Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              Suggested by

              their various names in the sacred narrative.


                            the harmony of the Gospels with the other parts of Holy Writ.




              Clearly Implied in

              the moral integrity of Our Lord’s character.


                            the substantial integrity of the Gospels.






              1. The World of Nature (Variety and Importance of this first Kind of Miracles).




              2. Man:



                            Knowledge of thoughts.






              3. Spirit-World: Possessions (Reality; Connection with Natural Diseases).


              4. Future Events: Prophecies.






              1. Appropriateness as Proofs of Divine Mission and Character.


              2. Perfect Mastery over All Things.


              3. Marvellous Simplicity.


              4. Commonly Inspired by Compassion for Others.


              5. Never Wrought for Self.


Up to recent times it has been universally felt that the miracles of Our Saviour are both the most salient feature of His public career and the most convincing proof of His divine mission. Contemporary rationalists, however, discard entirely the miraculous element of the Gospels while professing to retain their doctrinal teachings. Even outside this radical school, there are many who show a tendency to neglect the supernatural features of Our Lord’s life as of secondary importance. As a consequence, before concluding this rapid study of Our Lord’s public ministry, we shall examine, however briefly, (1) the supernatural character of the miracles recorded in the Gospels, (2) their manifold subject, (3) their chief characteristics.

1. Supernatural Character of the Gospel Miracles. That the extraordinary events recorded in the Gospels were real miracles, that is, actual and observable events which must be referred to a special intervention of God, may easily be inferred from the names of “wonders,” “powers,” “signs” and “works” which they bear in the sacred narrative. These various names clearly describe them as striking facts, requiring the exercise of superhuman power for their production, and granted by Heaven as credentials of a divine mission. This inference is all the more natural, because these are the very names under which the works of divine power are designated in the Old Testament and in the writings of the New Testament distinct from the Gospels: the identity of names points to an identity of nature. Furthermore, if both before and after Our Lord’s time the supernatural character of the mission of the prophets and of the other messengers of God had to be evidenced by real miracles, the record of which is preserved in the sacred Scriptures, it is only natural to think that the divine character of the much more important and difficult mission of Our Lord had also to be evidenced by real miracles, by such miracles as those we find described in the Gospel narratives.

Thus, then, the reality of the Gospel miracles is suggested by their various names in the sacred narrative, and by the harmony of the Gospels with the other parts of Holy Writ; but from other considerations it is possible to go much farther. It may be shown, for instance, that the reality of the miracles recorded in the Gospels is necessarily implied in the moral integrity of Our Lord’s character. Jesus professed to work miracles; He gave them as God’s testimony in His favor and as signs of His Messianic dignity; He vindicated their divine character when they were ascribed to the agency of the Evil One; He was not only believed by His followers to be endowed with the power of working miracles, but He professed to impart a similar power to His twelve apostles and next to His seventy-two messengers; and after they had themselves exercised these miraculous powers, He confirmed them in their belief that He and they worked real miracles. He so acted that His very enemies could not help believing that He actually wrought miracles, and on several occasions He uttered awful woes against flourishing cities and against the Jewish rulers, because, despite the stupendous miracles He had worked to convince them of His divine mission and character, they had persevered in their rejection of His claims. From all this, it is plain that the veracity of Our Lord absolutely requires that we should admit that He worked real miracles, such miracles as those with which the Evangelists make us acquainted.

The reality of these same miracles is no less clearly implied in the substantial integrity of the Gospels. Whatever their differences, the four Gospels agree in representing the public life of Jesus as an almost unbroken series of miracles. Hardly a day is described in them at any length without the record of one or several miracles of Our Saviour. Again, throughout the Gospels, Our Lord’s miracles are represented either as the occasion or as the subject-matter of His discourses; they are given as the chief reason why His enemies pursue Him as a Sabbath-breaker, and also why many believe in Him and the multitudes follow Him everywhere. In a word, to the attentive reader of the Gospels it must appear self-evident that the removal of the miraculous element from the Gospel narrative would destroy the connection, the strength and even the meaning of what would remain.

2. Manifold Subject of the Gospel Miracles. The first sphere of Our Lord’s miracles is the world of nature, which in a variety of ways felt the effect of His unlimited power. At His will a substance was changed into another, as at Cana of Galilee, or was almost indefinitely increased, as in the twofold multiplication of loaves. At other times the laws which govern the physical universe seemed deprived of all force in His presence, as when He walked freely upon the sea or stilled the storm. This first kind of miracles had a great influence upon the minds and feelings of Our Lord’s contemporaries. The witnesses of these wonderful deeds felt at once that they were in the presence of a truly divine power, and this feeling led them to praise God and to ask themselves whether Jesus was not indeed the expected Messias.

A second class of miracles comprises those which had man for their object. Apparently every great form of bodily infirmity—blindness, leprosy, issue of blood, deafness, etc.—was brought before our merciful Saviour, who was never known to deny a miracle of healing to the expressed or silent prayer either of the sufferers or of their friends. In point of fact, he perceived the secret wish for relief no less distinctly than the most explicit and open appeal to his power of healing, for “He knew what was in man.” This knowledge of men’s intimate thoughts, whether of His enemies or of His friends, or of those with whom He came in contact, Jesus evinced in a thousand ways, and He ever used it to the best advantage either of the surrounding multitudes or of those who were made aware that their innermost feelings did not escape His all-seeing eye. Finally, it is recorded that on three several occasions the lifeless remains of man felt the effect of His power over death, and these three great miracles were well calculated to convince all that He was indeed “the resurrection and the life.”

