If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone
Were Jesus’ Miracles really Miracles?
A miracle is what is not naturally possible. It is a supernatural occurrence. It is paranormal.
The gospels are seemingly full of accounts of Jesus having performed miracles.
If we can reduce the number of explicit miracles Jesus allegedly worked we automatically reduce the evidence for the supernatural and the case for believing that he is God or his Son and has any right to govern our lives. The purpose of this work is to prove that to believe that Jesus has this exalted position is as bizarre as believing that anybody who appeared after death must be the Son of God or the Daughter of God. Jesus, assuming that he existed, undoubtedly did believe in miracles. But all I am saying is that there is no reason to hold that his miracles were visibly supernatural and that Jesus for most of his miracles believed that their supernatural element could not be plainly seen. For example, Jesus may have regarded a healing by seemingly natural means as the supernatural work of God. The supernatural was working invisibly.
Even the Catholic theologian Hans Kung admits in his On Being a Christian that the gospellers were not interested in the exact events surrounding Jesus’ miracles but in making him look impressive (page 231). He says that when Jesus said that those who have not seen the miracle of his risen body but still believe he meant believe in him not in miracles thus denying that miracles including resurrections were signs (page 237). This is taken among liberals as evidence that John’s gospel was a deliberate fairy story in order to teach spiritual truths.
The purpose of this study is to prove that the miracles of Jesus are not that impressive. If Jesus did all those miracles he was a fraud for miracles are not signs from Heaven and result only in delusion. If Jesus didn’t do the miracles and they were more normal than we have been taught to think then he wasn’t a very convincing Son of God. Let us put together the reconsideration of the miracles of Jesus that sees them as more natural events than miracles are seen to be.
NON-MIRACLES IN MATTHEW
The gospellers may be surprised that how their books have been twisted by Christians to make them testify to Jesus doing more miracles than he really did.
Here, let us look at Matthew’s gospel.
Joseph’s seeing an angel in his dreams who told him that Mary was pregnant by God and to go to Egypt may have heard things he already heard of or suspected. They were just dreams – and messages from his subconscious mind. Matthew rewards them as inspired dreams and would understood people believing that they were just that. How do we know that he didn’t have a dream as well that told him the opposite?
The magi were led to Israel by a star when they were looking for the newborn Messiah. A star would be so high up that it would be a terrible marker and could take them anywhere. They had probably searched a lot of countries. They said the star led them to Bethlehem but it was after they were told in Jerusalem that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem that they went there. Naturally, they thought that this was what the star was trying to tell them. They imagined that it marked the house Jesus was in.
The Baptist saw the Holy Spirit hover over Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16). You cannot see a Spirit so Matthew means that John felt, or spiritually “seen” in other words, that the Holy Spirit had descended upon Jesus like a dove not in the form of a dove though there might have been a real dove which was taken to be a sign of the Spirit’s presence. The voice may have been an inspiration in John’s heart telling him that Jesus was God’s Son. Matthew never said that it was audible or that the crowd heard it.
Matthew never said that the Devil who was with Jesus in the desert was a supernatural being. The Devil was probably just a bad man who pretended to have vast magical powers (4:9) or perhaps he was a bad man through whom the Devil was believed to be speaking. He and Jesus visited the Temple. He took Jesus up a mountain and Jesus saw all the kingdoms of the world in his imagination for the author probably knew that no mountain however high could be a vantage point for seeing them all.
Jesus boasted that he could raise the dead to life and had done it (Matthew 11:5). There is nothing wonderful about this when Matthew does not say if this was certainly miraculous. Any popular healer will have worked with people who only seemed to be dead and then recovered.
Matthew never said that Jesus walked on water right up to the boat which was several hundred yards out from shore (14). The boat was only this far away when Jesus was up the mountain. Jesus did walk through or on the water to get them to come for him. Jesus was walking on water but not on top of it like some weightless being. Peter sank for he panicked and went unto a deep spot. He was told by Jesus he hadn’t much faith for he thought God was going to let him down. The wind died down when Jesus got into the boat making the disciples believe that he was the Son of God for he seemed to them to control the weather. Matthew doesn’t say if they were right. If Peter had seen miracles before as the traditional interpretation of the gospels would have you believe, he had to have some faith in Jesus and Jesus promised that when God willed to move mountains he would do it if faith was strong enough so here we have Peter sinking meaning he had no faith which would imply he knew Jesus’ miracles were not miracles in the full sense but had normal explanations or that Jesus broke his promise that God would never let a believer down when he has faith and wants that believer to walk on water or whatever.
The pagan lady’s daughter that Jesus cured probably was bothered by depression and it lifted when she started to believe in Jesus. This was the demon (15) that was put out of her.
The transfiguration, Jesus shining in the middle of the two long dead prophets (17), might have been an exercise in creative visualisation by the apostles. Matthew neither calls it a miracle or a surprise. The voice from the cloud that told them that Jesus was God’s Son might have been an inner voice, like a hunch. The voice from the cloud means the inspiration that seemed to come from the cloud. Matthew does not rule out this understanding. If there was a bright cloud the men could have thought they saw ghosts in it. The cloud came near when they heard the voice but it could have been there before. The approaching cloud could have made Jesus’ robes look bleached.
