Jesus the Miracle Man?
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the ministry of the Messiah is scattered like the pieces of a puzzle. The picture becomes clearer and clearer as we add each additional scripture, finally arriving at the composite picture of the Messiah. An important part of this composite are the signs and wonders that would follow the Messiah. There are many indications in the Hebrew Bible (as well as recent findings in the Dead Sea Scrolls) that the promised deliverer would be a man of miracles.
In the book of Isaiah, we read of the tremendous miracles that would be wrought through the Messiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." (Isaiah 61:1
"In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 29:18-19
"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:5-6
Finally, in the Dead Sea Scrolls a newly translated fragment from the Qumran cave 4, fragment 4Q521 states:
"That the heavens and the earth will obey his Messiah...He will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the poor announce glad tidings."
The belief that the Messiah would perform miracles, such as healing the sick and raising the dead is well founded in scripture and was definitely believed by ancient Jews. Not only would the Messiah perform physical healing, but spiritual healing as well.
As we look at the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth recorded in the New Testament gospels, we encounter a tremendous number of miracles.
From the very beginning of his ministry, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, we see Jesus commanding the forces of nature. From the turning of water into wine, to the resurrecting of the dead (such as Jairus' daughter and his friend Lazarus) we see that Jesus of Nazareth had power over the laws of nature and was able to perform miracles at will.
In fact, Jesus of Nazareth went so far as to claim that the miracles were a sign of his Messiahship.
One day some of the disciples of John the Baptist (who was in jail at the time) came to Jesus and his disciples and asked;
"'Are you the coming one, or do we look for another?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things that you 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.'"
In this incredible dialogue Jesus claims that he is "the coming one," the Messiah. He declares that one of the signs authenticating his ministry are the miracles that he has done (he is loosely paraphrasing Isaiah 61).
Regarding the miracles he performed, Jesus stated:
"But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish; the very works that I do; bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me." (John 5:36
Often after Jesus would perform a miracle he would instruct the recipient to tell no one because "his hour had not come." Unlike most of us, he didn't want to draw attention to himself. Rather he simply wished to fulfill the bonafide expectation that Messiah would be a miracle worker. But there was more to Jesus' ministry than demonstrations of signs and wonders. Jesus' ministry was also one of spiritual healing. He truly came "to heal the brokenhearted."
Speaking to the crowds that followed him, Jesus stated:
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Skeptics, Miracles, Myths and Scientific Proof
After reading of the miracles of Jesus the skeptic immediately protests that the miracles of Jesus are myths or events explainable by natural phenomenon. Others will ask "Can you prove scientifically that these things really happened?"
Many people have difficulty with the idea of miracles. This difficulty arises from the preconceived bias that under normal conditions miracles are impossible. In the natural realm, this is quite true! By definition, a miracle is an event that is unexplainable by "natural law."
Each of the miracles that Jesus of Nazareth performed were in complete defiance of the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. However all science can tell us is that under natural circumstances the miracles recorded in the New Testament are not possible.
Admittedly, miracles cannot happen as a result of explainable phenomenon. However, if the creator of the universe came to earth as God in human flesh, and if that "God-man" was the designer of those very laws, then it would be no difficulty at all for him to over rule the guiding principles he set in place.
The charge that the miracles of Jesus were mythical events or stories which were gradually developed over a long time period, has no foundation at all when we examine the historical evidence for Jesus and the establishing of the Christian church.
Most scholars of ancient literature agree that myths are developed over many generations and usually don't resemble the original events much at all. When we examine the historical evidence for the New Testament documents, we discover that they were almost all completed within a generation of the events themselves., Consequently, there were many eyewitnesses to the events in Jerusalem who were still living when the gospels were written. Furthermore, the events were recorded for the most part by eyewitnesses who were willing to die horrible deaths for the conviction that those events were true.
If there was evidence to refute the miracles of Jesus, early enemies of Christianity could have readily destroyed the authority of the New Testament documents. However, there are no such documents from the first century (or any other century for that matter) that refute the recorded accounts of the life or miracles of Jesus. In fact, in the Babylonian Talmud, the writer records that Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus, was "hanged on a tree for sorcery!" What is interesting about this historical reference to Jesus is that the writer (a non Christian Rabbi) makes no attempt to deny that some sort of supernatural events were performed by Jesus. The supernatural events that were associated with Jesus are simply attributed to a demonic source, but not denied! Such a reference, coming from a source unsympathetic to Christianity, is powerful evidence that Jesus did in fact perform supernatural feats.
As a former skeptic, trained in the hard sciences and medicine for eleven years, I used to rely heavily on the "Can you prove it to me scientifically?" cop-out. The fact is, you can't even prove that you ate corn flakes for breakfast using the scientific method!
Webster's 1991 Third New International Dictionary defines the scientific method as "the collection of data through observation...and the formulation of an hypothesis (based on those experiments) and the confirmation of the hypothesis formulated."
Using this method you cannot prove that any historical event occurred. This is because historical events are not repeatable. The scientific method cannot be used to prove or disprove any historical event because we cannot measure or collect data after the event has happened.
To prove or disprove an historical event one uses the "legal-historical method." The "legal-historical method" is the basis of our entire justice system. This approach relies on historical records or accounts in an attempt to reconstruct what transpired in the past. Using this method, I could easily prove that I ate corn flakes this morning, because I could call in numerous witnesses to attest to my claim. The more numerous the corroborating witnesses, the more reliable the evidence and the more likely the historical event took place.
In the case of the miracles of Jesus, there were tens of thousands of witnesses. Consequently, there were tens of thousands of first century Jews who were willing to die the most horrible deaths ever imagined for the testimony they bore. What was that testimony? Simply that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of Israel, God in human flesh, a man who performed hundreds of miracles and after suffering death on a Roman cross, physically rose from the dead and ascended into heaven!
One of those martyrs, Paul the Apostle (formerly Saul of Tarsus) a student of the great first century sage Gamaliel, described himself as a committed member of the group that opposed Jesus, the Pharisees. After persecuting the church vigorously for a number of years, he was miraculously converted to a belief in the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. He lived the next three decades serving Jesus and proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah and that eternal salvation could come only through a belief in him. Like millions of others, Paul was ultimately martyred for his faith in Jesus.
In his defense of the Christian faith, Paul states that there were more than five hundred eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus at one time.
By strict definition, we cannot prove the miracles of Jesus scientifically, but they are highly defensible from a legal-historical perspective.
There are a number of non-believing lawyers who have attempted to refute both the miracles and the existence of Jesus. However, when confronted with the evidence, many became convinced of the historicity of Jesus and the miracles he performed.
Truly the ministry of Jesus, a ministry of physical and spiritual healing, fulfilled the requirements for Messiah set forth by the prophet Isaiah.
John 2. Luke 8:41
See Apendix II
For a detailed discussion on the development of myths, see Evidence That Demands a Verdict
, McDowell, Josh. vol., II, Here's life Publishers, San Bernardino, CA.
See The New Testament Documents, Can You Trust Them?
, F.F. Bruce.
There are fragments of the New Testament that scholars have dated as being as early as the mid first century. Secondly, the entire New Testament, save a few verses, can be reconstructed from the writings of the second century church fathers.
See appendix II, Historical Evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. 1 Corinthians 15:6
Greenleaf, Simon. An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice
. Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, reprint edition, 1965. Originally published by J. Cockroft & Co., 1874,New York.