Moderns have issues with miracles, but ancients did not. Many ancient histories reference miracles, and we do not discount them as histories for that fact. The miraculous element of the accounts of Jesus, however, are a basis on which many contemporary thinkers reject the claims of Jesus and claims about Jesus a priori.
Miracles are consistent with and flow from the nature and character of who Jesus claimed to be and who his followers claimed he was. If Jesus was God in the flesh, miracles are to be expected. The apostle John says that Jesus was the Word; he was with God in the beginning; He was God; and all things that were made were made through Jesus, the Word. (John 1:1-3) If the universe was made by and through Jesus, miracles are no big deal, and the resurrection is more than just possible.
This was thrust of the Gospels. The authority of Jesus resonated in his message and was attested by the miracles. Many moderns reject the message largely on the basis of the miracle claims because miracles are not allowed in a naturalistic worldview that dominates academia today. We can’t accurately judge what Jesus said, though, without being willing to suspend that disbelief, even if only to reach some understanding.
Setting aside skepticism for a moment, what accounts best for all the data – the gospel accounts, the claims of hundreds of people who thought they saw and interacted with the risen Jesus, the change in demeanor and lives of the followers of Jesus after his death, the rapid spread of the Gospel in the very area in which Jesus died and the sustained growth of the message of Jesus throughout the known world today. All of these things are best explained by the proposition that the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a real and objective event.
The tomb was really empty; hundreds of people, including groups of people all at once, claimed to see Jesus risen from the dead in the flesh; Jewish authorities could not produce evidence to disprove the disciples’ claims; the Roman government produced no evidence to refute the claim; the resurrection was claimed from the very beginning by people who saw Him crucified – it wasn’t the stuff of legend or myth that evolved over time, many decades or centuries after the events took place.
Early non-Christian sources acknowledge that Jesus performed miracles (or was known to perform miracles). The early followers referred to the miracles Jesus performed as facts with which their audiences were well-acquainted; and the early apologists referenced them as events beyond dispute by the opponents of Christianity. (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, p. 68)
Interestingly, ancients were not predisposed to disbelieve miracles, and the fact that Jesus performed miracles (or was thought to have performed miracles) was not dispositive to them about who he was or claimed to be. The miracles, of course, were chronicled as testaments to the authority, message and claims of Jesus, but people who were already accepting of the miraculous looked beyond them to philosophical, theological and other grounds of critiquing Jesus.
Today, nearly every religious tradition lays some claim to Jesus and incorporates him as a prophet or teacher of wisdom and truth, but moderns discount him largely on the basis of the miracle and resurrection claims. Does that make sense? How can we all acknowledge the wisdom and sense of what Jesus said and, at the same time, dismiss him as if we were a lunatic or liar on account of the miraculous claims?
I submit that, if we are going acknowledge the wisdom and sense of what Jesus said, which people in all quarters of the world do, we do need to deal more honestly and directly with the miraculous element of his story than we do.
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