Should we stop using the word 'supernatural'?

Dear Daniel,
Who, besides Mary, could attest to her virgin birth?

One historical account described Mary’s testimony, the events from her point of view, more or less.

The other account described them from Joseph’s angle, including the dream by which God communicated to him the fact of the virgin birth.

Jospeh himself seemed not to believe that this conception was supernatural in origin, until it was communicated to him by divine revelation.

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Dear Daniel,
Who are the authors of these documents and where are they? This is not consistent with the early Christian writings that I am aware of.
Best Wishes, Shawn

I have to ask, what natural laws are violated by the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?

Dear David,
The doctrine says that God essentially gave birth to Himself, thus making Mary the Mother of God. (First illogical - the Creator has no human mother.) This concept creates many other illogical consequences that violate the natural laws. The first being a lack of male human DNA to fertilize the egg. The second being that God somehow occupies multiple locations in the same space-time. (This gave rise to the mystery of omnipresence.) When you unravel this more, you can see how the single concept - Jesus as God - created the need for “mysteries” and unnatural events to explain how this could be possible.

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That is not the doctrine. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is about the conception of Mary, not the conception of Jesus. It is the claim that Mary was conceived immaculately, i.e. without Original Sin.


The authors of the documents are known generally as “Luke” and “Matthew.” They are the ones who recorded the two independent and accounts of the announcement of virgin conception. Beyond that, Ireneus mentioned the virgin birth in a letter somewhere around 110 AD, though likely at this point he was drawing on one or both of the former.

I don’t expect you would believe these accounts or sources, of course. My only point being that it should be patently obvious that the virgin birth was not a byproduct of, or resultant from, Trinitarian dogma that would not be established for another 100-150 years or so.

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Shawn, back to your basic initial point… if I may ask…

I won’t dispute the specific language you use here, but I’m curious on what basis you know with such certainty that God would not interfere with the course of nature that he established? Reading your choice of words, it sounds like you understand logically that God could “violate” (to use your word) the Laws of Nature he established, but chooses not to do so.

What is it about logic that demands this?

Specifically, how do you know that God has never, nor would ever, interfere with or “violate” the laws of nature he established?

Luke? Matthew? The Gospels are among the earliest Christian writings.

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Because prior to the 6th century, this is what Christians believed. It was the barbaric emperor of Rome that took this logic from Christianity with his decree that I posted above.

Also, the oldest versions of Matthew and Luke were written (transcribed) after the trinity doctrine was solidified.

The oldest complete texts are the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus,

Shawn, this is almost not even worth responding to. The oldest complete, extant copies of Matthew and Luke were written in the 4th century as still exist in those codicies. Fragments of those gospels date to late 2nd-early 3rd century, and the autographs themselves were much earlier.

Regardless of whether they currently exist, the oldest versions of Matthew and Luke were indisputably written sometime in the 1st century, or by the most extreme dating, early second century at the very latest.

This is highly disputable… But my question wasn’t what you do or don’t think Christians believed at any certain point…

My question was how do you know that God has never, nor would ever, interfere with or “violate” the laws of nature he established?”

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Because I have investigated every case that He allegedly did, and found logical explanations for each on that follow His natural and spiritual Laws. I also found that many historical figures agreed with this point of view.

So you previously stated your firm belief that ‘a “miracle” is merely accomplished because those experiencing it, did not understand God’s Laws.’

Then you tell me that you investigated every(!) case, and found rational, naturalistic explanations.

A bit of sage advice I think applicable…

It is no use going to the texts until we have some idea about the possibility or probability of the miraculous. Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting their time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question. (C. S. Lewis, Miracles)

But then you follow up that question begging fallacy with one humdinger of a bandwagon fallacy…

So you’ll please pardon me if I remain unimpressed by your logical reasoning. :thinking:

Yes, and the gospels can almost be reconstructed just from quotes in patristic sources.

As is most of Shawn’s “theology” …

I was just getting ready to ask you for your own view on whether we should stop using the word “supernatural”. But then I reread your OP and saw that you already did. I wonder if anyone in this thread has changed your mind?

When I try to imagine an all powerful creator (admittedly something I don’t often do) it always seems to me that if He had free will then there must be something that guided His choices or else why act at all? If God were also maximally moral then He would be constrained by that knowledge much as we are even with only imperfect moral knowledge.

Whatever else it is, the supernatural remains unknowable. And even if there are ancient claims to know what we ourselves find unknowable it can’t take away that barrier to our knowledge. That leaves faith. For some of us faith that life is good and worth living even without knowing where we all came from or where we are going is more than enough.

Dear Daniel,
Yes, it is hard to explain an entire new line of thought in a forum like this. I had to write three books to explain it properly and offered it to anyone here freely if they are interested in pursing it.
Best Wishes, Shawn

Having read all of the comments above I would like to offer a few distinctions and two arguments.

