Thursday, January 30, 2014

Weeding out charlatans

MacArthurites take aim at charlatans. I share their concern. It's important to have objective standards for assessing modern miracle claims. A way of weeding out the charlatans.

My problem with MacArthurites is that they don't have real standards. Rather, they begin with cessationism, then concoct ad hoc criteria to protect cessationism. 

But that's inadequate to meet the challenge. If we're serious about weeding out the charlatans, then we need objective standards, not ad hoc standards.  


  1. So what should be the objective standards for weeding out charlatans?

    1. i) Let's begin by distinguishing ad hoc criteria from objective criteria. Here are some ad hoc criteria for assessing miraculous healings: complete, immediate, permanent, undeniable.

      ii) The Bible has some classic criteria for distinguishing true prophets from false prophets (Deu 13:1-5; 18:15-21). This has some bearing on modern claims or claimants. Is the reported miracle in character with God's revealed nature? Is it a purposeful miracle or a stunt? Is it consistent with God's wisdom? Is the reported miracle consistent with prior revelation?

      iii) Does the report meet minimal standards of prior plausibility? Does it conflict with our understanding of how the world works? Of what's possible or implausible?

      Obviously, our plausibility structure is indexed to our worldview. What's credible for a Christian may be incredible for an atheist.

      iv) Is the claim consistent with other known facts at the time and place of the alleged event?

      v) What's the source of information? Firsthand? Secondhand? Is there a reliable chain of testimonial custody?

      vi) Is this a memorable event? Is it the kind of event that observers normally remember?

      vii) Does the witness have an incentive to be truthful or untruthful?

      viii) Is the witness forthcoming or evasive?

      ix) Does the witness belong to small community and/or honor/shame culture where his livelihood depends on his reputation for honesty?

      x) Does the report enjoy multiple attestation? Is there medical verification? Is there a reasonable expectation that medical records would be available?

      Is it the kind of ailment that requires medical verification to confirm the diagnosis and cure, or is the ailment of a clearly public nature?

      Corroboration is useful, but not always necessary. We justifiably believe many things on the testimony of a trusted informant.

      xi) Finally, here's a useful analysis:

  2. A cessationist might say that weeding out charlatans is as simple as challenging them to go to the nearest hospital and heal everyone who is sick. If they can only heal 5%, 10%, 50% or 75%, they're charlatans.

    Yet, it's interesting that Jesus didn't heal everyone at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). Jesus sovereignly chooses one man to heal out of a group of sick people who were hanging around the pool waiting for the moving of the water in order to be healed. And the man didn't even know who Jesus was or had faith in Him.

    Nor did Jesus heal the lame man who daily begged for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. It's logically possible that Jesus never saw the man all the years He had been going to the temple since many places can be so congested with people you might not recognize a friend even if he were only a few feet away from you. But presumably the lame man STRATEGICALLY CHOSE the Beautiful Gate as the place he was going to beg for alms precisely because people would want to enter through such a beautiful gate. He would want to place himself in a location where as many people as possible could see him. Verse 10 (Acts 3:10) makes it clear that the lame man was well known in the community for being lame and begging for alms there. So, in all likelihood Jesus encountered the man a number of times throughout the years and by God's providence and/or divine direction deliberately choose not to heal him in order for Peter and John to heal him in God's timing.

    There's no indication that Jesus healed "Simon the Leper" (Mark 14:3; Matt. 26:6). Though maybe He did and the name just stuck.

    If Zacchaeus was a dwarf, there's no indication Jesus healed him.

    When in his home town Jesus wasn't "able" to heal many people there because of their unbelief (Mark 6:4-6; Matt. 13:57:58). But when one analyzes those two passages, it seems Jesus wasn't able to heal those people because they didn't come to him to be healed since they didn't respect him or think he could be all that special (being a hometown boy). Both passages have Jesus saying "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." So, if there were times when people needed to have just enough faith to come to Jesus for healing for Him to actually heal them otherwise they wouldn't be healed, then it wouldn't be fair to require modern "faith healers" to be able to heal everyone in a hospital.

    Jesus did sometimes sovereignly and unilaterally heal people without the person expressing faith. Like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1ff) or the man born blind (John 9:1ff). Nevertheless, the vast majority of Jesus' healings were among crowds that flocked to him for healing (Matt. 4:23-25; 8:16-17; 9:35-38; 12:15; 14:14; 15:30-31; 19:2; 21:14; Mark 1:32-34; 3:10; Luke 4:18-19; 40-41; 6:17-19; 9:10-11; 13:15-16; 14:5; 17:11-19; cf. John 6:2). In other words, Jesus didn't usually search for sick people to heal. He waited for people to come to him for healing or have proxies ask Him to come to their sick friends or loved ones to heal them (e.g. Centurion, Jairus, Syrophoenician woman).

    1. There's no instance in the Gospels of Jesus healing a Pharisee, Sadducee or Scribe who was hostile toward Him in order to convert him or at least change his mind regarding Jesus. That's another fact that is consistent with the idea that Jesus usually healed people who were actively seeking Him for healing. Not those who were not actively seeking Him. I say "usually" because there are those sovereign exceptions I've mentioned above.

      This can also explain how the woman with the issue of blood could be healed even though Jesus didn't consciously know (in his human mind) who it was who got healed (Mark 5:30-31). People's faith sometimes contributed to the degree of healing people received. Multiples times Jesus said things like "according to your faith" be healed (e.g. Matt. 8:13; 9:29; Matt. 9:22//Mark 5:34//Luke 8:48).

      [BTW, I like the dual mind theory that some theologians make regarding Christology since it can explain ignorance on Jesus' part without denying divine omniscience, His divinity, or commit the heresy of Nestorianism]

      Maybe this is why Lazarus wasn't healed from a distance (like the Centurion's servant). Since, the message Lazarus' sisters sent Jesus was neutral. It appears they left it up to Him what to do instead of explicitly asking Jesus to heal him. Of course, as a Calvinist, I'm not denying that their attitude was itself ordained by God since Lazarus' death was itself ordained by God (John 11:4-5).