Freethought Archives > Jeremy Bentham > Not Paul, But Jesus

CHAPTER XIII.

Paul's supposable Miracles explained.


SECTION 1.

OBJECTIONS, APPLYING TO THEM IN THE AGGREGATE.

But, it may be said, Paul's alleged commission from God was certainly genuine; for it is proved by his miracles. Look at the Acts, no fewer than twelve miracles of his you will find. If then taken by themselves, for want of that accurate conception of the probative form of evidence, to which maturer ages have given birth, the account of the miracle by which his conversion was wrought fails of being completely satisfactory,—look at his miracles, the deficiency will be filled up. The man, to whom God had imparted such extraordinary powers—powers so completely matchless in these our times,—can such a man have been a liar—an impostor? a liar for the purpose of[Pg 355] deceit—of giving support to a system of deception—and that a lucrative one? An imposition so persevering as to have been carried on, from youth to death, through, perhaps, the greatest part of his life?

The observation is plausible:—the answer will not be the less satisfactory.

The answer has two branches: one, general, applying to all the alleged miracles in question, taken in the lump: the other particular, applying to the several miracles separately considered.

Observations applying to the whole together are, the following:

1. Not by Paul himself, in any one of his own Epistles, is any such general assertion made, as that he had received from God or from Jesus,—or, in a word, that he was in possession of, any such power, as the power of working miracles.

2. Nowhere in the account given of his transactions by the author of the Acts, is he in any of his speeches represented as making reference to any one act of his in the character of a miracle.

3. Nowhere in that same account, is he represented as stating himself to be in possession of any such powers.

4. Not by the author of the Acts, is he spoken of as being in possession of any such power.

5. Nowhere by the author of the Acts, is he in any general terms spoken of, as producing any effects, such as, in respect of the power necessary to the production of them, approach to those spoken of as having been produced by Simon Magus; by that declared impostor, in whose instance, no such commission from God is represented as having been received.

6. Neither on the occasion of his conversion, nor[Pg 356] on any other occasion, is Paul stated to have received from Jesus any such power as that of working miracles:—any such power as the real Apostles are—in Mark 16:15, 16, 17, 18—stated to have received from Jesus.

Was it that, in his own conception, for gaining credence to his pretension of a commission from Jesus—from Jesus, styled by him the Lord Jesus—any need of miracles, or of a persuasion, on the part of those with whom he had to deal, of his having power to work miracles? By no means. Of the negative, the story told by him of the manner of his conversion is abundant proof. Of the efficient cause of this change in his mind, the account given, is plainly given in the character of the account of a miracle. But of this miracle, the proof given consists solely in his own evidence: his own statement, unsupported by that of any other person, or by reference to that of any other person: his account, of the discourse, which on the occasion of the vision, in which nothing was seen but a flood of light, he heard from the Lord Jesus: his own account, of the vision, which he says was seen by Ananias: his own account, of that other vision, which, according to Ananias, he, Paul, had had, but of which Paul himself says nothing.

In the work of his adherent and sole biographer, the author of the Acts,—we have five speeches, made by him, in vindication of his conduct, in the character of a preacher of the religion of Jesus; and, from his own hand, Epistles out of number: yet nowhere is any reference made, to so much as a single miracle wrought by his own hand, unless the trance which he falls into when he is alone, and the vision which he sees, when nobody else sees anything, are to be placed to the account of miracles. Miracles? On[Pg 357] him, yes; by him, no. True it is, that, on one occasion, he speaks in general terms of "signs and wonders," as having been wrought by him. But vague, in the highest degree, is the import, as well as wide the extent, of those general terms: nor is it by any means clear, that, even by himself, any such claim was meant to be brought forward, as that of having exhibited any such manifestations of supernatural power, as are commonly regarded as designated by the word miracles. In the multitude of the persons, whom, in places so widely distant from one another, he succeeded in numbering in the list of his followers—in the depth of the impression, supposed to have been made on the heart of this or that one of them—in all or any one of these circumstances, it was natural he should himself behold, and, whether he did or no, use his endeavours to cause others to behold, not only so many sources of wonder, but so many circumstances; all conspiring to increase the quantity of that confidence, which, with so much industry, and, as far as appears, with such brilliant success, he was labouring to plant in every breast: circumstances, serving, in the minds of his adherents in general, in the character of a sign or proof, of the legitimacy of his pretension, as above.

