Monday, July 16, 2012

The Healing Of Amputees

Critics of the supernatural often ask why God doesn't heal amputees. Different people may ask the question for different reasons. One common line of reasoning seems to be that other alleged miracles are too easy to fake or misjudge. Therefore, the healing of amputees would avoid some problems involved in other miracles. Or somebody might notice a lack of reports of healed amputees and raise an objection as a result of noticing that lack. If there were a lack of something else instead, they'd shift their objection to that something else. Whatever the motives for raising the objection about healed amputees, it's an objection that's brought up frequently. Chris Hallquist raised it in his review of Craig Keener's book, Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), earlier this year. See Chris' posts here and here.

Steve Hays has already discussed some of the problems with Chris' arguments, here and here. I'll be adding some points to Steve's, but much of what he's said won't be repeated here. Those who haven't read Steve's posts should read them if they want more of a response to what Chris has said.

Whether there's any healing of amputees in the Bible depends on how the concept is defined and how some passages are interpreted. For example, see the healing of a man whose ear was cut off in Luke 22:50-51. And why think that healing amputees would be more significant than every other type of miracle, like raising the dead? If the concern with raising the dead is that somebody might not actually have been dead, but instead might have been mistaken for dead, then what about cases in which such a mistake is highly unlikely (e.g., the individuals in Matthew 27:52-53, Lazarus in John 11)? Even when it's not so unlikely that the person wasn't dead, critics will need to explain why a lower probability of death supposedly isn't enough.

What about extra-Biblical accounts? Chris repeatedly objects that Keener cited an account of the healing of an amputee in a book by Pat Robertson. In his two posts linked above, Chris objects to the citation of Robertson three times. He first refers to "televangelist Pat Robertson". The fact that Robertson has been a televangelist doesn't have much relevance. But mentioning it does make Robertson look worse, which in turn is supposed to reflect poorly on Keener. Chris goes on to write, in his first post linked above:

"So the fact that there is a story of a regrowing limb in a book by Pat Robertson doesn’t prove anything."

And Chris had said that he was addressing "what Keener says about regrown limbs". The implication seems to be that Keener's argument consists merely of citing "a story of a regrowing limb in a book by Pat Robertson". In his second post, Chris again refers to "the story from Pat Robertson’s book". If your only source on this subject were Chris, you'd get the impression that Keener doesn’t mention anything else. He just cites Pat Robertson. But is that the case?

Here's the footnote in question in Keener's book:

"Robertson, Miracles, 176-77, providing further details from T.L. Osborn about a man in one of his meetings in Ghana. (He does not specify details such as whether the entire restoration occurred immediately, but it appears to have at least begun immediately and visibly.) Such reports are not common today and do not appear in the Gospels or Acts. Clark, Impartation, 166, speaks of other 'missing parts' being restored." (n. 198 on 747)

 Keener is citing an account Robertson got from Osborn. In the edition of Robertson's book that I've consulted, he refers to what Osborn reported about an incident that occurred at an event he (Osborn) presided over. Osborn was at least in a good position to get reliable information on the incident, and he may have even been an eyewitness. It doesn't follow that the alleged healing did occur, but the point I'm making here is that Robertson isn't just presenting "a story". He's citing a source who was in a good position to judge the matter.

And Keener goes on to cite another source, Randy Clark. In the edition of Clark's book that I've seen, he's quoting Leif Hetland, who claims to have seen missing body parts restored. Chris Hallquist doesn't mention Clark or Hetland.

I don't have much familiarity with any of these sources, other than Robertson. There are some problems with Robertson's credibility. And neither of the two books Keener mentions seems to present evidence beyond citing what Osborn and Hetland reported. In other words, Keener isn't giving us much to go by. But he is providing more than Chris suggests.

What's worse, though, is that Chris doesn't mention other material about the healing of amputees in Keener's book. On a March 17, 2012 radio program (see the archives here), Keener notes that he found more than 25 cases with "something like [healed amputees]" (see the forty-fourth minute of the program). The atheist who was on the program with Keener acknowledged that Keener cites multiple such cases in his book (see the forty-sixth minute of the program). Keener doesn't just cite "a story from Pat Robertson".

Cases involving the healing of amputees and miracles of a similar nature are discussed by Keener in some passages not mentioned by Chris Hallquist. For example, Keener refers to cases involving "creation of something like a new uterus" (n. 156 on 334); "rapid generation of bone" (n. 31 on 433); the restoration of an eye blinded by "lacerations from barbed wire" (519); "a woman who had had her fingers partly amputated on one hand was healed of cancer. The fingers grew back after prayer, and 'finger-nails are also forming.'" (705); "a Jansenist who lacked legs, as attested by two surgeons, yet grew them miraculously" (n. 357 on 705); "the gradual re-formation of an adult's bones and leg after amputation beneath the knee" (n. 358 on 705); "half-inch fingers all grow out to three inches over the course of an hour and a half of prayer" (706); "a partially severed thumb grew out instantly" (706); "a misshapen skull was visibly healed" (706). There are more examples Keener discusses. I'm just citing some of them.

