Did Jesus Really Heal People?

When I was a child I attended a small, rural Freewill Baptist church. It was KJV fundamentalist to the core and the preachers primarily preached against sin. We were against the pentecostal three-works-of-grace doctrine; but though the church had nothing to do with pentecostals there was an unassuming member who was known for having the gift of healing.

I was witness to several of his healings, but one stands out sharply in my mind. My younger sister and I were running and playing in a field next to a citrus nursery behind our grandparents’ house when she stepped into an old pile of ashes. Except they weren’t really old; her foot immediately broke through to the hot embers below and she screamed. I grabbed her up and ran for the house. Her flip-flop, stuck in the pile, shriveled in the heat.

My grandparents took her to the healer who lived about a block down the country road. With no fanfare, he touched her foot and healed it in the name of Jesus. There were no blisters, scars, or other indications that it was ever injured.

How does this work?

Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife

Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife – John Bridges 1818-1854

Was Jesus Really a Healer?

Until now we have heard repeatedly about Jesus’ great works in Capernaum—but without detail. Today we are given details.

Mark 1 says:

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.

We learn that Jesus’ teaching amazed the people of Capernaum, but a second element of his work really captured their attention—he healed people!

The past hundred years or so produced a tremendous amount of scholarly discussion about the historical Jesus, what he was really like, and what he said and did. Using various critical techniques, some denied many of the gospel reports and claims about him as stories created by his later followers. But an interesting consensus developed that one thing was true—Jesus was considered a healer; even many of the biggest critics of the gospel stories agree.

How Does Healing Work?

Like many others, I was taught that healings and other miracles were supernatural events—direct interventions of God into the natural world. This explained all the ‘miracles’ in the Bible, including such fantastic occurrences as the sun ‘standing still’ for hours, or even moving ‘backward’. Some believers say even today that God personally directs hurricanes to certain places to punish people for their faults.

I believe in the ability of God to intervene supernaturally as he/she wishes—the resurrection of Jesus is a big one! But I wonder whether God violates physics so casually as we think. Why would God do that? Perhaps healing involves something less than a disruption of the natural order.

Were Jesus’ healings a matter of the ill person’s state of mind? Was confidence in Jesus the necessary factor for the ill person to take control and self-heal? Mark doesn’t say much in this passage about what kind of sicknesses were healed. He only mentions a case of fever, which often resolves itself without outside help.

For more than twenty years I was involved in pentecostal churches, and healing was part of our regular menu. I witnessed the healing of many headaches and other somewhat invisible illnesses—things that often improve on their own. But in twenty years I never saw a withered hand restored, a leg lengthened, or any other astonishing healing. However, we did pray for healing of cancer and other serious illnesses, and when doctors successfully treated them we gave God credit for the healing.

I do not speak against the possibility of genuine healing, but often we see healing where none exists. This is not a credit to God, nor is it a good witness to nonbelievers.

Jesus’ Healings were Kingdom Events

Mark chapter 1 goes on to mention another specific healing:

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

Whoa! Now THIS is impressive! It is difficult to fake the healing of leprosy; this is a significant healing! I don’t think the recovery was imaginary or psychological—this was a genuine, observable healing. But was it a miracle—an interruption of the laws of physics?

I don’t think so. I suspect that within the laws of physics are forces we do not yet understand, and Jesus had access to these forces whether or not, in his developing awareness, he understood how they worked. But what matters most is that Jesus’ healings were an expression of the kingdom of God breaking upon them. It was this that enabled Jesus to heal, and it was this that caught the attention of the people of Capernaum and drew them to Jesus’ message.

Jesus’ ability to heal is also an integral part of his mission which he declared in our last post:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He is not yet reported to have healed the blind—but he will.

It intrigues me that the most genuine-seeming healing reports come from places new to the message of Jesus. Perhaps the major purpose of such healings is to draw attention to, and validate, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in that area or culture. This would parallel Jesus’ healings in his own time and place.