But, of any such supernatural power as that which is here in question, could any such loose and vague expressions be reasonably regarded as affording any sort of proof? No:—unless whatsoever, in the affairs of men, can justly be regarded as wonderful, ought also to be regarded as a miracle.

In one passage, and one alone, either in the Acts or in his own Epistles, is he found laying any claim, how distant and vague soever, to any such power, as having ever been exercised by him. And, in this instance, no one individual incident being in any way[Pg 358] brought to view or referred to, what is said will be seen to amount absolutely to nothing, being nothing more than, without incurring any such interpretation as that of imposture, is at the present time continually averred by Christians of different sects.

He who makes so much of his sufferings, had he wrought any miracles, would he have made nothing of his miracles?

In the next place, although it must be admitted, that, on several occasions, by his sole biographer and professed adherent, viz., the author of the Acts, a sort of colour of the marvellous seems endeavoured to be laid on; laid on over the incident itself, and over the part, which on that occasion was taken by him; yet on no one of these occasions, unless perhaps it be the last—of which presently,—does the account, given by him of what passed, wear any such complexion as shall render it matter of necessity, either to regard it as miraculous, or to regard the biographer, as having on that occasion asserted a complete and downright untruth.


SECTION 2.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE I.—ELYMAS THE SORCERER BLINDED.—Acts 13:6 to 12.

1. Of these supposable miracles, the first that occurs is that which had for its subject Elymas the sorcerer.

At Paphos, in the island of Cyprus,[77] Paul and[Pg 359] his associate Barnabas are sent for, by "the deputy of the country," Sergius Paulus, who desires to hear the word of God. But at that same place is a certain Jew, of the name of Barjesus, alias Elymas,—a sorcerer by profession, who "withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith." To this man, it is not said, either where or when, Paul is thereupon represented as making a short speech, at the end of which, after calling him a child of the devil, and so forth; he says to him, "Thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. Thereupon," continues the story, "immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy," it concludes, "when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord."

Supposing this story to have had any foundation in fact,—of the appearance of blindness thus exhibited, where shall we look for the cause? In a suspension of the laws of nature, performed by the author of nature, to no other assignable end, than the conversion of this Roman governor? At no greater expense, than that of a speech from this same Paul, the conversion of a king,—King Agrippa—if the author of the Acts is to be believed, was nearly effected. "Almost," says Agrippa, "thou hast persuaded me to become a Christian." So often as God is represented, as operating in a direct—however secret and mysterious—manner, upon the heart, i.e., the mind, of this and that man,—while the accounts given of the suspension of the laws of nature are comparatively so few—to speak in that sort of human language, in which alone the nature of the case admits of our speaking, if the expense of a miracle were not grudged,—might not, in the[Pg 360] way above mentioned, by a much less lavish use of supernatural power, the same effect have been produced? viz., by a slight influence, exercised on the heart of governor Paulus?

Whatsoever may have been the real state of the case,—thus much seems pretty clear, viz., that at this time of day, to a person whose judgment on the subject should have, for its ground, the nature of the human mind as manifested by experience,—another mode of accounting for the appearance in question will be apt to present itself as much more probable. That is—that, by an understanding between Paul and Elymas—between the ex-persecutor and the sorcerer—the sorcerer, in the view of all persons, in whose instance it was material that credence should be given to the supposed miracle,—for and during "the season" that was thought requisite, kept his eyes shut.

