Miracles in the Four Gospels : A Discussion and helpful reference table.

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 Galilee4:23-241:39 “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 others8:14-171:29-344:38-41 
Removal/cleansing of leprosy-then more fame *8:2-41:40-455:12-15 
Healing the servant of  a Centurion with great faith8:5-13 (servant not present) 7:1-10 (servant & centurion not present) 
Miraculous catch of fish  5:1-11 
Paralytic healed & forgiven9:1-82:1-12 (lowered through roof.)5:17-26 (lowered through roof.) 
Healing invalid at Bethesda on Sabbath   5:1-17 *sign
Heals withered hand on Sabbath *12:9-143:1-66:6-11 
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 Galilee8:23-274:37-418:22-25 
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 way9:18-265:21-438:40-56 
2 blind men healed9:27-31     
Disciples given authority to heal and cast out demons10:16:7, 12-139:1-2, 6 
Casting out demon from mute man – Pharisees blaspheme9:32-34 12:22-24 11:14-15 
Feeding five thousand14:15-216:35-449:12-176:5-13 *sign
Jesus Walks on Water14:25-33 (Peter joins him)6:48-52 6:19-21
General statements of curing many9:35 14:34-36; 15:29-316:53-566:17-196:2; 20:30
Healing man born blind on Sabbath, interrogated by Jewish leaders   Ch 9 *sign
Casting demon from daughter (not present) of Gentile15:21-287:24-30  
Healing of deaf man with speech difficulty 7:31-37  
Feeding the four thousand15:32-388:1-9  
Healing blind man at Bethsaida 8:22-26  
Casting demon out of son who convulses17:14-209:14-29  9:37-43 
Temple tax in fish’s mouth17:24-27   
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 Jericho20:29-34 (2 blind men)10:46-52 (Bartimaeus)18:35-43 (unnamed) 
Healing many in Temple courts21:14   
Fig tree withered21:18-2211:12-14, 20-25  
Healing the servant’s ear after Peter cut it off  22:50-51 
Miraculous catch   21:1-11

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:

Baker, 2001.

* NDBT: Alexander, T. Desmond, et. al.  New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downers

 Grove: InterVarsity, 2000.

A Biblical Theology of Preaching (part 1)

The last several posts have explored the academic discipline and practice of “Biblical Theology.”  I would like to continue that theme over the next couple months by presenting an example of Biblical Theology that traces a theme throughout scripture. In particular, I will present a Biblical Theology of preaching.


A biblical theology of preaching cannot be undertaken without a clarification of terms.  By biblical theology we mean a “theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church.  It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.”[1]  A biblical theology of preaching, therefore, seeks to understand preaching as it is presented in the contexts of the biblical texts while relating those presentations to the wider canon. This process must be allowed to define preaching on the Bible’s own terms if it is to truly be a biblical theology. Continue reading

The Overarching Story of the Bible (Part 2).

In my previous post, I wrote about the meaning-making power of stories and the value in teaching the overarching storyline of the Bible. In the current post, I will suggest a practical way to teach that overarching storyline  that also maintains faithfulness to the Bible’s own presentation. I will also give an example teaching/preaching series on the overarching story of the Bible.

Painting by Gretchen Holesovsky

Although the Christian Bible consists of 66 books written by various authors over many centuries, the biblical writers  shared the assumption that God was directing and fulfilling his plan in human history. Additionally, these writers often pointed to the same set of turning points in salvation history–specific times when God made covenants with his people. For instance, as the Psalmist celebrates God’s redemption of his people and the giving of the Torah, this new relationship fulfills previous promises God made to their patriarch Abraham (Psalm 105:42-45). In Galatians 3, the Apostle Paul explains how Christ fulfills the covenant promises made to both Abraham and Moses. The Bible seems to assume that God’s overarching story has chapters or turning points marked off by covenants. Covenants were an ancient form of agreement that God used to communicate his relationship with his chosen people. Covenants were more than contracts or promises but an all-encompassing bond between God and people. Continue reading

The Overarching Story of the Bible

Stories stick. We easily forget facts and propositions, but stories stick with us because our own experiences and relationships (our personal stories) find greater meaning by attaching to broader patterns greater than ourselves. Shared stories also build community as individual stories find their place in an overarching narrative.

The Christian community’s foundational stories are contained in the Bible. Unfortunately, the Bible is often assumed to be a collection of rules and propositions with random stories sprinkled about for flavoring. We remember some of the stories and a few of the rules (do not murder, do not judge), but we fail to see, and therefore attach ourselves to, the overarching story of the Bible. This failure to see the overarching story of the Bible not only makes the Bible seem less relevant, it causes us to relate to the stories of the Bible in a piecemeal way that fails to take us up into the bigger patterns and perspectives that the Bible itself commends. We can’t remember the Apostle Paul’s theological arguments against Gentile circumcision in Galatians, but we do remember the story of David defeating Goliath. The story is more memorable, but without an idea of how it relates to the overarching story of scripture, we read it as an isolated story with only limited points of attachment. Those points are usually of the “be like  (or don’t be like) the protagonist” variety. The result is that we may relate David’s battle with Goliath to a challenging situation that we are facing, but we fail to see how that story is only one episode in a larger story that points to God more than it points to David (or points to us for that matter). The stories of the Bible, as well as the propositions and commands, are part of an overarching story of God’s relationship to His creation. When we see the big story, we are able to fit our personal stories into that greater narrative, which gives us a larger perspective and a meaning that transcends ourselves. Even the lists of places, tribes, and commands seem more relevant because they are a part of a larger story.

