Jesus' Miracles

There are two main kinds of miracles - the healing miracles and nature miracles. The nature miracles include Feeding the 5000 and Feeding the 4000, Walking on the Water and Stilling of the Sea, turning Water into Wine, and the Fish with the Coin. Nature miracles are anything where the laws of nature are stretched and overcome. This involves time, space and low probability of outcome. Healing miracles (including exorcisms) involve personal communication and at least some subjective response in the individual. There may be an overcoming of nature, but equally the healing may be achieved by other healers.

Whilst both kinds are addressed with the full power of a writer's cross reference with the Hebrew Bible and Jesus based themes, the healing miracles can be seen as more real. The further question healing involved was that of work, because the Law demands no work on the Sabbath.

First of all, there must have been an attraction of Jesus not just from his preaching, but a sense of real healing taking place.

This healing took place within the understanding of demons inhabiting the body and causing illness, and of sin leading to illness and eventually death. When Jesus prepared people for the coming Kingdom of God, he did not just describe the belief (he did not describe the Kingdom itself, what it would be like), but took practical steps with some to remove the demons or cure the illness so that sin was removed and people could prepare themselves with more assurance that they might be worthy to enter the Kingdom. Jesus blessed the poor, who were always more susceptible to diseases and therefore were identified as more sinful than the rich, less assured by God. Jesus said the opposite, that the poor were much more likely to enter than the rich.

Jesus put the ability to heal down to faith; people might even heal themselves through small but assured faith.

Mark 5: 25 - 34
25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.
26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.
27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,
28 for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well."
29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?"
31 And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'"
32 He looked all around to see who had done it.
33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

A number of things follow. The first is the reference to the expected understanding with its root in the Hebrew Bible:

Numbers 15: 37 - 39
37 The LORD said to Moses:
38 Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner.
39 You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes.

This is not basis of the whole story at all. Here is a summary of the Gospel passage:

The role of the clothing is confirmed, as she touches him and he feels the energy transfer, so it is consistent with this understanding of faith. However, Jesus' explanation is somewhat different. It is her own faith that makes her well, though he also says she should go and be healed. It may be semantics: there may be a mental state of being well from faith, but to be healed needs his energy and declaration, or maybe she is healed and can go and enjoy her healed life.

The implication is still the power of perhaps small yet assured faith already in the person.

As for his direct actions, it might be supposed that the charismatic power of Jesus and the supernatural expected culture aided his abilities to heal. This does mean psychosomatic healing (mind over matter, self - generated repair). it can come from belief in his cloth or in him acting and declaring: it is of course written without knowledge of psychosomatic understanding or the placebo effect.

A key evidence for this causality is when Jesus found himself unable to heal because the "magic" was replaced by local knowledge of the boy who grew up in the area.

Thomas: 31
31 Jesus said, "No prophet is accepted in his own village; no physician heals those who know him."

The suspension of the common experience and being taken up in the healer's power becomes impossible when the healer is a known character. Mark was more specific, stating:

Mark 6: 44
44 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."

Thus Jesus did not perform miracles on returning to Nazareth.

Yet there is still a question about the energy involved in the garment. There are, even today, healers who reject the faith healing tag. They are simply healers. They may touch, or may stand near. Some call it "chi" that flows. Others testify to feeling the quite intense warmth that happens when the healer acts. No faith is required, apparently. There is still much to find out.

Exorcisms require no physical improvement. Writhing around on the ground may be sufficient for all to show that belief demons are coming out. Yet these are equally important actions for Jesus in the removal of sin, for this exorcism is direct and likely the most important way people can feel refreshed and ready for the Kingdom.

Whatever the method/s Jesus employed, by energy, by faith or by display, Jesus clearly attracted attention through his apparent powers and by individuals' needs in the crowd. There must be an historical element in this, however themed and theologised by the later writers. One interesting aspect is the holism of the healing, that it was about personal orientation (removing sin) as well as removing a disease, about being well and being healed.

Not Does It Work, but
Is It Work?

A key issue about Jesus' healing is further whether he should have done it on the sabbath day. Did it constitute work? To understand this we know that Orthodox Jews to this day may put the Law to one side when a matter of life and death. A pregnant woman can be driven to a hospital on the sabbath in order to have a baby, but the car cannot be driven home until the sabbath has ended (mother, baby and driver go home on the bus).

The issue then can go two ways: one that it is work but is allowed, or that it is not work and therefore is allowed anyway. All the gospels tackle this controversy. Only one gospel is clear about this, and it is arguable that its clarity produces the opposite answer than the one intended.

This can be neatly done in time order, starting with Mark:

Mark 3: 1 - 6
1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.
2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.
3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward."
4 Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent.
5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

So here is a summary:

Following Jesus' question here, we know that it is already accepted that life can be saved. Doing good alone is acceptable too. Clearly the issue of doing harm or killing is rhetorical - they are never accepted on any day. The issue of work is not answered, and it looks like they and the Herod party will plot anyway, the Gospel of Mark declares.

