By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts.
Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7 focuses on the miracles of Jesus, a topic that has been of great interest to me the last several years, and the results of my research and thinking on this topic have recently been published by Deseret Book as The Miracles of Jesus. I have been posting excerpts from my book in recent posts, but I will posting just a few more sections of it today, in addition to three new posts, Healing Women, Calming the Stormy Sea, and Raising the Son of the Widow of Nain, here are some miracles that I have already mentioned in earlier posts:
- On the Book of Signs, Miracles in John, and the First Two Signs in Particular (John 2:1–11 and 4:46–54)
- Astonishing Catch of Fish (Luke 5:1–11)
- Healing of a Leper (Mark 1:40–45; parallels Matthew 8:2–4; Luke 5:12–16)
- Paralytic Healed and Forgiven (Mark 2:1–12; parallels Matthew 9:1–8; Luke 5:17–26)
First, however, I want to share an excerpt from the introduction to my book about that nature of New Testament miracles and then share just a few thoughts about Matthew’s formula quotation of Isaiah 53:4 (see Matthew 8:17), which gave our lesson its title (even though this passage of Matthew was not assigned!).
Jesus’ Miracles in the Gospels, Excerpted from The Miracles of Jesus, 1–5
Depending upon how they are counted, at least 36 discreet miracle stories appear in the New Testament gospels. Additionally, the evangelists, or authors of the gospels, summarize Jesus’ performance of miracles on 13 occasions, and they record six other instances of people reporting that Jesus had performed mighty works (see “List of the Miracles of Jesus” in the Appendix). From these figures alone, it is clear that Jesus performed more miracles than any other figure that preceded him in scripture, far outstripping the 23 recorded miracles of Moses, the four of Joshua, the nine of Elijah, and the 14 of Elisha. But Jesus did not just perform more miracles than any other person—his miracles in the New Testament also differed qualitatively from the miracles worked by others because he performed them with his own power. Furthermore, almost all of them pointed to his divine identity as the Son of God and foreshadowed his greater saving work.
The four gospels constitute a rich treasure trove of accounts of Jesus’ activities as a miracle worker. These accounts share certain literary similarities in how they are written and used in the gospels (see “Miracle Stories, Summaries, and Reports” in the Appendix). Nevertheless, each evangelist had a unique approach to the miracles material, often relating the same story with varying degrees of detail and using it to emphasize different points about Jesus’ divinity (see “Miracles and the New Testament Evangelists” in the Appendix). Mark’s gospel is widely presumed to have been the first to have been written, so in cases where there are multiple versions of the same story, references from Mark in this study are listed first, followed by those of Matthew, Luke, and John. This approach allows us to see how each author used this tradition, sometimes adding details or perspective to give different insights into the miracles of Jesus.
The English word “miracle” comes from the Latin term miraculum, which in turn comes from the verb mirari, meaning “to marvel” or “to be amazed at.” In both languages, the predominating sense is the amazement or awe felt by witnesses of great acts that go beyond the normal ability of human beings and even seem to appear to contravene the normal pattern or laws of nature. Hence, miracles are usually defined as extraordinary events that manifest some kind of divine intervention. Since the Enlightenment, miracles have been assumed to be “impossible” acts, and their reality has often been rejected out of hand, particularly by some rationalist philosophers and scientists. Since the early days of the Restoration, however, latter-day authorities and commentators have argued against the notion that miracles somehow violate natural laws. Elder James E. Talmage, for instance, wrote, “Miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized. In the contemplation of the miracles wrought by Christ, we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding.”
This power exercised by Jesus is reflected in the Greek word commonly used by Mark, Matthew, and Luke when they refer to Jesus’ miraculous acts. While those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus were regularly amazed and marveled at what he had done, rather than use a word that emphasizes amazement or seeming impossibility, these so-called Synoptic gospels most often call a miracle of Jesus a dynamis, which in this context means “a mighty or powerful act or deed.” As a result, the miracles of Jesus emphasize the power of Jesus—power over the elements, over sickness and other disability, and even over death. John, on the other hand, presents the miracles of Jesus in a very different way. Never using the term dynamis for any of Jesus’ acts, he instead usually employs sēmeion, or “sign,” for the miracles of Jesus. Thus for John, each miracle or “sign” has more significance than simply how it benefited the recipient. Instead it points to or reveals something about the divine nature of Jesus and his power in the lives of his people, then and now.