A third class of miracles has reference to the spirit-world, and in this connection Jesus exerting His miraculous power appeared as the Holy One of God who had come to destroy the empire of Satan. Despite all the theories advanced to disprove the reality of demoniacal possessions, it must be admitted that a careful study of the Gospel narrative proves that in this respect the Evangelists and Our Lord Himself shared and approved the belief of their contemporaries. For them, as for all those around them, demoniacal possessions were a form of disease distinguishable from all others, and expulsions of evil spirits were events of real and frequent occurrence.

The last subject of Our Lord’s miracles we wish to mention here consists in the future events which He distinctly foretold. He spoke with the confidence of one who is perfectly acquainted with the future respecting His own person, His church, His disciples, His enemies, Jerusalem and other cities of His country, etc., and we all know with what absolute accuracy His predictions have been fulfilled.

3. Chief Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles. One of the leading characteristics of the miracles recorded in the Gospels is their appropriateness as proofs of Our Lord’s divine mission and character. Not only were they actions making exception to all the laws of nature, they were also the very deeds which the prophets of old had led Our Lord’s contemporaries to regard as the credentials of the future Messias. Performed in the full blaze of the mid-day sun, in the streets, in the public places, in the presence of immense crowds, they appealed powerfully to the imagination of the people at large, as well as to the reason of thoughtful observers. No wonder, then, that Jesus repeatedly pointed to His miracles as clear signs of His divine mission and character, and that unbiased men, whatever their rank in society, feeling that these were not the deeds of one leagued with Beelzebub, as the Jewish leaders affirmed, were led to recognize Jesus as a prophet, as the Son of David and the expected Messias.

A second and no less striking characteristic of Our Lord’s miracles is the perfect mastery over all things which they evince. As stated above, the subject of His miracles is coextensive with all creation: all the elements of nature, all the diseases of the body, however inveterate, death itself and the powers of hell, are subject to His command; men’s most intimate thoughts do not escape His notice, and the future has no obscurity for His mental vision. He, indeed, moves in this world as the supreme Master of all things. Unlike the prophets of old, and the holy servants of God through ages, He performs miracles in His own name with the greatest ease, and as men are wont to do their simplest actions. He has only to will, to say the word, and the effects, however astonishing, come to pass; and as His is not simply a delegated power, He can impart it to whomsoever He wills, and thereby cause his numerous messengers to perform similar wonders in His name.

Intimately connected with this perfect mastery over all things is the marvellous simplicity with which it was exercised. Examine the Gospel miracles one after another and you will find none performed as a mere display of power. They all arose naturally out of their occasions, they all served a useful purpose in connection with Our Lord’s personal mission, and neither before nor after their performance can the least trace of ostentation or self-satisfaction be discovered on the part of Jesus. Viewed from this standpoint, Our Lord’s miracles offer the most striking contrast to the puerile, extravagant, grotesque, not to say absurd, character of the miracles ascribed to Him in the Apocryphal Gospels: the former are manifest proofs of divine wisdom, the latter are but the play of human fancy.

But the miracles of Jesus appear much more deeds of His merciful love and tender compassion than works of His wisdom and power. As has been beautifully said by a contemporary writer, “This power which he wielded so royally, which He held back so mightily, so that no provocation, no danger, no treason, no contempt could induce Him to use it in His own defence, seemed to escape from His control when there was question of doing good to others. Let Him meet the poor or the sick, and swift as lightning this divine power escaped from His heart in acts of love. Sometimes it would almost seem as though He were no longer the Master of it, as in the incomparable history of the poor woman who approached Him humbly from behind, saying, ‘If I can but touch the hem of His garment I shall be cured.’ On certain occasions He even gave way to tears and groanings, and unwonted trouble, which bore witness to the intensity of His love. Who does not recall the impulse of mercy which touched Him at Naim, by the side of the bier of the only son and the sorrowing mother?… How shall we forget the unwonted agitation which He manifested at the tomb of Lazarus!” Almost all the miracles of Jesus were prompted by His compassion for the needs of others, and this is why St. Peter, reminding his hearers of what had been the most constant and the most salient feature of Our Lord’s public life, said that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil.”

A last characteristic to be mentioned here in connection with Our Lord’s miracles consists in this: they were never wrought for self. Search the Gospels and you will find that while Jesus multiplies His miracles in behalf of others, He acts towards Himself as if He were absolutely powerless to supply His own wants in a miraculous manner. Rather than to resort to His power of performing miracles, He prefers to suffer hunger and thirst, to be absolutely destitute of the things of this world, to flee from His enemies as long as His own hour has not come, and then to be arrested, tried and sentenced to the most ignominious and cruel death of the cross. Indeed, no clearer proof could be given than all He voluntarily endured, and that during His entire mortal life He was the divine victim sent to atone for the sins of the world.

Copyright 1999-2023 Catholic Support Services all rights reserved