views updated May 14 2018


Biblical Hebrew has no word corresponding to the English "miracle." Occasionally, the Bible mentions "wonders" (peleʾ, niflaʾot) meaning "miracles" (Ex. 3:20; Josh. 3:5; Ps. 78:11; etc.), but the meaning of "wonder" is much broader than "miracle." A particular class of miracles, however, can be considered as a definite biblical concept, since it is designated by terms of its own. These are the "signs" (ʾotot, mofetim), i.e., extraordinary and surprising events which God brought about in order to demonstrate His power and will in particular situations, when men had to be convinced. A sign can be given as proof of prophecy. Thus the altar of Beth-El collapsed as a sign that the prophecy of its future destruction was true (i Kings 13:1–6). The more important signs occurred in Egypt: the staff turned into a serpent to show that Moses was indeed sent by God (Ex. 4:1–7), and the ten plagues coerced Pharaoh to accept the divine command and let the people go. Deuteronomy 13 raises the problem of a sign given by a false prophet: it can be genuine, brought about by God to test the people, who must not obey under any circumstances a prophet summoning them to idolatry. The problem shows that "signs" as proofs of prophecy were regarded – at least among theologians – as regular (or indeed necessary) events.

Some biblical miracles are more than signs, i.e., their purpose goes beyond the mere proof of divine power. Israel was saved and Egypt's army destroyed by the parting of the Red Sea, the people were given water and food in the desert by means of miraculous acts, and so on. Both Samaria (ii Kings 6:8–7:20) and Jerusalem (ii Kings 19:35) miraculously escaped conquest by besieging armies. Such miracles can be viewed as direct divine intervention at critical moments of human history. Even in these incidents, the element of a "sign" is never wholly absent. Dathan and *Abiram and their followers were swallowed by the earth; it was a just punishment, whose suddenness was demanded by the situation. Moses' words (Num. 16:28–30), however, designate the event clearly as a sign. It is also stated that when Israel saw the mighty deed of Egypt's destruction in the sea, they believed in God and in Moses (Ex. 14:31). Evidently, the Bible makes no distinction between signs proper and miraculous divine intervention in human history. There is a third type of miracle in the Bible in which the sheer admiration of the wonder-worker seems more important than both elements discussed above. One cannot escape this impression when reading the stories about Elijah and, to an even greater degree, about Elisha. Such stories are a regular feature of popular religion of all times and in all places; in the Bible they are almost entirely confined to the figures of these two "nonliterary" prophets.

The problem of whether miracles are "natural" or "supernatural," which was of concern to scholars of later ages, does not bother Bible writers. In one case (Num. 16:30), a miracle is described as a "creation," which indicates an awareness of what moderns might call the "suspension of natural laws" (see also Ex. 34:10). On the other hand, the miracle of the descent of the quail (Num. 9:18–23) is quite plainly and clearly described as a "natural" – though unexpected – occurrence and yet is treated as a full-scale miracle. Bible writers simply do not question God's ability to do anything, by any means.

The intellectual's dislike of miracles has furnished the mainstream of Bible criticism with a yardstick: some "sources" contain more accounts of miracles than others, and are therefore deemed less "valuable." Scholars with apologetic tendencies tend to minimize the importance of Bible miracles, in their endeavor to make biblical religion less "crude" and more "pure." This case can be based on the preponderance of the "sign" concept in the Bible discussed above, but is nevertheless wrong. The Bible does not, as a rule, tell miracle stories for their own sake, but it does regard the "signs and wonders" of God as extremely important. Man has to know that God can do anything, whenever and wherever He chooses; that this has been demonstrated in history many times; and the sacred history of Israel has been shaped often enough by direct and quite evident divine intervention. Faith that can do without this notion of miracles is possible, but unthinkable in biblical terms.

[Jacob Licht]

In the Talmud

The almost universal word for a miracle in the talmudical literature is the term נֵס (nes), used in the Bible for a "sign" or "standard." The biblical miracles are unquestionably accepted by the sages of the Talmud. Insofar as their theological aspect is concerned, three main considerations exercised the minds of the sages: (1) the reversal of the order of creation with its corollary of an insufficiency in the act of creation; (2) the miracle as a testimony of the truth of religion; and (3) the "daily miracles" which do not involve a disturbance of the order of creation.