Matthew says that the possessed boy was instantly cured by Jesus (17). The boy seems to have been an epileptic which does not afflict one all the time anyway. Matthew is just saying that the symptoms stopped but if they stopped permanently, that we will never know.
Matthew does not say how Jesus made the fig tree wither up so fast (21) so why read a miracle into it?
Matthew does not necessarily see a miracle in the tearing of the temple veil when Jesus died for he mentions an earthquake.
He claims that the saints were raised from the dead before Jesus was. He says they stayed in their tombs and appeared to some people later. He does not say there is any evidence for this or what he meant by appearing. Did the visionaries see them in dreams? Perhaps Matthew was sure they appeared to people though nobody said they had seen them. This account is not meant to be taken as evidence for miracles.
Matthew does not attest to as many miracles as the Church would like to think.
There are hardly any miracles in Matthew.
A STUDY IN THE MATTHEW HEALINGS
Matthew does not impress me with his healing tales. They give no satisfactory evidence of Jesus being God’s prophet or whatever.
The mind has tremendous power when it comes to healing illnesses which it itself has caused or made the person falsely think he or he is suffering from. Many people only imagine they are ill. Every healer who lays hands on the sick a lot is bound to get what appeared to be some incredible results. Jesus might have just worked with hypochondriacs or cranks who imagined their health problems. He could have chosen his sick people carefully to avoid dealing with those he could not cure. The gospel says he did not offer his services to everybody (Matthew 13:58). The New Testament may be concentrating on the more dramatic healings and ignoring the others.
Jesus allegedly healed “all the sick” of Galilee and Syria (Matthew 4:23, 24) and all the sick who were brought to him at Gennesaret (Matthew 14:35, 36).
The all is all the sick who were brought to him for obviously all sick people on the verge of death could not be brought. This makes it less forceful and impressive. His followers would have had some say in who approached the Lord.
At Gennesaret, it was only those who touched the cloak of Jesus got better not all the afflicted so Jesus chose the people he wanted to work on carefully. Anybody that wasn’t cured would be embarrassed to say so for Jesus blamed his failures on the lack of faith and goodness of the person wanting healing. The sick deserve no compassion if their lack of faith is their own fault and faith is the only way to get better.
The book does not claim that the cures happened in the twinkling of an eye. It does not say that the healings were complete, that all their problems were healed, and permanent. For many, the healing may have been just a healing of the mind or the heart. A good psychologist can cure something, some nasty kink or symptom in everybody at least for a while.
When Matthew says that Jesus cured all who were afflicted he has those who were bothered by evil spirits in mind (8:16). He just says that Jesus made people feel better and feel cured which is naturally possible.
A demon could mean a subconscious artificial personality that harms so Jesus exorcisms could be nothing more than psychiatric work. A person could be said to be possessed by a demon simply because it succumbs to its charms rather than in the sense of being taken over by one. Or a person could be said to be possessed by demons if that person is sick, the demons being regarded as the cause of the illness. There is no reason at all to believe that Jesus regarded his exorcisms as provably and clearly supernatural or that they were. I mean he could have taught they were supernatural but not provably so. This is more important than trying to show that Jesus did not consider the demons to be miracle beings because if they did not look supernatural then there is no need to believe that they were supernatural.
It is not said that when Jesus cured the “possessed” man and dispatched the demons into swine which drowned themselves after that that the swine did this there and there for if when they did it a miracle was the only explanation (8).
Jesus did not say he had the kind of casting out of demons that we read of in horror novels in mind in 12. Perhaps he just means the casting out of demons that were merely a source of temptation. 12 does not prove that he was sure that the unclean spirits he put out of people who were crazy were thought by him to be real personal entities and not mental forces.
In Matthew 8, Jesus cures a leper. The story says the leprosy vanished immediately and Jesus told him to go and show himself to a priest. Notice that Matthew does not actually say that the appearance of the disease disappeared or when it will. Matthew feels that the disease was instantly cured but nobody can be sure of that. It might have been supposed that it can take time for the signs of the disease to go after the disease has been taken away. How did the healed know they were better? They didn’t. Jesus made them feel as if they did. When he cured paralytics they might have managed a few struggling steps. They would have believed they were cured and the struggle was about just their need to relearn how to walk. Jesus blamed sin for relapses – the perfect way out should the cured be soon see not to have been cured at all. We read in Matthew 12 that our Lord taught that when a demon leaves a man it searches for a new home and if it can’t find one it comes back to the man so he was blaming demons and perhaps sin as well for failed or temporary or imaginary “cures”.
It is not said that Jesus instantly cured the centurion’s servant (8) or that he got better at all. Jesus told him to return home and the servant would be better but if he wasn’t people would say the promise was conditional on the centurion keeping the faith. We have no reason to believe that Matthew viewed Jesus, who promised that the servant would recover, as infallible.
Matthew knew that there may have been a natural reason for why Peter’s mother recovered from an alleged fever when Jesus took her by the hand. Perhaps that gave her the strength to recover fast and perhaps she was already a lot better than she thought she was.
Matthew does not ask us to believe that the paralytic was cured by supernatural power (9).
