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Unit II. F
Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles?
© Robert J. Spitzer S.J., Ph.D./Magis Institute July 2011
Miracles are not merely an indication of Jesus’ divine power; they are the infusion of God’s kingdom in the world. Jesus does not perform miracles to prove that He has divine power; He uses His divine power to vanquish evil and to bring the kingdom of God to the world so that we may be saved.
As will be seen in Unit II-G, Jesus made many claims about His mission, such as coming to vanquish evil, to bring God’s kingdom, and thereby, as His name suggests, to save not only Israel, but the world (a mission which the Old Testament had reserved to Yahweh alone). He did not view His miraculous power as a confirmation of these claims, but rather as the power which would make these claims a reality. Inasmuch as Jesus really did vanquish evil and bring God’s kingdom to the world (even though this will not be brought to fruition until much later), He shows Himself to be the Lord during the time of His public ministry. Who can bring the kingdom of God in his own person? Who can vanquish evil by his own authority? Who is capable of bringing God’s salvation to the world? Who is capable of completing the task reserved for Yahweh alone? It would seem that in the very commissioning of His miracles, Jesus shows Himself to be Lord prior to His resurrection in glory and gift of the Holy Spirit.
Though Jesus used His extraordinary power only to bring Yahweh’s salvation and to break open the kingdom of God on earth (and never to aggrandize Himself), the very fact that He uses this power to accomplish the mission reserved for Yahweh alone indicates His awareness not only of possessing the Holy Spirit, but also of His divine mission and sonship. Thus, the intention with which Jesus commissions His miracles reveals His awareness of His divine sonship, which, in turn, reveals His Lordship during His ministry. Jesus’ claims about His divine mission and sonship are given divine confirmation and approbation by His risen glory and His gift of the Holy Spirit.
I will attempt to establish this claim in two steps: (1) evidence of the historicity of Jesus’ miracles and their meaning – i.e., the vanquishing of evil and the arrival of the kingdom of God (Unit II-F), and (2) Jesus’ claims about His divine mission and identity – which are inseparable from His miracles (Unit II-G).
This Unit will be divided into four parts:
I. a suitable definition of “miracles” within Jesus’ Semitic context, II. Raymond Brown’s assessment of the distinctive characteristics of Jesus’ “miracle-working,” III. John P. Meier’s analysis of the historicity of Jesus’ miracles, and IV. Can Jesus’ Miracles be given a Purely Naturalistic Explanation Today?
A Suitable Definition of “Miracles” within Jesus’ Semitic Context
Wright indicates that the people of Jesus’ time were not unsophisticated about the notion of miracles. They had an informal notion of a natural order which directed events toward “normal” cause-effect sequences. Radical deviations from these perceived “normal” sequences could have been interpreted as a “mighty deed” (a “miracle” in our parlance). This notion of miracle is not incompatible with a contemporary view of miracle as “a supernatural intervention in the natural order, causing an interruption of the cause-effect sequences elucidated by the disciplines of physics, chemistry, and biology.” As Wright notes:
More thoroughgoing recent history has been coming to the conclusion that we can only explain the evidence before us if we reckon that Jesus did indeed perform deeds for which there was at the time, and may well be still, no obvious ‘naturalistic’ explanation…
The Semitic worldview did not have a notion of either “natural order” or “supernatural order” in a post-Heisenbergian sense (or even a post-Galilean sense for that matter); yet, as Wright contends:
[I]t would be naïve to suppose that first-century Galilean villagers were ready to believe in ‘miracles’ because they did not understand the laws of nature or did not realize that the space-time universe was a closed continuum.
The people of Jesus’ day did in fact have an informal notion of natural causation and were able to derive from it a further notion of what might or might not be expected from the natural order. Hence, Wright believes that the best way of describing “paradoxa, things one would not normally expect; dunameis, displays of power or authority; terata or semeia, signs or portents…[and] thaumasia, ‘marvels’” is that:
they indicate…that something has happened, within what we would call the ‘natural’ world, which is not what would have been anticipated, and which seems to provide evidence for the active presence of an authority, a power, at work, not invading the created order as an alien force, but rather enabling it to be more truly itself. And that describes equally well the impression that other aspects of Jesus’ ministry made on people.
Before beginning an analysis of the New Testament evidence and meaning of Jesus’ miracles, we may want to ask whether there is any evidence outside of the New Testament for the miracles of Jesus. There are some external sources about Jesus’ miracle-working, the most reliable of which come from early Jewish sources. For example, the Babylonian Talmud probably refers to Jesus in several references which can be dated between 70 to 200 AD. It uses the terms, “Yeshu,” “Yeshu ha-Notrzri,” “ben Satda,” and “ben Pandera” to refer to Jesus. In view of the fact that the passages indicate Rabbinical hostility toward Jesus and cast His crucifixion in a negative light, they may be considered to be free of later interpolation. One of the passages states that Jesus was accused of “witchcraft,” indicating that Jesus was known to have some kind of extraordinary and other-worldly power.
The most impressive extra-testamental reference to Jesus’ miracles comes from Flavius Josephus (a Jewish historian writing a history of the Jewish people for a Roman audience in approximately 93 AD). Many historians and exegetes have written extensively on Josephus’ testimony about Jesus’ miracle-working, because there were obvious Christian edits and interpolations of this text. I believe that Luke Timothy Johnson, Raymond Brown, and John P. Meier have a very balanced (and somewhat minimalistic) approach to the critical passage. Essentially, they believe that the beginning part of the passage from Josephus’ Antiquities has not been significantly changed or edited, though later parts clearly were. The passage (sometimes called the Testimonium Flavianum) appears directly below. The italicized portions represent those which many scholars believe are part of the original text of Josephus. The unitalicized parts are either probably or definitely Christian additions or interpolations.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
Without debating the points too vigorously, I defer to Johnson’s somewhat mainstream-minimalistic view of the matter:
Stripped of its obvious Christian accretions, the passage tells us a number of important things about Jesus, from the perspective of a first-century Jewish historian . . . . Jesus was both a teacher and a wonder-worker, that he got into trouble with some of the leaders of the Jews, that he was executed under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and that his followers continued to exist at the time of Josephus’ writing.
“Wonder-worker” in the above passage refers to Jesus’ miracles, and it is one of the most explicit references to miracle-working in Josephus’ works. Meier explains it as follows:
Thus, Jesus of Nazareth stands out as a relative exception in The Antiquities in that he is a named figure in 1st-century Jewish Palestine to whom Josephus is willing to attribute a number of miraculous deeds (Ant. 18.3.3 Sec. 63: paradoxōn ergōn poiētēs). That Josephus did not transform 1st-century religious figures into miracle-workers in an irresponsible fashion is shown not only by his presentation of the “sign prophets” but also by the intriguing contrast between Jesus and the Baptist in Book 18 of The Antiquities. The Baptist receives the longer and more laudatory notice (18.5.2 Sec.16-19), but without benefit of miracles, while Jesus is presented as both miracle-worker and teacher. The distinction implied in Josephus is mirrored perfectly in the Four Gospels…
When the external sources of Jesus’ miracles are combined with the exceptional testimony in the New Testament (see below Section III.), there can be little doubt that Jesus was well-known by friends and foes alike (in the first century) for His supernatural power, and that He used this power in exorcisms, healings, and even to raise the dead. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, for verification of this conclusion will require extensive historical analysis of the Gospel narratives. Before proceeding, we will want to examine the uniqueness of Jesus’ miracles, and to distinguish them from the witchcraft and sorcery of which his opponents accused him.
Raymond Brown’s Assessment of the Distinctive Characteristics of Jesus’ Miracle-Working
It should be noted at the outset that the historicity of Jesus’ miracles is well founded. They are mentioned not only in Christian sources, but also in non-Christian ones. Even those who attempted to undermine Jesus did not challenge His being a worker of extraordinary, even supernatural deeds. They attributed such deeds to sorcery or to the power of the devil. N.T. Wright notes in this regard:
…we must be clear that Jesus’ contemporaries, both those who became his followers and those who were determined not to become his followers, certainly regarded him as possessed of remarkable powers. The church did not invent the charge that Jesus was in league with Beelzebul; but charges like that are not advanced unless they are needed as an explanation for some quite remarkable phenomena.
The importance of this charge should not be underestimated, because there is absolutely no way that Mark (or the other Evangelists for that matter) would have dared to mention that Jesus was in league with the devil or was doing miracles by the power of the devil unless they believed it was absolutely necessary to respond to a charge which was really being leveled against Jesus at that time (see Unit II-B, Section I on the criterion of embarrassment/discontinuity). Now, if this charge was being leveled against Jesus, as Wright suggests, then, there must be a reason for it, because the charge concedes that Jesus has the power to expel demons (which both his friends and enemies believe to be supernatural power – whether divine or evil): “The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons’” (Mark 3:22). It can hardly be thought that Jesus’ harshest critics would concede to His having supernatural power (although they attribute it to evil) unless there was wide contemporaneous acknowledgement that Jesus was doing exorcisms and healing (another sign of the vanquishing of evil). For this reason alone, Jesus’ “supernatural power” should be considered acknowledged by His critics and widely known by the populace in towns which Jesus visited.
Within the New Testament tradition, miracles are central parts of every Gospel. They are alluded to in the earliest kerygmas, in the writings of Paul and 1John, and are manifest in every stratum of tradition constituting the Gospel narratives. Whatever one might believe about the interpretation of miracles by the Evangelists, it seems unreasonable to suspect that Jesus did not perform a large number of “extraordinary deeds of power” before multiple witnesses in multiple places throughout the course of His ministry. Since the miracles are so closely associated with Jesus in every stratum of historical witness, denying them would be tantamount to denying His presence in 1st century Jerusalem.
Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost makes miracles almost commonplace in the primitive Church. So much so that they are openly discussed by Paul, Acts, and the Gospels without hesitation. If these claims were not true, then they would have been recognized by contemporaneous critics and roundly refuted for their lack of witnesses and evidence. Instead, Jesus’ and the early Church’s critics attack the claims about His miracles by attributing them to evil, meaning that there must have been many living witnesses to His deeds of power.
Perhaps more interesting than the consistent documentation of His miracles, is the unique way in which they are presented. The New Testament presentation is not similar to the presentation of miracles in Hellenistic writings or in the Old Testament. As noted above, they are not portrayed as direct manifestations of Jesus’ divine power, but rather, as manifestations of the vanquishing of Satan and the coming of the Kingdom of love. Raymond Brown describes five unique, consistent features in the presentation of Jesus’ miracles in all four Gospels:
1) Jesus does miracles by His own authority.
2) Jesus’ miracles have the purpose not of showing His glory, but of actualizing the coming of the Kingdom and the vanquishing of evil.
3) Jesus is not a wonder-worker or magician in either the pagan or Jewish sense.
4) Jesus combines teaching and miracle.
5) The faith/freedom of the recipient is integral to the miraculous deed.
1) Jesus does miracles by His own authority. The Old Testament prophets did not perform miracles in their own name, or by their own authority. They were showing forth God’s glory according to God’s authority and God’s will. Jesus, in contrast, not only performs miracles by His own power, but does this as the initiation of a consummate eschatological act (the coming of the Kingdom) through His own authority. The greatest prophets of the Old Testament would not have even dared to conceive of such a claim. As Brown notes:
…granted that Jesus did perform acts of power, does that tell us more about him than that he was a prophet like Elijah or Elisha who were thought to have performed many of the same miracles? Yes, precisely because in the tradition Jesus connects them with the coming of the kingdom, a definitive eschatological context…. The lines of demarcation between Jesus and God…are very vague. The kingdom comes both in and through Jesus. The power to do the healings and other miracles belongs to God but also to Jesus.
2) Jesus’ miracles have the purpose not of showing His glory, but of actualizing the coming of the kingdom and the vanquishing of evil. Jesus’ miracles actualized the kingdom of God. They did so by vanquishing the power of Satan in the world. This interpretation is not only integral to virtually every miracle story in the Gospels, but also explicitly mentioned in the primitive Church’s kerygmas:
God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38).
As Brown notes, “Jesus is accomplishing something no one has ever done before since Adam’s sin yielded to Satan’s dominion over this world.” Inasmuch as Jesus is accomplishing something totally unique, the Gospel writers are totally unique in writing about it.
3) Jesus is not a wonder-worker or magician in either the pagan or Jewish sense. Bultmann contended that Jesus’ miracles were meant to show that Jesus was competitive with the so-called pagan miracle-workers. Brown notes that two facts militate against this. First, though it is popularly believed that there were a large number of miracle-workers at the time of Jesus, there is little evidence for this. Secondly, among these few miracle-workers, none resembles Jesus in either style or purpose. With respect to pagan miracle-workers, Brown notes:
The most popular pagan parallel offered for Jesus is Apollonius of Tyana (1st century AD) for whose activity we are largely dependent on a life written 200 years later by Philostratus, a life that some serious scholars regard as largely fictitious. The miracles attributed to that figure, some of which may be influenced by knowledge of the stories about Jesus, have the purpose of causing astonishment and bringing about adulation – quite unlike the Gospel presentation of Jesus’ miracles.
