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Are the Miracles in the Old Testament Meant to Be Understood as Historical Events?

In 1 and 2 Kings, Elijah and his disciple Elisha perform, or are associated with, more than 20 miracles. Miraculous activity characterizes their ministries like no other prophet since Moses.

Some Christians accept the miracles of Jesus as historical events, but doubt the historicity of the miracles in the Old Testament (OT). C. S. Lewis, a great champion of Christianity, took this position. Is it consistent for a follower of Jesus, though, to doubt the historicity of the OT miracles?

It seems that the answer is “no,” for the simple reason that Jesus and His followers constantly referred to events in the OT, both miraculous and non-miraculous, as real, historical events. Theologian Norm Geisler explains in his book Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles.

The creation of the world is not only repeatedly cited in the New Testament but the events and persons involved are taken to be historical. Adam and Eve are referred to as historical figures (Matt. 19:4; Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 11:8–9; 15:45; 1 Tim. 2:13–14). The Romans passage is unmistakable: it is through one man that sin entered the world and thus death by sin, and thus death spread to all people. What could be clearer: we die physically because a physical Adam sinned and brought physical death on himself and all his posterity. The New Testament takes the literal creation of Adam and even so historically that Adam is even listed as the first name in Jesus’ genealogy (Luke 3:38). Likewise, Adam is called ‘the first man Adam’ in direct comparison to Christ who is the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:45).

The authenticity of many of the supernatural events in the Old Testament are used as the basis for New Testament teaching. For example, Jesus based the truth of his resurrection on the fact of Jonah’s miraculous preservation in the belly of a great fish, saying, ‘For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, [even] so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40 NASB). The strong contrast (‘just as’), the emphatic manner in which it is cited, and the important historical truth with which it was associated (the resurrection of Christ) all reveal that Jonah’s deliverance was not a myth. Given the context, it is inconceivable that Jesus meant something like: ‘Just as you believe that mythology about Jonah, I would like to tell you about the historicity of my death and resurrection.’ The same is true about Jesus’ reference to the historicity of Noah and the flood, saying, ‘[even] so shall the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Matt. 24:39 NASB).

Jesus referred to numerous miraculous Old Testament events as historical, including the creation of the world (Matt. 24:21), the creation of Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4), the flood (Matt. 24:39), the miracles of Elijah (Luke 4:26), Jonah in the great fish (Matt. 12:40), and the supernatural prediction of Daniel (Matt. 24:15).

In brief, in view of Jesus’ use of the Old Testament miracles, there is no way to challenge their authenticity without impugning his integrity. So accepting New Testament miracles as authentic, while rejecting those of the Old Testament, is inconsistent.


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