The sorcerer was a Jew:—Paul was also a Jew. Between them here was already one indissoluble bond of connection and channel of intercourse. Elymas, by trade a sorcerer, i.e., an impostor—a person of the same trade with Simon Magus, by whom so conspicuous a figure is cut in the chapter of this history—was a sort of person, who, on the supposition of an adequate motive, could not naturally feel any greater repugnance, at the idea of practicing imposition, at so easy a rate as that of keeping his eyes shut, than at the idea of practicing it, in any of the shapes to which he had been accustomed:—shapes, requiring more dexterity, and some, by which he would be more or less exposed, to that detection, from which, in the mode here in question, it would be altogether secure.

But Paul—was he in a condition to render it worth the sorcerer's while to give this shape to his imposture?[Pg 361] Who can say that he was not? Yes: if to a certain degree he had it in his power, either to benefit him or to make him suffer? And who can say but that these two means of operating, were one or other, or both of them, in his power? As to the sorcerer's betraying him, this is what he could not have done, without betraying himself.

True it is, that, by acting this under part,—this self-humiliating part,—so long as Paul stayed, so long was the sorcerer, not the first, but only the second wonder-worker of the town. But no sooner did Paul's departure take place, than Elymas, from being the second, became again the first.


SECTION 3.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE II.—AT LYSTRA, CRIPPLE CURED.—Acts 14:8 to 11.

Second of these supposed miracles,—cure of the cripple at Lystra.

This miracle makes a bad match with the before-mentioned one.

Seeing a man at Lystra, neither man's name, nor place's, except in that general way, nor time, in any way mentioned,—seeing a man in the guise of a cripple, "Stand upright on thy feet," says Paul to him with a loud voice. "And," continues the story, "he leaped and walked, steadfastly beholding and perceiving that he had faith to be healed." Chorus of the people thereupon, "The Gods are come down to us in the likeness of men."

To the production of an appearance of this sort, what was necessary? a real miracle? No, surely:[Pg 362] so long as a vagrant was to be found, who, without any risk, could act a part of this sort for a few pence, in an age so fertile in imposture.

True it is, that this same man, whoever he was, is represented as being "impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked." But these words, how much more than any other words, of the same length, in the same number, did the writing of them cost the author of this story? As to the correctness of his narratives,—of the self-contradictory accounts given by him of Paul's conversion, a sample has been already given. As to detection, supposing this circumstance false,—detection is what the account thus given of it renders impossible. For—this same cripple, what was his name? from birth to this time, where had he been living? Of this nothing is said. That, at Lystra, or anywhere else, the account was ever made public, is neither affirmed, nor so much as insinuated: not but that it might have been published, and, at the same time, though as to everything but the scene that exhibited itself to outward appearance, false,—might not have found any person, at the same time able and willing to contradict the falsity, and thus naturalize the miracle.


SECTION 4.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE III.—DIVINERESS SILENCED.—Acts 16:16-18.

While Paul and his suite,—of whom, according to the author of the Acts, he himself was one,—were at Philippi,—a Roman colony, and capital of a part[Pg 363] of Macedonia,—among their hearers, is Lydia—a purple-seller of the City of Thyatira. Being converted, she receives the whole party into her house.

From this house, on their way to prayers,—probably in a Jewish synagogue,—they are met by a certain damsel, as nameless as the lame-born cripple, who, being possessed of a spirit of divination, or of Python, brings to her masters, for masters it seems she had more than one, much gain by soothsaying. Here then is a female, who, by being possessed by or with a spirit,—a real spirit, whether devil or a spirit of any other sort,—is converted into a prophetess, and, doubtless, in the main a false prophetess.

In the present instance, however, she is a true prophetess: for, following Paul and his suite, she runs after them, saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days."

If, instead of a demon, it had been an angel, that took her vocal organs for the instrument of his communications, it is difficult to say, in what manner he could have deserved better at the hands of these "servants," real or pretended, "of the Most High God."

