The Miracles—Did They Really Happen?
One day in 31 C.E., Jesus and his disciples were traveling to Nain, a city in northern Palestine. As they got close to the gate of the city, they met up with a funeral procession. The deceased was a young man. His mother was a widow, and he had been her only son, so now she was all alone. According to the record, Jesus “was moved with pity for her, and he said to her: ‘Stop weeping.’ With that he approached and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still, and he said: ‘Young man, I say to you, Get up!’ And the dead man sat up and started to speak.”—Luke 7:11-15.
1. (Include introduction.) (a) What miracle did Jesus perform near the city of Nain? (b) How important are miracles in the Bible, yet do all people believe that they really happened?
IT IS a heartwarming story, but is it true? Many find it hard to believe that such things ever really happened. Nevertheless, miracles are an integral part of the Bible record. Belief in the Bible means believing that miracles occurred. In fact, the whole pattern of Bible truth depends on one very important miracle: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Why Some Do Not Believe
2, 3. What is one line of reasoning that the Scottish philosopher David Hume used in an effort to prove that miracles do not happen?
2 Do you believe in miracles? Or do you feel that in this scientific age, it is illogical to believe in miracles—that is, in extraordinary events that give evidence of superhuman intervention? If you do not believe, you are not the first. Two centuries ago, the Scottish philosopher David Hume had the same problem. It may be that your reasons for disbelief are similar to his.
3 Hume’s objections to the idea of miracles included three outstanding points.1 First, he writes: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.” Man has relied from time immemorial on the laws of nature. He has known that an object will fall if it is dropped, that the sun will rise each morning and set each night, and so forth. Instinctively, he knows that events will always follow such familiar patterns. Nothing will ever happen that is out of harmony with natural laws. This ‘proof,’ Hume felt, “is as entire as any argument from experience” against the possibility of miracles.
4, 5. What are two other reasons put forward by David Hume to disclaim the possibility of miracles?
4 A second argument he presented was that people are easily fooled. Some want to believe in marvels and miracles, especially when it has to do with religion, and many so-called miracles have turned out to be fakes. A third argument was that miracles are usually reported in times of ignorance. The more educated people become, the fewer miracles are reported. As Hume expressed it, “Such prodigious events never happen in our days.” Thus, he felt it proved that they never did happen.
5 To this day, most arguments against miracles follow these general principles, so let us consider Hume’s objections, one by one.
Against the Laws of Nature?
6. Why is it illogical to object to the idea of miracles on the ground that they are ‘violations of the laws of nature’?
6 What about the objection that miracles are ‘violations of the laws of nature’ and therefore cannot be true? On the surface, this might seem persuasive; but analyze what is really being said. Usually, a miracle can be defined as something that occurs outside the normal laws of nature.* It is an occurrence so unexpected that onlookers are convinced they have witnessed superhuman intervention. Hence, what the objection really means is: ‘Miracles are impossible because they are miraculous!’ Why not consider the evidence before jumping to such a conclusion?
7, 8. (a) With respect to the laws of nature as we know them, in what ways have scientists become more broad-minded in their view of what is and is not possible? (b) If we believe in God, what should we also believe as to his capacity to do unusual things?
7 The truth is, educated people today are less prepared than was David Hume to insist that the familiar laws of nature hold true everywhere and at all times. Scientists are willing to speculate on whether, instead of the familiar three dimensions of length, breadth, and height, there may be many additional dimensions in the universe.2 They theorize on the existence of black holes, huge stars that collapse in on themselves until their density is virtually infinite. In their vicinity the fabric of space is said to be so distorted that time itself stands still.3 Scientists have even debated whether, under certain conditions, time would run backward instead of forward!4
8 Stephen W. Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, when discussing how the universe began, said: “In the classical theory of general relativity . . . the beginning of the universe has to be a singularity of infinite density and space-time curvature. Under such conditions, all the known laws of physics would break down.”5 So, modern scientists do not agree that because something is contrary to the normal laws of nature it can never happen. In unusual conditions, unusual things may happen. Surely, if we believe in an almighty God, we should admit that he has the power to cause unusual—miraculous—events to take place when it befits his purpose.—Exodus 15:6-10; Isaiah 40:13, 15.
