Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Miracle is a term used by adherents of many religions for what they say is an intervention by God in the universe. One must keep in mind that in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and in other faiths people have substantially different definitions of the word "miracle". Even within a specific religion there is often more than one usage of the term.

Table of contents
1 Miracles as an act of God
2 Miracles as described by the Bible
3 Miracles as events pre-planned by God
4 Aristotelian views of miracles
5 Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles
6 Non-literal reinterpretations of miracles
7 Miracles as seen by the Church Fathers
8 Miracles as a product of creative art
9 See also
10 External references and link

Miracles as an act of God

Adherents of many religions assert that miracles, if established, are logical proof of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God. In this view, a miracle can be defined as a violation of natural law by a supernatural being. To wit:

  1. There are events that seem to be miracles.
  2. The best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being.
  3. Therefore, there is probably a supernatural being (i.e., God) that performs what appear to be miracles.

A number of criticisms of this point of view exist:

  1. While the existence of miracles may imply the existence of a supernatural miracle worker, that supernatural miracle worker need not be an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God; it could be any supernatural being.
  2. Some argue that miracles, if established, are evidence that a perfect God does not exist, as such a being would not want to, or need to, violate its own natural laws. Roman Catholic theologians accept this reasoning, and only conclude that the miracles are from an omnipotent God, because they believed to have previously logically proven (through concepts like the prime mover) that there must be a single omnipotent, omniscient, God.

Miracles as described by the Bible

The description of most miracles in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the Christian New Testament are generally the same as the modern-day definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature.

A literal reading of the Biblical accounts shows that there are a number of ways this can occur: God may suspends or speeds up the laws of nature to produce a supernatural occurrence; God can create matter out of nothing; God can breathe life into inanimate matter. The Bible does not explain details of how these miracles happen.

The Bible also attributes many natural occurrences to God, such as the sun rising and setting, and rain falling.

Today many Orthodox Jews, most Christians, and most Muslims adhere to this view of miracles. This view is generally rejected by non-Orthodox Jews, liberal Christians and Unitarian-Universalists.

Many events commonly understood to be miraculous my not actually be instances of the impossible, as commonly believed. For instance, consider the parting of the Sea of Reeds (in Hebrew Ym-Sph; often mistranslated as the "Red Sea") This incident occurred when Moses and Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt, to begin their exodus to the promised land. The book of Exodus never says that the Reed Sea split in an immediate and drastic fashion. Rather, according to the text God caused a strong wind to slowly drive the shallow waters to land, overnight. In this case, there is no claim that God pushed apart the sea as it is shown in many films; rather, the miracle would be that Israel crossed this precise place, at exactly the right time, when Moses lifted his staff, and that the pursuing Egyptian army then drowned when the wind stopped and the piled waters rushed back in.

Most events later described as miracles are not labeled as such by the Bible; rather the text simply describes what happened. Often these narratives will attribute the cause of these events to God.

Miracles as events pre-planned by God

In rabbinic Judaism, most rabbis of the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.

In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6

Aristotelian views of miracles

Aristotle rejected the idea that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world; his view of miracles was incompatible with Biblical view.

Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles

In this section we will describe the view of miracles in neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Jewish neo-Aristotelian philosophers, who are still influential today, include Maimonides, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, and Gersonides. Directly or indirectly, their views are still prevalent in much of the religious Jewish community. Christian and Muslim neo-Aristotelian philosophers should also be discussed in this section; also please note if their works are still studied and accepted today, and if so, by whom.

Non-literal reinterpretations of miracles

Held by both classical and modern thinkers.

In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions.

Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."

Miracles as seen by the Church Fathers

Early Christian writers of the first few centuries appear to take the biblical stories of miracles at face value. In addition, they report additional miracles that happened in later centuries. The purposes of miracles vary, but recurring themes are miracles done for the benefit of a person, such as physical healing, or raising from the dead; miracles done to prevent or discourage some evil from happening, such as Herod being consumed with worms upon inviting people to worship him, or various martyrs being found unusually difficult to kill, such as not being touched by flames; and often times to increase the faith of those who witnessed or later heard of the miracles, whether the faith of current believers or unbelievers moved to convert to Christianity after witnessing a miracle.

Miracles as a product of creative art

Miracles are the product of creative story tellers. They use them to embellish incidents, sacred objects and persons and places with a heroic theological flavor. Miracles allow people and situations to become bigger than life, and to stir the emotions of the listener more than the mundane and ordinary. Miracles are remembered. The meaning of miracles may be more important than "did they really happen". Not every one "feels" miracles in the same way. The discussion of miracles and wonders, like religion and various "personal" philosophies, draws an emotional response. Few people question their own phenomenological reality when there is a conviction involving the existence or non-existence of miracles. There is comfort in certainty.

See also

External references and link