Craig Keener is a New Testament scholar who decided to test whether the accounts of miraculous healings in the Bible had parallels in reports today. He read hundreds of written accounts, interviewed hundreds of eye witnesses (including some of his in-laws in Africa) and obtained written documentation where he could, and wrote his findings up in his book Miracles.
It’s a big book, but here are a few of the stories. (See more detail at More healing miracles.)
A sample of stories
- A boy with two holes in his heart is healed the night before surgery, with before and after X-rays to show the healing occurred.
- A boy with malformed, and deteriorating, bones in his feet was healed and able to walk unaided – again with before and after X-rays.
- An orphan boy with almost total blindness is healed in front of many witnesses, and able to see again.
- A woman admitted to hospital weak and dying from inoperable cancer, pronounced dead and sent to the morgue where a lady minister prayed for her. Two hours after the death certificate was signed, she began to move and made a complete recovery from the weakness and the cancer.
- Many more.
What can we make of these reports?
These stories, and many others reported in the book, come from eye witnesses known to Keener and/or interviewed by him. Whatever else they are, they are not urban myths. The medical documentation for many of them makes it difficult to believe they were simply mistakes.
This means a large number of accounts must be either natural recoveries or supernatural interventions. But which?
Supernatural interventions vs natural recoveries
Using suggestions by sceptic James Randi and the Catholic Church, I believe we should judge healing miracles claims by these criteria (see Assessing healing miracles):
- The account of the story comes from a reputable source which provides names, time and place, and there is no reason to believe the story is a fraud, or that anyone had anything to gain by inventing it.
- The disease had little possibility of natural recovery.
- The recovery must have been complete, or at least very significant, and not what might be expected from any treatment being received.
- There must have been prayer for healing not long before the healing occurred.
- There must be good independent medical opinion (backed up by documentation) that the disease was present before the prayer and not present afterwards.
Some of the hundreds of accounts Keener reports appear to meet all five of these criteria. Many others appear to meet most of them, but may require further investigation.
What we can say clearly as that these reports cluster around three clear facts:
- The participants believed in the christian God.
- They prayed to this God for healing shortly before the healing occurred.
- The recoveries often cluster around certain individuals believed to have a gift of healing.
The conclusion seems inescapable
Some unusual events have clearly occurred. Many seem to meet most or all of the criteria for being a plausible divine intervention. If they are natural events, it is amazingly coincidental that they cluster around praying and believing christians.
Divine intervention is a plausible, some might say, inescapable, conclusion.