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The Raising of Lazarus, (c. 1410) folio 171r from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Musée Condé, France.

A miracle is an unexpected event attributed to divine intervention. Sometimes an event is also attributed (in part) to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles.[1] Theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.[2]

A miracle is often considered a fortuitous event: compare with an Act of God.

In casual usage, "miracle" may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event, (such as the survival of a natural disaster) or even which regarded as "wonderful" regardless of its likelihood, such as birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds.' Some coincidences are perceived to be miracles.[3]


Supernatural acts

In one view, a miracle is a phenomenon not fully explainable by known "laws" of nature, or an act by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force. Some scientist-theologians such as Polkinghorne suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".[4]

The logic behind an event being deemed a miracle varies significantly. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. However, C.S. Lewis noted that one cannot believe a miracle occurred if one had already drawn a conclusion in one's mind that miracles are not possible at all. He cites[citation needed] the example of a woman he knew who had seen a ghost, who had discounted her experience; claiming it to be some sort of hallucination (because she did not believe in ghosts).

Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, and cite this as evidence for the existence of a god or gods. However, atheist Richard Dawkins criticises this kind of thinking as a subversion of Occam's Razor.[5] Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.[citation needed]

Finally, miracles would contradict the hypothesis of the Non Overlapping Magisteria proposed by Stephen Jay Gould, in that they would both be evidence for supernatural beings in the theological magisterium, and also subject to scientific investigation.

Religious texts

Hebrew Bible

Descriptions of miracles (Hebrew Ness, נס) appear in the Tanakh.

New Testament

See also Miracles attributed to Jesus.

The descriptions of most miracles in the Christian New Testament are often the same as the commonplace definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature. In St John's Gospel the miracles are referred to as "signs" and the emphasis is on God demonstrating his underlying normal activity in remarkable ways.[6]

Jesus is recorded as having turned water into wine, fed a multitude by turning a loaf of bread into many loaves of bread, and raised the dead. Jesus is also described as rising from the dead himself, with God his father having raised him. Jesus explains in the New Testament that miracles are performed by faith in God. "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there' and it will move." (Gospel of Matthew 17:20). After Jesus returned to heaven, the book of Acts records the disciples of Jesus praying to God to grant that miracles be done in his name, for the purpose of convincing onlookers that he is alive. (Acts 4:29-31). Other passages mention false prophets who will be able to perform miracles to deceive "if possible, even the elect of Christ" (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thes 2:9, Revelation 13:13).


Miracle in the Qur'an can be defined as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings.[7] According to this definition, Miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation."[7] The Qur'an does not use the technical Arabic word for miracle (Muʿd̲j̲iza) literally meaning "that by means of which [the Prophet] confounds, overwhelms, his opponents". It rather uses the term 'Ayah'(literally meaning sign).[8] The term Ayah is used in the Qur'an in the above mentioned threefold sense: it refers to the "verses" of the Qur'an (believed to be the divine speech in human language; presented by Muhammad as his chief Miracle); as well as to miracles of it and the signs(particularly those of creation).[7][8]

In order to defend the possibility of miracles and God's omnipotence against the encroachment of the independent secondary causes, some medieval Muslim theologians such as Al-Ghazali rejected the idea of cause and effect in essence, but accepted it as something that facilitates humankind's investigation and comprehension of natural processes. They argued that the nature was composed of uniform atoms that were "re-created" at every instant by God. Thus if the soil was to fall, God would have to create and re-create the accident of heaviness for as long as the soil was to fall. For Muslim theologians, the laws of nature were only the customary sequence of apparent causes: customs of God.[9]

Events planned by God

In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.

In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake (or some such other natural disaster) at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Philosophers' explanations

Fundamentally, no philosopher sticking to the scientific world view could explain the existence or not of miracles, since miracles are incompatible with it by definition. What philosophers discuss is the fact that they could be taken or not as a justification to the existence of supernatural forms of expression different from those given to reason and experience, or in minor intellectual approaches, to what is considered to be fair and unfair from a human God's perspective to be given to the common human claims for palliation of suffering.

Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian

Aristotle rejected the idea that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world. Jewish neo-Aristotelian philosophers, who are still influential today, include Maimonides, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, and Gersonides. Directly or indirectly, their views are still prevalent in much of the religious Jewish community.

Baruch Spinoza

In his Theologico-Political Treatise Spinoza claims that miracles are merely lawlike events whose causes we are ignorant of. We should not treat them as having no cause or of having a cause immediately available. Rather the miracle is for combating the ignorance it entails, like a political project. See Epistemic theory of miracles.

David Hume

According to the philosopher David Hume, a miracle is "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.".[10] The crux of his argument is this: "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavours to establish."

