Section 14: Conclusion: The Supposable Miracles Classed and Summed Up
Inferences,—conveying more or less of instruction,—may, perhaps, be found deducible,—at any rate our conception of the whole series taken together, will be rendered so much the clearer, by bringing the same supposed marvels again under review, arranged in the order of time.
For this purpose, the time may be considered as divided into three periods.
In the first are included—those, which are represented as having had place during the time when at the outset of his missionary expedition, Paul had Barnabas for his associate. Of these there are two, viz. 1. At Paphos, A.D. 45, Sorcerer Elymas blinded. 2. At Lystra, A.D. 46, cripple cured. Of this part of the expedition, the commencement, as in the current account, placed in the year 45.
In the second period are included—those, which are represented as having had place, during the time when Paul, after his separation from Barnabas, had Silas for his associate, and the unnamed author of the Acts for an attendant. This ends with his arrival at Jerusalem, on the occasion of his fourth visit—the Invasion Visit.
In the current accounts, this event is placed in the year 60. Within this period, we have the seven following supposed marvels:
- 1. At Philippi, A.D. 53, divineress silenced.
- 2. At Philippi, A.D. 53, earthquake: Paul and Silas freed from prison.
- 3. At Corinth, A.D. 54, Paul comforted by the Lord in an unseen vision.
- 4. At Ephesus, A.D. 56, diseases and devils expelled by Paul's foul handkerchiefs.
- 5. At Ephesus, A.D. 55, Exorcist Scevas bedeviled.
- 6. At Ephesus, A.D. 56, magic books burned by the owners.
- 7. At Troas, A.D. 59, Eutychus found not to be dead.
In the third period are included—those which are represented as having had place, in the interval between his forced departure from Jerusalem for Rome, and his arrival at Rome.
In the current accounts, this event is placed in the year 62. Within this concluding period, we have the following supposed marvels: 1. On shipboard, A.D. 62, Paul comforted by an angel. 2. At Malta, A.D. 62, a reptile shaken off by Paul without his being hurt. 3. At Malta, A.D. 62, Deputy Publius's father cured by Paul of some disorder. Year of all these three last marvels, the same as that of Paul's arrival at Rome. Total number of supposed marvels, twelve.
To the first of these three periods belong two supposed marvels, which, supposing them to have any foundation in truth, present themselves as being, in a greater degree than most of the others, exposed to the suspicion of contrivance. A moderate sum, greater or less according to the state more or less flourishing of his practice, might suffice to engage a sorcerer, for a few minutes or hours, to declare himself struck blind: a still more moderate sum might suffice to engage an itinerant beggar, to exhibit himself with one leg tied up, and after hearing what was proper to be heard, or seeing what was proper to be seen, to declare himself cured.
This was the period, during which Paul had Barnabas, or Barnabas Paul, for an associate. In these cases, if fraud in any shape had place,—it is not without reluctance, that any such supposition could be entertained, as that Barnabas—the generous, the conciliating, the beneficent, the persevering Barnabas—was privy to it. But, times and temptation considered, even might this supposition be assented to, on rather more substantial grounds, than that which stands in competition with it: namely, that for the production of two effects,—comparatively so inconsiderable, and not represented as having been followed by any determinate effects of greater moment,—the ordinary course of nature was, by a special interposition of Almighty power, broken through and disturbed.
Is it or is it not a matter worth remarking—that, of all these twelve supposed occurrences, such as they are,—in not more than four is the hero represented,—even by his own attendant, historian, and panegyrist,—as decidedly taking any active part in the production of the effect? These are—the blinding of the sorcerer, the cure of the cripple, the silencing of the divineress, the curing of Deputy Publius's father: the three first, at the commencement of this supposed wonder-working part of his career; the last,—with an interval of fifteen years between that and the first,—at the very close of it. In the eight intermediate instances, either the effect itself amounted to nothing, or the hero is scarcely represented as being instrumental in the production of it. These are—the being let out of prison after an earthquake had happened—being comforted, whether by God or man, in a vision or without one—having handkerchiefs, by which, when he had done with them, diseases and devils were expelled—being present when a gang of exorcists were beaten and stripped by a devil, whom they had undertaken to drive out of a man—being in a place, in which some nonsensical books were burned by their owners—being in a house, in which a youth said to be dead, was found not to be so—being comforted by an angel, who had the kindness to come on board ship uninvited—shaking off a reptile, without being hurt by it.
Whatever store may be set at this time of day upon all these marvels, less cannot easily be set upon them by anybody than was by Paul himself. For proof, take the whole tenor of his own Epistles, as well as the whole tenor of his visions, as delivered by his attendant. Numberless as were the scrapes he got himself into,—numberless as were the hosts of enemies he everywhere made himself,—open as all ears were to everything that presented itself as marvellous,—unable as men were to distinguish what could be done from what could not be done,—pressing as was at all times the need he had of evidence, that could arrest the hands of enemies,—on no occasion do we find him calling into his aid, so much as a single one of all these supposed irrefragable evidences.