THE MIRACLES OF JESUS by John Oakes
What evidence did Jesus point to in order to support the claims he made about
himself? The answer is that Jesus backed up his claims about himself by pointing
to the miracles he worked.
?Don?t you believe that I am in the Father, and that
the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own.
Rather it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is
in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles
themselves.? (John 14:11).
The apostles were clear that the miracles Jesus worked were the bedrock evidence
to support what he claimed about himself:
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence
of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these
are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the
Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his
name (John 20:30,31).
However, this argument may not by itself convince the skeptic. First of all,
we are not eyewitnesses. Even the Bible acknowledges that it is harder for one
who is not an eyewitness to the events to be convinced: ?blessed are those who
have not seen and yet have believed.? (John 20:29). It is fair and reasonable
for the skeptic to ask several questions. How do I know Jesus really did these
things? How reliable are the eyewitnesses? What is a miracle, anyway? How does
one distinguish a true miracle-worker from a charlatan? The two thousand years which separate
us from the events certainly make these questions very reasonable to ask.
On a personal note, although there were other factors and events in my life
which were a factor, it was reading the book of John which cemented my faith
in Jesus in the first place. The writer of John fully intended to use the miracles
recorded in the book to convince skeptics. I am one skeptic who counts himself
among those who have been convinced by the events faithfully recorded in John.
Nevertheless, the questions posed above are quite legitimate. These and other
questions will be answered in this section.
WHAT IS A MIRACLE?
The first order of business is to carefully define the term miracle as it will
be used in this discussion. Someone might point out that the definition of the
word miracle is obvious, and they might have a point. However, the word is used
in a variety of ways in different contexts. A careful definition is required.
This will not be the definition of the word miracle, but a useful one for this
To put it simply, a miracle is an event which defies one or more of the laws
of nature. It is an event which has no ?natural? explanation. It is, by definition
supernatural. Let us be careful here. By this definition, an event which cannot
be explained by any known natural process is not necessarily a miracle.
As an example of a situation which could not be explained by any known natural
law, consider the following scenario. If one were to take a time machine back
four hundred years with a battery, a light bulb and a couple of pieces of wire
in hand, one could perform a ?miracle,? which would be to light a light bulb.
This event would not violate what physicists know as Ohm?s law. However, the
existence of electrical current was not know four hundred years ago. This demonstration
might be called a miracle by an observer in the year 1600, but by our working
definition, it would not be a miracle.
The skeptic might argue at this point that using our definition, there is no
way to say for certain that any event is truly a miracle. Maybe there is some
unknown natural law out there which can explain all the events recorded in the
Bible. In fact, some supposed Bible believers with humanizing tendencies have
attempted to explain away many of the miracles in the Bible by proposing some
sort of natural explanation. Some examples of this will be listed below.
Nevertheless, as we will see, there are events recorded in the Bible which no
one would debate are miracles by the definition we are using.
What about some modern definitions of a miracle? There are the ?Miracle Mets?
of 1969. Perhaps many of the readers are too young to know what that refers
to, but what about the more recent example when Reggie Miller (apologies to
the non-sports persons among us, but he is a future basketball Hall of Fame
guard for the Indiana Pacers) scored eleven points in the last twelve seconds
of a basketball game to pull off a miracle victory? Was this a miracle?
Obviously this was not a miracle by the definition to be used here. Probably
no one would struggle with the distinction here. When Reggie Miller scored a
trio of three point baskets and a couple of free throws in twelve seconds, it
was a very surprising event. Very surprising events are often called miracles
in the common vernacular. There is nothing wrong grammatically or otherwise
with calling Reggie Miller?s efforts a miracle, but anyone can see that that
effort was not a violation of natural law.
There are a number of events recorded in the Bible which almost certainly were
miracles, but would not pass the test of being a miracle according to the definition
we will use. For example, there are a number of plagues recorded in the book
of Exodus which were performed by Moses in order to encourage the Pharaoh to let
the Hebrew slaves leave Egypt. One of these was the plague of locusts (Exodus
Devastating swarms of locusts are a natural phenomenon in Africa. Although the
timing of the locusts appears too perfect to be a coincidence, there is a possible
?natural? explanation for the plague of locusts which are recorded in Exodus.
