AskDefine | Define miracle

Dictionary Definition



1 any amazing or wonderful occurrence
2 a marvellous event manifesting a supernatural act of God

User Contributed Dictionary



From miracle < miraculum (object of wonder) < miror (to wonder at) < mirus (wonderful) < *smeiros < Proto-Indo-European *(s)mei- (to smile, to be astonished).


  1. A wonderful event occurring in the physical world attributed to supernatural powers.
    • Many religious beliefs are based on miracles.


wonderful event attributed to supernatural powers




fr-noun m

Extensive Definition

A miracle, is a fortuitous event believed to be caused by interposition of divine intervention by a supernatural being in the universe by which the ordinary course and operation of Nature is suspended, or modified. It is derived from the old Latin word miraculum meaning "something wonderful".
Many folktales, religious texts, and people claim various events which they refer to as "miraculous". It is disputed whether there are scientifically confirmed occurrences of miracles. Miracles are not subject to controlled experimentation and the mechanism of occurrence is not recognized by the scientific community. One aspect of some miracles which makes them almost impossible to verify is the fact that they are often manifested only to small groups of individuals, and sometimes several centuries ago.
People in different faiths have substantially different definitions of the word "miracle". Even within a specific religion there is often more than one usage of the term.
Sometimes the term "miracle" may refer to the action of a supernatural being that is not a god. Thus, the term "divine intervention", by contrast, would refer specifically to the direct involvement of a deity.
In casual usage, "miracle" may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event, (such as the survival of a natural disaster) or even to anything which is regarded as "wonderful" regardless of its likelihood, such as birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a fatal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds'.

Miracles as supernatural acts

In this view, a miracle is a violation of normal laws of nature by some supernatural entity. Some scientist-theologians like Polkinghorne suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".
The logic behind an event being deemed a miracle varies significantly. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact.
Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, and cite this as evidence for the existence of a god or gods. However, Richard Dawkins criticises this kind of thinking as a subversion of Occam's Razor. Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent god.

Miracles in the Bible

In the Hebrew Bible

The descriptions of most miracles (in Hebrew - Neis, נס''') in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) are often the same as the common definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature.
A literal reading of the Tanakh shows a number of ways miracles are said to occur: God may suspend or speed up the laws of nature to produce a supernatural occurrence; God can create matter out of nothing; God can breathe life into inanimate matter. The Tanakh does not explain details of how these miracles happen.
The Tanakh attributes many natural occurrences to God, such as the sun rising and setting, and rain falling.
Today many Orthodox Jews, most Christians, and most Muslims adhere to this view of miracles. This view is generally rejected by non-Orthodox Jews, liberal Christians and Unitarian-Universalists. Biblical stories are interpreted by some as alegory or using figures of speech: In this view the "miracle" in the story may not have been intended to be taken literally.
Many events commonly understood to be miraculous may not actually be instances of the impossible, as commonly believed. For instance, consider the parting of the Sea of Reeds (in Hebrew Yâm-Sûph; often mistranslated as the "Red Sea"). This incident occurred when Moses and Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt, to begin their exodus to the promised land. The book of Exodus does not state that the Reed Sea split in a dramatic fashion. Rather, according to the text God caused a strong wind to slowly drive the shallow waters to land, overnight. There is no claim that God pushed apart the sea as shown in many films; rather, the miracle would be that Israel crossed this precise place, at exactly the right time, when Moses lifted his staff, and that the pursuing Egyptian army then drowned when the wind stopped and the piled waters rushed back in. Though this view is highly contended by more fundamental Christians who find it hard to believe that a "shallow" sea could drown an Egyptian Army with horses and chariots, contesting that it was a mighty miracle and an act of God on both sides of the crossing.
Most events later described as miracles are not labeled as such by the Bible; rather the text simply describes what happened. Often these narratives will attribute the cause of these events to God.

In the New Testament

The descriptions of most miracles in the Christian New Testament are often the same as the commonplace definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature. In St John's Gospel the "miracles" are referred to as "signs" and the emphasis is on God demonstrating his underlying normal activity in remarkable ways.
Jesus is recorded as having turned water into wine; creating matter out of nothing, and thus turning a loaf of bread into many loaves of bread; and raising the dead. Jesus is also described as rising from the dead himself. Jesus explains in the New Testament that miracles are performed by faith in God. "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “move from here to there” and it will move." (Gospel of Matthew 17:20).

Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles

Aristotle rejected the idea that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world. Jewish neo-Aristotelian philosophers, who are still influential today, include Maimonides, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, and Gersonides. Directly or indirectly, their views are still prevalent in much of the religious Jewish community.

Miracles as events pre-planned by God

In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.
In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Spinoza's View of Miracles

In Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise he talks about miracles as those events of whose causes we are ignorant. Nor does he suggest we should just treat them as having no cause or of having a cause immediately available. Rather the miracle is for combating the ignorance it entails, it becomes a political project.

David Hume's views of miracles

According to the philosopher David Hume, a miracle is "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent."

Non-literal interpretations of the text

These views are held by both classical and modern thinkers.
In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this biblical story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions. (Of course, such dreams and visions could themselves be considered miracles.)
Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God command."

As products of creative art and social acceptance

In this view, miracles do not really occur. Rather, they are the product of creative story tellers. They use them to embellish a hero or incident with a theological flavor. Using miracles in a story allows characters and situations to become bigger than life, and to stir the emotions of the listener more than the mundane and ordinary.

As misunderstood commonplace events

Littlewood's law states that individuals can expect miracles to happen to them, at the rate of about one per month. By its definition, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace. In other words, miracles do not exist, but are rather examples of low probability events that are bound to happen by chance from time to time.

Claims of Miracles in Christendom

C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible.

Claims of Miracles in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church recognizes miracles as being works of God, either directly or through the prayers and intercession of a specific Saint or Saints. There is usually a specific purpose connected to a miracle, i.e. the conversion of a person or persons to the Catholic faith or the construction of a church desired by God. The Church tries to be very cautious to approve the validity of putative miracles. It requires a certain number of miracles to occur before granting sainthood, with particularly stringent requirements in validating the miracle's authenticity.,9171,982807,00.html The process is overseen by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
The Catholic Church claims to have confirmed the validity of a number of miracles, some of them occurring in modern times and having withstood the test of modern scientific scrutiny. Among the more notable miracles approved by the Church are several Eucharistic miracles wherein the Sacred Host is transformed visibly into Christ's living Flesh and Blood, bleeds, hovers in the air, flies around, radiates light, and/or displays the image of Christ. The first example of the Host being visibly changed into human flesh and blood occurred at Lanciano, Italy around 700 A.D. Unlike some miracles of a more transient nature, the Flesh and Blood remain in Lanciano to this day, having been scientifically examined as recently as 1971. The examination claims to have found the miraculous substance not only to be actual flesh and blood (specifically heart tissue and type AB blood), but also to have the chemical composition of fresh, un-preserved tissue, despite Its having been present in the Church for over 1200 years. No natural explanation for this has been offered.
Another alleged miracle is the Miracle of the Sun, which occurred near Fátima, Portugal on October 13, 1917. Anywhere between 70,000 and 100,000 people, who were gathered at a cove near Fátima, witnessed the sun dim, change colors, spin, dance about in the sky, and appear to plummet to earth, radiating great heat in the process. After the ten-minute event, the ground and the people's clothing, which had been drenched by a previous rainstorm, were both dry. There are numerous reports of the details from both religious and secular sources, but there are many discrepancies.
In addition to these, the Catholic Church attributes miraculous causes to many otherwise inexplicable phenomena on a case-by-case basis. These include the incorruption (for centuries) of the bodies of several saints, some healings, and the spontaneous appearance of holy images on certain objects (most notably the Shroud of Turin, bearing Christ's image, and the tilma of St. Juan Diego bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe). Contrary to popular opinion, the truth of each miracle is meticulously examined not only from dogmatic and theological points of view, but also with the skepticism of science. Only after all other possible explanations have proven inadequate may the Church assume Divine intervention and declare the miracle worthy of veneration by the faithful (the Church does not, however, enjoin belief in any extra-Scriptural miracle as an article of faith or as necessary to salvation).

Protestant Claims

There have been numerous claims of miracles in Christendom. Mainline protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians accept spiritual gifts, including healing and the working of miracles.
Some of the types of miracles that are claimed to occur in modern times are healings, casting out demons, multiplying food, etc.