Yet, from some cause or other that does not appear, so it was it seems,—there was something about her with which Paul was not well pleased. "Being grieved, he turns and says,"—not to the damsel herself, but to the spirit, which possessed her, or rather, since for the benefit of her masters, it brought her so much gain, which she possessed,—"I command thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her."

Amongst the superstitions of that and other ages, one was—the notion of a property, possessed by such and such words—possessed, by these mere evanescent[Pg 364] sounds—by the air of the atmosphere, when made to vibrate in a certain manner:—a property, of working effects in endless abundance and variety, and those, too, supernatural ones. In some instances, the wonders would be wrought by the words themselves, whatsoever were the mouths by which they were uttered. In other instances, they required, for the production of the effects, a person, who being possessed of a particular and appropriate power, should, for the purpose of giving exercise to such his power, give them passage through his lips. Of this latter kind was the present case. The command issued as above, "he," for it was a he-spirit, "came out of her," the damsel, "the same hour."

When the devil that Josephus saw expelled, came out of the man, the channel at which he made his exit, being manifest, it was accordingly specified: it was the man's nose. This was something to know: especially, in relation to an occurrence, the time of which was at so great a distance from our own. At the same time, however, other particulars present themselves, by which curiosity is excited, and for want of which, the information thus bestowed must be confessed to be rather imperfect. What the shape of the devil was? what the substance? whence he last came? to what place, to what occupation, after being thus dislodged, he betook himself, and so forth: not to speak of many others, which howsoever instructive and satisfactory it would have been to be acquainted with, yet now that all acquaintance with them is hopeless, it would be tedious to enumerate.

In the present instance, not only as to all these particulars, has the historian,—eyewitness as it should seem he was of everything that passed,—left us in the dark; but, neither has he vouchsafed to afford us that single article of information, scanty[Pg 365] as it was, for which, as above, in the case mentioned by Josephus, we are indebted to Josephus: to Josephus—that most respectable and instructive of the uninspired historians of his age.

In relation to this story, as well as to those others, the same question still presents itself:—if told of the present time,—if spoken of in some newspaper, as having happened in the present year,—exists here any person, even among the most ignorant populace, with whom it would obtain any permanent credence?

But, a reported state of things—which, if reported as having had place in the present century, would, by its disconformity to the manifest state of things, and the whole course of nature, be regarded as too absurd and flagrantly incredible to deserve to be entitled to a moment's notice,—what is there that should render it more credible, when reported as having happened in this same world of ours, at any anterior point of time?


SECTION 5.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE IV.—AT PHILIPPI, AN EARTHQUAKE: PAUL AND SILAS FREED FROM PRISON, A.D. 53.

The passage, in which these events are related, is in Acts 16:19-40, inclusive.

On this occasion three principal events are narrated;—the incarceration of Paul, an earthquake, and the liberation of Paul. Between the earthquake and the liberation of this prisoner, what was in reality the connection? In the answer there is not much difficulty: The same as that between the earthquake and any other event that took place after it. But,[Pg 366] by an answer thus simple, the purpose of the narrator would not have been answered: the purpose was—to induce, on the part of his readers, the belief—that it was for the purpose of bringing about the liberation of the self-constituted Apostle of Jesus, that the earth was made to shake. As to the liberation, by means altogether natural was that event produced: so he himself has the candour to inform us. Of this quasi-miracle, or of the last-mentioned one, Philippi, capital of Macedonia, was the theatre. By order of the magistrates of that town, Paul and his attendant had been beaten one evening, and thrown into prison: next morning, came to the jailor an order of these same magistrates, and in obedience to it the prisoners were discharged. That, in the minds of these magistrates, there was any connection, between the earthquake and the treatment they had given to these adventurers, is not so much as insinuated. The purpose, which it had in view, was answered: it was the ridding the town of a pair of visitors, whose visit to it had produced disturbance to existing institutions. Acts 16:20-40.

