The following five points will demonstrate why I am certain that the supernatural exists and that miracles of healing really do take place today. Although I am fully convinced of this I do also hope that skeptical readers may think hard and long about what they read here (although I am certain that many skeptical readers may not find this as convincing as I do). On the other hand, for my fellow believers I am absolutely certain that this will further strengthen their faith.
1. Personal Interviews (Demon possession & Healing).
For a recent work (a hopeful book project of mine on the historical investigation of Jesus’ miracles) I include a section of interviews of people who have been eyewitnesses to miracle healings and demon exorcism. The purpose of this section of my project is to lay out a powerful counter response to a challenge forwarded by the 18th century philosopher David Hume in the context of healing miracles. Here is a sampling of my completed interview & interactions with eyewitnesses.
It is worth noting that I only included the most powerful testimonies thus far (others I deemed inferior as probably having a natural cause were left out). One friend of mine had encountered an exorcism on a church youth camp which had caused him and others to flee the scene. When this friend later inquired of what happened he was informed by elders that it took several men to hold down a 13 year old boy who foamed and frothed at the mouth in response to prayer. A leader in a church in Mitchells Plain, in Cape Town, affirms an encounter of possessed girl in a hospital. This mature leader, whose occupation is that of a nurse, claimed that a girl she prayed for manifested a deep voice, unusual strength and was foaming at the mouth. Only after prayer did these symptoms subside. My lecturer in Ethics, who is also a pastor, prayed for a man with a cancerous tumour on the brain. This man had all but accepted that death would result, since he was given mere months to live. In that moment of prayer the man had an overwhelming heat sensation in his head, and scans the following week revealed that the tumour had shrunk to the size of a scab, and amazingly it had relocated to the bottom of his brain at the back of his head. A South African pastor of 37 years affirmed that when he prayed and anointed with oil a deformed baby that was soon to die the baby then recovered fully. This pastor was invited to her 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday parties. And when doctors confirmed this remarkable recovery one of them remarked: “I don’t believe in God, but whatever you did worked.” This same pastor had an experience when a man he prayed for begun retching, except no substance came out from his mouth and the pastor, though initially skeptical, took this as likely demonic in nature. One acquaintance alleged to have seen a pastor exorcize a demon from a schoolgirl in one of Cape Town’s top schools. A close friend of mine also had an encounter with demon possession. This involved a girl who collapsed and writhed in response to prayer, this scene took place at his school during after hours. It was later discovered that this girl took part in witchcraft since her mom was heavily involved in such practice. A friend of mine at my college alleged to have seen gold dust inexplicably appear on her friend’s back when listening to a sermon (this strange phenomenon was captured on camera within an American church by Darren Wilson in his four-part documentary series). This same friend experienced an occasion when an elderly women with a deformed back was fully healed. She heard the woman’s back crack “into place.” My personal GP booked an elderly lady in for a back operation to rectify a dislodged spinal disc. A few days before the operation, in which my GP was operating as an assistant, the woman returned to her practice claiming that her back had healed after her family had prayed for her. Subsequent scans of her back confirmed this full recovery and the operation was cancelled. When I asked my GP what she thought of this she said that “some things are not scientifically explainable.”
A pastor, Desmond, recounted how a woman at his church with several cancerous nodules was fully healed after walking through a prayer chain. On a missionary effort a fellow team member of Desmond’s recounts how after prayer a beggar’s stump leg had grown over a dozen centimeters in front of his eyes. The team was confused as to why God had not fully restored the man’s leg. Their theory was that the miracle “was about him, God never intended to fully heal his leg.” This man has now “given his life to Christ.” Desmond went on about a dozen or so other miracles he has seen in his time as a pastor.
