Different responses to miracles in the tradition of enquiry

Thanks to Geoff Taylor for drawing our attention to this thesis.

How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry

Head, Ivan Francis (1984) How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.Full text available as:

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Accounts of miracles are found in the four Gospels, elsewhere in the New and Old Testaments, and at other times down to the present. Responses to the figure of Jesus among his Gospel miracles differ with the different judgements that are made about the possibility of there being miracles at all. As a matter of fact, our tradition of inquiry contains diverging, even opposing conclusions on this point, and this has a definite impact on the study of the Gospels and their central character.

This thesis constitutes a comprehensive response to the issue of miracle as it affects the interpretation of the Gospels, and hence, what we are able to believe about Jesus and the extent of his miraculous activity. Having outlined the divided response to miracle (Chapter One), the thesis is built up by studies of six principal respondents to the issue of miracle.

On the one hand, we have chosen St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman and C. S. Lewis to represent the ’maximal’ depiction of belief in miracle. These three studies exhibit the interpretations of the Gospels that accompany, and in part depend on, the non-problematical acceptance of miracle. On the other hand, we have chosen David Hume, D. F. Strauss and Rudolf Bultmann to represent the ’minimalistic’ position on miracle. While Hume does not formally discuss the Gospel miracles, his conclusions are plainly relevant, and in the two latter studies, close attention is paid to the actual interpretation of Gospel miracle stories.

In all the studies, wherever possible, I have tried to concentrate on what in particular they believed about Jesus in his miracles. In effect, this has meant pursuing a miracle-structure from conception through to Ascension. In discovering what has been believed about Jesus in his miracles, we have often placed the emphasis on the interpreters’ response to a Gospel or Gospel passage. In the concluding chapter, I direct my own attention to St. Mark’s Gospel and, in the light of earlier chapters, put my own questions to it.

While interesting results emerge from the studies of the six interpreters, my principal conclusion is that there are good reasons not to identify the Jesus of the Gospel miracles with Jesus in his pragmatic existence. While it remains coherent to develop an apology or world-view in which literal miracles on the greatest scale have a place in nature and history, it is their very magnitude that raises the decisive objections to locating them as events in Jesus’ mundane existence, prior to the Resurrection.


2 thoughts on “Different responses to miracles in the tradition of enquiry

  1. Rodney

    This is interesting; I presume “miracle” refers to happenings which have a supernatural basis. “Supernatural” being “beyond the laws of nature as we know them”. Even though, I probably agree with the conclusion of the writer, I doubt that I would be convinced if I were a person who accepted miracles. Before accepting the results of such “research” I would want to know what the researcher’s own position was. On both sides we hold to our minds sets with remarkable tenacity. I find now, as other writers (Don Cupitt is one) have done, that I just cannot get into the discussion when an author gives validity to the supernatural. I stop reading at that point. It just becomes boring. This can happen even with respected writers such as C S Lewis and N T Wright, who often have much to say that is valuable. Likewise, for those for whom the supernatural is valid, they are very, very resistant to letting that go. Often, as with some very good friends of mine, it is because they have had some unexpected evidence of physical healing or some ecstatic experience. I think also, and this includes with the large population of the non-religious, we like to think that anything is possible, that there is some hope, perhaps very faint, that natural laws will be bypassed and we can influence such happenings. In today’s newspapers, people in eastern Australia are praying for rain, to counter the raging bushfires.

    PS I have come to feel in recent months that one can pray with intellectual validity if one dismisses the idea of petition or influencing “God” but express our thoughts and words as “hope”. One can share that hope with others. That is that the body may by chance generate the antibodies which can reverse a diagnosis of cancer. That the flutter of a butterfly’s wing may by chance generate a series of meteorological changes which lead to rain storms to put out the fires.
    Rodney Eivers

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