If I have piqued your interest in the subject of miracles and you manage to get a hold of a copy of my book, you will find that I have divided it into five chapters, examining the miracles by type: power over the elements, healings, casting out devils, restoring sight and hearing, and raising the dead. In each chapter I try to do more than just see what great blessings these miracles were for the individuals involved. Nor do I stop at using them as “faith promoters,” holding out the promise that Jesus can work similar miracles in our lives today. Rather, I stretch a bit further and examine how each symbolizes different aspects of who Jesus is and what he came to do. For instance, Jesus’ power over the elements reveals that he was, in fact, the premortal Jehovah and the creator. Most of this week’s lesson, we read about healing miracles. As I discussed last week in in regard to Jesus’ healing of the paralytic and forgiving his sins, healing the body is a type of the greater healing of the spirit, but it also looks forward to the complete healing that comes through the atonement. Restoring strength and ability to a cripple also symbolizes the strengthening and enabling power of the atonement, and so forth.
I summarize all of this in the conclusion to my book, when I wrote:
What manner of man, then, is this Jesus? His miracles help us answer this question. His power over the elements helps us understand his divine identity as the great Jehovah, who created heaven and earth and seeks to sustain us, feeding us spiritually even as he provides for our temporal needs. His great acts of healing remind us that he came to heal our hearts and souls as well, forgiving our sins and strengthening us to do good and enabling us to endure in faith. Casting out devils reveals his great ability to banish Satan and his influence in all of its forms from our lives even as he works to overcome the effects of the fall that Satan helped bring about. Restoring sight and hearing reflects his ability to open our spiritual eyes and ears, helping us learn to recognize truth—especially the truth about himself and his mission. Only then can we hear his voice, enabling us to follow him and preach his word more clearly. Finally, raising the dead points our minds forward to the great resurrection when Christ will fully and completely defeat death and erase the sorrow of loss. But it also represents his ability to reverse spiritual death, giving us a more abundant spiritual existence in this life and holding out to us the promise of eternal life in the world to come.
Indeed, the greatest miracles of all are those that arise from the atoning suffering and death of Jesus Christ and his gracious intervention in our lives. While miracles like those that the gospels witness that Jesus performed during his ministry can and do happen today, the greater miracles are those that are available to all who will come unto Christ in faith: a change of heart, forgiveness of sin, the healing of the soul, and that strengthening and enabling power that comes from his atonement. Crowning these miracles are the resurrection, which will come to all, and the precious gift of eternal life to those who are true and faithful until the end. (Excerpted from The Miracles of Jesus, 123–25).
Greek Words for Miracle
While the historian Josephus, a non-biblical ancient source, reports that Jesus “was a doer of startling deeds” (Greek, paradoxōn), the original Greek gospels never use thauma—which means “an amazing thing” and correlates most closely with our English word “miracle”—in connection with an act of Jesus. A related word, thaumasion or “a marvel,” appears only once, as do two similar terms used by Luke. In these three gospels, miracles are never described as sēmeia kai terata, or “signs or wonders.” For these authors, that expression is usually pejorative, reflecting a need of or demand for divine proofs by non-believers. Instead, in the Synoptics the most common word for miracle is dynamis, or “powerful deed.”
As noted above, John regularly uses sēmeion or “sign” whenever he, as the narrator, describes or discusses Jesus’ miracles. When this gospel describes Jesus as he talks about his own acts, including his miracles, he describes them as erga, or “works.” This use of “works” by Jesus to describe his miracles explicitly connects his deeds during his mortal ministry with the creative and saving acts of God as recounted throughout the Old Testament. Thus Jesus spoke to his opponents after healing the man at the Pool of Bethesda, saying, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work . . . the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:17, 36).
