Mar 27

‘God can heal today’ say MPs

Three prominent Christian MPs have challenged the Advertising Standards Authority to produce evidence to support their assertion that God cannot heal, reports Total Politics.

The ASA ruled on 1st February 2012 that Christians in Bath may not say in an advertisement:

“NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY! … We’d love to pray for your healing right now! We’re Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness”.

In a letter (on the Total Politics link above) to the Chairman of the ASA, Lord Smith of Finsbury, the MPs, Gary Streeter MP (Con), Gavin Shuker MP (Labour) and Tim Farron (Lib-Dem), from the all-party group Christians in Parliament, mention the prayer that has gone up for Fabrice Muamba and ask if those praying for him are wrong.

The openly-‘gay’ Chris, Lord, Smith of Finsbury who is also a vice-president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, spent his years as an MP doing just that.  In 2009, the ASA cleared the atheist bus ads which claimed there was no God.

As the MPs point out, a belief that God can heal today is based on ‘two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible’.

The Lord Jesus said: Mark 16:17  ‘And these signs shall follow them that believe; … 18 … they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’

The Apostle James said: James 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

So James lays down some

One of the claims made by the ASA is that belief that God heals might stop people going to the doctor.  In fact, none of the Bath Christians would advise against medical assistance.  Christian theology views medicine as a gift from God and being a doctor or nurse as a vocation.  One of the evangelists, Luke, was a doctor.  No Christian is going to tell a man with gall stones not to have the operation.

But just as God did not step in to save the Israelites from the advancing Egyptian army in Exodus 14 until they had exhausted all human ideas, and the woman with a flow of blood in Luke 8 had seen all the doctors before she came to Jesus, so it is often when the efforts of medicine can do no more that the miracle comes.

At other times, as in Fabrice Muamba’s case, prayer covers the whole pattern of events, such that an operation and healing go more swiftly and smoothly than anyone could imagine.  And then the doctors speak of ‘a miracle’.

Faith is also important. Both the Lord Jesus and the Apostle James tell us not to doubt.  The ‘double-minded’ will receive nothing from the Lord, says James.  We must not pray and then say to ourselves ‘I don’t think the Lord will do it, but it’s worth a try.’  And prayer has to be fervent, from the heart.

Just put “miraculous healing” into any search engine, be encouraged, and confound the ASA! 




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  1. Dave

    Next time you’re seriously I’ll then, Stephen, put your faith in your deity and save the NHS some money.

  2. Dave

    “As the MPs point out, a belief that God can heal today is based on ‘two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible’.” So what?

    It seems to me these MPs are playing a dangerous game, encouraging gullible people to join them in a form of Russian Roulette. Real people have died putting their faith in fantasy deities rather than medical science.

    1. Stephen

      Read the article again, Dave. No-one is saying not to go to the doctor. But are you saying no-one has ever been miraculously healed? Such a blanket denial seems to me to be driven by a quasi-religious fervour.

  3. Dave

    Would you like to point me in the direction of empirical evidence of miraculous healing? Not hearsay or fifth-hand claims made in ancient books of fantasy, but real, evidence based, laboratory tested evidence. While you’re at it, you could provide the empirical evidence for alien abductions and the predictive powers of astrology.

  4. Dave

    Ah, cencorship. One of the despot’s favourite tools.

  5. Chris Powell

    I can go one better than miraculous healing. I know a man who was killed and raised back to life!
    Christians have been talking about it all weekend.
    I’m sure you’re going to tell me that the resurrection of Christ doesn’t count because its recorded in an ancient book & all the witnesses have died. But does it surprise you that we are still celebrating this, 2000 years later ?
    People don’t rise from the dead. It must be simple to disprove the resurrection and all the churches would close.
    So why has no-one done it?

    1. Alex O'Riordan

      Hi Chris

      Gods have been dying and rising from the dead for as long as we humans have been inventing them. Jesus is hardly original on that count, he just happens to be one of the more recent.

      So, we have the Aboriginal gods, Julunggul and the Wawala, taking us back to about 50,000 years BCE.

