Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 28

Can we believe miracles took place? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 28, Jelbert decides to take on Craig Blomberg on miracles in the Gospel tradition. At the start of his response, Jelbert says that we need to avoid circular reasoning.  We can’t say that a god or a demon accounts for some miraculous events and then when we see those events, that’s evidence.

First off, this isn’t entirely accurate. Scientists do this kind of thing regularly. If such and such object existed, then we would see X take place. We see X take place. Therefore, the object exists. It’s just fine to say “If an immaterial reality exists, we can expect to see miracles take place. We see miracles take place. Therefore, an immaterial reality exists.

Second, and this is more important, circular reasoning works both ways. If there are no immaterial beings, then miracles would not take place. Then when we see something that looks like a miracle, well, it can’t be a miracle. Why? Because no immaterial beings exist. That is truly arguing in a circle.

Jelbert says that in general, it is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us of a supernatural event. First off, I question the use of the term supernatural. Second, this could be said of anything one is skeptical of. The creationist could say, “It is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us that life came from non-life.” Yet on both counts, why should we think that? Can you give an answer on both counts that is not question-begging?

On the contrary, I think it’s quite simple. Imagine attending the funeral of a dead friend. Then lo and behold, three days later you see him alive again. Perhaps you are skeptical and you go to a doctor. It’s him. The DNA is the same and everything. Would this not be sufficient?

Suppose you have a friend who is blind. You go and pray for them and then in the end pray that in the name of Jesus they be healed. All of a sudden, they open their eyes and have perfect 20/20 vision? Perhaps it wasn’t a miracle, but could you not be justified in thinking that it was?

Jelbert also says that in our modern age, there is a great lack of evidence for miracles. Search a miracle claim and at rock bottom the evidence evaporates. Naturally, there is no interacting with someone like Craig Keener whose book Miracles here I reviewed and I interviewed him here. Good luck for Jelbert disproving all of those.

That’s something else to point out. For Jelbert to be right, he has to be right on every single miracle claim there is. Are a number of them fraudulent? Sure. Are all of them in Keener’s work true? Probably not. Yet by necessity, they have to be for Jelbert. Hypothetically, they could all be false and that still would not prove that miracles cannot and have not taken place.

Jelbert also says we are told to have faith. He does not say if Blomberg says this or not, but he presents a paragraph on faith which relies on a false definition. Faith is not a way to know things but a response to known things. Those interested can see more here.

Jelbert also says Blomberg is wrong about miracless being in every layer of the tradition. After all, Paul never mentions them. For one thing, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us in verse 12 that the signs of an apostle were done including wonders and signs in the midst of the Corinthians. When you write a church questioning your reputation, you don’t make a claim like this unless you know that your opponents will agree to it.

For another thing, Blomberg, of course, knows about Paul and Jelbert should have considered that. What Blomberg is talking about is the Gospel tradition. When we study even down to the layer of Q, we find miracles. The same grounds that allow many facts to be known about the historical Jesus are the same grounds that would allow for miracles. Even skeptical scholars today admit Jesus was known as a miracle-worker and an exorcist.

He also says that Jesus telling people to not say that He healed them would explain why people did not know about the miracle accounts, but this again begs the question that they did not know. Much more likely is that Jesus is doing this so that He can avoid grabbing at honor for Himself and avoid trouble with the authorities at times.

Jelbert then says it comes down to credibility and that the birth narratives destroy the credibility. Yes. Well, I suppose if you look at accounts, don’t bother to look at counter-scholarship on them and throw your hands up in the air and say I can’t reconcile them, then yes, credibility is shot. Fortunately, most scholars don’t do things this way. If we decided an ancient author could not be believed when he got one thing wrong, we would know far less about the ancient world than we do.

This could also work against Jelbert. Let’s take our creationist who is skeptical of evolution again. He comes to Jelbert who wants to argue about fossils that support evolution. “That’s nice, but you see, Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man were thought to be real by Ph.D.s and yet now we know they were hoaxes and besides that, science changes its mind most every week so science like yours has lost all credibility with me.”

Not only this, if we did throw out Matthew and Luke, we still have Mark and John and Blomberg would say even Q has miracles. How is Jelbert going to avoid them? Does he want to keep using this all-or-nothing thinking? Down that road lies mythicism.

Jelbert also relies on Wells who relies on Strauss. Wells is kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel though at least he has changed his mind on mythicism. Why do we have these miracles that are like the Old Testament? Because the authors are trying to depict Jesus as superior to Old Testament prophets.

Yet even if we went with a time of 70 A.D. for Mark, there would still be people around who knew these did not happen if they were false. What we have to assume for Jelbert is that everyone suddenly had total amnesia about what Jesus did and an entirely new story was created and totally replaced what really happened within a generation. Good luck with that.

Going along the path of Wells quoting Strauss, we get the old chestnut of not knowing who the Gospel authors were. Well, I suppose if you have books and all our earliest sources closest to the time say the same thing about authorship and these writers saying these claims of authorship being in different places, it’s really difficult to figure out.

Why would the early church choose Matthew, a name not well-known in the Gospels and a tax collector? Why Mark, who was a sissy boy who ran back home to his mama in the first missionary journey and caused a rift between the first two great evangelists? Heck. You could have named it after Peter who Mark was supposed to be the interpreter of? Why Luke, a Gentile not even mentioned in the Gospels. Interestingly, the only figure you could understand is John, and that is the one disputed the most. Was it John the apostle or John the elder? Many other works from the ancient world are anonymous. What methodology does Jelbert have to identify them?

He also says Luke used Mark and at times edited him so Luke doesn’t see him as completely reliable. First off, no one is arguing for complete reliability. Second, that a source edits some of what is said doesn’t mean the original is seen as unreliable. There could be any number of reasons. Luke might just want to stress something differently than Mark does.

Finally, Jelbert says we do not know how well the Jesus in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus, but we do know that no miracle anywhere has sufficient evidence to accept it. We should all marvel at the wonder of Jelbert with this one. What a remarkable man. Somehow, he knows that all miracles all over the world do not have enough evidence. Somehow, he has investigated all of them. Perhaps there were new miracles said to take place today. Worry not dear readers. Jelbert knows the evidence is insufficient!

That, my friends, is circular reasoning.

Jelbert in all of this nowhere gives any argument against miracles at all. He can say there is no argument for theism (Though he never counters the way of Aquinas), but even so, miracles are an argument for theism. It would have been good for Jelbert to follow his own advice and avoid circular reasoning, but alas, that is not done.

We shall continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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