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Miracles

Philosophy of Religion

Miracles in the Bible (Part 1): Introduction

Information: This article considers the notion of miracles from the biblical perspective. The article begin with some introductory thoughts on the matter, and a list of some of the miracles we find recorded in the Bible. Part 2 of this article looks at further issues related to the idea of miracles in the Bible, as well as considering how some Christians have responded to and have reinterpreted these events. A version of this article was originally published on the website www.faithnet.org.uk.

Introduction

In Bible there are numerous examples of miracles being performed. Now although there have been many debates as to exactly how people should interpret these events (i.e. whether they literally happened as we read about them, or sort of happened like that, or did not happen like that at all), the assumption throughout the Bible is that God can and does perform miracles, and as such this is reflected in the way these accounts have been written.

However, in saying this the biblical accounts of miraculous events were not written down as they happened. Rather, the normal means by which these stories were 'passed on' was first and foremost through oral tradition (i.e. telling stories), which were then passed down through subsequent generations before being written down (often because people wanted to make sure that they were being remembered correctly). Now although 'oral tradition' is said to have been passed on accurately, only the most interesting or significant of these stories was ever going to be re-told. That this is the case can be seen in the Gospel of John. For the miracles recorded there were 'edited' and 'selected' and finally written down by him, for the purpose of leading people to faith in Jesus:

'Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30f)

So the passing on of stories through oral tradition, the way these stories were selected and re-told for a particular reason, and the fact that it was some time before we had a written 'fixed' account of them, should all be kept in mind when thinking about the record we have of miracles occurring in the Bible.

Examples of miracles from the Old Testament

Miracles can be found from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Some examples from the Old Testament are:

Moses and the ten plagues against Egypt: The Israelites are in slavery in Egypt. Moses requests that Pharaoh let the people go, but he refuses. As a result, God sends a series of plagues. The Nile turns to blood; frogs, gnats and flies swarm the land; livestock dies; people are affected by boils; hail and locusts destroy crops; the land is covered in darkness for three days and finally the firstborn in every Egyptian house dies (Exodus 7-12). Locust

Crossing the Red Sea: After freeing the Israelites, Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army to bring them back. With the Israelites trapped by the side of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army closing in behind them, Moses holds out his staff and the waters part. The Israelites cross over on dry land in safety, but when the Egyptian army tries to, the waters close in on them (Exodus 14). Moses parting and crossing the sea

Joshua and the Fall of Jericho: After entering the land of Canaan (the Promised Land), the Israelites are told to capture the city of Jericho. Joshua and the Israelites walk around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day they walk around the city seven times, blow their trumpets and the walls fall down. As a result of this they capture Jericho (Joshua 6:1-21). The walls of Jericho come down

Elijah, bread and bringing back to life the widow's son: Two miracles here. Firstly, Elijah visits a widow's home where he asks her for food, even though she only has enough flour and oil to make one more meal for herself and her son. bread. Despite this, she prepares a meal for Elijah. Because of her generosity, God prevents her supply of flour and oil from ever running out (she makes numerous meals). Sometime later the widow's son dies, but Elijah restores him to life (1 Kings 17:7-24 - 'Now I know you are a man of God and the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth' (v.24)).  Elijah and the widow

The shadow on the stair going back ten steps: King Hezekiah is ill, and is visited by the prophet Isaiah who tells him he will recover after God has heard his prayers. Hezekiah asks for a sign that this will happen. Isaiah tells him a shadow (from the sun) will go back up ten steps on a stairway, after it had gone down it during the day. It does this, and Hezekiah is healed. (2 Kings 20:9-11). Sun shining through tree

Firey furnace Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not burnt in the furnace and Daniel is not eaten by lions: Having been taken to Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to bow down to an image set up by King Nebuchadnezzar. As a punishment, they are thrown into a furnace which is heated, 'seven times hotter than usual'. Even though the soldiers who take them to the furnace die because of the heat, these men do not die, nor are their clothes scorched. There was not even a smell from the fire on them. Sometime later, Daniel refused to worship King Darius. As a punishment, he is thrown into a lion's den where he spends the night. In the morning, the King (realising his error) is relieved to find Daniel alive ('My God sent his angel who shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight'). The men who had got Daniel into trouble were thrown into the lion's den instead, where 'before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones' (Daniel 3-6).

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The miracles of Jesus

Some of the most well-known miracles, were those said to have been performed by Jesus (in the New Testament).

Changing water into wine: This was Jesus' first miracle, performed in Cana of Galilee. The story goes that the wine ran out during a wedding Jesus was attending. His mother (Mary) asked him to do something about this, so he called for six large stone jars to be filled with water. When the master of the banquet was given some of the water to taste, he found that it had turned into the finest of wines (John 2:1-11). Jesus turns water into wine

Healing a paralysed man: Jesus was preaching to a packed audience in a home in Capernaum. Some men brought a paralysed man to Jesus for him to heal. They could not get through the crowds, so they lowered him through the roof. On seeing the man, Jesus immediately told him that his sins were forgiven. Some teachers of law criticised Jesus for saying this, claiming only God could forgive sins. After explaining why he had said this, Jesus told the paralysed man to get up, take up his mat and walk - which he did (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus heals a paralysed man

Healing a man with a withered hand: A man with a withered right hand is brought to Jesus. In front of the crowds gathered there, Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand. When he did this, his hand was fully restored back to normal (Luke 6:6-11). Jesus heals a man with a withered hand

Calming the storm: Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, when a huge storm erupts on the lake and threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples become afraid, and ask Jesus to do something. Jesus stands up, rebukes the wind and the waves, 'and it was completely calm' (Matthew 8:23-27). Jesus calms the storm

Walking on water: One windy night, the disciples were again out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. In the distance and coming towards them, they saw what they thought was a ghost. When they looked closer, they could see it was Jesus. When he reached them (some way out on the lake, and after Peter had tried and failed to walk on water too), he got into the boat and the wind died down (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus walks on the water

Feeding five thousand people: Jesus had been teaching the crowds. It was late, and the people needed to eat. Jesus told his disciples to get some food to feed the people, but all they could find were five loaves and two fishes - these given to them by a young boy. Jesus blessed this small portion of food, and then proceeded to distribute it to the five thousand people gathered there. When the disciples had cleared up, there were twelve baskets of leftovers (Luke 9:12-17). Jesus feeds 5000 people

Other miracles

Later on the in the New Testament, the Apostles are also said to have performed miracles. For example, the Apostle Paul is said to have healed a crippled man (Acts 14:8-10), cast out a demon (Acts 16:16-18), brought someone back to life (Acts 20:9-12) and does not die despite being bitten by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:5). We should not be surprised that Jesus' followers claim to be able to do such things, as he is recorded as saying that they would be able to do so.

'In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people and they will get well.' (Mark 16:17f - see also Acts 2:43)

Today, many Christians claim that they and others can (and do) perform miracles for this reason.

Miracles in the Bible (Part 2): Issues and responses

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