Did Jesus Do Miracles?

Did Jesus Do Miracles?

Joined: May 4th, 2005, 1:31 pm

October 24th, 2011, 3:35 pm #1

Did Jesus Do Miracles?
By John W. Loftus at 10/23/2011

There are some doubts that Jesus was known as a miracle worker in his day. David Friedrich Strauss (1808- 1874 CE) was the first to systematically argue this case. Against the rationalist approach of explaining them all away naturally, and against the supernaturalist approach which took these claims literally, Strauss argued in what can be considered a book of its own (a chapter containing 121 pages), that these miracle stories were myths.1

The rationalist approach is probably best illustrated by William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible commentaries on the Gospels. With regard to the feeding of the multitudes by Jesus, as recounted in the gospels, Barclay suggests the real miracle was one of generosity; that when someone first offered the few meager loaves and fishes he had to help feed the others, he inspired everyone in the crowd, one by one, to share what they had until they were all fed and there were basketfuls leftover.2 But this denies some obvious things in the text itself, especially when it says Jesus took the food after praying and gave the broken pieces to his disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowd to eat. It says that Jesus fed the crowds. They did not feed themselves.

The supernaturalist approach has textual problems too. With regard to the feeding of the multitudes by Jesus, as recounted in the gospels of Matthew (in chapters 14 and again in 15), Mark (in chapters 6, and again in 8), Luke (in chapter 9), and John (in chapter 6) there are discrepancies. These stories appear in different contexts and in different places. There are discrepancies about the number of men who were fed (4000 or 5000?), how many initial loaves and fishes there were (five loaves and two fish, or seven loaves and a few fish?), how many baskets of food were left after everyone had eaten (twelve or seven?). But the most interesting thing is that in Mark's and Matthew's gospels the story appears twice. D.F. Strauss rhetorically asks: "Is it conceivable that the disciples, after they had themselves witnessed how Jesus was able to feed a great multitude with a small quantity of provision, should nevertheless on a second occasion of the same kind, have totally forgotten the first, and have asked, `Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness as to feed so great a multitude?'" (Mark 8:4 and Matthew 15:33).3 Rather than telling us what really happened, these miracle stories were largely created later by an evolving church to make a statement about the spiritual importance of Jesus, Strauss argued. The point of the feeding of the multitudes with bread and fish was not to report what Jesus actually did on a particular day in his life, but to make the claim that Jesus was the bread of life who feeds his disciples with spiritual food in their own day. None of the attempts to rescue this problem as more than a myth that was told twice make sense, he argued, especially when the story has a parallel in the Old Testament where Elisha miraculously multiplied food for people (II Kings 4:42-44). According to Robert Price, repeating such a story twice is the "unintended result of the redactional decision to retain both versions instead of choosing between them."4

There is even some testimony to suggest Jesus may not have even performed miracles. The earliest texts of the New Testament were written by Apostle Paul, and in I Corinthians 1:22-23 he said the "Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." It seems as though Paul is claiming the gospel message is not supported by miracles at all, but rather by the foolishness of preaching. It's also instructive to note that Paul never specifically attributes any miracle to Jesus in all of his writings. It seems as if Paul just doesn't think Jesus did any of them, even if miracle workers who used the name of Jesus as a magician's charm did exist in the early church.

In the earliest gospel, in Mark 8:12, we read the same thing, this time from the lips of Jesus: "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it." This seems to be a categorical denunciation of the claim that he did miracles. There is still more, as G.A. Wells informs us, "there is no mention of any miracle of Jesus even in the writings of the earliest Fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smryna-known at the `Apostolic Fathers' because they were believed to be the immediate successors of the apostles)."5 Robert Price suggests the probability that the miracle stories were put in the gospels because they also served as a manual for how early Christians could perform them.6

What Strauss, Wells, and Price argue is that these facts suggest the miracle stories represent later mythic additions based on evolving church traditions to the story of Jesus. At least some, if not many, or even most of these miracle stories can be explained in this way. And while their conclusions represent a minority opinion among biblical scholars today, these considerations do at least provoke some doubt. How can we be sure otherwise? We can't, because we can never accept the majority opinion just because it's in the majority.

