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The Significance of Jesus' Miracles

In a helpful corrective to common approaches to the miracles Paul Achtemeier writes,

While much can and has been said with respect to the significance of miracle-stories in the Gospel traditions, let two observations suffice for the present. First, it must be pointed out that the fact that miracles are recorded of Jesus in no way makes him unique for his age. The fact that Jesus performed miracles, or that miracles could be reported of him, does not in itself prove his uniqueness. Similarly miraculous acts are reported of many of his contemporaries, Jewish and Gentile alike. Rudolph Bultmann, in his work on form-criticism (soon to appear in English under the title History of the Synoptic Tradition), has assembled a large amount of material which indicates the relative commonness of miracle-stories in Jesus' time. Thus, whatever miracles as such would prove about Jesus, they would also prove about a number of his contemporaries.

Secondly, one cannot avoid the impression that the Gospel traditions themselves understood the basically neutral character of the miraculous. That is to say, witnessing a miracle performed by Jesus would not con- vince a man that Jesus unquestionably was the Son of God. Quite the contrary. In one instance at least, a miracle of Jesus proved to his contemporaries that he was working, not at the behest of God, but of the Devil (Mark 3:22) ! The fact of miracles as such, then, does not make Jesus unique for his age, nor does it constitute irrefutable proof that he was God's Son.

This, in turn, means that we must look elsewhere to find the significance which the miracles had for the Gospel traditions. A careful study of the miracles will indicate that the significance lies, not in the acts themselves but in the person who performs them. Therefore, Jesus does not draw significance from the fact that he performs miracles; rather, the miracles are significant because they are performed by Jesus, who is the Son of God. This is illustrated in the account of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41 ). The reaction of the disciples to this miracle —"Who then is this?"—indicates that it was the person of Jesus which holds the significance.

From "Person and Deed" Interpretation 16, 1962, p170

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