Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Miracles, do they happen?

Matthew 20:29-34 (ESV)
And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. [30] And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" [31] The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" [32] And stopping, Jesus called them and said, "What do you want me to do for you?" [33] They said to him, "Lord, let our eyes be opened." [34] And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

The argument from miracles, I’ve been following a fairly interesting documentary on PBS lately called “Closer to Truth”. The title itself is interesting in that it actually posits there is a truth one can get close to, not a bad start for today’s society. It is somewhat a frustrating show to watch though, in that it seems just a bit biased towards atheism. He interviews, though, some great theologians and Christian thinkers, scientists and so on. The host, then refuses to engage their arguments, or take into account anything they said as he interviews atheist and agnostics on the other side. The last episode I watched was on the argument from Miracles, and no where was the anti-Christians bias more blatant. The Host is a thorough going Humean when it comes to miracles, subscribing whole sale to Humes circular argument concerning miracles, that they don’t happen, therefore they don’t happen.
It was quite frustrating in particular, because they talked of miracles in the abstract and treated all claims to miracles the same should it be those recorded in Christian Scripture, or those recorded in Zoroastrian myths. In effect, the sources claiming miracles were discounted on the basis that they recorded miracles. One interviewee claimed, well you had to write that stuff to give any legitimacy to the text at that time. Not So! Especially given the content of the New Testament. There was at this time a genre of history, and a prevailing skepticism especially among the elites that would have put Hume to shame. The miracles were not put in to give legitimacy to the texts. They were put in because they happened and are part of the history, and should anyone have wanted to, they could have gone and interviewed these men who had their eyes opened and the people that knew them at the time that Matthew was written.
That was the other fallacy the man bought into, that Matthew was written so long after the fact as to be nothing but a collection of myths and legends concerning the Man Jesus. This position has been thoroughly discredited many times. Matthew actually shows itself to be the first gospel written. Some people say Mark, but they are absolutely wrong. Not just wrong, but off their rocker wrong. And Mark was written pretty early too. Matthew was written first. We have record of it being written that dates itself well into the first century in men like Papias, recorded in Eusebius. That there is in itself extra Biblical attestation to the veracity of the scriptures and their accounts by the way, there is in fact corroborative evidence for scripture if one bothers to look and knows where to look. Even evidence that is not exactly partial to Christianity, which Papias is. There is corroborative evidence in the Talmud, Tacitus, and Josephus also. Matthew by all accounts not trying to work a presupposed q hypothesis is the first gospel, and I’ve heard good evidence that it was written by 40 A.D. The argument there being that it keeps referring to Pilate as if he is still governor of Judea.
So the text that records this miracle is written fairly close to the time of the event it claims to be recording. Never mind that even by liberal standards setting a late date for the gospel of matthew, the amount of time for a myth or legend to develop had not been enough time. And the text shows itself to have been written at the time it claims by both internal and external tests given to such historical documents, which is what it claims to be, a historical account.
Miracles are not used to give legitimacy to historical accounts. The only way they appear in a “history” is if the author really thinks they happened.
Jesus opened the eyes of the blind men, they were blind and then they saw. That is what the text says.
Now you could discount miracles, but based on what? Sure, I remain skeptical when I hear accounts, but not so skeptical as to lose all skepticism. I like skepticism, the idea that these things need to be questioned and investigated, and you don’t just take them at their word. Great! But then investigate. It is not enough just to talk about Miracles in the abstract. When you hear an account, it is necessary to investigate, because no one knows enough about this world to discount things apriori, beforehand. That sort of skepticism will be the undoing of scientific inquiry, and for that matter history. Some things do only happen once, and I would be thankful if many things happened no more than once. So just because it never happened before, does not mean it hasn’t happened.
In any case the show might have been better had it actually picked a miracle to investigate, something say, like the resurrection, the miracle of miracles upon which our faith is based, and for which there is quite a bit of evidence. But to say, miracles don’t happen, because miracles don’t happen and discount the possibility before you even start is silly. It is like saying God doesn’t exist, because God doesn’t exist. You can’t discount before you investigate.


Scottydog said...

Hallelujah! I've always heard that traditionally Matthew was the first gospel, but "most" scholars now say that Mark was.

I'm not a theologian, but I work with forensic evidence everyday and consider myself something of an historian (it having been my undergraduate major). I never did buy the arguments for making Mark the earliest gospel contrary to tradition. The simple fact is that traditions, while not conclusive, do begin for a reason - even if we have forgotten why those reason were. So, all other things being equal, I go with the traditional interpretation every time.

I'm so happy because you are the first real theologian who I've seen come out and proclaim that Matthew was pre-Mark. Thank you!

Bror Erickson said...

Dr. Scaer will tell you the same thing. But I'm glad you consider me a real theologian.:)