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1. David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined 4th ed., trs. George Elliot trans, (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, Inc, 1902), pp. 413-534.
2. William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke Revised edition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), p. 140.
3. David Friedrich Strauss, Life of Jesus: Critically Examined, p. 508.
4. Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition? (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2003), p. 159.
5. G.A. Wells, Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where it Leaves Christianity (Chicago: Open Court, 2009), p. 61.
6. Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, pp. 133-163.
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Joined: September 30th, 2009, 7:55 pm

October 24th, 2011, 3:43 pm #2

... if Jesus performed miracles, shouldn't we first provide evidence that miracles actually exist?

And Jesus, for that matter?

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"We are each free to believe what we want, and it's my view that the simplest explanation is: There is no god. No one created the Universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; there is probably no heaven and no afterlife, either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the Universe. And for that, I am extremely grateful." -- Professor Stephen Hawking, cosmologist
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Joined: May 4th, 2005, 1:31 pm

October 24th, 2011, 4:09 pm #3

Sometimes we make assumptions. Assuming Jesus existed ..

Also, sometimes Message Titles don't really reflect the body of the message.

A further question for me is "Is it necessary that Jesus performed miracles?"

A Pastor friend of mine a number of years ago told me that "God doesn't expect us to believe the unbelievable". Now, this fellow no doubt believes a lot of things I don't. But I found his answer reassuring in that I could at that time be a Christian, without buying the whole shebang.

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Joined: September 30th, 2009, 7:55 pm

October 24th, 2011, 4:26 pm #4

Mondo said: A further question for me is "Is it necessary that Jesus performed miracles?"

Good question. Like you said about your pastor friend, was the only purpose of the supposed miracles of Jesus to get people to believe?

If the Christian god exists, I have a better medium for believability that would alleviate the entire need for miracles.

Just show yourself.

Mondo said: A Pastor friend of mine a number of years ago told me that "God doesn't expect us to believe the unbelievable".

Seems like your pastor friend is contradicting himself.

"Jesus wants you to believe in him. Jesus, who was actually his own father, impregnated a teenage girl with himself, so he could grow up to be sacrificed so that he can get rid of an evil force that is present in all humans because a rib women was convinced by a talking snake to eat the fruit from a magical tree...

... but this guy doesn't expect you to believe the unbelievable, so he performs sideshow miracles that Penn and Teller or Criss Angel could easily reproduce."

Sorry... I just find that hypothesis to be unbelievable.

However, I am willing to analyze any supporting evidence that supports the Jesus hypothesis.

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"We are each free to believe what we want, and it's my view that the simplest explanation is: There is no god. No one created the Universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; there is probably no heaven and no afterlife, either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the Universe. And for that, I am extremely grateful." -- Professor Stephen Hawking, cosmologist
Last edited by edstrange13 on October 24th, 2011, 4:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: May 4th, 2005, 1:31 pm

October 24th, 2011, 4:33 pm #5

I believe you're American. I am sure you have some "liberal" Churches.

Heck I attended a church here in Canada which would not accept miracles literally, and which would not look at the Bible as inerrant or anything of the sort. A Christian church even, although ya know, some would say it wasn't a Real Christian church. Up here, this was a United Church.

I also went to the Unitarian Universalist get together a few times. Quite enjoyed it but my wife found it a little too un-Christian at the time. The word you never heard there was "God".

But no, my point was that there is a vocal minority of Christians that take everything literally. My experience has been many Christians, even some attending "Fundy" churches take a lot with a grain of salt.
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Joined: April 28th, 2005, 2:08 pm

October 24th, 2011, 4:41 pm #6

Mondo said: A further question for me is "Is it necessary that Jesus performed miracles?"

Good question. Like you said about your pastor friend, was the only purpose of the supposed miracles of Jesus to get people to believe?

If the Christian god exists, I have a better medium for believability that would alleviate the entire need for miracles.

Just show yourself.

Mondo said: A Pastor friend of mine a number of years ago told me that "God doesn't expect us to believe the unbelievable".

Seems like your pastor friend is contradicting himself.

"Jesus wants you to believe in him. Jesus, who was actually his own father, impregnated a teenage girl with himself, so he could grow up to be sacrificed so that he can get rid of an evil force that is present in all humans because a rib women was convinced by a talking snake to eat the fruit from a magical tree...

... but this guy doesn't expect you to believe the unbelievable, so he performs sideshow miracles that Penn and Teller or Criss Angel could easily reproduce."

