and promises his presence with his servant who is terrified of what God is asking him to do ( Exod 3 ). Further signs are promised to encourage him that he can overcome Pharaoh and the Egyptians ( 4:1-17 ). Ten plagues ensue, from which the Israelites are miraculously protected (7:14-11:10). None of the plagues itself is necessarily supernatural; in fact, their sequence is often scientifically logical. But their timing and geographical limitations point to God's sovereign intervention on Israel's behalf. The climactic plague of the death of firstborn sons finally motivates Pharaoh to let Moses and his people go.
Pharaoh quickly changes his mind, though, and it seems that his armies will obliterate Israel. The miraculous crossing of the Sea of Reeds ( 14:21-31 ), therefore, becomes the prototypical Old Testament miracle of the deliverance of God's people and the destruction of his enemies ( 15:1-2 ). It also discloses God's merciful initiatives prior to his giving of the law ( 20:1-2 ); in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, salvation by grace precedes God's demands for good works. The Israelites' wandering in the wilderness is punctuated by various miracles of preservation and judgmentrescue when it seems they will perish (by the ongoing provision of manna and quail chap. 16 and special provisions at key moments, most notably water from the rock 17:1-7 ; Num 10:1-13 ) and destruction of those who disobey God and challenge his appointed leaders (most notably the sudden deaths of Nadab and Abihu Lev 10:1-7 ; and the earthquake that swallows Korah and his fellow rebels Num 16 ). Plagues, too, require divine intervention to be stopped and Aaron's rod buds to authenticate him as the legitimate priest (chap. 17). In short, God's mighty Acts intend to foster dependence of his people on him, that they might not trust in themselves or any other gods. And, as with Hagar, he occasionally reminds them that he can work to and through people outside the chosen line, even in humorous ways (Balaam's donkey Num 22:21-35 ).
Joshua-2 Samuel. With Moses' death, Joshua becomes his appointed successor to lead the Israelites into the promised land. A water crossing (of the Jordan) similar to the exodus initiates this period and authenticates Joshua's privileged role ( Joshua 3:7 ). Subsequent battles are often won or lost despite the relative strengths of the armies, to remind God's people that he alone is in charge (cf. esp. the conquest of Jericho versus the defeat at Aichaps. 6-7). Although no miracle, per se, occurs as Gideon fights the Midianites, the confusion that causes his enemies to slay each other, despite the small number of opposing forces, is equally attributed to the Lord's direct intervention (Judg. 7). The report of sun and moon standing still while Joshua fights the Amorites comes in a poetic passage and is perhaps not meant to be taken as literal cosmic upheaval ( Joshua 10:12-13 ). But it continues the theme of God's sovereign agency as the cause of victory. Subsequent miracles are also "borderline"Samson's superhuman strength when he is "filled with the Spirit" (Judges 13-16) and the ark's "power" over Dagon ( 1 Sam 5 ) and the cattle that return it to Beth Shemesh (chap. 6). These and many other passages highlight how the biblical world's divisions between natural and supernatural were far more fluid than today and how most momentous events were attributed to various divinities.
First Kings-Nehemiah. The next major cluster of miracles involves the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The faithful remnant of Israel is locked in a mortal, spiritual battle with idolatry, especially Baal worship. The predominant purpose behind the miracles of these two prophets is to demonstrate Yahweh's superiority over Baal and to call God's people back to worship him. The classic expression of this combat comes at Carmel, as fire from heaven consumes Elijah's sacrifice and the prophets of Baal are destroyed ( 1 Kings 18:16-40 ). But other mighty deeds also demonstrate the Lord's supremacy over the pagan god of water, fertility, and life: Elijah alone can predict drought and rain (chaps. 17-18), and God will nourish his people ( 17:1-6 ) and others (vv. 7-16) during the former. Elisha purifies poisoned water and causes an axhead sunk in the river to float ( 2 Kings 2:19-22 ; 6:1-7 ). Both prophets, too, work Scripture's first miraculous resuscitations ( 1 Kings 17:17-24 ; 2 Kings 4:8-37 ). Elijah appropriately becomes the second person in history never to die but to be taken directly to heaven ( 2 Kings 2:1-18 ; cf. Enoch in Gen 5:24 ).
Elijah's successor certifies his prophetic role with closely parallel miracles. In addition to those already noted, Elisha provides unfailing oil for a needy widow ( 2 Kings 4:1-7 ), purifies a pot of food, feeds a hundred men with twenty small loaves, and again demonstrates God's concern for foreigners in healing Naaman's leprosy (4:38- 5:27). The latter two miracles closely resemble Jesus' later feeding of the multitudes, cures of lepers, and concern for Gentiles. Indeed Jesus himself will liken parts of his ministry to God's choice in the days of Elijah and Elisha to favor those outside Israel ( Luke 4:25-27 ). Although Elisha dies a normal death, even his bones cause a corpse thrown into his grave to be resuscitated ( 2 Kings 13:20-21 ). The two other major miracles that occur in the Old Testament historical books involve the leprosy with which faithless Uzziah is afflicted and the sundial shadow's retreat as a sign to portend Hezekiah's recovery from illness ( 2 Kings 15:1-8 ; 20:1-11 ).
