Miracles—Fact or Fiction?
THE gentleman’s attention was immediately caught by the bumper sticker on a passing car, “Miracles Happen—Just Ask the Angels.” Although he was a religious man himself, he was unsure what this meant. Did the sign mean that the driver believed in miracles? Or was it, rather, a jocular way of indicating lack of belief in both miracles and angels?
You may be interested in what German author Manfred Barthel noted: “Miracle is a word that immediately polarizes readers into two warring camps.” Those who believe in miracles are convinced that they occur and perhaps occur often.* For example, it is reported that in Greece during the last few years, believers have claimed that miracles take place about once a month. This led a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church to caution: “The believer tends to humanize God, Mary, and the saints. Believers should not carry things too far.”
Belief in miracles is less widespread in some other countries. According to an Allensbach poll published in Germany in 2002, 71 percent of its citizens consider miracles to be fiction, not fact. Among the less than one third who do believe in miracles, however, are three women who claim to have received a message from the Virgin Mary. A few months after Mary allegedly appeared to them—accompanied by angels and a dove—the German newspaper Westfalenpost reported: “Up until now about 50,000 pilgrims, people in search of healing, as well as the curious have closely followed the visions seen by the women.” An additional 10,000 were expected to stream into the village to experience additional appearances. Similar appearances of the Virgin Mary are said to have taken place in Lourdes, France, in 1858, and in Fátima, Portugal, in 1917.
How About Non-Christian Religions?
Belief in miracles is found in almost all religions. The Encyclopedia of Religion explains that the founders of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam held diverse views about miracles, but it notes: “The subsequent history of these religions demonstrates unmistakably that miracles and miracle stories have been an integral part of man’s religious life.” This reference work says that “the Buddha himself was sometimes led to work miracles.” Later, when “Buddhism was transplanted to China, its missionaries often resorted to the display of miraculous powers.”
After referring to several such supposed miracles, that encyclopedia concludes: “One may not be prepared to accept all of these miracle stories told by pious biographers, but they were undoubtedly created with the good intention of glorifying the Buddha, who was able to endow his ardent followers with such miraculous powers.” The same authority says of Islam: “The majority of the Islamic community has never ceased to expect miracles. Muhammad is presented in the traditions (hadīths) as having worked miracles in public on many occasions. . . . Even after their death, saints are believed to work miracles at their own graves on behalf of the faithful, and their intercession is piously invoked.”
What of the Miracles in Christianity?
Many of those who have accepted Christianity are divided in their opinions. Some accept as fact the Bible reports about the miracles performed by Jesus Christ or by servants of God in pre-Christian times. Yet, many agree with Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. The Encyclopedia of Religion says of him: “Both Luther and Calvin wrote that the age of miracles was over and that their occurrence should not be expected.” The Catholic Church held to its belief in miracles “without trying to defend it intellectually,” says this reference work. However, “the academic Protestant community came to believe that the practice of Christianity was largely a matter of morality and that neither God nor the spiritual world contacted or influenced practical human life to any great extent.”
Other professed Christians, including some clergymen, doubt that the miracles mentioned in the Bible are factual. Take, for example, the burning-bush episode reported in the Bible at Exodus 3:1-5. The book What the Bible Really Says explains that a number of German theologians do not take this as the literal account of a miracle. Instead, they interpret it as “a symbol of Moses’ inner struggle with the pricks and burning pangs of conscience.” The book adds: “The flames could also be seen as flowers that burst into bloom in the sunlight of the divine presence.”
You may find such an explanation less than satisfying. So, what should you believe? Is it realistic to believe that miracles have ever taken place? And what about modern-day miracles? Since we cannot ask the angels, whom can we ask?
The Biblical Position
No one can deny that the Bible reports that God in bygone days at times stepped in to perform humanly impossible acts. Of him, we read: “You proceeded to bring forth your people Israel out of the land of Egypt, with signs and with miracles and with a strong hand and with a stretched-out arm and with great fearsomeness.” (Jeremiah 32:21) Imagine, the most powerful nation of the day brought to its knees by means of ten divinely sent plagues, including the death of its firstborn. Miracles indeed!—Exodus, chapters 7 to 14.
Centuries later, the four Gospel writers described some 35 miracles performed by Jesus. In fact, their words suggest that he performed even more supernatural feats than those they report. Are these reports fact or fiction?*—Matthew 9:35; Luke 9:11.
If the Bible is what it claims to be—God’s Word of truth—then you have clear reason to believe in the miracles about which it speaks. The Bible is explicit in reporting that miracles occurred in bygone days—miraculous healings, resurrections, and the like—yet it is just as explicit in explaining that such miracles no longer take place. (See the box “Why Certain Miracles No Longer Occur,” on page 4.) So does this mean that even those who accept the Bible as fact consider belief in modern-day miracles to be unfounded? Let the next article reply.
The word “miracles” as used in this article is as defined in a Bible dictionary: “Effects in the physical world that surpass all known human or natural powers and are therefore attributed to supernatural agency.”
You can consider evidence that the Bible is worthy of belief. Such is set out in the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Box on page 4]
WHY CERTAIN MIRACLES NO LONGER OCCUR
Various kinds of miracles are mentioned in the Bible. (Exodus 7:19-21; 1 Kings 17:1-7; 18:22-38; 2 Kings 5:1-14; Matthew 8:24-27; Luke 17:11-19; John 2:1-11; 9:1-7) Many of these miracles served to identify Jesus as the Messiah, and they proved that he had God’s backing. Jesus’ early followers displayed miraculous gifts, such as speaking in tongues and discernment of inspired utterances. (Acts 2:5-12; 1 Corinthians 12:28-31) Such miraculous gifts were useful for the Christian congregation during its infancy. How so?
Well, copies of the Scriptures were few. Usually, only the rich possessed scrolls or books of any sort. In pagan lands, there was no knowledge of the Bible or of its Author, Jehovah. Christian teaching had to be conveyed by word of mouth. The miraculous gifts were useful in showing that God was using the Christian congregation.
But Paul explained that these gifts would pass away once they were no longer needed. “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, people have access to Bibles, as well as concordances and encyclopedias. Over six million trained Christians are assisting others to gain divine knowledge based on the Bible. Thus, miracles are no longer necessary to attest to Jesus Christ as God’s appointed Deliverer or to provide proof that Jehovah is backing his servants.