Theologians of the past few centuries have debated if one can assume any unity to the Bible. After all, the Christian Bible consists of 66 books written by various authors over many centuries. However, the various biblical authors themselves assume a connection between their message and previous prophets. First Peter 1:10-12 reflects this assumed connectedness: Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” The author of First Peter assumes the unity of God’s revelation and work, which connects his generation and the stories of previous and future generations. The unifying element to all these stories is that the main character is also the author of the story. God Himself is writing and starring in this grand story of redemption. He tells the story to and through His people. The diverse human authors of the Bible bring different perspectives and contexts, while the Holy Spirit’s inspiration brings an overall unity as God progressively reveals himself and works in the course of human history. A deep understanding of the Bible requires an appreciation of both the diversity and the unity of the Christian scriptures.

For this reason, church leaders should consider teaching the overarching storyline of the Bible. We fit into God’s story, plan, and purpose for the world. True fulfillment and meaning are found when we fit our stories into God’s story. Moreover, getting a view of the sweeping landscape of this grand story creates awe. Too often we “can’t see the forest for the trees” because we focus on proof texts and select passages of scripture while losing sight of the beautiful landscape of the overarching story. Of course, the awe-inspiring story also gives us insight into the awesome nature of the Author (and main character) of that story.

How do we teach the overarching story of the Bible in a way that is faithful to the Bible’s own presentation? How do we teach such a long and connected story in units that people can actually follow? These questions will be addressed in the next blog post. I will explain that this story is structured by God’s covenants and then give an example teaching/preaching series (and other resources) on the overarching story of the Bible.

What is Biblical Theology?

What is Biblical Theology? This question seems simple enough, but over the past couple centuries differing answers have been offered. One could try to build a definition from raw materials; i.e. if “theology” is the study of God and his relations to the world, then Biblical Theology (BT) studies what the Bible teaches about God and his relations to the world. However, it’s not as if we can build such a definition upon an untouched building lot! The history, practice, and methodology of BT have left many tools and materials strewn about the construction site of any definition.

     The development of BT as a discipline. Although the early church arguably engaged in BT as they sought to interpret the Bible, BT became a modern discipline after the Protestant Reformation. Following countless battles over dogma (Catholic vs. Protestant, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, etc.) and the proliferation of proof texting and eisegesis, eventually people came back to the basic question: “What does the Bible say for itself?” That same question would be asked afresh in the following centuries as biblical criticism increasingly adopted modernist skepticism towards the church and the biblical text. For many biblical scholars the Bible was no longer the authority for Christian faith and practice. It was one source of guidance among many human philosophies and cultural preferences. These developments challenged the very legitimacy of BT, but Christians with a high view of scripture continued returning to the basic question of how the Bible presents itself. Through these many dangers, toils, and snares, contemporary BT has experienced a revival and settled on some standard elements. These common elements are: The biblical texts contain both unified themes across the canonical text as well as diversity in and between texts. Revelation is progressive in nature. The Bible makes internal claims to truth and divine inspiration, which should affect our reading of the text and church practice.

In the broader scholarly community, literary approaches have encouraged reading the Bible on its own terms first (often called a “close reading” of the text) as one does with any work of literature. This development has advanced BT as many different disciplines now contribute to our understanding of the biblical literature and its authors. While much more could be said about the various theologians and challenges that have affected BT over the years, the good news is that one does not need to know the history of BT to practice BT in the church. So let us return to our original question. What is Biblical Theology? I offer this survey of recent definitions (with some including explanations) as a preliminary answer and as a prelude to practice.

Recent Definitions of BT.

Andreas Köstenberger offers a basic definition: “Biblical Theology is the theology of the Bible. In other words, Biblical Theology is not our own theology, or that of our church or denomination, it is the theology of the biblical writers themselves.” (MJT, 2018 Sizemore lectures)

From New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: “Biblical Theology may be defined as theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.” (pg. 10)

Graeme Goldsworthy in “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture”: Biblical Theology is “theology understood from the perspective of the biblical writers within their own historical context. . . . biblical theology is concerned with how the revelation of God was understood in its time, and what the total picture is that was built up over the whole historical process.” (pg. 26)

James Hamilton: “Thus, the purpose of biblical theology is inductively to understand the canonical form of the Bible’s theology as it is progressively revealed in its own literary forms and salvation historical development . . .”  (pg. 46 in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.)

Scott Hafemann in “Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect,”: “(B)iblical theology attempts to ascertain the inner points of coherence and development within the biblical narrative and exposition. It does its work inductively from within the Bible in an attempt to bring out the Bible’s own message.”  (pg. 16)

From Michael Lawrence’s “Biblical Theology: “Biblical theology is about reading the Bible, not as if it’s sixty-six separate books, but a single book with a single plot—God’s glory displayed through Jesus Christ. BT is therefore about discovering the unity of the Bible in the midst of diversity. It’s about understanding what we might call the Bible’s metanarrative.”      Lawrence’s simpler definition: “Biblical Theology is the attempt to tell the whole story of the whole Bible as Christian Scripture.” (pg.15).

Each of these definitions contains presuppositions and each could be challenged on several fronts. Together, however, they provide a current snapshot of the construction site that is evangelical BT. Practicing Biblical Theology requires more than knowing some definitions, but defining terms is a good first step.



*Alexander, T. D. et. al., editors.  New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. IVP Academic, 2003.

*Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture. Eerdmans, 2000.

*Hafemann, Scott. Editor. Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect. InterVarsity, 2002.

*Hamilton, James. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. Crossway, 2010.

*Köstenberger, Andreas. “The Promise of Biblical Theology: What Biblical Theology Is and What It Isn’t.” & “The Practice of Biblical Theology.”  Sizemore Lectures in Midwestern Journal of Theology 17 (2018): 1-27.

*__________. “The Present and Future of Biblical Theology.” Themelios 37 (2012): 445-464.

*Lawrence, Michael.  Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church. Crossway, 2010.