- For other uses, see Miracle (disambiguation).
According to many religions, a miracle is an intervention by God in the universe. One must keep in mind that in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and in other faiths people have substantially different definitions of the word miracle. Even within a specific religion there is often more than one usage of the term.
Sometimes the term miracle may refer to the action of a supernatural being that is not a god. Then the term divine intervention refers specifically to the direct involvement of a deity.
Miracles as an act of God
Adherents of many religions assert that miracles, if established, are logical proof of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God. In this view, a miracle can be defined as a violation of laws of nature by a supernatural being. To wit:
- There are events that seem to be miracles.
- The best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being.
- Therefore, there is probably a supernatural being (i.e., God) that performs what appear to be miracles.
A number of criticisms of this point of view exist:
- While the existence of miracles may imply the existence of a supernatural miracle worker, that supernatural miracle worker need not be an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God; it could be any supernatural being.
- Some argue that miracles, if established, are evidence that a perfect God does not exist, as such a being would not want to, or need to, violate its own laws of nature. Roman Catholic theologians accept this reasoning, and only conclude that the miracles are from an omnipotent God, because they believed to have previously logically proven (through concepts like the prime mover) that there must be a single omnipotent, omniscient, God.
- Laws of nature are inferred from empirical evidence. Thus if an accepted law of nature were ever violated, it could simply be that the accepted law was an erroneous inference from an insufficient set of empirical observations, rather than a supernatural disruption of the ordinary course of nature.
Miracles as described by the Bible
The description of most miracles in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the Christian New Testament are generally the same as the modern-day definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature.
A literal reading of the Biblical accounts shows that there are a number of ways this can occur: God may suspend or speed up the laws of nature to produce a supernatural occurrence; God can create matter out of nothing; God can breathe life into inanimate matter. The Bible does not explain details of how these miracles happen.
The Bible also attributes many natural occurrences to God, such as the sun rising and setting, and rain falling.
Today many Orthodox Jews, most Christians, and most Muslims adhere to this view of miracles. This view is generally rejected by non-Orthodox Jews, liberal Christians and Unitarian Universalists.
Many events commonly understood to be miraculous may not actually be instances of the impossible, as commonly believed. For instance, consider the parting of the Sea of Reeds (in Hebrew Yâm-Sûph; often mistranslated as the "Red Sea"). This incident occurred when Moses and Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt, to begin their exodus to the promised land. The book of Exodus never says that the Reed Sea split in an immediate and drastic fashion. Rather, according to the text God caused a strong wind to slowly drive the shallow waters to land, overnight. In this case, there is no claim that God pushed apart the sea as it is shown in many films; rather, the miracle would be that Israel crossed this precise place, at exactly the right time, when Moses lifted his staff, and that the pursuing Egyptian army then drowned when the wind stopped and the piled waters rushed back in.
Most events later described as miracles are not labeled as such by the Bible; rather the text simply describes what happened. Often these narratives will attribute the cause of these events to God.
Miracles as events pre-planned by God
In rabbinic Judaism, most rabbis of the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.
In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.
Aristotelian views of miracles
Aristotle rejected the idea that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world; his view of miracles was incompatible with Biblical view.
Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles
Jewish neo-Aristotelian philosophers, who are still influential today, include Maimonides, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, and Gersonides. Directly or indirectly, their views are still prevalent in much of the religious Jewish community. Christian and Muslim neo-Aristotelian philosophers should also be discussed in this section; also please note if their works are still studied and accepted today, and if so, by whom.
Non-literal reinterpretations of miracles
These are held by both classical and modern thinkers.
In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions.
Joseph H. Hertz , a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."
Miracles as a product of creative art
Miracles are the product of creative story tellers. They use them to embellish incidents, sacred objects and persons and places with a heroic theological flavor. Miracles allow people and situations to become bigger than life, and to stir the emotions of the listener more than the mundane and ordinary. Miracles are remembered. The meaning of miracles may be more important than "did they really happen". Not every one "feels" miracles in the same way. The discussion of miracles and wonders, like religion and various "personal" philosophies, draws an emotional response. Few people question their own phenomenological reality when there is a conviction involving the existence or non-existence of miracles. There is comfort in certainty.
Miracles as an expected frequent commonplace event
Littlewood's law states that individuals can expect miracles to happen to them, at the rate of about one per month. By its definition, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace.
Christian views of miracles
Early Christian writers of the first few centuries appear to take the biblical stories of miracles at face value. In addition, they report additional miracles that happened in later centuries. The purposes of miracles vary, but recurring themes are miracles done for the benefit of a person, such as physical healing, or raising from the dead; miracles done to prevent or discourage some evil from happening, such as Herod being consumed with worms upon inviting people to worship him, or various martyrs being found unusually difficult to kill, such as not being touched by flames; and often times to increase the faith of those who witnessed or later heard of the miracles, whether the faith of current believers or unbelievers moved to convert to Christianity after witnessing a miracle.
Miracles are at the center of most forms of Christian Theology, (especially Roman Catholic Theology), they are often the pillar on which the reasonableness or truth of a religion is set to stand on. Although most Catholic and certain Protestant theologians believe that the existence and certain limited properties of God can be proven philosophically and/or scientifically, these theologians explain that other elements of their beliefs have come from statements made by God either directly or through a person who proved that the statement was coming from God by performing a bona-fide miracle (this assumes God wouldn't lie, something which is believe true by a philosophical argument). This is seen by many theologians as the primary reason for Jesus to perform miracles, to prove that he was God so that humans would follow him.
Catholic view of miracles
There have been a large number of Catholic Christians, philosophers, and clergy. They have discussed a wide variety of ideas concerning the nature of miracles. These ideas vary from strict literal acceptance of the Biblical text, to neo-Aristotelian rationalist interpretations of miracles.
In some Catholic views, a miracle is an unnatural occurrence that is brought about by divine intervention.
In other Catholic views, anyone can perform a miracle if he or she adheres to certain conditions. The person must be clear of any sin, and long before that, one should be well aware of what a sin really is. One should live entirely by the dictates of Jesus, whom Christians view as part of the Godhead, and as the Messiah. Fasting, penance, atonement and prayer are considered to be crucial to the success of the miracle.
Some Catholics hold that a Satan-assisted miracle is a temporary miracle that disguises itself as a genuine miracle. The miracle is more based on hysteria than on anything genuinely happening in the supernatural. The miracle does not last long and the situation is back to its previous state in a short period of time. In this case, the goal of the miracle is to attest false prophets and soothsayers.
The Vatican records some 12,756+ events that it regards as miracles. <