What Really Happened at Christmas? A Bible Study by Jack Kelley In the past I’ve explained…
The Miracles of Jesus Christ
According to the canonical Gospels of the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles in the course of his ministry, which may be categorized into cures, exorcisms, dominion over nature, three instances of raising the dead, and various others. To many Christians, the miracles represent actual historical events, while Liberal Christians may consider these stories to be figurative. Critical scholars generally concede that empirical methods are unable to determine if a genuine miracle is historical, considering the issue theological or philosophical. Islamic scholars also believe in most of the miracles of healing and the miracles of resurrecting dead people to life.
Types of miracles
The largest group of miracle stories mentioned in the New Testament are those concerning disease and disability. The Gospels give varying amounts of detail for each episode, sometimes Jesus cures simply by saying a few words, or laying on of hands, and at other times employs elaborate rituals using material (e.g. spit or mud). Generally they are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels but not John.
Fever – The Synoptics describe Jesus as healing the mother-in-law of Simon Peter when he visited Simon’s house in Capernaum, around the time of Jesus recruiting Simon as an Apostle (Mark has it just after the calling of Simon, while Luke has it just before). The synoptics imply that this led other people seeking out Jesus, and him traveling over the whole of Galilee to preach to them.
Leprosy – The Synoptics state that, early in Jesus’ ministry, he healed a leper, whom he then instructed to offer the requisite ritual sacrifices as proscribed by the Deuteronomic Code and Priestly Code. Jesus instructed the ex-leper not to tell anyone who had healed him; but the man disobeyed, increasing Jesus’ fame, and thereafter Jesus withdrew to deserted places, but was followed there. Luke also states that later, while on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus sent ten lepers, who had sought his assistance, to the priests, and that they were healed as they went, but that the only one that came back to thank Jesus was a Samaritan.
Long term bleeding – The Synoptics state that while heading to Jairus’ house (see the section below on power over death), Jesus was approached by a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years, and that she touched Jesus’ cloak (fringes of his garment: Matt 9:20, 14:36), and was instantly healed. Jesus turned about and, when the woman came forward, said “Daughter, your faith has healed you, go in peace”. The bleeding is sometimes interpreted as menorrhagia, but most scholars consider that the duration, 12 years, makes it more plausible that the condition was something more akin to hemophilia.
Withered hands – The Synoptics state that Jesus entered a synagogue on Sabbath, and found a man with a withered hand there, whom Jesus healed, having first challenged the people present to decide what was lawful for Sabbath – to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill . The Gospel of Mark adds that this angered the Pharisees so much that they started to contemplate killing Jesus.
Dropsy – Luke alone states that, during Sabbath, Jesus ate in the house of a prominent Pharisee, opposite someone who suffered from dropsy, and Jesus asked the Pharisees that were present if it was lawful to heal on Sabbath, but, after getting no reply, healed the man. Jesus then challenged the Pharisees to say that they would not immediately pull out an ox, or a son (or a donkey, according to some ancient manuscripts of Luke), if it fell into a well during Sabbath.
Deafness – Mark alone states that Jesus went to the Decapolis and met a man there who was deaf and mute, and cured him. Specifically, Jesus first touched the man’s ears, and touched his tongue after spitting, and then said Ephphatha!, an Aramaic word meaning Be opened
Blindness – The Synoptics state that Jesus met a beggar (Mark gives the name: bar-Timai or son of Timai) who, though blind, still identified Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; Jesus said that the man’s faith has healed him, and he received his sight, and was allowed to follow Jesus. This happened when Jesus was leaving Jericho, and Matthew adds that there was another healed at the same time. John mentions as similar event that happened near the Pool of Siloam, with the following details:
The disciples first questioned Jesus whether the man’s curse was for his own sins, or those of his parents. Jesus said it was for neither reason, “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”.
Jesus healed him by spitting on the ground, mixing his spit with mud, and putting the mixture into his eyes, then sent him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.