It is the personal opinion of this author that this was not a natural event. By
the author?s own personal definition of a miracle (an event caused by the direct
intervention of God), this was definitely a miracle. However, by the more conservative
definition we will use, it is not.
Other examples could be cited, such as the huge flocks of quail in the middle
of the desert (Exodus 16:13, Numbers 11:31) provided to feed the wandering nation
of Israel. In Numbers, the writer even provides the explanation that a wind
drove the quail out into the desert, providing a sort of pseudo-natural explanation.
Nevertheless, the context provided by both Exodus and Numbers clearly imply
that this was an event caused by God. By our conservative definition, it is
not a ?miracle.?
In order to establish the point that there still remains a significant number
of events recorded in the Bible which, if true, would definitely be miracles
even by the most conservative of definitions, consider the following examples.
When the River Nile turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-23), that would have to be a
miracle. When Moses? staff turned into a snake, assuming that this is a faithful
record of an actual event, that would certainly be a miracle. There is no conceivable
natural explanation of this sort of thing. When a person who had already been
dead for four days?whose body was already smelling very strongly of decay?was
raised to life, that would be a miracle. When Jesus created out of nothing enough
bread and fish to feed five thousand men, plus the women and children, this would
without question be a miracle. This, of course, assumes that the event described
in all four gospels
is an accurate record of an actual event. The issue of whether
the miracles recorded in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, are actual
records of actual events will be a significant aspect of this chapter. Many
other works performed by Jesus could be added to this list. They will be mentioned
in due course.
LET?S SEE IF YOU CAN DO IT
In order to illustrate the definition of a miracle, I have occasionally pulled
a trick on my friends in the context of a small group Bible study. I have put
a glass of water on a table in front of the group and then asked for a volunteer.
I then have asked the volunteer to close his or her eyes, to concentrate their thoughts
very carefully, and to turn the water into wine. The group has occasionally
offered the option of turning the water into grape juice or another concoction.
It is not difficult to guess the outcome of these attempts. Despite all the concerted
efforts of the person who was put on the spot, the attempts have never proven
This is a humorous situation. Why is that? It is humorous because everyone in
the room knows that it is clearly impossible to turn water into wine. Even the
person who shuts their eyes and concentrate deeply do it with just a bit of
a grin, knowing that this is really just a joke. Some have claimed the ability
to work modern-day miracles, often in a religious context. It is not the purpose
here to judge one way or another whether such claims of miraculous events are
genuine or not. However, it would be safe to say that no modern-day miracle worker
would willing to put their claims to miraculous powers on the line in an attempt
to turn water into wine.
This illustration provides some context to the definition of miracle we will
use. It would certainly be a miracle to turn water into wine. Tap water contains
only hydrogen and oxygen atoms (with a very small concentration of such ions
as sodium, magnesium, calcium, chloride and sulfate). Wine contains a great variety of
organic compounds, which include the elements carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and
so forth. None of these elements are present in tap water to any significant
amount. There is no natural law which would allow one kind of atom to be converted
into another kind of atom, never mind having those atoms be arranged into the
correct molecules required to make up wine. Probably the reader did not need
this scientific explanation to be convinced that it would be a violation of
natural law to turn water into wine. The most hardened skeptic would be willing
to admit that if someone were able to pull off the feat of turning water into
wine, it would be a miracle.
As will be seen, many of the miracles which New Testament writers record Jesus
performing are of the sort that, if they really did happen, they would be a
miracle by even the most stringent conceivable definition.
HOW DO WE KNOW THESE THINGS REALLY HAPPENED?
The example of turning water into wine was chosen for a reason. The miracle
of turning water into wine was perhaps not the ?greatest? miracle Jesus performed
(assuming it is possible to rate miracles on a scale). However, it was the first
of his public miracles. This example is so important that the biblical record
is presented here in full:
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in
Galilee. Jesus? mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples
had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was
gone, Jesus? mother said to him, ?they have no more wine.?
?Dear woman, why do you involve me?? Jesus
replied, ?My time has not yet come.?
