by Brad H. Young, Ph.D.

The gospels record many miracles in the life of Jesus.  He often used the occasion of a miracle to teach principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus' ministry of healing helped hurting people and demonstrated the power of God's grace.  His teaching must not be forgotten in the study of His miracles.

Unfortunately, Christians seldom study the Jewish background for the miracle ministry of Jesus.  First, it must be emphasized that the Jewish sources must be studied carefully and understood in their specific context. But a careful study of the miracles of Jesus in light of the Jewish background can greatly enhance one's perception of miracles, of faith, and of healing.  The healing faith that appears in the Gospel stories stirs modern readers as also it excited and puzzled believers in antiquity.  The Jewish people have a strong heritage of the sovereignty of God who is good and who works miracles to save and to help His people.

According to the Gospels, Jesus performed many miracles.
He worked miracles of nature.  He stilled the storm and walked on water.
He performed miracles of exorcism.  People oppressed by demon power were set free.
He worked miracle cures.  People in need of physical healing recovered from their disorders and received miraculous cures.

While the miracles have been questioned by rationalists and modern skeptics, the Gospel writers clearly viewed Jesus as a miracle worker.  Interestingly, a number of early rabbis were also known for their miracles.  Honi the Circle-drawer is an outstanding example.  The most common references in the Jewish literature speak about a miracle of nature.  In times of severe drought, the pious Jewish wonder-worker prayed and God answered.

When the people needed rain, the pious rabbi would be approached and asked to pray to end the drought.  God answered these prayers, and it was considered a great miracle when the rain came.

In one circle of rabbis, prayers were offered for healing as well as for needed rain.  A very important and interesting point of similarity that these stories have in common with the Gospels is found in the tension one discovers between the charismatic wonder-worker and the religious establishment.  The more scholastic rabbis often criticized the pious wonder-worker. Thus when Honi prayed, he was criticized by Simeon ben Shetah, the leader of the Pharisees.  Although this is true, in theology Honi would also be considered a Pharisee.  Note the words of Simeon's criticism:
In a similar fashion, we find criticism of Jesus.  He healed on the Sabbath.  He did not break the Sabbath law.  However, he did go as far as possible to alleviate suffering on the Sabbath.  Simeon criticized Honi for his extremes.  After all, Honi petulantly drew a circle in the dirt, stood within it and prayed for rain, saying that he would not leave the circle until God answered.  This was a daring act.  Simeon be Shetah said, "But what shall I do to you?"  He could do nothing because Honi did not violate the law.  The tension between the miracle-worker and the more scholastic rabbi is clear.  Jesus worked miracles.  What should be done to Him?  Nothing could be done because He did not violate the law.

Jesus' ministry of healing began with the value of each individual person.  One of the best examples of healing faith and the power of Jesus is seen in the story of the healing of the paralytic (Mt. 9:1-8; Mk. 2:1-12; Lk. 5:17-26).  Before Jesus worked a miracle.  He made a powerful pronouncement. He did not teach the man that the measure of faith determined his healing.  Jesus simply states, "Take heart my son, your sins are forgiven: (Mt. 9:2).  He proclaimed forgiveness for a paralyzed person.  The tension emerged.  Though criticism came forth, Jesus dealt with the friction.  Jesus was able to answer these critics and teach kingdom principles for all who listened.  But in the end, all the people glorified God for the miracle which occurred. They recognized God's goodness when the healing happened.

The healing of the paralytic is a clear case of Jesus' miracle-working ministry.  The paralytic was carried to Jesus by friends.  Jesus saw their faith.  Rejection was the plight of the paralytic.  He was unable to walk.  He was dependent upon others.  His condition could easily have caused feelings of rejection and guilt.  Often the cause of sickness is wrongly attributed to sin.  Did this suffering person's sin cause his illness?  Is healing determined merely by the level of one's faith?

Jesus gave the hurting individual acceptance.  The grace of God came forth in full force when Jesus worked a miracle of healing.  He did not condemn.  Jesus offered love, acceptance, and forgiveness.  Jesus spoke a word and the power of forgiveness and acceptance began a process.  The key verse in this passage, and indeed, for the entire miracle-working ministry of Jesus, is found in his words, "Take heart my son, your sins are forgiven" (Mt. 9:2).

By forgiving the paralyzed person's sins, Jesus gave him the love, acceptance, and forgiveness that he desperately needed.  The critics of the miracle realized the implications of Jesus' claim to forgive sins.  The proof of the acceptance of the paralytic came when Jesus told him to get up and walk.  The miracle happened.

These people possessed faith.  In Jewish texts, faith refers to the sovereignty of God.  When the people of Israel were infested with snakes, God commanded Moses to make a fiery serpent to bring a cure.  According to the rabbis, the fiery serpent had little to do with the healing.

