The Search for Jesus – Program 4

By: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Dr. Craig Blomberg, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Dr. Magen Broshi, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Hillel Geva, Dr. Gary Habermas, Mrs. Claire Pfann, Dr. Stephen Pfann, Dr. Ben Witherington, Dr. N.T. Wright; ©2001
Did Jesus actually perform miracles? Are miracles really even possible? Why should we believe they happened?

The Miracles of Jesus


Announcer: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Whom do people say the Son of Man is?” [Matt. 16:13]
Dr. Craig Evans: If I were a secular historian and looking at what Jesus is saying, I’d say this guy clearly thinks that he’s some kind of emissary from Heaven.
Announcer: They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [Matt. 16:14]
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: There are also many implicit indications that Jesus was more than an ordinary human being.
Announcer: “What about you?” He asked, “Whom do you say that I am?” [Matt. 16:15]
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think that the voice addressed Jesus: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:22]
Announcer: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [Matt. 16:16]
Today, Jesus’ question continues to challenge historians and theologians, believers and unbelievers, alike. Some still acclaim him as the Messiah, the Son of God, as did his followers in the first century. Others declare that Jesus never said or did most of what is recorded about him in the Gospels. Still, the search for Jesus continues.

Announcer: John records in his Gospel: “A great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.” [John 6:2]
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, the Gospel writers portrayed Jesus as performing many supernatural feats, such as healing the blind, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead, and feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. But can it be said that Jesus actually performed the miracles recorded about him?
Dr. N. T. Wright: It’s one of the remarkable games of contemporary history on Jesus that a majority of current Jesus scholars, including many who are not Christian believers, agree that Jesus did do remarkable healings and that that is the main explanation for why he attracted crowds and drew so many followers. It wasn’t just that his teaching was exciting, though it was. They came because things were happening – a great aunt who had been sick for 50 years, “Bring her and Jesus will heal her.” You know? That draws the crowds and would do so today if it happened here in Westminster.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Most scholars, the vast majority today, would say that Jesus did at least the healing miracles and the exorcisms. Then they add, he did something like these but they weren’t truly supernatural. So now the question is, what data do we have for the supernaturalness of Jesus’ miracles? I’d say again, you’re looking at a lot of reasons here that are very respectful.
The miracles of Jesus are attested in all the gospel strata. They’re in Mark, they’re in special Matthew, they’re in special Luke that these gospels have to themselves, they’re in John and in they’re in the source, whatever you do with it, that the scholars call “Q.” What you have in Matthew and Luke, that’s not in Mark. Miracles are reported in all five levels and you know multiple attestation counts a lot.
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine: I do think Jesus was a miracle worker, along with several other miracle workers we have both in Jewish sources and in pagan sources. Would his miracle working have been attributed to God? Certainly by some, but as we even see in the Gospels, others would have said, “Oh, yes, we agree he did miracles, but he does them by the power of Satan.” The miracle working itself is unquestioned.
Dr. John Ankerberg: But what reasons have compelled so many non-Christian scholars to admit Jesus must have performed miracles?
Dr. Craig Evans: I can remember, as a university student, the idea of any kind of a miracle story was pooh-poohed, it was laughed at. That’s changed in thirty years. You can see it in popular culture, you can see it in the popular television program, Star Trek. Mr. Spock wants to be a machine, right? He wants to be scientific. Science can solve everything. In the new series, the new version of it, you’ve got a machine who wants to be a human! You’ve got characters who want to be in touch with the inner spirit and channel and do all kinds of strange things. That show reflects the change that’s taken place. In science, there’s a recognition: “Hey! We don’t have a closed universe any more. We have to be open. We’re not real sure about our origins any more. Maybe there is something beyond the physical universe. Maybe there is a God. Maybe miracles do occur.” But that’s a big change.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Still, there are some scholars and historians who refuse to admit Jesus performed miracles.
Dr. William Lane Craig: Members, for example, of the Jesus Seminar who are skeptical in their approach to the New Testament have made many of their presuppositions abundantly clear. They’ve listed them, for example, in the introduction to their edition of the so-called Five Gospels. And according to the Fellows of that seminar, the number one pillar of scholarly investigation of the historical Jesus is the presupposition of naturalism; that is to say, that miracles do not happen.
Dr. N. T. Wright: My history makes me say, “Hey, put that stuff on hold for a moment, just supposing Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead. Don’t start by saying, “Did he walk on water?” Don’t start by saying, “Was he born of a virgin?” If you start with those questions, you go round and round in circles and you never get anywhere. Start by saying, “How do you explain the rise of early Christianity?” and if it comes back and says, “It was Jesus’ resurrection,” then you’re going to have to hold your mind open to the fact that the world, as Shakespeare said, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”
Dr. John Ankerberg: But what can be said to the person who believes in the naturalistic theory that miracles never happen, therefore all history must be investigated from this assumption?
Dr. William Lane Craig: Now, since the story of the Gospels is, from start to finish, a story of miracles – the virgin birth, the incarnation, the exorcisms, the healings, the clairvoyant knowledge of the future, prophecy, the resurrection of Jesus – anyone who comes to the text with that presupposition is, of course, going to be forced to discount vast tracts of the text as being unhistorical. But it’s important to see that that conclusion is not based on the evidence; it’s built into the presupposition. If you come to the Gospels with the presupposition of naturalism, then, of course, what you wind up with will be a purely human Jesus.
So the issue there isn’t one of evidence. The issue there is one of presuppositions. What is the justification for this presupposition of naturalism?