His mother said to the servants, ?Do whatever he tells
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by
the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to
Jesus said to the servants, ?Fill the jars with water?;
so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, ?Now draw some out and take it to
the master of the banquet.?
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the
water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where
it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the
water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,
?Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the
cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but
you have saved the best till now.?
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus
performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and
his disciples put their faith in him (John 2:1-11).
The wine even tasted very good. If this event is a faithful record of an actual
event, then Jesus was a miracle worker. If he really turned water into wine,
then his claims about himself would be dramatically validated. In that case,
it would be clear that the New Testament records the life of what is unquestionably
the greatest man who ever lived.
However, the skeptic must be allowed his or her day in court. How do we really
know that what is recorded in John chapter two is a faithful record of an actual
event? How can one be sure this story was not just made up to justify calling
people to believe in this person Jesus? This is a very fair question. It is intellectually
dishonest to avoid answering it. Besides, to run and hide in the face of this
perfectly reasonable question would be to shut the door to faith for those who
are skeptical but open-minded. The apostle Paul and other great teachers in the early
history of the Christian church did not avoid tough intellectual questions.
In fact, Peter gave a strong admonition to the disciples to ?Always be prepared
to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that
you have.? ?Everyone? would include those who are difficult to convince.
There are a number of very good reasons to believe the New Testament provides
a faithful record of the life of Jesus Christ, and more specifically of the
miracles he worked. Let us consider some of these.
How do we know the miracles of Jesus recorded in the four gospels really happened?
The question of the reliability of the writers of the Bible, and especially
of the New Testament will be a very important issue throughout this book, so
the topic must be addressed carefully.
First, Jesus did many of his miracles openly before the public. This point will
be brought out a number of times using specific examples in this chapter. Jesus
did not just perform miracles in front of followers who were pre-disposed to
accept he was a miracle-worker. In the case of the water-to-wine example, no one
except perhaps his mother expected him to be able to perform a miracle. Sometimes,
Jesus performed miracles in a very private setting, so as not to draw attention
to himself, but at other times, as we will see, he performed the most convincing
miracles right in front of his harshest critics.
There were tens of thousands of eyewitnesses to the miracles Jesus performed,
yet where is the historical record of his contemporaries who stepped forward
and claimed his miracles were a hoax? There is no such record. In fact, as we
will see, both Roman and Jewish contemporary records report miracle working without
accepting the implications, but also without refuting the actual events.
In an attempt to refu
te the claims that the Bible faithfully records miraculous
events, Bible skeptics have claimed that the Bible was not even written until
well into the second century AD. If this claim were true, it would allow several
generations for the eyewitnesses to die and memories of actual events to fade,
and perhaps allow for the writers of the New Testament to create myths about
a miracle-worker who never existed.
Unfortunately for those who used to make such a radical claim, it has been thoroughly
refuted so that even the greatest enemies of Christianity who are intellectually
honest no longer make such charges. The evidence for the date of writing of
the New Testament will be reserved for another chapter, but it will suffice for
now to state that it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that most or all
of the New Testament was written while a great number of the eye witnesses to
the events were still alive.
In fact, within just a few weeks of the death of Jesus Christ, on the day of
Pentecost, Peter was able to declare openly before a huge crowd in Jerusalem,
the city where Jesus performed many of his miracles:
?Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a
man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs,
which God did among you through him, as you yourselves
know.? (Acts 2:22).
It was common knowledge throughout Palestine that Jesus was performing all kinds
of incredible miracles. Where are the people who stood up in the crowd on the
day of Pentecost and declared that Peter was giving false testimony? They would
have been either laughed at or perhaps treated much worse by a crowd who were well
aware of the kinds of miracles Jesus had been doing throughout Judea and Galilee
for the previous two to three years. It was common knowledge that Jesus? miracles
were a factor in his being killed.
Feel free not to take Peter?s word for it if you like. Historical records exist
which prove that even the enemies of Jesus were well aware of the kinds of undeniable
miracles Jesus worked during his ministry.
As an example of a non-Christian author who referred to the miracles of Jesus,
consider Flavius Josephus. Josephus was a Pharisee, as well as a commander of
the Jewish forces whose rebellion ultimately resulted in the destruction of
Jerusalem in 70 AD. Interestingly, by the time of the destruction of Rome, Josephus
had switched sides, and was with the Roman army which sacked and destroyed Jerusalem.