As Keener notes during the radio program cited above, these accounts range across a spectrum of credibility. But even with cases for which we don't have much evidence that the miracle occurred, it doesn't follow that the account is false. And Keener isn't just citing a story by Pat Robertson. He's citing a wide range of sources reporting incidents under a wide range of circumstances.

Update On 7/9/15: For more about the objection that God doesn't heal amputees, see here.


  1. "And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them:"-Matthew 15:30 KJV [bold word by me]

    This is what Adam Clarke had to say about this verse:

    Those that were - maimed - Κυλλους. Wetstein has fully proved that those who had lost a hand, foot, etc., were termed κυλλοι by the Greeks. Kypke has shown, from Hippocrates, that the word was also used to signify those who had distorted or dislocated legs, knees, hands, etc. Mr. Wakefield is fully of opinion that it means here those who had lost a limb, and brings an incontestable proof from Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:43. "If thy hand cause thee to offend, Cut It Off; it is better for thee to enter into life (κυλλον) Without A Limb, than, having thy Two hands, to go away into hell." What an astonishing manifestation of omnific and creative energy must the reproduction of a hand, foot, etc., be at the word or touch of Jesus! As this was a mere act of creative power, like that of multiplying the bread, those who allow that the above is the meaning of the word will hardly attempt to doubt the proper Divinity of Christ. Creation, in any sense of the word, i.e. causing something to exist that had no existence before, can belong only to God, because it is an effect of an unlimited power; to say that such power could be delegated to a person is to say that the person to whom it is delegated becomes, for the time being, the omnipotent God; and that God, who has thus clothed a creature with his omnipotence, ceases to be omnipotent himself; for there cannot be two omnipotents, nor can the Supreme Being delegate his omnipotence to another, and have it at the same time. I confess, then, that this is to me an unanswerable argument for the Divinity of our blessed Lord. Others may doubt; I can't help believing.

    I also think the case of the man with the withered/shriveled hand (Mark 3//Matt. 12) would be a condition similar to an amputated limb.

  2. I will admit this to my shame I have prayed for a miracle, something I will never do again knowing that almost all miracles are of Satan. But I have never seen one and never expected one. In my "Christian" experience it was made clear, we had it coming. No matter what it was, because of the fall of Adam and our personal sin we have it all coming. Auschwitz, Cancer, physical disabilities, natural disasters, etc. We have it coming, each and everyone of us. Personally. Deep down I still pray and hope for miracles, I know that such miracles may well be from Satan but I am weak in the area to see people relieved of suffering. This is emotional, thus sin, but I will admit to it.

    1. brian,

      I don't know what your passive-aggressive comments are supposed to accomplish. Maybe you're trying to elicit sympathy for yourself, make Christianity look bad, or something else. Whatever the case, your comments don't come across as particularly sincere, well researched, or well thought out.

    2. I got the same sense you did Jason. But because of the unusual grammar and phrasing, I thought that maybe this person might not speak English as a main language. If that's the case, then the person might come from a country that has poor theological training. Which might account for why this person has a really messed up theological understanding of God's ways and of Christian living, believing, obeying, hoping, expecting, praying etc. So, I gave the person the benefit of the doubt. Though, it could go either way.

    3. This post my be old but the subject remains relevant, and is linked to in a recent blog post. The devil does do miracles as well as promulgate error, the response to which in both cases is not to deny the alternative, but to overcome evil with Good. The devil's magicians duplicated the first 3 miracles done thru Moses, but the response to which was not to disallow miracles - a safe but sterile error - but to seek to see more of the Divine alternative.

      For we are in a spiritual war btwn two powers and kingdoms, and we can see that the more God works then the more we see the devil seeking to operate on that level. The devil works as well as fabricates miracles in order to deceive souls to believe his lies and gain followers, because he sees God doing the same. For in reality the devil is an imitator of God, as he yet selfishly seeks the worship that he was originally denied, and was abased due to his self-exaltation. God did not, however, divest him of all his power. but allows him to work in order to provide an alternative to man, to test the people what they really want.

      The devil also has an alternative ethos and perverse counterparts to what God has ordained, with homosexual relations and marriage being a fundamental aspect of his kingdom, with homage being gained by the devil by seducing souls to affirm the proxy servants who promotes demonic ethos (which is principally that of the victim -entitlement mentality, with its "share the wealth" demand and "climb up some other way" strategy, seen in Is. 14 and Gn. 3).