(1) According to the rabbis, the miracles were, so to speak, preordained and provided for in the act of creation. "R. Johanan said, God made a condition with the sea that it would part before the Children of Israel… R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said, not with the sea alone, but with whatever God created on the six days of creation… God commanded heaven and earth that they should be silent before Moses; the sun and moon that they should stand still before Joshua; the ravens that they should feed Elijah; the fire that it should not harm Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; the lions that they injure not Daniel; the heavens that they should open to the voice of Ezekiel; and the fish that it should cast up Jonah'" (Gen. R. 5:45). Another passage emphasizes this idea even more strongly. When God commanded Moses to lift up his staff and part the Red Sea, Moses argued with God that it would involve a breach of his own act of creation, God answered him, "Thou hast not read the beginning of the Torah… I made a condition at the time" and only then did Moses heed the divine behest (Ex. R. 21:6). In the same vein, the Mishnah (Avot 5:6) enumerates ten things which "were created on the eve of the Sabbath [of creation] at twilight," including the mouth of the earth which opened up to swallow Korah (Num. 16:32), the mouth of the ass of Balaam which spoke (Num. 22:28), the manna (Ex. 16:14), and the rod of Moses (Ex. 4:17). As Zangwill (quoted by J.H. Hertz, Comm. to Prayer Book) puts it, the Talmud sages "discovered the reign of universal law through exceptions, the miracles that had to be created specially and were still a part of the order of the world, bound to appear in due time."

(2) That miracles are not evidence of religious truth is clearly and explicitly stated in the Bible (Deut. 13:2–4). The rabbis emphasize this in a striking incident wherein R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus called for, and achieved, a series of miracles for the purpose of proving that his halakhic ruling was correct, but R. Joshua disdainfully rejected them, quoting "the Torah is not in heaven" and his contrary view was accepted (bm 59a).

(3) The rabbis, however, almost go out of their way to emphasize the daily miracle of life which does not express itself in violations of the laws of nature. "Come and consider how many miracles the Holy One, blessed be He, performs for man, and he is unaware of it. If a man were to swallow unmasticated bread, it would descend into his bowels and scratch him, but God created a well in the throat of man which enables it to descend safely" (Ex. R. 24:1). This thought is expressed in the formula of thanksgiving prayer (Modim) which forms part of the daily Amidah, "for Thy miracles which are daily with us, and for Thy wonders and Thy benefits, which are wrought at all times, evening, morning, and night."

In this connection is it not without interest that the formula of thanksgiving "for the miracles… which Thou didst wage for our fathers" is confined to the two festivals of Hanukkah and Purim (Sof. 20:6; the formula is found in Seder R. Amram). It is true that the rabbis emphasize the miraculous aspect of the Ḥannukah legend of the pure oil which was sufficient for one day only but lasted for eight until new oil could be brought (Shab. 21b), to which there is no reference in the Book of Maccabees, and that many of the regulations of the festival are enjoined "in order to publicize the miracle" (Shab. 23b), but this miracle cannot compare with the biblical miracles, and there is no deus ex machina miracle in the story of Purim. On the whole they belong to the class of "natural miracles." The parting of the Red Sea is regarded as the greatest ("most difficult") of the biblical miracles (Pes. 118a).

Although the Talmud is replete with stories and legends of miracles wrought for its worthies (cf. especially Ta'an. 21–25), it is generally accepted that the age of miracles (probably for the benefit of the people as a whole) has ceased, because "they were performed for those who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sanctification of the Name, and we are not worthy of having miracles performed for us" (Ber. 20a; Ta'an. 18b; Sanh. 94b).

Nevertheless ten minor miracles happened in the time of the Temple (Avot 5:5). They include such mundane miracles as that no person was ever bitten by a snake or scorpion in Jerusalem, that there was always accommodation to be found there (during the pilgrim festivals), and that rain never extinguished the altar fire.

It is forbidden to rely upon miracles (Pes. 64b). "One should never stand in a place of danger and say 'a miracle will happen to me' since perhaps it will not happen, and if it does, it will be deducted from his merits" (Ta'an. 20b). But "the recipient of a miracle does not recognize the miracle" (Nid. 31a). When coming to a place where miracles were wrought for the Jewish people, one must recite a special blessing (Ber. 9:1 and 54a).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

In Medieval Jewish Philosophy

The subject of miracles was one of the most important and problematic in the writings of medieval Jewish philosophy. The medieval philosopher found it difficult to accept the biblical notion of miracles, not only because it was difficult to explain the particular miracles described in the Bible in terms of contemporary science, but also because the acceptance of miracles entailed the belief in creation and divine providence – notions rejected by Greek philosophy.

