JESUS AND THE SO-CALLED MIRACLES
In a pamphlet called "George Fox's Book of Miracles" it is
asserted that miracles are necessary in order to establish
a new religion and that Jesus himself considered the healings
and other events that took place in his presence as an
important part of establishing his ministry and authority.
i do not accept the first of those assertions, but since
the statement belongs to the class of philosophical and
sociological speculations i shall not try to disprove it
here. Suffice it to say that in order for a religion to be
true and useful it must be true and useful to others in spite
of any unexplained wonders which took place around the
founder, since most of those others never had and never will
have a chance to see those wonders personally.
but the other of the two statements can be disproved quite
easily and thoroughly by examining the text of the Gospels
and its echoes in other early writings. What i shall attempt
to show here is that Yeshua never claimed the healings and
other wonders that took place in his presence as "miracles"
that he never considered them as important or necessary or
any part of his mission and teachings, and that this can be
proved by careful examination of the texts of the gospels.
There are 17 healings reported in the Synoptic gospels Mark
Matthew, and Luke as having taken place in the presence of
Yeshua. There are only 4 such healings reported in the gospel
of John, none of which match those reported in the Synoptic
gospels, although three of which approximately match three
of the 17 but have conflicting details regarding place
person, time sequence, and the nature of Yeshua's
participation. The 17 healings are:
1. Simon's mother-in-law, found in Mark, Matthew, and Luke.
2. The leper, found in all three Synoptics.
3. The paralytic or palsied man, found in all three.
4. The man with a withered hand, found in all three.
5. The centurion's servant, found only in Luke and Matthew.
6. The young man of Nain, found only in Luke.
7. The woman with an issue of blood, found in all three.
8. Jairus' daughter, found in all three.
9. Two blind men, found only in Matthew.
10. A deaf mute, found only in Matthew.
11. The Syrophenician woman's daughter, only in Mark and Matthew.
12. A deaf mute, found only in Mark.
13. A blind man, found only in Mark.
14. The epileptic youth, found in all three.
15. The woman healed of a bent spine, found only in Luke.
16. The man healed of dropsy, found only in Luke.
17. The blind man of Jericho, found in all three.
In all but four of these reports, Yeshua makes no comment
whatsoever that can be interpreted as having anything to do
with his teaching. Of the four where he is reported as
having commented, one is the dispute over forgiveness in the
healing of the paralytic, and the other three are in the
healings in the synagogue on the sabbath, where his emphasis
is on the obligation to do good on the sabbath. His saying
in the healing of the paralytic, The son of man has power on
earth to forgive sins, has been traditionally interpreted as
referring to himself as having that power, but there is
nothing that limits that power to him alone; the term "son
of man" can be translated from the Hebrew as referring to any
human being. While it is capitalized in the King James
version, there is noplace in the gospels where Jesus asserts
that it is a unique and spiritual designation for himself
alone; and Ezekiel and others in the Old Testament report
that God addresses them as "son of man".
But the important thing to notice is that in none of
these healings does Yeshua say anything that can be interpreted
to mean, This is done because of me and to prove that i'm a
divine teacher. And even more important than this is the
fact that in 6 of these healings, he tells the person or
everyone who hears that "it is your faith which has healed you"
and in 5 of them he also tells them to TELL NO ONE, which
clearly means that he did not consider the healing important
as a proof of his mission, if no one was to know of it. In
two of them he also uses surgical means to effect the cure
spitting on his fingers and sticking a finger in the man's
ear, which would seem to mean that it was not even a miracle
in the supernatural sense of the word.
To summarize, all of these healings demonstrate that
Yeshua did not consider any healings which took place in his
presence as a demonstration of the validity of his teachings:
he either says nothing at all, or he tells them to tell no
one that they were healed by him, and/or he tells them that
it was their faith which healed them, or finally, he cites
a humane ethic which prompts and justifies that healing, as
in the question of the healings on the sabbath.
There are four occasions reported in the Synoptics (and none
in John) where Yeshua is reported as healing many people at
once, or on the same occasion. These are:
1. At Simon's mother-in-law's house, told in all three
2. By the sea of Galilee, only in Mark and echoed in
3. At Gennasaret, only in Mark and Matthew.
4. Ten lepers, while passing through Samaria and
Galilee, found in Luke only.
In the fourth of these, he again tells the one grateful
leper that it is his faith which has healed him, thus
disclaiming responsibility for the cure. The others report
no comments by Yeshua or names for anyone healed, and
therefore constitute weak evidence of anything
at best. They cannot be interpreted as having been viewed
by Yeshua as buttressing his teaching in any way.