What About the Fakes?
9. Is it true that some miracles are fakes? Explain your answer.
9 No reasonable person would deny that there are fake miracles. For example, some claim the power to heal the sick by miraculous faith healing. A medical doctor, William A. Nolan, made it his special project to investigate such healings. He followed up on numerous claimed cures among both evangelical faith healers in the United States and so-called psychic surgeons in Asia. The result? All he found were examples of disappointment and fraud.6
10. Do you feel that the fact that some miracles have been demonstrated to be fake proves that all miracles are fraudulent?
10 Do such frauds mean that genuine miracles never happened? Not necessarily. Sometimes we hear of forged bank notes being put into circulation, but that does not mean that all money is forged. Some sick people put a lot of faith in quacks, fraudulent doctors, and give a lot of money to them. But that does not mean that all doctors are fraudulent. Some artists have been skilled at forging “old master” paintings. But that does not mean that all paintings are fakes. Neither does the fact that some claimed miracles are clearly fakes mean that genuine miracles can never happen.
‘Miracles Do Not Happen Now’
11. What was David Hume’s third objection to the idea of miracles?
11 The third objection was summed up in the expression: “Such prodigious events never happen in our days.” Hume had never seen a miracle, so he refused to believe that miracles could happen. This kind of reasoning, however, is inconsistent. Any thinking person has to admit that, before the days of the Scottish philosopher, “prodigious events” happened that were not repeated during his lifetime. What events?
12. What wonderful events happened in the past that cannot be explained by the laws of nature that operate today?
12 For one thing, life began on earth. Then, certain forms of life were endowed with consciousness. Eventually, man appeared, endowed with wisdom, imagination, the capacity to love, and the faculty of conscience. No scientist can explain on the basis of the laws of nature that operate today how such extraordinary things happened. Yet we have living evidence that they did happen.
13, 14. What things are commonplace today that would have seemed miraculous to David Hume?
13 And what about “prodigious events” that have happened since David Hume’s day? Suppose we were able to travel back in time and tell him about today’s world. Imagine trying to explain that a businessman in Hamburg can speak to someone thousands of miles away in Tokyo without even raising his voice; that a soccer match in Spain can be seen all around the earth even as it is being played; that vessels much larger than the ocean-going ships of Hume’s day can rise from the surface of the earth and carry 500 people through the air for thousands of miles in a matter of hours. Can you imagine his response? ‘Impossible! Such prodigious events never happen in our days!’
14 Yet such ‘prodigies’ do happen in our days. Why? Because man, using scientific principles of which Hume had no concept, has learned to construct telephones, television sets, and airplanes. Is it, then, so difficult to believe that on occasion in the past God could have, in ways that we still do not understand, accomplished things that to us are miraculous?
How Can We Know?
15, 16. If miracles really did happen, what is the only way we could know about them? Illustrate your answer.
15 Of course, saying that miracles could have happened does not mean that they did. How can we know, in this 20th century, whether back in Bible times God worked genuine miracles through his servants on earth or not? What kind of evidence would you expect for such things? Imagine a primitive tribesman who has been taken from his jungle home to visit a big city. When he returns, how can he describe to his people the wonders of civilization? He cannot explain how an automobile works or why music comes out of a portable radio. He cannot build a computer to prove that such a thing exists. All he can do is tell what he has seen.
16 We are in the same situation as that man’s fellow tribesmen. If God really has worked miracles, the only way we can learn about them is from eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses cannot explain how the miracles happened, nor can they duplicate them. They can only tell us what they saw. Obviously, eyewitnesses can be duped. They can also easily exaggerate and misinform. If, then, we are to believe their testimony, we need to know that these eyewitnesses are truthful, are of high quality, and have proved that they have good motives.
