"THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS" The Empathetic Christian (12:15) INTRODUCTION 1. In the twelfth chapter of Romans, we find answers to questions such as... a. What is indicative of a true transformation? b. What constitutes God's good, acceptable, and perfect will for the Christian? 2. We have seen in previous lessons that it includes... a. Fulfilling our function in the body of Christ - Ro 12:3-8 b. Love without hypocrisy, while abhorring what is evil - Ro 12:9 c. Loving brethren with family affection, esteeming one another highly - Ro 12:10 d. Serving the Lord diligently, with fervency of spirit - Ro 12:11 e. Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, steadfast in prayer - Ro 12:12 f. Having fellowship in the needs of the saints, pursing hospitality toward strangers - Ro 12:13 g. To bless those who persecute us - Ro 12:14 3. Now we note the twofold exhortation... a. "Rejoice with those who rejoice" - Ro 12:15a b. "Weep with those who weep" - Ro 12:15b [In this text we are called to display the virtue of "empathy" towards one another. What this entails will be the focus of our study...] I. DEFINING EMPATHY A. COMPARED TO SYMPATHY... 1. Sympathy - An inclination to support or be loyal to or to agree with an opinion 2. Empathy - Understanding and entering into another's feelings -- One may be sympathetic while not empathetic; the latter requires a deeper emotional involvement than the former B. ITS PLACE IN THE CHURCH... 1. The Lord intended such connection between the members of His Body ("if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it") - 1Co 12:26 2. "This command grows out of the doctrine stated in Ro 12:4,5 that the church is one; that it has one interest; and therefore that there should be common sympathy in its joys and sorrows." - Barnes -- If we are truly one, members of the same body, then we will be empathetic towards one another [Our text commands two ways to demonstrate empathy; we have several examples of individuals...] II. DEMONSTRATING EMPATHY A. REJOICING WITH THOSE WHO REJOICE... 1. Neighbors and friends of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist - Lk 1:58 2. Barnabas at Antioch, when he saw the grace of the Lord at work - Ac 11:23 -- Two good examples of sharing in others' happiness and success without envy or jealousy B. WEEPING WITH THOSE WHO WEEP... 1. David with his sick friends - Ps 35:13,14 2. Jesus with the family and friends of Lazarus grieving over his death - Jn 11:33-35 3. Paul with his weak and stumbling brethren - 2Co 11:29 4. Christians with their brethren in prison - He 13:3 -- People of God truly understanding and entering into the feelings of their friends and brethren [The quality of empathy certainly prepares one to be of greater service to those around them. How can we rise above simple sympathy for others to truly become "The Empathetic Christian"...?] III. DEVELOPING EMPATHY A. TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF OUR MINDS... 1. We must submit to the transformation that comes by renewing our minds - cf. Ro 12:1-2 2. Which will involve the development of such graces as: a. Being kindly affectionate to one another in brotherly love - Ro 12:10a b. Giving preference to one another in honor - Ro 12:10b -- Note how being affectionate aids in being able to weep, and learning to give preference will enable us to rejoice B. DEVELOPING THE MIND OF CHRIST... 1. Note the virtues that characterize the mind of Christ - cf. Ph 2:3-5 a. Doing nothing through selfish ambition or conceit b. In lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than oneself c. Looking out for the interest of others 2. Note the goal of having the mind of Christ - Php 2:2 a. To be like-minded b. To have the same love c. To be of one accord, of one mind 3. Note what having the mind of Christ is necessary for to experience - Php 2:1-2a a. Consolation in Christ b. Comfort of love c. Fellowship of the Spirit d. Affection and mercy e. Fullness of joy -- As one develops the mind of Christ, there will be no envy or jealousy to prevent true empathy; with the mind of Christ, we will be able to truly rejoice and weep! CONCLUSION 1. It is God's good, acceptable and perfect will that Christians be a people... a. Who are glad when others rejoice b. Who are moved when others weep -- For only then can we be useful in sharing the joy and comfort of Christ with others 2. Are we truly an "empathetic" people? The development and display of true empathy will greatly... a. Increase our usefulness to the Master b. Enhance the fellowship we have in the Lord -- Simple sympathy is not enough; we must be able to understand and enter into one another's feelings! Develop the mind of Christ, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and you cannot help but become "The Empathetic Christian"...!
A Giant Among Pygmies
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Ancient books thrill our imaginations with vivid pictures of worlds and cultures from long ago. Beautiful poetry, accurate history, and interesting narrative are but a few of the literary devices these ancient writers employed with captivating genius. Take the writings of Homer, for instance. His epic poems The Illiad and The Odyssey rank among the most influential pieces of literature ever written. It often has been said that a person cannot know Greece without reading Homer. Or consider The Histories of Herodotus, who was said to have revolutionized the way the world recorded history. He changed it from mere folklore and yarn stringing into documentation of actual fact. Also call to mind the writings of Josephus, which shed radiating light on the relationship between the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation in the early years of the first century A.D. And we must not neglect The Annals by Tacitus, which gives us a bird’s-eye view into some of the most intricate workings of the Roman Empire during the later part of the first century and early part of the second century A.D.
But one ancient book has outshone all of these. In America alone, it generates a 200-million-dollar market every year. It is the best-selling book of all times. Translated into over 800 languages, introduced into over 200 countries, the Bible, and more specifically, the New Testament, stands as the greatest literary achievement the world has ever read.
Yet, as we look at these monumental works of literature, we might wonder how we know Homer actually wrote the Illiad, and how many copies from the past have we discovered? Or how do we know that Josephus wrote in the first century A.D.? Did we find a copy of his works with a handy title page and copyright date in the front cover? And if we did, how many of these copies have we found? And what about the New Testament? Have we found many copies of it? If so, how old are they, and how do they compare with the evidence that verifies the other ancient works? I think the following chart answers many of these questions and speaks for itself.
|How Does the New Testament|
Measure Up to Other Ancient Books?
|Title of Ancient Book||Date it was Written||Date of Earliest Manuscript||Number of Manuscripts|
|Homer’s Illiad||700 B.C.||Unknown||643|
|History of Herodotus||425 B.C.||A.D. 900||8|
|Josephus’ Jewish Wars||A.D. 70||A.D. 400||9|
|Histories of Tacitus||A.D. 100||A.D. 900||2|
|New Testament||A.D. 35-100||A.D. 125||5735|
Based solely on the actual manuscripts evidence available, the New Testament stands as the most historically documented piece of ancient literature ever written. F.F. Bruce once stated: “It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament records than have many theologians” (1953, p. 19). Aside from any discussion as to the inspiration of these documents, simply looking at their overwhelming manuscript evidence should quickly alert even the most skeptical observer to the fact that the documents of the New Testament are “special” to say the very least.
Bruce, F.F. (1953), The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), fourth edition.
“The Internet Is Where Religion Goes To Die”
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
On September 29, 2011, I debated Blair Scott, the Director of Communications for American Atheists, Inc. During the debate, he made several comments regarding religion in general and Christianity specifically. One of the more memorable statements he made was: “The Internet is where religion goes to die.” I remember sitting on stage thinking that this statement was completely without merit, and the statistics from the Apologetics Press site alone show just how false it is.
So far, in 2011, the Lord has used the Apologetics Press Web site to disseminate an average of 662,900 electronic pages of information every month. That means that if things continue like this for the rest of the year, the site will receive 7.95 million hits this year alone. That is an average of about 21,853 pages a day, 910 pages an hour, 15 pages per minute, or about one page clicked every four seconds. While it may be true that some “religions” go to die on the Internet, New Testament Christianity is not one of them. In fact, the Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12), and it never returns to the Lord void (Isaiah 55:11).
We would encourage all of our readers to have a part in spreading God’s Word via the Internet. If your church or business has a Web site, link it to the A.P. site. That will boost our ratings on Web search engines, and will provide your visitors with an opportunity to access scripturally sound, relevant materials. Tell your friends on Facebook about the site. Send them links to specific articles that you think might interest them. The Web and our site (along with many other solid brotherhood sites) are a great way to fulfill the great commission of going into all the world and teaching the Gospel. In truth, the Internet is one place where New Testament Christianity goes to thrive.
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
Human beings throughout history have been susceptible to a desire to be freed from the dictates of higher authority. Most people wish to be free to do whatever they desire to do. This attitude runs rampant among the baby boomers whose formative years occurred during the 1960s. Expressions that were commonplace at the time included, “Do your own thing” and “Let it all hang out.” These simple slogans offer profound insight into what really was driving the countercultural forces at that time. Underneath the stated objectives of love, peace, and brotherhood were the actual motives of self-indulgence and freedom from restrictions. This ethical, moral, and spiritual perspective has proliferated, and now dominates the American moral landscape.
Despite all of their high and holy insistence that their actions are divinely approved, and the result of a deep desire to do Christ’s will and save souls, could it possibly be that those within Christendom who seek to relax doctrinal rigidity are, in reality, implementing their own agenda of change simply to relieve themselves of biblical restrictions? Is it purely coincidental that the permissive preachers have been both willing and eager to accommodate the clamor for “no negative, all positive” preaching? Is it completely accidental and unrelated that many voices are minimizing strict obedience under the guise of “legalism,” “we’re under grace, not law,” “we’re in the grip of grace” (Lucado, 1996), and that we are “free to change” (e.g., Hook, 1990)?