The Impact of Jesus’ Teaching and Healing

Luke also shares the stories we have read from Mark, but it is Matthew (chapter 4) who best describes the impact of Jesus’ teaching and healing:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

While Jesus continued his work in Galilee his fame spread far beyond Galilee in all directions; it was likely at least as big a deal as was John the Baptist. All three gospels mention a special kind of healing that we have not yet discussed—that of demon-possession. We will talk about that next time.

Articles in this series

Jesus Begins His Work:

The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?

*****

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45 Responses to Did Jesus Really Heal People?

  1. Pingback: Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work? | Jesus Without Baggage

  2. Pingback: Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God? | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Pingback: Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Pingback: The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. scraffiti says:

    Good post Tim. Did Jesus really heal people? The problem is that the accounts given are not eye witness and written decades after the alleged event. I’ve never been sure of how we are expected to believe such fantastic accounts. I have been to countless healing meetings both here in the UK and USA and never witnessed a healing. I have seen the piled crutches and walking aids but never an artificial limb or prosthetic eye or the odd iron lung (do they still exist?). I have driven terminally sick people to healing meetings in order to receive prayer from the person with the ‘healing ministry’ only to see them die days later. So did Jesus heal? I’ve no idea since I wasn’t there. Do I believe the gospel accounts – to be honest, not really.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Scraffiti, I agree that many healing claims today are shallow or outright bogus, but I do think Jesus healed people. It seems to be an important part of the kingdom of God breaking into the world. In fact, I believe genuine healings still occur, but that does not justify the ‘healers’ who set themselves up as powerful agents of God.

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  6. Great post and I think you hit the nail on the head. My own view of miracles (both biblical and current) is rather mixed…

    So I’m prepared to believe in the miracles reported in the gospels, but I think they may be more important as signs of the Kingdom than as mere demonstrations of supernatural power.

    I’m also cautiously prepared to believe in the possibility of miraculous healings today, and I’ve witnessed some that would appear to qualify, though probably none are 100% provable. But for the most part I think that these kinds of miraculous event are rare and anomalous, and not something we can expect as normal.

    However, in another sense I would suggest that *everything* (all of nature and creation and particularly people) may be partially or potentially miraculous – shot through with the divine presence, if we have eyes to see.

    I’ve tried to express my mixed views on miracles at some length on my own blog here: https://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/do-you-believe-in-miracles/

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Evan, thanks for sharing your post on miracles. I think it is a very good article and recommend it to anyone who wishes to pursue the issue of miracles.

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    • tonycutty says:

      “….though probably none are 100% provable” – you’re right, but to the person receiving the healing, he/she doesn;t worry about the provability – ‘I can walk’, ‘I can see’, ‘I can hear’, whatever – it’s real enough to the recipient. Gonna go have a look at your blog now…. 🙂

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  7. Chas says:

    We all have the same things in common, we have ourselves never witnessed the physical healing of anyone. That is not to suggest that God cannot heal physically through people in His Presence, rather that He does not choose to do so. However, since healing by Jesus and others are claimed by the Bible, we can safely assume that God has wanted us to know that He has the powers to do so. So why does He not heal physically through such people now? Because it is necessary for us to believe in Jesus as the Son of God without having to witness miracles to bring us to that state.

    As an aside, a (non-believing) friend of mine was working as a steward for the venue at which a Benny Hinn healing meeting was being held. She told me that she was aghast, because people who appeared to have no infirmity were almost trampling over others who were crippled so that they could reach Hinn first. My conclusion is that Hinn is a charlatan who conspires directly with others who pose as false ‘victims,’ so that they can appear to have been miraculously healed at his signal. However, we ought also to be aware that God has allowed Hinn to get away with this deception. Why, we cannot tell, except that at least SOME of the glory goes to God, and, again, God wishes us to believe that He has the powers to heal.
    Lastly, I am with Tim in believing that certain mental illnesses are healed by the Presence of God. These would, presumably, have a truly spiritual origin (i.e. damage to the mind, rather than to the physical brain).

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas,

      Whether Benny Hinn (or add other famous healer here) is a charlatan who stages healings, I don’t know. But I do believe that there are such false ‘healers’ who fabricate or exaggerate their results for fame, money, or power.

