Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.
A key idea in Nabeel Qureshi’s thinking about miraculous healing was that such healing required that the sick person be surrounded by people who had faith that he would be healed. Nabeel thought he had found this idea supported in several miracle accounts in the New Testament. Let’s take a close look at the passages and see.
The Faith of the Paralytic’s Friends—and the Unbelief of Jesus’ Foes
Let’s start with the account of the paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-13; Luke 5:18-26). We have already shown earlier in this series (Part 6) that Jesus’ healing of the paralytic was done as a demonstration of his greater purpose in coming, which was to save people from their sins. That fact about Jesus’ healings poses a problem for the belief that we can bring about a person’s healing if we agree together in faith that God will heal him. Jesus’ healing people is no more dependent on the faith of others than is his saving people from their sins.
Nabeel mentioned more than once that Jesus seems to have healed the paralytic because of the faith of his associates (who had lowered him through a hole in the roof so as to get him to Jesus) rather than his own faith. I think this is mistaken.
First of all, when the Gospels say that Jesus “saw their faith” (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20), they might mean that Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic and his associates, not just his associates. Grammatically, either way of construing the pronoun “their” (αὐτῶν) is possible. So perhaps the paralytic had some faith in Jesus as well.
More to the point, though, the Gospels do not say that when Jesus saw their faith he healed the man. What all three accounts say is that when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” Only after responding to the scribes’ outrage that Jesus was assuming a prerogative reserved for God did Jesus heal the man. Perhaps the man needed some assurance of God’s forgiveness because he was worried that his paralysis was a punishment for his sins. The narrative may then be implying that he hoped Jesus would heal him but was unsure if Jesus would because he felt guilty over his sins. In any case, it should be obvious enough that Jesus did not forgive the paralytic’s sins simply on the basis of his associates’ faith. Thus, in the end this text says nothing directly about the role of faith in healing.
Notice as well that Jesus performed the healing in the full view of the scribes, who not only did not have faith in Jesus but had outright hostility toward him. This fact clearly shows that Jesus did not feel the need to surround himself only with people who believed in him, or who believed in healing, in order to be effective in healing someone. Jesus performed other healings at which hostile unbelievers were immediately present, such as the man with the withered hand. Indeed, in that instance Jesus healed the man’s hand, not at his request, but in response to what could be called a dare by hostile Pharisees (Matt. 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11). Similarly, only some of the Jews who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead believed in Jesus; others who did not believe in him went so far as to report what happened to the Pharisees (John 11:46).
Jairus’s Daughter and the Bleeding Woman
Now let’s look at the accounts of two back-to-back miracles, the resuscitation of Jairus’s daughter (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:22-24, 35-43; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56) and the healing of the woman with the “discharge of blood” (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). In all three Synoptic Gospels, the woman is healed in the middle of the episode with Jairus, while Jesus is on his way to go heal his daughter.
We tend to focus on whether such miracles might happen today, but that is probably not the right focus. The emphasis in this double-miracle account is on Jesus’ overturning of the cultural conventions of the day. Both of the persons who are helped are females, and both are for very different reasons ritually unclean (the woman because of her blood flow, the girl because she was dead). Jesus is touched by the woman and he later touches the girl. The point of the narrative is not so much that the reader should be looking for similar miracles to happen in their lives but rather should realize that God loves and has compassion on the outcast and the powerless and that we ought to show such people compassion (or be encouraged in God’s love if we are such people). The touching is not strictly necessary to the healing (even though the woman evidently thought it was) but reveals God’s power inherent in Jesus as well as his care for each person.
This account reports the first occurrence of Jesus saying to someone he healed, “Your faith has saved you” (ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε, Matt. 9:22; Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48). In this context, of course, “saved” refers specifically to the woman’s healing from her physical malady (cf. her statement of intent, Matt. 9:21; Mark 5:28), which is why contemporary versions typically translate Jesus’ statement “Your faith has made you well” (e.g., ESV, NASB, NKJV, NLT, NRSV; but “…saved you,” CSB, NAB, NJB). On the other hand, we have already seen various indications that Jesus’ healings were physical, tangible revelations of his greater purpose of saving people spiritually, and it seems hardly accidental that the wording of Jesus’ saying can be taken in both ways.
The same saying (in the exact same Greek words) occurs in three other accounts. In one of these, the account of blind Bartimaeus, Jesus’ words “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:42 NASB, NKJV; cf. Mark 10:52) obviously refer directly to the blind man being given sight.
However, in the other two occurrences of the saying, the spiritual sense of salvation is prominent. When an immoral woman came to Jesus while he was dining at Simon the Pharisee’s home and she anointed Jesus’ feet, Jesus told her, “Your sins are forgiven” and then “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:48, 50). Since the text gives no indication that the woman was physically sick and it emphasizes her sinfulness, σέσωκέν must be translated “saved” here and understood spiritually.
In the account of the ten lepers, about which Nabeel commented in one of his vlogs, Jesus healed all ten lepers but only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him. Only to this man did Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19). Here the versions that translate σέσωκέν as “made well” appear to be mistaken; the other nine lepers had also been “made well” in the sense of having been cured of their leprosy (v. 14). What Jesus clearly means here is that the grateful Samaritan’s faith had “saved” him spiritually, not just physically.
