Should We Take the Miracle Stories in the Bible Seriously?
Many people have made a "Historical Case for Jesus" argument for the historical authenticity of the stories we now have about Jesus. They will typically make these points. Note: Making the case on their behalf takes a few paragraphs.
There were multiple eyewitness accounts of the miracles of Jesus, not just a few isolated people. Thousands of people are purported in the Gospels to have witnessed his healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry. Furthermore, when Jesus was crucified, he wasn't buried in secret. The tomb was widely known and accessed. If it contained his corpse, then a story about his resurrection would have been very difficult to fake. A number of people found the tomb empty. On several different occasions, different groups of people are purported to have experienced Jesus resurrected from the dead.
The witnesses are not a homogeneous group of religious zealots. They are from diverse backgrounds, with different educations, and social standings. They were not a strange, fringe group.
It is highly unlikely that the witnesses had any ulterior motives. The witnesses stood to gain nothing from retelling what they had seen. In fact, they stood to lose a great deal. Early Christians were socially ostracized for their beliefs, persecuted, and even killed. The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to. Such an even would have been outlandish to them, yet they still believed. They were so convinced that they gave up their jobs, their wealth, and their families to become Christians.
The people surrounding the eyewitnesses believed them and were impressed enough to convert. The passion and conviction of the original believers was so profound that it conquered the doubts of all those around them. A whole religious movement that has lasted for thousands of years and spread to millions of people has sprung from the eyewitness accounts.
Many of the events of the New Testament have been historically corroborated. Archaeologists, historians, and other scholars have been able to find a great deal of independent evidence that confirms many of the historical claims such as the reign of Herod, the destruction of the temple, the growth of the early church.
The Gospels focus on a real, historical person. They are not comparable in their age to a book of mythology about Paul Bunyan, or fairy tales. They present their account as a factual record of the events in history, not as allegory, or fiction.
Furthermore, the Jewish tradition of transmitting history accurately and reliably was highly developed and successful.
Once we consider all of these factors, the believers argue, it would seem that no other hypothesis can explain all the elements of the story of Jesus as well.
But this is all nonsense--we have bodies of evidence for alleged miracles all around us today that far exceed all of these factors and it is perfectly obvious that no miracles occurred to all of us, even ardent religious believers.
Televangelist Pat Robertson, who has hundreds of thousands of regular viewers, claims that his prayers to God steered hurricanes away from the
People feel miracles in their hearts while they are watching TV, as they pray, when the go to church, or when they think about a loved one. But it only takes a little distance and objectivity to see that they are often enthusiastic, gullible, or mistaken. Millions of people fall under the influence of cults and dedicate their entire lives to outlandish, demonstrably false creeds and obviously false miracle claims. And notice that these people come from diverse backgrounds, they have varying levels of education, and come from different social groups. No one is immune the allure of miracle stories. In the case of cults, it's obvious that when people have such a passionate, and powerful conviction that makes their claims even more unreasonable to accept. Passion, and unreflective commitment makes it more difficult for someone to analyze claims that need clear, objective consideration. In general, people's passion and commitment to beliefs should not itself be seen as evidence that they are true.
The important fact to note is that on the whole, we, even the most pious among us, do not take any of these claims seriously. Even most Christians who believe, do not accept most of these claims. Even if you find some of the claims above to be plausible, there are still many more claims about miraculous events every day that you would discount than you would accept. You know that people are prone to exaggerate, they like to tell exciting stories, they are easily influenced, and they are eager to have their cherished beliefs corroborated. You already take the vast majority of such claims with a grain of salt. You aren't rushing off to
So we are surrounded by thousands of miracle testimony cases on a daily basis that we do not think are real. These purported miracles make several things clear. First, people have a powerful disposition to assert and believe in miracles. Once you start looking, they are everywhere. Second, it not just like this now; history is full of similar cases. And in the past, say in the
But now, you know a lot more about the way the world works than they do. And what would have been common sense to them is not for you. In the Middle Ages, they thought it was common sense that demon possession caused the flu, and that children born on Wednesdays will have a life of misery, after all. So now, given that you are surrounded by patently false miracle stories that you do not take seriously at all, and given that people would have been much more prone to believe and promote such stories in the past, how likely is it that miracle stories from 2,000 years ago from a culture that was immersed in superstition, supernaturalism, and ignorance are true? Or put another way, you don't think it is reasonable to believe all the obviously over the top miracle claims right in front of you now, so why would you believe some from centuries ago when people didn't have the benefit of the knowledge of the world that you have?