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In the closing stages of writing my latest book, The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK] (please grab yourself a copy!), I had a few test readers. One was David Austin, down in Australia, who has provided a few guest articles for your delectation. Here is another one – thanks muchly to him (as I am insanely busy researching the hell out of the Pentateuch):

Miracles as Parables

I recently read an article by a Keith Giles (a Progressive Christian contributor on Patheos) entitled “The Miracle Parables of Jesus” (1). In the article, Keith discusses the possibility that many of the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament, were parables that were related by Jesus to illustrate a particular doctrinal or moral issue, but over the telling & retelling of the story, people began to believe that Jesus actually performed the scenario illustrated by the parable.

Keith uses the “demonic exorcism” as recorded in Mark 5:1-20 as an example. In the story, the “demon” is named “Legion”. Keith finds this significant as, “Legion” is the name for a Roman army group, and he speculates that the demon-possessed man was intended to represent the oppressed nation of Israel under the control of Rome. Jesus exorcises the “demon” which then leaves the man, and enters “unclean pigs” (ie pagans), and they are destroyed by drowning. The citizens of the town are unhappy with this, and Jesus is forced to leave. The story, on its face, seems ridiculous, but when presented as a parable, seems to make more sense. Maybe the citizens of the town are meant to represent Jews who actually prospered under Roman rule.

Keith further speculates that other “miracles” may also be parables misread such as the healing of blind, deaf & mute men. It is not hard to see that “opening ones eyes or ears & speaking the truth” to spread the “true” doctrine is often used as a metaphor even in today’s language.

This set me thinking about other “so-called” miracles. One that comes immediately to mind is the “withering of the fig tree”. In Mark 11:12-25, Jesus is hungry, and goes to pick figs from a tree, but there are none (out of season), and curses the tree. Then Jesus goes to the Temple, and drives out the money-changers & sellers of animals. The next day, the disciples notice the fig tree has withered. Now again, on its face, this story makes no sense. Why curse a tree just because you want figs, but they are out of season? It’s hardly the tree’s fault. However, when you couple it with the “cleansing of the Temple”, it makes sense. The tree stands for the Jewish establishment who are not following the ways of righteousness (at least in Jesus’s eyes), and therefore they will eventually wither away. Again, this may have been a parable told by Jesus that “morphed” into an actual miraculous event.

The more one thinks about the various “miracles” of Jesus, the more one can see that they may have been Parables misinterpreted as Miracles.

For instance, consider the “walking on water” incident described in Matthew 14:22-33:-

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning, he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 In the story. when Peter trusted in Jesus, he could walk on water also, but when he started to doubt, he began to sink and was “saved” by Jesus. Is this a parable, with Jesus in effect saying “Put your trust in me and you will be able to do amazing things, and I alone can save you”?

It seems to me, it is far more likely that, the miracles recorded in the New Testament are either embellishments to the stories about Jesus that grew over time, or, as posited here, parables told by Jesus that were thought to be, over time, actual miracles.



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A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...