The different Greek words that can be translated into English as “miracle” are as follows:
|dynamis||“powerful deed or work”||“mighty work”“miracle”“power”“virtue”||Mark 6:2, 5; Matth 11:20–21, 23; 13:54, 58; 14:2; Luke 19:37Mark 9:39 (“miracle” in 6:52understood by translators)Luke 5:17
Mark 5:30; Luke 6:19; 8:46
|sēmeion||“sign”||“miracle”“sign”||Luke 23:8; John 2:11, 23; 3:2; 4:54; 6:2, 14; 9:16; 10:41; 11:47; 12:18, 37John 20:30|
|ergon||“work”||“work”||Matthew 11:2; John 5:20, 36; 7:21; 9:3; 10:25, 32; 14:10–11|
Chart of Jesus’ Miracles
|Water to wine||John 2:1-11||Nature, Epiphany|
|Royal official’s son||John 4:46-54||Cf. Matt 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10?||Healing|
|Astonishing catch of fish||Luke 5:1-11||John 21:6:11?||Nature, Provision|
|Capernaum demonic||Mark 1:21-28||Luke 4:33-37||Exorcism|
|Simon’s mother-in-law||Mark 1:29-31||Matt 8:14-15; Luke 4:38-39||Healing|
|Cleansing a leper||Mark 1:40-45||Matt 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15||Healing|
|Paralytic forgiven and healed||Mark 2:1-12||Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26||Healing|
|Man at the Pool of Bethesda||John 5:5-16||Healing, Epiphany|
|Man with withered hand||Mark 3:1-6||Matt 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11||Healing|
|Centurion’s servant||Matt 8:5-13||Luke 7:1-10. Cf. John 4:46-54?||Healing|
|Raising the son of the widow of Nain||Luke 7:11-17||Raising the dead|
|Calming the stormy sea||Mark 4:35-41||Matt 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25||Nature, Epiphany|
|Gadarene demonic||Mark 5:1-20||Matt 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39||Exorcism|
|Woman with the hemorrhage||Mark 5:25-34||Matt 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48||Healing|
|Raising the daughter of Jairus||Mark 5:21-24, 35-43||Matt 9:18-19, 23-26; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56||Raising the dead|
|Two blind men||Matt 9:27-31||Restoring sight and hearing|
|Mute demonic||Matt 9:32-34||Exorcism. Healing|
|Blind and mute demonic||Matt 12:22-23a (22-32)||Luke 11:14 (14-26)||Exorcism, Healing|
|Feeding of 5,000||Mark 6:32-44; John 6:1-15||Matt 14:13-21; Luke 9:12-17||Nature, Provision, Epiphany|
|Walking on Water||Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21||Matt 14:22-33||Nature, Epiphany|
|Daughter of the Syro-Phoenecian woman||Mark 7:24-30||Matt 15:21-28||Exorcism|
|Deaf-mute||Mark 7:31-37||Restoring sight and hearing|
|Feeding of 4,000||Mark 8:1-10||Matt 15:32-39||Nature, Provision|
|Blind Man at Bethsaida||Mark 8:22-26||Restoring sight and hearing|
|Transfiguration||Mark 9:2-8||Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36||Nature, Epiphany|
|Demonic or epileptic boy||Mark 9:14-29||Matt 17:14-21; Luke 9:37-43a||Exorcism, Healing|
|Fish with a coin in its mouth||Matt 17:24-27||Nature, Provision|
|Man born blind||John 9:1-12||Restoring sight and hearing|
|Bent Woman||Luke 13:10-17||Healing, Exorcism language|
|Man with dropsy||Luke 14:1-6||Healing|
|Ten Lepers||Luke 17:11-19||Healing|
|Blind Bartimaeus||Mark 10:46-52||Matt 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43||Restoring sight and hearing|
|Raising of Lazarus||John 11:1-46||Raising the dead|
|Fig tree without fruit||Mark 11:12-14, 20-26||Matt 21:18-22; cf. Luke 13:6-9||Nature, Cursing, parabolic|
|Servant of the high priest’s ear||Luke 22:50-51||Healing|
|Astonishing catch of 153 fish||John 21:4-14||Cf. Luke 5:3-10?||Nature, Provision, Epiphany|
“He Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sickness”
After an important summary of Jesus’ miracle working activity (see Matthew 8:16), Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4, tying Jesus’ miracles of healing to the expected work of God’s suffering servant. Significantly, this same messianic passage was alluded to, and partially quoted, by Alma as he taught in Gideon:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
Alma ties the healing aspects of the atonement together with its purpose of redeeming us from sin and delivering us from physical death. Years ago I created the following graphic to help my Book of Mormon students understand the breadth of Jesus’ salvific work.
Some authorities see some miracles as being different accounts of the same events, and there are also three possible or implied miraculous acts not included in this figure.
Moses (not including those miracles that God performed in front of Moses at his call): rod changed into a serpent (Exodus 7:10–12); waters become blood (Exodus 7:19–25); frogs (Exodus 8:2–15); lice (Exodus 8:16–19); flies (Exodus 8:20–32); cattle smitten (Exodus 9:1–7); boils (Exodus 9:8–12); thunder and hail (Exodus 9:22–35); locusts (Exodus 10:4–20); darkness (Exodus 10:21–26); death of the firstborn (Exodus 11:4–10; 12:29–30); Red Sea divided (Exodus 14:21–31); healing of the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23–25); manna received from heaven (Exodus 16:14–35); water from rock (Exodus 17:5–7); Nadab and Abihu devoured by fire (Leviticus 10:1, 2); people consumed by fire at Taberah (Numbers 11:1–3); earth swallows Korah and his company (Numbers 16:32–34); 250 consumed by fire at Kadesh (Numbers 16:35–45); plague delivered and stayed at Kadesh (Numbers 16:46–50); Aaron’s rod buds (Numbers 17:8); water from the rock, smitten twice by Moses (Numbers 20:7–11); brazen serpent (Numbers 21:8–9).