The Gospel writers not only avoid the portrayal of Jesus as a worker of “astonishing deeds,” Jesus Himself is portrayed as shunning such a purpose. Indeed, when Herod, the Pharisees, and the devil ask Jesus to work a miracle for no other purpose than to show off His power, He refuses to do so.
John P. Meier (in conjunction with David E. Aune) adds to this conclusion by noting that Jesus was not in any sense a magician (as conceived of by His contemporary Jewish audience). He was not even accused of magic by His adversaries. The New Testament was aware of the notion of magic designated by the term “magos” (Acts 13:6,8), and the Jewish authorities were certainly aware of the charge of practicing magic, but, as Meier notes, this term is never used to describe Jesus’ activity by His disciples, the Jewish authorities, the early Church, Jesus’ fiercest critics, or Jesus Himself.
Some contemporary exegetes have suggested that the accusation of being in league with Beelzebul is similar to the charge of magic, but, as Meier points out:
…that is a move made by modern scholars engaging in model-building at a high level of abstraction. It does not reflect the precise vocabulary and immediate reaction of Jesus’ fellow Jews in his own day or in the decades immediately following his death.
Furthermore, if Jesus were to have been accused of magic, it would have carried a very pejorative connotation within the Jewish culture of His time, and even after His death. However, the New Testament accounts militate against this interpretation by continuously noting that Jesus’ miracles are greeted with amazement and praise by His Jewish audience (while magic would have been viewed quite negatively).
Finally, Meier notes:
An amoral or antinomian magician, unconnected with the eschatological fate and ethical concerns of Israel, is not the historical Jesus that emerges from the most reliable traditions of his words and deeds.
As will be seen, the contrary is very much the case.
4) Jesus combines teaching and miracle. Unlike both the pagan and Jewish miracle-workers of the time, Jesus integrated teaching into his miraculous deeds. He did not simply heal the sick (which is a good purpose in itself, and a vanquishing of Satan), He included lessons about faith, the forgiveness of sins, seeing through the eyes of faith, giving thanks, the kingdom of God, salvation for the Gentiles, and even the holy Eucharist. Jewish miracle workers, in contrast, were not portrayed this way. As Brown again notes:
…that combination [of miracle and teaching] may be unique. The two most frequently cited Jewish wonder-workers are Honi (Onias), the rain-maker (or circle-drawer) of the 1st century BC, and the Galilean Hanina of the 1st century AD. Almost all that is known of these men comes from much later rabbinic literature, and by that time legendary and theological developments had aggrandized the portrayal…. Almost certainly in the earliest tradition they were not rabbinical teachers…
In contrast to the Jewish miracle-workers, Jesus is not only a rabbinical teacher, but also one who integrates His teaching with the deed of power. Thus, Jesus’ miracles serve first as the vanquishing of Satan and the actualization of the kingdom of God; second, as a means of teaching about faith, love, and the kingdom of God; and only third, as an astonishing act indicating the extraordinary power He has in His own person, and according to His own authority.
5) The faith/freedom of the recipient is integral to the miraculous deed. Unlike pagan and Jewish miracle-workers of the time, Jesus uses miracles to both teach about and call forth faith. The oft-repeated lines, “Go now, your faith has saved you,” or “Do you believe that I can do this?” move the recipient of the miracle beyond a physical healing to faith and ultimately toward salvation. Notice that this call to faith involves the highest use of the recipient’s freedom. Jesus wants the recipient in all his/her freedom to enter into a life of salvation through the vehicle of His deed of power. The miracle-workers of Jesus’ time do not appear to have such an intention.
When one examines these five unique aspects of Jesus’ miracles, it becomes apparent that the Gospel writers are not “competing” with other miracle-workers, or even trying to “show off” the astonishing and powerful nature of Jesus. They are, in a remarkably restrained and humble way, reflecting what Jesus was trying to do in His remarkably restrained and humble way, namely, to bring the Kingdom of God through the vanquishing of Satan, call forth faith, and teach about God’s kingdom of mercy and compassion. These stories (and the One about whom they are told) are quite unique in the history of religions.
There is always a temptation when talking about a “deed of power” to emphasize power instead of the coming of the kingdom, and the importance of the miracle-worker instead of the recipient. The Gospel writers did not succumb to this temptation, but rather restricted themselves to certain sets of deeds which were well-known and attested, and presented them in exceedingly restrained ways. They did not feel a need to multiply raisings of the dead, to add to or supplement the regular features of Jesus’ miracles, or to follow the tendencies of the Gnostic gospel writers (who wrote in the second half of the second century, or later). This last point merits some discussion.
As will be made clear below, the New Testament miracles are almost free from frivolous elements, needless exaggerations, and punitive actions. In stark contrast to this, the Gnostic gospels are full of them. With respect to frivolous miracles, for example, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has the child Jesus making clay sparrows fly, to prove to His father that He has the right to violate the Sabbath. The Gnostic Gospel of Philip has Jesus going into the dye works of Levi and turning seventy-two different colors into white in order to show that “the Son of Man [has] come as a dyer.”
With respect to needless exaggerations, we find in the Gospel of Peter (for which we have only fragmentary evidence) a gratuitous elaboration of Matthew’s reference to “darkness covering the whole land” (Mt 27:45) as meaning that the sun had already set at the noon hour, causing people to stumble and take out lamps in order to see.
With respect to punitive miracles, the Gnostic gospels portray Jesus as punishing His critics. For example, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas the child Jesus curses a child to death who disperses water He has just collected, saying:
You godless, brainless moron, what did the ponds and waters do to you? Watch this now: you are going to dry up like a tree and you will never produce leaves or roots or fruit.
In another instance, He curses a child to death for accidentally bumping into Him, and strikes His neighbors blind when they complain.
In contrast to this, the four canonical Gospels contain only one recorded miracle that is frivolous (the coin in the fish’s mouth – Mt 17:24-27), and one that is retributive (Jesus cursing the fig tree – Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). In both cases, they are singly attested and completely discontinuous with Jesus’ way of performing miracles and with the canonical Gospels themselves. Given the apologetical appeal and fascination intrinsic to wonder-working and blatant (but useless) displays of power, one should pause at the notable absence of this in the canonical Gospels. Despite the remarkable nature of these miracles (and the Evangelists’ belief that they are deeds of power done by God), they avoid self-aggrandizement, frivolity, retribution, and virtually anything which does not fulfill a need of a suffering or grieving person. Therefore, there is a remarkable editorial restraint which attests to the historicity of these narratives from the outset. They seem to follow the Master who was very restrained about the way He used power (i.e., to exorcise, heal, or raise the dead to respond to the urgent needs of petitioners with faith). Though every miracle story has an obvious apologetical dimension, that dimension is not the prime reason for the miracle. The main purpose of miracles is to heal the sick and raise the dead so that the kingdom of God might actually be introduced and present to the world. The fact that there is a proof is consequential – a consequence which had to follow from Jesus bringing the kingdom because the kingdom vanquished evil, and the vanquishing of evil manifested a greater power than sickness (which was considered to be evil). This calls attention to itself because it is extraordinary power and therefore highly unusual.
When one thinks of how the Evangelists could have been tempted to put the emphasis on the deed of power (instead of the deed of compassion) in order to make Jesus look more powerful, glorious, and successful (in the eyes of the world); when one thinks about the temptation to appeal to the baser nature of an audience of potential converts, it seems remarkable that the Evangelists resisted that temptation in almost every form and in every miracle story. Light shines on the need of the petitioner and Jesus’ compassionate response, the gentleness of the healing, and the admonition to tell no one. This approach is quite unique among miracle stories in the ancient world, and seems to put the need and faith of the petitioner on the same plane as Jesus’ power to vanquish evil and bring the kingdom. This is unbelievably restrained, provoking the thought that the writing of the stories might be just as revelatory of divine power and love as the miracles portrayed by them.
As will be seen in the next section, these miracles (and the resurrection and gift of the Spirit they anticipate) are said by Jesus to show that He possesses the Holy Spirit, vanquishes evil by His own authority, and brings the kingdom of God in His own person. This has the effect of suggesting that the divinity of Jesus originated prior to the ministry. Jesus’ extraordinary claim to bring the kingdom in His own person reveals an authority and mission reserved unto God Himself. This betokens a divine authority which has its origins in the eternity of the divine nature.
John P. Meier’s Analysis of the Historicity of Jesus’ Miracles
Readers who are not familiar with the criteria and methods for assessing the reliability of historical texts may want to review the contents of Unit II-B, Section I which gives a summary of them.
We may now begin with a general observation of John P. Meier about the historicity of Jesus’ miracles:
…the historical fact that Jesus performed extraordinary deeds deemed by himself and others to be miracles is supported most impressively by the criterion of multiple attestation of sources and forms and the criterion of coherence. The miracle traditions about Jesus’ public ministry are already so widely attested in various sources and literary forms by the end of the first Christian generation that total fabrication by the early church is, practically speaking, impossible. Other literary sources from the second and third generation – M, L, John, and Josephus – only confirm this impression. The criterion of coherence likewise supports historicity; the neat fit between the words and deeds of Jesus emanating from many different sources is striking.
We have seen a similar judgment above from Raymond Brown and Joachim Jeremias; John P. Meier makes more explicit use of the above historical criteria to justify his conclusion.
With respect to Meier’s claim about multiple attestation, David E. Aune tallied the various miracle traditions, attempting to eliminate any literary parallels and variance of the same tradition (according to form critical criteria). At the end of the process, he identifies six exorcisms, fourteen healings, three raisings from the dead, and eight nature miracles which are within non-overlapping traditions. Many of these non-overlapping traditions have multiple parallel accounts within the four Gospels (obviously, Aune did not count any of these parallels). Meier adds a considerable number of other references to miracles:
…many other Gospel verses referring to miracles can be added. The Synoptics give a number of summary statements about Jesus’ miracle-working, thus creating the impression that many more miracles were performed than are narrated in the text. There are also allusions to individual miracles that are not narrated in full…
In addition to all these, Meier adds to this list several other accounts of miracles which are briefly referenced by the Evangelists, such as the casting out of seven demons from Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2/Mk 16:9); giving the power to exorcise and/or heal to the disciples (Matt 10:1 parr.); the disciples performing or failing to perform miracles (Luke 9:6; 10:17-20; Mark 3:15; 9:18; 28, 38); Jesus demonstrating more-than-human knowledge of the past, present, and future (John 1:45; Mark 2:8; 14:12-16); various sayings in which Jesus refers to His miracles; and the Scribes’ accusations that He performed miracles by the power of Beelzebul.
We may conclude with Meier that the multiple independent attestation of miracle traditions is so large that “total fabrication by the early church is, practically speaking, impossible.”
It now remains to examine three of the four groupings of Jesus’ miracles in order to apply the above historical criteria to particular elements within each group: (1) exorcisms, (2) healings, and (3) raisings from the dead.
Meier presents a fourth category of miracles (nature miracles) which I will not address here because they are not necessary to establish my central point that Jesus was Lord during His ministry. Furthermore, these miracles present special challenges to historians and exegetes which would require a considerable amount of analysis to clarify (let alone to examine the question of historicity). Hence, I will leave this challenge to others, and pass them over with a brief remark. The category of “nature miracles” is an ambiguous “catch-all,” and its contents are difficult to analyze and verify; yet it is reasonable to hold that some of these miracles can be verified, and still others are post-resurrection narratives retrojected into a pre-resurrection setting.
This analysis of Jesus’ miracles will be limited to establishing the historicity of His exorcisms, healings, and raisings from the dead. I will examine only as much evidence and particular stories as are required to meet my threefold purpose for writing this Unit, namely, to show that: (1) Jesus did in fact perform many miracles, some of which were exorcisms, healings, and raisings from the dead during His ministry; (2) Jesus performed these miracles by His own authority (exousia – power) in order to vanquish evil and bring the kingdom in His own person; and (3) vanquishing evil and bringing the kingdom of God in His own person are not only reserved to God by nature, but are also reserved to Yahweh alone in Jewish scripture, which reveals Jesus’ divinity in His ministry (as well as His awareness of His exclusive sonship with the Father during His ministry).
The Historicity of Jesus’ Exorcisms
The arrival of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus is central to Jesus’ mission, message, and actions. It is not merely an acknowledgement of the dawning of the kingdom or a revelation that the kingdom is symbolically here. For Jesus, the preaching of the kingdom was identical with the coming of the kingdom in power and Spirit.
As many exegetes have made clear throughout the last 50 years, second-Temple Judaism held that the kingdom of God was coming, but in the future – at the end time. Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom is quite distinct from this. Although Jesus taught that the kingdom would be brought to completion in a future age (the end of time), He insisted that it is already here now through His person. Despite this radical departure from the single focus of 1st century Jewish eschatology (i.e., only future eschatology), Jesus continued to preach present eschatology unashamedly. This would not have been apologetically appealing to His audience, and probably caused His critics to deride Him – “He says the kingdom is here, but where are the signs of the end time?” However, the derision of His critics did not gain much traction because Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom within the context of His exorcisms and other miracles.