Søren Kierkegaard

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, following Hume and Johann Georg Hamann, a Humean scholar, agrees with Hume's definition of a miracle as a transgression of a law of nature,[11] but Kierkegaard, writing as his pseudonym Johannes Climacus, regulates any historical reports to be less than certain, including historical reports of such miracle transgressions, as all historical knowledge is always doubtful and open to approximation.[12]

James Keller

James Keller, along with many other philosophers, states that "The claim that God has worked a miracle implies that God has singled out certain persons for some benefit which many others do not receive implies that God is unfair.”[13] An example would be "If God intervenes to save your life in a car crash, then what was He doing in Auschwitz?". Thus an all-powerful, all-knowing and just God, predicated in Christianity, would not perform miracles.

Nonliteral interpretations of the biblical story

These views are held by both classical and modern thinkers.

In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this biblical story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions. (Of course, such dreams and visions could themselves be considered miracles.)

Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."

Products of creative art and social acceptance

In this view, miracles do not really occur. Rather, they are the product of creative story tellers. They use them to embellish a hero or incident with a theological flavor. Using miracles in a story allows characters and situations to become bigger than life, and to stir the emotions of the listener more than the mundane and ordinary.

Misunderstood commonplace events

Littlewood's law states that individuals can expect miracles to happen to them, at the rate of about one per month. By its definition, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace. In other words, miracles do not exist, but are rather examples of low probability events that are bound to happen by chance from time to time.


C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and other Christians have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible. For example, C.S. Lewis says that a miracle is something that comes totally out of the blue. If for thousands of years a woman can become pregnant only by sexual intercourse with a man, then if she were to become pregnant without a man, it would be a miracle.[14][15][16]

Religious groups

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church recognizes miracles as being works of God, either directly or through the prayers and intercession of a specific Saint or Saints. There is usually a specific purpose connected to a miracle, e.g. the conversion of a person or persons to the Catholic faith or the construction of a church desired by God. The Church tries to be very cautious to approve the validity of putative miracles. It maintains particularly stringent requirements in validating the miracle's authenticity.[17] The process is overseen by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.[18]

The Catholic Church claims to have confirmed the validity of a number of miracles, some of them occurring in modern times and having withstood the test of modern scientific scrutiny. Among the more notable miracles approved by the Church are several Eucharistic miracles wherein the Sacred Host is transformed visibly into Christ's living Flesh and Blood, bleeds, hovers in the air, radiates light, and/or displays the image of Christ. The first example of the Host being visibly changed into human flesh and blood occurred at Lanciano, Italy around 700 A.D. Unlike some miracles of a more transient nature, the Flesh and Blood remain in Lanciano to this day, having been scientifically examined as recently as 1971.

According to 17th-century documents, a young Spanish man's leg was miraculously restored to him in 1640 after having been amputated two and a half years earlier[19] (see miracle of Calanda).

Another miracle claimed valid by the Church is the Miracle of the Sun, which occurred near Fátima, Portugal on October 13, 1917. Anywhere between 70,000 and 100,000 people, who were gathered at a cove near Fátima, witnessed the sun dim, change colors, spin, dance about in the sky, and appear to plummet to earth, radiating great heat in the process. After the ten-minute event, the ground and the people's clothing, which had been drenched by a previous rainstorm, were both dry.

In addition to these, the Catholic Church attributes miraculous causes to many otherwise inexplicable phenomena on a case-by-case basis. Only after all other possible explanations have proven inadequate may the Church assume Divine intervention and declare the miracle worthy of veneration by the faithful. The Church does not, however, enjoin belief in any extra-Scriptural miracle as an article of faith or as necessary for salvation.


There have been numerous claims of miracles in Christendom. Mainline protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians accept spiritual gifts, including healing and the working of miracles. Some of the types of miracles that are claimed to occur in modern times are healings, casting out demons, multiplying food, etc.


The Hindu milk miracle was a phenomenon considered by many Hindus as a miracle which occurred on September 21, 1995.



The Buddha is said to have performed miracles such as walking on water; however, understanding the workings of the skeptical mind, the Buddha replied to a request for miracles:

...I dislike, reject and despise them,[20]

and refused to comply. (see Miracles of Gautama Buddha)



The Roman emperor Vespasian was credited with having performed several miracles. According to stories recorded by the Roman historians Dio Cassius and Tacitus, Vespasian worked several healing miracles, while visiting the shrine of Sarapis in Egypt. Among these miracles, Vespasian is credited with healing a blind man and restoring another man's crippled hand (Tacitus Histories 4.81).[21] It should be noted that these "miracles" of Vespasian were performed after consulting with human physicians that the infirmities were in fact within the reach of human skill (Tacitus Histories 4.81).[22]

Apollonius of Tyana

According to his later biographer, Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana possessed extraordinary gifts, including innate knowledge of all languages, the ability to foretell the future, and the ability to see across great distances. Apollonius's possession of divine wisdom also endowed him with the ability to heal the sick and demon-possessed, and Philostratus narrates the miraculous quality of a number of these cures and exorcisms.[21]

Other religions

Followers of the Indian gurus Sathya Sai Baba and Swami Premananda claim that they routinely perform miracles. The dominant view among skeptics is that these are predominantly sleight of hand or elaborate magic tricks.