The event happened on Sabbath; therefore, the Pharisees said Jesus was not of God because he did not keep Sabbath. They asked the formerly blind man concerning Jesus, who said, “He is a prophet”.
The Jews did not believe that the healed man was the same person as the man who had been blind from birth, and asked his parents if the healed man was their son. The parents responded that he was, and had been born blind.
Jesus identified himself as the Son of God, and the cured man worshiped him.
Additionally, Mark alone states that Jesus went to Bethsaida and met another man there who was blind, and then cured him. Specifically, Jesus is described as spitting in the man’s eyes, to which the man responded that his vision is now blurred; Jesus then touched the man’s eyes, and the man responded that he can see clearly now. John’s account of the healing of has been argued by some scholars to be a conflation of the account of bar-Timai in Mark, together with the healing method given by Mark’s account of the second healing of a blind man.
Paralysis – The Synoptics state that a paralytic was brought to Jesus on a mat; Jesus told him to get up and walk, and the man did so. Jesus also told the man that his sins were forgiven, which according to the Synoptics irritated the Pharisees, and according to John irritated the people in general. Jesus is described as responding to the anger by asking whether it is easier to say that someone’s sins are forgiven, or to tell the man to get up and walk. The Synoptics state that this happened in Capernaum, Mark and Luke adding that Jesus was in a house at the time, and that the man had to be lowered through the roof by his friends due to the crowds blocking the door. A similar account is given in John and occurs at the Pool of Bethesda; some have argued this is another version of the event described in the synoptics, rather than a separate cure.
Unspecified sickness – All four Canonical Gospels state that Jesus was asked by an official to heal a person important to him, and although Jesus is somewhat annoyed at being constantly asked to perform miracles, rather than being asked for teachings, he says that the person would be healed, and the official returned home to find that this has happened. The Synoptics state that official was a centurion, and that it was the centurion’s servant that was sick, while the Gospel of John states that the official was a royal official, originating from Canaan, and that it was his son who was sick.
According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus performed many exorcisms of demoniacs. These incidents are not mentioned by the Gospel of John.
The accounts in the Synoptic Gospels are:
The man possessed by demons at Gerasenes, whom the people had tried to chain up but had escaped, and lived in caves, and roamed the hills, screaming – Jesus inquired the man’s name, but is told by the man/demons that his name is Legion, “…for we are many”. The demons asked to be expelled into a group of swine, which Jesus did, and thereafter the pigs fell into a lake and drowned. The pig owners tell the townsfolk what had happened, and when the townsfolk see that the man is now sane, they besought Jesus to leave “for they were taken with great fear”. The man, on the other hand, informs the whole of the decapolis what had happened. (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39)
The possessed daughter of the Canaanite or Phoenician woman in Tyre – the woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, but Jesus says “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. The woman replies, “Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table”, whereupon Jesus tells her that her daughter is healed, and when the woman returns home she finds that this is true. (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)
The boy possessed by a demon that is brought forward to Jesus straight after Jesus’ transfiguration, and who foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, becomes rigid, and involuntarily falls into both water and fire – Jesus’ followers cannot expel the demon, and Jesus condemns the people as unbelieving, but when the father of the boy questions if Jesus can heal the boy, Jesus says everything is possible for those that believe, so the father says he believes that the boy could be healed, and Jesus does so. (Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-49)
Jesus continued to cast out demons even though Herod Antipas wanted to kill him. (Luke 13:31-32)
The Gospels tell another group of stories concerning Jesus’ power over nature:
The Feeding of the 5000 and of the 4000 men – Jesus, praying to God and using only a few loaves of bread and several fish, feeds thousands of men, along with an unspecified number of women and children; there are even a number of baskets of leftovers afterward.
The Cursing of the Fig Tree – Jesus cursed a fig tree, and it withered.
Turning Water into Wine – at a wedding, when the host runs out of wine, the host’s servants fill vessels with water at Jesus’ command, then a sample is drawn out and taken to the master of the banquet who pronounces the content of the vessels as the best wine of the banquet.