Job-Malachi. Two books whose genre is disputed contain major miracles: Job with his remarkable collection of afflictions and subsequent recovery and Jonah with his preservation by and expulsion from the great fish. Both teach of God's judgment and salvation, and of how even affliction is under his sovereign control for ultimately good purposes. The psalms frequently recount and reflect on God's past signs and wonders. The prophets speak of present and future signs, some more supernatural than others, to corroborate their message. Most famous is the prophecy of the virginal conception in Isaiah 7:14. The only other major cluster of Old Testament miracles centers on the life of Daniel and his friends in exile in Babylon. Once again Yahweh proves his supremacy over foreign gods and rulers. Thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar's image, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are miraculously spared, while the great heat burns up their captors (Dan. 3). Thrown into the lion's den for praying to the Lord, Daniel too escapes harm (chap. 6). Other miracles give Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream (chap. 2), and the miraculous writing on Belshazzar's wall (chap. 5).
Matthew-John. The greatest of all biblical miracles is the incarnationGod becoming human ( John 1:1-18 ). Foreshadowed by the birth of John the Baptist to the previously barren Elizabeth ( Luke 1:5-25 ), the virginal conception of Jesus, the God-man, fulfills prophecy (Matt. 1-2) and demonstrates the Spirit's parentage ( Luke 1:26-38 ). Jesus' adult ministry regularly features miracles for a variety of purposes. Sometimes they respond to individuals' faith in Christ (e.g., Jairus Matt 9:18 ; and the hemorrhaging woman 9:22 ) or are hindered by their lack thereof (the disbelief in Nazareth Mark 6:4-6a ). On other occasions they seem more designed to instill faith where it has been lacking (e.g., the stilling of the storm Mark 4:40 ; or the healing of the nobleman's son John 4:48 ).
Other important motifs include Jesus' compassion for the needy (e.g., in feeding the five thousand Mark 6:34 ; or in restoring the two blind men's sight Matt 20:34 ) and breaking down social barriers in preparation for the universal offer of the gospel (e.g., in cleansing the ritually impure lepers Mark 1:40-45 ; Luke 17:11-19 ; [where the thankful one is explicitly a Samaritan] healing the Syrophoenician woman's daughter Mark 7:24-30 ; or feeding the four thousand in Gentile territory Matt 15:29-39 ). Frequently Jesus challenges the prevailing sabbath traditions (e.g., the man with the withered hand Mark 3:1-6 ; or the closely parallel healings of cripples in Luke 13:10-17 ; 14:1-6 ) and exposes Israel's predominant faithlessness (e.g., in praising the great faith of the centurion whose servant was sick Matt 8:5-13 ), including the periodic lack of faith of his own disciples (e.g., with the epileptic they could not cure Matt 17:14-21 ). In still other instances, Jesus wants to teach a lesson about sin. Sickness may be the result of one's own wickedness; its healing, therefore, an incentive to repent ( John 5:1-15 ). In other cases, though, it is wrong to blame anyone; God's greater glory is what is involved ( John 9:1-5 ).
But none of these themes proves as prominent as the most central one: Jesus works miracles to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated, the messianic age has arrived, and he is the Christ who will fulfill all of God's previous Scriptures. In explaining the significance of his exorcisms, Jesus makes this claim explicit ( Matt 12:28 ). In replying to John the Baptist about his identity, the claim is more implicit but equally clear ( Matt 11:4-5 ). Once he heals a paralytic to demonstrate his authority to forgive sins ( Mark 2:9-10 ). His transfiguration is introduced as God's kingly reign come in power ( Mark 9:1 ). Lazarus' revivification grounds Jesus' subsequent claim to be the resurrection and the life ( John 11:25 ). And the evangelists' summaries regularly link his mighty deeds with his teachings so that the former legitimate the latter.
These direct statements give clues how to interpret some of the more unusual of Jesus' miracles that often have parabolic or symbolic elements. Turning water into wine probably demonstrates the joy attached to the arrival of the new age ( John 2:1-11 ). Cursing the fig tree symbolizes the impending destruction of Israel just as much as the temple cleansing it sandwiches ( Mark 11:12-25 ). Feeding the five thousand recalls the manna in the wilderness and sets up Jesus' bread of life discourse ( John 6:1-15 John 6:25-59 ). Walking on the water is a theophany; Jesus' words of self-revelation echo Exodus 3:14literally, "I am" ( Mark 6:50 ). Healing the deaf-mute effects a rare miracle predicted to herald the messianic age ( Mark 7:31-37 ; cf. Isa 35:6 ). Raising the son of the Nain widow closely resembles the reanimations by Elijah and Elisha ( Luke 7:11-17 ) and occurs on virtually the identical site as one of them (Old Testament Shunem). The two great fish catches point to the disciples' call to be spiritual fishers of people and to Peter's reinstatement after his denial for this continued ministry ( Luke 5:1-11 ; John 21:1-14 ).