The Best-Attested Miracle
17. (a) What is the best-attested miracle in the Bible? (b) What were the circumstances that led up to Jesus’ death?
17 The best-attested miracle in the Bible is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so why not use this as a test case, so to speak. First, consider the reported facts: Jesus was arrested on the evening of Nisan 14—which happened to be a Thursday night in our modern way of reckoning the week.* He appeared before the leaders of the Jews who accused him of blasphemy and decided he had to die. The Jewish leaders led Jesus before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who succumbed to their pressure and handed him over for execution. On Friday afternoon—still Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar—he was nailed to a torture stake and in a few hours was dead.—Mark 14:43-65; 15:1-39.
18. According to the Bible, how did the report of Jesus’ resurrection begin to circulate?
18 After a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to make sure he was really dead, Jesus’ body was buried in a new tomb. The following day, Nisan 15 (Friday/Saturday), was a sabbath. But on the morning of Nisan 16—Sunday morning—some disciples went to the tomb and found it empty. Soon, stories began to circulate that Jesus had been seen alive. The initial reaction to these stories was exactly what it would be today—disbelief. Even the apostles refused to believe. But when they themselves saw the living Jesus, they had no choice but to accept that he had indeed been raised from the dead.—John 19:31–20:29; Luke 24:11.
The Empty Tomb
19-21. (a) According to Justin Martyr, how did the Jews counter the preaching by Christians about Jesus’ resurrection? (b) What can we be sure was true about Jesus’ tomb on Nisan 16?
19 Had Jesus been resurrected, or is all this just a fabrication? One thing that people back then would likely have asked is: Is Jesus’ body still in his tomb? Jesus’ followers would have faced a huge obstacle if their opponents could have pointed to his actual corpse still in its burial place as evidence that he had not been resurrected. There is, however, no record that they ever did this. Rather, according to the Bible, they gave money to the soldiers assigned to guard the tomb and told them: “Say, ‘His disciples came in the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’” (Matthew 28:11-13) We also have evidence outside the Bible that the Jewish leaders acted in this way.
20 About a century after Jesus’ death, Justin Martyr wrote a work called Dialogue With Trypho. In this, he said: “You [the Jews] have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid.”7
21 Now, Trypho was a Jew, and the Dialogue With Trypho was written to defend Christianity against Judaism. Hence, it is unlikely that Justin Martyr would have said what he did—that the Jews accused the Christians of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb—if the Jews had not made such a charge. Otherwise, he would have left himself open to an easily verifiable charge of lying. Justin Martyr would have said this only if the Jews really had sent out such messengers. And they would have done so only if the tomb really was empty on Nisan 16, 33 C.E. and if they could not point to Jesus’ body in the tomb as evidence that he had not been resurrected. So since the tomb was empty, what had happened? Did the disciples steal the body? Or was it removed miraculously as evidence that Jesus had really been resurrected?
The Conclusion of Luke the Physician
22, 23. Who was one educated man of the first century who looked into the resurrection of Jesus, and what sources of information were available to him?
22 One highly educated man of the first century who carefully considered the evidence was Luke, a physician. (Colossians 4:14) Luke wrote two books that are now a part of the Bible: one was a Gospel, or history of Jesus’ ministry, and the other, called the Acts of Apostles, was a history of the spread of Christianity in the years following Jesus’ death.
23 In the introduction to his Gospel, Luke refers to much evidence that was available to him but that is no longer available to us. He speaks of the written documents about Jesus’ life that he consulted. He also notes that he spoke with eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Then, he says: “I have traced all things from the start with accuracy.” (Luke 1:1-3) Evidently, Luke’s research was thorough. Was he a good historian?
24, 25. How do many view Luke’s qualifications as a historian?
