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Miracle

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.

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1 External links and references

Miracles as described by the Bible

The description of most miracles in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) and in the Christian New Testament are more or less the same as the modern-day, popular definition of the word "miracle": In order to achieve some goal, or to teach some lesson, God apparently suspends or speeds up the laws of nature to produce a supernatural occurrence. This appears to be by either violating the known laws of physics, skewing the statistical probability of an event happening, or possibly both. The Bible rarely if ever explains in any detail how miracles happen, other than attributing them to God. 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.

Miracles in the Bible may not actually be instances of the impossible happening, 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. 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 Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Exodus Rabbah 21:6; 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 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. Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, one of the great Jewish biblical commentators of the 20th century, 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.

External links and references

  • 'Gersonides on Providence, Covenant, and the Chosen People' Robert Eisen, State University of New York Press, 1995).
  • Lenn E. Goodman 'Rambam: Readings in the Philosophy of Moses Maimonides', Gee Bee Tee, 1985
  • 'Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought', Menachem Kellner, Oxford University Press, 1986



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