The greatest miracle of Jesus' life, of course, is his resurrection. Immediately following his death, nature heralds its unusual significance with an earthquake, the rending of the temple veil, and the opening of tombs of certain Old Testament saints, who would then be raised following Jesus' resurrection ( Matt 27:51-54 ). God's resurrection of Jesus vindicates his claims, gives atoning meaning to his death, serves as a prelude to his ascension and exaltation, and makes eternal life and bodily resurrection available to all who trust in him. The best theological commentary on this event is 1 Corinthians 15.
Each evangelist has his own thematic emphases concerning Jesus' miracles. Mark sharply contrasts the glory of Jesus' public ministry and its preponderance of wonders with the road to the cross and his teaching on suffering (1:1-8:30; 8:31-16:8). Mark, too, introduces the so-called messianic secret motif following several miracles (e.g., 1:34 ; 3:12 ; 5:43 ). Matthew's miracle-stories fit his overall narrative progression from Jesus' particularism to universalism (with chap. 13 as the hinge) and his stress on the fulfillment of Scripture ( 8:17 ; 11:4-5 ). Luke highlights Jesus' compassion for the outcasts of society ( 4:18 ; 17:11-19 ) and his role as a new Moses ( 9:28-36 ) and Elijah/Elisha ( 7:1-28 ). John's views prove the most distinctive. Whereas the Synoptics use "signs" in a negative sense as that which unbelieving skeptics demand but do not receive save for the resurrection as the "sign of Jonah" ( Matt 12:38-42 ), John consistently speaks of Jesus' miracles as "signs" meant to lead people to faith in Christ ( 2:11 ; 4:54 ; cf. 20:31 ). But he encourages a maturity that does not require dependence on miraculous proofs ( 4:48 ; 20:29 ). John also pairs seven signs with seven discourses to form the first major half of his Gospel (1:19-11:57). The signs require interpretive teaching even as they legitimate Jesus' claims.
Acts. Jesus' ascension ends his resurrection appearances, marks his return to the Father, and enables him to bestow the Spirit permanently on all believers ( Acts 1:1-11 ). The Spirit comes with miraculous confirmation at Pentecost ( 2:1-3 ). Apostolic preaching picks up the Old Testament phrase "signs and wonders" to stress the redemptive significance of Christ's ministry ( 2:22 ) and to describe how the first Christians continued that work ( 4:30 ; 5:12 ), as commissioned earlier by Jesus himself. Many different believers perform miracles, not just the twelve (Stephen and Philip in Acts 6:8 and Acts 8:13 ), and they continue with about the same frequency throughout the book. Peter and Paul, as the two protagonists of the two halves of Acts (chaps. 1-12, 13-28), each work a specially large number, several pairs of which are remarkably parallel (earthquakes to get out of jail 12:5-10 ; 16:22-34 ; healings of the lame 3:1-10 ; 14:8-10 ; raising the dead 9:36-43 ; 20:7-12 ). The apostolic miracles often closely parallel Jesus' mighty works, too (cf. 9:32-35 ; and Mark 2:1-12 ; 9:36-42 ; and Mark 5:35-42 ). Luke thus stresses that the disciples are the authorized successors of Jesus, and that Peter's Jewish-oriented ministry and Paul's Gentile-centered work equally fulfill Christ's commission. As in other periods, occasional miracles also reflect God's judgment on his enemies ( 13:6-12 ) or his rebellious children ( 5:1-11 ).
Romans-Revelation. For Paul, healings and miracles are spiritual gifts ( 1 Cor 12:9-10 ) God gives to those whom he chooses (vv. 29-30) throughout the entire period of history until Christ's return ( 1:7 ; 13:10-12 ). But he often withholds miraculous healing because of the remedial value of suffering ( 2 Cor 12:8-9 ). Miracles further certify apostolic credentials ( 12:12 ), characterize Paul's ministry ( Rom 15:19 ), and attest the truth of Christian life in the Spirit ( Gal 3:5 ). Counterfeit miracles will proliferate in the end times ( 2 Thess 2:9 ), as Jesus himself had prophesied ( Matt 24:24 ), and as Revelation will describe in greater detail (e.g., 13:13-14a ). James attributes a ministry of anointing with oil and prayer for healing to the eldership of the local church ( 5:14-16 ).
