In the closing stages of writing my latest book, The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK] (please grab yourself a copy!), I had a few test readers. One was David Austin, down in Australia, who has provided a few guest articles for your delectation. As you can see, I’ve been on holiday and inundated with commitments over the last few days – I promise I’ll get back on the horse in a few days (after my Resurrection talk in Bournemouth on Saturday). Here is another one from David – thanks muchly to him (as I am insanely busy researching the hell out of the Pentateuch):
The Miracles of Jesus
Throughout the New Testament (NT), Jesus, supposedly, performed many miracles. It is presumed that this is to show the divinity of Jesus, and that he was indeed the “Son of God”.
It has been calculated that there are about 37 miracles detailed throughout the NT, and of these 17 appear in only one gospel (6 of those in John, 6 in Luke, 3 in Matthew, and 2 in Mark), 7 appear in two gospels, 12 in three gospels, and only 1 appears in all four gospels (Feeding of the 5,000). Obviously, those miracles that appear only in one gospel cannot be corroborated or cross-referenced.
For the purpose of this article, I will look at two miracles which are quite well-known – “The raising of Jairus’s daughter”, and “The cursing of the fig tree”.
The raising of Jairus’s daughter
This miracle is recorded in three gospels (Mark [5:21-24 & 35-43], Matthew [9:18 & 23-26], & Luke [8:40-42 & 49-56]).
Mark reads thus –
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him. 35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Luke’s account is substantially the same, but Matthew’s account reads thus –
18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue[a] came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
It is note-worthy, that Mark’s account says “My little daughter is dying” contrasting with Matthew’s account which says “My daughter has just died”. So which is it, was Jairus’s daughter dead or dying when Jairus first approached Jesus? You may think this is a trivial matter, but both statements cannot be correct; there is a contradiction.
Also interesting is that in Mark, Jesus had just exorcised a demon-possessed man, and then sailed across the lake before healing the little girl, but in Matthew, Jesus had just been in conversation with some of John the Baptist’s disciples about fasting just before healing the girl. The conversation regarding fasting occurs much earlier in Mark (Mark 2:18).
The cursing of the fig tree
This event happens in two gospels (Mark [11:12-14 & 20-22] & Matthew [21:18-20])
Mark’s version reads thus –
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Then Mark has Jesus “Cleansing the Temple”, followed by
20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
In Matthew’s version we have –
18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”
So, again we have a contradiction – Did the fig tree wither the morning after Jesus cursed it or did it wither at once? It cannot be both. Looking at the context of each passage, there is no possibility there are two fig trees involved.
Also, Mark had Jesus cursing the fig tree Before “Cleansing the Temple”, but Matthews has Jesus cursing the fig tree After “Cleansing the Temple”. So, which is it?
Other miracles may have been added to Jesus’s narrative, to illustrate that Jesus was following in the tradition of Hebrew Bible patriarchs, but even more powerful. To illustrate this, consider these miracles:-
Luke 7:11-15 –
“ Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Compare this to 1Kings 17:17-23 where Elijah raises a widow’s son “After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed.He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother;”
Note that even the last line is copied “and gave him to his mother”. The comparison couldn’t be clearer.
Also consider the Feeding of the 5,000 Mark 6:30-44 -“When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men”.
Compare with Elisha feeding 100 people 2 Kings 4:42-44 –
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord”
Again, the comparison is pretty obvious.
In any case, it is, in my opinion, that none of these miracles ever happened.
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