For Jesus, the coming of the kingdom (here and now) is marked by the vanquishing of evil (here and now), which is grounded in His exorcisms, healings, and raisings from the dead (here and now). Even though Jesus mentions the kingdom apart from His miracles (as in the parables of the kingdom and His response to the Pharisees who ask Him about the time of the coming of the kingdom – “The kingdom of God is in your midst” – Luke 17:21), His announcement of the arrival of the kingdom is connected with His deeds of power. This becomes particularly apparent when Jesus exorcises a demon from a mute man which elicits an accusation from the Pharisees that He is casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus responds: “If by the finger of God I cast out the demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Nothing could be plainer. Jesus’ exorcism clearly manifests His vanquishing of evil, and His vanquishing of evil clearly manifests the presence of the kingdom of God.
It is important to note here that Jesus exorcizes by His own authority (not by invoking the name of God), which indicates that He is claiming to have divine power in Himself, and further, to be taking on the mission reserved for Yahweh alone. The implications for Jesus’ divinity are obvious. The Pharisees did not miss these implications, and felt compelled to accuse Him of using the power of the devil instead of having the power of God.
Thus, the exorcisms have an important threefold purpose in Jesus’ ministry:
(1) they actually bring the kingdom of God into the world through the vanquishing of evil (which, for Jesus, is their most important purpose),
(2) they reveal the authority (power – exousia) to cast out demons and therefore manifest the presence of the kingdom in Jesus Himself, and thereby
(3) they imply Jesus’ divinity (because He is accomplishing the mission reserved to Yahweh alone by His own authority).
J.P. Meier has done a rather complete historical investigation of the exorcism stories. There are seven non-overlapping accounts of exorcisms in the synoptic Gospels (John recounts no exorcisms, but this is his theological proclivity):
1) The Possessed Boy (Mark 9:14-29),
2) Passing reference to the exorcism of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2),
3) The Gerasene Demoniac (Mark 5:1-20),
4) The Demoniac in the Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:23-28),
5) The Mute and Blind demoniac in Q tradition (Matt 12:24/Luke 11:14-15),
6) The Mute Demoniac (Matt 9:32-33), and
7) The Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30/ Matt 15:21-28).
Meier draws a significant conclusion about the historicity of exorcisms (in general), namely, “That there should be seven individual ‘specimens’ of a very specific type of miracle, namely, exorcism, supports the view that exorcisms loomed large in Jesus’ ministry.” These seven distinct instances are complemented by many sayings about exorcisms and other additional references to exorcisms in various summaries, which corroborates Meier’s contention about general historicity.
Multiple attestation of sources is somewhat limited because Mark is responsible for the majority of extended narratives about Jesus’ exorcisms (and Matthew and Luke borrow them). L (special Luke) gives a passing reference to the exorcism of Mary Magdalene: “…some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk 8:2); Q has one narrative (Matt 12:22-24 and Luke 11:14-15 – the mute and blind demoniac); and M (special Matthew) recounts one narrative (Matt 9:32-33).
Nevertheless, as Meier observes, there is very pronounced multiple attestation of forms (sayings of Jesus, references within summaries, etc.), and: “Q sayings join Marcan sayings and Marcan narratives in providing multiple attestation for the existence of exorcisms in the ministry of the historical Jesus.”
Furthermore, we have already seen a primary instance of discontinuity from the apostolic Church (a passage which causes embarrassment or undermines Jesus or His message) in the prominent account of Jesus casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. The very thought of it would have been repulsive to the early Church (and certainly would have put the wrong idea into prospective converts’ heads), and so we must suppose that the early Church believed they had to respond to this very negative (but historically real) accusation against Jesus.
The criterion of coherence (continuity) may also be brought into play because we can be certain that Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom, particularly the arrival of the kingdom in His person, is historical. (Recall the overwhelming multiple attestation of this, as well as the discontinuity from second-Temple Judaism—the arrival of the kingdom at the present moment.) Now combine the historicity of His preaching of the kingdom with the fact that His exorcisms are integral to and inseparable from this preaching (“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” – Luke 11:20). A denial of the historicity of the exorcisms would completely dismantle Jesus’ proclamation of the arrival of the kingdom, which would be historically irresponsible.
Thus, the general historicity of Jesus’ exorcisms cannot be responsibly denied. Indeed, the evidence suggests that they played a frequent and prominent role in His ministry, particularly in His Galilean ministry, especially Capernaum. It is not necessary to examine particular narratives here because the evidence for the general historicity of Jesus’ exorcisms is quite strong; so we will proceed directly to an analysis of the historicity of His healing miracles.
The Historicity of Jesus’ Healings
As strong as the historical evidence is for Jesus’ exorcisms, it is considerably stronger for Jesus’ healing miracles. Indeed, the early Church remembered Jesus more as a healer than as an exorcist. Jesus’ exorcisms show unequivocally that He has the divine power to vanquish evil by His own authority, and therefore to bring God’s kingdom in His own person. Though healings do have the element of overcoming evil (because physical infirmity was associated with evil or sin in the Judaism of Jesus’ time), they do not have the element of a direct struggle with evil spirits or the power of the evil one. Rather, the focus shifts to the need of particular persons and the plea of those persons or their petitioners. This plea, in turn, manifests “faith” (that is, the petitioner’s trust in both Jesus’ power and His desire to heal). This trust in Jesus (particularly His heartfelt desire to heal) is what moves Jesus to perform the healing.
Healings share an important historical feature with exorcisms, namely, that Jesus effects them by His own authority (he does them without making recourse to the name or power of God). This means that the power of God is not simply working through Jesus, but that Jesus literally has the power of God in him. This is a crucial datum for probing the mind of Jesus, for He must have been aware of what He was doing when He was casting out demons or healing the sick by His own authority. It cannot be imagined that when He was doing this He did not believe that He had the power of God in him (which goes far beyond the “power of God working through Him”). In sum, healings are complementary to exorcisms. They manifest Jesus’ possession of divine power, but they shift the accent from the vanquishing of evil to the compassionate desire to alleviate affliction and suffering.
What can be said about the historicity of healings in general? First, there is a huge block of healing miracles in four out of the five independent sources: Mark, Q, special Luke, and John. Special Matthew alone lacks an independent healing narrative. There are 15 distinct (non-overlapping) accounts of miracles in the Gospels, plus the general Q list in Matt 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23. This totals 16 non-overlapping references to healing miracles in the Gospels. The breakdown is as follows: Mark relates eight miracle accounts: two concerned with cures of paralytics (2:1-12 and 3:1-6), two concerned with cures of blindness (10:46-52 and 8:22-26), one concerned with the cure of leprosy (1:40-45), and three concerned with various diseases mentioned only once (fever of Peter’s mother-in-law in 1:29-31, woman with the hemorrhage in 5:24-34, and the deaf-mute in 7:31-37).
Q relates only one account of a miracle which is the cure of a centurion’s servant (at a distance). Matthew calls this a cure of a paralytic, but Luke calls it a cure of someone with a grave illness. Curiously, John agrees with Luke instead of Matthew, meaning that Matthew has probably changed the Q source (instead of Luke). The presence of this miracle in both Q and John indicates multiple attestation of sources for a single healing account. Q also has a list of miracles (Matt 11:2-6/Luke 7:18-23) which include healing of the blind, the lame, lepers, and the deaf. Special Luke (L) relates four healings: one paralytic (13:10-17), one concerned with leprosy (17:11-19), and two cures of various ailments mentioned only once (the man with dropsy in 14:1-6 and the ear of the slave of the high priest in 22:49-51). John relates two healings: one concerned with the cure of a paralytic (5:1-9) and one concerned with the man born blind (9:1-41).
It is obvious that healings enjoy wide multiple attestation and that healings of paralytics, the blind, and lepers also enjoy independent multiple attestation. Healings are mentioned in a variety of other contexts outside of narratives. For example, allusions to miracles which are not narrated in full (e.g., Mark 6:56 – “And wherever He came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment; and as many as touched it were made well”); in sayings implying His fulfillment of prophetic expectation (Luke 4:16-21 – “He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…[to give] recovery of sight to the blind’”); the disciples performing or failing to perform miracles (Luke 9:6; 10:17-20; Mark 3:15; 9:18; 28, 38); various sayings in which Jesus refers to His miracles; and the Scribes’ accusations that He performed miracles by the power of Beelzebul; giving the power to heal to the disciples (Matt 10:1 parr.); and several summary statements. When this is combined with the fact that the apostles also had the power to heal through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, it would be completely unreasonable to deny the historicity of Jesus’ healing miracles or His power to heal in extraordinary ways.
This strong conclusion is corroborated even further by historical evidence from seven particular miracle stories: the cure of the centurion’s servant (Matt 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10 /royal official’s son in John 4:46-54), the blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:45-50 parr.), the paralyzed man let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12 parr.), the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9), the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), the man born blind (John 9:1-7), and a deaf-mute (Mark 7:31-37). In Unit II-B, Section I, it is shown that historical evidence from particular narratives may be adduced through five techniques: (1) identification of nonstandard parts of a story, (2) unusual facts in material falling outside the standard form, (3) historical details that are irrelevant to the standard form (e.g., specific locales and personal names), (4) Semitisms, and (5) instances of discontinuity in material falling outside the standard form. Meier has identified several instances of these five techniques in the seven narratives mentioned above. This reveals considerable additional historical evidence of Jesus’ healing miracles.
The standard form of a healing story may be summarized as follows:
a) a sick or infirm person approaches Jesus and begs for a cure (sometimes Jesus notices the sick person and is moved to heal without being asked),
b) there is an indication of the faith of the petitioner (generally in the way they ask for a cure),
c) Jesus is moved by the person’s need and/or faith,
d) He heals by touching and a word,
e) the immediate cure is noted and confirmed,
f) the crowd is amazed and spreads word about Him.
We may now proceed to an investigation of the seven healing stories which present evidence of historicity beyond the general evidence mentioned above. I will rely heavily upon Meier’s extensive analysis of these narratives.
In the cure of the centurion’s/official’s son/servant (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, and John 4:46-54) we have a remarkable example of multiple attestation of a single complete miracle story. Despite the fact that Q speaks of a centurion’s servant (Mt) / son (Lk), while John speaks of an official’s son, the similarities among the stories are too great to be explained by anything except a root primitive tradition. Meier ridicules the alternative explanation of John redacting Q by noting:
We would have to imagine the Fourth Evangelist spreading out copies of Mark, Matthew, and Luke in front of him on his desk and proceeding to pick out a verse here and a verse there from each of the Synoptics, at times without any discernible reason or pattern.
Though Q and John received different oral traditions, those traditions undoubtedly referred back to a single primitive tradition which was probably grounded in a single historical incident. This is corroborated by a considerable number of underlying Semitisms detected by Uwe Wegner (technique #4), and the placement of the incident (in both Q and John) at Capernaum (technique #3). Furthermore, the miracle has a very unusual characteristic – Jesus cures the sick boy at a distance (technique #2). The convergence of all this evidence makes a “primitive tradition linked to a source incident” very difficult to deny.
Mark 10:46-52 parr. (the blind Bartimaeus) presents one of the most unique convergences of historical data in the Gospels. Technique #4 is quite relevant because the story is full of Semitisms – two Aramaic words (bar Tim’ai and rabbouni) and a very ancient reference to Jesus (Son of David) which is a Jewish rather than a Christian title for Jesus. This title would certainly have had no place in the earliest Church community, and undoubtedly dates back to Jesus’ ministry where very probably Bartimaeus uses it to refer to the one whom he thinks is merely a miracle-worker in the image of “Solomon the miracle-worker.” It could hardly be thought that any Christian interpreter would have invented these details and outmoded expressions as a way of reflecting on the risen Christ.
Technique #3 is also highly relevant because the story is filled with details that fall outside the standard form and have no apparent apologetical or catechetical purpose. As Meier notes, it possesses:
the naming of the direct recipient of a miracle performed by Jesus; the tying of this named individual to a precise place (the road outside Jericho leading up to Jerusalem), to a precise time of year (shortly before Passover), and to a precise period of Jesus’ ministry (his final journey up to Jerusalem along with other Passover pilgrims)…
These details also require a connection to an eyewitness and a deliberate attempt on the part of the conveyors of the tradition to retain them. This might suggest that the conveyors of the tradition had some acquaintance with the eyewitness himself. Could it have been Bartimaeus? Meier notes here:
If Bartimaeus was a resident of Jericho, and especially if he did actually follow Jesus up to Jerusalem, it is hardly surprising that the earliest Christian communities in Jerusalem and Judea would have preserved this story from one of their earliest members and most notable witnesses.
When all of these considerations are combined, we are confronted with an historical treasure chest – (1) an independent verification of Jesus’ healing power, (2) His well-known reputation as a healer in the district of Jericho and Jerusalem, far beyond His home district of Galilee (causing Bartimaeus – who was not even close to being a disciple at that moment – to think that Jesus was a miracle worker like Solomon), and (3) a possible connection of the miracle account to the recipient of the miracle himself. This combination of evidence significantly complements the vast multiple attestation of Jesus’ healing miracles in the Gospels.