In both of these encounters—with the immoral woman and the Samaritan leper—Jesus assured individuals whom polite Jewish society rejected that they were “saved” and thus safe in God’s care.
We seem on firm ground, then, in understanding the healing of the woman of her bleeding as at least a picture of salvation in a spiritual sense. The same surely should be said of the resuscitation of Jairus’s young daughter from apparent death. Jairus wanted Jesus to touch his daughter “so that she may be made well [σωθῇ] and live” (Mark 5:23). When news reached him that she had already died, Jesus assured him, “Fear not, only believe” (μὴ φοβοῦ, μόνον πίστευε, Mark 5:36, lit. trans.). Luke gives a somewhat longer version of what Jesus said: “Fear not, only believe, and she will be saved [μὴ φοβοῦ, μόνον πίστευσον, καὶ σωθήσεται]” (Luke 8:50, lit. trans.). But Luke had just reported Jesus speaking of believing as a condition or instrumental cause of salvation in a spiritual sense, in his parable of the sower and the four soils: “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved [πιστεύσαντες σωθῶσιν]” (Luke 8:12 ESV). This language also becomes in apostolic teaching a way of speaking about spiritual salvation: “Believe [πίστευσον] in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved [σωθήσῃ]” (Acts 16:31); “salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16; see also Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21). The point is that Jesus appears to have used physical healing as a means to encouraging people to trust him for spiritual salvation.
In Nabeel’s discussion of the role of communal faith in healing, he drew attention to the fact that Jesus put out the mourners who laughed when he said the girl was just sleeping, and he took only the girl’s parents and his three closest apostles into her room to witness her resuscitation (Mark 5:39-40; cf. Matt. 9:23-25; Luke 8:51-53). Nabeel inferred from the exclusion of the mocking neighbors that Jesus wanted no one in the room who disbelieved, lest such people’s unbelief interfere with the miracle. I don’t think this is a valid inference. We have already seen that Jesus had no trouble healing the paralytic or the man with a withered hand despite the presence of hostile scribes or Pharisees.
So why did Jesus keep the neighborhood mourners out? Throughout the Synoptic Gospels we see Jesus often taking steps to limit the spread of news about his miracles, and this was clearly his intent here, since after resuscitating the girl Jesus told her parents “to tell no one what had happened” (Luke 8:56; similarly Mark 5:43). Nothing more seems to have been involved.
Raising of Dorcas (Tabitha)
As further support for the idea of keeping those who do not have faith for healing away while seeking healing from God, Nabeel cited Peter’s raising of Dorcas, also known as Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42). Luke’s account of this miracle contains a number of parallels to his account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter:
- The miracle was done for a female who had died (Luke 8:49; Acts 9:37).
- Her body was in a room inside a house (Luke 8:51; Acts 9:37).
- Jesus/Peter had been asked to come to the house (Luke 8:41; Acts 9:38).
- People were weeping for the girl/woman (Luke 8:52; Acts 9:39).
- Jesus/Peter restricted who was present during the resuscitation (Luke 8:51; Acts 9:40-41).
- Jesus/Peter said, “Child/Tabitha, get up/rise up” (Luke 8:54, ἔγειρε; Acts 9:40, ἀνάστηθι).
I don’t think that Luke invented these details to create an artificial parallel. Some of the details would have been commonplace in similar situations (e.g., some people usually are weeping when someone has just died). It is reasonable to think that Luke selected those parallel elements of the eyewitness testimonies that he had collected to emphasize the similarities between the two miracles. The reason for such an emphasis is, I would suggest, to make it clear that in actuality it was Jesus Christ who healed Tabitha.
There is explicit support for this interpretation in the immediate context: Just before the account of the raising of Tabitha, Luke tells about another miracle performed through Peter that is reminiscent of one of Jesus’ miracles. When he was in Lydda, Peter met a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34), and Aeneas immediately stood up. This miracle is obviously similar to Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, which we have already discussed at length, and which Luke recorded in his Gospel (Luke 5:18-26). Here Peter explicitly told Aeneas that it was Jesus Christ who was healing him.
Despite the various parallels, at the crucial point of comparison the two miracles actually turn out to be significantly different. Whereas Jesus took five persons (three apostles and the girl’s parents) into the room with him when he raised Jairus’s daughter, Peter apparently took no one into the room with him when he raised Tabitha:
But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive (Acts 9:40-41 ESV).
This isn’t communal faith at all. Peter was the only person alive in the room until Tabitha came to life. We aren’t told why Peter put everyone out and to base any doctrinal claim about prayer or healing on an answer to that question would end up being speculative. It seems doubtful that the people who had gone to find Peter in Lydda and urged him to go with them to Joppa (12 miles away) didn’t have adequate or acceptable faith in Christ for the purpose at hand. This makes it unlikely that Peter kept them out of the room lest they dilute the effectiveness of his faith. Such an interpretation would also be problematic since Peter had no trouble in the case of the lame man at the gate of the Jerusalem temple where others would have been present (Acts 3:1-7). Perhaps Peter thought it would be easier for Tabitha not to have a group of people in the room when she revived. Again, as best I can tell, we don’t know.
In sum, the idea that praying for healing requires, or even is likely to be more effective, if there is a “communal faith” on the part of those involved, finds no support in the NT accounts of miraculous healings. To the contrary, in several instances Jesus (in particular) healed people in the presence of hostile critics as well as other people whose faith was weak.