Miracles have fallen upon hard times in recent centuries. Thomas Jefferson cut every story of a miracle out of his Bible. Many modern scientists reject the Bible because they believe everything in the universe is explainable by the scientific method, and situations spontaneously brought about by a magical power cannot exist. Many Jewish scholars say the miracles found in the Bible are symbolic or represent a vision. Others claim that miracles represent the perception of a scientifically unsophisticated author. Are miracles in the Bible to be taken literally?
Are Bible miracles literal events?
In short, yes.
There are two basic ways to interpret the Bible. Exegesis uses a careful approach that takes each passage and considers what the author intends it to mean. In exegesis, the text is taken as literal unless it is absolutely impossible to do so (for example, we are not, literally, the apple of God's eye). Exegesis also compares the passage to other, similar passages to determine what God says about the subject as a whole.
Eisegesis is a more symbolic method of reading the Bible. Instead of being concerned with what the text says or what the author intended, it concentrates on the reaction the words draw from the reader. It relates Bible passages to what the reader already believes. Eisegesis is an inaccurate way to read any text, and leads the reader to turn the clearest statement into the most obscure spiritual metaphor.
A proper exegetical analysis of the stories of miracles show that not only are they to be taken literally, but miracles performed by people have a specific purpose that is revealed throughout the entire Bible. Miracles are God's way of validating His messengers. From Elijah's confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:17-40) to Paul shrugging off a bite from a venomous snake (Acts 28:3-6), events that contradict the laws of nature show that the person involved is connected to a power beyond nature. In the case of Pharaoh's magicians, that power was demonic (Exodus 7:11-12). But most of the miracles in the Bible are powered by God.
God also performs miracles without a human mediator. The creation account in Genesis 1-2 is written to be taken literally. When Balaam's donkey spoke (Numbers 22:28-30), it was God who opened her mouth. And the Holy Spirit caused a virgin girl to be pregnant with the Son of God (Luke 2).
Not all miraculous events in the Bible were completely supernatural. It is entirely possible that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was caused by geological activity along a natural fault line in the area. It's also conceivable that Jonah's survival in the belly of a whale (or whale shark?) is biologically possible without divine intervention. Of course, the timing of both the earthquake and the whale are miraculously convenient; of course, God can divinely prompt the laws of nature to act.
People usually reject miracles because the miraculous goes against their own experiences in the world. In more developed, scientifically-minded societies, we tend to rely on the natural sciences to explain what we experience. This is fine as far as it goes. But we have to remember that if God exists, the natural laws are an incomplete method to analyze the cosmos. If the Creator of the universe is a God Who is outside of our realm of being, it's perfectly natural that He should influence His creation in a way that contradicts what that creation can understand. In which case, it would be foolish to ignore how He communicates with us.
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Truth about the Bible