By Gary R. Habermas
Frequently the complaint is made that biblical miracles, especially those of Jesus, were motivated or even inspired by pagan accounts from the ancient world. We are told that healings, demon possession, virgin births, and resurrections were all common fare in ancient times. So the implication is that the Bible is no different from other religious documents. Perhaps Christians even plagiarized other accounts.
While it is true that a myriad of miracle stories adorned the ancient world, it does not follow that Scripture duplicated them. Although promoted in some popular circles, this assumption is mistaken on several levels.
It is true that some scholars emphasize the similarities between pagan and biblical miracle accounts. But we must also accent the more common (and profound) differences. For example, there is usually an immense philosophical gulf between the pagan and biblical backgrounds for their respective miracle accounts. The pagan mindset most commonly incorporated cyclical, repetitive patterns in nature, marked by the seasonal cycles. In contrast, the Jewish philosophy of history moved in linear patterns, from one event to the next, culminating in God’s grand climax.
Further, these pagan stories often concern persons who never even lived in history, such as Hercules of ancient Greek mythology, while Jesus and other biblical miracle workers undoubtedly did. Moreover, scholars note that these pagan stories were never influential in Palestine, where a far different outlook prevailed.
Surprisingly, virtually no miracle stories in the ancient world are even candidates for inspiring Jesus’ miracles. Few of these tales both predate the NT and closely approximate Jesus’ miracles. So it is difficult to prove a parallel.
Regarding Jesus’ resurrection, the inadequacy of this proposed solution growl even more apparent. Writings clearly claiming that prominent pagan heroes were resurrected postdate the NT accounts. Scholars know that some ancient religious teachings copied from Christianity, and Jesus’ resurrection may be an example of what was copied!
So there are many reasons why the NT accounts were not derived from pagan texts. The most crucial response, stated simply, is that we have many reasons for believing that Jesus actually performed miracles during His ministry. Indeed, virtually all contemporary critical scholars agree that Jesus performed many acts that might be termed “miracles” or “exorcisms.”
Most of all, there is an incredible amount of evidence arguing that Jesus was really raised from the dead. For instance, we have reliable reports from various authors regarding many who thought that they had actually seen the risen Jesus. The most crucial witness is Paul, an eyewitness who provided very early testimony. So we must not miss the clear point that a number of early, credible witnesses (including previous skeptics Paul and James) were proclaiming their conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus, for which they were willing to die. Far from being inspired by faraway tales, many died for their honest belief that they had really seen the risen Jesus. Pagan stories do not explain this conviction.
Adapted from the Apologetics Study Bible, pg 1430