A Scholar’s Take on Miracles, Raising the Dead & The God of Elijah

Prolific New Testament scholar Craig Keener’s recent gargantuan work, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, discusses the New Testament descriptions of miracles and also reports contemporary testimonies of healing and, in the following portion, dead-raising:

While writing this book I have come across claims of nearly three hundred raisings, from well over 150 different sources

Again, recall the accounts of raisings from the dead surveyed earlier, which I will recall but not elaborate again here. A number of claims date from the early twentieth century, but again I focus on the far more numerous more recent ones. These accounts also involve Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the West. A number of these accounts involve persons who have been dead for many hours or sometimes even more than a day. Some are from people I not only interviewed but also knew personally, or met through my wife’s family knowing them personally; where possible I cross-checked interviewees’ testimony with other witnesses. Witnesses range from those participating in the prayers to a person raised herself. While writing this book I have come across claims of nearly three hundred raisings, from well over 150 different sources…

These sources may vary in their reliability, but a high proportion reflect reports from eyewitnesses that one would normally deem reliable. I am particularly impressed with reports from individuals whose character I know and trust. I do not include in the count cases of which I was informed…yet not permitted by my sources to uses because of the security situation in their countries. [p. 749-750. Also, Keener details the claims and evidences of several supernatural healings experienced through testimony of those he personally knows in a chart on p. 752-756 ]

In Keener’s conclusion he describes what his study for the book and his own past experience as an an atheist and his present experience as a Christian academic have led him to:

When I started writing the book, I felt some competition between my theistic theological sympathies…and the intellectual skepticism and reservations characteristic of my academic training…My earlier background as an atheist who valued only naturalistic empiricism probably reinforced some of the latter predilections. Despite having witnessed some healings in conjunction with prayer, especially in earlier years, more recent disappointments and (in my academic work, especially recently) imbibing an Enlightenment hermeneutic of suspicion had me primed for a significant degree of skepticism…

As a Christian I believed in miracles in principle but wondered about the veracity of many claims today…My training makes it easier to evaluate critically than to trust, but at some point the intellectual honesty valued in my training also compelled me to go back and critically evaluate the reasons why I found it so much easier to exercise skepticism than to exercise faith, even in the face of enormous evidence in favor of faith…

People are hurting and in tremendous need. Like Elisha, I want to cry out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”

…as a Christian, I believe that the Jesus of the Gospels is alive and still has compassion for the suffering. I yearn to watch God touch the broken today.

People are hurting and in tremendous need. Like Elisha, I want to cry out, “Where is the God of Elijah?” The point of this book has been to demonstrate the plausibility of miracle claims in the Gospels and Acts, with a secondary purpose of suggesting that these claims need not all be explained solely by recourse to natural causation. But for me personally as a convert to the Christian faith, work on this book has also brought afresh to my attention the dramatic, moving character of human need, as well as the desire of a compassionate and living God to meet those needs. It has reminded me how the Gospel accounts’ emphasis on healings is consistent with a God of compassion who cares about real issues of human life and death, issues that theology, philosophy, and exegesis in their most academic forms sometimes forget. I know that miracles often do not happen and that not every prayer is answered affirmatively  But whether through using medicine, prayer, or both, I now long more than ever to see those desperate human needs met. [p. 766, 767, 768.]

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