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The Healings Miracles

The miracles of healing are the most numerous of the three classes of miracles attributed to Jesus. It is also the kind of miracle most commonly claimed by modern day evangelistic preachers. This is not accidental. "Miracles" of healing are the easiest to perform and get away with. As long as the audience is receptive and gullible almost anything can be interpreted as a healing.

We need to first expand our methodology in dealing with miracles of healing. We will now look at the healing miracles of Jesus:

In conclusion, there is no compelling proof in the gospel account that an actual miracle of healing or raising the dead ever happened.

Methodology in Study of Healing Miracles

We should define an actual miracle of healing to have occurred when a person is actually cured, without relapse, of an organic (i.e. not psychological or psychosomatic) disease. This involve knowing that the person was actually sick to begin with and knowing that subsequent to the miracle the cure was complete.

We have already discussed above, the four possibilities that must be considered when studying the accounts of miracles. We will elaborate these in relation to the specific miracles of healing.

  • Psychosomatic illnesses
    Some of the diseases could well be psychosomatic, and no one would call curing a disease that was never there to begin with, a miracle.
  • Psychological exhilaration mistaken for cure
    Some diseases may be real, but the cure during the "healing" is not. For the person involved may feel so exhilarated that he could have thought that he was healed although in reality he was not. Those who suffer from diseases in which the main external manifestation is pain, such as cancer and arthritis, can easily be led to believe they were healed if during that moment of exhilaration they forgot their pain. The symptoms, of course, invariably returns after the feeling of exhilaration fades away.
  • Temporary remissions
    Another possibility are diseases which have periods of temporary remissions. The miracle healing session which just happen to take place before one of these periods will be interpreted by the credulous as proof of miraculous cures.
  • Primitive medicine
    Another possibility is primitive medicine. A shaman applying herbs or some methods of massage which have medicinal value is obviously not a miracle.
  • Actual spontaneous remissions
    Finally we note that there are documented cases in medical science where someone is actually spontaneously cured of a disease. These occurrences are rare, occur randomly and do not favour the adherence of any religion.
  • Use of deception and trickery
    The above possibilities assume the veracity of both the healer and the healed with no intention of deceiving. It must also be kept in mind that a healer wanting to enhance his own prestige could have resorted to trickery and deception.
  • Unhistoricity of account
    Finally the possibility must be kept in mind that the account of the miracle itself may not be historical. As we should all know by know, popular imagination is filled with stories of miracles attributed to famous men. The account of Francis Xavier mentioned earlier is a good example of this.
  • An actual miracle of healing

Now it is obvious that the first seven possibilities are a priori more probable than the eighth. (Remember that the burden of proof lies with the party that makes the positive claim.) To present a strong case the believer must be able to give compelling reasons why these more likely possibilities are to be rejected in favour of the eight. If he fails to do so, the miracles are to be rejected as false.

To be able to analyze the miracle healings attributed to Jesus we must first have, of course, sufficient information to begin with. In many healing stories in the gospels the information is so minimal that it seems nothing but pure hagiography. This is particularly common in Matthew and Mark:

Mark 1:34
And he healed many that were sick...

Matthew 9:35
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

With information such as the above, no reasoned choice can be made between the alternatives. They must therefore be rejected as having no use in our inquiry.

Let us now turn to the longer accounts of the healing. It should be pointed out that all the accounts of exorcism cannot be used to proof Jesus' miraculous powers of healing. This is because demon possession can in no way be differentiated, at least in the gospel accounts, from hysteria or even epilepsy. Just as a commanding personality can calm a hysterical person, it is no miracle for Jesus to be able to do that as well.

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Healing of Peter's Mother-in-Law

The first healing we will look at is that of Peter's mother-in-law.

Mark 1:30-31 (Matthew 8:14-15; Luke 4:38-39)
Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Note that the information given here is by no means complete. We are not told how serious or what kind of fever the woman had. Again it is not impossible for Jesus' presence to have exhilarated her to the point where she forgot her probably slight fever. In fact none of the first seven alternatives are ruled out by this account. It is therefore nowhere near the strong case needed to prove the miracles of Jesus.