Some modern religious groups claim ongoing occurrence of miraculous events. While some miracles have been proven to be fraudulent (see Peter Popoff for an example) others (such as the Paschal Fire in Jerusalem) have not proven susceptible to analysis. Some groups are far more cautious about proclaiming apparent miracles genuine than others, although official sanction, or the lack thereof, rarely has much effect on popular belief.

Dismissal, disbelief and skepticism

Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, wrote “All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for impostors to preach and fools to believe”.[23]

Thomas Jefferson, principle author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, edited a version of the Bible in which he removed sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists.[24] [25] Jefferson wrote, "The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, [footnote: e.g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc. —T.J.] invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning."[26]

Robert Ingersoll wrote, "Not 20 people were convinced by the reported miracles of Christ, and yet people of the nineteenth century were coolly asked to be convinced on hearsay by miracles which those who are supposed to have seen them refused to credit."[27]

Writer Christopher Hitchens, when asked for his favorite Bible story replied “Casting the first stone” is a lovely story, even though we’ve found out how much it wasn’t in the Bible to begin with. And the first of the miracles. Jesus changes water into wine. You can’t object to that."[28]

John Adams, second President of the United States, wrote, "The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?"[29]

Elbert Hubbard, American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher, wrote "A miracle is an event described by those to whom it was told by people who did not see it."[30]

American Revolutionary War patriot and hero Ethan Allen wrote "In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue."[31]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Sproule, R C (1992). Essential Truths of the Chistian Faith. Tyndale. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-8423-2001-6. 
  2. ^ McLaughlin, R (May 2002). "Do Miracles Happen Today?". IIIM Online. Reformed Perspectives Magazine. http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/ra_mclaughlin/TH.Mclaughlin.miracles.html. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  3. ^ Halbersam, Yitta (1997). Small Miracles. Adams Media Corp. ISBN 1-55850-646-2. 
  4. ^ John Polkinghorne Faith, Science and Understanding p59
  5. ^ The God Delusion
  6. ^ see e.g. Polkinghorne op cit. and any pretty well any commentary on the Gospel of John, such as William Temple Readings in St John's Gospel (see e.g. p 33) or Tom Wright's John for Everyone
  7. ^ a b c Denis Gril, Miracles, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  8. ^ a b A.J. Wensinck, Muʿd̲j̲iza, Encyclopedia of Islam
  9. ^ Robert G. Mourison, The Portrayal of Nature in a Medieval Qur’an Commentary, Studia Islamica, 2002
  10. ^ Miracles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  11. ^ Hume and Kierkegaard by Richard Popkin
  12. ^ Kierkegaard on Miracles
  13. ^ Keller, James. “A Moral Argument against Miracles,” Faith and Philosophy. vol. 12, no 1. Jan 1995. 54-78
  14. ^ "Are Miracles Logically Impossible?". Come Reason Ministries, Convincing Christianity. http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi060.asp. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  15. ^ "“Miracles are not possible,” some claim. Is this true?". ChristianAnswers.net. http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t011.html. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  16. ^ Paul K. Hoffman. "A Jurisprudential Analysis Of Hume’s “in Principal” Argument Against Miracles" (PDF). Christian Apologetics Journal, Volume 2, No. 1, Spring, 1999; Copyright ©1999 by Southern Evangelical Seminary. http://www.ses.edu/journal/articles/2.1Hoffman.pdf. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  17. ^ Pathfinder.com
  18. ^ 30giorni.it (Italian)
  19. ^ Messori, Vittorio (2000): Il miracolo. Indagine sul più sconvolgente prodigio mariano. - Rizzoli: Bur.
  20. ^ The Long Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Dīgha Níkāya by Maurice Walshe
  21. ^ a b Religion in the Roman World
  22. ^ MU.edu
  23. ^ The Writings of Thomas Paine, Volume 4, page 289, Putnam & Sons, 1896
  24. ^ Jeremy Kosselak (November 1998). The Exaltation of a Reasonable Deity: Thomas Jefferson’s Bible of Christianity. (Communicated by: Dr. Patrick Furlong). Indiana University South Bend - Department of History. IUSB.edu, Retrieved 2007-02-19
  25. ^ R.P. Nettelhorst. Notes on the Founding Fathers and the Separation of Church and State. Quartz Hill School of Theology. Theology.edu Retrieved 2007-02-20.
  26. ^ Letter to William Short (31 October 1819), published in "The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes", Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, Vol. 12, pp. 141–142.
  27. ^ New York Times, Page 8, April 24, 1882
  28. ^ New York Magazine, April 26, 2007
  29. ^ John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
  30. ^ Elbert Hubbard, The Philistine (1909)
  31. ^ Ethan Allen, Reason, the Only Oracle of Man, 1784
  • Colin Brown. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. (Good survey).
  • Colin J. Humphreys, Miracles of Exodus. Harper, San Francisco, 2003.
  • Krista Bontrager, "It’s a Miracle! Or, is it?", Reasons.org
  • Eisen, Robert (1995). Gersonides on Providence, Covenant, and the Chosen People. State University of New York Press.
  • Goodman, Lenn E. (1985). Rambam: Readings in the Philosophy of Moses Maimonides. Gee Bee Tee.
  • Kellner, Menachem (1986). Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought. Oxford University Press.
  • C. S. Lewis. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York, Macmillan Co., 1947.
  • C. F. D. Moule (ed.). Miracles: Cambridge Studies in their Philosophy and History. London, A.R. Mowbray 1966, ©1965 (Good survey of Biblical miracles as well).
  • Graham Twelftree. Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study. IVP, 1999. (Best in its field).
  • Woodward, Kenneth L. (2000). The Book of Miracles. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82393-4.
  • M. Kamp, MD. Bruno Gröning. The miracles continue to happen. 1998, (Chapters 1 - 4), Bruno-Groening.org