The Acts of the Apostles reports that Jesus was "a man who
went about doing good and casting out devils". In Mark, Luke
and Matthew we find 3 reports of Jesus curing a man who is
called a "madman", and 2 occasions where "many" devils were
driven out (according to Mark) or "all of the" devils were
driven out (according to Matthew). These are:
1. In the Capernaum synagogue, where the man calls Jesus
the "son of God" and Jesus rebukes it and drives it out.
2. By the sea of Galilee, where a man is brought to Jesus
who is a blind deaf mute and possessed by a devil, who is
healed in the presence of Jesus, though no words by Jesus or
anyone else are reported.
3. The madman at Gergesa, on the eastern shore of the sea
of Galilee, who lives among the tombs and cuts himself with
stones, and also calls Jesus the "son of God", which "devil"
Jesus also orders out of the man, but then allows the
multiple devils (called "legion") to enter into a herd of
swine who plunge down the hillside and are drowned in the sea
of Galilee. This event is suspect because the Jews did not
raise pigs in Palestine.
4. On the occasion of the healing of many at Simon's
mother-in-law's home, we are told that Jesus cast out "many"
devils, and that they also called him the "son of God" and
he "rebuked" them and would not let them speak.
5. Immediately preceding the cure of the blind and mute
devil-ridden man, we are told that devils came out from many
crying out that Jesus was the "son of God", and Jesus "charged
them much" not to tell anyone that.
The most striking thing about all these reports is how
Yeshua rebukes these so-called "devils" and tells them not to
speak. Possibly that was because Jesus DID think that he was
the "son of God" (after all, the words from the sky at his
baptism at the hands of John the Baptizer said that he was
God's son) but that he didn't think it was good for his image
for that to be shouted out by madmen; but it is much more
likely that he didn't want them saying that because it wasn't
true. The report about the unfortunate man who was blind and
mute AND possessed of a devil, with no words from Jesus, can
not be accepted at face value, because there are too many
unanswered questions about the incident. Who was the man?
what became of him afterward? how can you tell that a person
who is blind and mute is "possessed of a devil"? i guess the
man couldn't have called Jesus the "son of God", if he was
mute, so Jesus wouldn't have had to rebuke him.
But if we accept that SOMETHING happened, when these
supposed madmen were confronted by Yeshua, that was described
later as "driving out the devils" or "curing their madness"
we can still see that Jesus is not reported as saying anything
about them except "Shut up, don't say that, and calm yourself."
We can then summarize the reports in Mark, Luke, and
Matthew by saying that there are 21 healings (if you include
the exorcisms), 4 occasions of group healings, and 3 occasions
of group exorcisms; and that Yeshua's words on most of these
occasions were, Your faith has healed you, and Don't tell
anyone about this, or Don't blab that nonsense to anyone
about me being the son of God; or he engages in a dispute
with the scribes and Pharisees about moral behavior, without
relating those discussions to his own person (with the
doubtful exception of the "son of man" having the power to
forgive sins); or else he does not comment at all. He
certainly doesn't say anywhere in the Synoptic gospels, This
is a sign supporting myself in my mission.
Despite the plethora of healings attributed to Yeshua in
Mark, Luke, and Matthew, with none of them claimed as a sign
of his mission in any of those three gospels, the gospel
ascribed to John contains only FOUR healings, each one
claimed as a sign, either by the author or by Jesus himself
and none of which can be found in the Synoptic gospels:
1. The nobleman's son, possibly identifiable with the
healing of the centurion's servant, claimed as a "sign" or
"wonder" by the Jesus of John.
2. The cripple by the pool of Bethesda, similar but
different in setting and details from the healing of the
paralytic and the dispute about forgiveness, the dispute
instead being over healing on the sabbath.
3. The blind beggar in Jerusalem, followed by another
dispute over healing on the sabbath; about whom Jesus says
that the man was born blind, not because his parents or
himself had sinned, but so that Jesus could work a miracle
on him, claimed (of course) as another sign by John's Jesus.
4. The raising of Lazarus, which Jesus predicts and
claims as the final sign that he is the Messiah and the Son
of God; but this event cannot be believed, because Lazarus
is not mentioned anywhere in the Synoptics, nor in the Acts
of the Apostles or the epistles of Paul, nor by any of the
early church fathers.
Thus the fourth of these reports is inadmissible, and
the other three are so contradictory and unacceptable when
contrasted with the healings reported in the Synoptics, that
nothing is left of John's supposed reports of any healings
by Jesus. Jesus' comment about the blind beggar as having
been born blind so that Jesus could cure him reaches the
height of divine cruelty, by its assumption that God would
make an innocent man suffer blindness all his life just so
that Jesus could work a miracle. I can't believe that.