The first of the medieval Jewish philosophers, Saadiah *Gaon, who, following the Mu'tazilites (see *Kalam), proved the existence of God from the temporal origin of the world (Beliefs and Opinions 1:2), and deduced the concept of divine omnipotence from the concept of creation (2:4), does not question the possibility of miracles. Since he accepted the concepts of creation and divine providence, it was consistent for him to maintain that God may see fit to alter His creation in order to preserve the faithful or in order to confirm His revelations to the prophets. The purpose of miracles, according to Saadiah, was to confirm the prophet as God's emissary whose word is truth (3:4, 5).

Saadiah believed that a perfect correlation exists between the content of revelation and the conclusions of rational investigation. Thus the miracle, insofar as it confirms revelation, confirms at the same time the conclusions of rational investigation – the existence of God, His unity, and the creation of the world. It might seem, therefore, that the miracle is superfluous. However, Saadiah maintained that while the intellectual verification of revealed doctrines is indeed an obligation, it is lengthy and accessible to few, and therefore revelation and miracles are required for the masses. Revelation and miracles are helpful even for those capable of speculation, insofar as they serve as guides in the search for the truth.

To distinguish between the true religion and a false one which lays claim to miracles, both the miraculous occurrence itself, as well as the doctrine it confirms, must be subjected to scientific scrutiny. One must examine the supposed miracle to discover whether it may not have been illusory (ch. 3), and also the tradition which reports it (introd.). Because there is a correlation between that which is revealed and that which is arrived at through rational speculation, nothing which clearly contradicts intellectual judgment may be accepted as prophecy (excluding, of course, phenomena which transcend intellectual understanding; 3:8).


Like Saadiah, the early Jewish Neoplatonists accepted the possibility of miracles without question. While they attributed the same function to miracles as Saadiah had, their conception of the phenomenon of the miracle itself was different. The Neoplatonists no longer viewed miracles as events which contradict the natural order thus serving as evidence of God's will, but rather as the interposition of a higher supranatural order amid the natural order below it. The Neoplatonists maintained that a miracle can take place only in the presence of a person who is worthy of the suprasensual order and attracts it in the form of a particular providence, that person being the prophet. The prophet plays an active role in the manifestation of the miracle. Miracles do not merely serve to confirm the content of the revelation; they are in themselves revelations in the sense that they represent the direct appearance of the divine order in the midst of the natural order (cf. Ibn Ezra, commentary on Ex. 3:15, and 6:3).

The Challenge of Aristotelianism

The problem of miracles grew more acute as the Aristotelian influence on Jewish philosophy became stronger. According to Aristotelianism, which conceives of the natural order as deriving necessarily from the rational Being of God, all that contradicts nature is, by definition, contradictory to reason. Thus a Jewish philosopher confronted by these Aristotelian teachings had two alternatives: if he rejected Aristotelian physics and metaphysics he was challenged by the intellectual demands that physics and metaphysics make, and if he accepted them, he had to account within their framework for the existence of revelation which is the basis of the Torah.

Judah *Halevi accepted the first alternative, Maimonides, the second. Judah Halevi set out from the premise that experience takes precedence over intellectual judgment. Although the intellect might deny the possibility of the occurrence of miracles, the fact of miracles is upheld by the immediate authenticity of the event and the authenticity of the tradition which recorded it (Kuzari, 1:5). Rejecting the idea that intellectual judgment must confirm the substance of revelation, and perceiving that the miracle per se is no evidence of the validity of the prophet's utterances, Judah Halevi does not, as did Saadiah, regard the miracle as an affirmation of the content of revelation, but views the miracle as itself a direct revelation of God. God's direct communication with a person or a nation is a miracle. The deviation from the natural order for the purpose of guiding a man or a nation to their religious destiny is a miracle. Both occurrences share the fact of God's immediate presence in the lives of men. The miracle, therefore, affirms nothing more than the possibility of its occurrence (1:13–25), and revelation can be verified only as an immediate experience. The authenticity of the revelation at Sinai was established by the fact that all of Israel were granted prophecy together with Moses and could bear witness to revelation out of their own experience. This fact confirmed the revelation for all time, and any prophecy which conflicts with it must be invalid even if it is supposedly supported by miracles (1:80–90).


While Maimonides adopted Aristotelian physics and metaphysics, he deviated from the Aristotelian view that the world is eternal. He upheld the assumption of the temporal origin of the world, although he maintained that it can be neither proved or disproved conclusively, as the only one which allows for miracles (Guide 2:25). Miracles, according to Maimonides, are necessary in order to sustain the authority of revelation for the masses, as well as to support the biblical assumption that God guides men by giving them the Law.

