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Keith Warrington: The Miracles in the Gospels

Keith Warrington, The Miracles in the Gospels: What Do They Teach Us about Jesus? (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2016), 274 pages, ISBN 9781619708327.

This text by an accomplished Pentecostal scholar provides the reader with an accessible and up-to-date treatment of Jesus’ miracles that is sufficiently apprised of the primary and secondary literature to keep advanced students and specialists interested. Moreover, Warrington provides an enjoyable read, and those familiar with his Pentecostal Theology will not likely be disappointed by his prose or content [Editor’s note: Read the full chapter “The Quest for a Pentecostal Theology” from Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter (2008)].

Modern psychology gets exorcism wrong: Jesus spoke to demons not victims.

The first three chapters are introductory, with Warrington informing in chapter 1 (“Purpose, Structure, and Methodology”) that his methodology does not entail a historical-critical evaluation of the miracles under discussion (referring to others who do so in a large footnote), nor does he interact with the “psychotherapeutic” viewpoint, or evaluate Jesus vis-à-vis construed contemporary counterparts unless such comparison is necessary to his exposition. Warrington assumes Markan priority and takes a redactional stance but refreshingly “does not presume a creative exercise on the part of the authors that has resulted in historically suspect texts,” and also employs a narrative approach that understands the Gospels being “rooted in their social and historical contexts.” The four Gospels are similar and different, and the Evangelists are theologians and interpreters of their data or sources. Thus, Warrington provides a horizontal and vertical reading of the Gospels. He understands gospels genre and does not insalubriously confuse the Synoptic disagreements with errors by wrongly assessing them according to modern historiographic or bibliographic methods.

“Historical Context” (chapter 2) examines suffering, miracles, then Greco-Roman healing data, Jewish exorcism, and more. Modern psychologizing of exorcisms is incorrect: Jesus speaks to demons not victims. John ostensibly did not see exorcisms as necessary to his purpose, recording none. The Synoptics “point to Jesus’ authority and apparently do not provide “guidelines for exorcistic practice.” Thus, Warrington consistently moves away from much scholarship that sees the miracles as models for the church. Warrington also detaches from the legacy of form criticism that carried over to redaction criticism and beyond which finds the Sitz im Leben of the Gospels the surest guide to understanding their compositional intention: the miracle stories primarily and saliently apprise of Jesus, not the Church (but, e.g., note his sensitivity to initial audiences on p. 209). Modern scholars debate the definition of miracle, which Warrington says is “a supernatural action that transforms a previous dire and humanly insoluble situation …” Consistent with today’s miracle scholarship, Warrington notes that the Gospel writers do not hold that “God has broken his own laws; rather, he has achieved what is his right to do.” Warrington concludes that miracle reports are rare outside the Gospels, briefly mentioning Onias (Ḥoni the Circle Drawer) and Ḥanina ben Dosa regarding miracles and especially Asclepius for Greco-Roman healings. Quick attention is drawn the Old Testament’s “limited” appreciation of physicians as compared to Sirach 38’s positive view, which presents, says Warrington, a bleaker understanding of this role, as does the Mishnah regarding demon-possession in the Gospels. Warrington also recognizes the honor-shame culture of Luke’s time, noting that the synagogue ruler was rebuked by Jesus and became ashamed: not because he was remorseful but because he was dishonored in the eyes of the people, which jeopardized his status.

Warrington consistently moves away from much scholarship that sees the miracles as models for the church.

Greco-Roman healings largely involved “various gods or medical therapies” and provided dubious confidence to those inquirers; Jews saw suffering as God sent, with divine intervention sparsely granted. “The possibility of relief from suffering was thus relegated to the messianic era for which they longed but which did not appear close. Into this vacuum of uncertainty and helplessness came Jesus, manifesting an authority to help and transform beyond their wildest dreams” (16).

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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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