Section 13: Supposable Miracle XII.—at Malta, Deputy Publius's Father Cured.—Acts 28:7-8
The story immediately follows that of the viper.
Of the fevers, which, within the compass of any given spot, and any given space of time, have place, it almost always happens, that a certain number go off of themselves. Of, perhaps, all sorts of fever,—at least of almost all sorts at present known, thus much is agreed upon by all physicians:—they have at least two regular courses, one of which terminates in death, the other or others in recovery. Supposing the person in question to have had a fever,—what is pretty clear is—that, if of itself, it would have taken a favourable termination, there was nothing, in the forms employed by Paul, viz., utterance of prayers and imposition of hands, that could have any natural tendency to cause it to take an unfavourable one.
But—the course afterwards taken by the fever, was there anything in it to distinguish it from the ordinary favourable course? If not, in that case, so far from miraculous, there is nothing that is so much as wonderful in the case.
Note here two things—the narrator one of the party; the narrative so loose and uncircumstantial. But to see is one thing; to narrate, another.
Three days, it seems, and no more, did Paul and his suite stay at the house of this Publius. Was it during that time, or not till afterwards, that Paul performed on him those ceremonies, of which healing is represented as having been the consequence? Was it within that same space of time, or not till afterwards, that the healing is supposed to have taken place? As to the English word healing, it cannot be accused of being indecisive. But in some languages they have words, by which a very convenient veil is thrown over the result. In the languages in question, for the endeavour to heal, whether successful or unsuccessful, the word employed is the same. The Latin affords one of these convenient words, curo. The Greek has another, iasato, and in the Greek original of this history, this is the word employed.
In a case where a ceremony and nothing else is trusted to, it being supposed that the patient really has the disease, the safe and prudent course is, so to order times and seasons, that between the time of performing the ceremony, and the time at which restoration to health is expected to take place, the time shall have come for the practitioner to have shifted quarters; for, in this case, this is an interval more or less considerable during which it being taken for granted that the desired result will take place of course, reward, in the shapes of profit and honour, will pour in upon the scientific head.
Here, as elsewhere, not only no symptoms are particularized, but no place is mentioned: no time is particularized, no persons are mentioned as percipient witnesses: even the individual who was the subject of the cure is not mentioned by name.
As to the givers of the supposed honours and presents—persons are indeed mentioned:—mentioned, but no otherwise than by the name of others. One individual alone is particularized: particularized as having received the benefit of these ceremonies. This is the father of Publius. This man, to use the phraseology of the passage, was also healed. But—this man who was he? He was no less a person than the father of the chief man in the island. Well then, what are the honours, what the allotment of "such things as were necessary?" What were the proofs of gratitude, afforded by this man, who was so much better able to afford such presents, than any of those other persons cured? By such proofs of remuneration, some evidence—some circumstantial evidence,—supposing them exhibited at a proper time, would have been afforded, in proof of the reality of the service. But, neither by the person thus spoken of as healed, nor by his son—the chief man in the island,—is it said that any such proofs were afforded. For such a silence when the case of an individual was brought to view, coupled with the express declaration made, of gifts presented by persons unnamed,—three cases cannot but present themselves, as being any one of them more probable, than that, on this occasion, a real miracle was performed. One is—that there was no disease, perhaps no such person: another is, that though there was a disease, it went off of itself: the third is, that it never went off at all.
One thing may be asserted without much fear of contradiction: and that is, that in this country, if in terms such as these, accounts were inserted in the public prints;—accounts of diseases cured without medicine;—diseases cured by nothing but words and gesticulations;—though the accounts given were ever so numerous, not the smallest notice would they be thought worthy of,—not the smallest attention would they receive from anyone, unless it were for the joke's sake.
What is more,—numerous are the publications, in which, encompassed with circumstantiality in all manner of shapes, not only the names of the fortunate patients are mentioned, but under the signatures of those patients declarations made, assuring the public of the reality of the cure,—and yet, when at the same time, by competent persons, due inquiry has been made, it turns out after all that no such cure has been performed.
Accounts, which would not be believed were they to come out at a time of so widely diffused knowledge, are they to be believed, merely because the time they belonged to,—facts and accounts together,—was, as to all such matters, a time of universal ignorance? The less a man understands the subject, the more firmly is he to be believed, as to everything he says of it? Or is it that, between then and now, men and things have undergone a total change? and, if so, when did it take place?