In his attempt to reconcile the concept of miracles with the Aristotelianism that he accepted, Maimonides maintained that the creation of the world as well as miracles are voluntary acts of God, and that in its essence and constitution the world reflects divine reason. Thus there is no conflict between divine wisdom and divine will, both of which were impressed upon the original mold of creation (3:25). According to Maimonides, miracles are predetermined at the time of creation and thus do not indicate a change in God's will or wisdom. The difference between the act of nature and the miracle is a difference between the regular and the unique, although the unique is also governed by its own laws. Indeed, the miracle, like creation, is a unique occurrence which establishes a reality or an order. For example, the miracles of the patriarchs and Moses established the existence of a nation with a particular role to play in the order of the world. The Sinaitic revelation established an ideal legislation for human conduct. Maimonides was careful not to define the miracle as an abrogation of the laws of nature. He explained that in the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds), for example, the nature of the water was not changed but was affected by another natural force, the wind. A miracle, such as the revelation at Mt. Sinai, was the manifestation of a particular act of creation, and thus may be considered an addition to nature rather than an abrogation thereof.

In sum, Maimonides concurred with Aristotle's position that reality derives from divine reason and therefore not everything imaginable is necessarily possible. While he did maintain that there are things which nature disallows, he differed with Aristotle on the limitation of the possible. Aristotle maintained that only that which exists is possible, whereas Maimonides posited the possibility of singular, constitutive occurrences as equally a necessary effect of divine wisdom (3:15). In accordance with his definition of miracles as constitutive events of general significance, Maimonides elevated the miracles of Moses above all others, while he interpreted allegorically many other biblical episodes which when understood literally are miraculous (2:46, 47).


Among Jewish philosophers after Maimonides there were those who repudiated the belief in the temporal origin of the world and in miracles, explaining biblical references to them as allegories. There were also renewed attempts to prove that miracles did take place, notably by Naḥmanides, who disputed Maimonides' conception of miracles from a kabbalistic viewpoint. In opposition to Maimonides' view of nature as a necessary effect of divine wisdom, Naḥmanides posited the miracle as preceding nature. The miracle is not a singular occurrence – it is an immutable supranatural reality. According to Naḥmanides, "nature and worldly order do not affect the ends of the Torah," and therefore the destiny of Israel is not natural but miraculous. However, miracles do not necessarily conflict with, or deviate from, the natural order. Naḥmanides postulated a distinction between self-evident miracles, i.e., those which deviate from the natural order thus serving to impart faith to unbelievers and the ignorant, and hidden miracles, which consist in the unusual coincidence of a number of natural events. The miraculous nature of the latter will be evident only to the believer (A. Jellinek (ed.), Torat Adonai Temimah, passim).

Ḥasdai Crescas

The most fully developed critique of Maimonides' position is found in Ḥasdai *Crescas' writings. Crescas held that the world was created ex nihilo but had no temporal beginning. The world is eternal and continually renewed by God, characterized by Crescas as infinite grace. As well as being infinitely good, God is omnipotent, and therefore miracles, which are instruments of good, are not merely within His power and in harmony with His wisdom but are a necessary effect of His being (Or Adonai, 2, proposition 3:1).

For Crescas, miracles were neither a deviation from nature nor in conflict with it, but an expression of a supranatural order. What distinguishes miracles from natural occurrences is not the fact of their deviation from the natural order, which is after all an external manifestation, but an intrinsic quality. Whereas the natural occurrence is brought about by God indirectly, expresses a limited force, occurs as part of a process, and has only a relative existence, the miracle is brought about directly by God, expresses unlimited power, is a singular event, is not part of a process, and has an absolute existence (ibid., proposition 3:2). This conception of miracles fits in with Crescas' view that the world is continually recreated ex nihilo by the divine will: the world itself is actually a perpetual miracle which encompasses the natural order. Thus the miracle is not an aberration of nature, rather it precedes nature. The ultimate purpose of the miracle is to impart faith to unbelievers and to strengthen the faith of believers. However, he did not regard the miracle as an external verification of prophecy, but, along the lines of Judah Halevi, he believed that in every event in which the infinite power of God is revealed, God becomes present to man, and thus heresy and doubt are abolished (ibid., 3, proposition 4:2). In Crescas' doctrine there is a strong universalistic orientation, although emphasis is placed on the particular supranatural providence of Israel: God's grace, being infinite, must reveal itself to everyone, and the miracle which will bring this about, the resurrection of the dead, will be superior even to the miracles performed by Moses (ibid., 3, proposition 4:2).

An analysis of Crescas' doctrine illustrates the development of the concept of miracles through the confrontation with Platonism and Aristotelianism, in that it represents a critical synthesis of both. The miracle, which had been regarded as an external confirmation of revelation, came to be viewed not as a non-natural occurrence but as an immediate revelation of the truth of the Torah. In his critical synthetic doctrine, Crescas also anticipated ideas which were fully developed only by modern Jewish philosophers.

