"Let's say you're an honest investigator," I said, picking up on his last thought. "What would you look for to convince you that something miraculous has occurred?"
"You would have a number of criteria. You would have to investigate to see if something cannot be accounted for in terms of the natural forces that were operable at that time and place. And you'd look for a religio-historical context."
I wanted to pursue this idea of context. Hume said that if historians uniformly agreed that the Queen of England died and then reappeared alive a month later, he would be inclined to accept any explanation other than God having performed a miracle. I asked Craig for his response to that.
"I would agree that a miracle without context is inherently ambiguous," Craig replied. "The context of a miracle can help us determine if it's from God or not. For instance, the Queen's revivification would lack any religious context and would basically be a bald and unexplained anomaly.
"But that's not the case with Jesus. His supernatural feats took place in a context charged with religious significance because he performed his miracles and exorcisms as signs of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God into human history, and they served as an authentication of his message. And his resurrection comes as the climax to his own unparalleled life and ministry and his radical claims to divine authority which got him crucified. This is why the Resurrection gives us pause, while the Queen's return would only perplex us. Therefore, the religio-historical context is crucial in understanding miraculous events."
But I pressed further: "Did Jesus perform miracles? What convinces you that he did?"
"The fact is that most New Testament critics today admit he performed what we would call miracles. Granted, they may not all believe these were genuine miracles, but the idea of Jesus of Nazareth as a miracle-worker and exorcist is part of the historical Jesus that's generally accepted by critics today."
With that, Craig swiveled his chair and withdrew a file from the shelf behind his desk. He flipped through some pages until he landed the one he was after. "Let me read you a quote from
Rudolf Bultmann, who's recognized as one of the most skeptical New Testament critics of this century":
The Christian fellowship was convinced that Jesus had done miracles and they told many stories of miracles about him. Most of these stories contained in the gospels are legendary or are at least dressed up with legend. But, there can be no doubt that Jesus did such deeds, which were, in his and his contemporaries' understanding, miracles; that is to say, events that were the result of supernatural divine causality. Doubtless he healed the sick and cast out demons.9
Craig closed the file. "Even Bultmann says miracles and exorcisms belong to the historical Jesus. Now, in Bultmann's day these stories were considered legendary because of the supposed influence of Greco-Roman mythology on the gospels, but scholars today realize this influence was virtually nil. They now believe the role of Jesus as a miracle-worker must be understood against the backdrop of first century Palestinian Judaism, where it fits right in.
"In fact," he concluded, "the only reason to be skeptical that these were genuine miracles rather than psychosomatic healings would be philosophical-do you believe that such events can occur or not? The historicity of the events is not in doubt."
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