      The thing that intrigues me about healing is that the most genuine-seeming reports come from the mission field or other places new to the good news message of Jesus. Perhaps the major purpose of such healings is to draw attention to, and validate, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in that area or culture. This would be parallel to Jesus’ healings in his own time and place.

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    • Chas says:

      Having thought about this again, I do recall one healing event that some people in other ages might have thought a miracle. My Dad had a history of minor back problems as the result of his heavy manual job. On one occasion, he must have displaced a vertebra, as he was unable to walk upright, so he went to see a ‘bonesetter’ (a person without formal training in physiotherapy), who manipulated his back, for a fee. When he came back, he was fine. A workmate of his said his cure was all psychology, to imply that it was a placebo effect. Dad said that, if that were so, he was happy to pay the fee, as his agony had gone. Clearly, if it had occurred in the 16th to 18th century, such a cure as this would have been regarded as witchcraft. (PS my Dad could endure pain and discomfort like no-one else I have known).

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      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Good story. As mentioned in the article, I also witnessed healings, such as my sister’s burned foot. But they did not seem similar to the big fanfare healings I have seen in churches.

        I agree with your dad: if a placebo works, I am willing to pay for that.

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  8. This is an interesting subject. I would think that if these instant healers were real there would be at least one of them employed by some of the major hospitals, but there are not. You’d think it would be available as an option for people who believed, especially in many of the Christian founded hospitals, but they are not. I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t mention healings either. And in Mark they have Jesus using “spittle” which is an old pagan healing technique, but by Mt and Lk that spittle is omitted. That said, I think we all have healing power within ourselves and it’s possible that healings happen by our own faith in their possibility. Perhaps the healer is simply a prop to bolster that faith.

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  9. cmgatlin53 says:

    C.S.Lewis says something in his book on miracles about some of the miracles of Jesus being accelerated versions of the processes God causes to be already as part of the natural order; I don’t know why this can’t apply to our understanding of most of the miraculous healings in the Gospels (which, arguably, may very well be closer to eyewitness testimony than 19th and 20th century scholars have generally held).
    As for your observation about healing on the mission field, perhaps the lack of healing in regions evangelized long ago is related to the same principle that led to a lack of miracles in Nazareth, prompting Our Lord’s remarks about a prophet having no honor in his home country.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello CM (is this Chuck; friend of Ford?),

      Thanks for the reference to CS Lewis. I read the book long ago but I don’t recall that passage. I like this idea though, and perhaps it helped develop my thoughts on miracles, even though I don’t recall it.

      The lack of verifiable, documented healings and miracles in the western world is mystifying to me. Perhaps you are right that Christianity is too familiar to support them.

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  10. tonycutty says:

    Great post Tim and I’m going to read it again in detail 🙂

    I personally believe that Jesus healed then, and He heals now. The contemporary accounts were never intended (by their writers) to stand up to scrutiny 2000 years later on; they were originally intended to make a record of what Jesus had done both in their own sight and from the testimony of others. So I have no qualms about believing the accounts of miracles. And for someone who believes in an almighty, powerful God, it’s not too far a stretch for us to believe that Jesus healed/heals.

    You’re right about the Kingdom of God breaking through. That was what Jesus came to demonstrate. Notice that He didn’t come to preach salvation, being born again or anything like that – He came to preach the Kingdom. Ad He showed us what the Kingdom looks like: freedom from sickness, poverty and freedom from organised religion, instead giving a close personal relationship with the Creator. Now that’s Good News!

    Regarding violating the laws of nature, that’s no real problem. God can move molecules and things around as He wants. Sure, let’s make miraculous bread and fishes, but once they are ‘created’, they are normal fish and bread. The Creator can create what He likes; that’s one of the messages of the feeding of the 5000 or however many!

