Surprising events regarded as caused by God either directly or indirectly by means of a chosen human intermediary. Writers of the Bible believed that God who created the world could and did intervene in the lives of people and in the course of nature. Mighty acts of power were performed by God at vital moments in the history of Israel—as at the crossing of the sea during the Exodus (Exod. 14), which was seen as a confirmation of God's promise to his people. Healing miracles were wrought by God in response to the prayer of prophets (1 Kgs. 17: 20–22).
In the gospels the miracles of Jesus continue this tradition of healings by servants of God, who were inspired by the Spirit. There are resemblances between the miracles of Jesus and those recorded by various charismatic figures in the Hellenistic world, including the Galilean Hanina ben Dosa, in the 1st cent. CE, before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, though the earliest records give descriptions of them which are very different from the gospel narratives about Jesus. Characteristic of the miracles of Jesus (called ‘signs’ in the gospel of John) is the framework of eschatology in which they are related; they are indications of the coming of the kingdom of God; they are fulfilments of expectations of the OT as when the Feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6: 30–44) echoes the miraculous feeding of Israel in the wilderness; they are done in a context of faith and prayer; they represent the conquest of evil.
While it is recognized that others besides Jesus performed exorcisms (Matt. 12: 27), the miracles of Jesus carry an additional significance, as when in Mark 8: 22–6 a blind man is healed in two stages—resembling the opening in two stages of Peter's eyes of faith in Jesus. Then, in 10: 46–52 blind Bartimaeus is healed and follows Jesus ‘on the way’, precisely what Jesus hoped for from the disciples (cf. Acts 9: 2).
The mechanism by which the healings were effected (and there is no reason to doubt the historicity of Jesus' healings, which are told with sobriety and restraint) may well be explicable. For there are no accounts of restorations to wholeness such as the replacing of an amputated limb (unless it is the slave's ear, Luke 22: 51). The readers of the gospels at any rate saw healings as authentic works of God in which believers received the power of the Kingdom which had begun to come already in the person of Jesus. Modern readers might argue that human bodies are more than machines which can be manipulated by medicines and surgery, and positive spiritual and mental influence from Jesus could have been therapeutic.
The ministry of healing continued in the apostolic age. Peter and Paul healed the lame and the sick (Acts 3: 6; 14: 10; 16: 18). Because they were taken out of a lonely and desperate environment and shown friendship and love, it is not surprising if some who were ill felt better.
Miracles of Jesus other than healings may be symbolical rather than historical. For example, the Feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000 (Mark 6: 30–44; 8: 1–10) with the significant numbers of loaves and fish and baskets may point to symbolism—of Jesus as God's agent of compassion for both Jews and Gentiles; the enormous quantity of water available at Cana for Jewish purification ritual and changed by Jesus into wine (John 2: 1–11) may be designed to teach that the Church of Christ has superseded restrictive Judaism and the synagogue in the purpose of God. The 120 gallons are as symbolical as are the 153 fish of John 21: 11 or the number, 666, of the beast (Rev. 13: 18).