Further reading

  • Houdini, Harry Miracle Mongers and Their Methods: A Complete Expose Prometheus Books; Reprint edition (March 1993) originally published in 1920 ISBN 0-87975-817-1.
  • Andrew Dickson White (1896 first edition. A classic work constantly reprinted) A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, See chapter 13, part 2, Growth of Legends of Healing: the life of Saint Francis Xavier as a typical example.

External links


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From Wikiquote

For the film, see Miracle (film)

Miracles are perceptible interruptions of the laws of nature, such that can be explained by divine intervention, and are sometimes associated with a miracle-worker.


  • A miracle is a supernatural event, whose antecedent forces are beyond our finite vision, whose design is the display of almighty power for the accomplishment of almighty purposes, and whose immediate result, as regards man, is his recognition of God as the Supreme Ruler of all things, and of His will as the only supreme law.
    • Abbott Eliot Kittredge, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 416.
  • The miracles of earth are the laws of heaven.
    • Jean Paul Richter, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 416.
  • When I look to my guiltiness, I see that my salvation is one of our Saviour's greatest miracles, either in heaven or earth.
    • Samuel Rutherford, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 416.
  • It was a great thing to open the eyes of a blind man, but it is a greater thing to open the eyes of a blind soul. It was a great thing to bring a dead body back to life, but it is a greater miracle to bring a soul dead in sin back to life. My friends have you ever felt the touch of this Jesus? Oh! that we all might feel His touch, that we might look and be healed and live.
    • Abbott Eliot Kittredge, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 416.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MIRACLE (Lat. miraculum, from mirari, to wonder), anything wonderful, beyond human power, and deviating from the common action of the laws of nature, a supernatural event. The term is particularly associated with the supernatural factors in Christianity. To the Lat. miraculum correspond Gr. 14pas in the New Testament, and Heb. (Exod. xv. 11; Dan. xii. 6) in the Old Testament. Other terms used in the New Testament are buvaµts " with reference to the power residing in the miracle worker " (cf. nil= Deut. iii. 24 and nary= Num. xvi. 30), and ogpc%ov " with reference to the character or claims of which it was the witness and guarantee " (cf. m'H Exod. iv. 8); that the power is assumed to be from God is shown by the phrases irvEiwart °ea) (Matt. xii. 28; cf. Luke iv. 18) and baeriAcp (Luke xi. 20).

While Augustine describes miracles as " contra naturam quae nobis est nota," Aquinas without qualification defines them as praeter naturam," " supra et contra naturam." Loscher affirms in regard to miracles that " solus Deus potest tum supra naturae vires turn contra naturae leges agere "; and Buddaeus argues that in them a " suspensio legum naturae " is followed by a restitutio. Against the common view that miracles can attest the truth of a divine revelation Gerhard maintained that " per miracula non possunt probari oracula "; and Hopfner returns to the qualified position of Augustine when he describes them as praeter et supra naturae ordinem." The two conceptions, once common in the Christian church, that on the one hand miracles involved an interference with the forces and a suspension of the laws of nature, and that, on the other hand, as this could be effected only by divine power, they served as credentials of a divine revelation, are now generally abandoned. As regards the first point, it is now generally held that miracles are exceptions to the order of nature as known in our common experience; and as regards the second, that miracles are constituent elements in the divine revelation, deeds which display, the divine character and purpose; but they are signs and not merely seals of truth. Some of the theories regarding miracles which have been formulated may be mentioned. Bonnet, Euler, Haller, Schmid and others " suppose miracles to be already implanted in nature. The miraculous germs always exist alongside other germs in a sort of sheath, like hidden springs in a machine, and emerge into the light when their time comes." Similar is the view of Paracelsus and Jerome Cardan, who " suppose a twofold world, existing one in the other; beside or behind the visible is an inner, ideal world, which breaks through in particular spots " (Dorner's System of Christian Doctrine, ill. 155, 156). The 8th duke of Argyll (Reign of Law) maintains that " miracles may be wrought by the selection and use of laws of which man knows and can know nothing, and which, if he did know, he could not employ." These theories endeavour to discover the means by which the exceptional occurrence is brought about; but the explanation is merely hypothetical, and we are not helped in conceiving the mode of the divine activity in the working of miracles. The important consideration from the religious standpoint is that God's activity should be fully recognized.