Joshua: waters of Jordan divided (Joshua 3:14-17); destruction of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:6-20); sun and moon stayed. (Joshua 10:12-14); hailstorm destroys Israel’s enemies (Joshua 10:11).
Elijah: drought upon Israel (1 Kings 17:1–18:46; James 5:17–18); fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6); meal and oil multiplied (1 Kings 17:14); child restored to life (1 Kings 17:22); sacrifice consumed by fire (1 Kings 18:38); rain sent to end drought (1 Kings 18:41–46); captain and 50 men slain by fire (2 Kings 1:10–12); waters of Jordan divided (2 Kings 2:8); carried into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).
Elisha: waters of Jordan divided (2 Kings 2:14); waters of Jericho healed (2 Kings 2:19–22); mocking children torn by bears (2 Kings 2:23–25); water supplied for Jehoshaphat and his armies (2 Kings 3:16–20); widow’s oil multiplied (2 King 4:1–7); Shunamite woman conceives (2 Kings 4:16–17); Shunamite woman’s child raised to life (2 Kings 4:32–37); pottage rendered harmless (2 Kings 4:38–41); feeding 100 with 20 loaves (2 Kings 4:42–44); Naaman’s leprosy healed (2 Kings 5:1–14); Gehazi struck with leprosy (2 Kings 5:27); iron axe caused to float (2 Kings 6:1-7); blinds and traps Syrians (2 Kings 6:8-23); his bones revive the dead (2 Kings 13:21).
“Miraculum,” and “Miror,” Oxford Latin Dictionary, 1115.
“Miracle,” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 1089; See also Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 26–27, 348–50.
Note in particular the well-known opposition to the possibility of miracles of David Hume, Human Understanding, 114–15: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature . . . There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.” See the discussions of this tendency by Kellenberger, “Miracles,” 145–53; Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2.512–515; and Keener, Miracles, 107–170.
Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 148; Matthews, The Miracles of Jesus, 1, 11–15; Howick, The Miracles of Jesus the Messiah, 10–13. Speaking of miracles generally, and the miracles of Jesus in particular, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains, “A miracle is a beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand and of themselves cannot duplicate . . . Just as a shepherd tends his flocks, watches over them, and uses his power to help them, so Jesus Christ used his power and knowledge to help others when he was on earth” (Hedengren, “Miracles,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 908).
After Jesus drove out an evil spirit from a man in the synagogue at Capernaum, all present were astonished (Mark 1:27, ethamēthēsan; KJV “were amazed”). Likewise, Luke records that the miraculous catch of fish that accompanied Jesus’ call of Simon Peter from his boat caused “astonishment” (Greek, thambos) to fall upon him and all those who were with him (Luke 5:9). Most frequently, however, forms of the verb thaumazō, meaning “wonder” or “marvel,” describe the reactions of crowds present when Jesus performs a mighty deed (Mark 5:20; Matthew 8:27; 9:33; 15:31; 21:20; Luke 8:25; 11:14; see also John 5:20; 7:21).
Brown, “Gospel Miracles,” 170–72; Gerhardsson, Mighty Acts of Jesus, 16–17; Friedrich, “Dynamis,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 1.356–58; Bauer, “Dynamis,” Greek-English Lexicon, 262–63.
See also the summation of Howick, The Miracles of Jesus the Messiah, 215–16.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.3 § 63.
Annen, “Thauma,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2.134; Bauer, “Thauma,” Greek-English Lexicon, 444.
Gerhardsson, Mighty Acts of Jesus,15; Annen, “Thaumastos, thaumasios,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2.135–36; Bauer, “Thaumasios,” Greek-English Lexicon, 445.
Gerhardsson, Mighty Acts of Jesus, 12–15.
Brown, “Gospel Miracles,” 180–81; Gerhardsson, Mighty Acts of Jesus, 16; Leon Morris, Gospel according to John, 607–13; Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 224–28. Jesus’ usage of “works” to describe his miracles, however, explicitly connects his own acts during his mortal ministry with the creative and saving acts of God as recounted throughout the Old Testament. Thus Jesus spoke to his opponents after hearing the man at the Pool of Bethesda, saying “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work . . . the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:17, 36).