The evidence of the Quran, as given in the verse below, is the basis for the reputation of Jesus being known as a great physician in Islam.
> “And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): “‘I have come to you, with a sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a sign for you if ye did believe” (Al-Imran 3:49)
Rationalist Muslim attempts to discredit Christ’s Miracles as not being in the original gospel
Attempts have been made, particularly amongst the Ahmadis, to discredit the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament with the object of denying Christ’s divinity and so His superiority to Muhammad. In the miracles wrought by Christ, as in nothing else, is thought to lay the argument for his divinity. This is revealed all too clearly in the eagerness to establish a thesis which says that the central fact in the Christian religion is a miracle (viz the resurrection); if then Jesus did not rise from the dead the Christian faith and the preaching of Christianity is in vain.
An Ahmadi writer says (‘Muhammad and Christ’ p 17) “The miraculous in a prophet’s life is needed to assure the people of the truth of his message.” So while endorsing miracles he still questioned Christ’s miracles in that “the best evidence of miracles consists in the effect they produce.” He asks what “success” Jesus obtained through these works of his, and reasons as follows to show that there was very little. “Many” and “all” are said in different places in the gospels to have been “healed” by Christ, therefore “many” and “all” in fact, multitudes should have “believed on him“. Yet we know that, in spite of these reported miracles Christ’s disciples were both few and poor in number, quite the reverse of what we should have expected had the miracle really taken place. All of which, he argues, proves that the “stories” were invented afterwards, in order “to compensate for the apparent failure” of Christ’s mission. He comes to the conclusion that miracles are merely an expression of symbolic language. This Ahmadi author believes also that symbolical language is used in the Quran of Muhammad also:> “O ye who believe! Give your response to Allah and His Messenger, when He calleth you to that which will give you life” (Al-Anfal 8:24) And so he argues according to the Quran, not Jesus only but Muhammad as well is said to “raise the dead”. The Quran, the writer explains, means here the “spiritually dead”, for Muhammad could only have meant such therefore the Quran must not be forced to yield a meaning for Jesus that it cannot have for Muhammad.
Again he says, “To understand the full significance of this passage it is necessary to bear in mind that the chief characteristic of Jesus’ speeches is that he spoke in parables and preferred to clothe his ideas in allegorical language” …….. The above statement about clay birds “is perfectly intelligible if taken, as a parable, …. a prophet’s dignity is much above such actions as the making of toy birds”…. The Quran “again and again speaks of the Divine Being as the Creator of every thing, so that there is nothing of which anyone else may be said to be a creator”.’
Mr. Yusuf Ali’s comment on the above Quranic passage affirms that the miracles of Jesus were not a part of the original gospel.”This miracle of the clay birds is found, in some of the apocryphal gospels; those of curing the blind and the lepers and raising the dead are in the canonical gospels. The original Gospel was not the various stories written afterwa
rds by disciples, but the real message taught direct by Jesus.” These writers advance no proof for their assertion that
the accounts of the miracles were added afterwards. As a matter of fact our oldest extant documents contain them. But we quite agree with Muhammad Ali’s statement that the making of clay birds is not in keeping with the dignity of Jesus. It is no wonder that the Church rejected the apocryphal source from which the Quranic assertion is drawn!
Misuse of the miracles by the Christian Church
Part of our difficulty in this matter of the miracles of Jesus arises from the fact that for a long time in the past they were assigned by Christian writers to the sphere of apologetics, and have been regarded as evidential portents, and useful as proofs. Christianity must be i n a bad way if and when it seeks to rest its case, in the main, on miracles. That this has been done cannot be denied. It is recorded, for instance, that an aged monk who met Ibn Tulun in Egypt in A.D.873 unashamedly confessed that Christianity was incapable of intellectual proof! He could only suppose that its acceptance by intelligent people was to be accounted for by miracles which overwhelm the intellect. The Christian is not required to defend Christianity, as such, by seeking the support of Christ’s miracles; nor do we depend on them for proof of His divinity, for deity is not necessarily seen in the marvellous deed. The Church of the earliest days looked upon miracles as exhibitions of Christ’s compassion, manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit and proof that God’s power was at work in the Church.
It was in mediaeval times that miracles came to be associated with saints and shrines; it became the vogue among Christians to read back into the narrative of Christ’s miracles something that was not historically there. Theologians of the time made the miracles of the gospels to be, not so much evidence of God’s love and compassion, as proofs of His favour. They used them to accredit Christ’s mission and to confirm the Church’s belief in His divinity. It was an essentially weak position, and the Church felt it to be so when faced with the scepticism that came in with the dawn of rationalism in the 18th century. In her defence of them she found the miracles to be a burden for Christian faith, instead of its glory. With the development of science and the general application to phenomena of the scientific principle, the Church’s weak apology was brushed aside on the ground that, since Nature was a uniformly closed system miracles simply could not happen. Rationalists declared that the gospel miracles were an anomaly and that the reports of them must be looked upon as unhistorical.
