Published on Jun 27, 2013
In book after book of the Hebrew Bible, it is through miracles that God makes himself known to his chosen people. Are the miracles of the Bible merely stories or did they actually occur, and can they be explained scientifically? Why did the time of miracles draw to a close… or did it? (Biblical Mysteries EP44)
A miracle is an event not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature and consequently attributed to a supernatural, especially divine, agency. Such an event may be attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what are considered miracles. Theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.
The word “miracle” is often used to characterise any beneficial event that is statistically unlikely but not contrary to the laws of nature, such as surviving a natural disaster, or simply a “wonderful” occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other miracles might be: survival of an illness diagnosed as terminal, escaping a life-threatening situation or ‘beating the odds’. Some coincidences may be seen as miracles.
Explanations for miracles
A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people see as miracles. Some theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.
A miracle is a phenomenon not explained by known laws of nature, or an act by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force. Criteria for classifying an event as a miracle vary. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, and cite this as evidence for the existence of a god or gods. Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.
Events planned by God
In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in 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 (or some such other natural disaster) 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.
Nonliteral interpretations of biblical accounts
Biblical literalism is not rigidly believed by all scholars: Non-literal interpretations of some scripture are held by both classical and modern thinkers. This may include the use of figure of speech, allegory, and exegesis.
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 biblical 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. (Of course, such dreams and visions could themselves be considered miracles.)
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.”