Be it as it may with regard to the historiographer,—that it was an object with his hero to produce a notion of a connection between the stripes and the imprisonment he had undergone on one hand, and the earthquake on the other, is manifest enough. The person, in whose mind the prisoner had endeavoured to produce the idea of such a connection, was the jailor: and, for its having in this instance been successful, there seems little difficulty in giving credit to the historiographer. Everything that appears to have been said, either of Paul or by Paul, tends to show the wonderful strength of his mind, and the facility and promptitude, with which it enabled him to gain the ascendency over other minds. In the[Pg 367] language of the place and time, he had bid the fortune-telling damsel cease her imposture, and the imposture ceased. Acts 16:18. Committed to prison he formed a project for making a proselyte of the keeper: and, in this too, and in so small a compass of time as a few hours, there seems reason to believe he was successful. In his presumption, in daring to execute the sentence of the law upon so holy a person, the keeper saw the cause of the earthquake; and, whether by Paul any very strenuous endeavours were used to correct so convenient an error in geology, may be left to be imagined. Paul, when introduced into the prison, found no want of comrades: how then happened it, that it was to Paul's imprisonment that the earthquake, when it happened, was attributed, and not to any of his fellow-prisoners? Answer: It happened thus.

Of the trade, which, with such brilliant success, Paul,—with this journeyman of his,—was carrying on, a set of songs with the name of God for the burthen of them, constituted a part of the capital, and, as it should seem, not the least valuable. When midnight came, Paul—the trader in godliness—treated the company in the prison with a duet: the other prisoners, though they shared in the benefit of it, did not join in it. While this duet was performing, came on the earthquake; and Paul was not such a novice as to let pass unimproved the opportunity it put into his hand.

The historiographer, if he is to be believed, was at this time in Paul's train, as well as Silas; for so, by the word we, in the tenth verse of this same chapter, he, as it were, silently informs us. The beating and the imprisonment were confined to the two principals; by his comparative insignificance, as it should seem, the historiographer was saved from it.[Pg 368] From the relation, given to him by Paul or Silas, and in particular by Paul,—must this conception, formed by the historiographer of what passed on the occasion, have of course been derived. It was coloured of course in Paul's manner: and in his colouring, there was of course no want of the marvellous. By the earthquake, not only were "foundations shaken" and "doors opened," but "bands loosened." The "feet" of the two holy men had been "made ... fast in the stocks," ver. 24: from these same stocks, the earthquake was ingenious enough to let them out, and, as far as appears, without hurt: the unholy part of the prisoners had each of them bands of some sort, by which they were confined; for, ver. 26, "everyone's bands were loosed:" in every instance if they were locked, the earthquake performed the office of a picklock. Earthquakes in these latter days, we have but too many, in breaking open doors they find no great difficulty; but they have no such nicety of touch as the earthquake, which produced to the self-constituted Apostle a family of proselytes: they are no more able to let feet out of the stocks, or hands out of hand-cuffs, than to make watches.

These elucidations being furnished, the reader is desired to turn to the text, and lay before him: to reprint it would require more paper than he might choose to see thus employed.

As to the name of God and the name of Jesus, the two names, it should appear, were not—on the occasions in question—used at random. When the fortune-telling damsel was the subject of Paul's holy labours, she having been in some way or other already gained, ver. 17, the case was already of a sort, in which the name of Jesus Christ, the name under which the self-constituted Apostle enlisted all his followers,—might be employed with advantage.

[Pg 369]

When Paul and Silas were committed to prison, no such name as that of "Jesus Christ" would as yet have served. Of "Jesus Christ" neither had the keeper as yet heard anything, nor had the other prisoners. But, of God, in some shape or other, they could not but have heard all of them: God accordingly was the name, by which at this time the sensibilities of the persons in question were to be worked upon. When the earth trembled, the jailor trembled likewise: he "came trembling and fell down," ver. 29, before Paul and Silas. And brought them out, ver. 30, and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Now then was the time come for the enlistment—for the enlistment in the spiritual warfare against the devil and his angels: in the as yet new name of "the Lord Jesus Christ" were these recruits accordingly enlisted, as now, for the purpose of carnal warfare, in the name of King George. "And they said," continues the narration, ver. 31, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."