Sorry... I just find that hypothesis to be unbelievable.

However, I am willing to analyze any supporting evidence that supports the Jesus hypothesis.

-----------------------------------------------
"We are each free to believe what we want, and it's my view that the simplest explanation is: There is no god. No one created the Universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; there is probably no heaven and no afterlife, either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the Universe. And for that, I am extremely grateful." -- Professor Stephen Hawking, cosmologist
in those who SEE HIM, become witnesses of HIM and come to "KNOW" him


studying Jesus OUTSIDE YOUR OWN FRAME of reference is like putting LOVE for your wives, children, husbands, anything.........under a microscope


how do you see it???

if not from your heart?


Gods law, LIFE, WILL, LOVE, desire are ONE
meaning? God both wills and does in us of his good pleasure, his desire is his pleasure for his creation, and he works according to that desire, not ours.
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Seoc Colla
Seoc Colla

October 24th, 2011, 5:08 pm #7

A suspension of Natural Law(s)? NO.

But, there are Laws that govern every facet of existence, even facets that apply at purely Spiritual levels, so it is feasible that some occurence could simultaneously come under a range of Law for an effect.

It would not be miraculous, however. If we look back far enough, those who designed and built iron ships, for example, defied known laws, but this advanced knowledge then came under different Laws.
It was always normal - never miraculous.
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Joined: September 30th, 2009, 7:55 pm

October 24th, 2011, 5:21 pm #8

I believe you're American. I am sure you have some "liberal" Churches.

Heck I attended a church here in Canada which would not accept miracles literally, and which would not look at the Bible as inerrant or anything of the sort. A Christian church even, although ya know, some would say it wasn't a Real Christian church. Up here, this was a United Church.

I also went to the Unitarian Universalist get together a few times. Quite enjoyed it but my wife found it a little too un-Christian at the time. The word you never heard there was "God".

But no, my point was that there is a vocal minority of Christians that take everything literally. My experience has been many Christians, even some attending "Fundy" churches take a lot with a grain of salt.
Mondo said: I believe you're American. I am sure you have some "liberal" Churches.

Yes, I live in southern Indiana.

Liberal churches are great, IMV. They are inclusive and non-judgmental (ie: "Gerard"), as opposed to being exclusive and judgmental (ie: "Tim"). They welcome homosexuals to join them, where the fundies would rather just have them executed. They believe that scientific research should take precedence over superstition, especially when teaching our children in public schools.

My primary issue with moderates is that they provide immense cover for the fundy whackjobs. In my view, faith (ie: believing in things without sufficient evidence) is the problem. The moderates refuse to allow believing in things without evidence to be criticized. Like the fundies they unknowingly provide cover for, they believe that believing in things without evidence to be a virtue.

It's a vice. A BIG vice for a civilization that has the capability of destroying itself.

Another issue I have with the moderates is that they have this line between what is metaphorical and what is literal in the Bible, yet are unable to define how they know the difference between the two. They "just know".

For example...

Me: "I'm not a Christian because I can't believe all that stuff in the Bible. It says that God ordered the death of the original tribes in the holy land. It said it was OK to rape and murder."

Liberal Christian: "Well, that's the Old Testament. The Old Testament didn't really happen. It's metaphorical."

Me: "Well, then there's this thing with Jesus being born of a virgin..."

Liberal Christian: "THAT REALLY HAPPENED!!!!!"

My sister is a Liberal Christian. She doesn't believe in the fire and brimstone of the OT, but believes the events in the NT are factual, historical events.

When I ask her how she knows, her answer is "I just know. God tells me so."

Seems to me that if they can't explain how they know what is metaphorical and what is literal in the Bible, they are CHOOSING what they WANT to be literal/metaphorical.

And if one is going to pick and choose at will, what's the point of following it?

Oh sure, if it keeps you from killing people, by all means... but if one doesn't need it to be good... what's the point?

"What if I could prove to you beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no god (hypothetically that is), would you immediately run out and become a horrid murderer, content only in the pleasures of yourself? Or would you remain a basically good person? If the former, then you are a scary individual, for only your timid faith keeps you decent. If the latter, then why do you need god to tell you good?" -- Stephen Roberts



-----------------------------------------------
"We are each free to believe what we want, and it's my view that the simplest explanation is: There is no god. No one created the Universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; there is probably no heaven and no afterlife, either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the Universe. And for that, I am extremely grateful." -- Professor Stephen Hawking, cosmologist
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Joined: April 28th, 2005, 2:08 pm

October 24th, 2011, 5:29 pm #9

A suspension of Natural Law(s)? NO.

