The Editor’s View: Miracles Need Not Apply

Ever since the Enlighten­ment, scientists have gone to great—and often ridiculous— lengths to explain away the miraculous events described in the Bible. Such efforts have even wormed their way into the Church. Have you ever heard a homily that dismissed the multiplication of the loaves as a grand instance of neighbor sharing with neighbor? Unfortunately, so have I.

The most recent attempt to de­bunk the Bible is at least entertaining, if not at all convincing. Recall the miracle of Christ walking on the wa­ter, as described in Matthew 14:

And in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immedi­ately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I, have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

The Gospel account is unambiguous: Jesus walked on water. The reader may believe it or not, but at least it’s clear in what it claims.

Not so fast, says Professor Do­ron Nof of Florida State University. In the April 2006 issue of the Jour­nal of Paleolimnology, Nof argued that Jesus may have actually walked on ice. Yes, ice—in the middle of sun- bleached Israel.

According to Nof, the combina­tion of a cold section of the lake, a nearby saltwater spring, and favor­able weather conditions could con­ceivably create floating sheets of ice large enough to support a man’s weight. Furthermore, by his calcu­lations, such a thing could have oc­curred (roughly) every 160 years, in the period between 1,500 and 2,500 years ago. This, he argues, may be the origin of the story that Jesus walked on the water.

Forgive me for not being im­pressed. For the sake of argument, let us grant that the ice phenomenon occurred every 160 years or so. What are the chances that it would hap­pen at the exact moment and in the precise place where Jesus was stand­ing? Such a thing would be a miracle in itself.

Additionally, the Gospel writers claimed that Jesus (and Peter) walked on water. This was, for them, a dem­onstration of the power given Christ by the Father. Walking on ice, while regionally unusual, is by no means miraculous. Of course, the apostles could have been lying, but it’s difficult to square that notion with their later behavior. Once they were arrested, tortured, and headed toward ex­ecution, why would they continue to maintain their hoax? Why would they knowingly die for what they knew to be untrue?

Of course, the real question is this: If secularists want to reject the miraculous element of the event, why bother maintaining the story at all? Why don’t they simply assume the entire thing is fabricated? Why do critics feel the need to acknowledge the roof while denying the house that supports it?

It looks to me like an implicit acknowledgement that at least some of the fantastic elements of Jesus’ life pass even secular standards of history. All that remains is for crit­ics to abandon their unscholarly a priori rejection of the miraculous. They may in the end discover that the most reasonable explanation for Christ’s apparent power over na­ture was the one given by the apos­tles themselves.


  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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