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Keith Warrington: The Miracles in the Gospels

The Feeding of the Five Thousand: Having resisted the satanic temptation to make bread in the wilderness, Jesus now does so in the will of God.

Second, in the Feeding of the 5,000, all Synoptics record Jesus went to a mountain with his disciples and John notes that a Passover was coming. Warrington ventures that Jesus perhaps wanted to spend some time apart from society in the possible “emotional upheaval” that may eventuate from the death of John the Baptist. He notes that this is the only place in the Gospels where the disciples try to advise Jesus. That Jesus in the Synoptic portrayal is “in control” is again emphasized. Warrington says that the twelve baskets recorded by each Evangelist more likely refers to the “eschatological messianic banquet” than indicating completion or plenty or having ties to the Last Supper, and he sees connections to Isaiah 40:3 and the wilderness restoration motif. Also, having resisted the satanic temptation to make bread in the wilderness, Jesus now does so in the will of God. This miracle story establishes Jesus’ authority as a prophet, yet there is more: providing bread is “an activity of God,” but Jesus is here the provider. Warrington informs that Luke’s unique literary arrangement of the feeding miracle, Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, and then the Transfiguration, is probably to “reflect on the identity of Jesus, linking him to God as provider but also the “suffering Messiah who also superlatively radiates divinity.” It suffices to say that in John “Jesus is supremely in charge throughout,” and the various details omitted by John make way for the miracle to “teach about the divine identity of the bread-giver.” And in the subsequent dialogue between Jesus and the Jews, the latter boast in Moses, but Jesus “does not replace Moses as the bread-giver but functions as God.” Finally, “The narrative thus reveals that it is Jesus who, as the bread of life, now takes the place of God in providing sustenance to the people” (203).

John shows that Jesus is supremely in charge. He is the divine bread-giver.

Third, in the Walking on the Water (Mt 14:22–33 // Mk 6:45–52 // Jn 6:16–21), “That Jesus walks on the water is reflected only in this narrative and is reminiscent of an action of God; Jesus functions as God did.” Warrington rightly points to texts like Psalm 107, where it is God who rescues sea travelers, and Psalm 89 where God has power over the sea. Matthew “unusually” extends his Markan source in this story, and he alone records Peter walking on the water: “On this occasion, Peter was the miracle; this was a miracle just for him, and for any other follower who is prepared to respond positively to Jesus’ commission, ‘Come.’” Warrington’s Pentecostalism, spelled out explicitly by him elsewhere, is here apparent. And while the miracles are not primarily models for disciples to follow, Warrington exhibits hermeneutical dexterity or variegation by allowing some mimicry to be intended in the texts. When discussing the reason Mark records that Jesus appeared to be passing by the disciples, we were glad that Warrington came to a decision that was in keeping with his own exegesis: Jesus was passing the disciples by because he fully intended them to make it to the other side of the lake on their own, consistent with his command for them to do so. When weighing options, Warrington is balanced. He allows for two miracles in John’s account—walking on the water and immediately reaching land, or only one: they reached the land so quickly because they were closer than they thought. In John, the narrative “breathes the innate divinity of Jesus, who, when on his own, easily functions as God did (metaphorically) as recorded in the OT” (211). We may refer to Warrington’s Christology as a divine one and not merely as a “high” one.

Again, refreshingly, Warrington finds implausible that Matthew and Mark are repeating a variation of the Feeding of the 5,000 in the telling of the Feeding of the 4,000. This is so due to literary grounds—the narratives are “too close” in these Gospels—and too different in verbiage and location: the first miracle story was to Jews and the second to Gentiles; thus, the latter have the “same opportunity” to benefit from Jesus’ ministry. The Feeding of the 4,000 is helpfully explored but gets short shrift. Perhaps this is due to Warrington’s longer exposition of the first multiplication miracle. He argues that the miracle’s recipients are Gentiles, but does not give much detail to back this (likely) assertion. While Warrington’s treatment of the Cursing of the Fig Tree is packed with useful information and conclusions, his lack of discussing the literary contexts in Matthew and Mark discretely and sufficiently from a theological point of view reduces the value of this miracle’s exposition. This miracle, too, gets short shrift.

Jesus is nothing less than the miracle of God becoming a man.

Chapter 7, “John,” assigns a modest but well-used number of pages to the Fourth Gospel’s signs, and it is no surprise to the reader that Warrington sees the “Logos and his Incarnation” in unambiguous divine-Christological terms: Jesus is nothing less than “the miracle of God becoming a man.” In the Healing of the Crippled Man in John 5, Warrington accurately interprets John’s theology, identifying Jesus as being on equal terms with God. Warrington gives the reader more as he buttresses his point by weaving the sign into John’s narrative context, noting that Jesus will raise the dead, “a prerogative that normally belongs to God alone,” has God’s authority to judge (5:22), has God’s honor (5:23) and the authority to “grant eternal life” (5:24–29). To me this diminishes the likelihood that John used a “signs source”: the signs are part and parcel of his Gospel, of a piece theologically and narratively. Yes, a skillful redactor (or redactors) could do the same, but the evidence can certainly be read profitably and logically as the work of one hand who had personal access to the details of the Fourth Gospel.

This must do for an already long review, with some modest critiques and final comments made.

First, for those footnote-readers, on p. 12 n. 58, Warrington seems to assume that Saul’s encounter with a harassing spirit in 1 Sam 16:14–16 and elsewhere was demonic in nature. Certainly, Old Testament scholars debate the identity or nature of the rûaḥ rāʿâ that troubled Saul. We do not necessarily disagree with Warrington, but the point is not argued, and here was a good place for Warrington to put his ideas of demonic possession vs. the psychologizing model to good use. Second, when canvassing appraisals of physicians, Warrington places under the low view the account of Asa in 2 Chr. 16:12. Warrington should have mentioned that God’s primary problem with the king was probably not that he went to a physician but that his disease derived from covenant infidelity, and by going to a physician Asa skirted God and repentance. His position needed qualification.

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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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