Analyzing Jesus: His Miracles

Luis Borrassá 001.jpg
Analyzing Jesus
Part Four: His Miracles

This is the fourth installment of my series titled, “Analyzing Jesus”. So far, we have looked at the historical figure, looked to see if he was the Jewish Messiah, and looked at further evidence to analyze the authenticity of the Old Testament claims/prophecy of a the Messiah. Today we move on and begin to address another controversial subject in regards to Jesus… his miracles.

This is a hard concept to address objectively, because boiled down, the belief in miracles comes down to faith. Plain and simple, you either believe that they can exist, or you don’t. Just so we are on the same track though, here is the definition of a “miracle”:

an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

At this point, something should jump out at you. The definition says that a miracle surpasses all known human or natural powers. This being the case, using the scientific method to “debunk” miracles (like the Jesus seminar did) is pretty foolish. The very essence of a miracle is that it defies natural science. Therefore, using a method that describes natural science doesn’t make much sense. It’s like trying to use a tape measure to determine someone’s age – it is illogical. So naturally, I will not use the scientific method to analyze Jesus’ miracles.

So how do we look at his miracles. Well, some of you may be saddened to know that we judge the existence of miracles by human testimony (I can already hear the groans if displeasure). But before we get into that, know that miracles are not really that difficult to wrap your mind around. Although I mentioned I will not use the scientific method for analyzing his miracles, I will present an analogy using the laws of science.

“Consider that the laws of gravity that hold a rock to the ground are not suspended (or violated) when a boy counteracts gravity by applying a greater physical force to pick up and throw the rock. The same logic holds when we read the eye-witness accounts of Jesus walking on water or turning water to wine. From a rational basis, he’s merely applying a volitional force outside what we know as the natural laws within our four material dimensions.” (Niles)

Now that miracles aren’t beyond human comprehension (meaning, we can understand what they are if one believes, or doesn’t believe, they exist), let’s return to how we know them – human testimony.

Given that the gospel writers demonstrate a great degree of integrity (through their willingness to be persecuted and die over the defense of their individual testimonies), we can conclude that there is something to their writing worth looking at. For instance, let’s take a look at the author of Luke (here on referred to simply as “Luke”). Luke is considered one of the greatest historians that we know. His attention to detail and historical events of first century Palestine in his gospel surpass his counterparts (Mark, Matthew, John). Dr. John McRay says it more eloquently than I:

The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian. He’s erudite, he’s eloquent, his Greek approaches classical quality, he writes as an educated man, and archaeological discoveries are showing over and over again that Luke is accurate in what he has to say.

Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of modern times agrees, “Luke is a historian of the first rank.”

I know some of you are yearning for more, but unfortunately, that is the about the most in depth I can get into miracles because in the end, it comes down to faith. I presented some compelling reasons on why one may believe miracles exist, but I can understand why they wouldn’t convince everyone (I didn’t expect them to).

Keeping on track with miracles, in the next installment, I will analyze the greatest miracle of all.

God Bless,

Justin

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9 Responses

  1. Zhijian,
    That’s good and that is deep, but do you realize that no man really knows the laws of nature? We only know the effects of them. We explain them by theories, but we really don’t know them. We have theories about the beginning of the universe and from those theories; theories about how stars and planets are formed, and from……..The only thing that the world doesn’t have a theory about is life and it has never even been defined. We see life everyday and have no particular interest in it *Unless it is our own*. It is true, “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary.”

  2. Justin,

    I have two questions:

    1) If a miracle is an “event that surpasses all known human or natural powers” don’t we have to use the scientific method to determines what is “known human or natural powers”? You dismiss the naturalistic scientific method as useless to determine miracles, but by this definition, isn’t it absolutely necessary to determine what an event is not?

    For example, don’t we need scientific method to understand that an eclipse of the sun is not a miraculous “darkening” but rather a natural event?

    2) If the author of Luke is a great historian that “surpasses” the authors of Mark and Matthew—isn’t this saying that we should not trust the accuracy of Mark and Matthew.

    To me, this seems to undercut any argument as to the viability of testimonial statements.

    Another example—Mark (and Matthew following Mark) has the Council meeting at night to convict Jesus. Mark 14:53-15:1. Matt. 26:47-27:1. Whereas Luke, realizing the Sanhedrin would never meet at night, “corrects” this to have it be during the day. Luke 22:66

    You seem to be saying that we should NOT trust Mark and Matthew, but rather should trust Luke. Doesn’t this completely destroy any argument as to the strength of testimonies?

  3. Hi DagoodS,
    you’re right, it’s when something doesn’t “compute” with the scientific method test” that we determine it is deemed a miracle.