    And about healing being credited to doctors or to God – well I firmly believe that God gave us natural products and natural abilities for us to, in some small way, mimic the actions of the beautiful Creator God in that we too can heal things using medicine (and remember most modern medicines still have their roots in herbal medicine) and surgeons. God gave these special people amazingly special abilities. To credit God with their skill and healing is not a dichotomy; ok, God ‘only’ heals ‘indirectly’ through these people but how do we really know that? We like to put things in boxes, but God ignores such containers. There is no delineation between God healing directly and God healing indirectly. I have seen healings happen; indeed I have *personally* healed someone, ok only from a headache, but it happened. My friend (and we were working in a bar at the time!) told me he had a headache; I looked up and I could *see* the thing on his forehead like a red rash. So I touched the rash and his face changed from pain to amazement – “It’s gone!” It was all over in seconds; it really happened and I remember it clearly. And then we went on to serve more of the demon drink to the bar customers 😉

    And then there’s my wife, who is fighting inoperable cancer. We have had so many amazing things happen over the last year and a half since diagnosis, where God has put in our way certain people, surgeons, procedures, medicines, drinks – and my wife is more healthy now than she has ever been. God does not always heal instantly; sometimes the healing is not what we want – but He can and does heal. Life is so much more simple, in some ways, than we could ever imagine, and yet the interaction between God and His creation is so much more subtle than we can imagine too. There’s so much more to these mechanisms than simple cause-and-effect!

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, we agree that Jesus healed then and that he heals now. But I still think we tend to find supernatural healings where there are none.

      You have a lot of good points in these two comments, and it seems that you have specific thoughts on the issue. Perhaps you might develop them further for a post on your blog sometime. I would enjoy reading that!

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      • tonycutty says:

        Hehe you’ve rumbled me 😉 I very often look at my comments on others’ blogs, and think to myself ‘That would make a good blog post’, and then wait for Father to let me know it’s the right time. So I copy and paste the comments into WP drafts so they’re ready for use…. Cheating, I know, but it works for me 🙂

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  11. tonycutty says:

    Just to elaborate, when I said above, “Regarding violating the laws of nature, that’s no real problem. God can move molecules and things around as He wants”, I feel that God is part of the natural order; He’s inextricably intertwined with it. We base our ‘laws’ of nature in Creation on what we can observe, and on what ‘usually happens’. God doing something of His own free will, within that Creation, is not ‘cheating’, it’s as much a part of the way things are as is the moon orbiting the Earth. That we don’t often see things obviously miraculous happening is beside the point. God can, and God does. Most of the time, though, He does it discreetly. Sometimes He doesn’t do it discreetly, we see it happen, and it’s a miracle! But all the time, God interacts with Creation. He can’t help it, and neither can creation. It’s just the way things are!

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  12. scraffiti says:

    There are those that would have a problem with your statement, ‘God doing something of His own free will’ Tony. They would say that God does not step outside of the covenant and that all things are only done in Jesus’ name. I recently asked the question of a pastor friend as to why God went to so much trouble to rescue the Jews from Egyptian captivity and yet did nothing when some six million Jews went to the Nazi gas chambers. His explanation was that due to the covenant with Jesus, God was sort of no longer in control. So is Jesus redundant or not? Sorry to take your topic off course Tim.

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    • cmgatlin53 says:

      I’d say that the comparison is between the bondage of the Hebrews in Egypt and the Holocaust. God’s response to the former was to send Moses at the right time to eventually lead the remainder to the Promised Land. Then, as regards the Nazi attempt to extinguish Judaism and the Jews entirely, God’s response was to use people in the 20th century to stand against the Nazis and eventually make it possible for the remainder to return to the Promised Land after an exile of two thousand years. In neither situation (nor in the Babylonian captivity) did deliverance come quickly, and many died over a period of time. In the Holocaust, many more died, but over a very short period of time.

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    • tonycutty says:

      “So is Jesus redundant or not?” – I should have answered that on my last post, sorry. No, He’s not redundant, because He’s the One Who makes the afterlife possible, the afterlife that I claimed gave hope to the dying and to the survivors too. See my longer essay for a context for this….

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      No problem, Scraffiti. I don’t think it is off topic.