In Mark 2:1-12 (the paralyzed man let down through the roof), technique #1 is relevant inasmuch as the narrative is very lengthy and indicates several decades of development in its oral tradition. This would imply that the core story is quite ancient and may go back to the time of Jesus. Moreover, technique #2 is relevant because there are several details in material that falls outside the standard form of healing stories that serve no apologetical, catechetical, or instructional purpose, and require the reminiscence of an actual witness – four individuals going up to a roof, digging out a hole in the roof, and lowering the man down to the amazement of Jesus. Technique #5 is also relevant because there is radical discontinuity with second-Temple Judaism – not only does Jesus heal the man by His own authority, He actually uses the occasion to forgive his sins which elicits a response of blasphemy from the Pharisee onlookers.
In John 5:1-9 (the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda), technique #3 is quite relevant because the precise place of the pools of Bethesda is accurately described though the account was put to writing several decades after the occurrence. Recent archeological findings confirm that the description is accurate to great precision. Such an accurate geographical detail does not have apologetical, catechetical, or instructional relevance, and would have required a witness to obtain its degree of precision. Furthermore, technique #2 is also relevant because there are a considerable number of details which fall outside the standard form of a healing story, which again have no apologetical, catechetical, or instructional purpose, and would seem to require an eyewitness – such as the paralyzed man’s ambivalence about being healed, his lack of gratitude, and his reporting of Jesus to the authorities. Finally, as Meier notes, the Evangelist has to “tack on” the themes of Sabbath and sin, because they are absent from the core of the story, indicating that that core was more primitive and had to be woven into the Gospel.
In Mark 8:22-26 (the blind man of Bethsaida), technique #2 is relevant because there are a considerable number of unusual facts that fall outside the standard form and have no apparent apologetical, catechetical, or instructional purpose. They do not further Mark’s redactional agenda, and they have absolutely no Christological significance. Jesus spits directly into a blind man’s eye (which makes Him look like a Hellenistic magician); seems to have only partial success in curing the blindness (which is quite distinct from any other miracle he worked, with the exception of a deaf-mute in Mark 7:31-37, another miracle involving saliva); He has to ask the blind man what he can see; and finally achieves success on a “second try.”
These highly unusual facts make the fifth technique (discontinuity and embarrassment) relevant because Jesus’ partial success and association with Hellenistic magic and wonderworkers would not only have been incommensurate with early Church theology, but apologetically unnerving (to say the least). This provoked Matthew and Luke to completely omit the entire narrative. It cannot be imagined that Mark added these elements by way of redaction (because they undermined his purpose). It is also difficult to imagine that later conveyors of the oral tradition added them (because of their embarrassing and adverse effects on apologetics and catechesis). This suggests that this particular miracle story is part of a very early tradition which conveyors of the tradition (as well as Mark) left unaltered. They seemed to have had some regard for it, not because of its embarrassing content, but because they presumably considered it to be true. Therefore, it may well represent a way of healing that Jesus implemented in His Galilean ministry.
In John 9:1-41 (the man born blind), technique #3 is relevant because the place name of Siloam is mentioned. Inasmuch as the Romans destroyed Siloam in 70 AD, the geographical accuracy in the account would seem to date the tradition prior to 70 AD (well before the writing of John’s Gospel). Technique #2 is also relevant because Jesus makes a paste out of His saliva mixed with mud. This is the only miracle story which recounts such a paste (although two Marcan miracles do attest to Jesus’ use of saliva). Furthermore, the miracle does not occur instantly, but only after the blind man obeys Jesus’ request to wash in the pool of Siloam. These unusual features do not seem to serve an apologetical purpose, but there may be an implicit catechetical purpose in them (namely, to have the man demonstrate his faith by washing in the pool, which shows the importance of faith in the actualization of the healing). Even though there may be a catechetical motive to explain a possible redaction here, it is likely not a redaction because there are much simpler and briefer ways of showing the importance of faith than the long scenario about the paste and washing in the pool of Siloam (e.g., “Your faith has saved you”). For these and other reasons, Meier believes that the core story here is historical.
Mark 7:31-37 (the healing of the deaf-mute) contains evidence of historicity in three areas. Technique #2 is relevant because there are several elements which fall outside the standard form (indeed, are unique among all healing stories in the Gospels): Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears, puts His saliva on the man’s tongue, looks up to heaven, and groans inwardly. These elements do not have apologetical, catechetical, or instructional purpose, and therefore are not likely to be either additions to the oral tradition or Marcan redactions. This is confirmed by the fact that one of the special features (saliva on the tongue) could be interpreted as magic which is an embarrassment to the early Church (technique #5). Matthew and Luke deliberately leave it out of their Gospels for this reason. Finally, technique #4 is relevant because the Aramaic word for “be opened” – ephphatha – is used, but it is accompanied, instead of replaced, by the Greek translation. When the clues from these three techniques are assembled, it seems very likely that the core story is historical as well as the special way in which Jesus effects His cure.
Conclusion. The historical evidence for Jesus’ performance of healing miracles is so strong that it cannot be reasonably and responsibly denied. Multiple attestation abounds (including a complete miracle story – the centurion’s servant/son); discontinuity and embarrassment to the early Church is present in several stories; Semitisms, place names, personal names, and unusual details are prevalent in these stories; and there is even the possibility of seeing a link between the recipient of a miracle and its transmission to the Jerusalem Church (Bartimaeus). There are very few facts of ancient history that are better attested than this.
What can be learned from the historical evidence of Jesus’ healing? The first and most important purpose of His healing miracles is to vanquish evil and to bring the kingdom of God into the world by responding in compassion to the needs of petitioners; His secondary purpose is self-revelation – He is the vanquisher of evil, the bringer of the kingdom, the one who is accomplishing the mission reserved to Yahweh alone.
The dimension of compassion and response to need deserves further consideration. A brief examination of the above seven stories reveals that Jesus is very attentive to the needs of petitioners, and that He is quite moved to help them.
In the story about the centurion’s servant/son, Jesus is not deterred by the centurion’s association with Rome. He views him as an individual in need, and responds, “I will come and heal him” (Matt 8:7). When Bartimaeus cries to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” everyone in the crowd seems to be ignoring or rebuking him, except Jesus who hears him and calls him over (Mark 10:48-49). When the paralyzed man is let down through the roof of Jesus’ home as He preached, He stops everything and attends to him because He sees the need of the man and the faith of his friends (Mark 2:1-12). John 5:1-9 is particularly instructive because the man at the side of the pool does not ask Jesus to be healed; rather, Jesus notices him, and, aware that he had been lying there a long time, asks him if he wants to be healed, and then has mercy on him. In virtually all cases, Jesus heals by touching, and His actions resemble what Bartimaeus asks for – mercy.
“Mercy” is the English translation of Bartimaeus’ “eleēson” (eleos), which is generally used to render the Hebrew “hesed.” Eleos has the meaning of “tolerance” and “forgiveness.” It also can mean “a willingness to associate with someone” (counterpoised to the exclusivism of the Scribes); but primarily it refers to God’s will to save. Therefore, it is a desire of the heart (a disposition of the will) which is open to others, tolerant of others, forgiving of others, and above all, desirous of the salvation of others. It is the consummate proof of love. This is precisely what Jesus is doing.
Eleos is a near perfect explanation of Jesus’ interior disposition in His ministry of healing. In His radical openness to the petitioner, Jesus manifests not only His saving heart for that petitioner, but His saving will for the world. Each miracle puts an end to evil and brings the kingdom evermore deeply into the world. It is the proof of His love. The same characteristics of mercy are even more deeply manifest in Jesus’ raising the dead.
The Historicity of Jesus Raising the Dead
Unlike healing miracles (of which there are fifteen full non-overlapping stories and dozens of other references in lists, summary statements, etc.), there are only three non-overlapping stories about raising the dead, and fewer non-narrative references than the healing miracles. However, these three stories all come from different traditions, and have impressive indications of lengthy traditions dating back to their very probable early Palestinian origins.
The three traditions of “raising the dead” are the Marcan tradition (the raising of Jairus’ daughter – Mark 5:21-43), the special Luke tradition (the raising of the son of the widow of Nain – Luke 7:11-17), and the Johannine tradition (the raising of Lazarus – John 11:1-46). To these three narratives we should add a saying from a list in Q: “The blind see and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matt 11:5 par.). Thus, raising the dead is mentioned in four out of five non-overlapping traditions. Special Matthew is the only source not to make specific mention of it. Therefore, despite their low frequency, raisings from the dead enjoy almost complete multiple attestation.
There is one blessing that comes from the low frequency of these narratives, and that is, despite their spectacular character and their very direct proof that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world through Jesus, the Gospel writers do not appear to have any need to multiply them in their Gospels. You would think that any overzealous evangelist with apologetics on the mind would want to make recourse to this kind of miracle above all. Yet, each Evangelist has restricted himself to one (Mark, Matthew, and John) or two (Luke – who makes recourse to Mark’s narrative plus his own special one). This shows a remarkable restraint which appears to have truth (instead of persuasion) at its core.
One other point requires early clarification, namely, that the three stories about raising the dead must be distinguished from Jesus’ resurrection. All three stories about raising the dead are really a restoration of a person to his or her former corporeal existence. However, as was made clear in Unit II-C&D, Jesus’ resurrection is anything but a restoration to former corporeal existence; it is a transformation of former embodiment into what Paul termed “spiritual embodiment,” which implies aspects of transmateriality (“[they] supposed that they saw a spirit” – Luke 24:37), and an infusion of some kind of divine character – “glory, power, incorruptibility” (1Cor 15:42-44). Despite the huge chasm between a restoration to former corporeal existence and resurrection, one will not want to diminish the importance of Jesus raising the dead. This is an important sign of Jesus having power over life and death, and therefore an important actualization of the vanquishing of evil (death being seen as one of the primary evils to be overcome) and the arrival of God’s kingdom in the world through the person of Jesus. True, a restoration to former corporeal existence is not a permanent overcoming of death; for such a permanent overcoming would require eternal life – and that would not be the case for Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, or Lazarus. They will die again. Nevertheless, Jesus will have demonstrated within worldly bounds that He has power over life and death which is integral to His mission to bring God’s kingdom to this world.
The last point bears further inspection because Jesus’ temporary restoration of life does not constitute the initiation of the parousia (the end time) envisioned by second-Temple Judaism. Recall from Unit II-D that second-Temple Judaism envisioned the end time as being (1) a permanent restoration of corporeal existence, and (2) a collective permanent restoration for all the saints at a particular period. As we saw in Unit II-D, the early Christian Church believed that Jesus initiated the end time in His resurrection because He manifested Himself in a transmaterial (spiritual), incorporeal, powerful, glorious way. Thus, the early community, despite their reliance on second-Temple Judaism, believed that Jesus had permanently shattered death; and even though the entire community of saints did not rise from the dead, further believed that the parousia had been initiated, and that its completion was imminent. Jesus’ restoration of people to former corporeal existence did not give rise to any such belief. Life went on as normal.
It should be noted in this regard that Jesus raising the dead does not affect the substance of N.T. Wright’s argument for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection based upon the five Christian mutations of second-Temple Judaism’s notion of “resurrection,” “end time,” and “coming of God’s kingdom.” These five mutations point to a transmaterial-corporeal resurrection; not a restoration to former corporeal existence. Recall that the Christian view of “resurrection” is one of transformed corporeality (1Cor 15:42-44 – “spiritual body”), and that they believed that the end time had already been initiated (and its completion was imminent) despite the fact that only one person – Jesus (and not the entire community of saints) had been manifested as permanently resurrected. None of these mutations would have occurred to the early Christian community if it had witnessed Jesus restored merely to corporeal existence.
We may now return to the three narratives themselves. In view of their small number, it may do well to begin our investigation with the historicity of the three individual narratives, and then draw some general conclusions about the historicity of raisings from the dead in Jesus’ ministry. Again, I will rely heavily upon John P. Meier’s extensive historical analysis of these three narratives.
I intend to give a good deal of explanation to each of the three traditions, because the historicity of each reinforces the others through multiple attestation, and also because they contain the most powerful testimony to four themes which are vital to establishing Jesus’ lordship prior to and during His ministry (not merely after His resurrection and gift of the Spirit):
(1) Jesus’ compassion manifesting His deep empathetic love for those who grieve (both strangers and friends alike),
(2) Jesus vanquishing evil by His own authority (death being viewed as one of the greatest evils in the Palestinian Judaism of that time),
(3) Jesus’ power over life and death, with which He can establish the kingdom of God in His own person, and
(4) His accomplishment of the mission reserved to Yahweh alone, shown, in part, by His capacity to vanquish evil by His own authority and to bring the kingdom of God in His own person.