[Eliezer Schweid]

In Later Jewish Thought

S.D. *Luzzatto was against the rational approach to religion, which he dubbed "Hellenism," and claimed that Judaism based on love and mercy was superior. Attacking the Jewish philosophers of his day for trying to assimilate Judaism to the barren "Hellenism" of Western culture, he affirmed the historicity of the miracles in the Bible, including the miracle of prophecy, and he held that miracles were proof of divine providence.

Samuel *Hirsch, in his Die Religionsphilosophie der Juden (1842), also upheld the historicity of the miracles recorded in the Bible. However, for him it was not the miraculous incident itself that was important, but its educational value. In the biblical period, God revealed Himself to Israel by means of miracles in order to demonstrate that He was above nature and that nature was not omnipotent – an idea which the Israelites had acquired in Egypt. Once the idea of the omnipotence of nature had been uprooted, miracles were no longer necessary and, therefore, ceased to take place. According to Hirsch, however, there was one miracle that did not just take place in the past but has continued up to the present, namely, the existence of the Jewish people, which serves as an additional means of teaching the existence of God.

Moses *Mendelssohn maintained that the truth of any religion cannot be proved by appealing to miracles; it can be proved only on the basis of the rationality of its doctrine. Only after a religious faith has been upheld by reason is it possible to consider the miracles associated with that religion. While Mendelssohn did not reject the possibility of miracles, he stressed that Judaism did not appeal for belief to the authority of miracles but to that of direct revelation witnessed by the entire people.

Nachman *Krochmal felt that there were potent spiritual forces underlying the workings of nature. These forces can operate and cause events which defy the laws of nature and appear miraculous. However, not all miracles are of this type. There is another class of miracles in which God actually directly interferes in nature. However, Krochmal does not satisfactorily explain this class of miracles in terms of his general metaphysical system.

Contemporary Views

There have been two trends in modern Jewish thought concerning miracles. The first, represented by such thinkers as F. *Rosenzweig, M. *Buber, and A.J. *Heschel, has returned to an almost biblical conception of miracles, based upon the idea that the miracle is a "sign" of God's presence. The second trend, represented by M. *Kaplan, may be said to follow the rationalistic approach of the medieval philosophers. However, it goes beyond the medievals in denying the significance of miracles qua miracles. The first trend explains away the problem of the miracle being contrary to natural law by proposing a new definition of the miracle, according to which the essence of the miracle does not lie in its being contradictory to nature, but in its having a particular significance in history. The second trend, in a sense, chooses science over miracles, denying any validity to the miracle, insofar as it supposedly goes against natural law.

Rosenzweig holds, as does Maimonides, that the miracles of the Bible were built into the scheme of things from creation, hence, they were part of the natural order. These events were miracles because they played a significant role in history. Rosenzweig attempts to connect science and miracles, or what he called objectivity (idealism) and subjectivity (personal meaning), revelation being the point at which they are joined. The man who receives and lives a revelation carries both in him. The miracle of personal revelation is genuine. It infuses meaning into a particular moment, while its impact carries over into the future (see F. Rosenzweig, Kokhav ha-Ge'ullah (1970), 131–48).

Buber also stressed that no miracle is contrary to nature, maintaining that the miracle and nature are two different aspects of the same phenomenon – revelation. For Buber, man's attitude is the essential element in the miracle: the miracle is "our receptivity to the eternal revelation." Buber approaches biblical miracles by asking, "what human relation to real events this could have been… (which) grew into the written account we have read" (Moses (1958), 61ff.). A man today can experience the same relation to real events, the same miracle, that biblical man experienced. The attitude that a man has to events, the world, or other people is the raw material out of which experiences that are miracles arise. For a person properly attuned, any event may be considered a miracle, in terms of its meaning for him.

Heschel stresses the same points using various terms such as "the legacy of wonder" (God in Search of Man (1959), 43), or "radical amazement," terms that he gives to the sense of mystery and awe that he attributed to biblical figures. He writes that, "What stirred their souls was neither the hidden nor the apparent, but the hidden in the apparent; not the order but the mystery of the order that prevails in the universe" (ibid., 56). He also speaks of the "ineffable," and of a sudden extraordinary and meaningful moment which he calls an "event" as distinguished from "process," the usual scientific way of looking at things.