    I am assuming that you have read the gospels. As you know, Luke includes specifics about the Palestinian environment, rulers, geography that the others do not. As far as historical accuracy is concerned, I feel Luke does a better job than Mark and Matthew (since he had access to Mark…and Q of course). They were all very different writers, some more versed than others, with different agendas.

    I never said don’t trust Mark or Matthew. I am simply acknowledging the strength of Luke in comparison to Mark and Matthew. If I were writing about the Gospel that best portrays Jesus as a teacher with parallels to Moses, then I would be tooting Matthew’s horn. Each book has it’s strengths, each writer contributing to create one, more complete testimony.

  4. Justin: …we judge the existence of miracles by human testimony.

    Justin: Luke includes specifics about the Palestinian environment, rulers, geography that the others do not.

    In light of those two statements, wouldn’t the prudent objective observer carefully inspect and explain why there are differences between the testimonies of the authors of the various gospels? Including the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? If the only way in which we can judge whether the existence of miracles happened, is by what we have written, shouldn’t you at least address the skeptic’s concerns over the variances that even you acknowledge exist?

    Environment

    Matthew records the miracle of Jesus’ family being saved from the slaughter of the innocents. (Matt. 2:16-23) Luke records that Jesus’ family did not need saving, and had no reason to be afraid. (Luke 2:41-42) Which one is accurate?

    Matthew records a seal and a guard at the tomb, requiring the miracle of an earthquake to remove these obstacles. (Matt. 28:2) Mark (Mark 16:3) and Luke (Luke 24:1) record that no such concern was expressed by the women, and therefore no earthquake would be necessary. These testimonies disagree. How does this support a miracle?

    Rulers

    Luke places the miracle of Jesus virgin birth at the time of the census (6 C.E.) when the ruler of Judea was Quirinius, the Governor. (Luke 2:2). Matthew places the miracle at the time of Herod the Great (4 B.C.E.) at the latest. (Matthew 2:1) If these two testimonies disagree about the time of the miracle—which should I be convinced by?

    Geography

    Mark records Peter as living in Capernaum. (Mark 1:21, 29) John has Peter in Bethsaida (John 1:44) Luke studiously fails to say where he is from. Who is the more accurate on the geography?

    Luke records a miraculous catch of fish at the time of the calling of Peter. (Luke 5:3-11) This event does not conform with John’s record of the calling of Peter. (John 1:37-43). (Hint: Place John the Baptist’s arrest in chronological order of the calling of Peter in John as compared to Luke or Matthew or Mark.) These events are geographically impossible.

    Mark (Mark 5:1) and Luke (Luke 8:26) record the exorcism of Legion in the land of the Gadarenes. Too far (over 30 miles to the sea of Galilee). Matthew places it in the closer (yet no cliffs) geographically possible Gergesenes. (Matt. 8:28) (and I should note that manuscripts over the years have modified these names in ALL the Gospels, in an attempt to align the confusion.)

    You see, my concern Justin is that the testimonies do NOT agree as to environment, rulers and geography as it concerns these (and many other) miracles. If this is the only way to judge the existence of miracles, we should be concerned about the viability of the testimonies.

    I am unclear as to the “compelling reasons” you presented that miracles exist. We cannot use the scientific method. We use testimonies that are problematic at best. It is not that we do not have faith—it is that the testimonies fail to convince.

    Justin, do you believe in Islamic claims of miracles? Or the Catholic claims of miracles? Or the Hindu claims of miracles? All we ask is that you turn the same skeptical eye upon the Christian claims that you would in any other testimony in any other religion.

  5. Hi DagoodS,

    I could (perhaps in another series) address the differences in scripture (i.e. why they exist, their different missions, and why they don’t pose a problem for the faith). Thanks for the idea.

    you bring up a lot of concerns that many people have had over the ages. I apologize for not addressing the specific concerns you bring up, although i do suspect you can find answers out there on the internet.

    However, I will comment on your overall ‘umbrella’ concern about testimonies. As I have noted in the original post, miracles are a difficult thing to “prove”, and that was why I didn’t attempt to do so. In the end, it does come down to individual belief. If one views miracles as obsurd, then no amount of “evidence” will be sufficient. In other words, miracles are difficult to contextualize, hence the reason why people who experience a miracle (i.e. being dead and with God and then coming back to life) have such a difficult time describing it.

    I did agree we could use the scientific method to an extent, but even there lies some natural problems (see post).

    To answer your question, I believe God is so powerful that he doesn’t limit miracles to our man made divisions (Islamic, Christian, Catholic, etc.).

    The Bible provides miracles, but my personal belief and experience is that sometimes miracles are included in stories to drive home a bigger, more important point than the miracle itself.

    All in all, its a muddy subject, and I knew my attempt would not be appreciated by some, and I am okay with that. Thanks for all your thoughts DagoodS.

    God Bless,

    Justin

  6. Justin, are you saying that the only way to convince someone that miracles occur is that they already believe miracles occur? Why would they need convincing?