Matthew never wrote that the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead by Jesus (9:24). Didn’t Jesus say she was only asleep? The bleeding woman whose bleeding stopped when she touched Jesus’ clothes was told by him that her faith had made her well (9). Now, God will miraculously heal nobody because they have trusted but because he wants to show that he exists. Jesus taught this by implication (Matthew 7:21-23) so Jesus was telling her she only got better because a strong positive attitude works wonders. He did not believe that it was a miracle. We see this especially from the fact that nothing is said about the cure being permanent. Anybody could cure and make a person feel better when in fact the person is not cured but only feels he is and soon relapses into bad health which lack of faith or some sin or another illness would be blamed for. The fact that the synoptics record this alleged miracle shows they were desperate for miracles and nothing great had been done by Jesus. For instance, he never raised Lazarus from the dead for they would have focused on that one instead.
Matthew does not tell us that the blind men were instantly healed (9). He does not say that this or the cure of the mute was miraculous.
The man with the bad hand might have only believed that it was useless (12) and Jesus cured this belief and so cured him. The blind men (20) may have been cured of hysterical blindness by Jesus. Matthew doesn’t dogmatise about it being a miracle.
IMAGINED MARKAN MIRACLES
Mark was the first of the four gospels to be written. It goes without saying that its purpose was to make converts to Christianity.
It shies away from attributing miracles to Jesus. It gives only a few. This is important. If Mark had heard of Jesus’ more amazing wonders he would have woven them into his story.
When Mark declared that the Baptist saw the Spirit coming down on Jesus like a dove he may have meant that he saw evidence that the Spirit was with Jesus not that he had a vision. The voice from Heaven is not said to have been an audible voice. The spirit could have come like a dove in the quiet gentle way that a dove has, not in the form of a dove. The Baptist saw the sky split – probably a division in the clouds that made him feel that it was a sign that the Spirit was coming down.
Angel means messenger so were the angels who looked after Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:13) just like human beings? Remember, the resurrection accounts imply that a living person can be an angel for some of them say that men were at the tomb of Jesus and others say that angels were there. They would not contradict one another on such an important matter as bearing witness to the resurrection.
Incredibly, Mark says that Jesus told people not to tell he cured them. What was the point of doing miraculous cures if people were not allowed to tell? Mark says that the more Jesus forbade them the keener they were to tell. And they did tell (Mark 7). They betrayed Jesus for they must have given the impression they would honour his request and not tell. So when they were so dodgy maybe they lied about being cured in the first place? Jesus must have wanted them to deny it after they had spoken. This looks like Jesus knew they were mad. He knew that he did not cure them and they embarrassed him. He wanted them to lie. And then in the next chapter, Jesus decides to do what some consider to be the miracle of multiplying food for thousands and when the Jews ask him for a sign he refuses and does not tell them that the food was a sign. Is he denying that his miracle really was a miracle? If it wasn't then it was a trick.
The demon cast out in Capernaum may just have been a mental disorder for Mark doesn’t say what he means by unclean spirit. Spirit means breath in Greek, the original language of the Gospel. An unclean breath could be madness.
It is likely that Mark felt that “unclean spirits” were really mental disorders when he wrote that Jesus had to shut the spirits up when they called him the Son of God (3:12). Real demons would not have told all and sundry that Jesus was God’s Son to advertise his gospel – unless he was a charlatan and was really one of their own.
Where does Mark say that the almost instant healing of Peter’s mother-in-law was a miracle?
It is not said that Jesus cured all who were brought to him and we know that every popular healer will have some seeming successes (1:32-34). All were brought to him but many were cured.
While Mark says that the leprosy instantly left the man Jesus cured he does not say the same of the symptoms. The man probably didn’t have real leprosy at all for the word covered many skin ailments in those days. Perhaps the man never got any worse which made Mark presume that he was cured as would the man gradually clearing of the symptoms. There could have been a lot of explanations for that.
Mark doesn’t say that the cure of a paralytic (2) was a miracle. When he didn’t say he wouldn’t mind anybody thinking that the paralysis was all in the “paralytic’s” mind.
In Mark 3, we read that Jesus perfectly restored the shrivelled hand of a man. But in what way was it perfectly restored? Was he able to use it again or did it develop flesh it never had a moment before? Mark does not tell us what to think or what to make of the event. He does not write, “And this cure would have been impossible by natural means”. None of the New Testament writers had the gumption to use this statement.
Mark 8:22-26 is alleged to say that Jesus healed a blind man of Bethsaida in two steps. It is not actually said that Jesus made the man able to see people but as if they were walking trees though it is said that he laid hands on his eyes. The man might have had one blind eye and another bad one entitling people to call him blind. Jesus laid hands on his eyes a second time and the man could see right. The and is important. It does not say that the healing happened instantly.
Jesus tells the Jews that he could really expel demons. He is not saying that the casting out of evil spirits we read about in the Gospel are the expulsion of evil personal beings. He might not be talking about clearly miraculous exorcisms at all. Maybe he just meant those demons that do not actually possess or harm a person but which dwell in him or her or to be a bad influence? He is not necessarily claiming to be the kind of dramatic exorcist we read about in the novel, The Exorcist.
