Jesus’ teaching (often through parables) and miracles are primary features of the Gospels. A biblically informed definition of a miracle would consider a miracle as “an event which runs counter to the observed processes of nature” (EDT, 779). Certainly prophecy or special knowledge could fit into this definition, but most treat those phenomena in their own category.
Miracles in the Bible are evidence of God’s direct intervention in the world. Just as miracles are displays of God’s power in the space and time of this world, faith in the God who works those miracles calls for a lived-out response in a believer’s life. Neither biblical faith nor biblical miracles are just “religious” concepts or theories of the mind; they are observable holy disruptions in a fallen word on its way to redemption. For this reason, when God intervenes to redeem people of faith, his power and presence produce miracles. The miracles surrounding the exodus from Egypt exemplify this pattern. While the plagues and parting of the sea were incredible displays of God’s power, they were performed in the context of God fulfilling his redemptive promises to his people.
In keeping with the OT pattern, the arrival of God’s Kingdom in the person and work of Christ was predictably accompanied by miracles. Jesus’ miracles proclaimed in actions the same message proclaimed in his words: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Moreover, the miracles demonstrated Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah who would usher in this new age of redemption. The resurrection of Jesus was the pinnacle of all miracles and the firstfruits of the new age of redemption and resurrection.
In the NT Jesus is not the only person to work miracles. Every Gospel contains a passage about Jesus giving his followers authority and power to perform miracles (Matt 6:7, 12-13; Mark10:1; Luke 9:1-2, 6; John 14:12). Not surprisingly, the apostles perform miracles in the book of Acts (3:1-11; 5:12-16; 19:11-12), and Paul mentions miracles taking place in the early churches apart from an apostle’s presence (1 Cor 12:6-10, 28-31; Gal 3:5; ).
Why do the Gospel writers incorporate miracles into their writings? While each writer employs miracles for their own distinct purposes, some general observations can be made. 1) Because Jesus actually performed miracles, any biography about him would include this remarkable aspect of his life. 2) As mentioned above, miracles accompany turning points in God’s redemptive plan: “Thus the Synoptists regarded Jesus’ miracles. . . as one mode of God’s assertion of his royal power, so that while the kingdom in its fullness still lies in the future, it has already become a reality in Jesus; words and works” (DJG, 550). This idea is captured in Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees over the source of Jesus’ power. Jesus says, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20; Matt 12:28). God’s kingdom brings God’s power to do miracles. 3) Just as the miracles identify the advent of God’s kingdom, the miracles identify Jesus as the anointed Messianic king. As demons are cast out, they proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Holy One (or Son) of God (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 4:31-36; Matt 8:28-34). When Jesus walks on water, the disciples worship him and say, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt 14:33). In a similar way, the miraculous signs of John’s Gospel point to Jesus’ glorious identity (John 2:11; 5:36). 4) Because miracles identify Jesus as the Messiah, it is no surprise that miracles are closely associated with faith in Jesus. In John, miraculous signs are usually meant to bring about faith, but in the Synoptics faith often precedes miracles (Matt13:58; Mark 5:34; Luke 17:19). What exactly is meant by faith/belief varies according to the author and the context. The blind man in John 9 believes that Jesus is the Son of Man and worships him (John 9:35-38), whereas the father in Mark 9:21-27 struggles with believing that Jesus is able to heal his son. At the very least, the Gospels present miracles as both confirming and encouraging faith in Jesus.
Table of Miracles
In the table below miraculous healings are in regular font, exorcisms employ italic font, and miracles over nature/materials are underlined. These different fonts are not meant to suggest that the Gospel writers thought in these different categories (especially concerning healings and exorcisms), but to show how the Gospel writers employed these miracles. Although the resurrection of Christ should be considered the pinnacle of all miracles, it is not included in this chart because it deserves its own separate treatment. Likewise, the appearance of angels around the birth narratives could be considered miraculous, but like appearances of the risen Jesus, they are not included below.
