John Polkinghorne on Miracles

Jesus Creed

First we must consider what is meant by “miracle.” Polkinghorne considers three kinds of miracles in scripture.

1. Miracles arising from normal human abilities possessed to an extraordinary degree.

2. Miracles involving the timing or occurrence of natural events.

3. Miracles involving events contrary to nature.

The significance of a miracle is not scientific but theological. Miracles contrary to nature are not simply capricious events demonstrating the power of God. Miracles have theological significance. This is true of all miracles – but most importantly it is true of those contrary to God’s divine laws of nature.

The resurrection is the prototypical test case here. First, as NT Wright has argued at great length, the case for the historicity of the resurrection is strong (an excellent lecture where Wright summarizes his arguments can be found here, search on “Wright”). Paul tells us on the basis of eyewitness reports that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures(1. Cor. 15:3-4). But in the normal course of events dead men stay dead – resurrection involves a change in natural law. We must ask if it make sense that God has acted in this fashion, outside of his natural law. Is there a theological reason to believe that God acted in this unprecedented and extraordinary way? Polkinghorne asks Can we see a deep consistency beneath the surface of this surprise event? The answer is yes – this is not a capricious act, but an act with deep theological meaning that inaugurates a new regime.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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