Mark does not inform us that when Jesus calmed the storm it happened in a second (4). He doesn’t let us know if he agrees with the apostles that Jesus had power over the wind and the sea. He is only reporting. The storm looked worse than it really was when Jesus slept through it. It was probably bound to settle anyway. The story proves that the witnesses exaggerated the storm when Jesus slept through it and that gives us an important insight into the kind of people they were. They were not suitable witnesses to the risen Jesus.
Mark does not say that the swine drowned themselves the second Jesus put demons into them or that this was supernatural (5).
Mark asserts that Jesus denied that he raised Jairus’ child from the dead for she was asleep (5).
Mark does not say that the demon departed from the pagan lady’s daughter because of Jesus or some power above nature (7). He does not say that any obvious transgression of natural law took place. He puts the story in just in case Jesus was responsible.
Nor does he tell us that the healing of the deaf man with the speech impediment was a miracle. Jesus stuck his fingers in his ears probably to scrape out wax. When the man could hear right again he started to talk properly too. The man might have been stupid and though this was a miracle. A lot of people were amazed but Mark is careful to imply that he thought they should be. Some people find it hard to speak correctly when they can’t hear themselves.
Mark does not declare the transfiguration to have been a miracle or a dream (9). He lets you take your pick if you want to.
Mark says that Jesus did not know everything so he would not have felt bound to agree with Jesus that a spirit had really been cast out of the boy who was probably and epileptic (9). The boy had been depressed and was getting more attacks. Jesus put him into a better frame of mind to stop them. Mark does not say that the laws of nature were suspended.
Mark says that the instant healing of the blindness of Bartimaeus happened but not that there was no natural explanation (Mark 10:46-52). He does not say Jesus was responsible and confesses that Jesus must have said that it was the man’s faith that did it. Jesus could be saying that Bartimaeus believed himself to be blind due to some nervous disorder and that he cured it through psychological insight and reassuring him.
Unlike, Matthew who related that Jesus made a fig tree wither instantly, Mark says that it took longer than that so a natural case is allowed for (11).
Does Mark say that the resurrection of Christ was a miracle? He says that Jesus knew that he would be crucified and killed long before it happened. He does not claim that he considers this to be a miracle because Jesus needed no God to tell him that this would happen the way he was carrying on. He says that Jesus promised to rise again. Mark’s Gospel ends without a resurrection account. It finishes with the story of the empty tomb. 16:9-20 seems to have been written by someone other than the author of the Gospel. The shorter ending which simply says that Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the good news is probably not from Mark either. The Gospel therefore fails to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Neither the gospel or the endings say what they mean by Jesus rising and appearing to the disciples. They do not say why the body disappeared from the tomb. In the longer ending the Magdalene’s vision of Jesus might have been a dream. The two walkers who saw Jesus might have imagined it. Jesus was revealed to the Eleven which could mean that they felt his presence but did not see anything and got the impression that they were to preach him to the nations and do healing. The ending permits this interpretation but wants us to regard these things as inspired by God.
Mark says there were men at the tomb of Jesus after he rose. Whether or not he regarded them as supernatural angels we do not know. But it is not likely that he did think they were not just men when he didn’t say so. Remember, when there is a natural interpretation you must take it when you can.
Jesus simply goes up to Heaven at the end of this gospel. No witnesses to him ascending like a rocket are mentioned. Jesus could have walked away from the disciples saying that he was going to Heaven. Mark does not ask us to accept that he did fly away.
Even the story of the cure of the woman with the haemorrhage does not reveal a miracle though healing power is supposed to have left Jesus and went into her body (5). Love can heal and the power that left Jesus was love or apparent love.
Mark would have considered the actions of Jesus to be evidence that he was from God even if hardly any of them involved obvious paranormal forces. In the same way, Christians take seeming responses to prayer as evidence for God though they might just be coincidences.
Theologians that accounts like Mark’s are vivid as if they are authentic. But they are not vivid for they are too incomplete and skeletal to be anything like vivid. And why would Mark or any gospeller be vivid when they were not there but were rewriting their notes of interviews with the storytellers if they had any? Novels are even more vivid.
IMAGINED LUCAN MIRACLES
It is not true that the Gospel of Luke is the one that attributes the most miracles to Jesus.
In the following stories from Luke we see no evidence that the author thought that they were miraculous.
Zechariah may have seen the angel in the Temple with the eyes of his imagination – a legitimate way to have visions according to St Teresa of Avila. He may have suspected that his wife was pregnant and so received the news that she would have a baby from his subconscious mind. His being struck dumb may have been caused by suggestion or because he would not speak.
It was possible for a woman like Elizabeth who was thought to be too old to have children and barren to have got pregnant naturally. The unexpected can happen. When Luke omitted to tell us her age he is not against a natural understanding.
Angel just means messenger so maybe the angel Gabriel who told Mary that God wanted her to be the mother of his Son was just a man. Luke does not say how Mary saw the angel so maybe he did not know. Could it have been a dream? The principle of taking the simplest interpretation says yes if Gabriel was a non-human entity. There is no evidence in the Bible that angels are not just human beings who receive orders from God. The Epistle of Jude gives us evidence that they are. The Old Testament says that Jacob fought with an angel all night.
Luke does not say that there was anything obviously miraculous in what Anna and Simeon knew about he baby Jesus (2).