|Miracles in the Gospels|
|Turning water into wine at Cana||2:1-11 *sign|
|General statement of healing all types of sicknesses in Galilee||4:23-24||1:39 “preaching and casting out demons”|
|Cana: Healing son (not present) of royal official||4:46-54 *sign|
|Exorcism in Capernaum (Confess Jesus as Holy one of God)||1:21-27||4:31-36|
|Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law and many others||8:14-17||1:29-34||4:38-41|
|Removal/cleansing of leprosy-then more fame *||8:2-4||1:40-45||5:12-15|
|Healing the servant of a Centurion with great faith||8:5-13 (servant not present)||7:1-10 (servant & centurion not present)|
|Miraculous catch of fish||5:1-11|
|Paralytic healed & forgiven||9:1-8||2:1-12 (lowered through roof.)||5:17-26 (lowered through roof.)|
|Healing invalid at Bethesda on Sabbath||5:1-17 *sign|
|Heals withered hand on Sabbath *||12:9-14||3:1-6||6:6-11|
|General statement: exorcised spirits confess Jesus as Son of God.||3:10-12|
|Raising a dead man at Nain||7:11-17|
|The women who followed Jesus were cured of sickness or demons||8:1-3|
|Calming the storm on the sea of Galilee||8:23-27||4:37-41||8:22-25|
|Legion of demons cast into swine.||8:28-34 (Confess Jesus as Son of Most High God)||5:1-20 (Confess Jesus as Son of Most High God)||8:26-39 (Confess Jesus as Son of God)|
|Raising synagogue ruler’s dead daughter and healing a woman’s blood flow on the way||9:18-26||5:21-43||8:40-56|
|2 blind men healed||9:27-31|
|Disciples given authority to heal and cast out demons||10:1||6:7, 12-13||9:1-2, 6|
|Casting out demon from mute man – Pharisees blaspheme||9:32-34 12:22-24||11:14-15|
|Feeding five thousand||14:15-21||6:35-44||9:12-17||6:5-13 *sign|
|Jesus Walks on Water||14:25-33 (Peter joins him)||6:48-52||6:19-21|
|General statements of curing many||9:35 14:34-36; 15:29-31||6:53-56||6:17-19||6:2; 20:30|
|Healing man born blind on Sabbath, interrogated by Jewish leaders||Ch 9 *sign|
|Casting demon from daughter (not present) of Gentile||15:21-28||7:24-30|
|Healing of deaf man with speech difficulty||7:31-37|
|Feeding the four thousand||15:32-38||8:1-9|
|Healing blind man at Bethsaida||8:22-26|
|Casting demon out of son who convulses||17:14-20||9:14-29||9:37-43|
|Temple tax in fish’s mouth||17:24-27|
|Healing a sick by spirit & hunched over woman on Sabbath||13:10-17|
|Healing man of dropsy on Sabbath||14:1-6|
|Raising Lazarus||11:1-45 *sign|
|10 lepers healed; Samaritan returns to thank||17:11-19|
|Blind healed at Jericho||20:29-34 (2 blind men)||10:46-52 (Bartimaeus)||18:35-43 (unnamed)|
|Healing many in Temple courts||21:14|
|Fig tree withered||21:18-22||11:12-14, 20-25|
|Healing the servant’s ear after Peter cut it off||22:50-51|
The above table reveals some patterns. 1) All the Gospels contain general statements about Jesus performing other miracles. One should assume, therefore, that the Gospel writers only chose a select few miracles in their presentation of Jesus. 2) Each Gospel describes at least one miracle that is not mentioned in the other Gospels. 3) Assuming Mark was written first, one notices that when Matthew and Luke contain Mark’s miracles, they seem to follow Mark’s ordering of the miracles. The two occasions (marked with a *) that Matthew or Luke have a different ordering of the same miracle, they never agree against Mark. Instead Mark and one of the other Gospels match sequences. 4) John contains by far the fewest miracles. Of the eight miracles listed, only two appear in the other Gospels—Jesus’ feeding the five thousand and walking on water. That being said, all the other miracles (other than the water made into wine) in John are similar in type to the miracles described in the Synoptic (healings, walking on water, miraculous catch of fish).
An overview of the miracles also gives insight into the distinctive presentation of each Gospel writer. For instance, in the Gospel of Mark “(t)he virtual absence of miracle stories after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem allows full rein to the hints of the theme of Jesus’ self-giving expressed in the earlier miracle stories. Jesus the powerful miracle worker chooses to offer himself, powerless, into the hands of the authorities in order to die ‘for many’ (10:45). . . . Some of Jesus’ commands to his disciples to remain silent indicate that his true identity cannot be fully understood apart from his passion and death (1:11, 34; 3:12); the powerful miracle worker without the suffering Jesus is an incomplete and misunderstood Messiah.” (NDBT, 777)
Luke presents Jesus’ ministry of preaching and healing as a product of his Spirit anointing (Luke 4:14-21). In fulfillment of Isaiah, the Spirit anoints and empowers Jesus to bring a restoration that includes healing the blind and release those held captive by all manner of oppression (including sickness). Jesus’ working of miracles is evidence that he has been empowered by God to advance his kingdom (Luke 11:20). When Luke writes Acts, he states that this same Spirit will empower Jesus’ followers to expand Christ’s kingdom (Acts 1:8). After Pentecost, miracles accompany the apostles as they proclaim the gospel of Christ’s kingdom.
How particular miracles function in each Gospel will be discussed more fully later. Taking a broad view of miracles shows that they are a prevalent feature of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel writers weave miracles into their presentations to say something about Jesus’ identity, his kingdom, and the faith of those Jesus encounters.
*DJG: Green, Joel and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers
Grove: InterVarsity, 1992.
*EDT: Elwell, Walter, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids:
* NDBT: Alexander, T. Desmond, et. al. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downers
Grove: InterVarsity, 2000.