No, these circumstances are neither coincidental nor unrelated. They are calculated and conspiratorial. Those who have aversion to law have breathed in the same spirit that has led secular society’s psychological profession to view guilt as destructive, while unselfish, personal responsibility is labeled “co-dependency.” They have embraced the same subjective, self-centered rationale that secular society offers for rejecting the plain requirements of Scripture in order to do whatever they desire to do: “God wants me to be happy!” and “It meets my needs!” The spirit of liberalism has indeed taken deep root, both in the country and in the Christian religion (see Chesser, 2001).
In the mid-1960s, Joseph Fletcher published the book, Situation Ethics, thereby securing for himself the dubious distinction, “the Father of Situation Ethics” (1966). Of course, Fletcher was by no means the first to advance the ideals of situationism. Men like Emil Brunner (The Divine Imperative), Reinhold Niebuhr (Moral Man and Immoral Society), Harvey Cox (The Secular City), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Ethics), and John A.T. Robinson (Honest to God) promoted ethical relativism before Fletcher’s popular expression of the same. Existentialist philosophers like Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger promulgated this same subjectivism. Though Fletcher at first attempted to deny this tie to existential philosophy (1967, p. 75), he eventually ended up admitting it (pp. 77,234). However, we need not think that situation ethics is a twenty-first-century phenomenon that was invented by modern theologians and social scientists. Situationism goes all the way back to Eden when Satan posed to Eve circumstances that he alleged would justify setting aside God’s law (Genesis 3:4-6).
Fletcher summarized his ideas in terms of six propositions that he came to identify as “the fundamentals of Christian conscience” (1967, pp. 13-27). This ethical theory stresses “freedom from prefabricated decisions and prescriptive rules” in exchange for “the relative or nonabsolute and variant or nonuniversal nature of the situational approach” (p. 7). “Right and wrong depend upon the situation” (p. 14). The “situation” is defined as “the relative weight of the ends and means and motives and consequences all taken together, as weighed by love” (p. 23). The situation ethicist feels free to “tinker with Scripture” and to form “a coalition with the utilitarian principle of the ‘greatest good of the greatest number’ ” (pp. 18-19; cf. p. 56).
Situationism is simply ethical relativism, in that it moves “away from code ethics, from stern and ironbound do’s and don’ts, from prescribed conduct and legalistic morality” (p. 24). Situationism bears close affinity with existentialism (pp. 26, 77,234). “Imitative practice,” uniformity and conformity, and “metaphysical morals” are all disdained (pp. 26,106,240). Objective principles and abstract rules are repudiated, in exchange for “freedom and openness” (pp. 72,76,233,235). Concrete absolutes are viewed unfavorably as “authoritarianism” and “rules-bound thinking” (p. 240).
Situationism calls for “creative” moral conduct, accommodation to “pluralism,” “freedom,” and “openness,” as well as “spontaneity and variety in moral decision-making” (pp. 78,123-124,235,241). Constant emphasis is placed on “love” as the only intrinsic good, with the loving thing to do depending on each situation that arises. Since “love” is the only inherent, intrinsic value, the moral quality or value of every thing or action is extrinsic and contingent—depending upon the situation (pp. 14,26,34,38,55,76,123-124).
Though Fletcher offered formal expression to these concepts several decades ago, it would not be an exaggeration to state that situationism has “gone to seed” in American society, and now constitutes the prevailing approach to making ethical decisions. As pollster guru George Barna remarked in a 2003 survey of American moral behavior:
This is reflective of a nation where morality is generally defined according to one’s feelings. In a postmodern society, where people do not acknowledge any moral absolutes, if a person feels justified in engaging in a specific behavior, then they do not make a connection with the immoral nature of that action.... Until people recognize that there are moral absolutes and attempt to live in harmony with them, we are likely to see a continued decay of our moral foundations (2003, emp. added).
FLAWS IN SITUATIONAL THINKING
At least two foundational errors cause Fletcher’s theory of situationism to be irreparably flawed. The first is the failure to grasp the Bible’s identification of the central concern of human beings: to love, honor, glorify, and obey God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Micah 6:8; Matthew 22:37; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 10:5; 1 Peter 4:11). Fletcher is virtually silent on this dimension of human responsibility. Instead, he focuses his entire theory on love for fellow man. While love for fellow man is certainly crucial to Christian ethics, and is absolutely mandatory for the Christian (e.g., Luke 10:25-37), it must be viewed in its rightful position, subsumed beneath the greater, higher responsibility of loving God. One cannot love God without loving one’s neighbor (e.g., 1 John 4:20-21). But, theoretically, one could love another person without loving God. Consequently, love for fellow man must be viewed in the larger framework of focusing one’s life on pleasing God first and foremost.
Since this must be the singular all-consuming passion of human beings, God’s Word must be consulted in order to determine how to love God and fellow man. In other words, to comply with the number one responsibility in life, one must consult the absolute, prefabricated, prescriptive, ironbound do’s and don’ts of Scripture! This, by definition, is love for God (1 John 5:3; John 14:15). It follows, then, that Fletcher is incorrect in identifying the only intrinsic good as “love” for fellow man (1967, p. 14). According to the Bible, intrinsic good includes fraternal love. But superceding even this love is filial love, i.e., love for God (Matthew 22:36-37; cf. Warren, 1972, pp. 87ff.). Consequently, God defines what love entails in man’s treatment of both God and fellow man. But those definitions are found in the Bible in the form of prescriptive rules, regulations, and ironclad do’s and don’ts.
The second fundamental flaw of Fletcher’s brand of situationism is the subtle redefinition of “love.” While Fletcher was correct when he identified love as an active determination of the will rather than an emotion (pp. 20-21), his idea of “love” is materialistic and secular, rather than scriptural and spiritual. “Love,” to Fletcher, is what human beings decide is “good” or “best” in a given situation. This humanistic approach allows man and his circumstances to become the criteria for defining morality, rather than allowing God to define the parameters of moral behavior: “The metaphysical moralist with his intrinsic values and laws says, ‘Do what is right and let the chips fall where they may.’ The situational moralist says, ‘Whether what you do is right or not depends precisely upon where the chips fall!’ ” (p. 26).
But the Bible simply does not place law and love in contradistinction to each other. In fact, according to the Bible, one cannot love either God or fellow man without law. The only way for an individual to know how to love is to go to the Bible and discern there the specifics of a loving behavior. When Paul declared, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:19), he did not mean that it is possible to love one’s neighbor while dispensing with the law (cf. Fletcher, 1967, p. 70; Hook, 1984, p. 31). Rather, he meant that when you conduct yourself in a genuinely loving manner, you are automatically acting in harmony with the law (i.e., you are not killing, stealing, coveting, bearing false witness, etc.). God, in His laws, defined and pinpointed how to love. To treat any of God’s laws as optional, flexible, or occasional is to undermine the very foundations of love.
In situationism, human beings become the standard of morality. The human mind, with its subjective perceptions of the surrounding moral environment, becomes the authority, in direct conflict with the words of an inspired prophet: “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). The psalmist certainly could be accused of being a “metaphysical moralist with his intrinsic values and laws.” In his great psalm on the law of the Lord (Psalm 119), the writer conveyed his conviction that objective, prescriptive rules and prefabricated principles were indispensable to his survival. Observe carefully a small portion of his unrelenting extolment of divine laws: “You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently” (vs. 4); “I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments” (vs. 6); “Behold, I long for Your precepts” (vs. 40); “I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love” (vs. 47); “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life” (vs. 93); “Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (vs. 104); “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (vs. 160); “My soul keeps Your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly. I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies, for all my ways are before You” (vss. 167-168).
To Fletcher, “love” directed toward one’s fellow man is a materialistically defined love that he calls “personalism.” “Personalism” is “the ethical view that the highest good, the summum bonum or first-order value, is human welfare and happiness” (1967, p. 33). Fletcher’s ethical humanism is “a personalist devotion to people, not to things or abstractions such as ‘laws’ or general principles. Personal interests come first, before the natural or Scriptural or theoretical or general or logical or anything else” (p. 34, emp. added). What such assertions really mean in practical, behavioral terms is that, ultimately, human beings may do whatever they deem “good” or “best.” A glance at Fletcher’s illustrations shows that the most “loving” decisions are those that ease physical pain, alleviate hardship, lessen emotional suffering, or accommodate human desire and personal preference. For Fletcher, “evil” is physical imprisonment, separation from family, the hardship of unjust labor, an unpleasant marriage, or lack of commitment to a person (e.g., pp. 32,39). “Human happiness” is, by definition, what human beings think will make them happy—not what God says actually will bring true happiness—even in the midst of, and while enduring, unjust or unpleasant circumstances.