At Jesus’ baptism, the spirit came down upon him in visible form, in the shape of a dove (3). The dove may have been a real dove which Luke thought was possessed by the Holy Spirit. He says a voice from Heaven was heard but he does not say if he has an audible voice in mind.
The Devil in Luke could just have been a bad man who seemed to Jesus to have had the power to give Jesus a host of kingdoms. No need for a supernatural Devil in this story.
At Nazareth, Jesus walked away through the crowd who were bent on killing him by throwing him over a cliff (4). But Luke does not say why he got away so there is no need to imagine that Jesus froze the crowd in time like magic and departed.
Luke says that healings happened in Jesus’ presence but does not ask us to believe that miraculous power was responsible. He does not say that the unclean spirits Jesus cast out of the allegedly possessed were real personal beings. They may be artificial personalities. Then how did the “spirits” know he was the Messiah? The people were desperate for a Messiah so insane people might have been impressed by Jesus so that they told him he was the Messiah. Jesus mean a lot of insane and gullible and silly people so he had to have been the subject of the rumour that he was the Messiah.
Did Jesus make the leprosy leave the man in Luke 5:12-16? Luke says he did but not that it was a miracle. The leprosy could have left leaving the symptoms to clear up. Perhaps the man got no worse and that was taken to mean it was gone.
Luke does not say that the paralytic walking again was a miracle (5) or that the healing of the Centurion’s servant was one (7).
The catch of fish in Luke 5 need not have been supernatural for we are told that they had stopped working but not for how long until Jesus told them to try again. Jesus could have noticed fish in the water for he was sitting in the boat preaching.
Does Luke say that Jesus put demons out of a man into swine which then drowned themselves? The demons may be psychological forces. Jesus put the anger that made the man insane perhaps into the swine. He did this by enraging the swine which then charged into the lake. Luke does not say that their over-reaction was all Jesus’ fault. If somebody felt possessed by a spirit that was making them very angry all the time, magicians and exorcists made animals angry which they thought meant that they were putting the person’s anger into the animals and then they killed the animals to kill the anger. They thought they were putting the evil spirit into the animal.
Luke says that the breath of life went back into Jairus’s daughter in Jesus’ presence. It could go back into her if she were not really dead but on the edge of it. She started breathing properly again but Luke does not say she was properly dead and then resurrected. Jesus was sure she was not dead right when he said that she was only asleep and not dead.
Luke says that the apostles were half-asleep when they saw the vision of Jesus and the two prophets on the Mountain of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Luke does not say that if this was a real vision or an allegedly divinely inspired half-dream that we all fall into when half-asleep.
Luke attributes the cure of the epileptic boy to God but that is not the same as saying that it is a miracle (9).
In 11, Jesus casts out a Devil that made a man dumb (11). Perhaps the man wouldn’t speak to anybody due to the purely mental influence of a demon. The Jews argue that the Devil is helping Jesus which he says is ridiculous. This does not prove that Jesus considered the unclean spirits he put out of people that behaved like lunatics to be real evil persons for he may not have this type of problem in mind. He may be thinking of demons that simply make bad suggestions to you.
There is no evidence that Luke considered the straightening of the cured woman in 13 to have been a miracle for she might have only imagined that she had to go about stooped. He says it was a marvel and so it was, whatever caused it.
Curing the disease is not curing the symptoms. Luke (10) says ten lepers were cured while they made their way to the priests. The one who came back must have been relieved of the symptoms but notice that Luke does not say when he came back. Luke implies that it was a while for his Jesus was a very busy man and would have been hard to see. Perhaps nature did the whole thing? Leprosy in those days meant almost any contagious skin ailment.
In Luke 16, Luke and his Jesus let it slip that miracles and resurrections of people from the dead to tell us about the dangers of dying in sin are not needed because the law and the prophets are enough. Anybody who won’t believe in the law and the prophets, according to him, will only sin more if they see miracles for they will still not believe and their stubbornness will be increased. This is a hint that the Devil will inspire any miracle tales attributed to Jesus. He will manipulate lives and memories with his superior knowledge to get the lies believed.
Jesus told the blind man of Jericho, that his faith restored his sight (18). Jesus may have suspected that the blindness was caused by the man’s disordered mind. No need for a miracle interpretation here.
There is no evidence that Luke viewed the two men who were loitering about Jesus’ empty tomb as angels or stated that the risen Jesus was able to go from one place to another without traversing the space in between.
The ambiguous “he was taken up to Heaven” at the end of Luke is no indication that Luke thought that Jesus literally rose up to Heaven like a hot-air balloon. Mystical traditions in Judaism believed that a person who experienced Heaven had ascended to it bodily even though the body never rose off the ground.
The miracles mentioned in Luke are, the vision of angels that the shepherds saw for it told them something they could not have otherwise known, the raising of the widow’s son from the dead for Luke says he was dead long enough to be really dead and says he was dead (7), and the resurrection. But these are only his interpretation.
Now to Acts, Luke’s sequel to the gospel. We want to check if it really is as full of accounts of magical happenings as is popularly assumed.
