I thought it would be fair to study the miracles of Jesus in the same way I look at modern day popular healers. Of course I can’t go back in time to see the ancient crowds and talk to those who were healed, so there is not as much to work with. Nevertheless, there is still enough to work with in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Before I compare Jesus to modern placebos, I need to explain three terms.
The first term is the word “disease.” The medical community defines a disease as any malfunction or disfigurement of a human body. A broken bone is a disease as is chronic pain.
There are two types of diseases. The first is the “functional disease” which is any kind of disease in which. Chronic pain is a functional disease. In the past, many would include psychosomatic diseases under functional diseases, because they cannot be seen.
The second type of a disease is a “structural disease,” also known as “organic disease.” A structural disease is a disease that can be observed by X-rays, MRIs, by microscope, or whatever. Broken bones, arthritis, and cancer are structural in nature.
As a general rule, practices such as magnet therapy and acupuncture can cure some functional diseases, but not structural. Faith healers can likewise heal some functional diseases, but I have yet seen any popular healer cure a structural disease. There have been many temporary experiences in the structural realm, where people think they are getting a structural disease cured, but these turn out to be temporary experiences and really nothing more than a feeling or a lack of pain. While they go on stage and testify to their healing that no one can physically see, in reality, the body’s structure has not been changed and a true cure does not take place.
Some people claim to feel better (not great, just better) months after being healed by their favorite healer, but this is no different than other human forms of healing, in that, even though some people feel better, their body structures have not changed. Someone with flat feet still have flat feet, even if pain goes away.
I believe that God can work miracles both with functional and structural diseases. But healing a functional diseases such as chronic pain does not exceed the ability of other religions and practices. Furthermore, healing functional diseases does not prove the miraculous, as people can do this without the help of God.
PURPOSE OF THIS SECTION
When I look to Jesus’ ministry, I am looking for healing that goes beyond human possibility. I am looking to see if healing was temporary for people in Jesus’ day like it is for so many today. I am looking to see if Jesus was limited and only a few could be healed. I am looking for signs that his healing practices and results were better than modern day faith healers, for after years of study, I am not able to find any of popular modern healers’ so called miracles to be any better than Christian Science, Mormonism, acupuncture, magnet therapy and the placebo effect.
For this study, I looked for signs that Jesus went beyond the placebo effect and for that I looked most of all for healing of structural disease, because structural diseases are the area least able to be cured by placebos, positive thinking, and the like.
PUTTING JESUS TO THE TEST
Was there any follow up?
Follow up today exposes a bad side to most modern day healers, as most healing people talk about on stage cannot stand up to medical follow up. People in healing crusades often believe a feeling or lack of pain is a sign God healed them, but their problems usually return shortly after the crusade or meeting. When healing disappears, it exposes the miracle to be a fake and nothing more than a feeling or a temporary relief of symptoms such as comes from a placebo effect. These so called miracles are no more than a good pain killer.
Knowing this, I wanted to know if there was follow up with anyone in Jesus’ day. Taking the role of a skeptic, I had to ask, “How do I know healing by Jesus was permanent?” And “was there any follow up?”
I found that most of Jesus’ miracle stories do not provide enough information that I could answer either way, however, a few miracle stories record some forms of follow up.
- Jesus sent lepers to priests who acted as doctors in the First Century. Their job was to confirm the complete healing of lepers. While we don’t have the priests’ testimonies, we do know that Jesus felt confident enough to send lepers to the priests for follow up and as witnesses to the priests.
- The second form of follow up comes from the rulers in Jesus’ day, who provided testimony that could only happen if a healing endured. When those rulers attempted to discredit Jesus, they never questioned the healing itself, but rather, they questioned why Jesus healed, when he healed, or where Jesus got power to heal. In John chapter 9, Jesus healed a man who was born blind and told him to carry his bed home. When the rulers saw him carrying a bed on the Sabbath, they wanted to know who would dare tell him to carry a bed on a day set apart for rest. They never questioned the man about his ability to see, but when they discovered that Jesus healed him, they tried to discredit that he was blind in the first place. They questioned him, they questioned people who knew him, and they questioned his mother. No one wanted to make the rulers upset, so they told the rulers as little as necessary, but in the end, the rulers concluded that he was healed. Rather than to find a way to discredit the healing then, the rulers told the man to give God the glory and to stop giving Jesus credit for a miracle.