The episode above suggests that faith and trust in Jesus' powers seems to be a prerequisite for the healing to take place. Part of this faith comes from perhaps the aura of mystery that he surrounds himself. We see in Mark how Jesus, on returning to his home town to preach, could not shake of the familiarity they had with him. As a result he was unable to initiate the healing process:

Mark 6:1-6
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. [a]

The above account, if historical, bids strongly for the first and second possibilities discussed above as the main explanation to the historical miracle healings of Jesus. [1]

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The Healing of the Leper

In some cases the miracles described seem to rule out psychosomatic diseases, psychological exhilaration and even temporary remissions. One example of this would be the healing of the leper narrated in synoptics:

Luke 5:12-13 (Mark 1:40-44; Matthew 8:1-3)
Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "I do choose. Be made clean." Immediately the leprosy left him.

This account, as described above, cannot have claims to be historical. The reason is simple. All the gospels put this event in the location of Galilee, very much a province of the Jews. The Jews during the time of Jesus did not permit a leper to live or even wander around in town. The command in the Old Testament is very explicit:

Leviticus 13:45-46 (Also II Kings 7:3)
And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.

Lepers therefore lived away from towns and settlements. To say Jesus healed a leper in one of the towns in Galilee is obviously a product of the Gentile tradition who either did not know or did not appreciate the restriction on lepers. As the American writer Frank Yerby commented:

...this writer attributes the Gospel accounts of the cure of lepers to their writers' total ignorance of Palestinian and age-old Jewish Law. For if their stories of lepers wandering about all over the landscape without let or hindrance for Yeshua [Jesus] to cure miraculously, are not the products of overheated pious imaginations, they are something worse-plain unmitigated lies. Lepers didn't wander around Palestine...Not ever. [2]

Yerby's comments applies to the narrative as it stands. It is indeed unhistorical.

Marcello Craveri suggested what probably occurred if this event did have a nucleus of historical fact. It was the responsibility of the priest in those times to go to the leper colony to certify if any of the lepers had been cured. The book of Leviticus, in chapters thirteen and fourteen, gives a detailed account of how this procedure is to be carried out. Once a person is pronounced clean or cured by the priest he is then allowed to return to the town. The final ritual purification is to be performed there. Thus any "leper" in the town would be one that is already completely healed and in need only of final ritual purification. As Craveri pointed out the verb used in the gospels kathairein means to purify (translated above as "clean"). If it was an actual cure of leprosy the verb would have been therapeuein which does mean to cure or to heal. The event narrated could thus have originated in an event of purely ritual significance with no miracles involved. [3]

Whatever the case may be, no miracle can be even shown to have occurred here. The account as it stands is unhistorical.

The normal healing accounts of Jesus are thus open to all sorts of more probable explanations that cannot be convincingly discounted.

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The Raising of Jairus' Daughter

We will now turn to cases where Jesus is actually described as having raised the dead. There are three accounts in the gospels of him raising the dead. Only one of these are given in more than one gospel. This is the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

Mark 5:21-42Matthew 9:18-26Luke 8:41-56
21. [W]hile he was by the lake...
22. one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet
23. and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live."
24. So Jesus went with him.

35. While Jesus was still speaking some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said, "Why bother the teacher anymore?"
36. Ignoring what they had said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler "Don't be afraid; just believe."
37. He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John, the brother of James.
38. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.
39. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep."
40. But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.
41. He took her by the hand and said, "Talitha koum!" (Which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!")
42. She stood up right and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.
18. While he was saying this, a ruler of the synagogue came

and knelt before him and said,
"My daughter had just died. But come and put your hand on her and she will live."
19. Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

23. When Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd,

24. he said, "Go away, the girl is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.

25. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.

27. News of this spread through all the region.
41. Just then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet pleading with him to come to his house
42. because his only daughter, a girl about twelve, was dying.

49. While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Don't bother the teacher anymore."
50. Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed."
51. When they arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child's father and mother.

