Occurrences that excite wonder or astonishment; effects in the physical world that surpass all known human or natural powers and are therefore attributed to supernatural agency. In the Hebrew Scriptures the word moh·phethʹ, sometimes translated “miracle,” also means “portent,” “wonder,” and “token.” (De 28:46; 1Ch 16:12, ftn) It is often used in conjunction with the Hebrew word ʼohth, meaning “sign.” (De 4:34) In the Greek Scriptures the word dyʹna·mis, “power,” is rendered “powerful works,” “ability,” “miracle.”—Mt 25:15; Lu 6:19; 1Co 12:10, AT, KJ, NW, RS.
A miracle, amazing to the eye of the beholder, is something beyond his ability to perform or even to understand fully. It is also a powerful work, requiring greater power or knowledge than he has. But from the viewpoint of the one who is the source of such power, it is not a miracle. He understands it and has the ability to do it. Thus, many acts that God performs are amazing to humans beholding them but are merely the exercise of his power. If a person believes in a deity, particularly in the God of creation, he cannot consistently deny God’s power to accomplish things awe-inspiring to the eyes of men.—Ro 1:20; see POWER, POWERFUL WORKS.
Are miracles compatible with natural law?
Through study and observation, researchers have identified various uniform operations of things in the universe and have recognized laws covering such uniformity in natural phenomena. One such is ‘the law of gravity.’ Scientists admit the complexity and yet the reliability of these laws, and in calling them “laws” imply the existence of One who put such laws into force. Skeptics view a miracle as a violation of laws they accept as natural, irrevocable, inexorable; therefore, they say, a miracle never occurs. It is good to keep in mind that their attitude is that if it is not understandable and explainable to us as far as we discern these laws, it cannot happen.
However, capable scientists are becoming increasingly cautious about saying that a certain thing is impossible. Professor John R. Brobeck of the University of Pennsylvania stated: “A scientist is no longer able to say honestly something is impossible. He can only say it is improbable. But he may be able to say something is impossible to explain in terms of our present knowledge. Science cannot say that all properties of matter and all forms of energy are now known. . . . [For a miracle] one thing that needs to be added is a source of energy unknown to us in our biological and physiological sciences. In our Scriptures this source of energy is identified as the power of God.” (Time, July 4, 1955) Since this statement was made, further scientific development has made it more emphatic.
Scientists do not fully understand the properties of heat, light, atomic and nuclear action, electricity, or any of the forms of matter under even normal conditions. Even more deficient is their understanding of these properties under unusual or abnormal conditions. For example, it is relatively recently that extensive investigations have been made under conditions of extreme cold, but in this brief time, many strange actions of the elements have been observed. Lead, which is not an ideal electrical conductor, when immersed in liquid helium cooled to a temperature of −271° C. (−456° F.) strangely becomes a superconductor and a powerful electromagnet when a bar magnet is placed near it. At such supercold temperature helium itself appears to defy the law of gravity by creeping up the side of a glass beaker and over the edge, draining itself out of the container.—Matter, Life Science Library, 1963, pp. 68, 69.
This discovery is one of many that have astounded scientists, seeming to upset their former ideas. How, then, can anyone say that God violated his own laws in performing powerful works that seemed amazing and miraculous to men? Surely the Creator of the physical universe has perfect control of that which he created and can maneuver these things within the framework of the laws he has made inherent in them. (Job 38) He can bring about the condition necessary for the performance of these works; he can speed up, slow down, modify, or neutralize reactions. Or angels, with greater power than man, can do so in carrying out Jehovah’s will.—Ex 3:2; Ps 78:44-49.
Certainly the scientist is not superseding or going beyond physical laws when he applies more heat or cold, or more oxygen, and so forth, to speed up or slow down a chemical process. Nevertheless, skeptics challenge the Bible miracles, including the “miracle” of creation. These challengers are asserting, in effect, that they are familiar with all conditions and processes that ever took place. They are insisting that the operations of the Creator must be limited by the narrow confines of their understanding of the laws governing physical things.
This weakness on the part of scientists is acknowledged by a Swedish professor of plasma physics, who pointed out: “No one questions the obedience of the earth’s atmosphere to the laws of mechanics and atomic physics. All the same, it may be extremely difficult for us to determine how these laws operate with respect to any given situation involving atmospheric phenomena.” (Worlds-Antiworlds, by H. Alfvén, 1966, p. 5) The professor applied this thought to the origin of the universe. God established the physical laws governing the earth, sun, and moon, and within their framework men have been able to do marvelous things. Surely God could bring the laws to play so as to produce a result unexpected by humans; it would present no problem for him to split the Red Sea so that “the waters were a wall” on each side. (Ex 14:22) Though, to man, walking on water is an astounding feat, with what ease it could be accomplished in the power of “the One who is stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze, who spreads them out like a tent in which to dwell.” Further, God is described as creating, and having control of, all the things in the heavens, and it is said that “due to the abundance of dynamic energy, he also being vigorous in power, not one of them is missing.”—Isa 40:21, 22, 25, 26.