Conclusion. Throughout the Bible, miracles consistently serve to point people to the one true God, ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. Their primary purpose is not to meet human need, although that is an important spinoff blessing. But they are first of all theocentric and Christocentric, demonstrating the God of Israel and of Jesus to be supreme over all rivals. Contemporary experience suggests that this pattern continues; miracles today seem most frequent in regions where Satan has long held sway and where people require "power evangelism" to be converted. But God's sovereignty warns against trying to predict when they may occur and refutes the "name it and claim it" heresy that tries to force God to work miracles upon demand, if only one exercises adequate faith.
Craig L. Blomberg
Bibliography. B. Blackburn, Theios Aner and the Markan Miracle Traditions; L. Bronner, The Stories of Elijah and Elisha; C. Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind; R. T. Fortna, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor; B. Gerhardsson, The Mighty Acts of Jesus according to Matthew; J. Green, S. McKnight, and I. H. Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 299-307, 549-60; M. J. Harris, From Grave to Glory; C. Hyers, The Meaning of Creation; R. Latourelle, The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles; ISBE, 3:371-81; 4:505-8, 1100-1101; H. Lockyer, All the Miracles of the Bible; L. O'Reilly, Word and Sign in the Acts iof the Apostles; L. Sabourin, The Divine Miracles Discussed and Defended; G. Theissen, Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition; H. van der Loos, The Miracles of Jesus; D. Wenham and C. Blomberg, eds., Gospel Perspectives, vol. 6.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message ( John 2:18 ; Matthew 12:38 ). It is an occurrence at once above nature and above man. It shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power.
"The suspension or violation of the laws of nature involved in miracles is nothing more than is constantly taking place around us. One force counteracts another: vital force keeps the chemical laws of matter in abeyance; and muscular force can control the action of physical force. When a man raises a weight from the ground, the law of gravity is neither suspended nor violated, but counteracted by a stronger force. The same is true as to the walking of Christ on the water and the swimming of iron at the command of the prophet. The simple and grand truth that the universe is not under the exclusive control of physical forces, but that everywhere and always there is above, separate from and superior to all else, an infinite personal will, not superseding, but directing and controlling all physical causes, acting with or without them." God ordinarily effects his purpose through the agency of second causes; but he has the power also of effecting his purpose immediately and without the intervention of second causes, i.e., of invading the fixed order, and thus of working miracles. Thus we affirm the possibility of miracles, the possibility of a higher hand intervening to control or reverse nature's ordinary movements.
In the New Testament these four Greek words are principally used to designate miracles:
Miracles are seals of a divine mission. The sacred writers appealed to them as proofs that they were messengers of God. Our Lord also appealed to miracles as a conclusive proof of his divine mission ( John 5:20 John 5:36 ; John 10:25 John 10:38 ). Thus, being out of the common course of nature and beyond the power of man, they are fitted to convey the impression of the presence and power of God. Where miracles are there certainly God is. The man, therefore, who works a miracle affords thereby clear proof that he comes with the authority of God; they are his credentials that he is God's messenger. The teacher points to these credentials, and they are a proof that he speaks with the authority of God. He boldly says, "God bears me witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles."
The credibility of miracles is established by the evidence of the senses on the part of those who are witnesses of them, and to all others by the testimony of such witnesses. The witnesses were competent, and their testimony is trustworthy. Unbelievers, following Hume, deny that any testimony can prove a miracle, because they say miracles are impossible. We have shown that miracles are possible, and surely they can be borne witness to. Surely they are credible when we have abundant and trustworthy evidence of their occurrence. They are credible just as any facts of history well authenticated are credible. Miracles, it is said, are contrary to experience. Of course they are contrary to our experience, but that does not prove that they were contrary to the experience of those who witnessed them. We believe a thousand facts, both of history and of science, that are contrary to our experience, but we believe them on the ground of competent testimony. An atheist or a pantheist must, as a matter of course, deny the possibility of miracles; but to one who believes in a personal God, who in his wisdom may see fit to interfere with the ordinary processes of nature, miracles are not impossible, nor are they incredible. (See LIST OF MIRACLES, Appendix.)
