Jesus's Words

Chapter 13: Paul's Supposable Miracles Explained

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Section 1: Objections, Applying to Them in the Aggregate

But, it may be said, Paul's alleged commission from God was certainly genuine; for it is proved by his miracles. Look at the Acts, no fewer than twelve miracles of his you will find. If then taken by themselves, for want of that accurate conception of the probative form of evidence, to which maturer ages have given birth, the account of the miracle by which his conversion was wrought fails of being completely satisfactory,—look at his miracles, the deficiency will be filled up. The man, to whom God had imparted such extraordinary powers—powers so completely matchless in these our times,—can such a man have been a liar—an impostor? a liar for the purpose of deceit—of giving support to a system of deception—and that a lucrative one? An imposition so persevering as to have been carried on, from youth to death, through, perhaps, the greatest part of his life?

The observation is plausible:—the answer will not be the less satisfactory.

The answer has two branches: one, general, applying to all the alleged miracles in question, taken in the lump: the other particular, applying to the several miracles separately considered.

Observations applying to the whole together are, the following:

  1. 1. Not by Paul himself, in any one of his own Epistles, is any such general assertion made, as that he had received from God or from Jesus,—or, in a word, that he was in possession of, any such power, as the power of working miracles.
  2. 2. Nowhere in the account given of his transactions by the author of the Acts, is he in any of his speeches represented as making reference to any one act of his in the character of a miracle.
  3. 3. Nowhere in that same account, is he represented as stating himself to be in possession of any such powers.
  4. 4. Not by the author of the Acts, is he spoken of as being in possession of any such power.
  5. 5. Nowhere by the author of the Acts, is he in any general terms spoken of, as producing any effects, such as, in respect of the power necessary to the production of them, approach to those spoken of as having been produced by Simon Magus; by that declared impostor, in whose instance, no such commission from God is represented as having been received.
  6. 6. Neither on the occasion of his conversion, nor on any other occasion, is Paul stated to have received from Jesus any such power as that of working miracles:—any such power as the real Apostles are—in Mark 16:15-18—stated to have received from Jesus.

Was it that, in his own conception, for gaining credence to his pretension of a commission from Jesus—from Jesus, styled by him the Lord Jesus—any need of miracles, or of a persuasion, on the part of those with whom he had to deal, of his having power to work miracles? By no means. Of the negative, the story told by him of the manner of his conversion is abundant proof. Of the efficient cause of this change in his mind, the account given, is plainly given in the character of the account of a miracle. But of this miracle, the proof given consists solely in his own evidence: his own statement, unsupported by that of any other person, or by reference to that of any other person: his account, of the discourse, which on the occasion of the vision, in which nothing was seen but a flood of light, he heard from the Lord Jesus: his own account, of the vision, which he says was seen by Ananias: his own account, of that other vision, which, according to Ananias, he, Paul, had had, but of which Paul himself says nothing.

In the work of his adherent and sole biographer, the author of the Acts,—we have five speeches, made by him, in vindication of his conduct, in the character of a preacher of the religion of Jesus; and, from his own hand, Epistles out of number: yet nowhere is any reference made, to so much as a single miracle wrought by his own hand, unless the trance which he falls into when he is alone, and the vision which he sees, when nobody else sees anything, are to be placed to the account of miracles. Miracles? On him, yes; by him, no. True it is, that, on one occasion, he speaks in general terms of "signs and wonders," as having been wrought by him. But vague, in the highest degree, is the import, as well as wide the extent, of those general terms: nor is it by any means clear, that, even by himself, any such claim was meant to be brought forward, as that of having exhibited any such manifestations of supernatural power, as are commonly regarded as designated by the word miracles. In the multitude of the persons, whom, in places so widely distant from one another, he succeeded in numbering in the list of his followers—in the depth of the impression, supposed to have been made on the heart of this or that one of them—in all or any one of these circumstances, it was natural he should himself behold, and, whether he did or no, use his endeavours to cause others to behold, not only so many sources of wonder, but so many circumstances; all conspiring to increase the quantity of that confidence, which, with so much industry, and, as far as appears, with such brilliant success, he was labouring to plant in every breast: circumstances, serving, in the minds of his adherents in general, in the character of a sign or proof, of the legitimacy of his pretension, as above.

But, of any such supernatural power as that which is here in question, could any such loose and vague expressions be reasonably regarded as affording any sort of proof? No:—unless whatsoever, in the affairs of men, can justly be regarded as wonderful, ought also to be regarded as a miracle.

In one passage, and one alone, either in the Acts or in his own Epistles, is he found laying any claim, how distant and vague soever, to any such power, as having ever been exercised by him. And, in this instance, no one individual incident being in any way brought to view or referred to, what is said will be seen to amount absolutely to nothing, being nothing more than, without incurring any such interpretation as that of imposture, is at the present time continually averred by Christians of different sects.

He who makes so much of his sufferings, had he wrought any miracles, would he have made nothing of his miracles?

In the next place, although it must be admitted, that, on several occasions, by his sole biographer and professed adherent, viz., the author of the Acts, a sort of colour of the marvellous seems endeavoured to be laid on; laid on over the incident itself, and over the part, which on that occasion was taken by him; yet on no one of these occasions, unless perhaps it be the last—of which presently,—does the account, given by him of what passed, wear any such complexion as shall render it matter of necessity, either to regard it as miraculous, or to regard the biographer, as having on that occasion asserted a complete and downright untruth.

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