Dr. John Ankerberg: What needs to be noted is that the historical evidence itself indicates the naturalistic assumption that miracles never happen is not true. What is this evidence? It’s the fact that secular writers in history described Jesus as a miracle worker. These writers had no philosophical axe to grind, so unless Jesus was actually known to them through their sources as a miracle worker, they had no reason for describing him as such. Examples of this are Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities, the Jewish rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud, and the pagan philosopher Celsus who all cite Jesus as a miracle worker.
Dr. Ben Witherington: Now what’s interesting to me is that it’s not just the New Testament that claims that Jesus was a miracle worker. Later Jewish traditions, who rejected that Jesus was the Messiah, also attest that Jesus did miracles. It is also true that some of the later Greco-Roman sources as well also attest that Jesus was a miracle worker. And then, of course, we have the famous testimony of Josephus to the same effect. So you know, do we have credible testimonies that Jesus did miracles? I think we do have some of those. Now if you have presuppositions that miracles don’t happen, then none of that’s good enough.
Dr. John Ankerberg: In other words, those who refuse to look at the evidence because of their unproven naturalistic theory that miracles never happen cannot honestly deal with the historical evidence.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well, I think these events happened. But, if you come to the text and you believe miracles can’t happen, you’ve kind of got a dilemma on your hands. You read these texts about Jesus multiplying the loaves or you read these texts about Jesus healing the blind, and you’ve got to come up with some kind of explanation of what goes on. In fact, the healing of the blind is an interesting one because in the Old Testament, blind people didn’t get healed. No one did that miracle. And that’s not one you can very easily fake.
Dr. William Lane Craig: It would be bad methodology to simply dismiss these in advance before even looking at the evidence that they might have actually occurred. Otherwise, we could be ruling out the true hypothesis simply on the basis of a philosophical presupposition for which we have no justification.
Dr. Gary Habermas<: To me, a naturalistic theory has to, by definition, fill in the blank. This is not a naturalistic theory: “Ah, you Christians are nuts! Things like this don’t happen. I don’t see miracles in my life and Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead.” That’s not a naturalistic theory, that’s a denial. A naturalistic theory says, “No. I’ll tell you. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. What really happened is _________ [fill in the blank].” Now, for me, a skeptic has a naturalistic theory when he or she decides to fill in that blank. They’re going to take these facts and give an alternative explanation.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, consider this about miracles. Facts from psychiatry, medicine, and science are supplying evidence which may indicate miracles are happening in our world today.
Dr. Gary Habermas: I think a seventh tie-in in favor of the miracles in the New Testament is that there are some very hard data I think that are difficult to explain away. I think of Marcus Borg who reports in one of his books on Jesus that there was a team of psychiatrists today or recently who could not explain a couple of possession cases by normal scientific means. I also refer to a double blind experiment with almost 400 heart patients in San Francisco where they were monitored in 26 categories and those who were prayed for were statistically better, statistically better in 21 out of 26 categories. And because the experiment was performed well, this was published in a secular journal, The Southern Journal of Medicine.
So, if you can see some things today, maybe you can’t say, “Oh, yeah. There’s a miracle right there!” But if it makes you wonder a little bit, I have to say, can we be so quick to condemn the things Jesus did in the first century?
Dr. John Ankerberg: Science is also providing evidence that points to the existence of God, and if the scientific evidence points to the existence of God, then we must be open to the possibility miracles can happen.
Dr. William Lane Craig: And it’s interesting to note that in modern science, for example, in physics, scientists are quite willing to talk about realities which are quite literally metaphysical in nature – realities which are beyond our spatiotemporal dimensions; realities which we cannot directly perceive or know but which we may infer by certain, as it were, signposts of transcendence in the universe to something beyond it.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Many scientists now believe that the evidence for the big bang theory points to a simultaneous beginning for all matter, energy, and even the space-time dimensions of the universe. This evidence has led them to place the cause of the universe outside, that is, independent of matter, energy, space and time. This evidence calls for the strong possibility of the existence of God.
Dr. William Lane Craig: If there is a Creator and Designer of the universe, who has brought it into being, then if such a being exists then clearly he could intervene in the course of history and perform miraculous acts and so in the absence of some sort of a proof of atheism, it seems to me that we have to be open to the possibility of miracles.
To give an analogy, in the field of cosmology the evidence indicates that the universe came into existence in a great explosion called “the big bang” at some point in the finite past. And many physicists are quite willing to say that that event requires the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the universe who brought it into being. Now, when we come to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, could it be that just this being has intervened in history in a dramatic and miraculous way as Jesus claimed? Shouldn’t we be at least open to investigating those claims?
Dr. John Ankerberg: Since there is multiply-attested historical evidence in the Gospels that Jesus performed miracles, and since there is evidence from non-Christian secular sources that Jesus was a miracle worker, and since psychiatry, medicine and science, are now reporting data that are signposts of something beyond what we know, is anyone justified in ruling out the miraculous before investigating the evidence?
Dr. William Lane Craig: Perhaps these miracles in the life of Jesus are, as it were, signposts of transcendence to something beyond the universe, something greater breaking in in a dramatic way in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. And it seems to me that as open-minded people, we simply cannot exclude this in advance without looking at the evidence.
Dr. John Ankerberg: So, assuming that there is good historical evidence that Jesus did perform miracles, what do they say about who he is? More importantly, what did Jesus think about himself? Did he ever claim to be God? We’ll turn to that next.

Read Part 5

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