2. Academic Studies.
For my project, and for a long while prior, I have consulted relevant academic studies which have documented convincing evidence of miracle healing (2). The most comprehensive case of such healings on an academic level is that of Craig Keener’s two volume worldwide investigation. The testimony is quite striking. For example, Leo Bawa, a PhD candidate Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, testifies to being an eyewitness: “By God’s grace I have seen God healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses by his power: malaria, pains and aches, cancer, depression, bones; and the dead brought back to life” (3). According to Keener a woman by the name of “Shelley witnessed a deaf boy about the same age healed the same night, and the next day a church was started” (4). Keener’s correspondence with Dr. Nicole Matthews confirmed an eyewitness testimony to healing of a paralyzed woman on a mat (5). Dr. Julie Ma, a Korean missiologist at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, claims to be an eyewitness to the healing of an old man with a critical spinal problem, she saw that after prayer he “was instantly healed and he stood up and walked away.” Another time she saw “an old man who had been deaf in both ears since he was a young man was instantly healed” (6). According to Keener he has investigated reports “of someone being miraculously healed, and a church being started in a village the next day, in a whole region—sometimes entire villages turning to faith in Christ” (7). According to a study 86.4 percent of Brazilian Pentecostals have claimed have experienced divine healing (8). The former principal of the Malaysia Theological Seminary, turned bishop, in Asia affirms that “the miraculous is assumed and fairly regularly experienced” (9). Sung-Gun Kim tells us that “Pentecostal Christianity within Latin America, Africa and Asia” have experiences of “exorcism, healings… and so forth” (10). In India we are told that “many tangible miracles have happened such as the healing of the deaf and dumb and incurable diseases which strengthened the ministry in its initial stage” (11). A Western researcher in the Philippines found out “that 83% of them actually reported that they had experienced some dramatic healing from God in their bodies” (12). Another Asia based study found that ”562 of the 604 Christian respondents claimed to have experienced healings, all with positive spiritual and church benefits” (13). Two interviewers, Millar and Yamamori, found that “in India, in particular, healing was viewed as commonplace among the Christians we interviewed” (14). Martin found that miracle healing and exorcism compose “a large proportion” of South India’s Christian population (15), whereas Betty Young, an archivist of United Mission to Nepal, says that in Nepal “there must be thousands who have come to the Lord through healing” (16). Edmond Tang says that “according to some surveys, 90% of new believers cite healing as a reason for their conversion” (17). Of Christianity in China David Aikman concludes that “it is difficult to investigate the phenomenon of Christianity in China today without hearing stories of miraculous healings” (18).
This is but a sampling (it neglects studies and testimonies from other continents and countries, of which Keener chronicles in his volume) that goes to show that we have overwhelming evidence that needs to be considered.
3. Overwhelming Human Testimony.
When we actually tie all these studies together we find that hundreds of millions of people have claimed to be eyewitnesses to supernatural healings. Professor Keener tells us in an interview that “there was a survey done in 2006, and extrapolating from the evidence of the survey, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing.” According to Keener this study “surveyed Pentecostals and Charismatics in 10 countries, and if you take the number of—well, the projected number, based on the survey—of those who claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing, the number comes out in those 10 countries alone, and among Pentecostals and Charismatics alone, to about 200 million. But what is more striking is, from the same survey, that about 39% of Christians who did not claim to be Pentecostals or Charismatic, in those 10 countries, also claimed to have witnessed or experienced divine healing. Now that’s just 10 countries. They didn’t even include China, where about 10 years ago some information from within the China Christian Council, suggested that nearly half of all new conversions from the previous 2 decades had come from what they called faith healing experiences. And some other surveys put the figure even higher. Now, I don’t know how we would figure out more precise data, you know, like what the percentages actually are, or so on, but in any case, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who make these claims” (19).
Now, Keener is careful to avoid that just because so many people have experienced dramatic healings that it means every one of them is wholly authentic. In his corpus Keener makes sure to note where he thinks that there are adequate naturalistic explanations, and where there are no adequate naturalistic explanations. Keener is evidently interested in convincing cases where entire villages & atheist families have converted to Christian belief after witnessing a miracle. See the brief account of an atheist professor, Luis Flores, who ended up a pastor after a miracle, my personal favourite account of a popular rugby player Jaco, as well as Kayla Knight.
4. Many Doctors Claim to Have Seen Miracles.
This point is reminiscent of my interaction with my GP, as I touched on above. According to a study of 1100 physicians 55% of them claim to have seen miracle healings (20). As a result most physicians pray for their patients as a group (51%) while even more (59%) pray for individual patients. This is an area that I really want to investigate much more in depth even though others have done so before.