Walking on water – Jesus walked on a lake to meet a boat.
Transfiguration of Jesus – Jesus climbed a mountain and was changed so that his face glowed.
The Catch of 153 fish – Jesus instructed the disciples to throw their net over the side of the water, resulting in them hauling in the huge catch (for hand fishing) of 153 fish.
Calming a storm – during a storm, the disciples woke Jesus, and he rebuked the storm causing it to become calm. Jesus then rebukes the disciples for lack of faith. Transubstantiation during the last supper; disputed by some denominations.
Power over death
All four Canonical Gospels report Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead but the Gospels also relate three other occasions on which Jesus calls a dead person back to life:
Jairus’ daughter – Jairus, a major patron of a synagogue, asks Jesus to heal his daughter, but while Jesus is on his way, men tell Jairus that his daughter has died. Jesus says she was only sleeping and wakes her up with the word Talitha koum!. [Mark 5:21-43]
The son of the widow at Nain – A young man, the son of a widow, is brought out for burial in Nain. Jesus sees her, and his pity causes him to tell her not to cry. Jesus approaches the coffin and tells the man inside to get up, and he does so. [Luke 7:11-17]
The raising of Lazarus – a close friend of Jesus who had been dead for four days is brought back to life when Jesus commands him to get up. [John 11:1-44]
The ability of Jesus to know things by supernatural means could also be classed as a miracle.
This may explain the reason why Nathaniel responded to Jesus saying, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou was under the fig tree, I saw thee”, by answering, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” It could be perhaps that when he was under the fig tree, Nathaniel had been praying in secret which elicited this response, rather than that he did not know that he had merely been observed in the natural way.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is an example where Jesus supernaturally knew the history of the woman including the men in her life.
List of miracles attributed to Jesus in various sources
It is not always clear when two reported miracles refer to the same event. An attempt has been made to indicate those that probably are related. Summarizing the table below, there are 47 miracles of Jesus recorded during his life-time, 40 of them recorded in the canonical Gospels and 7 recorded only in non-canonical sources. The chronological order of the miracles is difficult to determine, so this list should not be viewed as a sequence.
List of Miracles by Jesus
1. Annunciation – Luke 1:26-38
4. Miraculous conversion of Nathanael – John 1:45-51
5. Turned water into wine – John 2:1-11
8. Caught large number of fish, converted fishermen to “fishers of men” – Luke 5:1-11
11. Miraculous conversion of a Samaritan woman – John 4:28-29
13. Cured a royal official’s son – John 4:46-54
19. Cured a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda – John 5:1-18
20. Raised the son of a widow at Nain – Luke 7:11-17
23. Healed two blind men, a mute, and every disease and ailment – Matt 9:27-35
33. Healed a deaf-mute by saying Ephphatha! – Mark 7:31-37
34. Healed large numbers of crippled, blind and mute – Matt 15:29-31
36. Restored a man’s sight at Bethsaida – Mark 8:22-26
39. Paid temple tax with a stater coin taken from a fish’s mouth – Matt 17:23-27
40. Healed a woman on Sabbath – Luke 13:10-17
41. Continued to cast out demons even though Herod Antipas wanted to kill him – Luke 13:31-32
42. Raised Lazarus – John 11:1-44
43. Healed a man with dropsy – Luke 14:1-6
44. Healed ten lepers – Luke 17:11-19
45. Healed large crowds in Judea – Matt 19:1-2
46. Healed two blind men – Matt 20:29-34
48. Blind man given sight – John 9
49. Healed blind and lame at Herod’s Temple – Matt 21:14
52. Satanic possession of Judas – John 13:26-30
53. Healed High Priest’s servant’s ear – Luke 22:49-51
55. Many of the dead resurrected when Jesus died – Matt 27:50-54
59. Doubting Thomas – John 20:24-31
60. Catch of 153 fish post-resurrection – John 21:1-14