When we combine these four elements, we may see the evidential ground of an interrelated revelation, namely, that Jesus has a deep empathetic compassion for us, that He is in intimate communion with God as Son, and that His love is what moved Him to be with us (as Emmanuel), which reveals, ultimately, that God is not merely deep empathetic love, but unconditional Love. This makes the time spent on these narratives worthwhile, because the more we gain clarity on the historicity of Jesus raising the dead, the more we gain clarity on His lordship before and during His ministry; and the more we gain clarity on this, the more we gain clarity on our salvation through the unconditional empathy, compassion, mercy, and love of the eternal Lord who came to be with us; and that is the point of this book.
Before beginning this task, we will want to outline the general form of a story of raising from the dead. Meier outlines the threefold standard form as follows:
(i) the encounter between Jesus and the sorrowing person (sometimes a petitioner), with a depiction of the doleful circumstances that move Jesus to act; (ii) the word and/or gesture of Jesus that raises the dead, along with the confirmation of this miraculous event by the actions of the person raised; (iii) the reaction of the bystanders: amazement, praise, or faith.
As we shall see, material falling outside this standard form will enable us to use the five historical techniques described above to gain corroboration of historicity.
The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter (Mark 5:21-43 parr.)
As will be seen below, there is good reason to believe that the original story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43 parr.) was written in Aramaic, but that story cannot be reconstructed today. Nevertheless, we can uncover a primitive tradition even if we cannot know its original Aramaic words. Meier believes that this primitive tradition follows the three-part standard form of a story about raising from the dead with multiple additions to the first part: (1) Jairus, a synagogue leader, petitions Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. Jesus agrees to come with him, but on the way there, news comes that the daughter is dead. And yet Jesus persuades him to continue on. Thus, a story of healing becomes a story of raising from the dead. The first part then takes on new material going beyond the standard form. Jesus hears the weeping and lamenting and asks them why they are weeping – “The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). This leads to ridicule and scorn, which in turn provokes Jesus to literally throw the mourners out. (2) The miracle proper – Jesus touches the little girl and utters the Aramaic expression, “talitha koum,” which causes the little girl to get up and walk around. (3) The reaction of the bystanders – great astonishment.
There appears to be a secondary confirmation where Jesus asks that the girl be given something to eat. Though somewhat unusual, Meier believes that this probably belongs to the original tradition because it may have been a way of staving off the thought that the girl might be a spirit.
Meier and others believe that there is a strong basis for the historicity of this narrative for six reasons:
(1) As was noted in the discussion of technique #3, personal names are quite unusual in the New Testament. Jairus and Bartimaeus are the only named petitioners for miracles; and Bartimaeus seems to have had some degree of continued influence in the Church. Did Jairus? In any case, the continued presence of the name throughout the lengthy development of the oral tradition, gives the story historical concreteness. Furthermore, Jairus is named as a synagogue ruler, which attaches a position of high status to the name within the region of Galilee, which also adds historical concreteness to the narrative.
(2) The identification of Jairus as a synagogue ruler was objectionable to many early Christians living in Jerusalem and its environs, because they experienced ostracization and considerable pressure from the synagogue and its leaders. Matthew (who was preaching to a Jewish church) found this so personally and apologetically unappealing that he not only drops the reference to the synagogue, but also the reference to Jairus, who is subsequently reduced to “a ruler” (Matthew 9:18). This is an excellent example of discontinuity (technique #5), meaning that it would be highly unlikely that the name of Jairus and his profession would have been added by early Christians to the oral tradition prior to the Marcan narrative. It also means that Mark did not add these elements either. Apparently, these names belong to a very early tradition which could have been written within the lifetime of Jairus, and certainly his relatives.
(3) There is another example of discontinuity in the Marcan narrative which manifests a very early tradition, namely, the mourners laughing Jesus to scorn and then Jesus literally throwing the mourners out of the house (the Greek: autos de ekbalōn pantas). The idea of Jesus being laughed to scorn would have been disquieting (to say the least) to members of the early Church), and the portrayal of Jesus literally throwing grieving people out of the house would have been both catechetically and apologetically unappealing. Both Matthew and Luke recognize the problem and obviate it each in their own ways. Matthew changes the active voice (“Jesus threw them out”) to the passive voice (“when the crowd had been thrown out”), which makes the agent of “throwing out” quite uncertain. Luke completely drops the reference to mourners being thrown out. Again, one can scarcely imagine a formulator of the oral tradition behind Mark’s narrative or Mark himself adding this disquieting incident to the narrative. Therefore, it seems likely that the entire incident of the mourners (which enhances the standard form of a “raising the dead” narrative) was part of a primitive story probably dating back to the ministry of Jesus.
(4) The story also contains a rather unique Semitism (technique #4), namely, “talitha koum.” As noted earlier, Semitisms reveal an early Palestinian origin of the stories in which they are contained. In the case of the Jairus story, the Semitism is popular Aramaic (talitha koum), as distinct from formal or written Aramaic (“talitha koumi”). It is highly unlikely that a scribe or formulator of the oral tradition would have preserved this incorrect way of speaking (like “ain’t”) in an oral tradition or formal manuscript without a good reason. Indeed, later scribes tried to correct the seeming mistake by changing it to “talitha koumi,” but manuscript evidence clearly shows that the popular “incorrect” expression was the one Mark used. Why would the oral tradition and Mark have preserved this incorrect form of speech in a formal manuscript? Probably because they had reason to believe that the expression was the one used by Jesus Himself.
(5) In addition to the direct Aramaic expression, “talitha koum,” the Marcan version of the narrative manifests six other Semitisms underlying the unusual construction of the Greek text. Gérard Rochais has identified these six candidates which manifest highly unusual or impossible constructions in Greek, but are regular constructions in Aramaic translation. Once again, we can see an early Palestinian origin for the story, precisely in places that the criterion of discontinuity showed to be early in origin.
(6) Meier notes a very unusual absence of a Christological title in a story which portrays Jesus as having the power over life and death. This kind of story should be a perfect candidate to prove a high Christological title (such as “Son of God”). Furthermore, the only title used for Jesus in the story is extremely low – namely, “teacher” – which would indicate an early origin for the story, when people were not aware of who Jesus truly was. Mark and Matthew retain the reference to “teacher” without enhancing it, while Luke enhances it slightly by substituting “Master” (“epistata”). Once again, we have an indication of a very early story probably reflecting the precise circumstances surrounding this historical incident.
Conclusion. Even a convinced skeptic has to admit that the evidence of historicity in this particular narrative is quite impressive. The almost unique naming of Jairus (who is a person of high position probably known to many in the Galilean region); the retention of embarrassing and disquieting elements of the narrative, including the reference to the synagogue leader, the mourners laughing Jesus to scorn, and Jesus throwing them out of the house; the abundance of Semitisms, including a popular (incorrect) usage of “talitha koum”; and the complete absence of a Christological title within a narrative which would be a perfect candidate for it, all lead to the conclusion that this narrative not only has an early Palestinian origin, but retains elements dating back to the public ministry of Jesus Himself. One should assume that the spectacular nature of the story and the multiplicity of mourners in the story, and the early circulation of this story among Christians and potential converts would have made the story falsifiable during the time of its initial circulation. Yet, the story does not seem to have been falsified, but kept in its rather primitive state up to the time of its inclusion in the Marcan Gospel. Historians do not get access to this much historical corroboration for most other ancient texts.
In view of the above, we may conclude that this narrative, standing by itself, provides powerful evidence that Jesus did raise people from the dead. When it is combined with the historical evidence and multiple attestation of the special Lucan narrative (the raising of the son of the widow of Nain) and the Johannine narrative (the raising of Lazarus), the case for Jesus raising the dead becomes quite strong.
The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
As noted above, the story of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) comes from the special Lucan source, and so does not overlap with the Marcan or Johannine sources. Though Luke has redacted it to some extent (particularly, as we shall see, in adding his reference to “the Lord,” – “ho Kyrios”), the story has relatively simple lines for which there is significant evidence of a primitive source. The story follows the basic three-part standard form of a narrative of raising the dead:
(1) It begins with Jesus moving toward the gate of a small town a few miles south of Nazareth in Galilee. As Jesus approaches, He notices a dead man being brought by on a bier who was the only son of a widow. She was weeping. When Jesus sees her, He feels a very visceral compassion for her (esplagchnisthe), and in a very uncharacteristic move (falling outside the standard form of this kind of story), He does not await a request. Indeed, He does not seem to expect one because a request for a “raising to life” would have been quite beyond the imagination of His audience. Instead, He asks the mother not to weep, and then touches the bier, which incites the bearers to come to a halt.
(2) The miracle proper. The commissioning of the miracle recounts another uncharacteristic feature. Jesus does not touch the man. Instead, He works the miracle by His word alone. The words are important here, “Young man, to you I say, Arise.” And, seemingly immediately, the dead man sits up and begins to speak, and Jesus gives him to his mother.
(3) Conclusion. Fear grips the crowd and they glorify God. The exclamation of the crowd is interesting. First they call Jesus “a great prophet,” and then say that God has visited His people. This second exclamation is a favorite theme of Luke’s, and probably a Lucan redaction. The story concludes with a notation that word “spread through the whole of Judea and the surrounding country,” which is unusual because it goes beyond the Galilean locale.
Two major topics require attention in our pursuit of historicity: (1) redressing the charge that Luke has composed this story himself from stories of Elijah/Elisha (1 Kgs 17:7-24 and 2 Kgs 4:8-37), and/or the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56), and (2) a consideration of four major indications of Luke’s reliance on and faithfulness to a more primitive story which he inherited from a Palestinian milieu.
(1) With respect to the first topic, Meier notes that the Nain story conforms quite snugly with many Lucan stylistic proclivities – most notably, Lucan vocabulary and LXX phrases. This provokes the question of whether Luke may have simply taken several other traditions (such as the Elijah/Elisha cycle and/or the raising of the daughter of Jairus), and woven them together with his special compositional features. Meier responds to this at great length and concludes in the negative for several reasons.
First and foremost, there is no way that Luke could have borrowed a significant portion of any of the above-mentioned stories for the Nain story. There are simply too many differences. Thus, the Evangelist would have had to have composed his story by “abstracting bits and pieces eclectically from all the various stories, while leaving the core of each story behind.” Needless to say, this would have been a very bizarre procedure which would have been very uncharacteristic of Luke. There are also several factors which militate against Luke borrowing too heavily from any of the above-mentioned stories.
With respect to the Elijah/Elisha stories (1 Kgs 17:7-24 and 2 Kgs 4:8-37), Meier notes that the prophets had a longstanding relationship with the two women they assisted, to the point where they could rebuke them for not helping. This is clearly not the case in the Lucan narrative where Jesus does not know the widow, is not asked by the widow to do anything, and is not expected by the widow to do anything, which allows Jesus the freedom to feel deep compassion for her and to respond to her need without request.
Furthermore, the prophets act alone (no one else is allowed in the room), and they use very physical techniques (such as lying on the corpse). Jesus, in contrast, acts in front of a huge crowd and does not try to restrict His audience in any way. He raises the man without any physical gesture (not even touching) by His command alone. Again, Elijah and Elisha pray to God while Jesus acts solely by His own authority (even emphasizing the fact that He is saying it, “Young man, I say to you, Arise.”). In conclusion, if Luke did borrow from the Elijah/Elisha stories, it would have been by way of vocabulary, phrases, or implication alone, because significant parallels are quite remote.
We may notice the same kinds of differences between the Nain narrative and the one depicting the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56). Jairus comes to Jesus to make a request while the widow of Nain expects nothing; Jesus restricts His audience to the two parents and three of His disciples in the Jairus narrative, while He acts quite publicly in front of a large crowd in the Nain narrative; Jesus takes the hand of the little girl in the Jairus narrative, while He raises by His word alone in the Nain narrative; He is laughed to scorn by mourners in the Jairus narrative, while He receives great adulation from the crowd in the Nain narrative; and Jairus is named, while the widow remains anonymous. Meier points out that the only real similarity between the stories is that Jesus raises the child of a grieving parent.
Thus, we arrive back at Meier’s original objection to the “copyist” theory – namely, that Luke would have had to have been borrowing bits and pieces quite eclectically from all three of the above-mentioned sources in order to derive but a small piece of his actual narrative. This is highly unlikely, prima facie.
(2) We may now move to our second topic, namely, Meier’s four major indications that Luke inherited a primitive Palestinian story to which he remained faithful (while adding some of his more characteristic redactions).
The first and most obvious indication is Luke’s mention of the town of Nain. As Meier notes, this town is very small and remote, and is never mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament (beyond this unique reference), the pre-Christian pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, or the Mishna. When one considers that Luke did not have a very good grasp on the geography of Israel, one will want to ask how he had an intimate knowledge of this remote village, how he knew it had a gate (a fact which has only recently been confirmed by archeology), and why he would have selected it for one of the greatest of Jesus’ miracles. Answer: he didn’t. The possibility of Luke inventing this town out of thin air is so remote that we should have confidence that he inherited it from a tradition whose author actually might have known where the town was. We would then want to ask the further question, why would any formulator of an oral tradition choose this remote town as the site for one of Jesus’ greatest miracles if that miracle had not in fact occurred there? If one were going to make up a miracle of this magnitude, why not place it in a better known Galilean town, say, Capernaum? Indeed, why get so specific? After all, if you choose a really small, remote town, just about everyone in that village is going to know that that miracle either occurred or did not occur in the locality. It does not make any sense from the vantage point of apologetics or falsifiability to select a small, remote town as the location for a spectacular miracle, if that miracle had not really occurred there. The fraud could be easily exposed. However, it is very fortuitous for historians that a miracle should have occurred there, because it provides remarkable confirmatory evidence of the miracle’s actually having occurred.