      Other notables include: the Mayan Hun Hunahpu, the Babylonian Tammuz, the Phoenix in Phoenician mythology, the Akkadian goddess Ishtar (whose name is thought to be the origin of the Christian festival Easter), Horus and Osiris from Egypt, Dionysus from Greece, the Aztec’s Quetzalcoatl, the Canaanite Baal, the Celtic Cernnunos and the Dacian Xalmoxis.

      Makes resurrection look pretty passe when you consider how many of the cool kids were doing it before JC came along.

      Applying your proposed standard of proof, it must be pretty simple to show that these various gods didn’t rise from the dead.

      I’ll save for a later post the fact that the gospels can’t seem to agree with one another or with Saul (later Paul) of Tarsus about the details of the resurrection, despite having a fair span of years (close to a hundred for Matthew, Luke and John) after it supposedly happened to get their stories straight.

    2. Dave

      As a man wearing a tall hat once observed, many people can be fooled. As Alex points out, ancient resurrection myths are numerous. Even in the Bible it’s hardly a rare event http://www.adamgonnerman.com/2007/04/resurrections-in-bible.html

      1. Stephen

        That’s right Dave, many people were raised from the dead in the Bible through the power of God, three of them by Jesus himself. What was different about the death and resurrection of Jesus was that he had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again (John 10:18). Aware of ancient myths and the willingness of people to scoff and deny Christ’s resurrection, the New Testament writers are careful to record how many witnesses there were to the death of Jesus and how many saw him risen afterwards.

        1. Alex O'Riordan

          Yes, the NT writers were very careful to record how many witnesses there were to the death and resurrection of JC. Only problem is, for a group apparently careful to record the detail of the most significant event in the Christian mythology, none of the Gospel writers can give a consistent account.

          Take the resurrection, for example.

          Mar 16:1-8 (NIV): When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

          In the original version, that was the end of the narrative. The remainder of The Gospel of Mark (verses 16:9-20), where the arisen Jesus appears to various people, was not in the original account but was added much later by a different author. This Gospel originally ended with no one ever being informed of the empty tomb.

          So, from Mark we have no one seeing the resurrected JC and no one seeing the missing body – except for the two Marys, who didn’t tell anyone. It’s only in the later verses, attached many years after Mark was penned, that there were “eye witnesses” of the arisen Jesus.

          Mat 28:1-8 (NIV): After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

          In the Gospel of Matthew, written after the Gospel of Mark, the women are afraid but now they run off to tell the disciples who later see Jesus for themselves. Matthew add guards to the story (as eye witnesses) and also has the angel show the women around the tomb to prove to them that JC is really gone. Later in the chapter, Matthew makes a point to say that the guards were paid off not to tell anyone what they saw – since he needed to explain why no one ever heard the Romans claiming that Jesus had risen!

          In Mark’s (earlier) version, the women encounter a young man in a white robe who was already sitting on the rolled-away stone when they got there. But in Matthew’s version, the woman and the guards were frightened by a gleaming-white angel that came thunderously out of the sky and rolled away the tomb, and then sat on it. A detail Mark might have remembered…

          Luk 24:1-9 (NIV): On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

          Now their are two angels that look like lightning! Unlike in the original version of Mark, the women do tell the disciples what they saw.

          Joh 20:1-8 (NIV): Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

          There is no mention of angels or guards or thunder to legitimise John’s story. Instead, John adds a completely new account of the disciples seeing the tomb for themselves; the disciples, not the women or the Roman guards, are John’s important eye witnesses.

          I especially like Matt 27:51-53, with the tombs of the dead holy folk breaking open and the dead being raised to life and appearing to many people. A fact the other Gospel writers overlooked, and one that wasn’t thought sufficiently significant to be noted historically either.

          Or maybe it’s just sloppy editing.

          1. Stephen

            So you are absolutely sure there was an add-on to the Gospel of Mark, even though you were not there when it was supposedly written. I’ll bet you know the name of the additional author as well. Sloppy editing? No editing. The Church Councils who included these four Gospels in the Canon of Scripture were not stupid. They were well aware that the evangelists did not parrot each other. One has a detail another omits. So what? That is what gives them their authenticity. If it were a conspiracy they would have been tarted up to agree in every particular.

