The Miracles in the Gospels: What do they teach us about Jesus?
Church Times Bookshop £18
AT LEAST since the work of David Hume, the term “miracle” has been an awkward one to employ theologically without definition. Numerous are the books written about miracles, from many different perspectives. Keith Warrington is distinctive in combining structured biblical exegesis with Pentecostal experience. His definition of miracle is “a supernatural action that transforms a . . . humanly insoluble situation”. His survey does not include the virgin birth, the resurrection, or ascension for reasons of viability.
Warrington covers every miracle performed by Jesus which is recorded in the canonical Gospels, in a survey structured in the order of healings, then exorcisms, and finally nature miracles. In the Synoptics, multiple accounts are treated in canonical order, followed by parallel accounts by two Evangelists, and finally miracles found in only one Gospel. He uses the critical methods of narrative and redaction to show the contexts of the stories and explore the distinct emphases of each Evangelist. It is “assumed that the miracle narratives reflect authentic occurrences”; the aim is to appreciate the “mission and status” of the historical Jesus.
The miracles form more than 20 per cent of the Gospel narratives; these significant elements, unique and distinctive compared with other healers of the period, are intended to declare the divine authority of Jesus. They form a statement about who he is rather than provide a model of healing for others to imitate.
These assumptions are declared rather than defended in detail. The practical application of the textual exegesis remains purely Christological. I was surprised that in John’s account of the raising of Lazarus the words of Martha and Mary are discussed without referring to the puzzle of the delay. The base text used is the English Standard Version. There is an extensive select bibliography, and indices of biblical texts and subjects; an index of authors would have been a benefit.
Dr John Court is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Biblical Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury.