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 Vol. 3, No. 8 

Page 4

August, 2001

Editorialsfountain pen

Miracles in the Gospel of Mark

By Louis Rushmore

Before we can discuss the miracles of Jesus in the Gospel according to Mark, we must render a biblical definition for what we mean by miracles. Easton's Bible Dictionary, in part, says a miracle is "an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message (John 2:18; Matt. 12:38)."1 The first definition in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary likewise represents the biblical sense in which the word miracle is used: "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs."2 Both of these definitions note that a miracle involves (1) divine intervention in the affairs of men, and (2) not the effect but the affect of the miracle is clearly discernible to mortal observers. Importantly, Easton's also (3) denotes that a miracle has a purpose, namely to: (a) bring forth new revelation from God and (b) validate that message and its messenger.

Incidentally, miracles and providence differ chiefly in that though they both derive from divine power and involve divine intervention, the former is designed to be observable whereas the latter is not open to inspection. The former may provide new revelation and proves something through its discernible evidence. The latter does not provide new revelation directly and because it is not discernible, it is not designed to prove anything. The purpose of miracles is concisely stated in Mark 16:20, "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." Miracles proved the Gospel message to be true. Anything else accomplished by miracles was incidental and a byproduct (e.g., healing) to the true purpose of miracles. Providence, on the other hand, has a different mission, chiefly (1) the answering of prayer by the children of God (Matthew 6:25-34) and (2) God's behind the scenes manipulation of events (Daniel 2:21; John 19:11).

In passing, we need to clarify that by miracle, we do not mean any of the biblically inaccurate references often used by contemporary man. For instance, though the marvel of birth is awe-inspiring, that event, strictly speaking, is not a miracle. Women have been giving birth through natural means in keeping with natural law for thousands of years. Mankind made his debut on earth through supernatural means (i.e., Adam and Even were miraculously created), but everyone else, excepting Jesus Christ, owes his existence to wholly natural means (i.e., procreation). Further, healing from disease and injury that results from appeal to medicine and surgery is not miraculous but relates to non-miraculous application of natural law, and perhaps God's providence in conjunction with natural law. Some of what is ascribed to God as miraculous intervention is a poor exhibit of a divine miracle and undercuts the omnipotence of God, which was truly demonstrated in Bible miracles (e.g., incomplete healing from accident or disease does not do justice to the miraculous vehicle and Deity that authored it). Some supposed miracles are frauds because nothing has been effected despite prayers and claims to the contrary (e.g., praying to God that poison ivy be cured and subsequently thanking God for the miracle, notwithstanding the afflicted goes home with the poison ivy with which he also came). Finally, all modern miracles are bogus, since Scripture clearly teaches that miracles were temporary and ended when the purpose for which they were given was fulfilled (1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Ephesians 4:11-13). Miracles are confined to the biblical context long since completed and are not contemporary events. We must turn exclusively to the Bible to examine miracles.

Besides the English word miracle, additional, similar terms, translated from several Hebrew and Greek words describe what we categorically refer to as miracles in the Bible. These terms include: power, mighty works, signs and wonders.

In the New Testament these four Greek words are principally used to designate miracles: (1.) Semeion, a "sign", i.e., an evidence of a divine commission; an attestation of a divine message (Matt. 12:38, 39; 16:1, 4; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; 23:8; John 2:11, 18, 23; Acts 6:8 (2.) Terata, "wonders;" (3.) Dunameis, "might works;" works of superhuman power (Acts 2:22; Rom. 15:19; 2 Thess. 2:9) (4.) Erga, "works;"3

There are 18 miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospel according to Mark. Only one of them is unique to Mark. The other three Gospel records also contain miracles of Jesus not reported in other accounts, besides references to miracles that do appear in one or more other Gospel records. Matthew has 21 miracles of Jesus, two of which are unique to Matthew; Luke has 18 miracles of Jesus, five of which are unique to Luke; John has seven miracles of Jesus, five of which are unique to John. The miracles of Jesus recorded in Mark are:

The miracles of Jesus demonstrated his divine power over disease, nature, the spirit world, material things and death. As such, then, the miracles that Jesus performed proved that he was from God.

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:1-2).

"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:30-31).

Like the miracles, most of the verses in the Gospel According to Mark also appear in the companion Gospel accounts. "Out of a total of 662 verses, Mark has 406 in common with Matthew and Luke, 145 with Matthew, 60 with Luke, and at most 51 peculiar to itself."4 However, what Mark recorded and the way in which he recorded it was fashioned especially for its intended audience, the Romans. Therefore, absent from Mark are the genealogies of Christ, the early life of John the Baptist and Jesus (the first 30 years), and he "...only twice quotes from the Old Testament..."5 Apparently, Mark 'cut to the chase' (at least as far as the book's readers would be concerned) and as well relied more on testimony than the fulfillment of prophecy. Mark appealed to the portion of the body of evidence that was the most likely to persuade the auditors of his Gospel record concerning the Christ and his kingdom. Hence, we can expect Mark's rendition of Christ's miracles recorded in his Gospel to be especially adaptable to his Roman audience.