M. Kaplan conceives of the accounts of miracles in Jewish literature as reflecting the attempt "of the ancient authors to prove and illustrate God's power and goodness" (Judaism as a Civilization (1934), 98). Kaplan maintained that these traditions concerning miracles were in conflict with modern thought, and that the belief in miracles that contravene natural law is a "psychological impossibility for most people" (Questions Jews Ask (1956), 155–6). The idea of God's exercising control and direction over the workings of the world is passé after modern physics. However, while Kaplan rejects the literalness of the miracle, he sees in the concept that God performs miracles for the sake of the righteous an important idea that has value for modern man, namely, the idea of responsibility and loyalty to what is right.

[Michael J. Graetz]


O. Procksch, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1950), 454–8; C. Tresmontant, Etudes de métaphysique biblique (1955), 223–8; S.V. McCasland, in: jbl, 76 (1957), 149–52; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 (1967), 162–7; G. Quell, in: Verbannung und Heimkehr (1961), 253–300. in medieval jewish philosophy: Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, 358ff.


views updated Jun 11 2018


In order to differentiate between the customary way in which God acts and his special miraculous action, theologians have traditionally distinguished his providentia ordinaria from the providentia extraordinaria, the latter being identified with miracles. Since the dawning of modernity, miracles have been widely understood to be "violations of the laws of nature." But so long as laws of nature are taken to be universal inductive generalizations, the notion of a violation of a law of nature is incoherent, since such statements must take account of everything that happens, so that exceptions to them are impossible. Although this fact led some Enlightenment philosophers to think that miracles can thus be defined out of existence, it ought rather to alert one to the defectiveness of the modern definition. Natural laws have implicit ceteris paribus conditions, so that a law states what is the case under the assumption of certain ideal conditions. If God brings about some event that a law of nature fails to predict or describe, such an event cannot be characterized as a violation of that law, since the law is valid only on the assumption that no supernatural factors come into play.

Miracles, then, are better defined as naturally impossible events, that is to say, events that cannot be produced by the natural causes (i.e., those described by physics) operative at a certain time and place. Whether an event is a miracle is thus relative to a time and place. Of course, some events may be absolutely miraculous in that they are at every time and place beyond the productive capacity of natural causes.

Possibility of miracles

What could conceivably transform an event that is naturally impossible into a real historical event? Clearly, the answer is the personal God of theism. For if a transcendent, personal creator exists, then this God could cause events in the universe that could not be produced by causes within the universe. Given a God who created the universe, who conserves the world in being, and who is capable of acting freely, miracles are evidently possible.

A widespread assumption persists that if historical inquiry is to be feasible, then one must adopt a sort of methodological naturalism as a fundamental historiographical principle. This viewpoint is a restatement of Ernst Troeltsch's principle of analogy, which states that the past does not differ essentially from the present. Though events of the past are, of course, not the same events as those of the present, they must be the same in kind if historical investigation is to be possible. Troeltsch realized that any history written on this principle will be skeptical with regard to the historicity of miracles.

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, however, has persuasively argued that Troeltsch's principle of analogy cannot be legitimately employed to banish from the realm of history all non-analogous events. Properly defined, analogy means that in a situation that is unclear, the facts ought to be understood in terms of known experience; but Troeltsch has elevated the principle to constrict all past events to purely natural events. But that an event bursts all analogies cannot be used to dispute its historicity. Troeltsch's formulation of the principle of analogy destroys genuine historical reasoning, since the historian must be open to the uniqueness of the events of the past and cannot exclude events a priori simply because they do not conform to present experience. When myths, legends, illusions, and the like are dismissed as unhistorical, it is not because they are non-analogous, but because they are analogous to present forms of consciousness having no objective referent. When an event is said to have occurred for which no analogy exists, its reality cannot be automatically dismissed; to do this one would require an analogy to some known form of consciousness lacking an objective referent that would suffice to explain the situation. Pannenberg has thus upended Troeltsch's principle of analogy such that it is not the want of an analogy that shows an event to be unhistorical, but the presence of a positive analogy to known thought forms that shows a purportedly miraculous event to be unhistorical. In this way, the lack of an analogy to present experience says nothing for or against the historicity of an event. Pannenberg's formulation of the principle preserves the analogous nature of the past to the present or to the known, thus making the investigation of history possible, without thereby sacrificing the integrity of the past or distorting it.

Identification of miracles

The question remains whether the identification of any event as a miracle is possible. On the one hand, it might be argued that a convincing demonstration that a purportedly miraculous event has occurred would only succeed in forcing the revision of natural law so as to accommodate the event in question. But a natural law is not abolished because of one exception; the anomaly must occur repeatedly whenever the conditions for it are present. If an event occurs that is anomalous and there are reasons to believe that this event would not occur again under similar circumstances, then the law in question will not be abandoned.

