Even a brief read through the Bible reveals many miracles. It’s easy to walk away with the impression that the storyline of Scripture is just one miracle after another.
And to be sure, miracles happen a lot—around 265 specific passages (though a number of these record the same miracles several times such as in the gospels or in the OT historical books). But it’s not as much as you think—not in the context of the entire Bible. By word count, only about 5% of the biblical accounts record miracles.1
I think this is worth observing because it highlights something we might forget. God has largely chosen to work within the storyline of normal human history. Something doesn’t need to be paranormal to be a work of God, nor are we doing it wrong if our lives feel flatly pedestrian and altogether normal. In fact, the “normal” is a marvelous work of God and in its own way an ongoing miracle.2
Interested in this dynamic, I plotted the “miracle passages” of Scripture along a graph. I was fascinated to find them coming in clearly discernible clusters. Of course, it’s important to recognize that the graph plots books of the Bible, not time. The largest cluster occurs across four large books (Matthew-John) but nearly all of it occurred during only three years.4
In fact, there are very significant characters in the Bible who seem to have passed their lives without experiencing a single recorded miracle. Most striking is David—clearly a very dramatic life and likely one of the three most significant characters of the Old Testament. But even the most extraordinary moments unfold in the fabric of normal life and providence. Even when David received messages from the Lord, it was almost always through an emissary—God sending Nathan, Gad, or another prophet to relate what God had said.3 Other characters come to mind who are never the recorded observers of any miracles—Solomon, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
A final observation derives from the pattern of miracles over time. They seem to come in punctuated spurts. The most significant clusters surround creation, the exodus, the lives of Elijah / Elisha, and the ministry of Jesus. It’s probably not random that these events are also massive advances in new revelation (the Pentateuch, the prophets and the Messiah) and the miracles to certify it (Heb. 2:4). In any case, it illustrates a parallel pattern of God breaking into human history to intervene and redirect the story. And it sets our expectations that there can be extended periods in biblical history without any apparent, dramatic miracles. That we do not see miracles happening regularly today fits entirely within what Scripture teaches us to expect.
- The reality is that at some point in our early childhood we form a system of assumptions about what is normal and plausible. That’s necessary enough for functioning in a predictable world. But together with that we lose our sense of wonder at the kaleidoscopic miracle happening around us all the time. The sun came up this morning. It rained. Seeds sprouted and plants grew and animals ran and jumped and flew. We’re not impressed with that miracle?
- The closest example I found was 2 Sam. 24:17. Even this is hardly a clear case. The passage could be understood as David seeing the visible effects of the angel’s judgment. Of course, the most memorable narrative moment of David’s life is when he triumphed over Goliath. It is clear that God providentially guided both David’s courage and his skill as he slung the stone. It’s also clear that David’s own capacities had a great deal to do with it—he had, after all, killed a lion and a bear by the same methods
- The numbers are 41897 words in “miracle passages” out of a total word count (AV) of 790,868.
- How I did this study: I relied on the excellent Miracles of the Bible interactive in Logos 9. I exported the miracles as references and then used the KJV as my base text for statistics such as word counts and to generate the graphs. I understand that this method is not inspired or biblically authoritative. The Logos app is simply curated by humans. In many cases, whether to call something a miracle is a judgment call.