52. Meanwhile all the people were wailing and moaning for her. "Stop wailing," Jesus said. "She is not dead but asleep."
53. They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.

54. But he took her by the hand and said, "My child, get up!"
55. Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.
56. Her parents were astonished...
Table A: The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

Table A shows this same episode as given by Mark, Matthew and Luke. Again here we have problems with the accounts. It is noteworthy that both Matthew and Luke did not faithfully transcribe the incident as depicted in Mark, but each change it to make the miracle sound more incredible.

Matthew changed the verse in Mark (5:23, copied by Luke 8:42) which mentioned that Jairus’ daughter was dying, not dead to say that the girl had just died (Matthew 9:18). That this is a deliberate alteration by Matthew is shown by the fact that he left out the portion of Mark's narrative where some people came from Jairus' house to inform him that his daughter had died.

Luke, like Matthew, also resorted to sensationalizing the Markan account. While Matthew made the girl dead from the beginning, Luke made the crowd who was laughing at Jesus knew she was dead (Luke 8:53).

It is obvious that both Matthew and Luke had altered the basic Markan account to make the miracle more striking. But the fact that they can alter a written account should give us food for thought as to what the evangelists would do to an oral one.

We are left, therefore, with the basic story as given by Mark. Note that even if we are to assume (something which believers must prove before the miracle can even begin to be considered seriously) that the story in Mark has a historical basis, the account is by no means convincing.

In fact, Jesus statement-”The child is not dead but asleep” (Mark 5:39)- could be taken to mean that he knew the child was not dead. We know today of cases of a form of hysterical trance known as catalepsy. It is a self-induced trance in which the person remain in a fixed position for a long time. This can sometimes be terminated by a sharp word of command. Thus, even if the storyline is historical, a miracle is still not proven. [b] [4]

There are actually strong reasons for believing that the story of Jairus’ daughter is not historical. The name Jairus itself is suspect-for it means “He will awaken”; a name that simply fits too neatly into the whole scene. Further, the whole story simply parallels too neatly an Old Testament story regarding a similar feat performed by the prophet Elisha given in II Kings 4:20-37. The characters have been changed slightly: in Mark it was a father (Jairus) and his dead daughter while in II Kings it was a mother and her dead son. However, the similarity between the story above and the one found in Mark is remarkable.

  • In both cases the weeping parent falls at the feet of the healer.

    II Kings 4:27 And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet..
    Mark 5:22 Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet...

  • Messenger(s) return with the announcement that the child is indeed dead.

    II Kings 4:31 Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked.
    Mark 5:35 While Jesus was still speaking some men came ... "Your daughter is dead," they said

  • The healers put almost everybody out and performed the healing in private.
    II Kings 4:33 He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them .
    Mark 5:40 After he put them all out, he...went in where the child was.

  • Part of the healing involved the prophet touching the child.
    II Kings 4:34 And he went up, and lay upon the child... and his hands upon his hands.
    Mark 5:41 He took her by the hand...

It is obvious from the above similarities that the healing of Jairus’ daughter must have its origins not in history but in the Old Testament.[5]

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The Raising of the Widow's Son

The next case of raising the dead is given in chapter seven of Luke. We know from our discussion in earlier that Luke and Matthew used two major written sources, that we are aware of, in constructing their gospels. As this episode is found neither in Mark nor Matthew, it therefore comes from Luke's own special source which, if actually grounded in the tradition, probably reached Luke in oral form. The left column of table B below gives the account as it appears in Luke.

Luke 7:11-17I Kings 17: 8-24Mark 5:38-42
11 Soon afterwards, Jesus went to a town called Nain...

12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out-the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.

13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and said, “Don’t cry.”

14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”

15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him,
9 “Arise, go to Zareptath...
10 So he arose and went to Zareptath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold a widow was there...

17 After this, the son of the woman...became ill; and his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.

19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him...