          2. Alex O'Riordan

            What a disappointingly waspish and petulant tone…

            Leaving that aside, and dealing with the points arising.

            1. Of course I’m not sure there was an add-on to the Gospel of Mark. My particular specialism is comparative religion and mythology, rather than biblical study.

            But the consensus amongst biblical scholars is that verses 9–20 were not part of the original text of Mark but represent a very early addition. This is because the last twelve verses are missing from the oldest manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel. The consensus continues that, linguistically and stylistically, these verses differ from the rest of Mark, suggesting they were a later addition. In a handful of manuscripts, a “short ending” is included after 16:8, but before the “long ending”. By the 5th century, at least four different endings to Mark had been attested.

            The 3rd-century theologian, Origen of Alexandria, quoted the resurrection stories in Matthew, Luke, and John but failed to quote anything after Mark 16:8, suggesting that his copy of Mark stopped there. Eusebius and Jerome both mention the majority of texts available to them omitted the longer ending.

            The view informed by the evidence rather than by faith is that the coda to Mark was likely composed early in the 2nd century and incorporated into the gospel around the middle of the 2nd century.

            So, whilst I’m not sure, I’m prepared to throw my lot in with the evidence-based conclusions identified above.

            2. Similarly, of course I don’t know the name of the ghost-writer to the final verses of Mark. Again drawing on the historical and textual analysis of those who know about such things much better than me, Mark was written about CE 70. The author is not named. The attachment of Mark’s name to it is a later invention. The view amongst most serious academics is that it could not, therefore, be based on eye-witness accounts. Rather, it is drawn from various sources including a passion narrative (probably written), collections of miracles stories (oral or written), apocalyptic traditions (probably written), and disputations and didactic sayings (some possibly written).

            3. The Church Council who included the gospels as canon might not have been stupid, but the prevailing approach in Christianity down the ages has been to treat the laity as if they were. Hence the Church’s reluctance to make the bible accessible to the congregation, on account of the consequent dissipation of Church leaders’ power. Hence the Church’s issue with the invention of the printing press, and its subsequent use in the mass production of the bible. Hence the Church’s opposition to the translation of the bible from Latin into English, culminating in the KJV.

            4. You ask “so what” in the context of the gospels not being able to agree on detail, suggesting that that gives them authenticity. What a curious claim! This might be plausible if the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. They were not: not first-hand, not second-hand and unlikely even third. The academically accepted view is that Mark was written first, followed by Matthew, Luke and then John. The later gospels drew upon the former as source material, as well as extraneous documents. It is entirely in keeping with a cult in the throes of metamorphosis into a serious religion that its core beliefs should become grander and more florid. This is why the earliest gospel is light on the supernatural detail of the resurrection, whereas the later ones really go to town. Not a “conspiracy”, but artistic licence used in the hope of capturing support.

            And these are hardly small details of disagreement. We’re not talking about whether JC had the chicken or the fish at the Last Supper. One might have thought that whether the resurrection was preceded by angels appearing in a clap of thunder and a blaze of glory, or the holy dead tumbling from their resting places and moving amongst the living, might be the kind of details about which a broad consensus should be possible.

          3. Stephen

            What a load of revisionist German higher-criticism tosh. Mark’s Gospel was written by John Mark, whose mother owned the upper room. Matthew was written by (Duh!) Matthew. Luke was written by the well-educated Doctor Luke and John by the Apostle John. All except possibly Luke were eyewitnesses, and the latter made it his business to speak to the all the witnesses he could find and write a definitive account of the life and times of Jesus and the early church.
            Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay who set out to disprove Luke concluded: “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…[he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
            The evangelists all agree that Jesus rose from the dead. On top of that, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus at one point. With one exception, each of the Apostles was martyred for faith in the risen Jesus. Would they do that if it had all been a fake? The evidence is overwhelming.
            And look at the contradictions in your story. The Gospels you say are written to ‘capture support’ even though 3,000 people have already believed at the first post-resurrection Pentecost and the Church is growing like wildfire.
            The Gospel story is supposed by you to have become ‘more florid’ over time although its greatest early exponent reduced it to ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’.
            Origen is 3rd century but he supposedly doesn’t have the supposedly 2nd-century purported addition to Mark.
            Oh dear.

