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Were Jesus' miracles magical tricks?

Were Jesus’ miracles magical tricks?

The Christian faith stands or falls with Jesus. One of the reasons people through history have believed in Jesus, is the miracles He performed. If He truly did the miracles described in the Bible, this proves He is God and we should believe in Him. One way to get around this, is to claim that Jesus performed magical tricks. Did He?

Jesus’ miracles

The earliest mention of Jesus outside the Bible is from the Jewish historian Josephus. Though there is a lot of debate about the original text, it is generally accepted that Josephus mentions Jesus as a “doer of startling deeds”. Jewish texts that mention Jesus also focus on His miracles, and actually are an early example of the claim that He did magical tricks. The oldest mention of Jesus in the important Jewish Talmud collection probably is the one that states He was put to death for “practicing witchcraft”.

This focus on the astounding things Jesus did, is in line with what the Gospels tell us about Jesus. 36 different miracles are described in the four Gospels. Besides that, it is mentioned He did miracles without elaborating on what happened (e.g. Mark 1:34), and there is the claim there were many more (John 20:30, 21:25). Let me list the 36 miracles described in the Gospels to get a feel whether magical tricks are a good explanation for these miracles.

Healing miracles

Seventeen of the miracles are healing miracles:

Four times healing of the blind is described:

  • Two men in Capernaum (Matthew 9);
  • A man in Bethsaida (Mark 8);
  • A man in Jerusalem (John 9);
  • And Bartimaeus near Jericho (Matthew 20, Mark 10, Luke 18).

Three times a paralytic is healed:

  • The centurion’s servant (Matthew 8, Mark 7);
  • The man lowered through the roof of Jesus’ house (Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5);
  • And the man at the waters of Bethesda (John 5).

Two times He heals lepers:

  • Ten lepers at once (Luke 17);
  • And the leper at Gennesaret (Matthew 8, Mark 1, Luke 5).

Two times He instantly heals someone from a high fever:

  • Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8, Mark 1, Luke 4);
  • and the son of the nobleman in Cana (John 4).

Finally there are six unique healings:

  • Of a deaf man (Mark 7);
  • A woman bent over (Luke 13);
  • A man with the dropsy (Luke 14);
  • Malchus whose ear had been cut off (Luke 22);
  • A woman with an issue of blood (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8);
  • And a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12, Mark 3, Luke 6).

In three cases, Jesus performed the ultimate healing by raising from the dead:

  • Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8);
  • A young man at Nain (Luke 7);
  • And Lazarus (John 11).

Non-healing miracles

Ten miracles show Jesus’ power of nature and circumstances:

  • He stilled the storm (Matthew 8, Mark 4, Luke 8);
  • He walked on water (Matthew 14, Mark 6, John 6);
  • He miraculously fed five thousand men (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6; the only miracle mentioned in all four gospels);
  • He miraculously fed four thousand men (Matthew 15, Mark 8);
  • He knew where to find a fish with a coin in its mouth (Matthew 17);
  • He made a fig tree wither (Matthew 21, Mark 11);
  • He passed through a multitude unseen (Luke 4);
  • He orchestrated a miraculous fish catch twice (Luke 5, John 21);
  • He turned water into wine (John 2).

Six times He showed His power of demons:

  • He allowed a legion of demons to enter a herd of pigs (Matthew 8, Mark 5, Luke 8);
  • He twice healed a demon possessed man in Capernaum (Matthew 9 and Mark 1, Luke 4);
  • He healed a man who couldn’t see and speak because of a demon (Matthew 12, Luke 11);
  • He healed a non-Jewish girl from demonic possession (Matthew 15, Mark 7);
  • He healed a demon possessed boy (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9).

No tricks!

Could all these miracles be tricks? One of the best magicians in the world, Andre Kole, has a reputation to check hoaxes. He exposed tricksters in different countries in the world, and is even very skeptical about Christian faith healers. As a magician, he sees what kind of tricks they are using. But when he looked into Jesus’ miracles, he became convinced they are real. Why was that?

One reason is that many of the healings are organic. Nowadays, many claimed healings are of conditions that are very hard to check medically. The excitement of a mass meeting can easily make people feel better, without real healing taking place. But making the blind see and the lame walk is a different story!

A second reason Andre Kole became convinced that Jesus’ miracles were real, is because He recreated some of them. Andre Kole walked on water, on a lake. He said it took him months of preparation, thousands of dollars, lots of modern science, and three trucks full of attributes to pull it off. That way he created the illusion of walking on water. And it convinced him that Jesus did the real thing.

Another reason Kole believes Jesus’ miracles are real, is because of the disciples. Kole cannot do his tricks without a team. If Jesus would do tricks, His disciples would know. But they were willing to give their lives testifying to the truth of Jesus’ power.

The reason for the miracles

Why is it important that Jesus’ miracles were real and not tricks? Because they show His power. The Bible often calls His miracles “signs”. Signs are pointing out something. Jesus’ miracles are signs pointing towards His power. The miracles prove that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the eternal Kingdom that He announces is coming.

The two greatest miracles of all I have not mentioned yet. Jesus, despite His power, was willing to die for sinners so that they could become children of God. And He rose again from the dead, as ultimate evidence of His power over life and death. That has changed the world forever. It has opened up the gate to eternal life for all of us, if we believe in Him. So let Jesus’ miracles be your assurance that you can receive your miracle: forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Him.

How does this Bible teaching speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read: Can we trust what the Bible says about Jesus?

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Marten Visser

Marten Visser (1971), experienced a call from the Lord to be a missionary while in Kindergarten. He received M.Div., Th.M. in Missiology, M.A. in cultural anthropology degrees and a Ph.D. degree in Theology. In 2000 he became a church planting missionary in Thailand with OMF, together with his wife Esther. In 2015 he returned to the Netherlands where he founded GlobalRize. He continues to serve as GlobalRize’s director of evangelism.

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