Christianity is a religion of miracles, and the Bible records the historical fact of them. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 declare this. The truthfulness of the Bible’s message rests squarely upon miracles (John 20:30-31). Christianity is a historical religion with historical evidence for its truthfulness, and miracles are the key witness.
Many have challenged the Bible’s claims of miracles. The philosopher David Hume wrote, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.” Hume argues that regular human experience precludes miracles as follows:
- All real events operate according to the laws of nature.
- Miracles are not events that operate according to the laws of nature.
- Therefore: miracles are not real events.
His first premise defines real events in terms of the laws of nature; it assumes what must be proved, namely, that there are no real events outside of the physical laws of nature. However, miracles are real events that operate outside of the physical laws of nature. Just assuming that they are not real (by definition) does not prove they are not real.
C.S. Lewis questioned his second premise. He argued that miracles operate in cooperation with the laws of nature. They are only a rearrangement of nature by means of control over such laws, but not in violation of them. The miracle of the withering of the fig tree was not a violation of the laws of nature, per se, but simply an acceleration of those laws.
Hume’s argument against miracles entails the assumption of empiricism, the philosophy that only the five senses give knowledge. To say this, however, presents an immediate difficulty. The claim, “only the five senses give knowledge” cannot itself be verified by the five senses. So, it must not be knowledge. Abandoning empiricism opens up the possibility of knowledge beyond the five senses. This includes knowledge of miracles by credible witnesses.
Because miracles are improbable events, one would rather believe the witnesses were insane or lying. The fact that many who claim to witness and/or perform miracles are actually insane or lying seems to warrant the thought. However, this does not mean that all of them are. The possibility of God’s working in the world miraculously entails being open to credible testimony that God has done miracles.
What testimony would be credible to warrant one’s belief in any miracle? Those testifying would need to be men of integrity with a strong aversion to lying and come from a culture with strong aversions to lying. Public lying was strictly prohibited in Israel (Ex. 20:16).
Such men should also themselves express skepticism. It is reasonable to question that a miracle has happened. The apostles were initially skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection. Mark 16:11 says that they all doubted. John 20:24-29 records the case of Thomas who refused to believe unless he could see the post-mortem wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet.
A significant number of witnesses to a miracle gives it more credibility. Paul records that the twelve apostles, a crowd of above 500, and he all saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion and death (1 Cor. 15:1-8). The numbers are there.
Witnesses are credible that affirm their message even in the face of persecution and death. Stephen and James were early martyrs (Greek: witnesses) for the Christian faith (Acts 7, 12). The apostles suffered persecution early and often for affirming the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 4, 5). Traditional history records that all the apostles (save John) were martyred. They believed their own message.
If miracles really happened, an adamant opponent to Christianity would be a great witness. Saul of Tarsus was that enemy. He saw the resurrected Christ, and, based upon the evidence, he became a witness for God’s doing miracles. Credible witnesses to miracles existed.
What about the source of these witnesses’ beliefs? Is it credible? Was Jesus insane? Did He just orchestrate an elaborate hoax to deceive people into acting the way they did? C. S. Lewis replies to this thought in his book, Mere Christianity.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Given the evidence, we must conclude that miracles really did happen!