An attempt has been made to discover a natural law which will explain some at least of the miracles of Jesus. " In one respect alone," says Matthew Arnold, " have the miracles recorded by the evangelists a more real ground than the mass of miracles of which we have the relation. Medical science has never gauged, perhaps never enough set itself to gauge the intimate connexion between moral fault and disease. To what extent or in how many cases what is called illness is due to moral springs having been used amiss, whether by being over-used, or by not being used sufficiently, we hardly at all know, and we too little inquire. Certainly it is due to this very much more than we commonly think, and the more it is due to this the more do moral therapeutics rise in possibility and importance " (Literature and Dogma, pp. 143-144). The moral therapeutics consists in the influence of a powerful will over others. Harnack accepts this view. " We see that a firm will and a convinced faith act even on the bodily life and cause appearances which appeal to us as miracles. Who has hitherto here with certainty measured the realm of the possible and the real? Nobody. Who can say how far the influences of one soul on another soul and of the soul on the body reach? Nobody. Who can still affirm that all which in this realm appears as striking rests only on deception and error? Certainly no miracles occur, but there is enough of the wonderful and the inexplicable " (Das Wesen des Christentums, p. 18). As regards the theory, it may be pointed out: (I) that the nature or cosmical miracles - feeding of the five thousand, stilling of the storm, withering of the fig-tree - are as wellattested as the miracles of healing; (2) that many of the diseases, the cure of which is reported, are of a kind with which moral therapeutics could not effect anything; 1 (3) that Christ's own insight regarding the power by which he wrought His works is directly challenged by this explanation, for He never failed to ascribe His power to the Father dwelling in Him.

The divine agency is recognized as combining and controlling, but not as producing, in the teleological notion of miracles. " In miracle no new powers, instituted or stimulated by God's creative action, are at work, but merely the general order of nature "; but " the manifold physical and spiritual powers in actual existence so blend together as to produce a startling result " (Dorner's System of Christian Doctrine, ii. 157). While we cannot deny, we have no ground for affirming the truth of this theory. Whether God's action is creative, or only (selective and directive in miracles, is beyond our knowledge; we at least do not know the powers exercised, whether new or old.

An attempt is made to get rid of the distinctive nature of miracle when the exceptionalness of the events so regarded is reduced to a new subjective mode of regarding natural phenomena. H. E. G. Paulus dismisses the miracles as " exaggerations or misapprehensions of quite ordinary events." A. Ritschl has been unjustly charged with this treatment of miracles. But what he emphasizes is on the one hand the close connexion between the conception of miracles and the belief in divine providence, and on the other the compatibility between miracles and the order of nature. He declines to regard miracles as divine action contrary to the laws of nature. So for Schleiermacher "miracle is neither explicable from nature alone, nor entirely alien to it." What both Ritschl and Schleiermacher insist on is that the belief in miracles is inseparable from the belief in God, and in God as immanent in nature, not only directing and controlling its existent forces, but also as initiating new stages consistent with the old in its progressive development.

We may accept Dorner's definition as adequate and satisfactory. " Miracles are sensuously cognizable events, not comprehensible on the ground of the causality of nature as such, but essentially on the ground of God's free action alone. Such facts find their possibility in the constitution of nature and God's living relation to it, their necessity in the aim of revelation, which they subserve " (p. 161). By the first clause, inward moral and religious changes due to the operation of the Spirit of God in man are excluded, and 1 See also R. J. Ryle, " The Neurotic Theory of the Miracles of Healing," Hibbert Journal, v. 586.

rightly so (see Inspiration). The negative aspect is presented in the second clause. This is prominent in J. S. Mill's definition of miracles: " to constitute a miracle, a phenomenon must take place without having been preceded by any antecedent phenomenal conditions sufficient again to reproduce it. ... The test of a miracle is, were there present in the case such external conditions, such second causes we may call them, that wherever these conditions or causes reappear the event will be reproduced. If there were, it is not a miracle; if there were not, it is " (Essays, p. 224). The positive aspect is presented in the third clause. When the existence of God is denied (atheism), or His nature is declared unknowable (agnosticism), or He is identified with nature itself (pantheism), or He is so distinguished from the world that His free action is excluded from the course of nature (deism), miracle is necessarily denied. Thus Spinoza, identifying God and nature, declares " nothing happens in nature which is in contradiction with its universal laws. The deists, compelled by their view of the relation of God to nature to regard miracles as interventions, disposed of the miracles of the Bible either as " mistaken allegory " or even as conscious fraud on k the part of the narrators. It is only the theistic view of God as personal power - that is as free-wild ever present and ever active in the world, which leaves room for miracles.

