Why I Don’t Believe in Miracles
The affirmation cited above reflects the title of a recent article that appeared in Newsweek magazine (Hefner 2000, 61). It was authored by Philip Hefner, a professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.
Hefner’s essay is mostly about his objections to “miracles” today, based upon his observations of the regularity of nature, his association with men of science, and his disdain for those TV evangelists who ever are claiming that God is working miracles through them.
But he “throws the baby out with the bath water,” rejecting the possibility of miracles under any circumstance. There is not one iota of evidence in the article to indicate that Hefner considered the miracles of the Bible as authentic, in contrast to those feigned by “healers” today.
In fact, the professor has been well-documented in other publications as rejecting what he calls the “miracle stories” of the Scriptures. A part of his problem is the affliction which may be characterized as retrogressive theology, that is, the projection of a present circumstance back into the context of biblical history.
I do not believe that God is working miracles today either. But I do not reject such on the ground that God is powerless to perform them; he can do anything he wills to do, consistent with his character and his eternal purpose.
I do not disbelieve in miracles because the forces of nature are inalterably fixed, and thus cannot be manipulated by the very one who initiated them. God is in control of his own creation, and should he so choose, he could suspend nature’s laws for the implementation of his plan. He certainly has done so at different times in the course of world history.
In the Old Testament era God parted the Red Sea and fed Israel with manna for forty years. In the New Testament age, the miracles of Jesus and his apostles were prominent features in first-century Mediterranean society.
God can even orchestrate the normal regularities of natural law through the process commonly called providence, in order to expedite the divine plan.
I do not reject “modern miracles” because I view God as uncaring for the plight of miserable humanity. No, none of these rationales is a valid measure of current so-called supernatural phenomena.
Rather, I repudiate modern-day miracles because belief in such runs counter to the explicit and implicit evidence of written revelation. Consider the following:
- The Scriptures plainly indicate that the purpose of first-century miracles was to authenticate the process of divine revelation, preliminary to the completion of that body of literature known as the New Testament (Mark 16:17-20; Hebrews 2:1-4). That being the case, these signs are not needed today.
- Nothing in today’s world is analogous to the supernatural events that adorn the pages of the New Testament. There is no walking on water (John 6:19), no restoration of an amputated ear (Luke 22:51), no resurrections from the dead (John 11:43-44)—nothing remotely resembling biblical miracles is observed today. True miracles are self-verifying events. They are so dramatic as to be undeniable (cf. John 11:47; Acts 4:16).
- The means for the reception of supernatural powers, at least as depicted in the New Testament, are unavailable in this age. There is no outpouring of the Holy Spirit as such occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). There are no living apostles to “lay hands” on men and empower them with the ability to speak foreign languages supernaturally, as in the case of those baptized believers in Ephesus (Acts 19:6), or to do other signs (e.g., the healing of infirm bodies [Acts 3:7]).
- Inspired testimony explicitly affirms that the day of the miraculous was temporary, accommodating the completion of the canon of sacred Scripture (1 Corinthians 13:8ff; Ephesians 4:8ff), and thus soon to cease.
A careful distinction, therefore, must be made between the rejection of the phoniness of today’s “miracles,” parading themselves under the banner of Pentecostalism, and the authentic signs of the first century, as such were performed by Christ and his commissioned ambassadors.
To fail to draw the sharp line between these two sets of circumstances is to do a grave injustice to those we are attempting to influence with the gospel.
(For more information, see our article, Miracles.)
Scripture references: Mark 16:17-20; Hebrews 2:1-4; John 6:19; Luke 22:51; John 11:43-44; John 11:47; Acts 4:16; Acts 2; Acts 19:6; Acts 3:7; 1 Corinthians 13:8; Ephesians 4:8
- Hefner, Philip. 2000. Why I Don’t Believe in Miracles. Newsweek, May 1.