Jesus's Words

Chapter 13: Paul's Supposable Miracles Explained

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Section 7: Supposable Miracle VI.—at Ephesus, Diseases and Devils Expelled by Foul Handkerchiefs.—Acts 19:1-12

At Ephesus, Paul makes a stay of between two and three years; for "two years" together,(Acts 19:10a.) "disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus,"(Acts 19:9b.) so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.Acts 19:10b

The history continues, And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:Acts 19:11

These "special miracles," what were they? Of the whole number, is there so much as a single one particularized? No; not one. Special as they are, the following is the account, and the only account given of them. The history continues, So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.Acts 19:12

No circumstances whatever particularized, name of the person, name of the place, description of the time—nothing, by means of which, in case of falsity in toto, or incorrectness in circumstance, the misstatement might have been exposed,—to what degree of credence, or so much as consideration with a view to credence, vague generalities such as these, can they present so much as the slightest claim? If allusions such as these are to pass proof, where is the imposture, to which proofs—proofs sufficient in number and value—can ever be wanting?

Opposed as Paul was, wherever he went,—by gainsayers or persecutors, or both—sometimes successful, sometimes altogether unsuccessful,—sometimes in a slight degree successful—in so much as any one occasion, either in this history, or in any one of his own numerous Epistles, do we find so much as a single one of these "special miracles," any more than of any other miracles, brought to view by him, or so much as alluded to by him, in the character of proofs of the commission to which he pretended? Answer: No, not one.

Diseases cured, evil spirits driven out, by handkerchiefs and aprons!—by handkerchiefs and aprons brought from a man's body! Diseases cured and devils seared away by foul linen! By Jesus—by any one of his Apostles—were any such implements, any such eye-traps ever employed? No; never. As to diseases, if by such means a disease had been propagated, the case would have been intelligible enough. But what was wanted was a miracle: and this would have been no miracle. The price, received by the holy wearer for any of these cast-off habiliments—the price, of the precious effluvia thus conveyed—by any such little circumstance, had it been mentioned, some light might have been cast on what was done.

One thing, indeed, may be stated with some assurance: and this is—that, after a man, well or not well, had received one of these same dirty handkerchiefs, or of these same dirty aprons, no evil spirit in him was visible.

One other thing may also be stated with no less confidence:—this is that, infection out of the question, and supposing Paul free from all contagious disease, if, without handkerchief or apron, the disease would have had its exit,—by no such handkerchief or any such apron was the exit of it prevented.

Note, that all this time, according to this man, the author of the Acts, he himself was in Paul's suite. Yet, taking credit for all these miracles—taking credit thus for miracles out of number, not so much as one of them all does he take upon himself to particularize.78


78 Another branch of his trade, already mentioned in this same chapter, as having been carried on by him in this same place, namely, Ephesus,—and which, where circumstances created a demand for the article, appears to have been more profitable than that of expelling devils or diseases,—is that, of which the Holy Ghost was the subject. This power of conferring—that is to say, of being thought to confer—the Holy Ghost,—such, and of such sort was the value of it, that Simon Magus, as there may be occasion to mention in another chapter, had, not less than one-and-twenty years before this, offered the Apostles money for it, A.D. 34.(Acts 8:18-24.) This power, two preceding verses of the same 19th chapter, namely the 5th and 6th, represent Paul as exercising: and, whatsoever was the benefit derived, twelve is the number of the persons here spoken of as having received it.
After "they," the above twelve,Acts 19:7 disciples,Acts 19:9 "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus;"Acts 19:5 when Paul, "had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied."Acts 19:6 Here then, if, by thus laying on of hands, it is by Paul that any operation is performed, it is the conferring of "the Holy Ghost." But this power, whence had Paul received it? Not from Jesus, had the self-constituted Apostle received this gift, whatever it was, any more than he had baptism, by which ceremony, as appears from Acts 8:16, it was regularly preceded: as in the case of the magician it actually had been. Not from Jesus: no such thing is anywhere so much as pretended. Not from the Apostles, or any of them; from two, for example, by commission from the rest—as in the case of Peter and John:(Acts 8:14-19.)—no such thing is anywhere so much as pretended. In no such persons could this—would this—their self-declared superior, have vouchsafed to acknowledge the existence, of a power in which he had no share. On this occasion, as on every other, independently of the Apostles did he act, and in spite of the Apostles.
As to the "speaking with tongues and prophesying," these are pretensions, which may be acknowledged without much difficulty. Tongues are the organs most men speak with. As to prophesying, it was an operation that might as well be performed after the fact as before the fact: witness, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?Luke 22:64 Read the Bible over from beginning to end, a prophet, whatever else be meant, if there be anything else meant, you will find to have been a politician: to prophesy was to talk politics. Make a new translation, or, what would be shorter, a list of corrigenda, and instead of prophet put politician,—a world of labour, now employed in explanations, will be saved.

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