          4. Alex O'Riordan

            Oh dear indeed! Once again, it is disappointing you feel unable to respond to any posts that say something with which you take exception, save for on a peevish and petulant tone. One might be forgiven for thinking from your style that dignity and grace were virtues that Christians thought pretty worthless.

            Unfortunately, no support is offered for your petulantly (i.e., ”Duh!” ) expressed view about gospel authorship (beyond, I suppose, by implication that those are the authors because those are the names at the start of them).

            Contrary to popular Christian belief that the gospels are eyewitness, “The view that the evangelists were not themselves eyewitnesses of the public ministry of Jesus would be held in about 95% of contemporary critical scholarship.” (per Bible scholar and theologian Prof. Raymond E. Brown, Response to 101 Questions on the Bible (1990), Mahwah, New Jersey, Paulist Press, p. 59-60.

            Diocesan priest and professor of Biblical Theology and chairman of the department of theology at Barry University, Miami, John F. O’Grady says about Mark:

            “The Gospel itself never states anything about its author, its origin, or the time of composition.”

            He continues later:

            “Who wrote Mark? First, recall that nowhere does the author identify himself. The same is true for all the Gospels. Matthew does not identify himself, nor does Luke, and in the Gospel of John the author seems to identify himself with the beloved disciple, but this cannot be equated with the apostle John(Jn. 21:24).”

            On authorship, Keith F Nickle says in The Synoptic Gospels (2001), Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press:

            “It now appears unlikely that any of these identifications is accurate. At any rate the date to verify these ancient traditions simply are not available.”(p. 43) and

            “We must candidly acknowledge that all three of the Synoptic Gospels are anonymous documents.…All the Gospels in the New Nestament are anonymous works.”(p. 84).

            The theologian F.W. Beare joins the ranks in The Earliest Records of Jesus (1964). Oxford: Blackwell:

            “second century guesses that gave the four canonical gospels the names by which we now know them; for they were originally anonymous documents of whose authors nothing is known.”(p. 13)

            Bart Ehrman also cleaves to the view that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were really added later in Lost Christianities (2005), New York: Oxford University Press, p. 3

            “The Gospels that came to be included in the New Testament were all written anonymously; only at a later time were they called by the names of their reputed authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”

            The above statement is supported by R.T. France in The Evidence for Jesus (1986), London: Hodder and Stoughton, p. 122

            “the headings ‘According to Matthew’ ; ‘According to Mark’ etc., are not part of the text of the Gospels… are generally believed to have been added early in the second century.”

            Prof. Emeritus Edwin D. Freed agrees, in The New Testament, A Critical Introduction(2001), Wadsworth, p. 123:

            “Most NT scholars agree that the gospels are anonymous and that the present titles probably were not added until sometime in the second century. Because the form of the title is the same for every gospel, a title was probably given to each only after the gospels had been collected as a group of four. Then the name of a well-known person was included in the superscription of each gospel. But the superscription read, ‘the gospel according to,’ not ‘the gospel by’ Matthew or Mark or Luke, so the gospels as we now have them are anonymous.”

            You cite and quote William Ramsay in support of the historical accuracy of “Luke”. Let’s look at what Ramsay said, shall we, as your quotation (whether deliberately or not) ignores the context. Ramsay’s study was topographical. He found that in “Luke’s” (in the book of Acts) to 32 countries, to 44 cities, and 9 islands, there were no errors. Ramsay’s opinion of Luke as an “historian” was referable to his geographical and sociological accuracy. It certainly couldn’t have been historical accuracy, given that his supposed gospel starts with the account of the census that never was.

            Perhaps more tellingly, not one of Ramsay’s discoveries confirmed any of “Luke’s” many miraculous claims. The book of Acts claimed 26 different miracles between the ascension of Jesus in 1:6-11 and the apostle Paul’s survival of the bite of a venomous serpent in 28:3-6. These miracles were as extraordinary as the claims that Peter struck two people dead (5:1-11) and resurrected Dorcus (9:39-42) and that Paul struck a sorcerer blind (13:4-12) and raised Eutychus from the dead (20:7-11), yet not one scrap of extrabiblical evidence has ever been found to corroborate “Luke’s” claims that all of these events happened. Some of them allegedly happened in the presence of witnesses that sometimes numbered several thousand, as in the case of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 in the presence of “devout Jews” from “every nation under heaven”(v:5) to whom Peter said that Jesus of Nazareth had been approved of God to them by “mighty works and signs which God did by him in [their] midst” even as they themselves knew (2: 22), yet despite the alleged openness of many of these extraordinary events that filled the works of Luke, not one of them has ever been confirmed by unbiased, disinterested contemporary records.