    I have come across many claims of Christians that state they were former atheists who found miracles absurd. Allegedly. Are you saying that is not possible?

    How is this a “compelling reason” that miracles exist? Are you saying it is only compelling to those that are already compelled?

    Perhaps I have made a completely irresponsible mistake here. In this series of “Analyzing Jesus” who is it that you are trying to convince of these facts? If it is those who already believe, it was an error for me to post a comment and I apologize. This series is not meant for me.

    If, however, it had even a secondary intention of convincing a skeptic; when are you going to get to the actual claims that skeptics raise such as the few I have pointed out?

  7. hi DagoodS,
    the point of this series isn’t to convince anyone, although it is possible that perhaps someone would be, or perhaps someone wouldn’t be. It would be pretty unreasonable/foolish for someone to come to this website with the mentality, “alright, convince me”… b/c most people don’t want to be convinced.

    The point of the series is the following:

    It’s about that time again. Time for me to start up a new series regarding religion/faith/Christianity. I can already tell that this series will be a long one, so get ready for the long haul. I will address Jesus on a variety of different fronts, trying my best to be objective (like a lawyer). Granted, I cannot completely rid myself of my preconceived biases, but I hope that you can, at the very least, respect my investigative reasoning.

    God Bless,

    Justin

  8. I do not mean to be as much of a pain as I am, Justin. I would like the discussions between theists and non-theists to be better. That we address the strengths of the other side—not just our own. That we present the BEST of the other person—not mere caricatures. This will be my last comment on this entry.

    You indicated that the point of this series is:

    Justin: I will address Jesus on a variety of different fronts, trying my best to be objective (like a lawyer).

    What is the “variety of different fronts?” All I have seen is the “front” of typical Christianity. Where is the skeptical “front”? Where is the historical vs legendary front? The front of Gnosticism?

    If you are attempting to present a series such as a lawyer—be aware that lawyers are quite aware of what their opponents will claim, and their responsibility to respond to those claims. This is the reason I have been responding—nowhere do I even see an accurate statement as to what skeptics claim, let alone a response.

    Let me put the shoe on the other foot, to attempt to explain what I am saying. Imagine I was doing a series of articles on naturalism. And I only presented naturalistic claims. I only quoted authors who were also naturalists. At some point, wouldn’t you start to wonder, “Where are the Christian claims? Where is the response to what a Christian states? Where are the quotes from Christian authors?”

    And if I went on and claimed to be presenting this series in an “objective” manner—would you really think I was? When I wasn’t even mentioning what Christians say, let alone giving the best arguments for Christianity, let alone responding to the best arguments for Christianity?

    Why should we think that, likewise, you are being “objective” when you never present (and therefore never address) what skeptics say?

    In fact, you said:

    Justin: Well, in the effort to analyze Jesus effectively (like a lawyer would do), then it only makes sense to address these prophecies. Ignoring them would not be good litigation.

    Right. Ignoring another person’s claims is NOT good litigation. But isn’t that exactly what you are doing? I am not trying to be particularly harsh. What I truly, deeply desire, Justin, is for Christian apologists to be better. To actually LOOK at the skeptics claim. To actually ADDRESS them. You see that if I ignored your claims, this would be unwise. Are you ignoring ours? I beg of you—don’t do what I did as a Christian. Research them. Learn them. Study them.

    Part of the reason I initially responded to one of the entries was your statement:

    Justin: Before I begin though, let me define a few key terms. First, as I mentioned above, I will be using logic and reasoning to reach any conclusion (as oppossed to say, faith).

    But look at this entry. You start right off with “the belief in miracles comes down to faith.” Why did you abandon your own methodology? I attempted to address what you DID use reason and logic—testimonial witness, to which you felt I should look elsewhere. I have. It is not “compelling.” (your word.)

    If you are objectively looking at this, do you also have an obligation to look elsewhere? To not ignore what others claim?

    You say that you are not trying to convince anyone, yet previously you indicated:

    Justin: Note that my intent is not to “convert” any of you reading this. No, instead I am merely presenting information for us to analyze together regarding Jesus. I came to my conclusion, and you can come to your own. My plea to you, however, is to really consider the facts… perhaps do your own research if you feel the need.

    Isn’t this an attempt to convince us (at least) to do our own research? Why? Questions I ask go unanswered. Skeptical statements are not presented (and certainly not addressed.) Who are you asking to do more research? Christians? Non-Christians? Both?

  9. hi DagoodS,
    in light of our discussion, I will gear my next installment (which I can hopefully get to soon) towards the resurrection.

    The way I see it:

    Christians claim Christ rose from the dead

    Atheists/other religions claim that He did not.

    I hope you will enjoy it, I look forward to writing it.

    God Bless,
    Justin

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