Paul E. Kretzmann
The modern denial of miracles
The simple belief in the miracles of the Bible which characterized the early centuries of the Christian Church, and which, during the Middle Ages, was, by false analogy, expanded into a credulousness that placed the so-called acts of the saints, spurious inventions of a superstitious age, on a level with the great deeds of God, has long since been declared impossible under modern conditions. Beginning about three centuries ago, the enemies of the Bible have been increasingly active, until at the present time, both without and within the Church, the miraculous element in the Bible is being discarded.
A radical denial
The objections to the Bible account of miracles and therefore to the miracles themselves may be divided into two classes, the radical and the conservative. The first class denies the possibility of miracles outright, without excuse or apology. It has been stated that miracles are violations of the laws of nature, although the statement concedes the existence of a law-maker whose right to suspend laws as well as to make them should be unquestioned. It is declared that miracles are excluded by the uniformity of nature, although experience itself is alterable and indefinite. The critics have said that the human mind is turning away from miracles, that the whole body of modern sciences yields the immense result that there is no supernatural. The miraculous stories are said to be the creations of a credulous and superstitious age. It is argued that it requires no mental effort to cut out of the New Testament the miraculous element. So-called scholars “have examined, in the scientific spirit, our Bible, and at every step they have found the record of miracles mythical or legendary, always incredible as fact. … They believe that miracles do not occur, that they never have occurred, that they never will occur. … The miraculous element, so it is more and more widely held, is the constant and spurious accompaniment, in ancient times, of every great religious movement.” [Gordon, G. A., Religion and Miracle, 23. 45]. One critic asks, with reference to the resurrection of Christ: “Is the testimony sufficient to show that a man thoroughly dead … came back to life, passed through closed doors, and ascended into the sky?” And he adds: “I cannot speak for others, but most certainly I cannot believe such monstrous facts on such evidence.” [Parker, quoted in Bruce, The Miraculous Element in the Gospels, 21].
A conservative denial
The conservative class of critics desires to save the Bible, such remnants as they still concede to be true, by arguing that miracles need not be believed, that they are not necessary for the truth of Scriptures and of the Christian faith. Most of the Old Testament miracles are explained away by declaring that they are mere poetical ornamentation and have no fundamental connection with the story. We might possess, they say, the miracles of the Lord without possessing the Lord Himself; does it not follow that we might lose the miracles of the Lord and still retain Him? It is frankly stated that the apologist of the present time has an interest in minimizing the miraculousness of miracles, and making them appear as natural as possible. The present temper of the religious public would seem to be to naturalize not only miracles, but the whole spiritual world [Bruce, 1. c., 43. 44].
In view of these facts, it is essential, first of all, to know what a miracle is. The following definition is generally accepted: “A miracle is an event making known to the senses the presence of a personal power above the physical and human plane, working towards a moral end.” Under this explanation, which includes miracles, signs, and wonders, we may divide them into three classes. There are the miracles of the constant revelation of God in nature and history, the many evidences of supernatural intervention. There are the miracles or occurrences within the ordinary course of nature, which, nevertheless, human strength and wisdom cannot accomplish without the creative and providential power of God, including all the physiological changes within living organisms due to life. There are the miracles or phenomena outside of nature’s course and known laws, brought about by a deliberate suspension of the physical order of the universe, including both the miracles of Scripture and the many cases of supernatural preservation.
Miracles cannot be divorced from God’s Word
To deny the existence of miracles in nature about us is to deny the evidence of all the senses and the results of centuries of research. And to deny the miracles of Scripture is to deny the veracity of the entire Bible-account, for it is impossible to divorce the miraculous from the Christian religion, since all true religion is a miracle. That the Old Testament contains but few miracle stories, and that these are confined to Exodus and the lives of Elisha and Elijah, as has been stated, is so manifestly untrue that a reference to the Bible is sufficient as refutation. To separate the miraculous element from the Gospel-accounts, is to take away the essence of the Gospel-narrative. The miracles of Jesus were seals, credentials, because they were signs, essential features, of His mission. If we remove all references to miracles, the gospels lie before us in ruins.
The necessity of miracles
As for the necessity of miracles, the fact that the Lord found them so ought to be sufficient warrant for their happening. The Gospel arose from witnessing miracles and is a record and explanation of these facts. If the resurrection of Jesus had been a delusion, it would have shared the fate of all delusions in being short-lived. And all the other miracles are credible, because they are associated with the miracle of the resurrection. The Christian religion was introduced into the midst of its enemies by means of the miraculous. Thus the miracles are the sign and seal of divine approbation. God would not have sanctioned such a series if they had been falsehoods. And no magicians could have performed them. The miracles were made in defense of a religion of the most perfect righteousness and universal truth, to stand forever in evidence of the unblemished beauty of Christ’s moral character and of the divine call of His disciples. It is sufficient for us to know that He thereby revealed His glory, John 1:14; John 2:11, and that the miracles of the New Testament were recorded that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through His name, John 20:31.
[Cp. Lindberg, C. E., Apologetics, 80-83. 165; Jefferson, C. E., Things Fundamental, Chap. VIII; Garvie, A. E., A Handbook of Apologetics, Chap. III; Whately, R., Introductory Lessons on Morals and Christian Evidences, Lesson V-VIII; Mulling, E. Y., Why Is Christianity True? Chap. XII; Benson, Chr., On Evidences of Christianity, Disc. VIII; Brace, C. L., Gesta Christi]