Matthew and Luke both use Mark to some extent, as here for Matthew:

Matthew 12: 9 - 14
9 He left that place and entered their synagogue;
10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, "Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?" so that they might accuse him.
11 He said to them, "Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?
12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath."
13 Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other.
14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Again, it is useful to do a summary:

Matthew here makes some changes. He has an explanation regarding working with animals, which does indeed suggest work - but even here it is not a committed explanation. Rather it is about doing good - one of the options in Mark.

Luke changes the event that brings along the same explanation, and the event raises the issue of work more explicitly:

Luke 13: 10 - 17
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."
13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."
15 But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?
16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?"
17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

So there is a creeping forward on this work issue. The Jewish leader says this is work, though Jesus does not. This statement in this event is joined to the explanation of the other event. Perhaps Luke found an event where this question was directly asked and joined the explanation to it. Why would he do this? Because he wants Jesus not to be just within the Law but to be making a break from it. But still there is reserve on this point: Luke cannot quite say it.

So it comes to John, the youngest gospel and latest of the line, with its ready - made Jesus Christ and its Greek and Gnostic elements. John has no such qualms about the work issue. Jesus will now make the declaration himself:

John 5: 1 - 19
1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth - zatha, which has five porticoes.
3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
4 [no verse in this mss]
5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty - eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"
7 The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me."
8 Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk."
9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, "It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat."
11 But he answered them, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Take up your mat and walk.'"
12 They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take it up and walk'?"
13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you."
15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
17 But Jesus answered them, "My Father is still working, and I also am working."
18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
19 Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.

A summary is important here:

There is a clear distinction between the Jews, so described, and what Jesus is doing. Jesus is doing no wrong, even his healing is not wrong but the man taking his mat and walking is wrong. Is that the work then? Of course it is not, but the accusation has to be away from Jesus in this Jesus verses the Jews treatment. When it comes to doing work, not only does Jesus do it, but God does it too. So here the Law is being replaced. The Law is for the Jews, and this, with Jesus and God, is not of the Jews. The Jews reaction is complete and clear - they want to kill Jesus. Pharisees are not criticising, plotting, or whatever, nor joining others. It is clearly about death. It is the Jews, not just Pharisees and other Jewish parties, who will kill Jesus. Furthermore, although the text retains Jesus saying he does only what the Father does (that is, he obeys the Father and is subservient), as consistent with the Jewish view (that is, not binitarian), the text goes out if its way to claim that this means equality - a blasphemy, if demonstrated, as here attempted.

It is important how this is stacked up. The doubts and developments of the synoptic gospels, which are themselves to some variable degrees anti - semitic, now are blown away for the cosmic almost non - Jewish Christ. This Christ did work, God works, the Law is a dud and superseded, and this Christ is one with God under God.

It is the initial reluctance regarding work in the synoptic gospels, and then this totality of the anti Jewish faith package in John, that suggests that, if we go back to the Jesus who was healing, that he was not doing work. It was certainly a question, especially for a known healer, but he was not found "guilty". If he had been, the three gospels would have said so: Jesus would have said there that he is working and God is working through him. He did not there. With knowledge of the Pharisees' approach to the Law, which was sophisticated, and not unlike today, Jesus was doing good. Jesus was saving the health of someone. Only when one wants to break Jesus from Judaism does one claim that this was work.

This difference that people stress between Jesus freeing up away from the Law (leaving it?) and the Pharisees being tightly bound into it is a Pauline and especially Johannine matter. Pharisees were quite expert in the Law and were used to hard debating. Jesus may have expanded the Law's implications, but only may, and it is not something Pharisees will have failed to recognise. There is a false opposite between Jesus and the Pharisees which suits the Gentile church and the pro - Roman pro - Greek positions and away from the Jewish Christians and away from the Jewish Christians.

However, the Gnostics can be excused. The only verse in the Gospel of Thomas to mention the Sabbath states:

Thomas 27
27 Jesus said, "If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the Kingdom. If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath you will not see the Father."


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful

Biblical references are, for healing a woman, Mark 5: 25 - 34, Matthew 9: 20 - 22, Luke 8: 43 - 48; Fringes and tassels Numbers, 15: 37 - 39; for the walking on the water, Mark 6: 45 - 51; Matthew 14: 22 - 27, 32; for stilling the storm, Mark 4: 36 - 40; Matthew 8: 23 - 36; Luke 8: 22 - 25; for whether it is work, Mark 3: 1 - 6, Matthew 12: 9 - 14, Luke 13: 10 - 17, John 5: 1 - 19. All from the New Revised Standard Version.

Shorto, R. (1997), Gospel Truth: The New Image of Jesus Emerging from Science and History and Why It Matters, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 121, 124, 129 - 134.

Vermes, G. (2003), The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, London: Allen Lane, 273.