Distinction 1: The discussion of world view regardless of nomenclature. I.e. Is the universe governed by laws (regularities) that God has ordained and that God, nor angels or demonic powers, never intervenes in nature, bringing about some other result than what one would expect from the regular flow of nature?

Distinction 2: If we do believe that God (or angels or demons) sometimes do things that are beyond the regular flow of events, are the words “supernatural” or “miracle” useful? I.e. what nomenclature is useful. The original question seem to be one of nomenclature, but of course that question is tied in with the other aspects.

Distinction 3: Are we today bound as Christians to refrain from using concepts that was not part of the ANE cultural river (to borrow the phrase from John Walton)? I.e. they did not know about natural laws like we do today, thus it would be bad exegesis (=eisegesis) to read or modern understanding into the biblical texts, but when we are taking the hermeneutic step into our world of today and construct some kind of systematic theology, should we then confine ourselves to ANE-concepts? (Perhaps that questions should be answered before we discuss terminology.)

Distinction 4: Deism vs. theism. If we do accept that God (angels and demons) may intervene in the world in ways that go beyond the regular flow of nature, does that mean that God in any way is not part of the regular workings? Some theologians talk about general providence and special providence. Can we not affirm both? And can we not do it, while maintaining that there is no sharp distinction between them?

As I understand Walton, the main pint is that there is no such sharp distinction and that God was involved in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. As a charismatic Christian I recognize the flaw in my tradition to praise God for the Spiritual gift of healing, while neglecting to praise God for the wonderful gift of the immune system or medicine. God is in both, but one is not excluding the other.

Argument 1: The Church father Basil The Great clearly talked about a spiritual world, separate from the rest of creation, and preceding it. The translation I read used the word “supernatural”. (See section 1.5). I got curious. The Greek word was “hyperkosmoi” - “above the world”, or more loosely translated, “outside the world”. Clearly Basil makes some kind of distinction here, and I do believe that “supernatural” is a possibly useful translation, recognizing that the word comes with some connotations that perhaps are not helpful.

However, regardless of nomenclature, Basil did make a distinction between the spiritual realm and the natural realm. Other Church fathers also bear witness to healings, deliverance from evil spirits, prophetic knowledge beyond human capacity and other kinds extraordinary workings of God, at times clearly talking about them as beyond the regular flow of nature. (Yes, the early Church was quite charismatic.)

Argument 2: It has already been noted above that Mary and Joseph knew at least that it takes intercourse for a woman to become pregnant. I have been told that in those days they did not know about the ovum nor the male gamete, but still thought that “seed” from the man was the effective force behind a pregnancy. When Luke and Matthew tells the story it is clear that what happens is a very special act of God: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon You”. The Spirit coming “upon” someone is always depicted in the Bible as something more than the Spirit as a continual life giving presence, as in Acts 14:15-17 and 17:25 and 27.

It shall also be noted that Zechariah knew that Elizabeth was above child bearing age in Luke 1. He was not chastised for not believing that God was part of the natural flow of events, but in not seeing that God could do something miraculous.

In summary: I believe that there is a continuum of God’s activity in the world. He is part of the mundane, but also the extraordinary, and although there is no sharp divide, sometimes God does things that are so far removed from the natural order of things, that they warrant the use of the word supernatural, as defined by Thomas Aquinas (beyond the ordinary natural capacity, “supra naturalis”, but not “contra naturalis”).


Perhaps this thought is worthy of a different discussion… but for what it is worth, having been a religion major even before my Master’s level work and familiar with works across the theological spectrum, I maintain a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to these matters.

For instance, I spent a large amount of time during my undergrad, listening to and engaging to the ideas of the “Jesus Seminar”, for instance. Funk and Crossan and the rest were those who wrote books and commentaries, spent years studying documentation in the Bible, and the culture of the early church and 1st century Judaism, etc.

And having examined their research and methods, I repudiated their basic conclusions in the strongest terms… partly because I could tell they could not recognize their own biases, partly because I could see their faulty methodology, partly because other folks who are just as learned, just as studied, who also wrote commentaries, disagreed with them. My skepticism in these matters also extends to OT studies.

Now there’s postmodernism for you. Question authority.


Sure. I would never say that because a scholar says it, it must be true. But on the other hand, I recognize that my ability to vet expertise based on my own is limited to an incredibly small area, and for everything else, basically I am going to have to take the word of people I trust. I believe there are trustworthy Bible scholars and trustworthy scientists. It probably comes down to individual personality, but I would much rather find out I trusted the wrong people and got something wrong than spend my life skeptical of everything I couldn’t personally verify was correct based on my own assessment.

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Dear @Daniel_Fisher,
I am happy to see that young people are questioning authority and I hope that this extends to those who claimed authority over early Christianity. @Christy is correct that theologians have been studying the texts and exact literature. But I like to remind everyone that they are doing this often with blinders on, letting doctrine taint their view. I like to use Edward Moore, PhD as an example of brave orthodox Christian, who dared to look at all the texts, even those destroyed by doctrine and declared anathema. Keep up the good work Daniel.