24 Many have attested that he was. Back in 1913, Sir William Ramsay in a lecture commented on the historicity of the works of Luke. His conclusion? “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense.”8 More recent researchers have come to the same conclusion. The Living Word Commentary, when introducing its volumes on Luke, says: “Luke was both a historian (and an accurate one) and a theologian.”
25 Dr. David Gooding, a former professor of Old Testament Greek in Northern Ireland, declares that Luke was “an ancient historian in the tradition of the Old Testament historians and in the tradition of Thucydides [one of the highest-rated historians of the ancient world]. Like them he will have taken great pains in investigating his sources, in selecting his material, and in disposing that material. . . . Thucydides combined this method with a passion for historical accuracy: there is no reason for thinking that Luke did less.”9
26. (a) What was Luke’s conclusion regarding Jesus’ resurrection? (b) What may have strengthened him in this conclusion?
26 What was the conclusion of this highly qualified man about why Jesus’ tomb was empty on Nisan 16? Both in his Gospel and in the book of Acts, Luke reports as a fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. (Luke 24:1-52; Acts 1:3) He had no doubt at all about it. Perhaps his belief in the miracle of the resurrection was strengthened by his own experiences. While he was not apparently an eyewitness of the resurrection, he does report witnessing miracles that were performed by the apostle Paul.—Acts 14:8-10; 20:7-12; 28:8, 9.
They Saw the Resurrected Jesus
27. Who are some who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus?
27 Two of the Gospels are traditionally ascribed to men who knew Jesus, saw him die, and claimed to have actually seen him after his resurrection. These are the apostle Matthew, the former tax collector, and John, Jesus’ beloved apostle. Another Bible writer, the apostle Paul, also claimed to have seen the risen Christ. Paul, in addition, lists by name others who saw Jesus alive after his death, and he says that at one time Jesus appeared to “upward of five hundred brothers.”—1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
28. What effect did the resurrection of Jesus have on Peter?
28 One whom Paul mentions as an eyewitness is James, Jesus’ fleshly half brother, who must have known Jesus since childhood. Another is the apostle Peter; the historian Luke reports that he gave a fearless witness about Jesus’ resurrection just a few weeks after Jesus’ death. (Acts 2:23, 24) Two letters in the Bible are traditionally ascribed to Peter, and in the first of these Peter shows that his belief in the resurrection of Jesus was still a powerful motivation even many years after the event. He wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”—1 Peter 1:3.
29. Although we cannot speak with eyewitnesses of the resurrection, what impressive evidence is nevertheless available to us?
29 Hence, just as Luke could speak with people who claimed to have seen and to have spoken with Jesus after his death, we can read the words that some of these wrote. And we can judge for ourselves whether those people were deceived, whether they were trying to deceive us, or whether they really did see the resurrected Christ. Frankly, there is no way that they could have been deceived. A number of them were Jesus’ intimate friends up until his death. Some of them witnessed his agony on the torture stake. They saw the blood and water flow out from the spear wound inflicted by the soldier. The soldier knew, and they knew, that Jesus was indisputably dead. Later, they say, they saw Jesus alive and actually spoke with him. No, they could not have been deceived. Were they, then, trying to deceive us in saying that Jesus had been resurrected?—John 19:32-35; 21:4, 15-24.
30. Why is it impossible that the early eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were lying?
30 To answer this, we have merely to ask ourselves: Did they themselves believe what they were saying? Yes, without any doubt. To the Christians, including those who claimed to be eyewitnesses, the resurrection of Jesus was the whole basis of their belief. The apostle Paul said: “If Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain . . . If Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17) Does that sound like the words of a man who is lying when he says he has seen the resurrected Christ?
31, 32. What sacrifices were made by early Christians, and why is this strong evidence that these Christians were telling the truth when they said that Jesus had been resurrected?