SECTION 6.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE V.—AT CORINTH, PAUL COMFORTED BY THE LORD IN AN UNSEEN VISION, A.D. 54.—Acts 18:7-11.

A vision, being a species of miracle, could, no more than a pantomime, have place without some expense. In the present case, as in any other, a natural question is—What was the object to be accomplished, upon which the expense—whatever it was—was bestowed? The answer is—The keeping his attendants,[Pg 370] whoever they were, in the necessary state of obsequiousness: for no other is perceptible. To the dependants in Paul's train, it was no very uncommon sentiment to be not quite so well satisfied with the course he took, as he himself was. Corinth was at this time the theatre of his labours: of the men, whoever they were, who had staked their fortunes upon his, some,—the historiographer, as it should seem, of the number,—there were, whose wish it was to change the scene. In that Gentile city,—the chief ruler of the Jewish synagogue, Crispus by name—this man, besides another man, of the name of Justus, "whose house joined hard to" that same synagogue, had become his converts: "and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized." Eyes, however, there were, in which the success, whatsoever it was, was not yet enough to afford a sufficient warrant for his stay. A vision was necessary, and a vision accordingly, or at least a something, which was called by that name, made its appearance. "Thus spake the Lord," says the historiographer, ver. 9, "Thus spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.——For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city." Nor was the vision without its effect; for, as the next verse informs us, ver. 11, "He continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."

That which, on this occasion, may be believed without much difficulty is, that the word thus taught by Paul was Paul's word: and, that which may be believed with as little, by those, whoever they may be, who believe in his original conversion-vision, is—that it was God's word likewise. From Paul himself must the account of this vision have been delivered[Pg 371] to the historiographer: for, unless at the expense of a sort of miracle, in the shape of an additional vision at least, if not in some more expensive shape, no information of any such thing could have reached him. In these latter days, no ghost is ever seen but in a tete-a-tete: in those days, no vision, as far as appears, was ever seen but in the same degree of privacy. A vision is the word in these pages, because such is the word in the authoritative translation made of the historiographer's. That which Paul is related to have heard, is—what we have just seen as above: but that, upon this occasion he saw anything—that he saw so much as a flash of light, this is what we are not told: any more than by what other means he became so well assured, that the voice which he heard, supposing him to have heard a voice, was the Lord's voice. In these latter days,—inquiries, of some such sort as these, would as surely be put, by a counsel who were against the vision,—as, in the case of the Cock-lane Ghost, which gave so much exercise to the faith of the archlexicographer, were put by the counsel who were against the ghost; but, by a sort of general understanding,—than which nothing can be more convenient,—inquiries, such as these,—how strictly soever in season when applied to the 19th century of the vulgar ear, are altogether out of season, as often as they are applied to the commencement of it.

As to the speaking by a vision, the only intelligible way, in which any such thing can really have place, is that, which under the pressure of necessity has been realized by the ingenuity of dramatists in these latter days. Such is the mode employed, when the actors, having been struck dumb by the tyranny of foolish laws, and consequently having no auditors, convey to the spectators what information seems[Pg 372] necessary, by an appropriate assortment of gold letters on a silk ground: whether the Lord who, on this occasion, according to Paul, spoke to the eyes of Paul, came provided with any such implement, he has not informed us. Without much danger of error, we may venture to assert the negative: for, if such was the mode of converse, there was nothing but what might happen without sign or wonder: and, on this supposition, no addition was made by it, to those signs and wonders, which, as has been seen, it was his way to make reference to, in the character of evidence.


SECTION 7.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE VI.—AT EPHESUS, DISEASES AND DEVILS EXPELLED BY FOUL HANDKERCHIEFS.—Acts 19:1-12.