I. THE NATURE OF MIRACLES
1. General Idea
2. Biblical Terms Employed
II. MIRACLE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
1. Miracles in Gospel History
2. Special Testimony of Luke
3. Trustworthiness of Evidence in Gospels and Acts
III. MIRACLE AND LAWS OF NATURE
1. Projudgment of Negative Criticism
2. Sir George Stokes Quoted
3. Effects on Nature of New Agencies
4. Agreement with Biblical Idea and Terms
5. J.S. Mill on Miracle
6. Miracle as Connected with Command
IV. EVIDENTIAL VALUE OF MIRACLE
1. Miracles as Proofs of Revelation
2. Miracles of Christ in This Relation
3. Miracles Part of Revelation
V. MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. Analogy with New Testament Miracles
2. The Mosaic Miracles
3. Subsequent Miracles
4. Prophecy as Miracle
VI. ECCLESIASTICAL MIRACLES
1. Probability of Such Miracles
2. Pascal Quoted
VII. MIRACLE IN WORKS OR GRACE
I. Nature of Miracle.
1. General Idea:
"Miracle" is the general term for the wonderful phenomena which accompanied the Jewish and Christian revelation, especially at critical moments, and which are alleged to have been continued, under certain conditions, in the history of the Christian church. The miracle proper is a work of God (Exodus 7:3; Deuteronomy 4:34,35, etc.; John 3:2; 9:32,33; 10:38; Acts 10:38, etc.); but as supernatural acts miracles are recognized as possible to evil agencies (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:14; 16:14, etc.).
2. Biblical Terms Employed:
The Biblical idea of miracle as an extraordinary work of God, generally though not invariably ("providential" miracles--see below, II, 6), transcending the ordinary powers of Nature, wrought in connection with the ends of revelation, is illustrated by the terms used to describe miracles in the Old Testament and New Testament. One class of terms brings out the unusual, exceptional, and striking character of the works, as pele', niphla'oth (Exodus 3:20; 15:11, etc.), teras, literally, "a portent" (in plural Matthew 24:24; Acts 2:22,43, etc.); another lays stress on the power displayed in them, as gebhurah, dunamis (in plural "mighty works," the Revised Version margin "powers," Matthew 11:20,21,23; 13:54; 14:2; 2 Corinthians 12:12, etc.); a third gives prominence to their teleological significance--their character as "signs," as 'oth (plural the Revised Version (British and American) "signs," Numbers 14:22; Deuteronomy 11:3, etc.), semeion (plural the Revised Version (British and American) "signs," John 2:11,23, and frequently; Acts 4:16,22; 6:8; Revelation 13:14, etc.). Another Old Testament word for "wonder" or "miracle" is mopheth (Exodus 7:9; Deuteronomy 29:3). See, further, below, III, 4.
II. Miracle in the New Testament.
1. Miracles in Gospel History:
The subject of miracles has given rise to much abstract discussion; but it is best approached by considering the actual facts involved, and it is best to begin with the facts nearest to us:
those which are recorded in the New Testament. Our Lord's ministry was attended from first to last by events entirely beyond the ordinary course of Nature. He was born of a Virgin, and His birth was announced by angels, both to His mother, and to the man to whom she was betrothed (Matthew and Luke). He suffered death on the cross as an ordinary man, but on the third day after His crucifixion He rose from the tomb in which He was buried, and lived with His disciples for 40 days (Acts 1:3), eating and drinking with them, but with a body superior to ordinary physical conditions. At length He ascended to the heavens, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. But besides these two great miracles of His birth and His resurrection, Jesus was continually performing miracles during His ministry. His own words furnish the best description of the facts. In reply to the question of John the Baptist, His predecessor, He said, "Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them" (Matthew 11:4,5). Specimens of these miracles are given in detail in the Gospel narratives; but it is a mistake to consider the matter, as is too often done, as though these particular miracles were the only ones in question. Even if they could be explained away, as has often been attempted, there would remain reiterated statements of the evangelists, such as Matthew's that He "went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people" (Matthew 4:23), or Luke's "And a great number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; and they that were troubled with unclean spirits were healed. And all the multitude sought to touch him; for power came forth from him, and healed them all" (Luke 6:17-19).
2. Special Testimony of Luke:
It must be borne in mind that if there is any assured result of modern criticism, it is that these accounts proceed from contemporaries and eyewitnesses, and with respect to the third evangelist there is one unique consideration of great import. The researches of Dr. Hobart have proved to the satisfaction of a scholar like Harnack, that Luke was a trained physician. His testimony to the miracles is therefore the nearest thing possible to the evidence which has often been desired--that of a man of science. When Luke, e.g., tells us of the healing of a fever (4:38,39), he uses the technical term for a violent fever recognized in his time (compare Meyer, in the place cited); his testimony is therefore that of One who knew what fevers and the healing of them meant. This consideration is especially valuable in reference to the miracles recorded of Paul in the latter part of Acts. it should always be borne in mind that they are recorded by a physician, who was an eyewitness of them.
3. Trustworthiness of Evidence in Gospels and Acts:
It seems to follow from these considerations that the working of miracles by our Lord, and by Paul in innumerable cases, cannot be questioned without attributing to the evangelists a wholesale untrustworthiness, due either to willful, or to superstitious misrepresentation, and this is a supposition which will certainly never commend itself to a fair and competent judgment. It would involve, in fact, such a sweeping condemnation of the evangelists, that it could never be entertained at all except under one presupposition, namely, that such miraculous occurrences, as being incompatible with the established laws of Nature, could not possibly have happened, and that consequently any allegations of them must of necessity be attributed to illusion or fraud.