Sin, in situationism, is not “transgression of God’s law” (1 John 3:4). Rather, “sin is the exploitation or use of persons” (p. 37). It is withholding what a person perceives to be the means to personal happiness. But this understanding of sin is a radical redefinition of love and happiness in comparison to the Bible. In contrast, the Scriptures make clear that “intrinsic evil on the purely physical level does not exist” and “neither pain nor suffering is intrinsically evil” (Warren, 1972, pp. 93,40). Since sin (i.e., violation of God’s law) is the only intrinsic evil, “evil” and “good” exist only in relation to the ultimate will of God (pp. 39,41).
By Fletcher’s definitions, many people in Bible history were not sinners as previously supposed, but were, in fact, mature, responsible individuals who acted lovingly: Eve (Genesis 3:1-6); Cain (Genesis 4:3); Lot and Lot’s wife (Genesis 13:12; 19:16,26); Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3); the Israelites (Numbers 21:4-6); Balaam (Numbers 22-24); Saul (1 Samuel 13:9; 15:9,21); and Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6ff.). On the other hand, if situationism is correct, many persons in the Bible were not righteous, as is claimed, but were slaves to abstract rules and principles, and were unloving in their conduct toward their fellow man, including: Noah (Genesis 6; 2 Peter 2:5); Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12); Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14:6-9); Phinehas (Numbers 25:6-9); Joshua (Joshua 7:24-25); and John the baptizer (Mark 6:18-19). Here were people who set aside the preferences of their fellow man, ignored their contemporaries’ desire for “happiness” and “self-fulfillment,” and instead followed divine prescriptions—even though those precepts were considered to be contrary to the consensus view.
Taking into account the components of “the situation” as Fletcher recommends—“the end, means, motive, and foreseeable consequences” (1967, p. 25)—Uzzah would have to receive Fletcher’s sanction as a loving, moral person (2 Samuel 6:1-7). His motive was unquestionably good, since he wanted to avoid the unpleasant end and foreseeable consequences of the Ark of the Covenant toppling from its precarious resting place. The means that Uzzah used were the only ones available to him at that particular instant in time. His only mistake, which resulted in his immediate execution by God, was his failure to give heed to the prefabricated, prescriptive, abstract, legalistic, absolute, metaphysical, ironbound “don’t” of Numbers 4:15,—i.e., “don’t touch!” [For a useful treatment of situation ethics, especially for young people, see Ridenour, 1969].
The true nature of any false philosophy or ethical system is often apparent in the concrete examples that advocates set forth as illustrative of their position. Fletcher is no exception in this regard. He approves of divorce “if the emotional and spiritual welfare of both parents and children in a particular family can be served best” (1967, p. 23, emp. in orig.). He would approve of the suicide of a captured soldier under torture to avoid betraying comrades to the enemy (p. 15). Two additional instances are seen in the following comments. Fletcher said that he knew of
a case, in which committing adultery foreseeably brought about the release of a whole family from a very unjust but entirely legal exploitation of their labor on a small farm which was both their pride and their prison. Still another situation could be cited in which a German mother gained her release from a Soviet prison farm and reunion with her family by means of an adulterous pregnancy. These actions would have the situationist’s solemn but ready approval (p. 32).
Additional examples of situation ethics at work are seen in the statements: “Lying could be more Christian than telling the truth. Stealing could be better than respecting private property” (p. 34). Fletcher asks: “Is the girl who gives her chastity for her country’s sake any less approvable than the boy who gives his leg or his life? No!” (p. 39). Further,
a couple who cannot marry legally or permanently but live together faithfully and honorably and responsibly, are living in virtue—in Christian love. In this kind of Christian sex ethic, the essential ingredients are caring and commitment.... There is nothing against extramarital sex as such, in this ethic, and in some cases it is good (pp. 39-40, emp. in orig.).
Consider also the situation ethicist’s view of abortion:
When anybody “sticks to the rules,” even though people suffer as a consequence, that is immoral. Even if we grant, for example, that generally or commonly it is wrong or bad or undesirable to interrupt a pregnancy, it would nevertheless be right to do so to a conceptus following rape or incest, at least if the victim wanted an abortion (p. 36; cf. Hook, 1984, p. 34).
When one abandons the objective standard conveyed by the eternal God from Whom flows infinite goodness, the means for assessing human behavior is then “up for grabs,” and is pitched into the subjective realm of human opinion in which “everyone does what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Such a person will inevitably begin misrepresenting the biblical treatment of Christian liberty and freedom, and will maintain that “freedom in Christ” means being relieved of the “burden” of a “legal code.”
The Bible certainly speaks of the wonderful freedom that one may enjoy in Christ. But biblical freedom is a far cry from the release from restriction, restraint, and deserved guilt touted by the antinomian agents of change (cf. Hook, 1984, pp. 43ff.). The Bible does not speak of the “flexibility and elasticity” of God’s laws (pp. 29-31). Rather, with sweeping and precise terminology, Jesus articulated the sum and substance of exactly what it means to be “free in Christ.” In a specific context in which He defended the validity of His own testimony (John 8:12-59), He declared the only basis upon which an individual may be His disciple. To be Christ’s disciple, one must “continue” in His word (vs. 31). That is, one must live a life of obedience to the will of Christ (Warren, 1986, pp. 33-37). Genuine discipleship is gauged by one’s persistent and meticulous compliance with the words of Jesus.
The freedom that Jesus offers through obedience to His truth is noted in His interchange with the Jews over slavery. Those who sin (i.e., transgress God’s will—1 John 3:4) are slaves who may be set free only by permitting Christ’s teachings to have free course within them (vs. 34-37). This kind of freedom is the only true freedom. Genuine freedom is achieved by means of “obedience to righteousness” (Romans 6:16). Freedom from sin and spiritual death is possible only by obedience to God (vs. 51).
SITUATIONIST PROOF TEXTS:
THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN
Another way to grasp the substance of a false philosophy is to assess the way in which the Scriptures are given treatment to support the philosophy. The remainder of this article will confine itself to examining two favorite proof texts frequently marshaled in an effort to defend situationism. [Additional proof texts (e.g., 2 Chronicles 30:18-20; Matthew 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23, the notion of “legalism”) are examined in a lengthier, unabridged version of this article, which can be found on-line at www.apologeticspress. org/rr/rr2004/r&r0411b.htm.]
“What about the woman taken in adultery? Didn’t Jesus free her from the rigid restrictions of the Law?” One of the most misused, mishandled, and misapplied passages in the Bible is the narrative of the woman caught in adultery, recorded in John 8:1-11. [For a discussion of the technical aspects of this passage as a textual variant, see Metzger, 1968, pp. 223-224; 1971, pp. 219-222; McGarvey, 1974, p. 16; Woods, 1989, p. 162.] This passage has been used by situation ethicists (e.g., Fletcher, 1967, pp. 83, 133), libertines, and liberals to insist that God is not “technical” when it comes to requiring close adherence to His laws. The bulk of Christendom has abetted this notion by decontextualizing and applying indiscriminately the remark of Jesus: “He who is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her first” (vs. 7). The average individual, therefore, has come to think that Jesus was tolerant and forgiving to the extent that He released the woman from the strictures of God’s law that called for her execution. They believe that Jesus simply “waved aside” her sin, and thereby granted her unconditional freedom and forgiveness—though the Law called for her death (Leviticus 20:10). After all, isn’t it true that Jesus places people “in the grip of grace” (Lucado, 1996)?
Those who challenge conclusions such as these are derided as “traditionalists” who lack “compassion,” and who are just like the “legalistic” scribes and Pharisees who cruelly accused the woman and wanted her handled in strict accordance with Mosaic Law. Did Jesus set aside the clear requirements of Mosaic legislation in order to demonstrate mercy, grace, and forgiveness? A careful study of John 8:1-11 yields at least three insights that clarify the confusion and misconception inherent in the popular imagination.
First, Mosaic regulations stated that a person could be executed only if there were two or more witnesses to the crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). One witness was insufficient to invoke the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6). The woman in question was reportedly caught in the “very act” (vs. 4), but nothing is said about the identity of the witness or witnesses. There may have been only one, thereby making execution illegal.
Second, even if there were two or more witnesses present to verify the woman’s sin, the Old Testament was equally explicit concerning the fact that both the woman and the man were to be executed (Deuteronomy 22:22). Where was the man? The accusing mob completely sidestepped this critical feature of God’s Law, demonstrating that this trumped-up situation obviously did not fit the Mosaic preconditions for invoking capital punishment. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go!
A third consideration that often is overlooked concerning this passage is the precise meaning of the phrase “He who is without sin among you...” (vs. 7). If this statement were to be taken as a blanket prohibition against accusing, disciplining, or punishing the erring, impenitent Christian, then this passage flatly contradicts a host of other passages (e.g., Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). Jesus not only frequentlypassed judgment on a variety of individuals during His tenure on Earth (e.g., Matthew 15:14; 23; John 8:44, 55; 9:41; et al.), but He also enjoined upon His followers the necessity of doing the same thing (e.g., John 7:24). Peter could be very direct in assessing people’s spiritual status (e.g., Acts 8:23). Paul rebuked the Corinthians’ inaction concerning their fornicating brother: “Do you not judge those who are inside?...Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, emp. added). Obviously, Paul demanded that Christians must judge (i.e., make an accurate evaluation of) a fellow Christian’s moral condition. Even the familiar proof text so often marshaled to promote laxity (i.e., “Judge not, that you be not judged”—Matthew 7:1) records Jesus admonishing disciples: “...then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye” (vs. 5). The current culture-wide celebration of being nonjudgmental (cf. “I’m OK—You’re OK”) is clearly out of harmony with Bible teaching.