At Ephesus, Paul makes a stay of between two and three years; for "two years" together, disputing "daily in the school of one Tyrannus," "so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

"And God," continues the history, "wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul."

These "special miracles," what were they? Of the whole number, is there so much as a single one particularized? No; not one. Special as they are, the following is the account, and the only account given of them. "So that," continues the history, "from his body were brought unto the sick, handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them."

[Pg 373]

No circumstances whatever particularized, name of the person, name of the place, description of the time—nothing, by means of which, in case of falsity in toto, or incorrectness in circumstance, the misstatement might have been exposed,—to what degree of credence, or so much as consideration with a view to credence, vague generalities such as these, can they present so much as the slightest claim? If allusions such as these are to pass proof, where is the imposture, to which proofs—proofs sufficient in number and value—can ever be wanting?

Opposed as Paul was, wherever he went,—by gainsayers or persecutors, or both—sometimes successful, sometimes altogether unsuccessful,—sometimes in a slight degree successful—in so much as any one occasion, either in this history, or in any one of his own numerous Epistles, do we find so much as a single one of these "special miracles," any more than of any other miracles, brought to view by him, or so much as alluded to by him, in the character of proofs of the commission to which he pretended? Answer: No, not one.

Diseases cured, evil spirits driven out, by handkerchiefs and aprons!—by handkerchiefs and aprons brought from a man's body! Diseases cured and devils seared away by foul linen! By Jesus—by any one of his Apostles—were any such implements, any such eye-traps ever employed? No; never. As to diseases, if by such means a disease had been propagated, the case would have been intelligible enough. But what was wanted was a miracle: and this would have been no miracle. The price, received by the holy wearer for any of these cast-off habiliments—the price, of the precious effluvia thus conveyed—by any such little circumstance, had it been mentioned, some light might have been cast on what was done.

[Pg 374]

One thing, indeed, may be stated with some assurance: and this is—that, after a man, well or not well, had received one of these same dirty handkerchiefs, or of these same dirty aprons, no evil spirit in him was visible.

One other thing may also be stated with no less confidence:—this is that, infection out of the question, and supposing Paul free from all contagious disease, if, without handkerchief or apron, the disease would have had its exit,—by no such handkerchief or any such apron was the exit of it prevented.

Note, that all this time, according to this man, the author of the Acts, he himself was in Paul's suite. Yet, taking credit for all these miracles—taking credit thus for miracles out of number, not so much as one of them all does he take upon himself to particularize.[78]

[Pg 375]


SECTION 8.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE VII.—AT EPHESUS, EXORCISTS SCEVAS BEDEVILED.—Acts 19:13-20.

Thus it is that, as under the last head has been observed, of all these alleged successful exhibitions, not so much as a single one is particularized.

In lieu, however, of these successes of Paul's, something of a story to a certain degree particularized we have. But this is—what? a successful performance of Paul's? No: but an unsuccessful attempt of certain persons,—here termed exorcists,—who took upon themselves to act against him in the character of competitors.

Well, then: when the time came for demonstrating supernatural powers by experiment, these exorcists—these impostors, no doubt it was intended they[Pg 376] should be deemed—made a very indifferent hand of it. Good: but the true man, Did he go beyond these same impostors? Not he, indeed: he did not so much as attempt it. But, let us hear his historiographer, who all this while was at his elbow. Acts 19:13-20. "Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits, the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth.

"And there were," continues the narrative, ver. 14, "seven sons of Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so." Thus far the narrative.

The sons of the chief of the priests? Such men styled not only exorcists but vagabonds? If they are not here, in express terms, themselves styled vagabonds, at any rate, what is here imputed to them is the doing those same things, the doers of which have just been styled, not only exorcists, but at the same time vagabonds. But let us continue, "And the evil spirit," ver. 15, "answered and said, Jesus, I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?—And the man, in whom the evil spirit was, leaped on them and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded." Thus far the narrative.