Since the acknowledgment of the existence of law, such as the law of gravity, presupposes a lawmaker of surpassing, superhuman intelligence and power, why question his ability to do marvelous things? Why try to limit his operation to the infinitesimally narrow scope of man’s knowledge and experience? The patriarch Job describes the darkness and foolishness into which God lets these go who thus pit their wisdom against his.—Job 12:16-25; compare Ro 1:18-23.
God’s Adherence to His Moral Law. The God of creation is not a whimsical God, unreliably violating his own laws. (Mal 3:6) This fact can be seen in God’s adherence to his moral laws, which are in harmony with his physical laws but are higher and grander than they are. In justice he cannot condone unrighteousness. “You are too pure in eyes to see what is bad; and to look on trouble you are not able,” says his prophet. (Hab 1:13; Ex 34:7) He expressed his law to Israel: “Soul will be for soul, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (De 19:21) When he desired to forgive helpless, repentant men for the sin that is the cause of their dying, God had to have a legal basis if he was going to adhere to his law. (Ro 5:12; Ps 49:6-8) He proved to be strict in his adherence to law, going to the point of sacrificing his only-begotten Son as a ransom for the sins of mankind. (Mt 20:28) The apostle Paul points out that, “through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus,” Jehovah was able to “exhibit his own righteousness . . . that he might be righteous even when declaring righteous the man that has faith in Jesus.” (Ro 3:24, 26) If we appreciate that God, out of respect for his moral laws, did not hold back from sacrificing his beloved Son, certainly we can reason that he would never need to “violate” his physical laws to carry out anything desired within physical creation.
Contrary to Human Experience? Merely to assert that miracles did not take place does not prove that they did not. The truthfulness of any recorded event of history may be challenged by someone living today, because he did not experience it and there are now no living eyewitnesses to testify to it. But that does not change the facts of history. Some object to the accounts about miracles because, they say, they are contrary to human experience, that is, human experience that they acknowledge as true from observation, books, and so forth. If scientists actually took this position in practice, there would be far less research and development of new things and processes on their part. They would not, for instance, continue research on the curing of “incurable” diseases, or on space travel to the planets or even farther into the universe. But they do investigate and sometimes bring mankind into definitely new experiences. What is accomplished today would astonish men of ancient times, and a good share of modern mankind’s common daily experiences would be viewed by them as miracles.
Not “Explained Away” by Logic. Some opponents of the Bible account hold that Bible miracles can be scientifically and logically explained as merely natural happenings and that the Bible writers merely attributed these happenings to God’s intervention. It is true that such things as earthquakes were employed. (1Sa 14:15, 16; Mt 27:51) But this in itself does not prove that God did not take a hand in these events. Not only were the things powerful works in themselves (for example, the aforementioned earthquakes) but also the timing was such as to make the odds overwhelming against any chance happening. For illustration: Some have contended that the manna provided for the Israelites can be found in the desert as a sweet, sticky exudation on tamarisk trees and on bushes. Even if this doubtful contention were true, the provision of it for Israel is still a miracle because of its timing, for it did not appear on the ground on the seventh day of each week. (Ex 16:4, 5, 25-27) Furthermore, whereas it bred worms and stank if kept over until the next day, it did not do so when kept over for food on the Sabbath. (Ex 16:20, 24) It might also be said that the description of this manna as an exudation from trees does not seem to agree fully with the Bible description of the manna. The Bible manna was found on the ground and it melted in the hot sun; it could be pounded in a mortar, ground in a mill, boiled, or baked.—Ex 16:19-23; Nu 11:8; see MANNA.
Credibility of the Testimony. The Christian religion is interwoven with the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1Co 15:16-19) The evidence that it took place was not weak but powerful—there were more than 500 eyewitnesses to testify that it did take place.—1Co 15:3-8; Ac 2:32.
The motive of the persons who accepted the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection as true must also be considered. Many persons have experienced persecution and death for their beliefs—religious, political, and otherwise. But the Christians who so suffered received no material or political gain. Rather than get power, wealth, and prominence, they often suffered the loss of all these things. They preached Jesus’ resurrection but did not use any form of violence to promote their beliefs or to defend themselves. And one reading their arguments can see that they were reasonable persons, not fanatics. They lovingly tried to help their fellowmen.
