- LAST REVIEWED: 20 March 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0080
- LAST REVIEWED: 20 March 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0080
A miracle story is a narrative involving a report of supposed special divine action. This article notes key literature that interprets the miracle stories associated with Jesus of Nazareth through historical, socioreligious, and literary contextualization. It does not take into account miracle stories in which Jesus is portrayed as directly involved, such as the transfiguration or resurrection. The importance of contextualization of miracle stories cannot be overemphasized. Understanding the historical era, the cultural climate, the political realities, the Jewish and Hellenistic religious background of Jesus and his early followers, the social signals in the literature that were understood by that culture, and the literary context provided by the larger works in which the stories appear contribute to interpreting the intentions of those responsible for the stories. This article is intended to provide an authoritative set of texts that addresses these various aspects of interpreting the miracle stories of Jesus as they stand in the New Testament canon, that is, in the gospel sources, the gospels themselves, the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters of Paul.
Miracle provides a review of miracles across the world and religious orientations. Woodward 2000 places the miracle stories associated with Jesus in the context of a discussion of the meaning of miracles in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. The contextualization in Twelftree 2011 includes ancient and traditional religions. Johnson 2018 attends to both the Old and the New Testaments in order to reclaim Christian belief in miracles. Keener 2011 makes a detailed case for the credibility of the New Testament miracle stories. Bee-Schroedter 1998 offers various approaches to miracle stories, and Eve 2002 follows miracle stories through Jewish history into early Judaism. Brown 1984 provides a history of the scientific study of the problem of miracles. Keller and Keller 1969 presents scholarly arguments that have ensued over whether miracles are even possible. Moule 1965 addresses biblical miracles, the Greco-Roman background, and miracle stories in the early Church. Remus 1982 points out that even the language used for miracle can have different meanings depending on the user’s background. Suhl 1980 focuses on the manner in which each gospel uses miracle stories for a particular portrait of Jesus. Weder 1992 looks to various methods for interpretation, while Wenham and Blomberg 1986 opens up the scope to discuss a variety of topics concerning miracle stories. The essays collected in Alkier and Weissenrieder 2013 form an interdisciplinary study, expanding the discourse to genres such as letters, histories, and apocalypses.
Alkier, Stefan, and Annettte Weissenrieder, ed. Miracles Revisited: New Testament Miracle Stories and Their Concepts of Reality. Studies of the Bible and Its Reception 2. Gottingen, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2013.
As a collection these essays: face the problems of historicity, distinguishing between invented stories and those with a historical base; thematize and historicize the social constitution between ancient scathing criticism and sympathetic skepticism; and expand the conversation about miracle stories beyond the historicity of individual pericopes to the larger contexts of whole texts and genres.
Bee-Schroedter, Heike. Neutestamentliche Wundergeschichten im Spiegel vergangener und gegenwärtiger Rezeptionen: Historisch-exegetische und empirisch-entwicklungspsychologische Studien. Stuttgart biblische Beiträge 39. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1998.
Aiming to be helpful for educators and exegetes, the author first presents the various approaches that have been adopted to study miracles (historicity studies, redactional analysis, historical-critical examinations) and then turns to the social scientific evidence of how children perceive the miracle stories.
Brown, Colin. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.
After a brief section on the prescientific age, the focus of attention is on the rise of skepticism in the 17th century and the legacy of the 19th century. The latter two parts of the book set out the ongoing debate to the middle of the 20th century and, briefly, the interpretation of the miracle and their apologetic value.
Eve, Eric. The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 231. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 2002.
The Jewish context is placed in the foreground as the focus of investigation enabling Jesus’ miracles to be seen in their Jewish context. Thus, Eve avoids the danger of a distorted picture that arises from considering only those snippets of Jewish background that most closely resemble or contrast with Jesus’ miracle working. Eve concludes that the miracles of Jesus resemble those of the great miracle-working prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Johnson, Luke-Timothy. Miracles: God’s Presence and Power in Creation. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Louisville: WJK, 2018.
Taking seriously modernity’s epistemological and cultural challenges to miracles, the analysis in this book includes a description of the competing worldviews that have framed the discussion of miracle. Johnson argues for the need to embrace a worldview that does not deny or dismiss what secular reason does well but insists on the inherent and crippling limitations of that reasoning in accounting for the experience of God’s presence and power reflected in the biblical stories, and that can continue to be experienced.
Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011.
Included in this extensive case for the credibility of the stories that center on ancient and modern testimony, both in the majority world and in the recent West, is an attention to the possibility of miracles from a philosophical perspective.
Keller, Ernst, and Marie-Luise Keller. Miracles in Dispute: A Continuing Debate. Translated by Margaret Kohl. London: SCM, 1969.
A historical overview of the scholarly argument about whether a miracle is possible.
“Miracle.” In Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011.
This article places miracle stories against the backdrop of the world at large and different religions. It also refers to articles in other encyclopedias on various perspectives of miracles.
Moule, C. F. D., ed. Miracles: Cambridge Studies in Their Philosophy and History. London: Mowbray, 1965.
This anthology of essays addresses the subject of miracle stories in the Old and New Testaments, in non-Jewish and Jewish sources from the Greco-Roman period, and in sources of the early Church.
Remus, Harold. “Does Terminology Distinguish Early Christian from Pagan Miracles?” Journal of Biblical Literature 101.4 (1982): 531–551.
It is impossible to identify terminology to distinguish Christ’s miracles from those of pagan heroes. The positive or negative meaning of semeia (sign) or teras (wonder) depends on the context and custom of the narrators, and their disposition toward the hero.
Suhl, Alfred, ed. Der Wunderbegriff im Neuen Testament. Wege der Forschung 295. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980.
This collection of essays by an array of prestigious scholars offers a full discussion of the miracle stories, beginning with the biblical concept of miracle followed by important articles on the gospel miracles and their Christologies.
Twelftree, Graham H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Miracles. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
The attention to the miracle stories of Jesus is embedded in discussions of the definition and meaning of miracle, miracles in Antiquity and the major religions, and the history of debates about miracles, including among philosophers.
Weder, Hans. “Wunder Jesu und Wundergeschichten.” In Einblicke ins Evangeliums: Exegetische Beiträge zur neutestamentlichen Hermeneutik; Gessammelte Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1980–1991. By Hans Weder, 61–93. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992.
In this erudite chapter of his larger work, Weder presents the major methods that are presently employed to interpret the miracle stories, with a final question about their purpose and efficacy.
Wenham, David, and Craig Blomberg, eds. The Miracles of Jesus. Gospel Perspectives 6. Sheffield, UK: JSOT, 1986.
Twelve articles address a variety of historical and philosophical issues concerning the miracles of Jesus, such as the question of their distinction from magic, the figure of Jesus as a Hellenistic divine man, the connection of miracles to parables, and miracles as apocalyptic. The volume concludes with a concise review and summary by Blomberg.
Woodward, Kenneth L. The Book of Miracles: The Meaning of the Miracle Stories in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Although a popular book, it is well informed, well written, and helpful in contextualizing the miracle stories associated with Jesus not only in their 1st-century context, but also in the context of modern religious pluralism. Through the liberal quotation of stories from the Gospels, the Talmud, early Christian writings, Sufi mystics, Muslim ascetics, and Hindu and Buddhist saints, the author is able to draw attention to the similarities and differences in the traditions.
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