Here we shall briefly look at our evidence pertaining to Jesus’ miracles, and what it is that has convinced the majority of specialists in the field that he was a miracle worker. Firstly, the miracles of Jesus are widely attested to in our New Testament. Why is this significant?
This is significant because it’s early. Our entire New Testament was completed no later than 65 years after Jesus’ death (30 AD). This means that Jesus’ diverse reputation as a miracle worker was well established at the earliest times, hence they are not later mythological embellishments. Since it takes at least two or more generations for myth to embellish a text, our primary New Testament sources on Jesus are penned too early to allow for this to happen, as Professor Keener explains. “… in terms of Jesus’ work as a miracle worker—I mean, every different early Christian source we have portrays him that way, and also the non-Christian sources portray him that way” (1).
However, what evidence suggests they’re early? This is because Jesus’ miracles are attested in all pre-New Testament hypothetical sources. These are defined as hypothetical because they no longer exist, but based on analysis of our primary gospel texts we can be quite confident that they once did. These hypothetical sources are widely accepted. For more on how we can know that these existed, and Jesus’ miracles in them, you can consult my relevant section. These hypotheticals often go back earlier than our earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark (+- 70 AD). It is widely thought that Mark used a source historians call the pre-Markan Passion Narrative. Matthew and Luke consulted hypothetical Q, alongside other material unique to each one of them known as L (Luke’s special material), and M (Matthew’s special material). The author of our latest gospel, the Gospel of John (90-95 AD), is widely thought to have consulted a pre-John Signs Gospel. What is unique to all these sources? It is that they all confirm Jesus as a miracle worker at the very earliest times, as Price explains.
“Every canonical gospel source, Mark, Q, M, L, and John, affirms the miracle-working activities of Jesus. Less friendly sources, such as Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud, also attest to Jesus as a miracle worker.” (2)
The miracles are also multiply and independently attested. Jesus’ miracles are attested in six independent sources. They are attested in each of our four biographical gospels, the Gospel of Mark, Matthew (in M), Luke (in L), John, in Paul’s epistles, and by Josephus Flavius. This is a wide array of independent attestation. Historians are quite happy to accept that a historical event is likely if it is attested in at least two independent sources yet when it comes to Jesus’ miracles we have six independent sources. Skeptic Bart Ehrman rightly notes that “Whatever you think about the philosophical possibility of miracles of healing, it’s clear that Jesus was widely reputed to have done them” (3).
Such evidence has convinced the vast majority of historians that Jesus was widely associated to be a miracle worker by the many thousands of people who had followed and/or heard of him. Scholars readily accept this (for instance, see 58 Quotes on Jesus’ miracles). When I say that this is a widely accepted position, it is with regards to Jesus’ ability as a miracle healer, and an exorcist. The nature miracles (Jesus calming the winds, and the storms over the water), unfortunately, are mostly a priori rejected as unhistorical even if evidence suggests otherwise. Yet according to scholar Sanders “Exorcism, however, is the most prominent type of cure in the synoptic gospels. The sheer volume of evidence makes it extremely likely that Jesus actually had a reputation as an exorcist” (4).
However, it is very difficult to explain Jesus’ status as a miracle worker away. Why? Because his miracles are so deeply embedded in our data on every level from the earliest times. They are also multiply and independently attested to, meaning that they are not imaginative reconstructions based on one gospel author. His miracles were thus, from the earliest times, widely associated with him. They are also our explanation for why he attracted such large crowds as noted by James tabor: “Huge crowds gathered to hear him preach and to witness the reported healings and exorcisms” (5).
1. Apologetics315. Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
2. Price, C. 2004. The Miracles of Jesus: A Historical Inquiry. Available.
3. Ehrman, B. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 199.
4. Sanders, E. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. p. 149.
5. Tabor, J. 2007. The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. p. 162.