The possibility of miracles is often confidently denied. " We are of the unalterable conviction," says Harnack, " that what happens in time and space is subject to the universal laws of movement; that accordingly there cannot be any miracles in this sense, i.e. as interruptions of the continuity of nature " (Das Wesen des Christentums, p. 17). Huxley expresses himself much more cautiously, as he recognizes that we do not know the continuity of nature so thoroughly as to be able to declare that this or that event is necessarily an interruption of it. " If a dead man did come to life, the fact would be evidence, not that any law of nature had been violated, but that these laws, even when they express the results of a very long and uniform experience, are necessarily based on incomplete knowledge, and are to be held only on grounds of more or less justifiable expectation " (Hume, p. 135).

Lotze has shown how the possibility of miracle can be conceived. " The whole course of nature becomes intelligible only by supposing the co-working of God, who alone carries forward the reciprocal action of the different parts of the world. But that view which admits a life of God that is not benumbed in an unchangeable sameness will be able to understand his eternal co-working as a variable quantity, the transforming influence of which comes forth at particular moments and attests that the course of nature is not shut up within itself. And this being the case, the complete conditioning causes of the miracle will be found in God and nature together, and in that eternal action and reaction between them which perhaps, although not ordered simply according to general laws, is not void of regulative principles. This vital, as opposed to a mechanical, constitution of nature, together with the conceptions of nature as not complete in itself - as if it were dissevered from the divine energy - shows how a miracle may take place without any disturbance elsewhere of the constancy of nature, all whose forces are affected sympathetically, with the consequence that its orderly movement goes on unhindered " (Mikrokosmos, iii. 364).

The mode of the divine working in nature is in another passage more clearly defined.

" The closed and i hard circle of mechanical necessity is not immediately accessible to the miracle-working fiat, nor does it need to be; but the inner nature of that which obeys its laws is not determined by it but by the meaning of the world. This is the open place on which a power that commands in the name of this meaning can exert its influence; and if under this command the inner condition of the elements, the magnitudes of their relation and their opposition to each other, become altered, the necessity of the mechanical cause of the world must unfold this new state into a miraculous appearance, not through suspension but through strict maintenance of its general laws " (op. cit. ii. 54) If we conceive God as personal, and His will as related to the course of nature analogously to the relation of the human will to the human body, then the laws of nature may be regarded as habits of the divine activity, and miracles as unusual acts which, while consistent with the divine character, mark a new stage in the fulfilment of the purpose of God.

The doctrine of Evolution, instead of increasing the difficulty of conceiving the possibility of miracle, decreases it; for it presents to us the universe as an uncompleted process, and one in which there is no absolute continuity on the phenomenal side; for life and mind are inexplicable by their physical antecedents, and there is not only room for, but need of, the divine initiative, a creative as well as conservative co-operation of God with nature. Such an absolute continuity is sometimes assumed without warrant; but Descartes already recognized that the world was no continuous process, " Tria mirabilia fecit Dominus; res ex nihilo, liberum arbitrium et hominem Deum." That life cannot be explained by force is recognized by Sir Oliver Lodge. " Life may be something not only ultra-terrestrial, but even immaterial, something outside our present categories of matter and energy; as real as they are, but different, and utilizing them for its own purpose " (Life and Matter, p. 198), The theory of psychophysical parallelism recognizes that while there is a correspondence between mental and material phenomena, changes in the mind and changes in the brain, the former cannot be explained by the latter, as the transition from the one to the other is unthinkable. William James distinguishes the transmissive function of the brain from the productive in relation to thought, and admits only the former, and not the latter (Human Immortality, p. 32). Thus as life is transcendent and yet immanent in body, and mind in brain, and both utilize their organs, so God, transcendent and immanent, uses the course of nature for His own ends; and the emergence both of life and mind in that course of nature evidences such a divine initiative as is assumed in the recognition of the possibility of miracles. For such an initiative there must be adequate reason; it must be prepared for in the previous process, and it must be necessary to further progress.