The healing came to the people who had been bitten by the snakes because of their belief in God.  They believed in Him who had commanded Moses to erect the fiery serpent.

"And the LORD said to Moses: Make a fiery serpent" (Num. 21:8).  Now does a serpent kill or a serpent keep alive?  It merely means this: When Moses did this, the Israelites would look at him (Moses) and believe in Him (God) who commanded Moses to do so; then God would send healing (Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael on Ex. 17:11 [Horovitz 179; Lauterbach, 143]).

Faith begins with God.  God is good.  He is sovereign.  Faith in faith must never be confused with faith I God.  He loves people.  Healing begins with God and His goodness.  Jesus gave love and acceptance as a vehicle of healing for the paralytic.  He did not tell him that he needed more faith.  He did not place guilt upon this suffering individual by saying that he had to prove himself.  No one can earn God's favor.  His love and grace cannot be earned by formulas or by attempts to develop ever-increasing quantities of faith.  The miracle is dependent upon God and not upon a person's method.  God's goodness, grace, and mercy are given to people I need.

Jesus pronounced forgiveness.  He enacted God's grace.  Like a prophet, Jesus acted out a living parable.  He simply spoke the word and the man walked.  Healing faith focuses upon God and not upon the problem.  Healing faith recognizes God's goodness and mercy.  Jesus taught people to "have faith in God" (Mark 11:22 and see Mt. 5:25-34).  The example of Jesus in the healing ministry is unparalleled.  He pronounced the word of grace and forgiveness, and the healing occurred.

Perhaps the people could not grasp the full meaning of the words of Jesus until He healed the paralytic.  Then they gave glory to God.  The praise to God was an expression of their perception of God's goodness.  The heritage of the Jewish people acknowledges God's grace. The pious would pray, "Blessed is he who has not sinned, but if one has sinned, may he be forgiven" (t. Succah 4:2).  In his love, God forgives and heals people in need.

David Flusser has demonstrated that this blessing reflects an early Jewish benediction which is said when God works a miracle. The people respond, "Blessed be God who has done so great wonders for the children of men" (Bib. Ant. 26:6).-1-

When Jesus healed the paralytic, the people gave praise to God.  They recognized the unusual authority given to Jesus.

All good comes from God.  Whenever one benefits in any way from God's creation, in Jewish tradition, he is required to give thanks to God.  The earth belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1) and each time a person is blessed by God's goodness from this world, he should give praise to God.

Grace means to receive God's give.  Jesus forgave the paralytic.  Jesus provides love, acceptance, and forgiveness to people who feel hatred, rejection, and hostility.  The grace of God can only be accepted.  No one can earn it.  Faith cannot measure up to it.  One cannot work up faith.  One can only receive God's grace with thanksgiving and praise.  Faith must be God-centered.  Faith focuses upon God's goodness and grace.

The example of Jesus must be carefully considered.  Faith in faith is mind over matter.  Faith in God and His grace is total trust in the Creator of heaven and earth.  Healing reveals God's kingdom.  The kingdom comes in full force when Jesus works a miracle of healing.  God's plan is designed to bring wholeness.  He desires to bring healing to every area of each individual's life.

Jesus forgives the paralytic.  He heals him.  The people give praise to God.  The kingdom comes through the miracle-working power of God to bring acceptance and healing to hurting people in a needy world.

-1- On this blessing, see David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, Magnes Press: Jerusalem, 1988, pp. 535-542.  Concerning the early Jewish miracle workers, see Flusser's article, ibid, pp. 543-551. Return

Brad Young received his doctorate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1987.  His dissertation, written under Professor David Flusser's supervision, was titled "The Parable as a Literary Genre in Rabbinic Literature and in the Gospels."  His dissertation is now available in book form titled, Jesus and His Jewish Parables.  It is published by Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Blvd., Mahway, N.J. 07430, 201-825-7300.

While at the Hebrew University, Dr. Young served as a graduate assistant to Professor David Flusser, Chairman of the Department of Comparative Religion.

Dr. Young is now (2020) a professor of Biblical Literature in Judeo Christian Studies at the Graduate Department of Oral Roberts University.  He is also founder and president of the Gospel Research Foundation, Inc.

Yavo Digest Vol. 3, No. 4, 1989

Question the Answers

BACK to Beit HaDerekh/Yavo

To Beit HaDerekh (House of the Way)

For comments, questions, or broken links, please e-mail me at johnt204(at)
Please copy and paste this   %%--%%--KPinMJ--%%--%%   into the subject line of your email
in case it goes to my spam folder so that I can notice it easier. Thanks.