Josephus wrote about Jewish history for a largely Roman audience. In his history
of the Jews, one can find the passage:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be
lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of
such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of
the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.
Josephus reports that Jesus was a ?doer of wonderful works,? an obvious reference
to his miracles. Josephus was born in 37 or 38 AD. He published his Antiquities
in 93 or 94 AD. As a Pharisee, he surely knew many who were eye witnesses to
some of the events which are recorded in the gospels.
Josephus had an ambivalent attitude toward Christians. It is at least as interesting
to look at some of the writings of the Jewish leaders who were vehemently opposed
both to Jesus Christ and to the movement which he began.
For example, a very interesting passage can be found in the Talmud. The Talmud
is a set of rabbinical teachings and commentaries to the Old Testament produced
in the first and second century AD. In one section of the Talmud, known as the
Baraila one can find the following comment about the person Jesus:
On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu and the herald went before him
for forty days saying (Yeshu) is going forth to be stoned in that he hath practiced
sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. (Babylonia Sanhedrin 43a)
The author continues on to relate how Jesus was ultimately hanged (crucified).
What is interesting is that in this passage it is stated that Jesus practiced
sorcery. In other words, the Jewish leaders were not able to refute the well-established
fact that Jesus worked many wonders, they simply accused him of doing them by the
power of the devil. This is almost the identical charge to that recorded in
the book of Matthew:
They brought him a demon-possessed man who was
blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both
talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, ?Could
this be the Son of David??
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ?It is
only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow
drives out demons.? (Matthew 12:22,23)
It is interesting that in both the gospel of Matthew (see Luke 11:14-20 as well)
and in writings of Jewish teachers such as that quoted above, a fourth explanation
besides Liar, Lord or Lunatic is presented. The Jews accused Jesus of being
a servant of the Devil. It was so hard to make the insanity charge stick, that
the leaders of the Jews took an interesting tactic. They admitted that Jesus
worked miracles, which would on the surface appear to validate his claims. However,
they claimed that Jesus worked his signs by the power of demons. The obvious inconsistency
of this line of reasoning is so clear to anyone who thinks about it that this
tactic for explaining away what Jesus said and did is unheard of today as far
as this author knows. Jesus easily dealt with the accusation in the case in question.
He answered the Pharisees by asking them how the devil could drive out the devil.
?If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How
then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by
Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then,
they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the
Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon
you.? (Matthew 12:26-28)
The Pharisees had no answer to this question because there is none.
It is interesting to notice that Celsus, the Greek philosopher and enemy of
Christianity, made similar charges concerning the miracles of Jesus. Celsus
was a second century philosopher who was particularly critical of the Christians.
Like the Pharisees, he did not deny that Jesus worked miracles. Rather, he claimed
that Jesus worked his signs and wonders through sorcery.
There are other reasons to accept as fact the miracles which Jesus worked. Before
going into the last argument for the reliability of the New Testament accounts
of the miracles of Jesus, consider the following outline of evidence to support
belief in these miracles.
1. A great number of the miracles were done publicly, often in front of the
greatest skeptics and harshest critics of Jesus.
2. There were tens of thousands, of eye witnesses of every sort to these events.
3. The apostles openly proclaimed that Jesus worked a great variety of miracles
during the lifetime of those who could have refuted the claims. This is a matter
of historical record. (This fact is a notable exception to the claims the believers
in other great religious leaders have made.)
4. Both Roman and Jewish histories report at least the general fact that Jesus
5. Because the wonders and signs of Jesus were common knowledge, the Pharisees
and Rabbis in the time period in question tended to claim Jesus did his signs
by the power of demons, rather than refute that the miracles occurred.
6. Those who recorded the miracles most carefully and thoroughly (the gospel
writers) have every appearance of being absolutely reliable witnesses.
If the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are reliable reporters of
actual events, then obviously Jesus worked miracles. The first five points listed
above are powerful witnesses to the fact that Jesus worked miracles, but the
gospel records contain the actual accounts of many specific miracles which are
essential to the discussion at hand. Therefore the reliability of these witnesses
is a very important issue. A discussion of the reliability of the authors of
the gospels is essential to other chapters in this book as well, particularly
the one on the resurrection, so this matter will be considered carefully.