Meier’s second indication concerns Semitisms. Once again, he relies on Gérard Rochais’ analysis of Semitisms underlying the Greek text. The most obvious Semitism is the presence of parataxis (stringing together multiple simple sentences with “and”) throughout the narrative. Luke, as a very fine Greek stylist, probably abhorred the style, and certainly tried to eliminate it when appropriate. It can scarcely be imagined that he would have introduced this intentionally into his own freestanding work. Secondly, the clause kai autē ēn chēra (“and she was a widow”) in Luke 17:12, corresponds neatly to a circumstantial clause in Aramaic, but much less so in Greek. Thirdly, the Greek verb “exerchomai” (which means literally, “to go out”) is not used to refer to a report spreading; the only way of making sense of this is to see exerchomai used as a translation of the Hebrew verb yāsā or the Aramaic verb nĕpaq (which occurs in the Septuagint). As Meier notes, none of these Semitisms by itself can be considered definitive of an Aramaic substratum; however, when all of them are combined (along with other minor Semitisms), the Aramaic backdrop is almost undeniable. It seems likely, therefore, that Luke inherited a tradition which had a very old Palestinian background, and which referred to the town of Nain, which very probably went back to the ministry of Jesus (for the reasons mentioned above).
Meier’s third indication of an older pre-Lucan narrative concerns the title used for Jesus after the miracle is complete: “He is a great prophet.” This expression would have been quite appropriate for a Jewish audience during Jesus’ ministry which had little knowledge of Jesus beyond this spectacular miracle. They may well have seen Him in light of Elijah or Elisha who were designated as “great prophets.” However, this designation is completely surpassed two years later after Jesus’ resurrection and gift of the Spirit, the formation of the Church, and the Church’s proclamation of Him as “the Lord.” “Great prophet” doesn’t come anywhere near what the early Church thought of Jesus. In light of this, one might think that Luke would be tempted to simply replace the title “great prophet” with something a little more meaningful, such as “Messiah,” or perhaps “the One who is to come;” but he does not. He leaves the inferior title on the lips of Jesus’ audience and, quite subtly, puts his own high Christological title, “the Lord,” three verses earlier as part of the narrative. This is a rather remarkable turn of events, for no other Evangelist uses the title “the Lord” of Jesus during His ministry. Even more interesting is the fact that this miracle marks the first use of “the Lord” in Luke’s Gospel after which he continues to use it to designate the true status of Jesus during His ministry.
When one considers Luke’s conviction about Jesus’ true status (as communicated in this particular miracle), it cannot be imagined that he would have intentionally introduced the title “great prophet” to designate Jesus after so spectacular an occurrence. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Luke inherited this title from an earlier oral tradition which probably went back to the time of Jesus’ ministry. This would have been the title which a Jewish audience would have been likely to use, but not one that would have come readily to any Christian author’s mind. Luke apparently respected the tradition he was using, and so decided to keep it; but made his Christological “correction” three verses earlier with the high Christological title “the Lord.”
Meier’s fourth indication of a pre-Lucan narrative concerns Luke’s avoidance of literary doublets. Luke’s literary proclivity is shown by his refusal to take both of Mark’s stories for the feeding of the four thousand and the feeding of the five thousand, preferring to keep only the second. It is shown again by his preferring to replace the anointing at Bethany with his own special tradition of an anointing of Jesus’ feet, instead of using both narratives. This stylistic proclivity is carried out in other ways throughout the Lucan Gospel, which provokes the question, why would Luke have added this “raising of the dead” narrative to his Gospel when he intended to also include the Marcan narrative of the raising of Jairus’ daughter one chapter later. In addition to this, Luke apparently feels no compunction to multiply miracle stories or raising from the dead stories. Indeed, none of the Evangelists do. So why would Luke have created a doublet when in every other circumstance he eliminates them? The answer very likely is that he felt that the narrative tradition he inherited was true, he noticed the differences that existed between it and the Jairus narrative, and he was taken by the reference to Jesus’ compassion which was at least implied in the pre-Lucan narrative.
Conclusion. When one considers the totality of the evidence for a pre-Lucan narrative, particularly the naming of the remote, small village of Nain, the multiplicity of Semitisms, the use of the outmoded title, “great prophet” for Jesus, and the addition of a doublet (rather than the elimination of one), it does not seem likely that Luke invented this narrative. Indeed, the very thought seems quite ludicrous, because he probably had no knowledge of the town of Nain (let alone its gate), he certainly would not have used parataxis and other awkward Greek expressions instead of his elegant Greek style, he certainly would not have invented a completely inadequate Christological title (after his addition of a more appropriate one), and finally, it is barely conceivable that he would have added a doublet simply to “stick in” another “raising the dead” narrative of his own making.
Yet, the above evidence does not stop at indicating a pre-Lucan narrative. It proceeds further back to the public ministry of Jesus Himself. This is indicated first by the naming of the town of Nain, which no Christian author would have invented as the place for one of Jesus’ greatest miracles (because of the town’s smallness, remoteness, obscurity, and capacity to produce falsifiability); and secondly, the use of a completely inadequate Christological title for Jesus (which only makes sense on the lips of a Jewish audience at the time of Jesus’ public ministry, but could hardly be thought to have been invented by a later Christian author). These reasons alone are sufficient to build a strong circumstantial case in favor of the historicity of this miracle. We now have a second very probable case given by a different source than Mark (i.e., special Luke) giving further confirmation to the historicity of Jesus raising the dead.
Before moving to the Johannine account of the raising of Lazarus, there are two final points worth mentioning. First, Jesus performs this remarkable miracle by His own authority. As noted above, Jesus is quite different from Elijah and Elisha in that He does not pray to God to perform the miracle, but rather, gives the command to raise the man by His own authority. Not only does He give the command “young man, arise,” but puts in an emphatic “I say to you.” This additional phrase places the emphasis on Jesus performing the miracle by His own authority.
It is difficult to determine whether this emphatic “I say to you” is a Lucan redaction, or dates back to a more primitive tradition. If it dates back to a more primitive tradition (or even to Jesus Himself), it would call attention to Jesus’ radical departure from Elijah and Elisha and from the Jewish tradition altogether. If it is a Lucan redaction, then one can be sure that Luke recognized the unique character of Jesus’ command, power, and authority, and wanted to emphasize it. In either case, the command with the emphatic “I say to you” reveals that Jesus believed He possessed in Himself the power and authority which was thought to belong to God alone. But He more than believed this; He demonstrated it because His word was in fact efficacious; it did in fact raise to life; and thus, God’s power and authority was intrinsic to Jesus, and not merely working through Jesus. This radical departure from Judaism; this power of God intrinsic to Jesus; this implicit claim to be “with God” so completely that God’s power and authority is Jesus’ own power and authority, is a remarkable confirmation of His divine sonship and the breaking through of God’s kingdom. This implicit self-revelation of Jesus’ true identity will be taken up again in the conclusion to this Unit.
One final point should be discussed at this juncture, namely, the reference to the compassion of Jesus. This, of course, is a favorite Lucan theme, and so it may well be a Lucan redaction. Even if it is a Lucan redaction, it has great relevance, because Luke was justified in calling attention to Jesus’ compassion in this particular narrative. The primitive story speaks of Jesus approaching the town of Nain, and seeing a young man being brought out on a bier and his mother weeping beside him (without any additional sons). Jesus stops the bier and gives the command which restores life to the young man. If no report on Jesus’ feeling had been given by the primitive tradition, what other feeling could Luke have appropriately attributed to Jesus in this scene? Compassion seems most appropriate. Now, if Luke did not inherit the specific word used for compassion in this narrative, we should assume that he selected it because of its excellent fit and his deep sense of Jesus’ feelings. The word used in this case is esplagchnusthē (from splagchnon), which, according to Strong’s Concordance, has the general meaning of “the bowels, which were thought to be the seat of the deeper affections, and could refer to pity or sympathy –inward affection, tender mercy.” Luke (or the tradition upon which he relied) has chosen a most visceral (gut-wrenching) way to portray Jesus’ feelings of “tender mercy” toward this widow. If we acknowledge the appropriateness of this word selection (particularly in light of the circumstances surrounding the narrative, and the author’s awareness of Jesus) it would give us a very concrete insight into Jesus’ feelings, empathy, and love. This insight will give concreteness and feeling to our forthcoming discussion of the unconditional Love of God in Part Two of this book.
We may now proceed to the third narrative of raising the dead – namely, the Johannine account of the raising of Lazarus.
The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45)
Anyone who has a basic familiarity with John’s Gospel will reveal a large number of Johannine redactions in the Lazarus story which detail everything from Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family, to the Johannine theology of Jesus as the resurrection and the life. After twenty pages of assiduous exegesis (peeling back redactions and accretions to the oral tradition), Meier proposes a probable pre-Johannine narrative about the raising of Lazarus. His textual and exegetical rationale for this early narrative may be found in volume 2 of A Marginal Jew. To keep my analysis concise, I will begin with the pre-Johannine narrative as Meier has assembled it. The square brackets in the reconstructed text indicate sections about which Meier is uncertain. He believes that they were not part of the Johannine redaction, but is not sure whether they were part of an original primitive narrative or a part of the evolution of the tradition prior to the time that John edited it.
Once there was a sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, the town [in which] Mary his sister [also lived]. His sister sent [a message] to Jesus, saying: “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.” When Jesus heard that he was sick, He then remained in the place where He was for two days.
[Possible secondary addition in the tradition: After this he said to his disciples: “Lazarus our friend is asleep, but I am going to wake him.” The disciples said to him: “Lord, if he is asleep, he will recover.” But Jesus had spoken about his death; but they thought that he was speaking about the repose of sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly: “Lazarus is dead. But let us go to him.”]
When Jesus came [to Bethany], He found him already four days in the tomb. Many of the Jews had come to Mary to comfort her over her brother. [Mary was sitting at home.] When she heard [that Jesus had come], she arose quickly and came to Him. [Jesus had not yet come into the town.] When the Jews who were with her in the house and were comforting her saw that Mary had quickly arisen and went out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came to the place where Jesus was, seeing Him she fell at His feet, saying to Him: “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When He saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, Jesus groaned in spirit. And He said: “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him: “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay over its entrance. Jesus said: “Take the stone away.” They therefore took the stone away. In a loud voice Jesus shouted: “Lazarus, come forth.” The dead man came forth [with his feet and hands bound with burial cloths, and his face wrapped in a handkerchief.] Jesus said to them: “Untie him and let him go.” Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and had seen what He had done believed in Him.
There are four major indications of historicity. First, it is obvious from Meier’s exegetical work that the Johannine story (John 11:1-45) has undergone a very lengthy development (technique #1). Many of these developments were made by the Evangelist, but, as Meier makes clear, many were also part of the development of the pre-Johannine tradition. This multi-layered complex development must have taken place over a considerable number of years, and so it is reasonable to assume that the above primitive narrative was formulated close to the time of Jesus.
Secondly, as far back as the tradition can be reconstructed, it seems to have been firmly anchored in Bethany. Such an historical detail seems quite gratuitous (if it is not true) because it falls outside the standard form and does not advance any apologetical, catechetical, or instructional purpose. Its preservation seems to be dependent on the belief of the early formulators of the tradition that it was true (see technique #3).
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the early formulation of the tradition includes the names of Lazarus and Mary. When one considers that John (and the Synoptics) do not generally preserve the names of the recipients of miracles (with the exception of Jairus and Bartimaeus in Mark and Luke, respectively), it is quite striking that not one, but two names are preserved. The preservation of Mary’s name is truly unusual, because she is not the recipient of a miracle, but only the sister of Lazarus and a friend of Jesus. Again, these personal names fall outside the standard form of the story and do not advance any apologetical, catechetical, or instructional purpose. Therefore, it seems very unlikely that they would have been added during the lengthy development of the Lazarus tradition. So, why were both names preserved? Because they were historically accurate, and more importantly, Lazarus and his sister Mary were probably disciples of Jesus and known in the early Church. If this were not the case, it would be difficult to explain Mary’s extended presence in the early narrative (technique #3). If this is the case, then the tradition would be linked back to its recipient (and his sister – an eyewitness), and therefore to the ministry of Jesus. Meier notes in this regard:
I think it likely that John 11:1-45 goes back ultimately to some event involving Lazarus, a disciple of Jesus, and that this event was believed by Jesus’ disciples even during his lifetime to be a miracle of raising the dead.