So Jesus could not have been offering a blanket prohibition against taking appropriate action with regard to the sins of our fellows. Then what did His words mean? What else could possibly be going on in this setting so as to completely deflate, undermine, and terminate the boisterous determination of the woman’s accusers to attack Him, by using the woman as a pretext? What was it in Christ’s words that had such power to stop them in their tracks—so much so that their clamor faded to silence and they departed “one by one, beginning with the oldest” (vs. 9)?
Most commentators suggest that Jesus shamed them by forcing them to realize that “nobody is perfect and we all sin.” But this motley crew—with their notorious and repeatedly documented hard-heartedness—would not have been deterred if Jesus simply had conveyed the idea that, “Hey, give the poor woman a break, none of us is perfect,” or “We’ve all done things we’re not proud of.” The heartless scribes and Pharisees were brazen enough to divert her case from the proper judicial proceedings, and to humiliate her by forcibly hauling her into the presence of Jesus, thereby making a public spectacle of her. Apparently accompanied by a group of complicit supporters, they cruelly subjected her to the wider audience of “all the people” (vs. 2) who had come to hear Jesus’ teaching. They hardly would have been discouraged from their objective by such a simple utterance from Jesus that “nobody’s perfect.”
So what is the answer to this puzzling circumstance? Consider two possibilities. First, it may be that Jesus was calling attention to their failure to follow legal protocol in dealing with the woman. He was challenging them for violating the law with regard to treatment of the woman, essentially condemning them as being incapable of making a solid legal case against her.
A second possibility is that Christ was striking at precisely the same point that Paul drove home to hard-hearted, hypocritical Jews in Rome: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1, emp. added). Paul was especially specific on the very point with which Jesus dealt: “You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (vs. 22). In other words, no person is qualified to call attention to another’s sin when that individual is in the ongoing practice of the same sin. Again, as Jesus previously declared, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). After all, it is the “spiritual” brother or sister who is in the proper position to restore the wayward (Galatians 6:1).
Consequently, in the context under consideration, it may well be that Jesus knew that the woman’s accusers were guilty of the very thing for which they were willing to condemn her. (It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the fellow with whom the woman had committed adultery was in league with the accusers.) Jesus was able to prick them with their guilt by causing them to realize that He knew that they, too, were guilty. The old law made it clear that the witnesses to the crime were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). The death penalty could not be invoked legally if the eyewitnesses were unavailable or ineligible. Jesus was striking directly at the fact that these witnesses were unqualified to fulfill this role since they were guilty of the same sin, and thus deserved to be brought up on similar charges. They were intimidated into silence and retreat by their realization that Jesus was privy to their own indiscretions—and possibly on the verge of divulging them publicly.
Observe carefully that, at the withdrawal of the accusers, Jesus put forth a technical legal question when He asked: “Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee?” (ASV), or “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” (vs. 10, KJV). The reason for Jesus to verify the absence of the accusers who had brought the charges against the woman was that the Law of Moses mandated the presence of eyewitnesses to the crime before guilt could be established and sentence passed. The woman confirmed, “No man, Lord” (vs. 11). Jesus then affirmed: “Neither do I condemn you....” The meaning of this pronouncement was that if two or more witnesses to her sin were not able or willing to document the crime, then she could not be held legally liable, since neither was Jesus, Himself, qualified to serve as an eyewitness to her action. The usual interpretation of “neither do I condemn you” is that Jesus was flexible, tolerant, and unwilling to be judgmental toward others or to condemn their sinful actions. Ridiculous! The Bible repudiates such thinking on nearly every page. Jesus was declaring the fact that the woman managed to slip out from under judicial condemnation on the basis of one or more legal technicalities. But, He said (to use modern-day vernacular), “You had better stop it! You were fortunate this time, but you must cease your sinful behavior!”
Incredible! These scribes and Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus in a trap. Yet Jesus, as was so often the case (e.g., Matthew 21:23-27), “turned the tables” on His accusers and caught them in a trap instead! At the same time, He demonstrated a deep and abiding respect for the governing beauty and power of law—the law that He and His Father had authored. Jesus was the only Person Who ever complied with Mosaic legislation perfectly (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). He never sought to excuse human violation of law, nor to minimize the binding and authoritative application of law to people. Any interpretation of any passage that depicts Jesus as violatingthe law of God in order to forgive or accommodate man is a false interpretation, as is any interpretation that relegates law to a status of secondary importance (cf. Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:13; Psalms 19:7-11; Romans 7:12). Jesus was not in sympathy with the permissive mindset of today’s doctrinally lax thinkers who soften doctrine and the binding nature of law in the name of “grace,” “freedom,” or “compassion.”
SITUATIONIST PROOF TEXTS:
THE SPIRIT AND LETTER OF THE LAW
But doesn’t the Bible make a legitimate distinction between the ‘letter of the law’ and the ‘spirit of the law’?” It is argued that sometimes it is necessary, even mandatory, to violate the “letter of the law” in order to act in harmony with the “spirit of the law.” According to this line of thinking, those who insist that obedience to the law of God is always required without exception are “hung up on the letter of the law” instead of being led by the “spirit of the law” (cf. Hook, 1984, p. 42).
This perspective naturally breeds and nurtures a relaxed attitude toward obedience. It militates against a desire to be precise and careful in conformity to biblical teaching. One individual explained how his feelings of devotion to Jesus made him feel that as long as he maintained a close “sense of nearness” to Christ, he did not have to fret over “nit picky” concerns, like whether Christians should be meticulous in their obedience to the laws of the land. Another person avowed that she did not “sweat the small stuff,” since she was living her life in recognition of God’s grace, and felt certain that Jesus would “cut her some slack.” The “small stuff ” to which she referred included such things as whether God will accept instrumental music in worship to Him, whether God will approve of unscriptural divorce and remarriage, and whether sprinkling may pass for New Testament baptism.
The primary passage in the New Testament marshaled in an effort to support the “spirit vs. letter” antithesis is Paul’s remarks to the church of Christ in Corinth (2 Corinthians 3:4-18). I urge the reader to pause and read the third chapter of Second Corinthians before reading the analysis that follows. Two phrases are typically excised from the context and used as proof texts to support a notion contrary to the chapter: “not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (vs. 6), and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (vs. 17). These phrases are set forth by some as proof that Christians ought not to be too meticulous in conforming strictly to various New Testament directives. Those who suggest such assume that “letter” refers to the commands of God—the written statements of Scripture that specify and regulate human behavior. They also assume that “spirit” refers to one’s attitude or feelings. Hence, if the individual feels devoted, concerned, and sincere, he or she is deemed in line with “the spirit of the law.” On the other hand, the individual who appears inflexible and rigid, or overly concerned with strict obedience, is perceived to lack “compassion” and “sensitivity,” and too concerned with “the letter of the law.”
However, if a person takes the time to study God’s Word, and refrain from mishandling its intended meaning (Acts 17:11; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 2:15), he or she will see that neither Paul nor any other inspired writer agreed with such thinking. In a pericope dealing with his apostolic ministry, Paul crafted a beautiful allegory—what D.R. Dungan once called “the most perfect antithesis to be found in the whole Bible” (1888, p. 349). By arranging the contrasting phrases of the antithesis into two columns, the Bible student is able more easily to grasp Paul’s intended meaning.
|2 CORINTHIANS 3|
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Ministers of the new covenant (vs. 6)|
|Of the letter (vs. 6)||Of the Spirit (vs. 6)|
|The letter kills (vs. 6)||The Spirit gives life (vs. 6)|
|Ministry of Death (vs. 7)||Ministry of Spirit (vs. 8)|
|Written/Engraved on stones (vs. 7)|
|Ministry of condemnation (vs. 9)||Ministry of righteousness (vs. 9)|
|Glorious (vss. 7,9.11)||Much more glorious (vss.8-9,11)|
|Passing away (vs. 7)||Remains (vs. 11)|
|Veil on Moses’s face (vs. 13)||Great boldness of speech (vs. 12)|
|Veil remains in reading O.T. (vs. 14)||Veil taken away in Christ (vs. 14)|
|Veil lies on their heart (vs. 15)||Veil taken away when one turns to the Lord (vs. 16)|
Comparison of “the letter” vs. “the spirit” of the law (O.T./N.T.)
It should be immediately evident to the unbiased observer that “the two legs of the antithesis are the New Covenant in contrast with the Old Covenant” (Dungan, p. 268). Precisely the same meaning is conveyed by the same terminology in Paul’s letter to the Romans (2:29; 7:6). The Old Testament legal system, though an excellent system for what God had in mind (Romans 7:12), was unable to provide ultimate forgiveness for violations of law and, in that sense, “kills.” It took Jesus’ death on the cross to make “life” possible—i.e., actual cleansing from sin.
