The conclusions of these scholars was helpful, but I wanted more than that. "What is the specific evidence that Jesus performed miracles?" I asked.
"Part of it is that these events are found in all of the strata of the gospel sources. For example, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is found in all of the gospels, so you have independent, multiple attestation to these events. There is no vestige of a non-miraculous Jesus of Nazareth in any of the sources; therefore, it's very likely that this belongs to the historical Jesus. Moreover, it fits right into the Jewish milieu. There were other Jewish exorcists and miracle workers who preceded Jesus."
That wasn't enough for me. "Just because several people said something extraordinary happened-like the feeding of the five thousand-doesn't necessarily mean it's true," I said.
"In one sense, it's a very individual question of what you will find convincing for yourself," he replied. "I think we can confidently say there isn't any reason to be doubtful about these narratives apart from philosophical reasons. In other words, if you believe God exists, then there's no good reason to be skeptical about these events.
"However, let me add this: regarding the central miracle of the New Testament-the Resurrection-there is a very good case for concluding with confidence that, yes, this is really an event of history. You see, the evidence for the Resurrection is much, much stronger than the evidence, say, that Jesus did a miracle by healing the blind man in John 9. You have a wealth of data concerning the empty tomb, the Resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples' belief in the Resurrection."
"Isn't it more likely that the accounts of Jesus' miracles actually were legends that developed years after his life?" I asked. "Atheist George Smith says, 'As one moves from the earlier to the later gospels, some of the miracles become more exaggerated." 10
"He illustrates this legendary development by comparing Mark 1, which says all were brought to Jesus and many were healed; Matthew 8, which says many were brought to Jesus and all were healed; and Luke 4, which says all were brought and all were healed. As historian Archibald Robertson said, 'We are witnessing the progressive growth of a legend."'ii
Craig got a sour look on his face. "That argument is really quite fanciful," he said, "because the gospel writers don't use the word 'all' or 'many' in the way a police report would."
He pushed aside the Bultmann folder on his desk and reached for his Bible, opening it to the New Testament and running his finger down a page. Finding Mark 1:5, he read the verse aloud: "The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River."
"Okay, think about that," he said. "It says John the Baptist was baptizing all of Judea and Jerusalem. Really? All of Judea? All of Jerusalem?" Craig said, his voice rising in mock astonishment. "The whole province was emptied of people who went to the Jordan River and they were all baptized-all the infants, every elderly individual? Well, obviously not. This was not an expression that was meant to be read woodenly like a police report.
"Now, back to the accounts you mentioned earlier what is the central point they're making? Clearly, that multitudes were going to Jesus for healings and exorcisms, and this is well attested. The fact is that all these accounts are in absolute agreement that there were miracles performed by Jesus and that this involved lots of people."
He added one more point: "And it's important to remember that for the greatest miracle, the Resurrection, we know from historical research that there was nowhere near enough time for legend to have developed and wiped out a solid core of historical truth."
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