Why do you believe the Biblical accounts of miracles?

I tried to discuss this in the thread on the resurrection of Jesus, but it didn’t get much attention, so I’m seeing if it does better in its own thread.

My basic question is:
Do believers in Biblical miracles consider those claims sufficiently well-supported by the evidence that they’d believe them even if they weren’t in the Bible? Or do they knowingly choose to place a lower burden of proof on Biblical claims than they would on claims from other sources? If it’s the latter, then why?

It certainly seems to me like it’s two different standards of proof, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding the thought process here. To elaborate:

We all judge claims not just on the evidence, but on how likely the claim seems to begin with. If I tell you I drove my car to work this morning, you’d probably believe me. If I tell you I flew to work in a flying saucer, you’d probably doubt it. The evidence is the same (my word), but the latter claim is much more surprising to you, so it will take more evidence to convince you.

The Bible also makes some very surprising claims. A child born to a virgin, a man who can heal leprosy and other ailments at will, who can even raise the dead, and who returns from death himself, and many more. Even if you feel these things are possible, they certainly go against the way that we understand the world to work in the vast majority of situations. And yet many people believe them on the basis of some 2000 year old writings by men they’ve never met, men who may not have even had first hand knowledge of the events they’re describing.

One point I’ve heard raised is that these early Christians were willing to die for their beliefs. But is this really so convincing? If I and a dozen of my friends all swore that we saw a man leap over a ten story building last week, and refused to recant even when threatened with death, would that be enough to convince you? If not, what makes the evidence of Biblical miracles any more convincing?

Faith. If you have it, no explanation is necessary. If you don’t, no explanation will suffice.

Some things from the bible (or any old book for that matter) must be interpeted with respect to the culture and language at the time… certain words don’t mean what you think they mean.

A key example is “virgin”… while we think of it to mean “hymen intact”, the word in the text simply refers to a “young woman” (probably has more meaning then that, but it has nothing to do with the hymen itself).

A salient point to consider, Tim, is that Christians don’t just hold this person to be “any man,” but rather to be the literal son of God, and as such, he is rather special. That’s not to say that you’re not special, but (based on my very superficial knowledge of you) you don’t have any credentials or special circumstances to lead one to believe that you have a flying saucer. OTOH, if you were famous for having made contact with intelligent extra-terrestrials (whether or not the fact has been established) then that would make your claim all the more believable.

Zev Steinhardt

Thanks for replying, even if you didn’t really tell me much.

What do you mean by faith? (I know the dictionary definition of the word, but I’m asking what you mean in this context.) Is it choosing to believe something even though the evidence is unconvincing? (I.e., explicitly acknowledging that the evidence is – or may be – unpersuasive, and simply not caring?) How do you decide whether to assess the truth of a particular claim based on faith or on evidence? If evidence is a reasonable way to decide sometimes, why not all the time?

Do you think “taking things on faith” is more likely to lead to you believing things that are true? (If so, why do other people’s faiths lead to different conclusions?) Or is that not an important consideration to you?

Also, if you’re going to believe something for reasons other than evidence, why pick one religion over any other? Is it just a matter of believing whatever makes you happy?

< Inigo > You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. < /Inigo>

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

While it may be true that Isaiah 7:14 text is a bad example, in all fairness to Tim, there are plenty of other cases where the miracle being claimed is pretty unambiguous.

Zev Steinhardt

I’ve heard that said of the reference to “a virgin” in the Old Testament. But is it true of the NT as well? I thought the NT was pretty explicit in saying that Mary gave birth to Jesus before she ever had sex.

I’m no expert at Greek, so I can’t answer specifically to the point you make.

I can answer that the Hebrew word “almah” does mean “young woman,” who may or may not be a virgin.

However, I’ve been told two contradictory things regarding the Greek word at hand:

a. That it refers to a physical virgin
b. The same word is used in the LXX translation of Genesis 34 referring to Dinah even after she was raped (and obviously no longer a virgin).

I can’t vouch for the factuality of either statement. Perhaps someone more familiar with the Greek can do so.