            I’ll defer to what Mark himself says, as expanded upon in the Cambridge Companion to the Bible(1997), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 447 regarding the purpose of the gospels:

            ”The primary sources of our knowledge of Jesus, therefore, are the gospels: the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But as the title “gospel” (good news), implies, and as the opening word of Mark makes explicit, they are not objective reports but propaganda.”

            And last, I struggle to understand the issue you have with a theologian who died in about 250 (Origen) not having access to the revision to Mark authored at some point in the second century. Authorship and publication / dissemination are entirely different concepts. I suspect it took a little longer back in the day than it does now for a text to do the rounds…

          5. Stephen

            You are just about nitpicking and fault-finding for the sake of it. There is no objective reason for rejecting the popularly-assumed authorship. It is just personal prejudice from those who refuse to believe. There is a glaring instance when you quote the Cambridge Companion to the Bible on the opening of Mark. So Mark opens with the words (Mark 1:1) ‘The beginningG746 of theG3588 gospelG2098 (Gk: ‘evangellion’) of JesusG2424 Christ,G5547 the SonG5207 of God;G2316′.
            For these guys someone sharing some good news becomes ‘propaganda’. What Mark’s ulterior motive was they don’t venture to say. Was he a politician starting a new political party? No. A ruler trying to put a gloss on events for his subjects? No. Some scribe paid to put a particular spin on things? Hardly.
            Then we have the modernist supremacy stuff that those ancients are so dumb and so slow that it takes over 50 years for a document to get from its place of authorship to Origen. These guys were not as stupid as you think. They knew the value of good communications. This is the time of the Roman Empire. There was a well-developed courier system. Outside of that, take the evidence that Paul was sending and receiving letters all over the place.
            Men died for their faith in Jesus crucified, risen and ascended. You seriously contend they died for someone they knew was a fake?

          6. Dave

            I think you’ve met your match in Alex, Stephen. It’s great to see some scholarly debate on this site at last.

          7. Alex O'Riordan

            Morning Stephen

            I suspect the fundamental difference between us is our starting point and the burden of proof. You say there is no objective reason for rejecting the popular view re gospel authorship. I start from the other end of the spectrum: having cited historical and textual material that at least raises questions about authorship, I say there is no objective reason for maintaining that popular view in the absence of positive evidence.

            You ask about “Mark’s” ulterior motive. This becomes somewhat circular. If the gospel of Mark is the work of Mark the Evangelist, you may have a point. If he’s not the author, however, then the reasons for sharing “good news” become more self-evident (and I have referred in my earlier posts to the possibility of attempts by Christianity in its infancy to enter the mainstream through force of numbers).

            With respect, I fear you misunderstand my point about Origen and Mark 16. I am not suggesting that the Marcan appendix was the product of a unified decision by infant Christianity’s leadership to “note up” the gospel. I am not suggesting there was a calling-in of the previous versions of Mark, and a mailing out of the new and improved version with the Marcan appendix in place to replace them.

            (As an aside, this is in contrast to the early Moslem approach to the Qur’an. Shortly after Muhammad’s death, the Qur’an was compiled into a single book by order of the first Caliph Abu Bakr. When the third Caliph began noticing slight differences in pronunciation of the Qur’anic Arabic by those whose dialect was not that of the Quraish, he sought permission from one of Muhammad’s many widows to use her text and commissioned a committee to produce a standard copy of the text of Qur’an to which added diacritical marks ensured correct pronunciation. Five of these original Qur’ans (Mus’haf) were sent to the major Muslim cities of the era. Any variations to standardized text were invalidated and ordered to be destroyed, all other versions of the Qur’an copied by scribes subsequently were from this codex. I suppose this might have been as a result of lessons learned from the early Christian experiences, but it does make Qur’anic literary criticism a much more sterile subject).

