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Keith Warrington: The Miracles in the Gospels

Warrington says the Gospels do not offer guidelines for exorcism.

In “The Purpose of Jesus’ Miracles in the Gospels” (chapter 3), Warrington shows the prominence of miracles to the Gospels statistically: “In Matthew, 153 verses (out of 969) reflect miracle stories (15.79 per cent); in Mark, there are 196 verses (out of 643 – 30.48 percent); in Luke, 140 verses (out of 938 – 14.92 percent), and in John, 181 verses (out of 789 – 22.94 percent). In total, 670 out of 3,339 verses related to miracles of Jesus, 20.06 percent of the Gospel narratives” (17). Once again, as throughout his text, the primacy of Jesus as the reason for the Gospels is noted: “Although Heil is right to describe miracles of Jesus as being ‘multi-dimensional,’ the main reason for their inclusion in the Gospels is to teach the readers about Jesus. The writers present Jesus as someone who has no peer, the miracles being intended to result in the question being asked, ‘Who is this man?’, closely followed by the more spectacular question, ‘Is he God?’ Warrington would answer this last question in the affirmative.

Chapter 4 (“The Synoptics: Healings and Resurrections”) is by far the longest in the book, and only a very small sample of Warrington’s exegesis can be given. Warrington continues his emphasis that miracles primarily define Jesus’ identity and authority, for while compassion plays an occasional role in healings (cf. Mt 9:36), it is not mentioned in all healings, such as it is in the leper’s cure (Mt 8:1–4 // Mk 1:40–45 // Lk 5:12–16). The person and authority of Jesus are the most important reason for the miracles.

Warrington says a miracle is “a supernatural action that transforms a previous dire and humanly insoluble situation.”

The handing of miracle accounts is consistent and may be summed up in about four parts. Warrington offers (1) a chart with the relevant literary contexts, (2) a general exegesis, (3) examines each Gospel under the heading “Messages from Matthew,” etc., pointing out things “uniquely” (a favorite word of Warrington) presented by the three Evangelists (sometimes Mark and Luke are examined together), and ends with (4) a conclusion. Warrington’s analysis of each Gospel when covering parallel accounts includes the authors’ phraseology, lexical features, verbal and grammatical exegesis, lots of interesting facts, cultural and physical background (e.g., the compositional description and function of Palestinian roofs [Mark’s account], and the likely Hellenistic adaptation of Luke, describing the removal of the “tiles” [keramōn]) by the men. Complex Greek arguments are not the staple of this text; frequent recourse to important words or phrases in the Greek is. And if something is happening for the first time or is outstanding, Warrington lets the reader know it—he is a gold mine of helpful facts that will interest scholar and pastor.

Warrington is a gold mine of helpful facts that will interest scholar and pastor.

Again, while Warrington does not press sociological concerns, he does at times come to exegetical conclusions that reflect them. For example, Jesus did not tell the leper to go to the priest due to the need for public proof of the cure in accordance with Levitical law, or because of Jesus’ desire to prove to the priests his own law observance sympathies. Jesus is not interested in sacerdotal approval nor does he have any antagonistic motives regarding a given priest or priests: “It is more likely that Jesus was encouraging the leper to follow the protocols needed for him to be able legitimately to re-enter society” (41).

The important topic of sin and sickness is dealt with in the healing of the paralytic (Mt 9:1–8 par.) Warrington canvasses commentaries and Jewish ideas relating sin to sickness, but says, “However, none of the writers explicitly relates the paralysis to a specific sin and there is no unambiguous support for a connection made by Jesus that sickness is causes by the sufferer’s sin elsewhere in the Gospels” (66–67). This may be mildly overstated. Jesus’ response to the paralytic in John 5 ostensibly indicates that sin indeed was involved in the man’s sickness, although Warrington may be technically correct by using the word “unambiguous” to link the evidence. Yet the case for the two being connected in John 5 seems obvious and unavoidable. Warrington is likely correct to conclude: “It is not the apparent linkage between sin and sickness that is of importance here, but rather the recognition that Jesus has come to deal with both, and that he does so with authority and ease” (67).

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2018

About the Author: David L. Ricci, MA (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), PhD (ABD), is an associate professor in the Bible and Theology Department at Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He has served as an evangelist for many years, served on a pastoral staff, has been a marketplace chaplain, and had two radio shows in Rhode Island. He and his family live in Kingston, New Hampshire.

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