When one recognizes the existing contextual meaning, it becomes apparent that these verses have absolutely nothing to do with the alleged “spirit vs. letter” contention! In fact, the Bible nowhere postulates such a thing. Like all liberal thinking, one must refrain from thinking too much about it if one does not wish to see the absurdity and nonsensical nature of it. The “spirit vs. letter” contrast is “better felt than told” gobbledygook that makes no sense. In an article titled “The Letter that Killeth,” written on April 3, 1897, J.W. McGarvey responded to this type of thinking:
Just once in the course of his writings Paul makes the declaration that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:7); and no remark that he ever made has been applied in a greater number of unlicensed ways. If a man insists upon preserving some ordinance in the very form of its original appointment, such an ordinance as baptism or the Lord’s Supper, for example, he is accused of contending for the letter that killeth, while the man who makes the charge, and who changes the ordinance, claims that he is following the spirit that giveth life. All of that large class of writers who make free with the Scriptures while claiming to reverence their authority, employ this device to excuse their departures from the word of God, while those who remonstrate with them for their license are denounced as literalists or sticklers for the letter that killeth. In all these instances, it seems to be claimed that if you stick close to the ordinance as Christ gave it, you will kill somebody. The last example that attracted my attention was in connection with the number of elders that should be appointed in a church. The writer says: “It has been thought to be a greater evil to have a congregation without a plurality of elders than to have an eldership without the requisite qualifications;” and he adds: “This is to do violence to the spirit of the New Testament in an effort to be loyal to its letter.” But which, in this case, is the letter, and which is the spirit? To have a plurality of elders is certainly the letter of the New Testament; that is, it is the literal requirement; and the literal requirement also is to have elders of prescribed qualifications. Where, then, is the spirit as distinguished from the letter? Echo answers, Where? The writer was so in the habit of using this favorite expression where he wished to justify a departure from Scripture precedent that he evidently applied it in this instance from pure habit and without thought (1910, pp. 160-161).
Indeed, redefining the biblical expressions “spirit of the law” and “letter of the law” enables the situationist to promote his agenda under the cloak of Bible backing.
If one wishes to use the expression “the spirit of the law” to refer to a proper attitude, and “the letter of the law” to refer to compliance with the explicit dictates of Scripture, it certainly is true that a person can distort or disregard “the spirit of the law” while following carefully “the letter of the law.” A person may engage in external, rote compliance without heartfelt, genuine love for God and His will. But it is impossible to represent faithfully “the spirit of the law” (i.e., to have the right attitude) while acting out of harmony with the specific details of the law. When Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15), He pinpointed the fact that “love” for Him includes obedience. It is possible to obey and not love; but it is not possible to love and not obey. One may have good intentions in one’s religious pursuits, but if those religious actions are contrary to God’s specified will, the activity is unacceptable to God. The situationist’s claim that sincerity and feelings of “love” legitimize whatever action “love” takes, is in direct contradiction to Bible teaching.
Situationism, antinomianism (freedom from law), and liberalism (loosing where God has bound) share in common their mutual aversion to law keeping. Christians must not fall prey to these sinister forces that attempt to soften and obscure the clear call from God to render obedience to His directives. What He seeks from people is conformity to His laws out of hearts full of sincerity, earnestness, and love.
Probably no greater threat to the stability of society exists in our day than the humanistic, antinomian philosophy of situationism and its multi-faceted pluralistic and/or post-modernistic manifestations. It is part and parcel of the general rebellion against the authority of God’s Word that engulfs America. Vast numbers of people are living life and making decisions based upon their own subjective perceptions and personal feelings. For them, the concepts of right and wrong, truth and error are obscure, blurred, hazy, gray, and complex. What is wrong in one situation may be right and acceptable in another. Satan has done his job well. He has made great strides in American culture in the last half century in his effort to break down biblical values and moral absolutes. He has succeeded in replacing this framework with a tolerant, open, permissive attitude and outlook that refrains from passing judgment on anybody or anything. The “I’m OK, You’re OK” perspective has been embedded firmly into American civilization.
The mindset of today’s situationist is not new. We humans do not generally regard rules and regulations as positive phenomena. We usually perceive them as infringements on our freedom—deliberate attempts to restrict our behavior and interfere with our “happiness.” Like children, we may have a tendency to display resentment and a rebellious spirit when faced with spiritual requirements. We may feel that God is being arbitrary and merely burdening our lives with haphazard, insignificant strictures. But God would never do that. He never has placed upon anyone any requirement that was inappropriate, unnecessary, or unfair. During the Israelites’ final encampment on the plains of Moab prior to their entrance into Canaan, Moses articulated a most important principle: “The Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes...for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:24, emp. added; cf. 10:13). God never would ask us to do anything that is harmful to us. He does not restrict us nor exert His authority over us in order to purposely make us unhappy. Quite the opposite! God knows exactly what will make us happy. Compliance with His Word will make a person happy (John 13:17; James 1:25), exalted (James 4:10), righteous (Romans 6:16; 1 John 3:7), and wise (Matthew 24:45-46; 7:24).
Those who wish to relieve themselves of restriction will continue to invent ways to circumvent the intent of Scripture. They will continue to “twist” (2 Peter 3:16) and “handle the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2). They will exert pressure on everyone else to “back off,” “lighten up,” and embrace a more tolerant understanding of ethical conduct. But the “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) will “take heed how [he/she] hears” (vs.18). The good heart is the one who “reads...hears...and keeps those things which are written therein” (Revelation 1:3, emp. added). After all, no matter how negative they may appear to humans, no matter how difficult they may be to obey, they are given “for our good.”
The Bible simply does not countenance situation ethics. Jesus always admonished people to “keep the commandments” (e.g., Matthew 19:17). He kept God’s commands Himself—perfectly(2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26). And He is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9, emp. added).
Barna, George (2003), “Morality Continues to Decay,” [On-line], URL: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?Press ReleaseID=152&Reference=F.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (1955), Ethics, ed. Eberhard Bethge (London: SCM Press).
Brunner, Emil (1947), The Divine Imperative, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Chesser, Frank (2001), The Spirit of Liberalism (Huntsville, AL: Publishing Designs).
Cox, Harvey (1965), The Secular City (New York: MacMillan).
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Fletcher, Joseph (1966), Situation Ethics (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Fletcher, Joseph (1967), Moral Responsibility (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Hook, Cecil (1984), Free in Christ (New Braunfels, TX: Privately published by author).
Hook, Cecil (1990), Free to Change (New Braunfels, TX: Privately published by author).
Lucado, Max (1996), In the Grip of Grace (Dallas, TX: Word).
McGarvey, J.W. (1910), Biblical Criticism (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
McGarvey, J.W. (1974 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1968), The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press), second edition.
Metzger, Bruce M. (1971), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Society).
Niebuhr, Reinhold (1932), Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Charles Scribner’s).
Ridenour, Fritz (1969), The Other Side of Morality (Glendale, CA: Regal Books).
Robinson, John A.T. (1963), Honest to God (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Warren, Thomas B. (1972), Have Atheists Proved There Is No God (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).
Warren, Thomas B. (1986), The Bible Only Makes Christians Only and the Only Christians(Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).
Woods, Guy N. (1989), A Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
“The Very Works that I Do Bear Witness of Me”
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Kyle Butt, M.Div.
The Bible begins with the miracle of Creation (Genesis 1:1), and ends with a reminder of the miraculous Second Coming of Christ (Revelation 22:20). Like polka dots on a Dalmatian, wondrous miracles wrought by God and His messengers spatter the biblical text. God created the Universe out of nothing (Genesis 1), and centuries later flooded the entire Earth with water (Genesis 7). He sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians (Exodus 7-12), parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and caused water to come from a rock twice during Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness (Exodus 17; Numbers 20). He healed a leper (2 Kings 5), raised many from the dead (1 Kings 17; Matthew 27:52-53), and on two different occasions translated men from Earth to heaven so that they never tasted death (Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:1-11). Even the Bible itself is the result of the miracle of God supernaturally guiding Bible writers in what they wrote. Rather than being the result of man’s genius, the Bible claims to be “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV). According to the apostle Peter, “[P]rophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NIV, emp. added). From revelation to inspiration, from God’s Creation to Jesus’ incarnation, miraculous (supernatural) explanations lay at the heart of numerous biblical (and therefore historical) events.
Some people adamantly claim that any type of miracle is absolutely impossible. Why do they say “no” to miracles? There are many reasons, but perhaps most significant is that they do not believe that God exists (or that if He does, He does not intervene in the natural world). A person who believes that the Universe and its contents evolved through natural processes over billions of years cannot believe in miracles because he or she thinks that nothing exists outside of nature. As the late, eminent astronomer of Cornell University, Carl Sagan, put it: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” (1980, p. 4). Since a miracle is an extraordinary event that demands a supernatural explanation, no such event ever could occur in a world where only natural forces operate. Once a person denies God and the miracle of Creation, then he or she is forced to deny that miracles of any kind can occur. Christians believe in miracles because they believe that God exists and that the Bible (which reports some of God’s miracles) is His Word, whereas atheists reject miracles because they do not believe in a higher, supernatural Being.