On the other hand, it might be urged that if a purportedly miraculous event were demonstrated to have occurred, one should conclude that the event occurred in accordance with unknown natural laws. What serves to distinguish a genuine miracle from a mere scientific anomaly? Here the religio-historical context of the event becomes crucial. A miracle without a context is inherently ambiguous. But if a purported miracle occurs in a significant religio-historical context, then the chances of its being a genuine miracle are increased. For example, if the miracles occur at a momentous time and do not recur regularly in history, and if the miracles are numerous and various, then the chances of their being the result of some unknown natural causes are reduced. Moreover, some miracles (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus) so exceed what is known of the productive capacity of natural causes that they could only be reasonably attributed to a supernatural cause. Thus, while it is difficult to know in many cases whether a genuine miracle has occurred, that does not imply pessimism with respect to all cases.

See also Divine Action; God; Naturalism; Laws of Nature; Providence; Special Divine Action; Special Providence; Spirituality and Faith Healing;


earman, john. "bayes, hume, and miracles." faith and philosophy 10 (1993): 293310.

freddoso, alfred j. "the necessity of nature." midwest studies in philosophy 11 (1986): 215242.

geivett, r. douglas, and, habermas, gary r. in defense of miracles. downer's grove, ill.: intervarsity press, 1997.

hume, david. "of miracles." in enquiries concerning human understanding and concerning the principles of morals (1777), 3rd edition, ed. l. a. selby-bigge and p. h. midditch. oxford: clarendon press, 1975.

pannenberg, wolfhart. "redemptive event and history." in wolfhart pannenberg, basic questions in theology, 2 vols., trans. g. h. kehm. philadelphia: fortress, 1970.

swinburne, richard. the concept of miracle. new york: macmillan, 1970.

swinburne, richard, ed. miracles: philosophical topics. new york: macmillan, 1989.

troeltsch, ernst. "Über historische und dogmatische methode in der theologie." in gesammelte schriften. tübingen, germany: j. c. b. mohr, 1913.

william lane craig


views updated May 29 2018

Miracle. A striking event brought about (usually by God) for a religious purpose, against the usual course of nature; for example, the resurrection or the instantaneous healings recorded in the Christian gospels. The modern mind (post-Hume tends to ask of miracles, did they really happen; and, if so, what do they show? But religiously, miracle stories have also to be evaluated in the contexts in which they are told, in order to discern their meaning for those transmitting them: they are usually regarded as signs of God's power, or as vouching for the authority of a revelation, prophet, or holy person.

Among Jews, belief in miracles rests on the biblical descriptions of the interventions of God, beginning with creation itself. In the Hebrew Bible, such events as the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea are understood as interventions by God. The medieval Jewish philosophers found it difficult to accept the supernatural element in the biblical understanding of miracles, but this way of thinking has been condemned as ‘Hellenism’ by such thinkers as S. D. Luzzatto.

In Islam the Qurʾān speaks of the ‘signs’ of Allāh (āyāt, singular āyā) as proofs of the divine power: natural phenomena, and extraordinary events. The term used in Islam for ‘miracle’, though not occurring in the Qurʾān, is muʿjiza (that which could not normally be achieved; cf. iʿjāz, from the same root). This is a sign given by Allāh to prove the authenticity and truthfulness of a prophet, in particular Muḥammad. Although the sole ‘miracle’ of Muḥammad is said to be the Qurʾān, yet in the sīra, ḥadīth, and legend many miracles are attributed to him, some of which are reminiscent of New Testament narratives.

In E. religions, miracles are extremely common—so much so that they almost cease to be objects of wonder (Lat., miraculum). They surround the births of teachers or holy people, and are particularly associated with siddha and iddhi powers. Such powers would be expected of a living manifestation of the divine (avatāra), as, e.g., in the contemporary case of Satya Sai Baba. The Sikh Gurūs condemned appeal to miracles, mainly because they saw them as exploitation of the credulous. Nevertheless, many miracles are told of the Gurūs themselves.