The proof of the possibility of miracle leads us inevitably to the inquiry regarding the necessity of miracle. The necessity of miracles is displayed in their connexion with the divine revelation; but this connexion may be conceived in two ways. The miracles may be regarded as the credentials of the agents of divine revelation. " It is an acknowledged historical fact," says Butler, " that Christianity offered itself to the world, and demanded to be received, upon the allegation - i.e. as unbelievers would speak - upon the pretence of miracles, publicly wrought to attest the truth of it, in such an age; and that it was actually received by great numbers in that very age, and upon the professed belief of the reality of miracles " (Analogy, part ii. ch. vii.). This view is now generally abandoned; for it is recognized that acts of superhuman power, even if established by adequate historical evidence, do not necessarily certify their divine origin. Their moral quality must correspond with the character of God; and they must be connected with teaching which to reason and conscience approves itself divine. " Miracula sine doctrina nihil valent " is the principle now generally recognized. The miracle and the doctrine mutually illuminate one another. " Les miracles discernent la doctrine, et la doctrine discerne les miracles " (Pascal's Pense'es des miracles). Accordingly, the credentials must also be constituents of the revelation. Of the miracles of Jesus, Bushnell says, " The character of Jesus is ever shining with and through them, in clear self-evidence leaving them never to stand as raw wonders only of might, but covering them with glory as tokens of a heavenly love, and acts that only suit the proportions of His personal greatness and majesty " (Nature and the Supernatural, p. 364). If it be asked why the character may not be displayed in ordinary acts instead of miracles, the answer may be given, "Miracle is the certificate of identity between the Lord of Nature and the Lord of Conscience - the proof that He is really a moral being who subordinates physical to moral interests " (Liddens' Elements of Religion, p. 73). As God is the Saviour, and the chief end of the revelation is redemption, it is fitting that the miracles should be acts of divine deliverance from physical evil. This congruity of the miracle with divine truth and grace is the answer to Matthew Arnold's taunt about turning a pen into a pen-wiper or Huxley's about a centaur trotting down Regent Street. The miracles of Jesus - the relief of need, the removal of suffering, the recovery of health and strength - reveal in outward events the essential features of His divine mission. The divine wisdom and goodness are revealed in the course of nature, but also obscured by it. The existence of physical evil, and still more of moral evil, forbids the assumption without qualification that the real is the rational. God in nature as well as history is fulfilling a redemptive as well as perfective purpose, of which these miracles are appropriate signs. It is an unwarranted idealism and optimism which finds the course of nature so wise and so good that any change in it must be regarded as incredible. On the problem of evil and sin it is impossible here to enter; but this must be insisted on, that the miracles of Jesus at least express divine benevolence just under those conditions in which the course of nature obscures it, and are therefore, proper elements in a revelation of grace, of which nature cannot give any evidence.

Having discussed the possibility and necessity of miracles for the divine revelation, we must now consider i,whether there is sufficient historical evidence for their occurrence. Hume maintains that no evidence, such as is available, can make a miracle credible. Mill states the position with due care. " The question can be stated fairly as depending on a balance of evidence, a certain amount of positive evidence in favour of miracles, and a negative presumption from the general course of human experience against them " (Essays on Religion, p. 221). The existence of " a certain amount of positive evidence in favour of miracles " forbids the sweeping statement that miracles are " contrary to experience." The phrase itself is, as Paley has pointed out, ambiguous. If it means all experience it assumes the point to be proved; if it means only common experience then it simply asserts that the miracle is unusual - a truism. The probability of miracles depends on the conception we have of the free relation of God to nature, and of nature as the adequate organ for the fulfilment of God's purposes. If we believe in a divine revelation and redemption, transcending the course of nature, the miracles as signs of that divine purpose will not seem improbable.

For the Christian Church the miracles of Jesus are of primary importance; and the evidence - external and internal - in their favour may be said to be sufficient to justify belief. The Gospels assumed their present form between A.D. 60 and go. Their representation of the moral character, the religious consciousness, the teaching of Jesus, inspires confidence. The narratives of miracles are woven into the very texture of this representation. In these acts Jesus reveals Himself as Saviour. " The Jesus Christ presented to us in the New Testament would become a very different person if the miracles were removed " (Temple's Relations between Religion and Science). In His sinless perfection and filial relation to God He is unique, and His works are congruous with His Person. Of the supreme miracle of His resurrection there is earlier evidence' than of any of the others (1 Cor. xv. 3-7, before A.D. 58). His conquest of death is most frequently appealed to in the apostolic teaching. The Christian Church would never have come into existence without faith in the Risen Lord. The proof of the supernaturalness of His Person sets the seal to the credibility of His. supernatural works. In Christ, however, was the fulfilment of law and prophecy. This close connexion invests the antecedent. revelation in some degree with the supernaturalness of His Person: at least, we are prepared to entertain without prejudice any evidence. that may be presented in the Old Testament. That this evidence is not as good as that for the miracles of Jesus must be conceded, as much of it is of much later date than the events recorded. The miracles connected with the beginnings of the national history - the period of the Exodus - appear on closer inspection to have been ordinarily natural phenomena, to which a supernatural character was given by their connexion with the prophetic word of Moses. The miracles recorded of Elijah and Elisha lie somewhat apart from the main currents of the history, the narratives themselves are distinct from the historical works in which they have been incorporated, and the character of some of the actions raises serious doubts and difficulties. In some cases suspense of judgment seems necessary even from the standpoint of Christian faith. The supernatural element that is prominent in the Old Testament is God's providential guidance and guardianship of His people, and His teaching and training of them by His prophets. The Apostolic miracles, to which the New Testament bears evidence, were wrought in the power of Christ, and were evidences to His church and to the world of His continued presence. When the Church had established itself in the world, and possessed in its moral and religious. fruits evidence of its claims, these outward signs appear gradually to have ceased, although attempts were made to perpetuate them. It is true that in Roman Catholicism, in medieval as in modern times, the working of miracles has been ascribed to its saints; but the character of most of these miracles is such as to lack the a priori probability which has been claimed for the Scripture miracles. on account of their connexion and congruity with the divine revelation. The a posteriori evidence as regards both its moral and religious quality and its date is altogether inferior to the evidence of the Gospels. Further, these records are imitative. As Christ and the apostles worked miracles, it is assumed that those who in the Church were distinguished for their sanctity would also work miracles; and there can be little doubt that the wish was often father to the thought. There may be cases which cannot be explained in this way; but " whatever may be thought about them, it is plain that even if these and their like are really to be traced to the intervention of the divine mercy which loves to reward a. simple faith (and it does not seem to us that the evidence is sufficient to establish such a conclusion), yet they do not serve as vehicles of revelation as the miracles of the Gospel did " (H. J. Bernard in Hastings's Bible Dictionary, iii. 395). (A. E. G.*)