21 And cried to the Lord, “O lord my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.”
22...and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.
23 And Elijah...delivered him to his mother.
24 And the woman said to Elijah “Now I know you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

38 When they came to the home, Jesus saw a commotion...

39 He went in and said to them “Why all this...wailing?”

41 He took her by the hand and said to her...”little girl, I say to you, get up!”

42a She stood right up and walked around.

42b At this they were astonished.
Table B: The Raising of the Widow's Son

It is the story of the son of a widow who had died and was raised by Jesus. This miracle made those around him realized that a great prophet had arisen among them. Now even if this story was historical, catalepsy still cannot be ruled out. Neither can we rule out trickery and collusion, on behalf of Jesus and the widow, after all he took his disciples and a large crowd with him (Luke 7:11) and the event happened entirely in public. But we have good reason to believe that the story is not even historical. We have already noted that the event is recorded neither in Mark nor Q. Another point is that there is an Old Testament account of a raising of a widow's son by the prophet Elijah. This story parallels Luke's narrative on many points:

  • The way the stories start in Greek (for Luke and the Septuagint version of II Kings) is identical: kai egeneto (variously translated as “as it came to pass”, “soon afterwards” or even “then”)
  • A town gate was mentioned where the prophet met the widow.
  • It was the widow’s son who died and was raised.
  • The child after he was revived was delivered or given back to the mother.
  • The action convinced the witnesses that the one who performed the act was a man of God.

The other elements of the narrative seems to be derived from Mark's account of the raising of Jairus' daughter (see the third column in table 8.4). In fact the point about the town gate at Nain actually clinches the case: archaeological study has shown the town of Nain in Galilee never had a wall (and hence had no need of a gate). The gate came directly from the Old Testament. Thus the story of the raising of the widow’s son is not historical.[6]

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The Raising of Lazarus

The last case of raising the dead is narrated in John 11:1-44 (see table C below). In this episode, Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, had already died for four days when Jesus raised him from the dead. The body of Lazarus was already decomposing when Jesus raised him (John 11:39). But even after this spectacular miracle "the Jews" still did not believe him (John 11:44-47).

John 11:1-44 Pyramid Texts [c]
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha...
11 [Jesus] went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days.

33 When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping he was deeply moved...

38 Jesus...came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone...
43...Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Utterance 670
O Osiris the King, you have gone, but you will return; you have slept [but you will awake]; you have died but you will live
Utterance 670
Osiris speaks to Horus, for he has removed the evil [which was on the king] on his fourth day.
Utterance 670
they come to Osiris the King at the sound of the weeping of Isis, at the cry of Nephthys, at the wailing of these two spirits.
Utterance 665A
The tomb is opened for you, the doors of the tomb chamber are thrown open for you.
Utterance 412
O flesh of the king, do not decay, do not rot, do not smell unpleasant.

Utterance 620
I am Horus, O Osiris the King, I will not let you suffer. Go forth, wake up.
Utterance 703
O King, live, for you are not dead. Horus will come to you that he may cut your cords and throw off your bonds; Horus has removed your hindrance.
Table C: The resurrection of Lazarus and Osiris compared. [9]

We have many reasons to doubt the veracity of the story. The first reason is that it appears nowhere else except in the gospel of John. The second reason is that Luke, who also mentioned Martha and Mary as good friends of Jesus, never mentioned that they had a brother (Luke 10:38-42). It would be amazing that Luke would omit the narration of this certainly most spectacular miracle of all. (Neither does Luke mention that Mary and Martha lived in Bethany)

The third reason is that we have a very good idea where the story of Lazarus' raising from the dead probably originated from.