Characteristics of Bible Miracles. Noteworthy characteristics of the Biblical miracles are their open and public nature, their simplicity, their purpose and motive. Some were performed in private or before small groups (1Ki 17:19-24; Mr 1:29-31; Ac 9:39-41), but often they were public, before thousands or even millions of observers. (Ex 14:21-31; 19:16-19) Jesus’ works were open and public—there was no secrecy attached to them; and he healed all who came to him, not failing on the pretext that some lacked sufficient faith.—Mt 8:16; 9:35; 12:15.
Simplicity marked both miraculous cures and control over the elements. (Mr 4:39; 5:25-29; 10:46-52) In contrast to magical feats accomplished with special props, staging, lighting, and ritual, Biblical miracles generally were performed without outward display, frequently in response to a chance encounter, a request, and that on the public street or in an unprepared place.—1Ki 13:3-6; Lu 7:11-15; Ac 28:3-6.
The motive of the individual performing the miracle was not for the selfish prominence of the individual or to make anyone wealthy, but it was primarily to glorify God. (Joh 11:1-4, 15, 40) Miracles were not mysterious acts performed merely to satisfy curiosity and to mystify. They always helped others, sometimes directly in a physical way and always in a spiritual way, turning persons to true worship. Just as “the bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires prophesying [“is the spirit of the prophecy,” ftns],” so, too, many of the miracles pointed to Jesus as God’s sent one.—Re 19:10.
Bible miracles involved not only animate things but also inanimate ones, such as calming the wind and sea (Mt 8:24-27), stopping and starting rain (1Ki 17:1-7; 18:41-45), and changing water into blood or into wine (Ex 7:19-21; Joh 2:1-11). They also included physical cures of all types, such as “incurable” leprosy (2Ki 5:1-14; Lu 17:11-19) and blindness from birth. (Joh 9:1-7) This great variety of miracles argues for their credibility as backed by the Creator, for it is logical that only the Creator could exercise influence in all areas of human experience and over all forms of matter.
Purpose in Early Christian Congregation. Miracles served a number of important purposes. Most basic, they helped to establish or confirm the fact that a man was receiving power and support from God. (Ex 4:1-9) Both with Moses and Jesus people drew this correct conclusion. (Ex 4:30, 31; Joh 9:17, 31-33) Through Moses, God had promised a coming prophet. Jesus’ miracles helped observers to identify him as that one. (De 18:18; Joh 6:14) When Christianity was young, miracles worked in conjunction with the message to help individuals to see that God was behind Christianity and had turned from the earlier Jewish system of things. (Heb 2:3, 4) In time miraculous gifts present in the first century would pass away. They were needed only during the infancy of the Christian congregation.—1Co 13:8-11.
In reading the history of the Acts of Apostles, we see that Jehovah’s spirit was working mightily, speedily, forming congregations, getting Christianity firmly established. (Ac 4:4; chaps 13, 14, 16-19) In the few short years between 33 and 70 C.E., thousands of believers were gathered in many congregations from Babylon to Rome, and perhaps even farther west. (1Pe 5:13; Ro 1:1, 7; 15:24) It is worthy of note that copies of the Scriptures then were few. Usually only the well-to-do possessed scrolls or books of any sort. In pagan lands there was no knowledge of the Bible or the God of the Bible, Jehovah. Virtually everything had to be done by word of mouth. There were no Bible commentaries, concordances, and encyclopedias readily at hand. So the miraculous gifts of special knowledge, wisdom, speaking in tongues, and discernment of inspired utterances were vital for the congregation then. (1Co 12:4-11, 27-31) But, as the apostle Paul wrote, when those things were no longer needed, they would pass away.
A Different Situation Today. We do not see God performing such miracles by the hands of his Christian servants today, because all needed things are present and available to the literate population of the world, and to help those who cannot read but who will listen, there are mature Christians who have knowledge and wisdom gained by study and experience. It is not necessary for God to perform such miracles at this time to attest to Jesus Christ as God’s appointed deliverer, or to provide proof that He is backing up His servants. Even if God were to continue to give his servants the ability to perform miracles, that would not convince everyone, for not even all the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miracles were moved to accept his teachings. (Joh 12:9-11) On the other hand, scoffers are warned by the Bible that there will yet be stupendous acts of God performed in the destruction of the present system of things.—2Pe 3:1-10; Re chaps 18, 19.
In conclusion, it may be said that either those who deny the existence of miracles do not believe there is an invisible God and Creator or they believe that he has not exercised his power in any superhuman way since creation. But their unbelief does not make the Word of God of no effect. (Ro 3:3, 4) The Biblical accounts of God’s miracles and the good purpose that they accomplished, always in harmony with the truths and principles found in his Word, instill confidence in God. They give strong assurance that God cares for mankind and that he can and will protect those who serve him. The miracles provide typical patterns, and the record of them builds faith that God will, in the future, intervene in a miraculous way, healing and blessing faithful humankind.—Re 21:4.