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  13. tonycutty says:

    “There are those that would have a problem with your statement, ‘God doing something of His own free will’ Tony. They would say that God does not step outside of the covenant and that all things are only done in Jesus’ name”

    Fair comment, and thanks for that. I don’t think it’s off-topic really because it’s about God intervening – or not – in the courses of events.

    My response to that statement would be that I would question just where the rule that ‘God does not step outside of the covenant’ comes from, also – which covenant? A covenant God made, or a covenant we think He made, or our interpretation of the covenant, or what? Do you see the difficulty? People who make up rules for God – even rules they think are Scriptural and Godly – are, in my view, imposing man-made limits on what God can and cannot do.

    Does God need a covenant to keep the stars in the sky? Did He promise always to keep my heart beating for me? He doesn’t.

    But for the part about the Jews and the gas chambers….well that’s a tough one. Death is horrible, there is absolutely no question of that, no matter what your belief system. But the Christian belief that death is not the ‘end of everything’ kind-of makes it slightly more acceptable. I’m no stranger to the fear and horror; my wife is fighting inoperable cancer. But for us, even if she doesn’t make it, we still get a happy ending. But the Jews? The millions of innocents – whom, make no mistake, God loves – well I personally am a near-Universalist. I believe that everyone gets the very best chance – not just a ‘fair’ chance, but the very best chance – to be with God forever in that blissful afterlife some call Heaven. If you look at it with that in mind, then the worst that can happen to us here on Earth – death – is not the very worst that can happen after all, in the eternal scheme of things. But I appreciate that this takes some swallowing, depending on your worldview and your beliefs. It’s of no immediate help to those left here with grief and questions – unless they too believe that they will meet their loved ones again. My father-in-law does not (as far as I know; he’s quite taciturn about these things) believe in an afterlife, so for him my wife’s diagnosis was the worst possible news. But for us, even though we are in the thick of it, there is hope because we believe that we will meet again should the ‘worst’ happen. I don’t want to make light of your question because it’s a serious, valid question. But this is the closest I can come to answering it, and I hope you find my comments helpful. I have some thoughts on decision points and life after death on my blog which may help; here iss the link: http://tinyurl.com/q8n8mxn

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  14. Pingback: Do Demons Exist? | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Schuh says:

    Whatever Jesus was doing and whatever it meant within his program, modern readers must remember and account for the fact that the gospels also report his healings were not unique – other people also worked ‘miracles’ and ‘cast out demons’ quite apart from Jesus. Their miracles were no less real or supernatural to the biblical writers than those of Jesus. Matthew even says Jesus was visited by magi at his nativity, mageuō being the Greek word for the magical arts and their miracle-workers. Explanations we offer today about Jesus’ ministry of miracles must also account for those other stories … the key word, I think, being ‘stories’.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Shuh, I agree with you that others besides Jesus also performed healings. This is part of the reason why I suspect that Jesus tapped into a natural healing force rather than violating laws of physics.

      I believe he healed people; I just question whether it was supernatural. I also believe he was the unique son of God, but that does not require his healings to be supernatural.

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      • Schuh says:

        I quite agree. ISTM there are two issues: what Jesus did and, decades later, what was said about what Jesus did. In the first case, I’d imagine the historical Jesus brought relief to the hurting and hope to the faithful using all the natural techniques available to healers of his time including what we’d call real medicine, psychology, and the placebo effect of ‘faith healing’ enhanced by ‘magical’ skills of illusion and stage magic, perhaps like a Benny Hinn. In the second case we have the stories told about these wonderful, completely natural events decades later by sincere believers. I think it reasonable to believe Jesus’ healing ministry was completely natural while acknowledging the stories later told included elements of the supernatural, just like the testimonials of followers of Benny Hinn.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Hi Shuh,

          I agree with your two-point analysis. I think Jesus did heal people using whatever methods he used; and I also think his followers who later recorded the healing episodes sometimes explained them according to their understanding of how it happened.

          This is true of the Gospels throughout; we should try to determine which aspects might be a result of the writers’ comprehension of the events or the significance of the events in later decades. However, I think the writers attempted to report accurately rather than purposefully fabricating elements.

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