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For other uses, see Miracle (disambiguation).

According to many religions, a miracle, derived from the old Latin word miraculum meaning 'something wonderful', is a striking interposition of divine intervention by God in the universe by which the operations of the ordinary course of Nature are overruled, suspended, or modified. One must keep in mind that in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and in other faiths people have substantially different definitions of the word miracle. Even within a specific religion there is often more than one usage of the term.

Sometimes the term miracle may refer to the action of a supernatural being that is not a god. Then the term divine intervention refers specifically to the direct involvement of a deity.


Miracles as supernatural acts

The annual miracle of the fire that doesn't hurt has been attested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since the 5th century.
The annual miracle of the fire that doesn't hurt has been attested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since the 5th century.

In this view, a miracle can be defined as a violation of laws of nature by God or some other supernatural being. To wit:

  1. There are events that seem to be miracles.
  2. The best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being.
  3. Therefore, there is probably a supernatural being (i.e., God) that performs what appear to be miracles.

Many adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are logical proof of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God. A number of criticisms of this point of view exist:

  1. While the existence of miracles may imply the existence of a supernatural miracle worker, that supernatural miracle worker need not be an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God; it could be any supernatural being. That is, it only proves that gods might exist, not that there is a monotheistic God.
  2. Some argue that miracles, if established, are evidence that a perfect God does not exist, as such a being would not want to, or need to, violate His own laws of nature. Roman Catholic theologians do not accept this reasoning; they conclude that the miracles are from an omnipotent God, because they believe to have previously logically proven (through concepts like the prime mover) that there must be a single omnipotent, omniscient, God.
  3. Laws of nature are inferred from empirical evidence. Thus if an accepted law of nature ever appeared to have been violated, it could simply be that the accepted law was an erroneous inference from an insufficient set of empirical observations, rather than a supernatural disruption of the true course of nature.
  4. All claims of miracles are premature until such time as complete knowledge of all natural laws is held by all making and examining the claim and the miracle is demonstrated to be not natural. As all claims of natural laws are falsifiable and therefore complete knowledge is impossible, it is not now nor has it been nor ever will it be time to claim that an event has broken a natural law.

Miracles as described by the Bible

The description of most miracles in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the Christian New Testament are generally the same as the modern-day definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature.

A literal reading of the Biblical accounts shows that there are a number of ways this can occur: God may suspend or speed up the laws of nature to produce a supernatural occurrence; God can create matter out of nothing; God can breathe life into inanimate matter. The Bible does not explain details of how these miracles happen.

The Bible also attributes many natural occurrences to God, such as the sun rising and setting, and rain falling.

Today many Orthodox Jews, most Christians, and most Muslims adhere to this view of miracles. This view is generally rejected by non-Orthodox Jews, liberal Christians and Unitarian Universalists.

Some events commonly understood to be miraculous may not be instances of the impossible. For instance, consider the parting of the Red Sea. This incident occurred when Moses and Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt, to begin their exodus to the promised land. The book of Exodus never says that the Reed Sea split in an immediate fashion, and the "waters [as] a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" could be figurative. The text might rather be interpreted to say that God caused a strong wind to slowly drive the shallow waters to land overnight. In this scheme there is no claim that God pushed apart the sea as it is shown in many films; rather, the miracle would be that Israel crossed this precise place, at exactly the right time, when Moses lifted his staff, and that the pursuing Egyptian army then drowned when the wind stopped and the piled waters rushed back in.

Most events later described as miracles are not labeled as such by the Bible; rather the text simply describes what happened. Often these narratives will attribute the cause of these events to God.

Miracles as events pre-planned by God

In rabbinic Judaism, most rabbis of the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time. As summarised by Maimonides:

"...Our Sages... said.. as regards miracles:... that the miracles are to some extent also natural: for they say, when God created the Universe with its present physical properties, He made it part of these properties, that they should produce certain miracles at certain times, and the sign of a prophet consisted in the fact that God told him to declare when a certain thing will take place, but the thing itself was effected according to the fixed laws of Nature." (Guide for the Perplexed 2:29; but see below.)

In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; Midrash Koheleth; and Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles

Aristotle rejected the idea that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world. Jewish neo-Aristotelian philosophers, who are still influential today, include Maimonides, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, and Gersonides. Directly or indirectly, their views are still prevalent in much of the religious Jewish community.

Non-literal reinterpretations of miracles

These are held by both classical and modern thinkers.

In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions.

Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."

Miracles as a product of creative art and social acceptance

In this view, miracles do not really occur. Rather, they are the product of creative story tellers. They use them to embellish a hero or incident with a theological flavor. Using miracles in a story allow characters and situations to become bigger than life, and to stir the emotions of the listener more than the mundane and ordinary. In the ancient world miracles were taken for granted. To suggest that they did not occur would be admitting you were irrational.

