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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Accusations Against Jesus Answered

Don Stewart :: Why Was Jesus Different from Other Miracle Workers of His Time?

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Why Was Jesus Different from Other Miracle Workers of His Time? (Honi the Circle Drawer and Apollonius of Tyana)

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 8

Some of those who admit that Jesus Christ was an historical character attempt to compare Him to other “holy men” that were living at that time in history. They point to a number of individuals who did similar things as Jesus. By doing so, they assume this puts Jesus into the same category as these other “miracle workers.”

We have documentation of a number of traveling healers and exorcists that lived around the time of Jesus. They include both Jewish holy men and Greek holy men. We will look at the most famous of the Jewish Holy men, Honi the circle drawer, and the most famous of the Gentile holy men, Apollonius of Tyana.

A Jewish Holy Man: Honi the Circle Drawer

There were a number of Jewish “holy men” who have great signs attributed to them. The most famous was a man named Honi, or Onias, the circle drawer. We learn about him from first-century writer Flavius Josephus. Honi, or Onias as he is also known, was said to have prayed for rain and the rain came down.

A Gentile Holy Man: Apollonius of Tyana

There were also holy men from the Gentile world. The most famous is wandering first-century miracle worker known as Apollonius of Tyana. Since he is often compared to Jesus, it is important that we know something about him.

Supposedly Apollonius had a miraculous birth, showed exceptional ability as a child, performed miracles during his life, including bringing a young girl back from the dead, and appeared to his own followers after death.

There is a parallel between one of Jesus’ miracles and Apollonius. The story goes as follows:

A girl had died just in the hour of her marriage, and the bridegroom was following her bier lamenting as was natural his marriage was left unfulfilled, and the whole of Rome was mourning with him, for the maiden belong to a consular family. Apollonius then witnessing their grief, said: “Put down the bier, for I will stay the tears that you are shedding from this maiden.” And withal he asked what was her name. The crowd accordingly thought that he was about to deliver such an oration as is commonly delivered as much to grace the funeral as to stir up lamentation; but he did nothing of the kind, but merely touching her and whispering some secret spell over her, at once woke up the maiden from her seeming death; and the girl spoke out loud... (Translated by F.C. Conybeare, Loeb Classical Library, London:, Cambridge, MA. Harvard, Vol. 1, 1912, pp. 457-459)

Apollonius was alleged to have such power. How then, can we say Jesus was unique if a man like Apollonius had similar power? What is the difference between them?

Response to Apollonius Being Similar to Jesus

There are a number of things we can say in response to the idea that Apollonius can be considered to be similar to Jesus. We can list them as follows.

1. The Story Comes to Us from Only One Source

To begin with, the story of the life of Apollonius comes exclusively from one source; the writings of a man named Philostratus. There is no other written documentation, from friend or foe of Apollonius. Therefore, we are forced to rely on this one account for information about this “holy man.”

2. The Account of His Life Was Written 150 Years after the Events

Not only does the story come down to us from only one source, this source was written 150 after the alleged events take place. Therefore, we are not dealing with eyewitness testimony. Indeed, we do not even have testimony from those who talked with the eyewitnesses.

3. There Were Monetary Benefits for the Writer of the Story

There was also a monetary benefit to the writer of Apollonius story. The Empress, who was an admirer of Apollonius, actually commissioned the author, Philostratus, to write the story.

4. Many of Apollonius’ Great Deeds Were Qualified

Philostratus also qualified many of the so-called deeds of Apollonius. In other words, they are not expressed as actual miracles.

5. The Story Was Not to Be Taken Seriously

With respect to Apollonius of Tyana, there is evidence that the miraculous account of his life was not meant to be taken seriously.

Conclusion: There Is No Real Parallel between Jesus and Apollonius

Given the above facts, there is no real parallel between Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana. Jesus’ miracles were recorded by multiple witnesses who were present. There is no such testimony for Apollonius.

A Comparison between Jesus and Alleged Miracle Workers

We can make the following comparisons between Jesus Christ and the alleged miracle workers and holy men of the ancient world.

1. There Are No Real Parallels with Other Miracle Workers

While some have attempted to find simplistic parallels between Jesus and other miracles workers of His era, the parallels are not really there.

For one thing, the people in Jesus’ day had never seen similar miracles of the kind which He performed. When Jesus healed a paralyzed man in the city of Capernaum, the response was as follows:

And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12 NRSV)

Nothing like this had ever seen before. Whatever any other so-called miracle worker may have done, it was not anything like the miracles of Jesus.

2. There Are First-Hand Reports in Scripture

The miracle reports in the Bible are written as first-hand, or eyewitness, testimony to Jesus’ words and deeds. Other stories about miracles which supposedly occurred at that time in history are not documented by eyewitness, or firsthand evidence.

3. There Was No Magic or Occultic Factors Involved with Jesus

We also find that Jesus miracles were not of the same type as these alleged miracles of ancient holy men. He did not use props or formulas to heal or to cast out demons. He simply spoke and the miracle took place.

4. Jesus’ Miracles Pointed to a Greater Reality: The Kingdom of God Had Arrived

There is one particular thing about Jesus’ miracles that truly sets Him apart from all others; His miracles were always linked with His message that the Kingdom of God had arrived on the earth in the Person of the King, Jesus. This point is crucial.

In fact, every part of the New Testament account of Jesus is miraculous; from His birth until His ascension into heaven after His resurrection.

This is consistent with what the Bible says of Him. John wrote about the reason God the Son came to earth:

No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known. (John 1:18 NET)

The purpose of Jesus’ coming to our world was to make God known. To do this, He said things which nobody else has ever said and He did things nobody else has ever done. Therefore, as we would suspect, Jesus’ life was one of a kind. Nobody can compare to Him.

Summary – Question 8
Why Was Jesus Different from Other Miracle Workers of His Time? (Honi the Circle Drawer and Apollonius of Tyana)

In the ancient world there were wandering Jewish, as well as, Gentile, holy men who allegedly performed great signs. These include such people as Onias, or Honi, the circle drawer and Apollonius of Tyana. The mission and ministry of Jesus have been compared with these, as well as other, ancient “holy men” who lived around His time. Yet, there are great differences between Jesus and these men.

For one thing, the accounts of Jesus are written by either eyewitnesses or people who recorded eyewitness testimony. Friend as well as foe testified to His miracles.

In fact, every account we have of Jesus from the first five hundred years of the Christian era, from either believer or unbeliever, has Jesus working miracles. The fact that He was a miracle-worker was never in doubt. The issue was “how” He was able to perform them.

In contrast, the accounts of the other “miracle workers” were not written by people who were there to observe them. Therefore, we have no firsthand testimony to their so-called miraculous deeds. For example, in the case of Apollonius, we have only one written account of his so-called miracles. This single account was written some two centuries after he lived.

In other words, it was not composed by someone who was on the scene who could tell us, in a firsthand manner, what truly occurred. Consequently the testimony we do have is historically worthless.

In addition, Jesus’ miraculous deeds were done without any props or occultic devices. He merely spoke the word and the miracle occurred.

Furthermore, His miracles were always done in the context that the Kingdom of God had arrived on the earth. They were part of the overall plan and purpose of the God of the Bible. We find nothing like this in the so-called miracles of other “holy men.”

In sum, Jesus cannot really be compared with these other “holy men.” As the Bible so clearly states, God the Son came into our world to show us what God is like. To do this He did things which no other person has ever been able to do. This is why we know that Jesus Christ is indeed “the Holy One” of God.

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