Modern society more nearly mirrors the Romans than the Jews of 2,000 years ago. We, then, can expect the Gospel of Mark, inclusive of its record of Christ's miracles, to be particularly useful to contemporary man. The Gospel of Mark is well able to establish a healthy faith in Jesus Christ and his kingdom. Mark proceeded to do this through an emphasis on the miracles of Christ. "... much shorter than Matthew's, not giving so full an account of Christ's sermons as that did, but insisting chiefly on his miracles."6

The first miracle that Mark chose to record evidenced the supreme power of Jesus Christ over the spirit world (1:23-26, the man with an unclean spirit). Mark did not copy the incident from Matthew, as the critic might assert, since Matthew did not chronicle this particular miracle in his record. Each of the first three Gospel records have sometimes been arranged first, second or third place in the New Testament. However, generally the present order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John commonly is thought to represent the chronological sequence in which they were published. "Each of the 3 Gospels has been put first, each second, and each third, and each in turn has been regarded as the source of the others."7

The second miracle that Mark recorded showed Jesus' power over disease (1:30-31, healing Peter's mother-in-law). Like the previous miracle, only Mark and Luke reported this particular miracle. While Luke noted the power of Jesus to speak the disease gone, Mark chronicled the compassion and personal activity of Jesus as he took the sick woman by the hand and lifted her to her feet. Both records mention that Jesus healed several others, too, on that occasion.

The third miracle appears in each of the three first Gospel records and also is a healing miracle (1:40-45, healing a leper). The disease from which this person was cured was an outwardly visible malady, perhaps even more so than the fever with which Peter's mother-in-law was afflicted. Yet, Jesus healed the leprous man instantly and completely. Consequently, his fame spread and other sick came to him for healing. The fourth (2:1-12, healing palsy) and fifth (3:1-6, healing a withered hand) miracles likewise were miracles over disease and appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Healing a withered hand is another rather obvious miracle and to learn the full account, each of the Gospel records in which it appears is essential.

The sixth miracle recorded by Mark demonstrated the power of Jesus over nature (4:35-41, stilling the storm). This miracle was done in the presence of the apostles of Christ in the midst of the Sea of Galilee and reinforced with them just with whom they were companion. The seventh, eighth and ninth miracles also appear in the first three Gospel records. Respectively, they show Jesus victorious over the spirit world (5:1-20, Gadarene possessed with unclean spirits), disease (5:25-34, the afflicted woman) and death (5:21-43, Jairus' daughter).

The tenth miracle appears in all four Gospel records (6:30-46, feeding the 5,000) and is a miracle over nature. The appearance of this miracle in each of the Gospel records is an indication that the miracles of Jesus were widely known and amply documented  thereby, undeniable evidence. Only Luke omits the eleventh miracle that Mark recorded, another victory for Jesus over nature (6:47-56, Jesus walking on water). Mark's twelfth miracle of Jesus was over the spirit world again (7:24-30, unclean spirit in the Syrophoenician Woman's daughter). The miracles of Jesus became commonplace and represented the multiplication of evidence regarding the Deity of Jesus. However, this miracle was unique in that the recipient of this miracle was not Jewish, but a Gentile. This was perhaps a subtle hint that ultimately the ministry of the Christ would affect all of humanity (cf., Genesis 12:1-2; Isaiah 62:2).

The thirteenth miracle of Jesus that Mark recorded exhibited Jesus' power over disease (7:31-37, deaf man with a speech impediment). The fourteenth miracle was over nature as Jesus fed 4,000 this time (8:1-9). We will skip for now the fifteenth miracle of Jesus that Mark recorded and treat it separately since it is the only miracle of Jesus that was recorded exclusively in the Gospel According to Mark.

Mark's sixteenth miracle of Jesus was over the spirit world (9:14-29, a boy with an unclean spirit). The seventeenth miracle recorded by Mark is over disease (10:46-52, blind man near Jericho). Mark's eighteenth miracle of Jesus demonstrated our Lord's supremacy over nature (11:20-25, withered fig tree).

The combined accounts of the Gospel records provide a full picture of the events that they chronicle, including the miracles of Jesus. However, the Gospel of Mark records one miracle that does not appear in any of the three other Gospel records. This is, by Mark's list, miracle number fifteen, the blind man near Bethsaida (8:22-26) and one of the many miracles of Jesus over disease. It reads:

"And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town" (Mark 8:22-26).