We can also note that, despite the number of exorcisms
reported in Mark, Luke, and Matthew (even though we don't
know what the "demons" were), THERE ARE NO EXORCISMS reported
of Jesus or anyone else in the gospel of John. Demons are a
myth, and if these people were what nowadays we call mentally
ill, still in our own time we know that it does not take a
miracle to calm a mentally ill person, but only speaking to
them in the right way.
THE SO-CALLED SIGNS
In addition to these reports of people being healed by Yeshua
there are several reports of events taking place which are
beyond normal human capacity and as implying therefore some
1. The multitude of fishes caught by Simon Peter.
2. The calming of the storm, while they were crossing
the sea of Galilee.
3. Feeding 5,000 people on a few loaves and fishes.
4. Walking on the water.
5. Feeding 4,000 people, found only in Mark and Matthew.
6. The transfiguration on Mt. Hermon, where Yeshua is
seen with Moses and Elijah, about which Yeshua orders Peter
James, and John to say nothing.
In only one of these events, which may or may not have
some natural explanation, does Yeshua make any statement
relating the event to any concept of mission which he has:
on the catch of a multitude of fish, he quips that Simon
from then on will catch men. On three of them he makes no
comment, other than that the people who came to listen to
him must be fed; and he says nothing after the calming of the
storm, except to ask the disciples why they didn't have faith.
The so-called transfiguration must have been a hallucinatory
experience on the part of the disciples, since it is unlikely
that Moses and Elijah actually came back to life and visited
Yeshua. But in sum, in none of these experiences does Yeshua
make any comment about any mission he may have or conceive
himself as having, but only makes some comment appropriate to
the each happening. (I have omitted the report by Matthew
that he told Simon to take a fish they had caught and open it
up, where Simon found a coin to give to the tax collectors.)
Four events are reported in the gospel John which may be
called "signs" since they are not healings or exorcisms.
1. The wedding at Cana, when he turns water into wine
which is not reported by Mark, Luke, or Matthew. This event
seems so patently symbolic that it is hardly worth talking
2. Feeding the 5,000, almost verbally identical with Mark
after which Jesus is reported as sniping at the people because
they came to be fed, not to hear his teachings.
3. Walking on the water, almost verbally identical with
4. The multitude of fishes, similar to the report in Luke
but reported as occurring AFTER the resurrection (Luke places
it right after Yeshua begins his teaching career), and no
mention of Simon becoming a "catcher" of men.
The miracle of the water into wine seems to have been
completely made up by John, as was the raising of Lazarus;
and the probability is that the author of John copied the
feeding the 5,000 and the walking on the water from Mark or
Matthew, because of its magical quality.
THE POSITIVE DECLARATIONS
However, Yeshua does make some positive declarations about
what his teaching is all about. Besides the points he scores
against the scribes and Pharisees in the arguments about
forgiveness of sins and healing on the sabbath, there are
many other statements me makes which bear on his teachings
and what he is trying to teach.
1. "The sabbath was made for man; the son of man is lord
of the sabbath."
2. "My mother and brethren are they who hear the word of
God, and DO it."
3. "No sign shall be given to the Jews, except the sign of
Jonah (Luke says the "sign of Jonah" is "to the Ninevites";
Matthew claims the sign of Jonah is Jonah's three days and
three nights in the whale).
4. "No sign shall be given to this generation."
5. "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to
6. In his home town, "he marvelled because of their
unbelief, such that he could do there no mighty work": the
opposite of the other healings, where he tells the cured
person that it was their faith which healed them.
7. "And why do ye call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the
things which i say?"
8. "And why do you not judge OF YOURSELVES what is right?"
Only in the 5th of these does he refer to his own mission.
The others all seem to show clearly that he considered his
teaching to be more important to his mission than the
healings or for them to adulate him by calling him "Lord".
Thus we have ample evidence that Yeshua considered his
mission to be a teacher, not a wonder-worker; and this is
proved by his own words: Let us go elsewhere into the next
towns, that i may teach there also, FOR TO THIS END CAME I
FORTH (Mark 1:38).
