Category Archives: Miracles Questions

Questions about Miracles Then and Now: Were the biblical miracles magic tricks which fooled the simple, primitive people?

 

It is often contended that people who lived during biblical times were more simple minded and superstitious than modern man, and could be tricked into believing the miraculous stories contained in the Bible.

Today it is claimed we live in a scientific age and have outgrown these superstitions, since we have developed the mental capacity to see these miracles as being superstitious myths rather than paranormal phenomena. A close study of the evidence will show that these accounts are not a superstitious reaction to some clever trickster. The response to the miraculous acts of God show the same surprise and anxiety that modern man would have if he were placed in the same situation.

The people living at the time of Jesus certainly knew that men born blind do not immediately receive their sight (John 9:32), that five loaves and a few fish would not feed 5,000 people (John 6:14), or that men do not walk on water (Matthew 14:26).

Doubting Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25, RSV). He refused to accept the testimony of the unbelievable event of the resurrection, but changed his mind when confronted face-to-face with the resurrected Christ. Thus we are not expected to believe the ridiculous, and neither were the people of biblical times.

The people living in those times were no less skeptical than we are today. It was the unavoidable, the inescapable, the irrefutable fact that caused them to believe. The natural order was interfered with as a miracle occurred. It is only the skepticism of modern man that causes him to deny that miracles occurred.[1]

 

 

[1] McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

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Questions about Miracles: Are Miracles Possible?

 

The most basic question to ask about miracles is, “Are miracles possible?” If they are not possible, we can wrap up our discussion early and go home. If they are possible, then we need to address the argument that gave us the idea that they are absurd. We find the root of this argument in the writings of Benedict de Spinoza. He developed the following argument against miracles.

1.   Miracles are violations of natural laws.

2.   Natural laws are immutable.

3.   It is impossible for immutable laws to be violated.

4.   Therefore, miracles are not possible.

He was bold in his assertion that “nothing then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws, nay, nothing does not agree with them and follow from them, for … she keeps a fixed and immutable order.”

Certainly we can’t argue with the third step in that argument, for what is immutable can’t be set aside. But are natural laws immutable? And does he have a correct definition of a miracle? It seems that Spinoza has stacked the deck. He built into his premises his own view that nothing exists beyond the universe (and that God is the universe). So once he has defined natural law as “fixed and immutable,” it is impossible for miracles to occur. He had gotten the idea that natural laws were fixed from the Newtonian physics that were the latest rage in his day. But today scientists understand that natural laws don’t tell us what must happen, but only describe what usually does happen. They are statistical probabilities, not unchangeable facts. So we can’t rule out the possibility of miracles by definition.

The definition he uses also carries his antisupernatural bias. It assumes that there is nothing beyond nature that could act in nature. This follows from Spinoza’s pantheism. As long as God is limited to staying inside nature’s boundaries, or is nonexistent, then a miracle can only be seen as a violation of order. The bottom line of the matter is that if God exists, then miracles are possible. If there is anything beyond the universe which might cause something to happen in the universe, then there is a chance that it will do so. Now most scientists will want some evidence to show them that God exists, and that can be found in chapter 2. But once we have established that a theistic God exists, miracles cannot be ruled out.

Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677) was one of the modern rationalist philosophers. Rationalism believed that all truth could be deduced from self-evident principles without examining factual evidence. Spinoza’s background was Jewish, but he was expelled from the synagogue at age twenty-four for his unusual views. He was convinced that there could only be one infinite substance and nothing else, so he concluded that God is the universe (pantheism). Natural laws, then, were the laws of God. Given this starting point, miracles are automatically eliminated. If the supernatural is identical to nature, then there is nothing beyond nature to intervene. Anything beyond nature must be greater than God, and that is absurd.[1]

 


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. (1990). When skeptics ask (pp. 76–77). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Questions about Miracles: Why are the biblical miracles different from those in other accounts of the miraculous?

 

Some people feel that the miracles recorded in the Bible betray the fact that the Scriptures are to be taken seriously. They are compared to Greek mythology and other tales of both the supernatural and bizarre. Instead of investigating their foundation, they class them immediately with legends and folklore.

Admittedly, there are many stories from our Lord’s day among the Greeks and Romans which are so fanciful and ridiculous that they are not worthy of serious consideration. This is in complete contrast to the biblical miracles, which never offer a mindless display of the supernatural.