What kind of people were the apostles? Two of the gospel writers, Mark and Luke,
were not even apostles, so what about them? How do we even know the people named
at the top of these books are the actual writers? We will delay answering the
last of these three questions until a later chapter.
The four gospel accounts have every appearance of being an accurate record.
The accounts themselves, when they overlap, are quite similar, but not exactly
the same. If they were all prepared from a single but falsified account, copied
by each author, they would be essentially identical. If the accounts were separate
records of a number of liars, they would differ in very important specifics
(similar to a number of false witnesses in a court). The fact that there are
very similar, but with differences which represent the varied perspectives of different
eye witnesses supports the claim that they are genuine accounts.
Besides, the gospels certainly record a number of mistakes and sins of the apostles
themselves, producing a strong appearance of genuineness. One finds mistakes
and outright sins. However, there is no evidence of the character of the apostles
(or Luke of Mark for that matter) being dishonest in any way. The critics of
the New Testament can not produce a single example of a false witness or even
of a bad character in any of the important witnesses. As with Jesus himself,
the accusers could claim bad intent or deceit, but could produce no specific evidence
to support the claim.
What is the external evidence of the character of the witnesses of these events?
History reports that the apostle James was martyred. Church tradition records,
with varying reliability, that all the apostles besides John were martyred.
According to tradition, they tried to kill the apostle John as well, but failed.
It is very telling to note that not a single one of the significant eye witnesses
recanted, even at the point of death. None said ?Look, we were only making this
up to get supporters for our movement,? or anything even remotely resembling this
sort of thing. Is it possible to believe that every one of the apostles along
with dozens of others eye witnesses would willingly die for a lie? This defies
everything we know about human nature.
There are a number of examples of extreme persecutions of the Christian church
throughout the ages. In general, some remained faithful, but some recanted at
the point of the sword. However, in the case of the New Testament eye-witnesses,
not a single one recanted: not one! If they were aware that the whole thing
was premised on a pack of lies, it is absolutely inconceivable that not a single
one would recant. The words of Paul concerning the death of Jesus ring true
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a
good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God
demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still
sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8)
This statement about Christ?s death would hold equally well for the first century
martyrs who were very well aware of whether the miracles really happened. Would
anyone die for what they know to be a lie? Perhaps someone would, but certainly
not one hundred percent. This argument seems impossible to deny, so the skeptics
Let those who can, mount an argument against the reasoning outlined above. Much
more will be said in this work regarding the reliability of the Bible as a whole.
We will now move on to consider the actual miracles which Jesus did. We will
also ask questions about why he worked these miracles, and about what is implied about
Jesus by the miracles he performed.
It may seem obvious why Jesus worked miracles, but upon closer inspection this
becomes an interesting question. Jesus worked miracles for different reasons
in different situations, although there may have been one overriding purpose.
That one overriding purpose of the miracles was to validate his message. In
this context, John 20:30,31 and John 10:37,38 have already been mentioned. A
related statement can be found in Hebrews:
This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was
confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to
it by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy
Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:3,4).
The author of Hebrews appears to be applying this concept to the entire New
Testament, but it certainly applies specifically to the miracles of Jesus.
Two good examples of Jesus confirming his message by a miracle which correlated
with the message have already been given in the previous chapter. When Jesus
said he was the bread of life, he had just recently produced enough bread to
feed several thousand people, along with some fish. Apparently, Jesus created bread
?out of thin air.? Another example of Jesus confirming a claim with a miracle
which we have looked at is in the case of Jesus claiming to be the resurrection
and the life, followed by his raising Lazarus from the dead.
Let us consider another of Jesus? miracles which he used as direct evidence
to support one of his most controversial teachings. It is found Mark chapter
two. In this situation, some people brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. When they
could not get into the room where he was teaching the people, they lowered the
paralytic through a hole they dug in the roof.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ?Son,
your sins are forgiven.?
Now, some of the teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,
?Why does this fellow talk like that? He?s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins
but God alone??
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in
their hearts, and he said to them,