- A person’s community could also shed some light in the area of follow up. When a crazy man was delivered from many demons, the city came out and saw the man in his right mind and asked Jesus to leave from the area. Looking at the man, they knew a miracle took place. What is also telling is that the city never needed the man to testify. They saw the change.
Even with all of this, as a skeptic I would still have doubts. The placebo effect can accomplish a lot on a temporary basis, and can also heal some people functional diseases permanently, so I turned to one other sure sign that a miracle took place.
Did people see a visible change within the diseased person’s body?
As I said before, relief of pain does not necessarily mean a cure. Many people go to healing crusades and are relieved of pain during the service. Most of these people think they have been healed of whatever structural or functional disease they had. But for most of them, the relief of pain will be temporary. Why? The service and worship builds up a lot of expectation, and mixed with the desire to be healed, strange things happen to the body. Expectation raised to such levels will send endorphins, dopamine and other body chemicals into the diseased area and bring relief of pain, and easing of symptom as well as feelings and sensations which people associate with complete healing.
Unfortunately, most of these placebo effect experiences do not really cure the disease itself. If Benny Hinn took X-rays of people on stage who claim to have no more cancer, he would find that even though someone felt a burning or tingling, their cancer would still show up on the X-ray machine.
So, if I were a modern skeptic transported into Jesus’ day, I would ask, “How do I know people are really getting healed?” “How do I know these people aren’t experiencing the placebo effect from so much hype going on around them?” There were no X-Ray machines or MRIs or anything of the sort, so I have to find my answers elsewhere. So the question I would ask is, “Can I see a body’s structure change during a healing experience?”
I figure that if I saw physical changes take place with several people, I could then conclude that miracles I don’t see (such as the woman with an issue of blood) are equally miraculous. Most structural diseases such as cancer or arthritis would not be seen by the crowds, while in the process of being healed by Jesus.
When I looked into the Gospels, I found several cures that were structural, because they were visible to all. Besides the times when Jesus miraculously changed the structures of nature, such as when he turned water into wine and multiplied loaves and fish, there were three times when there were visible manifestations of structural diseases cured.
The first was a man who had a withered hand. Jesus healed him and his hand was made whole. Secondly, a woman had a crooked back that was also made straight in the view of many. Finally, there was a soldier whose ear was restored after Peter cut it off with a sword. All three of these demonstrate that Jesus cured structural diseases as well as functional; and if he could heal so many structural diseases, I would conclude that I was witnessing true miracles.
Did Jesus ever heal an entire crowd?
Out of all the times Jesus healed people in large crowds, the writers of the Gospels mention that everyone was healed 63% of the time. Most of these mention that Jesus healed every kind of disease as well. That means that the majority of Jesus’ crowds experienced 100% healing. Every kind of disease includes not only functional, but structural as well.
No healer today has been able to make this claim. Kathryn Kuhlman used to tell her audiences that God told her that before Jesus returned, an entire audience would be healed. This prophesy of Kathryn never happened.
From follow up studies of almost 400 people from four different healers (Kathryn Kuhlman, Benny Hinn, Charles Price and Todd Bentley), it was found that just over 1% of the people testifying on stage were really healed for the long run. Of this 1%, none of them were healed from a structural disease. No one with a structural disease such as a broken vertebrae was cured.
So what are my conclusions to all this? From the Gospel records, Jesus accomplished real miracles and did not stumble upon the placebo effect. The Bible records him curing people of diseases that were clearly structural in nature. The Bible also tells us that Jesus healed every kind of disease (which would include structural) in large groups.
Medical studies look for why placebos work for some and not for others. They know that many people are unaffected by placebos. Like the placebo effect, popular healers today cannot cure everyone in a crowd. The fact that Jesus could heal an entire audience says that he went beyond the placebo effect.
Finally, although follow up is not as thorough as I would like to see in the Gospels, what follow up I do see in Jesus’ day points to complete and lasting healing. This is not true for today’s healing evangelists who write books blaming the sick for healing that does not last.