To simply say that, because some reported supernatural events are ridiculous and untrue, therefore any reported supernatural occurrence or miracle is untrue denotes faulty reasoning. It is “guilt” by association, or a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Of the words used in the New Testament for miracles, the common words are those expressing the ideas of “supernatural powers.” These are the words used not only by the New Testament authors, but also by the Greek and Roman writers in their stories and myths. However, in the biblical account an additional word is used, wich is seldom if at all used by the Greek and Roman authors.

The word used is “sign,” which means attesting miracle or a miraculous proof. John states at the end of his Gospel, “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30, 31, NASB).

The miracle stories as recorded in the Bible are always for a definite purpose and never to show off. There is always a logical reason for them. For example, there were 5,000 people who were in immediate need of food, which was promptly provided by miraculous means (Luke 9:12–17).

At a wedding feast in Cana, the wine had run out. The need for wine was met by Jesus, who turned water into wine (John 2:1–11). The miracles of Jesus were performed out of love and compassion to those who were afflicted. They were also meant to be objective signs to the people that He was the promised Messiah, since one of the credentials of the Messiah would be signs and miracles.

Jesus pointed out this fact when questioned by two messengers of John the Baptist about his identity. “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4, 5, KJV).

When reading the miraculous accounts in the Bible and especially in the Gospels, a person has to note the fact that the miracles weren’t denied by the critics. In the life and ministry of Jesus, He was never asked if He performed miracles; He was always asked how He was able to do them. They wanted to know where He derived the power and authority (Matthew 21:23).

It was impossible for them to deny that He was doing miraculous things; literally hundreds of people had been cured, and there was no other explanation. The fact of His miracles was not in dispute. They couldn’t be denied.

On the day of Pentecost, less than two months after the crucifixion of Jesus, Simon Peter told a large gathering, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22, KJV).

Peter here, in front of a hostile crowd, states that the people themselves were aware of the miracles of Jesus. Just the fact that he wasn’t immediately shouted down demonstrates that the wonders Jesus performed were well known to everyone.

The first hand testimony to the miraculous is something that does not occur either in other religions or in Greek or Roman mythology. The straightforward account of the supernatural works breaking into the natural order are recorded for us in the Bible by eyewitnesses to these events.

All of these considerations demonstrate the qualitative difference of the biblical miracles. It is important now to consider why miracles are rejected. One reason why these miracles are rejected is because they do not fit with many people’s view of the world. They have never witnessed a miracle, and they conclude therefore that miracles cannot happen or that they are impossible.

Instead of investigating the evidence for the miraculous, the whole idea is ruled out ahead of time as being totally impossible. This is not a proper way to deal with this issue, since only a person with all knowledge of events past, present, and future could exclude the possibility of miracles.

There is an appropriate historical example of this folly of ruling out something ahead of time because it does not fit with one’s view of the world. When explorers first came to Australia, they encountered an animal that defied all known laws of taxonomy. They discovered a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal, having a broad, flat tail, webbed feet and a snout resembling a duck’s bill. They named this animal the platypus.

Upon returning to their native land, they related their finding to the world. The people regarded their report as a hoax, since no such animal with the above characteristics could possibly exist. Even though there was reputable eyewitness testimony, it was rejected because of their world view.

They went back a second time to Australia, and returned with the hide of a dead platypus. The people accused them of rigging a hoax again. It seems that those people took Benjamin Disraeli’s dictum seriously, “I make it a rule only to believe what I understand” (The Infernal Marriage, Pt. 1, Ch. 4). However, as Charles Caleb Colton has pointed out, “He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend must have a very long head or a very short creed” (Frank Mead, Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, p. 17).

Many people, unfortunately, hold this type of attitude and determine the verdict before examining the evidence. This attitude is not only unscientific, but also it can be dangerous to the one holding the view. If there is a God, and if He has revealed Himself through the miraculous, then an individual is cutting off his only chance of finding this out.

By refusing to accept the possibility of God breaking into history in a supernatural way, he is destroying his only hope of understanding what life is all about. Therefore, it is of the highest importance at least to look into the possibility of miracles occurring because of the eternal stakes which are in view. There are indeed “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”[1]


[1] McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.