The silence of the Synoptics about the Lazarus tradition may seem somewhat perplexing, but if one remembers that the Synoptics did not have access to many of the Johannine sources, and that John did not have access to many of the Synoptic sources, it would not be surprising if they had not even heard of it. Furthermore, even if the Synoptics had heard about it, they were not in dire need of another narrative about raising the dead because they already had the Jairus account, and it was not their proclivity to multiply miracles of this kind. Finally, the implication that the Lazarus miracle incited the Jewish authorities to persecute Jesus is very likely a Johannine redaction. This would mean that the Lazarus miracle probably did not have the importance that John implies it did (which makes the Synoptics’ possible ignorance of it unsurprising). In view of these three considerations, says Meier, “the silence of the Synoptic Gospels about the raising of Lazarus says nothing one way or the other about the ultimate historicity of the tradition.”
In view of all this, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus raised His disciple Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, and that Lazarus’ sister Mary was an eyewitness, and that this miracle was well known in the region of Bethany, and rapidly became a story which experienced a very lengthy development leading to the above-mentioned pre-Johannine narrative, and finally, to the fully expanded Johannine narrative. Once again, we have evidence of Jesus having raised an individual from the dead.
Let us now return to the final two points made with respect to the Lucan Nain narrative: (1) Jesus gives the command to raise the dead by His own authority, and (2) Jesus’ deep feelings for those in grief.
First, we see once again in the earliest constructable pre-Johannine narrative, Jesus giving the command to raise the dead by His own authority. In this case, He does not ask the person to “get up” (talitha koum – “little girl, get up”) or “young man, I said to you, arise,” but rather a command for the dead Lazarus to come out of the tomb after the stone had been rolled away. Unlike Elijah and Elisha, He does not make recourse to prayers, and does not act as an intermediary for the working of God’s power. Rather, He manifests divine power and authority (the power of life and death) in Himself. Once again we see a primitive tradition (probably originating close to the time of Jesus’ ministry) displaying a radical departure from the Elijah/Elisha stories and Jewish tradition, directly implying that the power and authority of God are intrinsic to Jesus. It is difficult to imagine an early formulator of the tradition making such a radical claim without some grounding in history. Most impressive is the fact that this radical claim enjoys multiple attestation not only through three sources (Mark, special Luke, and John), but also through the primitive traditions standing behind these three sources. This will be discussed in the conclusion immediately below.
Secondly, the primitive narrative speaks to Jesus’ deep feelings for Lazarus, using visceral terms: “embrimōmenos en heautō” (“groaning in Himself”). Like splagchnon (a gut-wrenching sense of compassion or tender mercy – Luke 7:13), embrimōmenos en heautō carries with it a visceral quality of great interior disturbance. It seems that the author of the tradition is trying to convey Jesus’ empathy for the pain of Mary, the sister of Lazarus (and perhaps to some extent His own pain at the loss of His friend). The Johannine redactor tries to interpret and explain this by noting that “Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’” (John 11:35). The interpretation of the redactor indicates that Jesus’ internal disturbance arises out of empathy (His love for Lazarus and his sister) and sympathy (weeping with Mary’s weeping – John 11:33), once again we are given a concrete insight into the deep feelings of Jesus – particularly for those who grieve and mourn. The fact that “embrimōmenos en heauto” comes from a primitive tradition close to its source may well reflect Jesus’ real feelings, which will give concreteness and feeling to the discussion of the unconditional love of God in Part Two of this book.
Since the discussion of raising the dead is so vital to communicating Jesus’ compassion and empathy as well as manifesting His Lordship during His ministry, the conclusion to this section can be integrated into the conclusion of the unit, and so we will proceed directly to it.
Can Jesus’ Miracles be given a Purely Naturalistic Explanation Today?
In view of the immense historical evidence within the Gospel traditions (and corroboration from non-Christian sources), it is difficult to deny that Jesus worked what were considered to be miraculous deeds, including raisings from the dead, during His ministry. This miraculous power, in conjunction with His resurrection and gift of the Spirit, sheds light on His claim to vanquish evil by His own authority, to bring the kingdom of God in His own person, and thereby to accomplish the mission reserved to Yahweh alone. Thus, He showed Himself to be not only the Son of Man, but also the exclusive Son of the Father.
The reader may have been thinking – “Well, all you have established is that Jesus performed what believers thought were exorcisms, healings, and raisings from the dead. But how can you know whether there was truly an exorcism or a healing or a raising from the dead? Perhaps the exorcisms were cures of epilepsy; perhaps all the healing miracles were cures of psychosomatic disorders; and perhaps the raisings from the dead were reanimations of people in suspended animation. How do we really know that He really performed a miracle and not merely performed what 1st century believers thought was a miracle?”
This is a very good question which neither I, nor Meier, nor any other exegete for that matter, will be able to answer with complete certitude. As Meier makes clear time and time again, if we are not present on the scene with appropriate scientific instrumentation and contemporary medical knowledge, we cannot definitively answer that question. Nevertheless, we might be able to bring some insight to the answer through logic and common sense.
First, the sheer quantity of miracles (particularly healing miracles) manifests that Jesus had truly extraordinary healing power. It is a little difficult to believe that all the blind people He cured had psychosomatic blindness, and all the withered limbs were psychosomatically induced, and all the deafness, muteness, and paralysis – were also psychosomatically induced. Perhaps there really was a lot of psychosomatic illness in Galilee and the environs at that time; but if one looks at the proportion of physical blindness compared to psychosomatic blindness today, it would become apparent that blindness generally has a physical cause, which might lead one to suspect that some of the blindness Jesus cured had a physical cause as well – perhaps one or two.
Again, if one looks at the proportion of physically-caused withered limbs compared to psychosomatically caused withered limbs today, one would notice that the physically-caused ones are far more prevalent than the psychosomatic one. Of course, the same holds true for other maladies. Furthermore, when one sees instantaneous cures for diseases which entail the cure of atrophied physical organs or extremities, one might begin to suspect that nature is not taking its ordinary “natural” course.
Again, even if we concede that every exorcism was really a cure of epilepsy or some other physical malady (which I do not believe is the case), it would still be an instantaneous cure of a physical disorder, which simply changes the category of the miracle.
With respect to raisings from the dead, any critic can conjecture that all the cases which appear to have an historical basis were merely extended suspended animations without signs of respiration. But then again (even considering the rather speedy Jewish burial process) the absence of breathing over extended periods of time generally leads to significant brain damage. Granted that one of Jesus’ cases might have been an extended suspended animation (without respiration) which did not give rise to brain damage, it seems very unlikely that He would have encountered three; but then again one could contend that He cured the brain damage when He reanimated these non-respirating sleepers (after all, He had healing power). One could go on and on, but consider for a moment that Jesus seems to have raised the dead at least three times. Could it be that He actually picked three cases of extended suspended animation? Recall that extended suspended animation is rather rare (particularly cases where the patient does not breathe – and we presume that even ancient physicians and mourners could tell whether people were breathing or not). Given the extreme rarity of extended suspended animation, what would be the odds of Jesus picking three cases of this instead of the much more common cases of dead people?
Amusing as some of these conjectures may be, they do seem to catalyze common sense. Most blind people are physically blind, and the same with deaf people, mute people, people with atrophied limbs, and lepers (frankly, I have not yet heard of a case of psychosomatic leprosy). Furthermore, most dead people are really dead; they are not cases of extended suspended animation without signs of respiration. The signs of death, blindness, deafness, leprosy, etc., were able to be detected by ancient people – not just modern ones. Ancient people could also surmise that when people were instantaneously cured of physical maladies which either lasted a lifetime or took years to cure, something was “out of the ordinary” – even super-ordinary. As many commentators have noted, ancient people did not have a proper appreciation of scientific law; but they did have a sense of the extraordinary, the super-ordinary, and, in a non-scientific sense, even the other-worldly and the supernatural.
Exorcisms are a different case, because we will always struggle with adequate definitions and testing for spiritual possession. Why? Because all our scientific tests are devised to detect physical causes (not spiritual ones). Thus, cases of demonic possession (and exorcism, which rectifies it) can only be judged to have occurred by someone who believes in demons and demonic possession (as Jesus certainly did). Some people rule this out a priori; others accept it as a matter of faith; others are awaiting further evidence, etc. Whatever the case, belief in the reality of Jesus’ exorcisms will come down to one’s belief in the spiritual and the demonic. But, as I said before, even if we concede that every exorcism was a cure of epilepsy or grand mal seizures (or some other physical malady), we have simply shifted the categorization of the miracle. One could again say that the various seizures that seem to fit within the definition of epilepsy or grand mal seizures were really psychosomatic. But then again, I appeal to common sense. When we see people suffering from grand mal seizures, do we always think, “Oh, they only have psychosomatic problems – there’s really nothing physically wrong with them”?
Without being present in 1st century Palestine with appropriate scientific equipment and knowledge, it is very difficult to get beyond the domain of common sense. But then again, common sense is not altogether hapless and unreliable. Perhaps a little more of it could lead to even better judgments about the meaning of life and the value of the human person. In the meantime, I would suggest that using it with respect to the case of Jesus’ miracles leads at least to the probabilistic conclusion that Jesus instantaneously cured the blind, the deaf, the mute, the paralyzed, lepers, and yes, He even raised people from the dead.
We may now conclude by reconsidering one final point made at the end of Section III., namely, Jesus raising the dead by His own word, power, and authority. We saw that each seemingly historical incident of Jesus raising the dead portrayed Him as effecting it by His own command (implying His own authority and power). In the Marcan Jairus narrative, we have the popular (formally incorrect) Aramaic phrase, “talitha koum” (“little girl, get up”). In the Lucan Nain narrative, we have the command, “Young man, I say to you, Arise,” with the possible non-redactional addition of “I say to you.” In the Johannine narrative, we have Jesus shouting at Lazarus in the tomb, “Lazarus, come forth” (“Lazare, deuro exō”), which Meier believes is part of the most primitive story standing behind the pre-Johannine tradition. In all three cases, Jesus’ own command produces an immediate raising from the dead.
It is interesting to note that the original primitive narratives of the three different traditions of Jesus raising the dead (which have three different primitive authors grounding their stories in three different historical incidents originating in three different locations) all manifest a very important difference from the prophetic tradition of raising the dead, namely, Jesus does not effect the miracle by prayer to God or even recourse to God’s power, but by His own word and His own authority and power, implying that He has the power of God.
The prophetic tradition of raising from the dead is very rare indeed, and is found, of course, in the two great prophets who best characterize precursors to Jesus: Elijah and Elisha. The two accounts of raising the dead in 1Kgs 17:7-24 and 2Kgs 4:8-37 are very explicit about Elijah and Elisha praying to God and being the instruments of God’s power by prostrating themselves on the corpses of the people they intended to raise. We must presume that the formulators of the primitive Christian traditions had some acquaintance with these well-known Elijah-Elisha stories, but it is clear that they ignore them and formulate their own independent primitive stories on the basis of a most peculiar assertion – namely, that Jesus raises the dead by His own word, power, and authority. Such a radical departure from the prophetic tradition, and indeed, from the whole of second-Temple Judaism, would be very unlikely even in a single Christian narrative, having a single author, a single historical incident, and a single location. But three? Three different primitive traditions (originating in three different locales, grounded in three different historical incidents, with three different authors) all having the same radical departure from the prophetic tradition and second-Temple Judaism? The odds of this occurring without some similar historical root are exceedingly low! Yet this is what we find; and so we are compelled to conclude that there was a similar historical root, namely, Jesus who issued the command to raise from the dead by His own word, power, and authority. It seems, then, that the historical Jesus really did raise individuals from the dead through His own power and authority, and so confirmed that the power and authority of God was intrinsic to Him. If this analysis is correct, then we will have drawn quite close to the manifestation of His divinity not only in His resurrection and gift of the Spirit, but also in His ministry.
As noted above, the combination of the three probable historical incidents of Jesus raising the dead give a powerful testimony to four themes which are vital to establishing Jesus’ lordship prior to and during His ministry (not merely after His resurrection and gift of the Spirit):
(1) Jesus’ compassion manifesting His deep empathetic love for those who grieve – both strangers and friends alike (recall the “gut-wrenching” compassion implied by “esplagchnisthe” of Luke 7:13, and the deep empathy leading to interior disturbance implied by “embrimōmenos en heautō” of John 11:38). (2) Jesus vanquished evil by His own authority (not only in exorcisms, but also in overcoming death, which was thought to be a great manifestation of evil). (3) Jesus had power over life and death through Himself. With this power He could establish the kingdom of God in His own person. (4) His capacity to vanquish evil by His own authority and bring the kingdom of God in His own person manifested that He was accomplishing the mission reserved for Yahweh alone, and therefore was Lord before and during His ministry (that is, He came to us as Lord to do the mission reserved to the Lord alone). This coincides with His claim to be the exclusive Son of the Father which will be discussed in the next unit.
- ↑ The name “Jesus” – in Hebrew and Aramaic, “yēšû’a” – means “Yahweh is salvation.”
- ↑ Recall from Unit II-D, Wrights contention that Jesus takes on the mission reserved for Yahweh: “Jesus’ prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion. His messianic vocation included within it the vocation to attempt certain tasks which, according to scripture, YHWH had reserved for himself. He would take up himself the role of messianic shepherd, knowing that YHWH had claimed this role as his own. He would perform the saving task which YHWH had said he alone could achieve. He would do what no messenger, no angel, but only the ‘arm of YHWH’, the presence of Israel’s god, could accomplish. …[H]e believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be” (Wright 1996, p. 653).