But, there are Laws that govern every facet of existence, even facets that apply at purely Spiritual levels, so it is feasible that some occurence could simultaneously come under a range of Law for an effect.

It would not be miraculous, however. If we look back far enough, those who designed and built iron ships, for example, defied known laws, but this advanced knowledge then came under different Laws.
It was always normal - never miraculous.
see, the brain has all of nature hidden within it and HOW IT FUNCTIONS as "heart and mind and will"

to know THYSELF is to KNOW HOW YOUR OWN BRAIN FUNCTIONS

and then you can make the OUTER WORLD like the inner world...........you can recreate things to match your NEW UNDERSTANDING OF NATURE

nature is waiting for us to COME to this next level


one person here and there won't cut it this time

its not just about MACHINES........even sophisticated ones like the ones we are now dependant on

its about HOW ALL NATURE WORKS together to come to A WHOLE NEW way of SEEING it.........hearing it




this will be given us when we UNDERSTAND how we function.........since it will come FROM WITHIN......the few who find these mysteries of nature


I just wish more come out of what I experienced because I truly believe the answer to HOW THIS OUTER world needs to function is hidden within us.........a treasure we must find and impliment
Gods law, LIFE, WILL, LOVE, desire are ONE
meaning? God both wills and does in us of his good pleasure, his desire is his pleasure for his creation, and he works according to that desire, not ours.
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Joined: September 30th, 2009, 7:55 pm

October 24th, 2011, 5:44 pm #10

in those who SEE HIM, become witnesses of HIM and come to "KNOW" him


studying Jesus OUTSIDE YOUR OWN FRAME of reference is like putting LOVE for your wives, children, husbands, anything.........under a microscope


how do you see it???

if not from your heart?

Yvonne said: Jesus performs miricles all the time in those who SEE HIM, become witnesses of HIM and come to "KNOW" him

Ah, of course. I can't see the cheese because I don't believe in the cheese. (You have to listen to "2 the Ranting Gryphon" to understand that. Specifically, this rant.)

If Jesus ONLY performs miracles to those that have already been conditioned to believe in him, and these miracles are not discernible to everyone else, then that's not a miracle. That's a preconceived notion.

My guess is that whenever you hear about 25 miners being rescued from a collapsed mine, it's a miracle from Jesus, right?

And the 75 that died? "God's ways are mysterious"... right?

That's one of the first things I noticed when I started to break free from my early childhood Christian brainwashing. Jesus only gets credit for the good stuff. Seems to me that if you don't know god's ways when bad stuff happens, you ain't gonna know the good things, either.

I like to call it "counting the hits, and ignoring the misses".

Want me to believe in a Jesus miracle? Show me something that ONLY a god could do, and not random chance. No, a baby being born is not a "miracle", that's biology, and MANY babies never survive birth. No, surviving a serious illness isn't a "miracle", that's modern medicine, and many people don't survive a serious illness.

Yvonne said: studying Jesus OUTSIDE YOUR OWN FRAME of reference is like putting LOVE for your wives, children, husbands, anything.........under a microscope


how do you see it???

if not from your heart?


Oh, I understand what you're saying about believing in Jesus is an emotional experience. I deeply love my girlfriend, yet that "love" isn't tangible. It's an emotion.

The difference? My girlfriend actually exists and didn't (supposedly) die 2000 years ago.

Also, religious people around the world and throughout history have had THE EXACT SAME experiences with their non-Christian gods, and use THEIR experiences as a reason to believe in THEIR select gods.

Is there a particular reason why you are not a Hindu, other than you don't live in India?

HINT: You not being born in India is the real reason you're not a Hindu.

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"We are each free to believe what we want, and it's my view that the simplest explanation is: There is no god. No one created the Universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; there is probably no heaven and no afterlife, either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the Universe. And for that, I am extremely grateful." -- Professor Stephen Hawking, cosmologist
Last edited by edstrange13 on October 24th, 2011, 5:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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