How Should We View Historical Accounts of Miracles?

The New Testament presents many miracles. Most of these, if not all, are key to the essential nature of the Christian faith. Paul claims that if Christ be not raised, we are still in our sins, and our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15). Therefore the question of how a modern man can accept miracles arises, and is a legitimate, serious question.

Historian Colin Hemer has written what is perhaps the most scholarly modern work on the book of Acts, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. In it, Hemer does not let the Christian off lightly, for he slices and dices the problems and historical support as many ways as any scholar could. I have previously shown some of the main details of his work, which  you can find here and here.

But Hemer deals with the question of historical accounts of miracles at length, and after dealing with all the modern questions and issues about a modern man accepting an historical account of miracles, he summarizes his conclusions with this statement:

We have presented no easy way out of the problem, but there is equally no a priori ground for dismissing Luke’s qualities simply because he reports a miracle. If he is not radically mistaken in view of a transcendental God incarnated in man, the factor of miracle may even be accepted in principle as a natural corollary . . . There is a profound difficulty in the assumption that the Enlightenment marks an essential divide in the history of Western thought . . . It is not really a matter of saying that as scholars they cannot import their existential beliefs but must be open-minded and properly sceptical and presuppositionless, for the Enlightenment imposes, not freedom from presupposition, but contrary presuppositions. I am all for open-mindedness, but uneasy when people seem to be compounding their own problems . . . (p. 442-443)

So here Hemer states that our modern view, post Enlightenment, dismisses historical accounts of miracles out of hand. But instead of eliminating a worldview and freeing the scholar, it instead substitutes one set of presuppositions for another. In the end, modern man is not any more objective than pre-modern man. All we really have to go by are the texts of the New Testament themselves, and as Hemer points out rather solidly, Luke’s accounts line up with known history more than any other in ancient history.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Church History, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Should We View Historical Accounts of Miracles?

  1. Pingback: Literary Critics Evaluate the New Testament | Thomistic Bent

  2. Pingback: Literary Critics Examine the New Testament | Thomistic Bent

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