According to the bible, Jesus was followed by “throngs”. Virtually everywhere he went, people came out by the hundreds, even thousands, to catch a glimpse of him. Or to hear him speak. Or to touch his robe. Or to be healed. Or to witness a miracle. The news even reached the religious and political authorities and intrigued them.
According to the bible, many people witnessed these miracles, or at least heard about them. Unfortunately, the only evidence we have of these events is the bible itself, which for many reasons can’t be counted on for historical accuracy. At least not entirely. When we look at other documents from that era we find nothing that indicates there was a man named Yeshua performing such miracles (Josephus references him, but not any miracles).
History is mostly guess work and filtered through the biases of many people. So it’s difficult to be certain about anything from that far back. Especially given that there were no printing presses or recording devices. Everything was passed on by word of mouth and often flavored with exaggeration and altered because of personal biases and misinterpretations.
For at least 20 years, stories about Jesus were passed on by word of mouth before anyone wrote them down (as far as we know). And each document, when it was copied, was copied by hand. This went on for hundreds of years. The oldest manuscripts we know about were written more than one-hundred years after the life of Jesus, and they are copies of copes of copies . . .
We have very little basis for accepting the miracle stories of the bible as fact. We have every reason to be skeptical. It’s not just the lack of evidence, it’s also inconsistent with common sense and with what we’ve experienced in our own life.
(don’t worry, this post has a positive ending.)
According to the bible, much of the population of Judea knew of Jesus and was aware that he was purportedly performing miraculous healings and other wonders. The bible also tells us that Jesus said his followers would be able to do the same thing. He had sent the apostles out to do such things, but they were unsuccessful. Jesus said that those who have enough faith would be able to do what he did, and more.
If the news media, the internet, and smart phones had existed at that time, news of Jesus miraculous acts would have been even more ubiquitous than they were. After all, Judea was a small country, with a relatively small population. If Jesus were to appear in present day Israel or Palestine doing the things he supposedly did in the first century, it wouldn’t only be all over the Israeli news, it would make international news, and it would be all over the internet. He would take the world by storm in such in interconnected world where virtually anyone can have their own media channel and post videos within minutes. And politicians, academics, scientists, medical doctors and the like would be studying him.
Yet with over 2 billion people on the planet identifying themselves as Christians, we hear virtually nothing about miraculous healings being performed by followers of Christ (save for the likes of Benny Hinn and a few others whose works we can’t verify). How often do you hear about someone being raised from the dead? When is the last time you saw it on a news network or even on YouTube? We hear about such things through word of mouth only. Which is strange since we live in an age of mass media and where almost half the people on the planet carry around video cameras.
Why are there not Christ’s all over the world performing miracles, with swarms of people and media following them? Instead all we hear about are dubious reports. When is the last time you saw a Christian perform a miracle on a street corner, or in the local mall? It should be happening all the time and virtually everywhere. And there would be little doubt of their legitimacy. Remember, approximately 33% of the world population identify as Christian. Jesus, with no technology or media available, was supposedly known as a healer all over the country and other parts of the Mediterranean.
Even if only a fraction, say just 10% of today’s 2.4 billion Christians world-wide are true believers, we’re still talking about 200 million potential miracle workers. Where are the miracles?
I used to go to a Pentecostal church. I attended services at that church for eight years. It was a church where most people believed wholeheartedly in miracles (myself included). Many people in my family are also believers. But in my forty years on this planet I have witnessed exactly zero miraculous healings, zero people raised form the dead, zero loaves of bread or fish feeding thousands of people, zero barrels of water turned into wine, zero mountains moved, and so on.
But I’ve seen a video of illusionists catching bullets with their teeth (video here) and women sawed in half and put them back together. Magicians/Illusionists have learned how to exploit gaps in human perception. And it works. So even if you do witness a miracle, especially one involving people you don’t know, you have every reason to be skeptical. If magicians can fool you, so can phony faith healers and other “miracle workers” (a famous example here).
One more point to consider: it appears, to me, that the miracles in the bible are limited to things that are somewhat believable. For instance, there are no stories about people growing a new leg after an amputation, or someone growing a new head after a decapitation. If stories like that were in the bible, especially the New Testament, we would be less likely to believe them. And the older the story, the wilder the miracles seem to be. In other words, the Old Testament miracles are more miraculous than the New Testament miracles. This could be a sign of a change in culture, or it could be that it’s easier to tell fictitious stories about the distant past than it is to say they happened in more contemporary times. The older the story, the taller the tale can get.
That’s just a speculation on my part, but it’s peculiar that the miracles of the New Testament are all somewhat believable. If someone told you Benny Hinn gave them a new head after being decapitated in a car accident, or if someone told you they are ten-thousand years old, or that they once made Mountain Everest jump into the Pacific Ocean, you wouldn’t believe them. But if they said they were once blind and now they can see, you might believe them. It seems more plausible. The New Testament miracles seem to coincide with this logic.
So what should we make of the miracles in the bible? I think the evidence suggests they’re almost certainly not true. I wish they were true. I used to believe they were. When I finally realized they weren’t I was disappointed. It’s okay to say they might be true, but we also need to be honest with ourselves and admit that they’re probably not.
We also can’t know for sure why they’re in the bible. Were they deliberate lies, meant to deceive? Or were they meant to be metaphorical, to illustrate a point? We can’t know for sure, but we can confidently say that the bible does contain some valuable insights. So we shouldn’t discard it. Jesus is still a wonderful example of how a human being should be, in terms of being a peaceful person who cares about others, and who considered himself in union with God. The New Testament gives us a view of God that is quite different from the way God is often described in religion. If God is the way Jesus was, that’s good news indeed. I think that’s something worth hanging on to.