Acts does not say that Jesus floated away about the clouds but that he went up to Heaven in a cloud. He might have walked into a mountain mist and disappeared. The men who accosted the disciples when Jesus had gone are not said to have been supernatural angels. Many manuscripts have “he parted from them” rather than he ascended into Heaven (Earliest Christianity, G.A.Wells, Internet Infidels)..
Were the tongues of fire that appeared over the heads of the infant Church at Pentecost really supernatural? Luke does not say that they all saw them or indeed that anybody saw them. Because Jesus said that people would be baptised by the Holy Spirit and with fire then the fire of grace was burning in those people so believers did not need to see tongues of fire to believe they were there. Perhaps Luke felt that he had a revelation saying that God saw the tongues of fire. Perhaps somebody present had a hallucination. Luke would have regarded this hallucination as a work of God though not a miracle.
Luke never said a miracle was involved when the apostles spoke in many languages on Pentecost as a result of the Holy Spirit coming on them like tongues of fire.
They had been told by Jesus to preach the gospel with great urgency to all so they would have done some study in language. They didn’t have a lot to say anyway.
The day the Holy Spirit came on them is said to have been the day the Church was founded and when the effects of the salvific death of Christ and the resurrection were administered. From then on the Church had the Holy Spirit. So here we have and event even more important than the death and resurrection of Jesus for they have no importance without effects. The Bible itself says that the natural man cannot take in the things of God and only redeemed people can be reliable in relation to finding out the wisdom of God. So it was because of the visit of the Spirit that we can believe in the apostles writing about Christ. So if Pentecost didn’t happen then nobody can oblige us to believe in Christianity.
Neither did Luke contend that the cripple by the Beautiful Gate was healed by divine power as in miracle (3). He simply records that Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead in front of Peter but he doesn’t say if God’s defiance of nature struck them dead. When Peter was allowed to use God’s power to kill them why wouldn’t he be allowed to kill them by more mundane methods – like poisoning? Sapphira came in three hours after Ananias and when Peter told her what happened Ananias she died too. Of shock perhaps?
In Acts 5 we read that all the sick who were brought to the apostles were cured. They probably just dealt with those who were going to get better anyway.
Luke says that Stephen saw Jesus in the clouds (7). Stephen was in a highly emotional state for his cruel death was imminent and may have seen Jesus in his imagination. All Christians agree that we can have inspired visions in our imagination. It if it a present from God then every thought of God or Jesus may be regarded as a gift.
The story about Simon Magus and the charisms does not say that there could be no natural explanation for them (8). Food is a natural thing but yet Christians are able to say it is a gift of God.
Acts 8 does not say that Philip literally heard the Holy Spirit talking to him. Christians tell us to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts which does not mean that we really hear a voice. Nor does it mean that Philip just vanished from the desert route to instantly appear at Azotus. The Spirit snatched Philip which may mean that he took over him and he didn’t know what he was doing until he found himself at Azotus or maybe all it is saying is that he was urged by the Spirit so the Spirit was the reason not Philip that Philip went to that place..
Paul’s vision may have been caused by overexposure to the sun (9) and his blindness could have been due to the fall from the horse. It is not said that Ananias immediately restored his sight but that “something like scales fell off his eyes and he got his sight”. We are only told that the sight came back later not if it came back quickly or slowly later.
Luke omits to tell us if the vision of Cornelius and Peter’s vision of the animals was or wasn’t a dream (Acts 10). The information gained could have been stored in the subconscious mind and then replayed.
We are not told how Peter’s chains came to be unlocked (12) or that the angel was not a mere human being carrying a light. Mary thought that Peter was the angel though she knew it was just a man which is evidence that an angel means a human person acting for God as well as a spirit that works for God.
Herod may have collapsed while he was worshipped and the death by being eaten by worms may have come later (12). Some imagine that this story tells us that worms broke out of him all at once – miraculously. Wrong! Perhaps he was already sick!
Luke does not say how Paul struck Bar Jesus blind (13) so don’t read a miracle into this.
In 14, it seems that the crippled man who was cured was said to have been cured by faith. That is naturally possible.
In 16, we read that a fortune-teller ran after Paul and his friends for days while her “spirit” told everybody to listen to them for they had the true gospel. Paul got fed up and cast the spirit out. Luke did not believe that this evil spirit was a demon but a creation of the mind for a demon would not bear witness to God.
Eutychus, who had a fatal fall, had died but Paul brought him around (20). No need for a miraculous explanation here. Dead does not always mean dead for good.
In Acts 22, Paul says that his sight was instantly restored when Ananias laid his hands on him. This does not prove a miracle happened nor does Luke say Paul was certainly not mistaken.
Nowhere in Acts 28 do we read that Paul did not suffer from the deadly snakebite because of divine magic. The snake may have just been hanging on to his skin and it may have been dark which made it look worse than it was. All who were there misjudged the seriousness of the wound when they were so baffled. They probably didn’t ask. Luke does not say a miracle happened.
The only miracle in Acts is, Peter raising Dorcas from the dead (9) for he makes it clear that she was dead in the straightforward sense of the word. That is all that Luke undeniably asks us to believe to be a miracle.
NON-MIRACLES IN JOHN
John does not tell us to agree with the Baptist that the Holy Spirit really came to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove (1:32-34).