III. Miracle and Laws of Nature.
1. Pre-judgment of Negative Criticism:
This, in fact, is the prejudgment or prejudice which has prompted, either avowedly or tacitly, the great mass of negative criticism on this subject, and if it could be substantiated, we should be confronted, in the Gospels, with a problem of portentous difficulty. On this question of the abstract possibility of miracles, it seems sufficient to quote the following passage from the Gifford Lectures for 1891 of the late eminent man of science, Professor Sir George Stokes.
2. Sir George Stokes Quoted:
On page 23 Professor Stokes says:
"We know very well that a man may in general act uniformly according to a certain rule, and yet for a special reason may on a particular occasion act quite differently. We cannot refuse to admit the possibility of something analogous taking place as regards the action of the Supreme Being. If we think of the laws of Nature as self-existent and uncaused, then we cannot admit any deviation from them. But if we think of them as designed by a Supreme Will, then we must allow the possibility of their being on some particular occasion suspended. Nor is it even necessary, in order that some result out of the ordinary course of Nature should be brought about, that they should even be suspended; it may be that some different law is brought into action, whereby the result in question is brought about, without any suspension whatever of the laws by which the ordinary course of Nature is regulated. .... It may be that the event which we call a miracle was brought about, not by any suspension of the laws in ordinary operation, but by the superaddition of something not ordinarily in operation, or, if in operation, of such a nature that its operation is not perceived."
3. Effects on Nature of New Agencies:
Only one consideration need be added to this decisive scientific statement, namely, that if there be agencies and forces in existence outside the ordinary world of Nature, and if they can under certain circumstances interpose in it, they must necessarily produce effects inconsistent with the processes of that world when left to itself. Life under the surface of the water has a certain course of its own when undisturbed; but if a man standing on the bank of a river throws a stone into it, effects are produced which must be as unexpected and as unaccountable as a miracle to the creatures who live in the stream. The nearness of two worlds which are absolutely distinct from one another receives, indeed, a striking illustration from the juxtaposition of the world above the water and the world below its surface. There is no barrier between them; they are actually in contact; yet the life in them is perfectly distinct. The spiritual world may be as close to us as the air is to the water, and the angels, or other ministers of God's will, may as easily, at His word, interpose in it as a man can throw a stone into the water. When a stone is thus thrown, there is no suspension or modification of any law; it is simply that, as Sir George Stokes supposes in the case of a miracle, a new agency has interposed.
4. Agreement with Biblical Idea and Terms:
This, indeed, is the main fact of which miracles are irresistible evidence. They show that some power outside Nature, some supernatural power, has intervened. They are exactly described by the three words in the New Testament already mentioned. They are terata, "prodigies" or "wonders"; they are also dunameis, virtutes, "powers," or "manifestation of powers"; and finally they are semeia, "signs." The three conceptions are combined, and the source of such manifestations stated with them, in a pregnant verse of Hebrews:
"God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will" (2:4).
5. J. S. Mill on Miracle:
The words of J. S. Mill on the question of the possibility of miracles may also be quoted. Dealing with the objection of Hume in his Essay on Miracles, Mill observes:
"In order that any alleged fact should be contradictory to a law of causation, the allegation must be, not simply that the cause existed without being followed by the effect, for that would be no uncommon occurrence; but that this happened in the absence of any adequate counteracting cause. Now in the case of an alleged miracle, the assertion is the exact opposite of this. It is that the effect was defeated, not in the absence, but in consequence, of a counteracting cause, namely, a direct interposition of an act of the will of some being who has power over Nature; and in particular of a Being, whose will being assumed to have endowed all the causes with the powers by which they produce their effects, may well be supposed able to counteract them. A miracle (as was justly remarked by Brown) is no contradiction to the law of cause and effect; it is a new effect, supposed to be produced by the introduction of a new cause. Of the adequacy of that cause, if present; there can be no doubt; and the only antecedent improbability which can be ascribed to the miracle is the improbability that any such cause existed" (System of Logic, II, 161-62).
6. Miracle as Connected with Command:
There is, however, one other important characteristic of miracles--of those at least with which we are concerned--namely, that they occur at the command, or at the prayer, of the person to whom they are attributed. This is really their most significant feature, and the one upon which their whole evidential value depends. One critic has compared the fall of the fortifications of Jellalabad, on a critical occasion, with the fall of the walls of Jericho, as though the one was no more a miracle than the other. But the fall of the walls of Jericho, though it may well have been produced by some natural force such as an earthquake, bears the character of a miracle because it was predicted, and was thus commanded by God to occur in pursuance of the acts prescribed to Joshua. Similarly the whole significance of our Lord's miracles is that they occur at His word and in obedience to Him. "What manner of man is this," exclaimed the disciples, "that even the winds and the sea obey him?" (Matthew 8:27).