5. My Investigations of Jesus of Nazareth.
The subject of the historical Jesus has been my main area of emphasis. The simple fact is that we have a lot of historical evidence for the miracle status of Jesus. It is embedded in every layer of our historical textual evidence. We have Jesus’ miracles in creeds (particularly 1 Corinthians 15), our early hypothetical sources (Q, L, M, the pre-John Sign Gospel), gospel traditions (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John), the Pauline epistles. Historians are happy to just have two historical sources confirming a historical event, a general standard they work from. However, when it comes to Jesus’ miracles of healing they are reported in no less than six independent sources, with some of those sources (creeds and hypotheticals) going back very early, within years of his crucifixion. We thus have solid historical evidence supporting the miracle status of Jesus. The late scholar Marcus Borg, a fellow of the radical Jesus Seminar, writes: “Hence, my conclusion: Jesus was a healer and an exorcist. Indeed, more healing stories are told about him than about any other figure in the Jewish tradition. In all likelihood, he was the most remarkable healer in human history” (21).
Scholarly consensus holds that Jesus was widely reputed to be a miracle worker, even the agnostic and contemporary critic Ehrman says that “Whatever you think about the possibility of miracle healing it’s clear that Jesus was widely reputed to have done them” (22). One of the world’s leading Jesus scholars Craig Evans likewise writes that “It is no longer seriously contested that miracles played a role in Jesus’ ministry” (24).
Also, not only do we have our historical evidence but we also have arguments that support the conclusion that Jesus was really a miracle worker. Several supporting features would be Jesus’ immense popularity with crowds, according to Jewish historian Paula Fredrickson: “An ability to work cures, further, coheres with another datum from Jesus’ mission: He had a popular following, which such an ability helps to account for” (23). Further, the miracle narratives are also supported by hints of historicity – my project research surprised me on just how unadorned some of the nature miracles of Jesus are when you compare then to other ancient texts with miracles in them. Then the miracles also pass several criterion of authenticity that make them all the more credible; these are, namely, the criterion of undesigned coincidences, enemy attestation, early & independent attestation & coherence.
In short, we have several strong grounds for affirming that Jesus really did perform miracles. Unless one approaches the historical evidence with a naturalistic bias then I see no reason to deny this aspect to Jesus’ ministry.
I feel rationally justified in accepting the existence of the supernatural based on these several lines of evidence. Human testimony, academic studies, personal interviews, and our historical evidence for this side of Jesus’ ministry leaves me with no doubt. If we take our historical data seriously we should, according to scholar Walter Wink, “have no difficulty believing that Jesus actually healed people, and not just of psychosomatic diseases” (25).
1. Borg, M. 1987. Jesus, A New Vision. p. 72.
2. See Keener, C. 2011. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
3. Leo Bawa, personal correspondence with Craig Keener, Aug. 10, 2009.
4. Keener, C. ibid. p. 462 (scribd ebook format)
5. Craig Keener, Dr. Nicole Matthews, personal correspondence, April 1, 2009.
6. Ma, J. 2005. Mission Possible: The Biblical Strategy for Reaching the Lost. p. 64.
7. Keener, C. Craig Keener Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
8. Andrew Chesnut: “Exorcising the Demons of Deprivation: Divine Healing and Conversion in Brazilian Pentecostalism.” In Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing (2011). p. 169–85.
9. Hwa, Y. 1997. Mangoes Or Bananas?: The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology. p. 230.
10. Kim, S. Pentecostalism, Shamanism and Capitalism within Contemporary Korean Society. p. 10. Available.
11. Pothen, A. 1990. Indigenous Cross-cultural Missions in India and Their Contribution to Church Growth: With Special Emphasis on Pentecostal-charismatic Missions. p. 189.
12. Keener, C. ibid. p. 390 (scribd ebook format).
13. Kwon, T. 1985. The Theoretical Foundations of Healing Ministry and the Applications to Church Growth. p. 187.
14. Miller, D. & Yamamori, T. 2007. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. p. 52.
15. Martin, D. Evangelical Expansion in Global Society. p. 288.
16. John Barclay, “Church in Nepal: Analysis of Its Gestation and Growth.” 2009. 193, quoting Betty Young,
17. Keener, C. ibid. p. 384 (scribd ebook format)
18. David, A. 2012. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power. p. 76.
19. Keener, C. Craig Keener Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
20. Business Wire. 2004. Science or Miracle? Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians’ Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles. Available.
21. Borg, M. The Mighty Deeds of Jesus. Available.
22. Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 199.
23. Fredriksen, P. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
24. Evans, C. Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology. p. 34. Available.
25. Walter, W. 1994. Write What You See. p. 6.