Nathaniel believed in Jesus because Jesus said he saw him under a fig tree (1:47-50) which says a lot about his not being hard to impress. John does not claim that this was miraculous and who wouldn’t have sat under fig trees in those warm days? If John is wrong Nathaniel could have felt Jesus was divinely inspired because he saw the genius in him and heard of what John the Baptist had allegedly said about him being the world saviour.
Jesus’ seemingly psychic knowledge of the Samaritan woman may just have been the result of trained observation and what they call cold reading. The woman might have thought he was clairvoyant but John does not indicate that she was right if she did (4). Perhaps she just thought that God had given him incredible but natural wisdom?
In John 5, Jesus was said to have cured a man who was sick for thirty-eight years. We are not told what was wrong with him but it seems he couldn’t walk or was afraid to walk. Perhaps he had been sick and for some neurotic reason imagined he was still sick. We are told that Jesus knew this man for he knew he was sick a long time. Then Jesus sneaks away and the man does not know who cured him. Jesus never actually told the man he cured him even when they met later in the Temple. This miracle then cannot be believed for we don’t even know if it witnesses to Jesus or why John and the man thought Jesus did it. The man did not care for Jesus when he was caught breaking the Sabbath by carrying his mat and said Jesus told him to do that making the Jews angry. And this on the Temple doorstep which made it worse. We are told that the cure happened by the sacred pool of Bethsaida. We know that this pool was sacred to the pagan god of healing, Asclepius. We have here an incident where a cure happened discreetly so Jesus obviously didn’t care if the miracle was attributed to the god or not. That would indicate that he didn’t mind pagan worship. Or it could be that it was not a miracle and nobody was entitled to believe it was. In that case, the incident would not be inferring that the god should be prayed to. In that case Jesus would not have wanted anybody to know what happened. Why boast about non-miracles? In that case, we would have to assume the John author made it up for how else could he have got the story?
John neglected to tell us if the cure of the man born blind was a miracle that Jesus did or if it was natural (9). The healings in John are not said to have been miracles. We can believe they were natural.
In John 6, the apostles rowed their boat three or four miles but not out to sea for they suddenly came aground. They saw Jesus walking on water which means he was paddling. They got a fright when they saw him probably because they thought he was a ghost, the credulous fools. John just says that they saw Jesus but not that they recognised him so don’t think that they were necessarily shocked by seeing a man walking literally on top of the water. John never claimed that there was a miracle here.
The footnote in the New American Bible says that when the text says Jesus walked on the sea “the Greek would permit a translation “on the seashore” or “by the sea”. This would eliminate the miraculous from the story and leave it pointless (see also page 115, Doing Away with God?). They want us to think that recording that Jesus was walking on the water was pointless unless John meant that Jesus really did walk on water as if it were solid ground. This would have been an unnecessary miracle and a form of showing off power of that would be out of character with God. Jesus could have travelled on water in a boat of his own. John did write a lot of seemingly pointless stuff. There is a lot of repetition in the gospel. Jesus told the apostles when he stepped into the boat not to be afraid which could have been the point of the whole story.
It is not said that Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead by some clairvoyant power (11).
John seems to say that Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from death to life. Jesus told his friends that Lazarus’s sickness would not end in death. Christians say that he meant that the final result of it would not be death but resurrection. But they surely claim that the result of the sickness was death and the result of death was resurrection. They say that he meant that death would not be the final result of the sickness. But if Jesus meant that he would have said that it would finally end not end. There is a huge difference. They are lying. Jesus denied that Lazarus would fully die. He said that Lazarus was asleep and the apostles said that if that was true then Lazarus was not dead. Then Jesus said that he was dead. So Lazarus is asleep and dead. This tells us that Lazarus was in a coma. Jesus could not be any clearer because he was describing a coma the best way he knew how.
Lazarus came out of the tomb when Jesus called him to. The resurrection of Lazarus was not a true resurrection. Perhaps Jesus knew that Lazarus had been taking some kind of drug that could have made him look dead all along so he came round and got away when Jesus had the tomb opened.
If you take the story as it is interpreted by Christians you will see that the story exalts Lazarus and not Jesus. It does not tell us much about Lazarus and we don’t know if he might have fooled Jesus. Lazarus and his sisters might have staged the resurrection without Jesus knowing. Jesus might have thought he raised him from the dead. The fact that John thought he was exalting Jesus by the story shows he was not divinely inspired for we have to trust Lazarus on the basis of gossip that this miracle really took place and Lazarus is the one being trusted and not Jesus.
John says that Jesus died and rose again but does not say that this was a miracle, an unnatural event. And what does he mean by dead? That the heart or the breathing stopped for a minute? He says only that Jesus was dead when he was stabbed on the cross and does not rule out the notion that Jesus began to recover when removed from the cross. We have already seen that John does not use the word death to mean what it usually means. His Jesus called Lazarus asleep when he could have been dead or in a state not far from it. There is no evidence in John for a miraculous resurrection or miraculous appearances of Jesus afterwards.
John is the one who gives the least reason for believing that Jesus died and miraculous rose again. In those days, they thought that you could die for a few moments and come back. His Jesus got into where the apostles were though the doors were locked which only tells us he got in not that he necessarily dematerialised himself to pass through a closed door.
