Understanding the Miracles of the Bible
THE miracles of the Bible have long fascinated readers of God’s Word. No doubt you have read or heard about some of the amazing miracles performed by Jesus Christ, such as his turning water into wine and raising people from the dead. Some persons, of course, have been skeptical about Bible miracles. But by your acquiring greater insight into this remarkable subject, you will be better equipped to help others to gain an understanding of the miracles of the Bible, building up their faith.
To satisfy the inquiring mind on the question of miracles requires that the evidence in connection with them point to (1) a superior power, (2) their possibility from a scientific point of view and (3) the reason for or purpose of the miracles. A miracle, amazing to the eye of the beholder, is something beyond his ability to perform or even to understand fully. It is a 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.
Understanding the miracles of the Bible, then, begins with belief in a deity. 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.—Rom. 1:20.
MIRACLES AND NATURAL LAWS
But how are we to understand the relationship of miracles to natural laws? Well, through study, researchers have noted various uniform operations in natural things, and have recognized laws that govern this uniformity. The Encyclopædia Britannica gives as an example of a “law of nature” the law of gravitation. 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 who accept such laws view a miracle as a violation of these laws, which they accept, reasonably, as irrevocable, inexorable: therefore, they say, a miracle never occurs. However, it is good to keep in mind that they do not fully understand the operation of these laws. Nevertheless, 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 that it is improbable. But he may be able to say that 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 known. . . . [For a miracle] one thing that needs to be added is a source of energy unknown in our biological and physical 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.
When you stop to think about it, do scientists fully understand the properties of heat, light, atomic and nuclear action, electricity or any of the forms of energy or matter, even under normal conditions? No; and still more deficient is their understanding of these properties under unusual conditions.
For example, only recently have extensive investigations 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 -456° Fahrenheit, 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, pp. 68, 69.
NO VIOLATION OF GOD’S OWN LAWS
Such discoveries 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 chap. 38) It is not necessary that a law be violated. God does not contradict himself. He can bring about the condition necessary for the performance of these works; he can speed up, slow down, modify or neutralize reactions, all within the framework of his laws.
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, the 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 operation of the Creator must be limited by the narrow confines of their understanding of the laws governing physical things.
Limitation of knowledge 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.” The professor applied this thought to the origin of the universe. God established the physical laws governing the earth, sun and moon, within the framework of which men have been able to do marvelous things. Surely God could bring the laws into 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.
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? Job describes the darkness and foolishness into which God lets those go who thus pit their wisdom against his.—Job 12:16-25; compare Romans 1:18-23.
CONTRARY TO HUMAN EXPERIENCE?
Merely to assert that miracles did not take place, as some do, 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. 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. What is accomplished today would astonish men of ancient times, and a good share of modern mankind’s common daily experiences would be viewed as miracles.
BIBLE MIRACLES NOT MERE NATURAL HAPPENINGS
Some opponents of the Bible account hold that Bible miracles can be scientifically and logically explained as merely natural happenings. It is true that such things as earthquakes were employed. (1 Sam. 14:15, 16; Matt. 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 was 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.
CHARACTERISTICS OF BIBLE MIRACLES
An understanding of the characteristics of Bible miracles helps build up faith in their credibility. For example, noteworthy are their open and public nature. Some were performed in private or before small groups, 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.—Matt. 8:16; 9:35; 12:15.
Another characteristic of Bible miracles is that the motive of the individual performing the miracle was not the selfish prominence of the individual or to make anyone wealthy, but was primarily to glorify God. (John 11:1-4, 15, 40) Miracles helped others, sometimes directly in a physical way and always in a spiritual way, turning persons to true worship.
Biblical miracles involved not only animate things, but inanimate things also, such as calming the wind and sea (Matt. 8:24-27), stopping and starting rain (1 Ki. 17:1-7; 18:41-45), changing water into blood or into wine (Ex. 7:19-21; John 2:1-11), and others. They also included physical cures of all types, even including leprosy (2 Ki. 5:1-14; Luke 17:11-19) and blindness from birth. (John 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 fields of human experience and over all forms of matter.
PURPOSE OF MIRACLES
Miracles served a number of important purposes. Most basic, they helped to 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. 4:28-31; John 9:17, 31-33) Through Moses, God had promised a coming prophet. Jesus’ miracles aided observers to identify him as that One.—Deut. 18:18; John 6:14.
When Christianity was young, miracles worked in conjunction with the message to aid individuals to see that God was behind Christianity and had turned from the earlier Jewish system of things. In time miraculous gifts present in the first century would pass away. They were a necessity during the infancy of the Christian congregation.—1 Cor. 13:8-11.
A DIFFERENT SITUATION TODAY
We do not see God performing such miracles by the hands of his Christian servants today. Why not? Because all necessary information is present and available to the literate population of the world and, to help illiterate ones who will listen, there are mature Christians who have knowledge of the Bible 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 his appointed deliverer, or to provide proof that he is backing up his servants.
Even if God should 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. (John 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.—2 Pet. 3:1-10; Rev. chaps. 18, 19.
So it may be said that those who deny the existence of miracles either 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.—Rom. 3:3, 4.
The Biblical account of God’s miracles, along with the good purpose that they accomplished, always in harmony with the truths and principles found in his Word, gives confidence in God. It gives strong assurance that God cares for mankind and that he can and will protect those who serve him. The record of Bible miracles builds faith that God will, in the future, intervene in a miraculous way, healing and blessing faithful humankind.—Rev. 21:4.