Miracles as commonplace events

Littlewood's law states that individuals can expect miracles to happen to them, at the rate of about one per month. By its definition, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace.

Christian views of miracles

Early Christian writers of the first few centuries appear to take the biblical stories of miracles at face value. In addition, they report additional miracles that happened in later centuries. The purposes of miracles vary, but recurring themes are miracles done for the benefit of a person, such as physical healing, or raising from the dead; miracles done to prevent or discourage some evil from happening, such as Herod Agrippa being consumed with worms upon inviting people to worship him, or various martyrs being found unusually difficult to kill, such as not being touched by flames (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; or Polycarp of Smyrna); and oftentimes to increase the faith of those who witnessed or later heard of the miracles, whether the faith of current believers or unbelievers moved to convert to Christianity after witnessing a miracle.

Miracles are central to most forms of Christian Theology, (especially Roman Catholic Theology); they are often the pillar upon which the reasonableness or truth of a religion is set to stand. Although most Catholic and certain Protestant theologians believe that the existence and certain limited properties of God can be proven philosophically and/or scientifically, these theologians explain that other elements of their beliefs have come from statements made by God either directly or through a person who proved that the statement was coming from God by performing a bona-fide miracle. (This assumes God wouldn't lie, something which is believe true by a philosophical argument.) This is seen by many theologians as the primary reason for Jesus to perform miracles, to prove that he was God so that humans would follow him. The miracles of Jesus were preformed in front of many people, not in private. He did them wherever he went, at all times. They were done for all types of people, not just Jews. The miracles benefited the people Jesus was with, not Jesus himself other than serving as proof as to who he was. C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in jurisprudence Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible. [1] [2] [3][4][5].

Types of Miracles

Often skeptics try to explain away miracles by natural processes. For example the crossing of the Red Sea can be explained by natural processes. However, what cannot be explained is the timing and placement. It happened at the right moment at the right place when and where the Israelites needed it to happen. This timing and placement is not achievable by chance and is what makes these events miracles. These unusual or natural events that occur at precise times and places are called nontranscendent miracles.

Another type of miracles are ones that seem to defy physics all together. Modern physics, specifically dimensional physics, help to explain how events that seemingly defy reality can occur. These transcendent miracles include events such as the virgin conception of Christ and his bodily resurrection.

Catholic view of miracles

There have been a large number of Catholic Christians, philosophers, and clergy. They have discussed a wide variety of ideas concerning the nature of miracles. These ideas vary from strict literal acceptance of the Biblical text, to neo-Aristotelian rationalist interpretations of miracles.

In some Catholic views, a miracle is an unnatural occurrence that is brought about by divine intervention.

In other Catholic views, anyone can perform a miracle if he or she adheres to certain conditions. The person must be clear of any sin, and long before that, one should be well aware of what a sin really is. One should live entirely by the dictates of Jesus, whom Christians view as part of the Godhead, and as the Messiah. Fasting, penance, atonement and prayer are considered to be crucial to the success of the miracle.

Some Catholics hold that a Satan-assisted miracle is a temporary miracle that disguises itself as a genuine miracle. The miracle is more based on hysteria than on anything genuinely happening in the supernatural. The miracle does not last long and the situation is back to its previous state in a short time. In this case, the goal of the miracle is to attest false prophets and soothsayers.

The Vatican records some 12,756+ events that it regards as miracles. Saints like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony have been credited with hundreds of miracles during their lifetime and thousands after their death. Many Catholics believe that dead saints are still performing miracles, by interceding on behalf of the sinner before God.

Contemporary miracles

Contemporary persons who perform many acts that they claim are miracles include the Indian gurus Sathya Sai Baba and Swami Premananda. However some of the miracles range from sleight of hand to elaborate magic tricks.

Various Christian groups also claim ongoing occurrence of miraculous events. While some miracles have been proven to be fraudulent (see Peter Popoff for an example) others (as the Paschal Fire in Jerusalem) have not proven susceptible to analysis. Some Christian groups are far more cautious about proclaiming apparent miracles genuine than others, although official sanction, or the lack thereof, rarely has much effect on popular belief.

See also


  • Colin J. Humphreys, Miracles of Exodus. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.
  • Krista Bontrager, It’s a Miracle! Or, is it?
  • Eisen, Robert (1995). Gersonides on Providence, Covenant, and the Chosen People. State University of New York Press.
  • Goodman, Lenn E. (1985). Rambam: Readings in the Philosophy of Moses Maimonides. Gee Bee Tee.
  • Kellner, Menachem (1986). Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought. Oxford University Press.
  • Woodward, Kenneth L. (2000). The Book of Miracles. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82393-4.
  • Andrew Dickson White (1896 first edition. A classic work constantly reprinted) A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, See chapter 13, part 2, Growth of Legends of Healing: the life of Saint Francis Xavier as a typical example.

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