Those who hold to an atheistic viewpoint are correct about one thing: If God does not exist (or as the deist believes, if He does exist, but is unwilling to intervene in His creation), then miracles cannot occur. On the other hand, if God does exist (and evidence indicates that He does—see Thompson, 2003), then miracles not only are possible, but also probable. It makes perfectly good sense to conclude that if God created the Universe, then on occasion He might intervene through supernatural acts (i.e., miracles) to accomplish His divine purposes.
Since the world began, God has revealed messages to mankind “by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:70; cf. Luke 11:49-51; Acts 3:21) and worked various miracles through them for the purpose of confirming His Divine will. God gave Moses the ability to turn a staff into a snake and water into blood in order that his hearers “may believe the message” that he spoke (Exodus 4:1-9). Fire from Heaven consumed an altar on Mount Carmel so that Israel might know the one true God and that His faithful prophet Elijah spoke on His behalf (1 Kings 18:36-39). Centuries later, as the apostles went about preaching the Gospel, Mark wrote that the Lord was “working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (16:20). According to the writer of Hebrews, the salvation “which at first began to be spoken by the Lord...was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (2:3). God bore witness “with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (2:4). Indeed, throughout the Bible God’s spokesmen worked miracles in order to validate their divine message.
In view of the fact that miracles have served as a confirmation of God’s revelation since time began, it should be no surprise that “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4), and the promised Messiah, the Son of God, came to Earth for the purpose of saving the world from sin (Luke 19:10; John 3:16), that He would confirm His identity and message by performing miracles. Centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold of a time when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.... [T]he lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (35:5-6). Although this language has a figurative element to it, it literally is true of the coming of the Messiah. When John the Baptizer heard about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus asking if He was “the Coming One” of Whom the prophets spoke. Jesus responded to John’s disciples by pointing to the people whom He had miraculously healed (thus fulfilling Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy), saying, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5; cf. Mark 7:37). Jesus wanted them to know that He was doing exactly what “the Coming One” was supposed to do (cf. Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17), and what the Jews expected Him to do—perform miracles (John 7:31; cf. John 4:48; 1 Corinthians 1:22).
Jesus’ miracles served a different purpose than those wrought by Moses, Elijah, or one of the New Testament apostles or prophets. Unlike all other miracle workers recorded in Scripture, Jesus actually claimed to be the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God, and His miracles were performed to prove both the truthfulness of His message and His divine nature. Whereas the apostles and prophets of the New Testament worked miracles to confirm their message that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus performed miracles to bear witness that He was, in fact, the Son of God. In response to a group of Jews who inquired about whether or not He was the Christ, Jesus replied,
I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.... I and My Father are one.... If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him (John 10:25,30,37-38).
Similarly, on another occasion Jesus defended His deity, saying, “[T]he works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36). While on Earth, Jesus was “attested by God...with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Acts 2:22, NASB). And, according to the apostle John, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31, emp. added). As would be expected from the One Who claimed to be God incarnate (cf. John 1:1-3,14; 10:30), Scripture records that Jesus performed miracles throughout His ministry in an effort to provide sufficient proof of His divine message and nature.
REASONS TO BELIEVE IN THE MIRACLES OF JESUS
Regardless of how much credible evidence one is able to set forth in a discussion on the miracles of Christ, certain individuals will never be convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. The Bible makes clear that even a number of those in the first century who saw the miraculous works of Jesus firsthand were not persuaded that He was the promised Messiah (cf. Mark 6:6). Rather than fall at His feet and call him “Lord” (as did the blind man who was healed by Jesus—John 9:38), countless Jews refused to believe His claims of divinity. Instead, they attributed His works to Satan, and said things like, “He has Beelzebub,” or “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (Mark 3:22). In light of such reactions to Jesus’ miracles by some of those who actually walked the Earth with Him 2,000 years ago, it should not be surprising that many alive today also reject Him as Lord and God. As previously stated, one of the main reasons for rejecting His deity and the miracles which the Bible claims that He worked is simply because many people deny God’s existence (even in the face of the heavens declaring His handiwork—cf. Psalm 19:1) and the Bible’s inspiration (which also has been demonstrated with an abundant amount of evidence—see Thompson, 2001). Obviously, if one refuses to accept these two foundational pillars of Christianity, he will never be convinced that Jesus worked miracles. Still, both theists and atheists should consider several of the following reasons as to why the miracles of Jesus are credible testimonies of His divine nature and teachings.
Countless Thousands Witnessed His Miracles
Aside from the fact that Jesus’ miracles are recorded in the most historically documented ancient book in all of the world (see Butt, 2000, 20:4-5), which time and again has proven itself to be a reliable witness to history (see Butt 2004a, 2004b), it also is significant that Jesus’ miracles were not done in some remote place on Earth with only a few witnesses. Instead, the miracles of Jesus were attested by multitudes of people all across Palestine throughout His ministry. Jesus began His miracles in Cana of Galilee by turning water into wine at a wedding feast in the presence of His disciples and other guests (John 2:1-11). [Considering how much wine was made after the hosts had already run out (approximately 120 gallons—2:6), it would appear there were many guests at the feast. Exactly how many witnessed the amazing feat, we are not told. But, the apostle John did record that “the servants who had drawn the water knew” of the miracle (2:9), as well as Jesus’ disciples (2:11).] On more than one Sabbath day, Jesus performed miracles in Jewish synagogues where countless contemporaries gathered to study Scripture on their holy day (Mark 1:23-28; Mark 3:1-6). Jesus once healed a sick man at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem where “a great multitude” of sick people had congregated (John 5:3), and He healed a paralytic in a Capernaum house full of “Pharisees and teachers of the law...who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem” (Luke 5:17). The house was so crowded with people, in fact, that those who brought the paralytic could not even enter the house through the door. Instead, they uncovered part of the roof, and lowered him through the tiling. Matthew recorded how Jesus “saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick” (14:14, emp. added). Then, later, He took five loaves of bread and two fish and miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus their women and children, while afterwards taking up twelve baskets full of leftovers (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:33:43; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). On another occasion, Jesus took “a few little fish...and seven loaves” of bread and fed 4,000 men, besides women and children (Matthew 15:32-39).
Truly, countless thousands of Jesus’ contemporaries witnessed His miracles on various occasions throughout His ministry. They were not hidden or performed in inaccessible locations incapable of being tested by potential followers. Rather, they were subjected to analysis by Jews and Gentiles, believers and unbelievers, friends and foes. They were evaluated in the physical realm by physical senses. When Peter preached to those who had put Jesus to death, he reminded them that Christ’s identity had been proved “by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22, emp. added). The Jews had witnessed Christ’s miracles occurring among them while He was on the Earth. In the presence of many eyewitnesses, Jesus gave sight to the blind, healed lepers, fed thousands with a handful of food, and made the lame to walk.
The Enemies of Christ Attested to His Works
Interestingly, although many of Jesus’ enemies who witnessed His miracles rejected Him as the Messiah and attempted to undermine His ministry, even they did not deny the miracles that He worked. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the presence of many Jews, “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man worksmany signs’ ” (John 11:47, emp. added). According to Luke, even King Herod had heard enough reports about Jesus to believe that He could perform “some miracle” in his presence (Luke 23:8). Once, after Jesus healed a blind, mute, demon-possessed man in the midst of multitudes of people, the Pharisees responded, saying, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). While many of Jesus’ enemies did not confess belief in Him as being the heaven-sent, virgin-born, Son of God, but attributed His works as being from Satan, it is important to notice that they did not deny the supernatural wonders that He worked. In fact, they confessed that He worked a miracle by casting a demon from a man, while on another occasion they scolded Him for healing on the Sabbath (cf. Luke 13:10-17).
Even when Jesus’ enemies diligently investigated the miracles that He performed in hopes of discrediting Him, they still failed in their endeavors. The apostle John recorded an occasion when Jesus gave sight to a man born blind (John 9:7). After receiving his sight, neighbors and others examined him, inquiring how he was now able to see. Later he was brought to the Pharisees, and they scrutinized him. They questioned him about the One who caused him to see, and then argued among themselves about the character of Jesus. They called for the parents of the man who was blind, and questioned them about their son’s blindness. Then they called upon the man born blind again, and a second time questioned him about how Jesus opened his eyes. Finally, when they realized the man would not cave in to their intimidating interrogation and say some negative thing about Jesus, “they cast him out” (9:34). They rejected him, and the One Who made him well. Yet, they were unable to deny the miracle that Jesus performed. It was known by countless witnesses that this man was born blind, but, after coming in contact with Jesus, his eyes were opened. The entire case was scrutinized thoroughly by Jesus’ enemies, yet even they had to admit that Jesus caused the blind man to see (John 9:16-17,24,26). It was a fact, accepted, not by credulous youths, but by hardened, veteran enemies of Christ.
Furthermore, there were some of those among Jesus’ strongest critics who eventually did come to believe, not simply in His miracles, but that the wonders He worked really were from Heaven. John hinted of this belief when he wrote about how there was a division among the Pharisees concerning whether Jesus was from God. One group asked, “How can a man who is a sinner (as some among the Pharisees alleged—EL/KB) do such signs?” (John 9:16). Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night and confessed, saying, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Years later, after the establishment of the church, Luke recorded how “a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Truly, even many of those who were numbered among Jesus’ enemies at one time eventually confessed to His being the Son of God. Considering that positive testimony from hostile witnesses is the weightiest kind of testimony in a court of law, such reactions from Jesus’ enemies are extremely noteworthy in a discussion on the miracles of Christ.