views updated May 11 2018

443. Miracle

  1. Aarons rod flowering rod proved him to be Gods choice. [O.T.: Numbers 17:8]
  2. Agnes, St. hair grew to cover nakedness. [Christian Hagiog.: Brewster, 7677]
  3. Anthony of Padua , St. believed to have preached effectively to school of fishes. [Christian Legend: Benét, 39]
  4. Cana at wedding feast, Christ turns water into wine. [N.T.: John 2:111]
  5. deus ex machina improbable agent introduced to solve a dilemma. [Western Drama: LLEI, I: 279]
  6. Elais produced olive oil from ground by touch. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 86]
  7. Euphemus Argonaut; could cross water without getting wet. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 95 ]
  8. Geppetto his wish fulfilled when marionette becomes real boy. [Childrens Lit.: Pinocchio ; Am. Cinema: Pinocchio in Disney Films, 3237]
  9. Holy Grail chalice enabled Sir Galahad to heal a cripple. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte dArthur ]
  10. Jesus Christ as son of God, performed countless miracles. [N.T.: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John]
  11. loaves and fishes Jesus multiplies fare for his following. [N.T.: Matthew 14:1521; John 6:514]
  12. Lourdes underground spring revealed to Bernadette Soubirous in visions (1858); major pilgrimage site. [Fr. Hist.: EB, VI: 352; Am. Lit.: Song of Bernadette; Am. Cinema: The Song of Bernadette in Halliwell, 670]
  13. Marah undrinkably bitter waters, sweetened by Moses. [O.T.: Exodus 15:2325]
  14. Miracle on 34th Street Santa Claus comes to New York. [Am. Cinema: Halliwell, 493]
  15. parting of the Pamphylean Sea Alexanders hosts traverse sea in Persian march. [Class. Hist.: Gaster, 238]
  16. parting of the Red Sea divinely aided, Moses parts the waters for an Israelite escape. [O.T.: Exodus 14:1531]
  17. rod of Moses transforms into serpent, then back again. [O.T.: Exodus 4:24]
  18. Tannhäuser as a sign that the Pope should absolve him, the papal scepter suddenly sprouts green leaves. [Ger. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 932]


views updated May 17 2018

Miracle ★★★ 2004 (PG)

Russell stars as coach Herb Brooks, who led the upstart 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory against the Russians and a gold medal. Brooks, driven by his own failure to capture a medal as an Olympic player, uses aggressive mind-games and innovative strategy to take a squad of college hotshots and turn them into a single unit capable of defeating the Russian powerhouse. Russell is excellent as Minnesotan Brooks, down to his clipped accent and bad pants. O'Connor, directing newcomer Guggenheim's script, manages to push all the right buttons while mostly avoiding heavy-handed cliches. The end result is a solid sports movie. Most of the actors had hockey experience, adding to the realism of the on-ice scenes. Brooks served as an advisor but died during post-production. 135m/C VHS, DVD . US Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Sean McCann, Kenneth Welsh, Nathan West, Kenneth Mitchell, Eddie Cahill, Patrick O'Brien Demsey, Michael Mantenuto, Eric Peter-Kaiser, Bobby Hanson, Joseph Cure, Billy Schneider, Nate Miller; D: Gavin O'Connor; W: Eric Guggenheim; C: Dan Stoloff; M: Mark Isham.


views updated May 14 2018

mir·a·cle / ˈmirikəl/ • n. a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency: the miracle of rising from the grave. ∎  a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences: it was a miracle that more people hadn't been killed or injured | [as adj.] a miracle drug. ∎  an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something: a machine which was a miracle of design.


views updated May 23 2018

miracle Event that is contrary to the laws of nature and is assumed to be the result of supernatural or divine intervention. Most religions include a belief in miracles. The mythologies of ancient India, the Middle East, Greece and Rome abound with amazing wonders brought about by the gods, but in both Christianity and Judaism, a human agent is generally involved.


views updated May 23 2018

miracle a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency. Recorded from Middle English, the word comes via Old French from Latin miraculum ‘object of wonder’, from mirari ‘to wonder’, from mirus ‘wonderful’.
the age of miracles is past proverbial saying; late sixteenth century, often used ironically, or as a comment on failure.
miracle play a dramatization based on events in the life of Jesus or the legends of the saints, popular in the Middle Ages, a mystery play.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Miracle. Nickname of Haydn's Sym. in D major, No.96 in Breitkopf edn., comp. London 1791. So called in error because it used to be said that at its f.p. in London on 11 Mar. 1791 the audience rushed forward at the end to congratulate the composer, thereby escaping injury when a chandelier collapsed on to their vacated seats. Research has est. that this incident occurred during Haydn's 2nd visit to London, at a concert on 2 Feb. 1795 and that the sym. which had been played, and which therefore really deserves the nickname, was Haydn's No.102 in B♭.


views updated May 23 2018

miracle marvellous event to be ascribed to supernatural intervention XII; wonderful thing; medieval play based on the life of Christ or the saints XIV. — (O)F. — L. mīrāculum object of wonder, f. mīrārī, -āre wonder, look at, f. mīrus wonderful.
So miraculous XVI. — (O)F. or medL.

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