            Note also that the Marcan appendix is not present in two 4th-century manuscripts Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, the earliest complete manuscripts of Mark.

            Last, on the subject of martyrdom, if you are referring to the martyrdom of the apostles, what we “know” is mainly a matter of tradition. The problem with these traditions is that they are (1) unverifiable and (2) contradictory. One tradition, for example, says that the apostle Paul was tried in Rome and executed, but another tradition says that he was released and went to Spain to do more missionary work.

            In The Search for the Twelve Apostles, Dr. William Steuart McBirnie examined the traditions about the fate of the apostles. Although he seemed to retain his belief that the apostles were real historical characters who had suffered persecution and often martyrdom, he admitted that the traditions were sometimes so inconsistent and contradictory that it cannot now be determined how all of the apostles died. He referred to Tertullian’s claim that the apostle John was tortured and “boiled in oil but was delivered miraculously,” and then admitted that “(t)his story does not seem to have much foundation in historical fact,” even though tradition says that the Church of San Giovanni “has been built on the spot in Rome” in honor of the apostle’s escape. McBirnie concluded that the best traditional evidence indicates that John died in Ephesus of old age. If this is so, John would not have been an example of an apostle who died for what he knew was right.

            McBirnie had no better luck in trying to determine the fate of other apostles. He found Matthew to be an especially confusing case. Various traditions had Matthew preaching in places as far flung as Ethiopia, Persia, Parthia, Isidore, and Macedonia. The traditions relate fantastic accounts of attempts that were made to kill him, which he, like John, miraculously escaped from. In one tradition, a jealous king tried to have Matthew burned alive, but the flames flew out, took the form of a dragon, and curled around the king. McBirnie concluded that “(t)here are too many stories of Matthew’s death to be certain just where he died”, but even though he had earlier cited Heracleon and Clement of Alexandria (The Miscellanies, 4, 9), who had both said that Matthew died a natural death, McBirnie would not give up so easily on his desire to find martyred apostles. “It is perhaps possible that Matthew was martyred in Egypt upon his return from Ethiopia in Africa,” he said, “but this conclusion is not certain”.

            Uncertainty was what McBirnie seemed to find everywhere in his research. He found traditions that said Bartholomew was “flayed alive and crucified in agony” in India after banishing a demon from the idol of a king). He found other traditions that said Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia.

            If you’re referring to martyrdom of early Christians generally, well I propose to defer to Origen again. In his debate with Celsum, Origen, as late as A. D. 240-250, said that the number of Christian martyrs was “few” and “easily numbered”:

            “For in order to remind others, that by seeing a few engaged in a struggle for their religion, they also might be better fitted to despise death, some, on special occasions, and these individuals who can be easily numbered, have endured death for the sake of Christianity” (Contra Celsum, Book 3, Chapter 8).

            So, more than two centuries after Christianity had its beginning, an important church father like Origen could say to a doubter that those who “have endured death for the sake of Christianity” could be “easily numbered.” This gives little support for the traditional view of the apostles and early Christians dying in droves for their beliefs.

            I entirely accept that people are prepared to die for what they believe to be true: martyrdom does not require one to die for what they know to be true.

          8. Stephen

            Hi Alex,
            More self-contradictions, I’m afraid. Firstly you speak of the ‘possibility of attempts by Christianity’ as if ‘Christianity’ had a board of directors a bit like Tesco, and a lot more competent if they could fudge a different ending to Mark and get away with it.
            Secondly you say ‘I am not suggesting that the Marcan appendix was the product of a unified decision by infant Christianity’s leadership to “note up” the gospel. I am not suggesting there was a calling-in of the previous versions of Mark, and a mailing out of the new and improved version with the Marcan appendix in place to replace them.’
            Given that there was no general Council of the Church between that in Jerusalem around AD30 – AD35 and the Council of Arles in AD314, what are you suggesting? Who wrote this supposed addendum to Mark, how did it get bolted on and when and who approved it?
            As for the Christian martyrs (yes, John is the one who was not martyred), men and women are still dying for their faith in the risen Saviour even today in Muslim and Atheist states. But I guess you would say that they are not ‘dying in droves’ so it doesn’t matter.