The purpose and evidence of miracles in the Gospels
Christ’s miracles were never displays of power “prodigies.” His works of healing, for instance are evidence of His deep compassion. Whenever the faith of people permitted it He healed the sick and diseased, in body and mind, because He could not help doing so. Some of His “signs” may have had secondary significance as witnessing to His claims, e.g. to the office of Messiah, others, like the withering of the fig tree, were symbols of great spiritual realities, this last was an acted parable of judgment on Jerusalem. The spiritual life of God’s chosen people, the Jews, was withering away, because they failed to bring forth fruit for God, though professing to be religious. Nor did Christ ever work a miracle for private ends (Matthew 4:1-11); or to convince sceptics (Mark 8: 11-12; Matthew 16:1-4; Luke 23:8-10). As Dr. Cairns has well said: “Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned by the child-like heart, not forced home upon dazzled senses and stunned minds by the blows of supernatural power. “
Further, while Jesus estimated very highly the evidential value of His miracles for those who had in them the rudiments of faith, He was, nevertheless, well aware that where there was no faith, miracles had no educative value and He repeatedly “refused” to satisfy curiosity by working “signs”. Nor should we lose sight of the repeated stress which He laid upon both faith and prayer. He often stated that there was a vital relation between His mighty works and faith, and demonstrated that believing prayer does alter things. (Mark 9:23; 10:27)
When we turn to consider the actual evidence afforded by the records for these miracles we find that it is very striking that there is an intimate connection in the narratives between the miraculous and the non-miraculous. The one element cannot be cut out without doing violence to the whole. Then, also, the narratives bear the stamp of sobriety and dignity, and in this particular they reflect the bearing of the One who performs the miracles. Here again one is struck with the contrast offered by apocryphal accounts. Whereas in the canonical gospels Jesus comes before us as the Compassionate One, quick to meet human need and relieve human suffering, in the apocryphal narratives He is portrayed as both grotesque and repulsive. It is important that we should have before us some extracts from these apocryphal gospels, so that the contrast may be established. Of special interest is the story in them about the “clay birds” to which the account in the Quran is unquestionably indebted:
“The little child Jesus when he was fire years old was playing at the ford of a brook, and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools. And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things. And there were many other little children playing with him. And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: ‘Lo, thy child’ is at the brook, and he hath taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds, and hath polluted the Sabbath day’. And Joseph came to the place and saw, and cried out to him saying: ‘Wherefore doest thou these things on the Sabbath, which is not lawful to do?’ But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: ‘Go!’ and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. “And when the Jews saw it they were amazed and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do. But the son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph: and he took a branch of willow and dispersed the waters which Jesus had gathered together. And when Jesus saw what was done he was wroth, and said unto him; ‘0 evil, ungodly, and foolish one, what hurt did the pools and the waters do thee? Behold, now also thou shall be like a withered tree, and shalt not bear leaves, neither root, nor fruit‘. And straightway the lad withered up wholly, but Jesus departed and went into Joseph’s house. But the parents of him that was withered took him up, bewailing his youth, and brought him to Joseph, and accused him, ‘for that thou hast such a child that doeth such deeds’.”
“After that again he (Jesus) went through, the village, and. a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: ‘Thou shalt not finish thy course’ and immediately he fell down and died. But certain when they saw what was done said: ‘Whence was this young child born, for that every word of his is an accomplished work?’ And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph and. blamed him saying, ‘Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse; for he slayeth our children’. And Joseph called the young child apart and admonished him, saying: ‘Wherefore dost thou do such things, that these suffer and hate us and persecute us?’ But Jesus said: ‘I know that these thy words are not thine; nevertheless for thy sake I will hold my peace: but they shall bear their punishment’. And straightway they that accused him were smitten with blindness. And they that saw it were sore afraid and perplexed and said concerning him that every word which he spake, whether it was good or bad, was a deed and became a marvel.” (From “The Gospel of Thomas”; cp. M. K. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 49-53).
If in reality the miracles of the gospels did not occur, how are we to account for the absence in those records of extravagances such as these? Had the narrators no facts to go upon they would most assuredly have blundered in similar fashion. Nor can we account for the narratives by assuming that they owe their origin to the credulity of the people. The records point the other way, e.g. >” We never saw it on this fashion”; >”Since the world began it was never heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind”; > “When the multitudes saw it (the healing of the palsied) they were afraid, and glorified God who had given such power unto men”(Matthew 2:12; John 9:32; Matthew 9:8) Even in Christ’s day there was wonder-working akin to magic, but the more honest detected the difference and knew how to explain it. The very enemies of Jesus could not deny that He worked miracles, but in their rage they invented the wildest reasons by way of explaining them? “He hath a devil”. (Matthew 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15; John 10:19-21)
However, the credibility of the gospel miracles does not rest primarily, or only, on documentary evidence, necessary though that is; but on the personality of Jesus Christ Himself. Being what He is. He makes it easier for us to credit them. We see Him to be transparently good, sinless; and that is a greater miracle than any of the others. Indeed, He was so good that the requisite power could be entrusted to Him to be used with economy, without the fear of that kind of misuse almost inevitable in the case of those less good. We have convincing proof of how He regarded the need for restraint, in the account of His own temptations in the wilderness. Finally, His place in history is unique a new era dates from Him. Should it be thought strange, then, if such unique things happened in His day? In any case it is to unique facts and a unique person that the records bear witness.