IV. Evidential Value of Miracle.
1. Miracles as Proofs of Revelation:
This leads us to the true view of the value of miracles as proofs of a revelation. This is one of the points which has been discussed in far too abstract a manner. Arguments have been, and still are, constructed to show that there can be no real revelation without miracles, that miracles are the proper proof of a revelation, and so on. It is always a perilous method of argument, perhaps a presumptuous one, to attempt to determine whether God could produce a given result in any other way than the one which He has actually adopted. The only safe, and the sufficient, method of proceeding is to consider whether as a matter of fact, and in what way, the miracles which are actually recorded do guarantee the particular revelation in question.
2. Miracles of Christ in This Relation:
Consider our Lord's miracles in this light. Assuming, on the grounds already indicated, that they actually occurred, they prove beyond doubt that He had supreme command over Nature; that not only the winds and the sea, but the human soul and body obeyed him, and in the striking words of the English service for the Visitation of the Sick, that He was "Lord of life and death, and of all things thereto pertaining, as youth, strength, health, age, weakness and sickness." This is the grand fact which the miracles establish. They are not like external evidence, performed in attestation of a doctrine. They are direct and eloquent evidence of the cardinal truth of our faith, that our Lord possessed powers which belong to God Himself. But they are not less direct evidence of the special office He claimed toward the human race--that of a Saviour. He did not merely work wonders in order that men might believe His assertions about Himself, but His wonderful works, His powers--virtues--were direct evidence of their truth. He proved that He was a Saviour by doing the works of a Saviour, by healing men and women from their diseases of both body and soul. It is well known that salvation in the true sense, namely, saving men out of evils and corruptions into which they have fallen, is an idea which was actually introduced into the world by the gospel. There was no word for it in the Roman language. The ancients know of a servator, but not of a salvator. The essential message of the miracles is that they exhibit our Lord in this character--that of one who has alike the will and the power to save. Such is our Lord's own application of them in His answer, already quoted, to the disciples of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:4,5).
3. Miracles Part of Revelation:
It is therefore an extraordinary mistake to suppose that the evidence for our faith would not be damaged if the miracles were set aside. We should lose the positive evidence we now possess of our Lord's saving power. In this view, the miracles are not the mere proofs of a revelation; they are themselves the revelation. They reveal a Saviour from all human ills, and there has been no other revelation in the world of such a power. The miracles recorded of the apostles have a like effect. They are wrought, like Peter's of the impotent man, as evidence of the living power of the Saviour (Acts 3; 4). "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole. .... And in none other is there salvation:
for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (Acts 4:10,12). In a word, the miracles of the New Testament, whether wrought by our Lord or by His apostles, reveal a new source of power, in the person of our Lord, for the salvation of men. Whatever interference they involve with the usual order of Nature is due, not to any modification of that order, but to the intervention of a new force in it. The nature of that force is revealed by them, and can only be ascertained by observation of them. A man is known by his words and by his deeds, and to these two sources of revelation, respecting His person and character, our Lord expressly appealed. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do them, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father" (John 10:37,38).
It is therefore a mistake to try to put the evidence of the miracles into a logically demonstrative argument. Paley stated the case too much in this almost anathematized form.
"It is idle," he said, "to say that a future state had been discovered already. It had been discovered as the Copernican system was; it was one guess among many. He alone discovers who proves; and no man can prove this point but the teacher who testifies by miracles that his doctrine comes from God" (Moral and Polit. Philosophy, book V, chapter ix, close).
Coleridge, in the Aids to Reflection, criticizes the above and puts the argument in a more just and more human form.
"Most fervently do I contend, that the miracles worked by Christ, both as miracles and as fulfillments of prophecy, both as signs and as wonders, made plain discovery, and gave unquestionable proof, of His Divine character and authority; that they were to the whole Jewish nation true and appropriate evidences, that He was indeed come who had promised and declared to their forefathers, Behold your God will come with vengeance, even God, with a recompense! He will come and save you. I receive them as proofs, therefore, of the truth of every word which He taught who was Himself the Word:
and as sure evidences of the final victory over death and of the life to come, in that they were manifestations of Him who said: I am the resurrection and the life!" (note prefatory to Aphorism CXXIII).
This seems the fittest manner in which to contemplate the evidence afforded by miracles.
V. Miracles in the Old Testament.
1. Analogy with New Testament Miracles:
If the miracles ascribed to our Lord and His apostles are established on the grounds now stated, and are of the value just explained, there can be little difficulty in principle in accepting as credible and applying the miracles of the Old Testament. They also are obviously wrought as manifestations of a Divine Being, and as evidences of His character and will.