In John 21, the Risen Jesus tells the disciples to cast their net over the starboard side to get fish. This seems miraculous until it is realised that the passage does not suggest that the disciples were using the other side at that time. They caught nothing all night and may have stopped and been about to start again when Jesus came along. The fact that they were near the shore adds weight to this. Commentators think they must have been using the other side when Jesus told them to change. But he may not have been giving practical advice but telling them to use that side for some kind of symbolical reason. The starboard side is the back of the boat so the symbolism of a boat dragging fish after it is that they are to drag men after them into the Church of God. A parallel story implies that Jesus had this meaning in mind (Luke 5:1-11).
John doesn’t say that Jesus miraculously knew that Peter would die by martyrdom but just that he said it would happen (21:18, 19). Peter allegedly died by crucifixion. Jesus tells him he will stretch out his hands and someone will tie him and carry him off and John says this will glorify God. This need not be a prediction of crucifixion for it doesn’t say that his stretching his hands has anything to do with his death. It says his capture will lead to his death. If Jesus meant crucifixion he would have been clearer but he seems to be describing a death in captivity for nobody was tied to a cross and carried off before crucifixion. He says that Peter’s death will give glory to God but even an unholy one can do that.
Jesus asked the Jews to believe in him or if they could not, to believe in his works to believe in them instead (John 14:11). Let’s assume he meant miracles. So he wanted them to believe in his miracle powers rather than in him if that was the best they could manage. But it is universally accepted in religion and theology that miracles shouldn’t be accepted for their own sake but as pointers to God. Jesus miracles couldn’t point to God unless they pointed to himself as the spokesman and prophet of God. To believe in miracles done by a man who you don’t consider a reliable mouthpiece of God would be saying that God does miracles just for the hell of it.
If Jesus did not mean miracles but only that his good works were to be believed in that is fine. But then Jesus is saying that he does not need to do any miracles. He is saying they are not important. Jesus would say that God does not do silly, that is, unnecessary miracles. We would all have seen them if he did. So Jesus is indicating that his miracles are not magical. Jesus is really saying that his signs are not miracles for he would not contradict himself and John would not be writing what he said down if he thought he did. The signs are just good works. A miracle-worker would not emphasise his natural goodness over his supernatural goodness. Jesus did so Jesus was not a super-powered magician.
The interpretation of some that Jesus meant miracle powers and was thinking that he would do the miracle of the resurrection and they would do better. In that case, Jesus contradicted his claim that the resurrection of Jesus would be the best, the most inimitable and most credible miracle ever. And we know for a fact and are one hundred and ten percent sure of it that it is the opposites of these things.
Jesus in the John gospel says that the man who believes and trusts in him will the same works as him and even do greater works than him for Jesus will go back to the Father (John 14:12-14).
Some say this is a false prophecy for believers cannot walk on water and make hundreds of loaves out of one loaf or rise from the dead. If that is so then it follows that the author of John was a religious maniac and his gospel should be regarded with derision for he would have known believers could not do these things. And if Jesus could give somebody better powers than he had it follows that two or three witnesses could come along and when the disciple of Jesus renowned for miracles is dead make it seem that that person had appeared to them and testified that the miracles were done to draw attention to himself as saviour and not Jesus and that he had had to testify in Jesus’ favour just like Jesus had to feign devotion to the Jewish religion.
Others say that Jesus was putting a natural interpretation on, and requiring one for, the stories about his powers and so there would be people who would think of better things to do than him.
Others say Jesus only meant that believers will do better than him for they will be the ones going out and finding converts for God and him. This interpretation denies he meant miracles, his own or theirs. This is the standard Christian interpretation. And the only one they can think of. But the interpretation is wrong. He said the reason they would do better than him is because he would go back to the Father. But he promised that he would be with his people just as much as ever when he cannot be seen any more and when he is in Heaven again.
The next verse says that whatever the Father will be asked in the name of Jesus for, he will do it. He means that they will do better than him for he will go back to the Father to get the Father to answer their prayers better – which implies by the way that he did not consider himself to be literally God. A man who is God would get results from God whether he was on earth or in heaven for he is God. So what Jesus could have meant was that they would get better results from God by prayer after he goes back to God’s side to whisper in God’s ear for all eternity. Jesus then would be doing better works for God when he goes back to him than what he was doing on earth. This certainly never happened. No tradition said that Jesus did more miracles after going back to Heaven than before he went back. It is no wonder Christians hate this interpretation. The interpretation says that there was nothing unusual or obviously supernatural about Jesus’ teaching and works and others would do more interesting and spectacular things than him. It is correct.
There are no miracles spoken of in this gospel. But the miracle of the food being multiplied in John 6 seems to be an exception. In the light of what John’s Jesus said about his own miracles it is clear that this was no miracle.
Christianity has not changed since it started. Even now with the gospels written it is still telling lies about Jesus and his powers and even using them to do it when the truth is that very few miracles are attributed to Jesus in the Bible. When he did so few when he was alive why has he done so many since? Suspicious! Suspicious!
On Being a Christian, Hans Kung, Collins/Fount Paperbacks, Glasgow, 1978
Miracles or Magic? Andre Kole and Al Janssen, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1987
BIBLE VERSION USED
The Amplified Bible