  • First, we know from chapter six that Luke and John shared allied streams of oral tradition and that they reached both evangelists in slightly altered form. There is a parable in Luke, not duplicated in the other two synoptics, that is very probably the source of John's miracle. This parable given in Luke 16:19-31 tells of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who both died; the rich man went to hell and Lazarus appeared at "Abraham's side". The rich man pleaded with Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead so that he can warn his living brothers about the existence of hell and to make them change their ways. Abraham refused the request saying something like "even if Lazarus is raised from the dead they will not believe." This, in fact, forms the moral of the story. In John's miracle the moral had become "even after Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Jews did not believe”. [7]

  • Second, there is a contemporaneous Egyptian myth about the death of the god Osiris and his resurrection of by Horus. Osiris has two sisters, Isis and Nephthys.(Note: Horus is the son of Isis by parthenogenesis-i.e. virgin birth) In the legend Osiris lies dead at Heliopolis. Heliopolis was the Greek name for the Egyptian burial ground. This necropolis is known by various names in Egyptian-one of them is “House of Anu”. The semitic form of this would be “Beth-anu” which sounds very close to Bethany. The name Lazarus itself sound very close the semitic rendition of the Egyptian god: El-Osiris. [8] The story of Osiris resurrection is uncannily similar to that of Lazarus’ in John, we give excerpts from both these for comparison below in table C. Note the similarities:
    • Osiris has two sisters - so does Lazarus.
    • References to death as a state of sleep and resurrection as a waking up from that sleep.
    • Osiris, like Lazarus, was dead for four days.
    • References to the wailing sisters.
    • References to the stench (or absence of) the corpse.
    • The tombs were opened before the resurrection.
    • References to the freeing of the bondage of the corpse.

These similarities are simply to numerous for the two myths to be unrelated to one another. The Egyptian myth precedes John’s gospel by about two and a half thousand years. How could a myth that old influenced John’s gospel? The answer is simple, the myth may be old but it was still very much alive in the socio-religious environment of first century Egypt. Just as Christian myths, already two thousand years old, are still alive today in the fundamentalist socio-religious culture; the Egyptian myth of Osiris remain basically unchanged even unto the first century AD. Upon conversion into Christianity, the Egyptians took their mythological beliefs-only slightly altered- along with them. As the famous early twentieth century Egyptologist, Wallis Budge puts it:

The chief features of the Egyptian religion remained unchanged....down to the period when the Egyptians embraced Christianity, after the preaching of St. Mark the Apostle in Alexandria, AD 69, so firmly had the early beliefs taken possession of the Egyptian mind; and the Christians in Egypt, or Copts as they are commonly called, seem never to have succeeded in divesting themselves of the superstitious and weird mythological conceptions which they inherited. [10]

As we saw earlier, that was how the myth of Jesus’ virgin birth gained currency. And, as we shall see in later, that was how many elements of the myth of the Jesus’ resurrection found their way into the gospels. It is obvious that the story of Lazarus’ resurrection is a piece of fiction which came out from an amalgam of an early Christian parable and an old Egyptian myth.

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a. It is interesting to note that Matthew, while copying Mark’s passage above (Matthew 13:54-58) deliberately changed the last verse from Marks “He could not do any miracles there” (Mark 6:5) to his own “He did not do any miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58). This verse has changed Mark’s meaning-which was that Jesus was unable to perform any miracles- to that Jesus refused to perform any miracles. Again a reminder-if Matthew could saw casually falsify a written record, how much faith do we have in his veracity with unwritten oral tradition.
b.Note that the point here is not to prove that the young girl actually had catalepsy or anything else. Remember that the onus is on the one that makes the extraordinary claim to supply the extraordinary proof. as long as the possibility exists that the girl was not dead or that the story is unhistorical, the miracle is not even shown to be deserving any further examination.
c.The term “pyramid text” is used to described the inscriptions found on the walls in the pyramids from the Egyptian kings of the Vth and VIth dynasties (circa 26th to 23rd century BC). [11]


1.Cadoux, The Life of Jesus: p102-104
2.Yerby, Judas, My Brother: p506-507
3.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p108-109
4.Cadoux, The Life of Jesus: p101-102
Guignebert, Jesus: p196
5.Helms, Gospel Fictions: p65-67
6.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p114
Helms, Gospel Fictions: p63-64
7.Caird, Saint Luke: p20-21
8.Helms, Gospel Fictions: p97-98
9.ibid: p9961
10.E.A. Budge, The Egyptian Book of The Dead, Dover 1967 pxlix quoted in Helms, Gospel Fictions: p96
11.Helms, Gospel Fictions: p96

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