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an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message (Jn 2:18; Mt 12:38). It is an occurrence at once above nature and above man. It shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power.

"The suspension or violation of the laws of nature involved in miracles is nothing more than is constantly taking place around us. One force counteracts another: vital force keeps the chemical laws of matter in abeyance; and muscular force can control the action of physical force. When a man raises a weight from the ground, the law of gravity is neither suspended nor violated, but counteracted by a stronger force. The same is true as to the walking of Christ on the water and the swimming of iron at the command of the prophet. The simple and grand truth that the universe is not under the exclusive control of physical forces, but that everywhere and always there is above, separate from and superior to all else, an infinite personal will, not superseding, but directing and controlling all physical causes, acting with or without them." God ordinarily effects his purpose through the agency of second causes; but he has the power also of effecting his purpose immediately and without the intervention of second causes, i.e., of invading the fixed order, and thus of working miracles. Thus we affirm the possibility of miracles, the possibility of a higher hand intervening to control or reverse nature's ordinary movements.

In the New Testament these four Greek words are principally used to designate miracles: (1.) Semeion, a "sign", i.e., an evidence of a divine commission; an attestation of a divine message (Mt 12:38, 39; 16:1, 4; Mk 8:11; Lk 11:16; 23:8; Jn 2:11, 18, 23; Acts 6:8, etc.); a token of the presence and working of God; the seal of a higher power.

  1. Terata, "wonders;" wonder-causing events; portents; producing astonishment in the beholder (Acts 2:19).
  2. Dunameis, "might works;" works of superhuman power (Acts 2:22; Rom 15:19; 2 Thes 2:9); of a new and higher power.
  3. Erga, "works;" the works of Him who is "wonderful in working" (Jn 5:20, 36).

Miracles are seals of a divine mission. The sacred writers appealed to them as proofs that they were messengers of God. Our Lord also appealed to miracles as a conclusive proof of his divine mission (Jn 5:20, 36; 10:25, 38). Thus, being out of the common course of nature and beyond the power of man, they are fitted to convey the impression of the presence and power of God. Where miracles are there certainly God is. The man, therefore, who works a miracle affords thereby clear proof that he comes with the authority of God; they are his credentials that he is God's messenger. The teacher points to these credentials, and they are a proof that he speaks with the authority of God. He boldly says, "God bears me witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles."

The credibility of miracles is established by the evidence of the senses on the part of those who are witnesses of them, and to all others by the testimony of such witnesses. The witnesses were competent, and their testimony is trustworthy. Unbelievers, following Hume, deny that any testimony can prove a miracle, because they say miracles are impossible. We have shown that miracles are possible, and surely they can be borne witness to. Surely they are credible when we have abundant and trustworthy evidence of their occurrence. They are credible just as any facts of history well authenticated are credible. Miracles, it is said, are contrary to experience. Of course they are contrary to our experience, but that does not prove that they were contrary to the experience of those who witnessed them. We believe a thousand facts, both of history and of science, that are contrary to our experience, but we believe them on the ground of competent testimony. An atheist or a pantheist must, as a matter of course, deny the possibility of miracles; but to one who believes in a personal God, who in his wisdom may see fit to interfere with the ordinary processes of nature, miracles are not impossible, nor are they incredible. (See LIST OF MIRACLES, Appendix.)

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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This article needs to be merged with MIRACLE (Jewish Encyclopedia).
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Simple English

A Miracle could mean one of three things:

  1. A beneficial, very unusual event which does not break any physical laws.
  2. A beneficial, very unusual event which does break physical laws.
  3. An event or act brought about by a God or supernatural force.

For example, a miracle under the first definition would be winning the lottery. A person who wins a state lottery would think it's a miracle that he won a lottery jackpot, but this would involve no violation of the laws of nature. People often win the lottery, but it is not very likely.

A miracle under the second definition would be like a person being able to leap a tall building in a single bound. A violation of the physical law of gravity would have occurred.

A miracle under the third definition would be an act by God, where God's presence would be known during a miracle. The Bible, Koran, Mahabarata and the Avesta contains many references to this definition of miracle. An example from the Bible would be a man crippled since birth getting up and walking after Jesus told him to do so.

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