The Miraculous and the Origin of Christianity
There are numerous contrasts between Christianity and the other leading religions of the world. One of these is the difference between the miraculous phenomena (either real or alleged) associated with the various systems. Let me illustrate what I mean.
The “faith” that was to be known eventually as “Christian” was characterized by the “miraculous” from the beginning. The Old Testament had prophesied that the coming “Immanuel” would be born of a virgin and that such would be a “sign” from God (Isa. 7:14). That is precisely what happened in Bethlehem some twenty centuries ago. The records of both Matthew and Luke carefully document the case of Jesus’ birth to a virgin.
The Old Testament prophets had foretold Jesus’ miraculous powers (cf. Isa. 35:5ff). When the Lord commenced his preaching ministry at the age of thirty, his activity was authenticated by supernatural signs. Beginning with the incident at Cana of Galilee, when he turned water into wine (Jn. 2), and concluding with his resurrection and ascension (Jn. 20:1ff; Acts 1), the miraculous dotted the landscape of his preaching career.
Moreover, his signs were so dramatic, so very compelling, that even his fiercest enemies could scarcely deny them (cf. Mt. 12:24; 27:42; Jn. 11:47). Even those who later attacked Christianity by means of their literary works spoke of Jesus’ “magic.”
By way of contrast, miraculous demonstrations were never associated with the other major religious movements of the world at the commencement of those systems. Legends of the supernatural, relating to those orders, evolved much later.
Recently I ran across the following statement from A.E. Haydon, Ph.D., Professor of The History of Religions at the University of Chicago, and Chairman of the Department of Comparative Religion at that prestigious institution. Dr. Haydon’s statement is extremely significant.
“. . . [N]one of the men whose names stand as symbols of the great religions – Zoroaster, Lao-tzu, Mahavira, Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed — made any use of miracles. Mohammed wondered at the blindness of his adversaries who asked for a sign. Gautama [Buddha] reproved his disciples for boasting to the followers of Mahavira of his marvelous powers” (An Encyclopedia of Religion, Vergilius Ferm, Ed., New York: Philosophical Library, 1945, p. 494; emp. WJ).
If a supernatural origin is to be attributed to a religion (for example, as in the case of Islam), there needs to be contemporary evidence that miraculous documentation accompanied the event. If that assertion is proffered, then what effect did the alleged miracles have upon the multitudes that supposedly witnessed them? Can such episodes be critically examined? Can they be reasonably explained in any other fashion, etc.?
The miracles of Christ and his apostles pass the most rigorous examination. As for purported “miracles” associated with the commencement of other religious systems —well, there was none! Stories of such sprang up only significantly after the origin of those systems. This reflects a sharp difference between Christianity and its rivals.