      God's written word is the supreme transcendent standard by which the source of miracles are to be tested by, yet the word first began to be penned due in part, to God working miracles, giving supernatural attestation to Moses the man of God, and indirectly to the faith and virtues of Abraham which he exampled.

      And not only is it God's character to do miracles of grace (as well as in judgment, and to withhold deliverances in testing His own), but it is his character to give supernatural attestation to His word, with the profound changes in heart and life of Biblical regeneration being primary. Which testifies to being of the church of the living God, not its institutionalized counterpart.

      Thus rather than basically placing the books of Acts in a museum we need to seek the Lord as the early church did, that God would stretch "forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus, (Acts 4:30) that we may speak the word with boldness. Especially as we live in an age of skepticism more than the first century

      I say this even though i am hardly one of strong faith (to my shame), or personally have seen many overtly manifest supernatural miracles outside of the New Birth (though we have many constant testimonies of God's providential working) but God has not changed, and many miracles are being seen, to the glory of God.

  3. brian, why be ashamed of praying for a miracle. God is a God of miracles.

    "to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;"- Psalm 136:4 (ESV)

    "You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples."- Psalm 77:14 (NIV)

    "You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples."- Psalm 77:14 (ESV)

    Even if God didn't perform a miracle in the case of what you're praying for, it doesn't mean that God isn't deserving of our asking Him for miracles. God is honored when we ask Him for help even if he doesn't help us in the exact way we're asking for or expect.

    The author of the book of Hebrews says,

    14So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV) [bolded parts by me]

    Secondly, how do you know that all alleged miracles are from Satan? Are you saying all alleged miracles including all alleged Christian AND non-Christian miracles? Or only all alleged Christian miracles? How in the world could you know that?

    Thirdly, just because it might be the case that most miracles are demonic doesn't mean that all are. Why throw out the baby with the bath water? Should Moses not have performed miracles because the Egyptian magicians performed what appeared to be miracles too? That would be ridiculous.

    What do you mean "we have it all coming"? Not all sickness is a direct result of the sick person's sin. Sometimes it's the result of just living in a fallen world. We can't determine with absolute certainty why a specific case of sickness or tragedy occurs. Regardless, we are encouraged to pray to God for help. Even in cases of sickness. That's clear both in the Old Testament and New Testament.

    You said,

    "Deep down I still pray and hope for miracles, I know that such miracles may well be from Satan but I am weak in the area to see people relieved of suffering."

    Under no circumstances should you seek a miracle or a healing from Satan or from a source you suspect is satanic/demonic. Since, "whatever is not done in faith is sin" (a paraphrase of Romans 14:23). The Bible makes it clear that we are only to seek supernatural aid from God. Knowing that, to therefore seek it from satanic/demonic sources is sin. Since as the Apostle James says "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (James 4:17).

    You said,

    This is emotional, thus sin, but I will admit to it.

    Are you saying that everything emotional is sin? Why would you think that? Not everything emotional is sin. Nor is everything that springs from the emotions (like decisions, prayers, desires, actions etc.) is sinful. Jesus wept before raising Lazarus from the dead. Was that sin on Jesus' part? Obviously not.

    Because of how you phrase your statements, I'm wondering if English may not be your primary language. But even if it isn't, you seem to have theological notions about God and his ways and what we Christians should expect that are Biblically uninformed. Please, read the Bible more diligently and you'll see that many of your ideas are just Biblically wrong.

    1. Actually it was worded poorly and it was passive aggressive as Jason said. It was extremely late and I was extremely tired and the subject is very emotional having had to take care people who are sick and never seeing a miracle. Thank you for your kind response, my apologies for trolling and to some degree I was seeking some sympathy. Have a nice day.

  4. oops, I accidentally quoted Hebrews 4:14-16 in the NLT not in the ESV as I noted above. The ESV reads:

    14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

    NASB reads:

    14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

  5. The whole amputee objection is one of the silliest in my opinion. Why do we accept the objection as stated by the non-believer? Have they evaluated every person who have lost a limb, ever, in the history of humanity, and confirmed that there never was one that grew back? Their claim that God never does it, or has never done it, is simply unsupportable. It is an inductive assertion based on invalid premises, because it only takes one case to disprove the assertion. So unless they can prove that every amputee, ever, have been investigated for proof of limb regeneration, it is a silly argument.

    And as we see, when evidence of miraculous limb regeneration is presented, they immediately discount or negate it, without investigation to see whether it may actually be true or not. It shows that they are not interested in answering their own question, it is just rhetoric.

    1. They can't answer the question or objectively evaluate the evidence because they are dead in trespasses and sin and presuppositionally blinded. Dead men make poor analysts.