TABLE OF CITATIONS
Mk.1:29-31 Simon's mother-in-law: noncommittal, Markan
Mk.1:40-45 The leper: noncomittal, Markan, keep-quiet
Mk.2:1-12 The paralytic: declarative, unconfirmed, faith
Mk.3:1-6 The man with a withered hand: declarative, unconfirmed, disputative
Lk.7:1-10 Centurion's servant: noncommittal, unconfirmed, faith
Lk.7-11-17 Young man of Nain: noncommittal, unconfirmed
Mk.5:25-34 Woman with issue of blood: noncommittal, faith
Mk.5:35-43 Jairus' daughter: noncommittal, keep-quiet
Mt.9:27-31 Two blind men: noncommittal, faith
Mt.9:32-34 Dumb man with a devil: noncommittal, unconfirmed
Mk.7:24-30 Syrophenician woman's daughter: noncommittal, unconfirmed, faith
Mk.7:32-37 Deaf and dumb man: noncommittal, surgical, keep-quiet
Mk.8:22-26 Blind man: noncommittal, surgical means, keep-quiet
Mk.9:14-29 Epileptic youth: noncommittal, expostulation, pessimistic
Lk.13:10-17 Woman healed of bent spine: noncommittal, voluntary, disputative
Lk.14:1-6 Man with dropsy: noncommittal, voluntary, disputative
Mk.10:46-52 Blind man in Jericho: noncommittal, faith
Mk.1:32-33 Group healing: noncommittal, unconfirmed, unnamed persons
Mk.3:10 Group healing: noncommittal, unconfirmed, unnamed persons
Mk.6:53-56 Group healing: noncommittal, unconfirmed, unnamed persons
Lk.17:11-19 The ten lepers: noncommittal, unconfirmed, faith
Mk.1:21-28 Capernaum synagogue,noncommittal, unconfirmed, reprimand
Lk.11:14 Casting out a devil: noncommittal, unconfirmed, disputative
Mk.5:1-20 The madman at Gergesa: noncommittal, unconfirmed, don't keep quiet
(Gergesans ask him to leave and he departs)
Mk.1:34 Group exorcism: noncommittal, unconfirmed, reprimand
Mk.2:11 Group exorcism: noncommittal, unconfirmed, reprimand
Lk.5:1-11 Multitude of fishes: unconfirmed, declarative, Johannine
Mk.4:35-41 Calming the storm; have you not yet faith?
Mk.6:35-46 Feeding the multitude: noncommittal
Mk.6:47-52 Walking on the water: noncommittal
Mk.8:1-10 Feeding the multitude: noncommittal
Mk.9:2-13 The transfiguration: noncommittal, keep-quiet
Mk.2:27 "The sabbath was made for man; the son of man is lord of the..."
Mt.12:38-41 No sign shall be given but the sign of Jonah to the Ninevites
Mk.3:31-35 My mother and brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it
Mk.8:11-14 No sign shall be given
Mk.6:5-6 No mighty work: their unbelief, a prophet without honor
Jn.2:1-9 Wedding at Cana: claimed as sign, claims "hour is not yet come"
Jn.4:46 Nobleman's son: claimed as sign (possibly the same event as
centurion's servant, but the place is different, the man's title is
different, and the relationship to the cured person is different)
Jn.5:1-9 Cripple by pool of Bethesda: the place is different, and the
subject of the subsequent argument is different
Jn.6:1 Feeding the five thousand
Jn.6:16 Walking on the water
Jn.9:1 Blind beggar in Jerusalem: claimed as sign, with Sabbath dispute
Jn.11:1 Raising of Lazarus:claimed as sign,unconfirmed by any other source
Jn.21:1-11 Catch of many fishes: noncommittal, contradictory to Luke as to
time and meaning of the event
A P P E N D I X
(Mk.1:21-28;Lk.4:31-37) This is the event in the synagogue where Jesus
commands a so-called "demon" to come out of a man, usually called an
exorcism. This report is found only in Mark and copied by Luke. But we
have no evidence for the existence of anything called "demons", they are
as mythical as the cherubim and seraphim, and so there must be some other
explanation. The only "miraculous" part of this story is that Jesus
said something to him, and he quieted down, after some protesting and
screeching. That's nothing "miraculous"; many people have calmed raging
people by speaking to them in the right tone of voice and the right words.
We will count this as 1 exorcism, 1 noncommittal event (where Jesus does
not offer any comment on it), and 1 unconfirmed event (told by only one
gospel and copied by another). We will also count it as 1 reprimand
since Jesus rebukes the "demon" because it calls him the son of God.