Miracles in Other Religions

Followers of the Indian gurus Sathya Sai Baba and Swami Premananda claim that they routinely perform miracles. The dominant view among skeptics is that these are predominantly sleight of hand or elaborate magic tricks.
Some modern religious groups claim ongoing occurrence of miraculous events. While some miracles have been proven to be fraudulent (see Peter Popoff for an example) others (such as the Paschal Fire in Jerusalem) have not proven susceptible to analysis. Some groups are far more cautious about proclaiming apparent miracles genuine than others, although official sanction, or the lack thereof, rarely has much effect on popular belief.

Notes and references

  • Colin Brown. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. (Good survey).
  • Colin J. Humphreys, Miracles of Exodus. Harper, San Francisco, 2003.
  • Krista Bontrager, It’s a Miracle! Or, is it?
  • Eisen, Robert (1995). Gersonides on Providence, Covenant, and the Chosen People. State University of New York Press.
  • Goodman, Lenn E. (1985). Rambam: Readings in the Philosophy of Moses Maimonides. Gee Bee Tee.
  • Kellner, Menachem (1986). Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought. Oxford University Press.
  • C. S. Lewis. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York, Macmillan Co., 1947.
  • C. F. D. Moule (ed.). Miracles: Cambridge Studies in their Philosophy and History. London, A.R. Mowbray 1966, ©1965 (Good survey of Biblical miracles as well).
  • Graham Twelftree. Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study. IVP, 1999. (Best in its field).
  • Woodward, Kenneth L. (2000). The Book of Miracles. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82393-4.
  • M. Kamp, MD. Bruno Gröning. The miracles continue to happen. 1998, (Chapters 1 - 4)


  • Houdini, Harry Miracle Mongers and Their Methods: A Complete Expose Prometheus Books; Reprint edition (March 1993) originally published in 1920 ISBN 0-87975-817-1.
miracle in Bosnian: Čudo
miracle in Catalan: Miracle
miracle in Czech: Zázrak
miracle in Danish: Mirakel
miracle in German: Wunder
miracle in Estonian: Ime
miracle in Modern Greek (1453-): Θαύμα
miracle in Spanish: Milagro
miracle in Esperanto: Miraklo
miracle in Persian: معجزه
miracle in French: Miracle
miracle in Galician: Milagre
miracle in Indonesian: Mujizat
miracle in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Miraculo
miracle in Italian: Miracolo
miracle in Hebrew: נס
miracle in Georgian: მირაკლი
miracle in Hungarian: Csoda
miracle in Malay (macrolanguage): Mukjizat
miracle in Dutch: Wonder
miracle in Japanese: 奇跡
miracle in Polish: Cud
miracle in Portuguese: Milagre
miracle in Romanian: Miracol
miracle in Russian: Чудо
miracle in Albanian: Mrekullia
miracle in Simple English: Miracle
miracle in Slovak: Zázrak
miracle in Finnish: Ihme
miracle in Swedish: Mirakel
miracle in Yiddish: נס
miracle in Chinese: 神蹟

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Grand Guignol, Passion play, Tom show, amazement, antimasque, astonishing thing, astonishment, audience success, ballet, bomb, broadcast drama, burlesque show, charade, cliff hanger, closet drama, comedy drama, critical success, curiosity, daytime serial, dialogue, documentary drama, drama, dramalogue, dramatic play, dramatic series, duodrama, duologue, enchantment, epic theater, exception, experimental theater, extravaganza, failure, fantasy, ferlie, flop, gasser, gazingstock, giveaway, happening, hit, hit show, improvisational drama, legitimate drama, marvel, marvelment, masque, melodrama, minstrel show, miracle play, monodrama, monologue, morality, morality play, music drama, musical revue, mystery, mystery play, nonesuch, opera, pageant, panel show, pantomime, pastoral, pastoral drama, phenomenon, piece, play, playlet, portent, problem play, prodigy, psychodrama, quite a thing, quiz show, radio drama, rarity, review, revue, sensation, sensational play, serial, show, sight, sign, sitcom, situation comedy, sketch, skit, soap, soap opera, sociodrama, something else, spectacle, stage play, stage show, straight drama, stunner, success, suspense drama, tableau, tableau vivant, talk show, teleplay, television drama, television play, theater of cruelty, total theater, variety show, vaudeville, vaudeville show, vehicle, wonder, wonderful thing, wonderment, wonderwork, word-of-mouth success, work
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