Zev Steinhardt

I can’t really answer those questions, seeing as how I do not have faith. My WAG would be that if one believes in a supreme deity, one would also believe said deity could accomplish all things…even those things others consider to be impossible.

I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure how God becoming incarnate in human form and then performing all sorts of miracles is a less extreme claim than a human being performing miracles. My point isn’t that humans can’t do what Jesus supposedly did, it’s that most people would normally be extremely surprised to hear that any entity was going around raising the dead and so forth, because this almost never happens. And because they’d find this so surprising, I’d expect most people to insist on strong evidence before believing it. So why is it any more believable coming from the Bible (written millenia ago by people you never met) than if you heard it on the street?

Maybe I should change my example:
If I and a dozen of my friends all swore that we saw an entity claiming to be the son of God leap over a ten story building last week, and refused to recant our story when threatened with death, would that be enough to convince you?

If the answer is no, but Biblical claims of miracles are more believable, then what I’d like to know is what’s the difference?

I think you might be making the mistake of assuming that people back in Jesus’ day held to the same rules of evidence that we hold to today. Keep in mind that back then, there was no internet, no radio, no television – not even newspapers. Basically, the only way that people found out anything about the world beyond their little village is by word of mouth from travelers. And while nowadays, we know from biology that it is highly improbable that a mermaid exists, they didn’t have the scientific background back then to question facts and stories that were brought by travelers and storytellers.

Furthermore, please keep in mind that you are also dealing with a crowd who have already accepted the possibility of miracles – as most inherited their beliefs from their fathers and grandfathers. So, if they’re told that there is a holy man in the Galillee who can raise the dead – why not believe him? Elijah was able to raise the dead. So was Elisha. If them, why not Jesus?

Zev Steinhardt

It’s the belief in God, and God’s word. If you know, I mean really really know on a personal level that God exists and God has acted in your life, and you also have experienced the power of God’s word you have all the proof you need.

Faith is not just hoping, it is equal to proof.

The word almah in Isaiah 7:14 is translated in the LXX as parthenos (“virgin.”)

Genesis 34 uses the Hebrew word na’arah (translated in the KJV as “damsel”). The LXX twice tranalates this as parthenos (after Dinah’s rape) and a couple of other times uses gunaika ("woman’).

The context of the Isaiah passage makes it obvious that the verse refers neither to a virgin or to the Messiah, so parthenos appears to be a translational error in the LXX. The fact that a similar error occurs in Genesis (I’m assuming that na’arah does mean “virgin?”) does not mean it’s still not an error in Isaiah (either that or parthenos did not have to mean virgin).

Na’arah does not mean virgin. Na’arah also means “young woman.” The use of that word in Deuteronomy 22:20 shows that the word does not mean virgin.

The word for virgin is besulah.

Zev Steinhardt

Faith means not wanting to know what is true. (Neitzsche)

If you have belief that is based solely on faith, I can’t examine your reasons. You can retreat behind the private wall of faith where I can’t reach you. (Richard Dawkins)

If I have faith in Zeus, is it equal to proof?

In a round about way I’d say yes. Zeus, and other false gods, I beleive are of Satan, or servants of Satan, which I beleive exists, and hence real.

People used to believe quite fervently that the sun went around the earth. Are you suggesting that back then the sun did go around the earth? Did the earth and the sun suddenly change places when people started believing that the earth went around the sun?

Okay, how about if I have faith in the fact that there is no God?

(Oh, and by the way, what you’ve done here is called “moving the goalposts”. Nobody who believed in Zeus thought he was the christian satan, and certainly nobody who believes in the lightning-weilding toga-clad entity now does either.)

Correct me if I’m wrong, tim314, but I believe he was wondering about believers today. Someone who lived at a time when many inexplicable to them things were clearly visible would have a different opinion of miracles than someone living today. As a child I read, and believed in, Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Delaware, not comprehending that it was an impossible feat.

And as a follow on, if anyone actually tries to answer the question that is, I’d ask about the cutoff. Is walking on water a believable miracle while Joshua causing the sun to stand still not? I know non-literalists consider certain miracle stories to be just stories, and others true, but how do you decide which story is too far out to be believed?