  6. Janet Robinson


    I would just like to say that I know God can heal. After fracturing the neck of my humerous in 2000 and receiving physio for over 6 months at the hospital they decided that I would have to live with the fact that I would not be able to lift my arm above waist height.

    Indeed for years I lived with this limited movement which greatly impacted my life. I was seen not only by the doctors at my local hospital but also by doctors in Bupa and Nuffield who all said the same thing.

    One evening a friend of mine said she had heard that there was a healing ministry going to take place in Wakefield and she felt led to ask me to go, which I did. That evening, after prayer for the healing of my right shoulder, I was able to move my arm in a total circle, including out to the side, all of which I was unable to do for years. I would say this was a miracle, when the medical profession had given up on me GOD HAD NOT!

    I was also in a car accident a number of years ago, 1991, and was left with a great deal of pain in my neck preventing me from looking down for any length of time, this also impacted greatly on my life, I had to use a lecturn at work as I was unable to look down for any length of time and some days I could not move my neck.

    After receiving healing for my shoulder I was encouraged to go for further prayer for healing at a local church. The Pastor there had never prayed with anyone for healing before but he was led by God to hold a healing prayer evening. Again after prayer the Lord healed my neck and I am now able to look down and do not need a lecturn any more.

    I also know first hand of a women who was waiting for an operation to replace her hip as her leg kept coming out of the socket. She could only walk with a stick and was in constant pain. After prayer she went home and did not feel any different. The next morning she was able to walk without her stick and had no pain she was able to bend over to feed her cat on the floor which she had been unable to do before without her leg popping out of the socket.

    She went to the hospital regarding her healing and they said they did not know what to say or put down on her medical records as they had never had anyone who’s hip had been replaced without an operation. She can walk any distance now and jump, all without her stick and without pain, Gone are the days when she would have to drag herself along the floor as her leg had popped out.

    You may not want to believe this but it is the truth, GOD DOES HEALING NOW AS HE HAS DONE IN THE PAST AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO IN THE FUTURE. Praise God.

    May all you who disbelieve come to know the power of God in Jesus Name.

    God bless


  7. Dave

    Just another thought about the original post: “Christian theology views medicine as a gift from God..” How nice of God to deny this gift from mankind until the last 200 years. Even Jesus failed to impart so much as the knowledge of antibiotics.

    1. Alex O'Riordan

      That’s a little uncharitable, Dave. JC did give us the heads up about disposing of pesky unclean spirits into a conveniently located herd of swine.

    2. Stephen

      Utter nonsense. Medecine has been practised since the dawn of man. Many people today are going back to ancient remedies. One of the four evangelists, Luke, was a doctor. You have alluded to some personal baggage, but you let your hatred of God run away with you, Dave.

      1. Dave

        But modern medicine – i.e. the stuff that actually works – is a relatively recent phenomenon.

        1. Stephen

          Taken with your earlier comment that ‘modern medicine – ‘i.e. the stuff that actually works’) began 200 years age, I suppose all things considered we should regard it as magnanimous of you, Dave, to credit 19th and early-20th century physicians and surgeons (despite the majority of them being staunch believers) with any ability to advance the practice of medicine at all.

        2. Dave

          Fortunately their discoveries have proved more enduring than their faith.

      2. Dave

        I would be grateful for an apology. Referring to my Mother as ‘baggage’ is low, even for you. She may not be a Christian, but she’s still a human being.

        1. Alex O'Riordan

          For what it’s worth, Dave, I don’t detect that it was personal. Rather, just a sadly gratuitous and peevish aside of the type I see (reading through previous posts) are doled out pretty frequently to those who don’t tow the party line.

          Putting your posts above, and others, together, sorry to read about your mum.

        2. Stephen

          What are you talking about?

          1. Dave

            I believe you know exactly what I’m talking about. But as Denial should be your middle name, I guess I could wait an eternity for an apology.

          2. Stephen

            Dave, I have read the whole post again and I still haven’t the faintest idea why you should accuse me of describing your mother as ‘baggage’ because I said ‘You have alluded to some personal baggage’.

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