(Mk.1:29-31;Mt.8:14-15;Lk.4:38-39) This is the story of the healing of
Simon's mother-in-law in his house, where she is sick of a fever and when
he took her by the hand, she got up and "ministered" unto them. Again
Jesus makes no comment, although Luke says that he "rebuked the fever";
and the same sort of recovery has doubtless happened thousands of times
both before Jesus and after him. Whatever it was he said or did, he did
not claim it as a miracle, and there is no evidence that it WAS a miracle.
So we may count this as 1 healing, 1 noncommittal event, and 1 unconfirmed
event, since Mark's story is clearly the original and both Matthew and
Luke have copied it from Mark. (The proof of that is that the sentences
are nearly identical, and that Matthew places it elsewhere in his gospel
and Luke places it BEFORE Jesus has called Simon to be a disciple even
though Mark places it AFTER Simon has been called.)
(Mk.1:32-34;Mt.8:16;Lk.40-41) This event follows on the same evening as
the previous healing, and that "all the city was at the door." Mark says
that he healed "many" of them, but Luke and Matthew, though apparently
copying from Mark, say that he healed "all" of them. Mark says that he
cast out "many devils" from those who were possessed, but Luke says that
"devils came out from many", and Matthew says that "he cast out the spirits
with a word." Mark says he suffered not the devils to speak; but Luke says
that Jesus "rebuked them, because they called him the son of God." So we
can count this as 1 group healing, 1 group exorcism, 1 contradicted event
since Mark says "many" and Luke and Matthew say "all", and 1 reprimand.
(Lk.5:1-11;Jn.21:1-11) This is the story of the catch of a great multitude
of fishes. This is not a healing, but may be called a "miraculous" event
although an unusual catch of fish is not at all impossible. Jesus' comment
is that from mow on, Simon (later to be called Peter) will catch men. The
report in Matthew and Mark has Jesus simply calling to Simon and his brother
Andrew to follow him and he will make them "fishers" of men. The report
in John is even more equivocal, since it is reported as occurring after
the supposed resurrection of Jesus and Jesus says nothing about becoming
fishers or cathers of men, but simply tells them to break their fast. So
we can count this as 1 sign, since it is neither a healing or an exorcism
1 contradicted event, but we can count it as 1 declarative event, because
Jesus ascribes meaning to it for his mission, and as 1 Johannine event
since it occurs in the Gospel of John but apparently out of place.
(Mk.40-45;Mt.8:2-4;Lk.12-16) This is the story of the healing of a leper
who came to him and asked to be made clean. And Jesus agrees, but then
says, See that you say nothing to any man; and Go show yourself to the
priest as it is ordered in the book of Deuteronomy. We will count this
as 1 healing, 1 noncommittal event, since he tells the man to tell no one
1 unconfirmed event, since both Luke and Matthew appear to be following
Mark's report closely, and 1 keep-quiet event.
(Mk:2:1-12;Mt.9:2-8;Lk.5:17-26) This is the famous story of the healing
of the paralytic who was let down through the roof and the argument about
forgiveness of sins. Jesus is reported as "seeing their faith", though
not commenting on it, and as telling the man "thy sins are forgiven." How
is that relevant? we may wonder. The most probable explanation is that
inasmuch as the Jews believed that sickness was caused by God as a punishment
for sins, Jesus felt that it was necessary to convince the man that God had
forgiven him, in order for him to get well. A not implausible explanation
but the scribes would have none of it. "Only God can forgive sins!" they
say to themselves. But Jesus knows what they are thinking, we are told
and so he asks a riddle about whether it is "easier" to say, "Your sins are
forgiven," or to say, "Get up and walk"? A hard theological nut to crack
indeed! and Jesus' explanation does not remove our puzzlement. "The son
of man has power on earth to forgive sins, therefore I tell this man, Arise
and walk," he says. But even so, he does not say, "I" am this "son of man"
which was a Hebrew expression meaning "a man, who is a son of another man"
and in fact anyone could be called a "son of man". But nevertheless, we
can call this 1 more healing, 1 more declarative event, 1 faith event
since he attributes it to the faith of those who lowered him through the
ceiling, and 1 more unconfirmed event, since Luke and Matthew are clearly
copying from Mark.
(Mk:3:1-6;Mt.12:9-14;Lk:6:6-11) This is the first of the reported healings
on the sabbath with Jesus' tart retort to his critics. It was of a man
with a withered hand, and it was in the synagogue. Jesus challenged the
authorities, Should one do good on the sabbath, or do harm? should one
save a life, or should one kill? The scribes and Pharisees could not
answer that, and "held their peace." This we will count as 1 more healing
1 declarative event, 1 sabbath dispute, and 1 reprimand, since his remarks
are a reprimand to the authorities. We will also call it 1 more unconfirmed