2. The Mosaic Miracles:
This, e.g., was the great purpose of the miracles wrought for the deliverance of the people of Israel out of Egypt. The critical theories which treat the narrative of those events as "unhistorical" are, I am convinced, unsound. If they could be established, they would deprive us of some of the most precious evidences we possess of the character of God. But, in any case, the purpose to which the alleged miracles are ascribed is of the same character as in the case of the New Testament miracles. "For ask now," says Moses, "of the days that are past .... whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that Yahweh your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightest know that Yahweh he is God; there is none else besides him" (Deuteronomy 4:32-35). The God of the Jews was, and is, the God manifested in those miraculous acts of deliverance. Accordingly, the Ten Commandments are introduced with the declaration:
"I am Yahweh thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," and on this follows: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2,3). Without these miracles, the God of the Jews would be an abstraction. As manifested in them, He is the living God, with a known character, "a just God and a Saviour" (Isaiah 45:21), who can be loved with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.
3. Subsequent Miracles:
The subsequent miracles of Jewish history, like those wrought by Elijah, serve the same great end, and reveal more and more both of the will and the power of God. They are not mere portents, wrought as an external testimony to a doctrine. They are the acts of a living Being wrought through His ministers, or with their cooperation, and He is revealed by them. If the miracles of the New Testament were possible, those of the Old Testament were possible, and as those of the New Testament reveal the nature and will of Christ, by word and deed, so those of the Old Testament reveal the existence, the nature, and the will of God. Nature, indeed, reveals God, but the miracles reveal new and momentous acts of God; and the whole religious life of the Jews, as the Psalms show, is indissolubly bound up with them. The evidence for them is, in fact, the historic consciousness of a great and tenacious nation.
4. Prophecy as Miracle:
It should be added that the Jewish Scriptures embody one of the greatest of miracles--that of prophecy. It is obvious that the destiny of the Jewish people is predicted from the commencement, in the narrative of the life of Abraham and onward. There can, moreover, be no question that the office of the Christ had been so distinctly foreshadowed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament that the people, as a whole, expected a Messiah before He appeared. our Lord did not, like Buddha or Mohammed, create a new office; He came to fill an office which had been described by the prophets, and of which they had predicted the functions and powers. We are told of the Saviour, "And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). That, again, is a revelation of God's nature, for it reveals Him as "knowing the end from the beginning," and as the Ruler of human life and history.
VI. Ecclesiastical Miracles.
1. Probability of Such Miracles:
Some notice, finally, must be taken of the question of what are called ecclesiastical miracles. There seems no sufficient reason for assuming that miracles ceased with the apostles, and there is much evidence that in the early church miraculous cures, both of body and soul, were sometimes vouchsafed. There were occasions and circumstances when the manifestation of such miraculous power was as appropriate as testimony of the living power of Christ, as in the scenes in the Acts. But they were not recorded under inspired guidance, like the miracles of the Apostolic Age, and they have in many cases been overlaid by legend.
2. Pascal Quoted:
The observation in Pascal's Thoughts eminently applies to this class of miracles:
"It has appeared to me that the real cause (that there are so many false miracles, false revelations, etc.) is that there are true ones, for it would not be possible that there should be so many false miracles unless there were true, nor so many false religions unless there were one that is true. For if all this had never been, it is impossible that so many others should have believed it. .... Thus instead of concluding that there are no true miracles since there are so many false, we must on the contrary say that there are true miracles since there are so many false, and that false miracles exist only for the reason that there are true; so also that there are false religions only because there is one that is true" (On Miracles).
VII. Miracle in Works of Grace.
It has lately been argued with much earnestness and force in Germany, particularly by J. Wendland, in his Miracles and Christianity, that belief in miracles is indispensable to our apprehension of a real living God, and to our trust in His saving work in our own souls. The work of grace and salvation, indeed, is all so far miraculous that it requires the influence upon our nature of a living power above that nature. It is not strictly correct to call it miraculous, as these operations of God's Spirit are now an established part of His kingdom of grace. But they none the less involve the exercise of a like supernatural power to that exhibited in our Lord's miracles of healing and casting out of demons; and in proportion to the depths of man's Christian life will he be compelled to believe in the gracious operation on his soul of this Divine interposition.
On the whole, it is perhaps increasingly realized that miracles, so far from being an excrescence on Christian faith, are indissolubly bound up with it, and that there is a complete unity in the manifestation of the Divine nature, which is recorded in the Scriptures.
Trench, Notes on the Miracles; Mozley, Bampton Lectures (Mozley's argument is perhaps somewhat marred by its too positive and controversial tone, but, if the notes be read as well as the Lectures, the reader will obtain a comprehensive view of the main controversies on the subject); A.B. Bruce, The Miraculous Element in the Gospels. For modern German views see J. Wendland, Miracles and Christianity; Christlieb, Modern Doubt and Christian Belief. Paley's Evidences and Butler's Analogy may profitably be consulted. On continuance of miracles, see Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural, chapter xiv, and Christlieb, as above, Lecture V.
These files are public domain.