- ↑ Recall from Unit II-D, Wright’s conclusion about Jesus’ awareness of His divine mission: “I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself” (Wright 1996, p. 653).
- ↑ As will be explained in Unit II-G, Jesus very probably referred to Himself as the exclusive Son of the Father, and therefore was conscious of Himself as such. There are three indications of this: (1) Jesus refers to God as “Abba” and teaches His disciples to do likewise (see Wright 1996, p. 649); (2) the parable of the wicked tenants where He says, “He had still one other, a beloved son” (Mark 12:6), which Wright believes is a claim made by Jesus (see Wright 1996, p. 501); and (3) Jesus’ declaration in a Q logion, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matt 11:27), which Wright also believes originates with Jesus (see Wright 1996, p. 650).
- ↑ See Wright 1996, p. 186 and Harvey 1982, pp. 101ff.
- ↑ It goes without being said that the people of Jesus’ day did not have a scientific or even Aristotelian understanding of cause and effect. Nevertheless, they did have a rudimentary understanding of certain events producing other events (even if they understood this production to be evidenced only by repetition of “event A preceding event B”).
- ↑ Wright 1996, pp. 186.
- ↑ Wright 1996, p. 186 and Harvey 1982, pp. 101ff.
- ↑ Wright 1996, pp. 186-188.
- ↑ Wright 1996, p.188.
- ↑ Wright 1996, p.188.
- ↑ See Babylonian Talmud; “Sanhedrin” 43a.
- ↑ See Johnson 1991, pp. 113-114.
- ↑ See Brown 1994(a), pp.373-376.
- ↑ See Meier 1994(a), pp. 592-593.
- ↑ Josephus 1965, 18:3.3.
- ↑ Johnson 1991, pp. 113-114.
- ↑ Meier 1994, pp. 592-593.
- ↑ Brown 1994(a), pp. 62-3. The most famous passage possibly written by Flavius Josephus in AD 93 or 94 runs as follows: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man…he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher….” (Antiquities 18.3.3). This text is partially authentic and partially interpolated. See the analysis of Luke Timothy Johnson and John P. Meier above in Section I of this unit.
- ↑ As Brown notes: “[Jesus’ enemies] attributed [His extraordinary deeds] to evil origins, either to the devil (Mark 3:22-30) or in 2d-century polemic to magic (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 2.32.3-5)” Brown 1994(a), pp. 62-3.
- ↑ Wright 1996, p. 187.
- ↑ See Unit II-E, Sections I and II.A.
- ↑ Brown 1994(a), pp. 60-70.
- ↑ Brown 1994(a), p. 65.
- ↑ Brown 1994(a), p. 66.
- ↑ See Brown 1994(a), p. 64, n. 82.
- ↑ See Brown 1994(a), p. 63.
- ↑ Brown 1994(a), p. 63.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 551. See also Aune 1980, pp. 1523-1524, notes 67, 68, and 69.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 551.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 552.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 451.
- ↑ Brown 1994(a), p. 63.
- ↑ See Bernhard 2006, Ch. 2, vv. 1-7.
- ↑ Isenberg 1990.
- ↑ James 1924, fragment I, V, 15-19.
- ↑ Bernhard 2006, Ch. 3, v. 2.
- ↑ See Bernhard 2006, Chapters 4 and 5.
- ↑ Some exegetes consider the miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11) to be frivolous as well, because there is no urgent physical need of the petitioner. Admittedly, this is a significant departure from Jesus’ typical way of working miracles (and the Evangelists’ way of portraying them). However, there can be urgent “social needs” as well as physical needs in the ancient Semitic world (see Derrett 1963, pp. 80-97), and though today we do not consider this kind of social need to be as urgent as a physical need, it may have been considered urgent, when combined with the request of Jesus’ mother, by Jesus Himself. No doubt there are a host of Johannine redactions in this passage, but they do not necessarily eclipse the historical core of the story altogether (see Dillon 1962, pp. 288-290). Raymond Brown believes that a partial original tradition can (with difficulty) be identified, and though he does not explicitly render an historical opinion, he does not believe that the story can be reduced to a parallel taken from Hellenistic wonderworking or to a complete invention of the Evangelist himself: “…[I]t may be legitimately asked if the evangelist, who has shown himself to be working within the general framework of the traditional miracles of Jesus in six of his seven narratives, would be likely to introduce a seventh narrative from an extraneous tradition? As for the uniqueness of the miracle, is changing water into wine so different from the multiplication of loaves?” (Brown 1966, p. 101). These and other unanswered questions render the evidence for a judgment of non-historicity weak and incomplete.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 630.
- ↑ See Aune 1980, pp. 1523-1524, notes 67, 68, and 69.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 618. See also Aune’s catalog of these miracle summaries in Mark (and parallels): 1:32-34; 1:39; 3:10-12;and 6:55-56. See Aune 1980, pp. 1523-1524, notes 67, 68, 69.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 618-619.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 630.
- ↑ They include one frivolous miracle (the coin in the fish’s mouth – Mt 17:24-27), and one retributive miracle (the cursing of the fig tree – Mk 11:12-14, 20-21) which are so uncharacteristic of Jesus, His miracles, and His ministry, that they should be considered questionable traditions which were accepted by Matthew and Mark, respectively, into the final redaction of their works. They also include difficult miracles such as the miracle of changing water into wine at Cana (Jn 2:1-11), which I consider to have an historical core. See the analysis above in note #32.
- ↑ For example, Meier believes that there is persuasive evidence for affirming the authenticity of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6:32-44 and John 6:5-15. Not only does this miracle enjoy multiple attestation (in both the Marcan and Johannine traditions), but it also contains other elements of historicity, particularly the reference to the fish. The two main criticisms of this miracle have been (1) its association with the Elisha feeding story in 2Kgs 4:42-44, and (2) its association with the Christian Eucharist. Meier does not believe that this story has been fabricated on the basis of these two sources, because of significant differences. With respect to the Elisha feeding story, there is no specific place mentioned, no crowd following the prophet Elisha, no explicit need for a miracle (the people are not hungry), no formal blessing or thanksgiving in the Elisha story, Elisha’s disciples are not involved in the miracle as are Jesus’ disciples, and finally, the Elisha story is about proof of prophecy while the feeding story is about the fulfillment of a need. Though there are similarities, the differences make “fabrication by association” highly improbable. See Meier 1994, pp. 960-962. With respect to fabrication by association with the Eucharist, Meier notes that there are many differences between the two stories, particularly with respect to the fish in the feeding story. Fish is a very weak parallel for wine, and there is simply no mention of fish in the Last Supper story. Furthermore, there is no mention of fish in the Elisha story. Since the mention of fish enjoys multiple attestation (Mark 6:38 and John 6:9), and since the fish do not play an important theological part in the story (and therefore would be an unlikely redaction), and since the fish are not included in either the Old Testament background (Elisha) or the Last Supper, the fish would seem to be historically verifiable, which, in turn, lends credibility to the historicity of the narrative itself (Meier 1994, p. 965).
- ↑ Two likely candidates for retrojection of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus into pre-resurrection (ministry) settings are: (1) Luke’s account of the miraculous catch of fish (5:1-11) which resembles the post-resurrection narrative at the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-14), and (2) Jesus walking on the water (Mk 6:45-52, Mt 14:22-33, and John 6:16-21), which again resembles Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His apostles on the Sea of Tiberius recounted in John 21:1-14. With respect to the Lucan account of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11), Meier (agreeing with Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer, among others) holds to the high probability of a post-resurrection narrative retrojected into a pre-resurrection setting. Indeed, he, Brown, and Fitzmyer believe these were two different versions of the same story because of exceedingly close parallels. Some of these parallels are: (1) Peter and some other apostles have spent the night fishing and caught nothing, day has come, and Jesus appears; (2) With apparent supernatural knowledge, Jesus asks them to make another cast, promising that they will catch something; (3) Peter and the other disciples trust and obey Jesus’ command with the result that many fish are caught. Meier (along with Brown and Fitzmyer) detect eight other similarly close parallels (Meier 1994, pp. 898-899). Additionally, there is significant agreement in vocabulary and small details, making it difficult to deny that the two accounts are simply different versions of the same post-resurrection narrative (see Meier 1994, pp. 896-904). With respect to the narrative of Jesus walking on water (Mk 6:45-52, Mt 14:22-33, and John 6:16-21 – note the multiple attestation in Mark and John), McKenzie and others believe that this is another example of a post-resurrection narrative retrojected into a pre-resurrection setting: “The incident is so singular in the Synoptic narrative that many commentators propose that in its original context it belongs after the resurrection of Jesus. Whether this was the original context or not – and it seems probable that it was – the story, like the preceding story, has a symbolic significance” (McKenzie 1968, p. 89). There are many reasons for holding this: (1) The narrative has the air of a theophany – an appearance of God – which is not appropriate to Jesus’ ministry, but quite appropriate to post-resurrection narratives. (2) Jesus is performing a trans-material activity (walking on water, which most people with ordinary human bodies do not do). Again, this is unique within pre-resurrection setting, but very appropriate for a post-resurrection setting (e.g., appearing through closed doors – John 20:19 and 20:26). (3) The apostles think they are seeing a spirit (which is an exact parallel to the Lucan post-resurrection account of Jesus’ appearance to the Twelve – Luke 24:37). (4) The repetition of the apostles’ fright (“cried out” and “frightened” in Mark 6:49 and 50; and “scared” and “terrified” in Luke 24:37). (5) The reassurance from Jesus that “it is I” (Mark 6:50and Luke 24:39). When these similarities are combined with the similarities to the Johannine Sea of Tiberius post-resurrection narrative (John 21), and then we see Matthew’s singular interpretation of the incident, “And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” – Matthew 14:33 (recalling that Matthew reserved the word “worship” to God and to Jesus in the post-resurrection narratives), McKenzie’s judgment that “the incident is so singular in the Synoptic narrative that many commentators propose that in its original context it belongs after the resurrection of Jesus” is quite appropriate.
- ↑ An exhaustive treatment of the historicity of Jesus’ miracles may be found in Meier 1994 volume 2, particularly chapters 17 through 23.
- ↑ “I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself.” (Wright 1996, p. 653)
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 648.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 648.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 679.
- ↑ This reflects Meier’s list given in Meier 1994, p. 678.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 678.
- ↑ See the whole of Sections I and II.A of Unit II-E.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 724.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 725. See also Wegner 1985, pp. 3-5.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 690.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 690.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 690.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 681.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 681.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 681.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 697-698.
- ↑ McKenzie 1965, p. 567.
- ↑ Notice that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus interprets the Good Samaritan’s mercy (eleos) as a proof of “love of neighbor.” See specifically Luke 10:37 – the loving neighbor is “the one doing mercy (eleos) with him.”
- ↑ See Unit II-D, Section II and the entirety of Wright 2003
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 773-873.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 776.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 780-781.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 781.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 784-785.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 785.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 787.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 785.
- ↑ Meier cites and summarizes Gérard Rochais’ six candidates in Meier 1994, p. 849, n. 57. See also Rochais 1981, pp. 54-73, 104-112.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 786.
- ↑ The emphasis on Jesus calling attention to Himself saying the command “Arise” will become important in the forthcoming comparisons to the Elijah and Elisha stories, and will also demonstrate the distinctiveness of Jesus’ way of healing and raising from the dead – that is, by His own authority.
- ↑ Though this may have been an accolade to Jesus during His ministry, it certainly does not represent the status of Jesus in the post-resurrection Church, and so Luke very subtly introduces the high Christological title “the Lord” just three verses before; but interestingly, he does not change the title “great prophet” which he undoubtedly inherited from an earlier narrative.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 854, n. 75.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 792.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 791, which discusses all of these points in greater detail.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 793.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 795.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 795.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 795 and 857, n. 94; and Rochais 1981, pp. 21-30.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 857, n. 94; and also Rochais 1981, pp. 21-30.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 795; and also Rochais 1981, pp. 21-30.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 796.
- ↑ Recall that John uses the title “the Lord” of Jesus only after His resurrection to refer to the appearance and true status of the one who has been transformed and glorified, but he does not use this title of Jesus before the resurrection. See Unit II-C, Section II.D.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 797.
- ↑ Strong’s Numbers #4698, (http://strongsnumbers.com/greek/4698.htm).
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 798-818 for the methodology and exegesis leading to Meier’s rendition of the pre-Johannine narrative.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, pp. 798-818.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 831.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 831.
- ↑ Meier 1994, p. 832.
- ↑ “Embrimaomai” has several visceral meanings ranging from anger, to groaning, to sighing with chagrin. When it is applied to the interior psyche, it probably has the meaning of internal turmoil or disturbance. See Strong’s Online Concordance #1690 in http://strongsnumbers.com/greek/1690.htm.
- ↑ See Meier 1994, p. 775, among many, many other pages.