Multiple Attestation of Writers
The case built for the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles is further strengthened by the fact that His supernatural works were recorded, not by one person, but by multiple independent writers. Even unbelievers admit that various miracles in Jesus’ life (including His resurrection) were recorded by more than one writer (cf. Barker, 1992, p. 179; Clements, 1990, p. 193). If scholars of ancient history generally rendered facts “unimpeachable” when two or three sources are in agreement (see Maier, 1991, p. 197), then the multiple attestation of Jesus’ miracles by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8) is extremely impressive. Unlike Islam and Mormonism, each of which relies upon the accounts/writings of one alleged inspired man (Muhammad and Joseph Smith, respectively), Christianity rests upon the foundation of multiple writers. Consider also that certain miracles Jesus performed, specifically the feeding of the 5,000 and His resurrection, are recorded in all four gospel accounts. Furthermore, the writers’ attestation of Jesus’ life and miracles is similar enough so as not to be contradictory, but varied enough so that one cannot reasonably conclude that they participated in collusion in order to perpetrate a hoax. Truly, the fact that multiple writers attest to the factuality of Jesus’ miracles should not be taken lightly and dismissed with a wave of the hand.
Interestingly, Bible writers were not alone in their attestation of the wonders that Jesus worked. The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, mentioned Jesus as being One Who “was a doer of wonderful works (paradoxa)” and Who “drew over to him many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles” (1987, 18:3:3, emp. added). Josephus used this same Greek word (paradoxa) earlier when referring to Elijah and his “wonderful and surprising works by prophecy” (9:8:6). The only instance of this word in the New Testament is found in Luke’s gospel account where those who had just witnessed Jesus heal a paralytic “were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen remarkable things (paradoxa) today’” (5:26, NASB, emp. added). A reference to Jesus’ amazing works was also described in one section of the Babylonian Talmud (known as the Sanhedrin Tractate) where Jewish leaders wrote, “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Jesus—EL/KB] was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy....’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of Passover” (Shachter, 1994, 43a). Even though the Talmud describes Jesus’ amazing deeds as “sorcery,” and although we may never know for certain whether Josephus truly believed Jesus could work legitimate miracles, both acknowledge that Jesus’ life was characterized by remarkable wonders—testimony that would be expected from certain unbelievers who were attempting to explain away the supernatural acts of Christ.
Bible Writers Reported Facts—not Fairy Tales
It also is important to understand that the Bible writers insisted that their writings were not based on imaginary, nonverifiable people and events, but instead were grounded on solid historical facts (as has been confirmed time and again by the science of archaeology). The apostle Peter, in his second epistle to the Christians in the first century, wrote: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (1:16). In a similar statement, the apostle John insisted: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life...that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1,3). When Luke wrote his account of the Gospel of Christ, he specifically and intentionally crafted his introduction to ensure that his readers understood that his account was historical and factual:
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed (Luke 1:1-4).
In a similar line of reasoning, Luke included in his introduction to the book of Acts the idea that Jesus, “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). In addition, when the apostle Paul was arguing the case that Jesus Christ had truly been raised from the dead, he wrote that the resurrected Jesus
was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
This handful of verses by Peter, Paul, John, and Luke, reveal that the Bible writers insisted with conviction that their writings were not mythical, but were based on factual events. Furthermore, they specifically documented many of the eye-witnesses who could testify to the accuracy of their statements. As Henry S. Curr remarked more than half a century ago,
We are not asked to believe in myths and legends of the kind associated with paganism, classical and otherwise, nor in cunningly devised fables or old wives’ tales. We are besought to accept sober stories of incidents which cannot be accounted for in any other way save that God was directly and intimately at work in the matter (1941, 98:478).
The claim that the Bible is filled with miracle myths can be made, but it cannot be reasonably maintained. The evidence is overwhelming that the Bible writers understood and insisted that their information about Jesus and His miracles was accurate and factual, just as were all other details in their narratives and letters. Furthermore, their claim of factual accuracy has been verified time and again by the discipline of archaeology as well as by refutations of alleged discrepancies between the various writings and history.
Jesus’ Signs were Many and Varied
Another characteristic of Jesus’ miracles is that more than a few are recorded in Scripture. One is not asked to believe that Jesus is the Son of God because He performed one or two marvelous deeds during His lifetime. On the contrary, genuine “miracles cluster around the Lord Jesus Christ like steel shavings to a magnet” (Witmer, 1973, 130:132). The gospel accounts are saturated with a variety of miracles that Christ performed, not for wealth or political power, but that the world may be convinced that He was sent by the Father to bring salvation to mankind (cf. John 5:36; 10:37-38). As Isaiah prophesied, Jesus performed miracles of healing (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:16-17). He cleansed a leper with the touch of His hand (Matthew 8:1-4), and healed all manner of sickness and disease with the word of His mouth (cf. John 4:46-54). One woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years was healed immediately simply by touching the fringe of His garment (Luke 8:43-48). Similarly, on one occasion after Jesus came into the land of Gennesaret, all who were sick in all of the surrounding region came to Him, “and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well” (Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 3:10). Generally speaking, “great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them” (Matthew 15:30, emp. added). “He cured many of infirmities, afflictions...and to many blind He gave sight” (Luke 7:21, emp. added). Even Jesus’ enemies confessed to His “many signs” (John 11:48).
Jesus not only exhibited power over the sick and afflicted, He also showed His superiority over nature more than once. Whereas God’s prophet Moses turned water into blood by striking water with his rod (Exodus 7:20), Jesus simply willed water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11). He further exercised His power over the natural world by calming the Sea of Galilee during a turbulent storm (Matthew 8:23-27), by walking on water for a considerable distance to reach His disciples (Matthew 14:25-43), and by causing a fig tree to whither away at His command. In truth, Jesus’ supernatural superiority over the physical world (which He created—Colossians 1:16) is exactly what we would expect from One Who claimed to be the Son of God.
Jesus’ miracles were not limited to the natural world, however. As further proof of His deity, He also revealed His power over the spiritual world by casting out demons. “They brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word” (Matthew 8:16, emp. added). Luke also recorded that “He cured many of...evil spirits” (Luke 7:21, emp. added). Mark recorded where Jesus once exhibited power over a man overwhelmed with unclean spirits, which no one had been able to bind not even with chains and shackles; neither could anyone tame the demon-infested man (Mark 5:1-21). Jesus, however, cured him. Afterwards, witnesses saw the man with the unclean spirits “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35-36). On several occasions, Jesus healed individuals who were tortured by evil spirits. And, “they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, ‘What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out’” (Luke 4:36).
Finally, Jesus even performed miracles that demonstrated His power over death. Recall that when John the Baptizer’s disciples came to Jesus inquiring about His identity, Jesus instructed them to tell John that “the dead are raised” (Matthew 11:5). The widow of Nain’s son had already been declared dead and placed in a casket when Jesus touched the open coffin and told him to “arise.” Immediately, “he who was dead sat up and began to speak” (Luke 7:14-15). Lazarus had already been dead and buried for four days by the time Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11:1-44). Such a great demonstration of power over death caused “many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did” to believe in Him (John 11:45). What’s more, Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead was the climax of all of His miracles, and serves as perhaps the most convincing miracle of all (see Butt, 2002, pp. 9-15).
In all, the Gospel records contain some thirty-seven specific supernatural acts that Jesus performed. If that number were to include such miracles as His virgin birth and transfiguration, and the multiple times He exemplified the ability to “read minds” and to know the past or future without having to learn of them through ordinary means (cf. John 4:15-19; 13:21-30; 2:25), etc., the number would reach upwards to fifty. Indeed, the miracles of Christ were varied and numerous. He healed the blind, lame, sick, and leprous, as well as demonstrated power over nature, demons, and death. The apostle John, who recorded the miracles of Christ “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31), also commented on how “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book” (20:30, emp. added). In fact, Jesus worked so many miracles throughout His ministry on Earth that, “if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Power over Affliction
Royal official’s son
Matthew 8:14-18; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41
Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-14
Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26
Lame man at the Pool of Bethesda
Man with withered hand
Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11
Paralyzed centurion’s servant
Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10
Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48
Two blind men
Deaf and mute man
Matthew 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37
Blind man outside of Bethesda
Man born blind
Man with dropsy
Two blind men near Jericho
Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52
Power over Nature
Water changed into wine
First catch of fish
Calming a turbulent storm
Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25
Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14
Walking on water
Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:45-46; John 6:15-21
Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9
Money in the fish’s mouth
Fig tree withers
Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-24
Second catch of fish
Power over Demons
Man in synagogue at Capernaum
Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:33-37
Mute, demon-possessed man
Two men at Gadara
Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-21; Luke 8:26-40
Blind, mute, demon-possessed man
Matthew 12:22-30; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 11:14-23
Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30
Epileptic, demon-possessed child
Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43
Power over Death
Widow of Nain’s son
Matthew 9:18-19,23-26; Mark 5:21-24,35-43; Luke 8:40-42,49-56
Jesus’ own resurrection
Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20
The Miracles of Jesus were neither Silly nor Overboard
Admittedly, for some, a number of the miracles that Jesus performed are more easily accepted than others. The fact that a group of fishermen let their nets down into the sea and caught so many fish that the netting began to break (Luke 5:1-11) is not difficult for critics to accept (although not as a miracle). The idea of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead after already being in the tomb for four days, however, is much harder for skeptics to believe. But, neither this miracle nor any other that Jesus worked is unworthy of our consideration because it is silly or overboard. People may reject the miracles of Christ because of their disbelief in the supernatural altogether, or because of their inability to attach naturalistic explanations to various miracles. However, His miracles cannot be denied on the grounds that they are characterized by the absurd and ridiculous—that they are not. As Furman Kearley once stated, “The gospel records are marked by restraint and sublimity in the description of miracles” (1976, 93:4).