31 Consider what it meant to be a Christian in those days. There was no gain in prestige, power, or wealth. Quite the contrary. Many of the early Christians ‘joyfully took the plundering of their belongings’ for the sake of their faith. (Hebrews 10:34) Christianity called for a life of sacrifice and persecution that in many cases ended in martyrdom by a shameful, painful death.
32 Some Christians came from prosperous families, like the apostle John whose father evidently had a flourishing fishing business in Galilee. Many had good prospects, such as Paul who, when he accepted Christianity, had been a student of the famous rabbi Gamaliel and was beginning to distinguish himself in the eyes of the Jewish rulers. (Acts 9:1, 2; 22:3; Galatians 1:14) Yet, all turned their backs on what this world offered in order to spread a message based on the fact that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. (Colossians 1:23, 28) Why would they make such sacrifices to suffer for a cause they knew was based on a lie? The answer is, they would not. They were willing to suffer and die for a cause they knew to be founded on truth.
Miracles Really Happen
33, 34. Since the resurrection really happened, what can we say about the other miracles of the Bible?
33 Indeed, the testimonial evidence is absolutely convincing. Jesus really was raised from the dead on Nisan 16, 33 C.E. And since that resurrection happened, all the other miracles of the Bible are possible—miracles for which we also have solid, eyewitness testimony. The same Power who raised Jesus from the dead also enabled Jesus to raise the son of the widow of Nain. He also empowered Jesus to perform the lesser—but still wonderful—miracles of healing. He was behind the miraculous feeding of the multitude, and He also enabled Jesus to walk on water.—Luke 7:11-15; Matthew 11:4-6; 14:14-21, 23-31.
34 Thus, the fact that the Bible tells of miracles is no reason to doubt its truthfulness. Rather, the fact that miracles did happen in Bible times is a powerful proof that the Bible really is the Word of God. But there is another accusation made against the Bible. Many say that it contradicts itself and therefore cannot be God’s Word. Is this true?
We say “usually,” because some miracles in the Bible may have involved natural phenomena, such as earthquakes or landslides. They are still viewed as miracles, however, because they happened exactly at the time they were needed and thus were evidently at God’s direction.—Joshua 3:15, 16; 6:20.
The Jewish day began at about six in the evening and continued until six the following evening.
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Christianity’s enemies said that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. If this were the case, why would Christians have been willing to die for a faith based on his resurrection?
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Why No Miracles Today?
Sometimes the question is raised: ‘Why are there no miracles of the Bible kind today?’ The answer is that miracles served their purpose back then, but today God expects us to live by faith.—Habakkuk 2:2-4; Hebrews 10:37-39.
In the days of Moses, miracles occurred to establish Moses’ credentials. They showed that Jehovah was using him and also that the Law covenant was truly of divine origin and that the Israelites were henceforth God’s chosen people.—Exodus 4:1-9, 30, 31; Deuteronomy 4:33, 34.
In the first century, miracles helped to establish the credentials of Jesus and, after him, of the young Christian congregation. They helped to demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah, that after his death fleshly Israel was replaced as God’s special people by the Christian congregation, and thus that the Law of Moses was no longer binding.—Acts 19:11-20; Hebrews 2:3, 4.
After the days of the apostles, the time for miracles was past. The apostle Paul explained: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we have partial knowledge and we prophesy partially; but when that which is complete arrives, that which is partial will be done away with.”—1 Corinthians 13:8-10.
Today, we have the complete Bible, which includes all the revelations and counsel of God. We have the fulfillment of prophecy, and we have an advanced understanding of God’s purposes. Hence, there is no more need for miracles. Nevertheless, the same spirit of God that made the miracles possible still exists and produces results that give equally strong evidence of divine power. We shall see more of this in a future chapter.
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Many view the reliability of the laws of nature, such as the fact that the sun rises every morning, as proof that miracles cannot happen
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The creation of the earth as a home for living things was a ‘prodigious event’ that was not repeated
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How would you explain the marvels of modern science to someone living 200 years ago?