Bethsaida was at the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. Several Galilean cities were on the shore of this important inland body of water in Palestine, including Chorazin, Capernaum and Tiberias.

This account contains some curious and mysterious elements (i.e., some things not explained in the context). For instance, why did Jesus lead the man out of the city before healing him? The verses immediately preceding this healing find the Pharisees seeking a sign from Jesus and desiring an opportunity to discredit him. While our Lord refused to lend himself to the disingenuous Pharisees who already had ample evidence regarding him, apparently, Jesus would not deny the blind man the miracle of healing that he needed to restore his sight. Hence, Jesus removed the blind man from the arena of the Pharisee's gawking. The audience for this miracle of Jesus was an audience of one (other than his disciples, verses 10, 27), the blind man. Therefore, the miracle was for the benefit (spiritually) of the blind man and our Lord's disciples, and the byproduct of the miracle, healing from blindness, was effected upon the intended pawn of the Pharisees (the blind man).

Also, one might ask, "Why did Jesus not heal the blind man immediately in this instance?" No doubt Jesus could as easily restored sight to this blind man as readily as he had healed countless other persons. The blind man was put forth by the Pharisees as a challenge to the miraculous powers of Jesus. For the sake of the blind man as well as the disciples of Christ, Jesus particularly emphasized his ability to perform a genuine miracle in what was put forth by his enemies as a test case. Consequently, Jesus enlisted the testimony of the blind man himself as to the progress of the successful application of the miracle. Doubtless, the dramatic restoration of sight emboldened the faith of the blind man and the disciples in the Deity of Jesus. Jesus told the former blind man not to return to the city for the same reason for which our Lord led the man from the city before performing the miracle. Jesus did not intend for the Pharisees to have the sign they demanded. Again, they and all men in Palestine had ample evidence regarding the miracles of Jesus, etc. With dishonest hearts and spiritually derelict, they had fully demonstrated before their disdain for God and Jesus, too. Besides, it was not time yet for Jesus to be taken on trumped up charges and put to death for us, which further aggravation of the Pharisees just then may have precipitated prematurely.

Not only the Pharisees, but also the populace of Bethsaida itself was of the sort not worthy of further miraculous demonstrations. Jesus condemned Bethsaida for not being responsive to the signs he performed there. "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" (Matthew 11:21). The fact that no one followed Jesus as he led the blind man from the city may also indicate the general disinterest exhibited for spiritual matters by the citizens of that city. There is no indication that even the blind man had any interest or expectation regarding Jesus healing him from blindness. This may shed light on why our Lord performed this healing miracle in stages. The blind man's interest was peaked following stage one when his vision began to be restored. Then, when quizzed by the Christ, the blind man articulated an interest in his own healing.

It is difficult not to resort to making homilies from the account of this miracle. There is a frightening similarity between the blind man and Bethsaida's lack of interest in the ministry of Jesus then to the widespread lack of interest in spiritual matters today. Just as many were apathetic to the actual presence of Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry, now countless souls are impervious to the saving ministry of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

In summary, true miracles were episodes of immediate divine intervention into human affairs, which interventions were intentionally visible to humanity, the purpose of which was to deliver new revelation, while validating the revelation and the messenger. These miracles evidenced divine power over disease, nature, the spirit world, material things and death. About 18 of our Lord's miracles are recorded in the Gospel According to Mark. Only one of these miracles appears exclusively in Mark.

The Gospel of Mark was written to a Roman readership. Therefore, absent in Mark are most references to the Old Testament and the prophecies found therein, which were more meaningful to Jewish readers. Hence, Mark relies heavily on the miracles of Jesus to prove that he is the Savior of the world. The miracles of Jesus that are recorded in Mark constitute sufficient evidence by which one can confidently develop faith in Jesus Christ. Whereas the miraculous age concluded when the purpose for which miracles were implemented was fulfilled, those miracles that appear in Mark are they to which men living now must appeal for their faith. Mark did not pen a different Gospel (Galatians 2:6-9), but selected from the body of evidence that part that was predictably the most persuasive to the Roman mind.

Contemporary society mirrors the old Roman world and, therefore, ought to benefit greatly from the Gospel According to Mark in establishing a confident faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior. God forbid that we should demonstrate the indifference to the Christ and his ministry for which Bethsaida, other cities and the religious leaders of the first century were justly condemned by our Lord.

1 M. G., M. A. D. D., Eastons Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996.

2 Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.

3 Eastons Bible Dictionary.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.) 1991.

7  International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database (Biblesoft) 1996.

Copyright 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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