The miracles of Christ certainly were extraordinary (otherwise they would not be miracles), yet they were performed (and recorded) with all sanity and sobriety—exactly what one would expect if they really were signs from God. After all, He
is the author and finisher of that unspeakable machine which we call the universe, ever working in accordance with its constitution on the strictest principles of law and order, and thus proclaiming that its Architect is no capricious being but one whose mental attributes are as marvelous as His moral and spiritual qualities. In these circumstances, it would be very strange if the Biblical miracles represented the contradiction of orderly things (Curr, 1941, 98:471).
Since the omnipotent God has chosen to control His infinite power, and to use it in orderly and rational ways, one would expect that when God put on flesh (John 1:1-3,14) and exerted His supernatural power on Earth, it likewise would be characterized as power under control—miracles performed with infinite sobriety and rationality.
Unlike the stories of many alleged miracle workers from the past (or present), Jesus’ miracles are characterized by restraint and dignity. Consider the miracle that Jesus performed on Malchus, a man who was about to arrest Jesus. Instead of doing something like commanding the left ear of Malchus to whither or fall off (after Peter severed his right one with a sword), Jesus simply touched the detached ear “and healed him” (Luke 22:51). A man who was about to turn Jesus over to His enemies has his ear cut off with a sword, and Jesus simply (yet miraculously) puts his ear back in place. What’s more, that is all any Bible writer wrote about the matter. An amazing miracle was worked the night before Jesus’ death, and the only thing revealed is that Jesus “touched his ear and healed him.” As with all of Jesus’ miracles,
[t]here is no attempt to magnify the supernatural features of the incident. The happening is left to speak for itself. If truth be best unadorned, then there are no more effective illustrations of that doctrine than the Biblical records of signs and wonders. The writers do not dwell upon them. They rather take the marvels in their stride. They tell the story as succinctly as they can, and then pass on to deal with something else. That is exemplified very clearly in the Synoptic Gospels. We are told of the moral and physical miracle wrought in a house at Capernaum when four men bore a sick friend to the feet of Jesus, having removed part of the roof and lowered the pallet through the aperture. The man’s sins were forgiven. This was a sign from heaven if there ever was one. His infirmity was also removed and that was another demonstration of our Lord’s claims to be God manifest in the flesh. Matthew then proceeds to recount his call to discipleship and what followed. Procedure like that is repeated again and again. The writers do not linger over the supernatural as a modern novelist might do. The miracle is mentioned at greater or less length, and then the narrative goes on its way. It is true that reference is often made to the amazement created in the crowds which witnessed these mighty works of God; but even that is not emphasized inordinately (Curr, 1941, 98:473).
Furthermore, unlike those in other writings, Jesus’ miracles were not characterized by the sorcerer’s hocus pocus. In fact, there are few parallels to Jesus and the magicians of the ancient world. Even Rudolf Bultmann, the twentieth-century German writer who sought to explain away the miracles of Jesus, admitted that “the New Testament miracle stories are extremely reserved in this respect, since they hesitate to attribute to the person of Jesus the magical traits which were often characteristic of the Hellenistic miracle worker” (as quoted in Habermas, 2001, p. 113). Jesus could have performed any miracle that He wanted. He could have pulled rabbits from hats for the sole purpose of amusing people. He could have turned His Jewish enemies into stones, or given a person three eyes. He could have turned boys into men. He could have lit the robes of the Pharisees on fire and told them that hell would be ten times as hot. He could have formed a dozen sparrows out of clay as a child, and then, in the midst of a group of boys, turned the clay birds into live ones at the clap of His hands, as is alleged in the non-inspired apocryphal book, the Gospel of Thomas (1:4-9; The Lost Books..., 1979, p. 60). Certainly, Jesus could have done any number of silly, outlandish miracles. But, He didn’t. In contrast to the miracles recorded in any number of non-inspired sources, Jesus’ miracles were not characterized by
endless tales of wonders with which literature and folklore of the world abounds. There is no suggestion of magic or legerdemain about the mighty works of God described in the Bible. On the contrary, they are invariably characterized by a sanity and sobriety and reasonableness.... There is nothing extravagant or bizarre about them.... When the miracles of our Lord which are described in the four Gospels are compared with those derived from other sources, the difference is like that of chalk and cheese” (Curr, 98:471-472).
Jesus Worked Wonders that are not Being Duplicated Today
Finally, neither the modern alleged “faith healer” nor the twenty-first-century scientist is duplicating the miracles that Jesus worked while on Earth 2,000 years ago. Pseudo-wonder workers today stage seemingly endless events where willing participants with supposed sicknesses appear and act as if they are being healed of their diseases by the laying on of hands. Nebulous aches and pains and dubious illnesses that defy medical substantiation are supposedly cured by prominent “faith healers” who simultaneously are building financial empires with the funds they receive from gullible followers. Frauds like Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, and a host of others have made many millions of dollars off of viewers who naively send them money without stopping to consider the real differences between the miracles that Jesus worked and what they observe these men do today.
Jesus went about “healing every sickness and every disease” (Matthew 9:35, emp. added). His miraculous wonders knew no limitations. He could cure anything. Luke, the learned physician (Colossians 4:14), recorded how He could restore a shriveled hand in the midst of His enemies (Luke 6:6-10), and heal a severed ear with the touch of His hand (Luke 22:51). He healed “many” of their blindness (Luke 7:21), including one man who had been born blind (John 9:1-7)! What’s more, He even raised the dead simply by calling out to them (John 11:43). What modern-day “spiritualist,” magician, or scientist has come close to doing these sorts of things that defy natural explanations? Who is going into schools for the blind and giving children their sight? Who is going to funerals or graveyards to raise the dead? These are the kinds of miracles that Jesus worked—supernatural feats that testify to His identity as the heaven-sent Savior of the world.
As should be expected from the One Who claimed to be God incarnate (cf. John 1:1-3,14; 10:30), Scripture records that Jesus performed miracles throughout His ministry in order to provide sufficient proof of His divine message and nature. Countless thousands witnessed His miracles. He performed them throughout His ministry—miracles that in countless ways are unlike the alleged wonders worked by sorcerers, scientists, or “spiritualists” of the past or present. Even Jesus’ enemies attested to the wonders that He worked, which later were recorded, not by one person, but by multiple independent writers who were dedicated to reporting facts rather than fairy tales.
Jesus worked miracles, not for the sake of entertaining individuals or in order to make a profit off of His audiences, but that the world may know that Jesus and God are one (John 10:30,38), and that the Father sent Him to Earth to save mankind from sin (John 5:36). He “did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31, emp. added). Certainly, among the greatest proofs for the deity of Christ are the miracles that He worked.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation).
Butt, Kyle (2000), “The Historical Christ—Fact or Fiction,” Reason and Revelation, 20:1-6, January, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/157.
Butt, Kyle (2002), “Jesus Christ—Dead or Alive?” Reason & Revelation, 22:9-15, February, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/121.
Butt, Kyle (2004a), “Archaeology and the Old Testament,” Reason and Revelation, 24:17-23, March, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2502.
Butt, Kyle (2004b), “Archaeology and the New Testament,” Reason and Revelation, 24:89-95, October, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2591.
Clements, Tad S. (1990), Science vs. Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Curr, Henry S. (1941), “The Intrinsic Credibility of Biblical Miracles,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 98:470-479, October.
Habermas, Gary (2001), “Why I Believe the Miracles of Jesus Actually Happened,” Why I am a Christian, eds. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).
Josephus, Flavius (1987), The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whitson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Kearley, F. Furman (1976), “The Miracles of Jesus,” Firm Foundation, 93:4, July 6.
The Lost Books of the Bible (1979 reprint), (New York, NY: Random House).
Maier, Paul L. (1991), In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins).
Sagan, Carl (1980), Cosmos (New York: Random House).
Shachter, Jacob, trans. (1994), The Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin Tractate (London: Soncino Press).
Thompson, Bert (2001), In Defense of the Bible’s Inspiration (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), second edition.
Thompson, Bert (2003), The Case for the Existence of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Witmer, John (1973), “The Doctrine of Miracles,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 130:126-134, April.