Let’s have some straight talk about miracles, without beating around the bush—especially when it comes to miracles like the Burning Bush.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not disputing the miracles recorded in scripture. I’m talking about miracles foretold in prophecy. What do they mean? More importantly, what do they not mean? Let me explain.
Here’s the big problem with miracles when it comes to prophecy: most people expect literal miracles to signal the fulfillment of prophecies. I wish that were true!
But let me play devil’s advocate: Suppose miracles described in prophecies are a kind of “secret code” which only the discerning can discern? In trying to figure out prophecy, the first step is to determine whether prophecy is literal or figurative. In the end, the prophecy will turn out to be literal eventually—in the sense that something real will happen—but exactly how that prophecy will actually take place is a complex question.
Consider the prophecy that Peter quotes on the Day of Pentecost, which is usually considered the birth of the Christian church:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Acts 2:12–23.
When I grew up as a Pentecostal, I was taught that these verses proved the miracle of “speaking in tongues.” But the Baha’i teachings offer a different explanation—one that makes a lot more sense to me now:
The disciples of Christ taught His Faith with the language of the Kingdom. That language conformeth to all languages, for it consisteth of celestial meanings and divine mysteries. For the one who becometh conversant with that language the realities and secrets of creation stand unveiled before him. Divine truths are common to all languages.
The Holy Spirit, therefore, taught the disciples the language of the Kingdom, and they thus were able to converse with the people of all nations. Whenever they spoke to those of other nations of the world, it was as if they conversed in their tongues.
The well-known and outstanding languages of the world number about a thousand. It was necessary for the disciples to have written the Gospels in at least one of the known languages of other nations. Thus, as it is known, the Gospels were written only in Hebrew and Greek, and not even the language of the Romans, although it was at that time the official language. As the disciples were not well-versed in it, the Gospels were not written in that language. – from a previously untranslated Tablet revealed by Abdu’l-Baha, on behalf of the Universal House of Justice by the Department of the Secretariat to an individual Baha’i, April 1, 1984.)
The implication here is that if “speaking in tongues” were literally true, then surely the Gospels would have been translated into other languages long before they actually were. As a prime example, Abdu’l-Baha refers to Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire. The fact of the matter is that the Gospels were not written in the official language of Latin, and weren’t even translated into Latin until four centuries later, when St. Jerome completed his so-called “Vulgate” in late 404 or 405 CE.
Let’s get back to Peter’s “Sermon at Pentecost” (Acts 2:14–36). All commentators agree that Peter is quoting Joel 2:28–31. It’s important to understand that Peter is saying that this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled on this Day of Pentecost.
It’s easy to rule out a literal interpretation, for there is absolutely no historical record to indicate that the sun literally became darkened at that particular time, or that the moon literally turned into blood (or even into the color of blood), or that “blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke” was visible everywhere. As a matter of history, that scenario simply did not happen.
The fact of the matter is that this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled invisibly—that is, spiritually, in a symbolic way. This means that prophecies, first and foremost, describe future spiritual events, including the miraculous occurrences described in the prophecies themselves.
This leaves only one possibility: that those miraculous events, foretold by the prophet Joel, and cited by Peter as being fulfilled at the time when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, thereby giving birth to the Christian religion, fulfilled the prophecies of Joel spiritually. Joel’s prophecy foretold spiritual events, not natural convulsions, which are really of no lasting consequence anyway, and, even if they did occur, would be meaningful only to people who witnessed those events.
To conclude, let’s see what the Baha’i teachings say about miracles generally:
The Manifestations of God are sources of miraculous deeds and marvellous signs. Any difficult or impossible matter is to Them possible and permitted. For They show forth extraordinary feats through an extraordinary power, and They influence the world of nature through a power that transcends nature. From each one of Them, marvellous things have appeared.
But in the Sacred Scriptures a special terminology is used, and in the sight of the Manifestations of God these marvels and miracles are of no importance, so much so that They do not even wish them to be mentioned. For even if these miracles were considered the greatest of proofs, they would constitute a clear evidence only for those who were present when they took place, not for those who were absent. …
Therefore, miracles cannot be a conclusive proof, for even if they are valid proofs for those who were present, they fail to convince those who were not.
However, in the day of God’s Manifestation, they that are endued with insight will find all things pertaining to Him to be miraculous. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 113-114.