Periodical Reviews -- By: Robert D. Ibach

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 160:640 (Oct 2003)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: Robert D. Ibach

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty and Library Staff of
Dallas Theological Seminary

Robert D. Ibach


“The Miracles of Jesus: Marginal or Mainstream?” Graham H. Twelftree, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 1 (2003): 104-24.

Until recently the miracles of Jesus have been largely ignored or marginalized in historical Jesus studies. Today with renewed interest in the social environment of Jesus’ ministry, the role of His miracles has emerged as one of the dividing lines in research on Jesus. Most New Testament scholars now acknowledge that Jesus worked miracles of some kind. But a key question remains: How significant are His miracles for understanding Him and His mission? Are they marginal or mainstream?

Twelftree argues that Jesus’ miracles are “the interpretive key or starting point in reconstructing the historical Jesus” (p. 105). With this interpretive key he argues four points. First, absence or removal of miracles from Jesus’ ministry fundamentally alters a reconstruction of His life, mission, teaching, and self-understanding. Second, the presence of miracles elucidates the general character of Jesus’ life and ministry and brings coherence to diverse features such as His popularity, His teaching on the kingdom of God, and His ignominious death on a cross. Third, Jesus’ miracles account for both His continuity with and His distinctiveness from the Judaism of His day. Fourth, miracles are “critical in understanding how Jesus was assessed by outsiders, and remembered and emulated by his followers” (p. 105).

After surveying the traditional starting point in the reconstruction of the historical Jesus, namely, a disputed core of Jesus’ sayings, and some alternative suggestions by recent scholars (E. P. Sanders, Ernst Fuchs, Morton Smith), Twelftree sets forth his case that miracles should be considered the “interpretive key for the life and ministry of the historical Jesus” (p. 108). First, he discusses the role of miracles in Jesus’ ministry and sets out evidence that His performing of miracles was the most frequent, time-consuming activity of Jesus’ public life before His death. Twelftree notes that (a) miracle stories play a large role in the Gospel accounts, (b) Jesus’ miracles attracted large crowds sometimes followed by the demand for a sign to authenticate His amazing claims, (c) Jesus was remembered primarily as a miracle worker both outside as well as within the New Testament, and, (d) Jesus’ working of miracles ultimately contributed to His arrest by the authorities.

Second, Twelftree considers Jesus’ own understanding of His miracles. He argues that Jesus describ...

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