To whatsoever order of beings the hero of this tale may have belonged;—whatsoever may have been his proper appellative,—a man with two natures, one human, the other diabolical,—a man with a devil in him, a madman,—or a man in his sound senses counterfeiting a diabolized man or a madman,—the tale itself is surely an eminently curious one. Of these human or superhuman antagonists of his—of these pretended masters over evil spirits—the number is not less than seven: yet, in comparison of him, so feeble and helpless are they all together, that he not[Pg 377] only masters them all seven, but gets them down, all seven together, and while they are lying on the ground in a state of disablement, pulls the clothes off their backs: but whether one after another, or all at the same time, is not mentioned. Be this as it may, hereupon comes a question or two. While he was stripping any one of them, what were the others about all that time? The beating they received, was it such as to render them senseless and motionless? No: this can scarcely have been the case; for, when the devil had done his worst, and their sufferings were at the height, out of the house did they flee, wounded as they were.

"Jesus I know, and Paul I know," says the mysterious hero, in the fifteenth verse. Hereupon an observation or two calls for utterance. Supposing him a man, who, knowing what he was about, counterfeited the sort of being, who was half man, half devil,—one-half of this speech of his, namely, Paul I know, may without much difficulty be believed. But, upon this supposition, forasmuch as he acted with so much effect against these rivals of Paul's,—a supposition not less natural, to say the least of it, is—that to Paul he was not unknown, any more than Paul to him: in a word, that on this occasion, between the evil spirit and the self-constituted Apostle, a sort of understanding had place. Be this as it may, how extraordinary a person must he not have been, to undertake the complete mastery of seven men at once! Seven men, all of them young enough to have a father, not only living, but officiating as a priest: and at the same time, all of them old enough, if not to exercise, mastery over evil spirits, at any rate to undertake it!

In Paul's suite, all this time, as far as appears, was the author of this narrative. The scene thus exhibited—was he then, or was he not, himself an eyewitness[Pg 378] of it? On a point so material and so natural, no light has he afforded us.

Another circumstance, not less curious, is—that it is immediately after the story of the unnamed multitudes, so wonderfully cured by foul clothes,—that this story of the devil-masters discomfited by a rebellious servant of theirs, makes its appearance. Turn now to the supposed true devil-master—on this score, what was it that he did? Just nothing. The devil,—and a most mischievous one he was,—he was doing all this mischief:—the man, who had all such devils so completely in his power, that they quit possession, and decamp at the mere sight or smell of a dirty handkerchief or apron of his;—he, though seeing all this mischief done,—done by this preeminently mischievous as well as powerful devil,—still suffers him to go on;—and not any the least restraint in any shape, does he impose upon him; but leaves him in complete possession of that receptacle, which, according to the narrative, he wanted neither the power nor the will to convert into an instrument of so much mischief. Was it from Paul himself, that, on this special occasion, for this special purpose, namely, the putting down these presumptuous competitors, this mysterious being received so extraordinary a gift? This is not said, but not improbably, as it should seem, this was the miracle, which it was intended by the historian should be believed.

Occasions there are—and this we are desired to believe was one of them—in which the impossibility of a thing is no bar to the knowledge of it.

"And this was known," continues the narrative, ver. 17, "And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus: and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified."

[Pg 379]

Now, supposing this thing known, the fear stated as the result of it may without difficulty be believed:—fear of being treated as those sons of the chief of the Jewish priests had been: fear of the devil, by whom those, his unequal antagonists, had been thus dealt with: fear of the more skilful devil-master, under whose eye these bunglers had been thus dealt with.

But the name here said to be magnified—the name of the Lord Jesus—how that came to be magnified: in this lies all the while the difficulty, and it seems no small one.

The name, on this occasion, and thus said to be employed, whose was it? It was, indeed, the Lord Jesus's. But was it successful? Quite the contrary. It made bad worse. In the whole of this business, what was there from which the name of Jesus could in any shape receive magnification? Yes: if after the so eminently unsuccessful use, thus made of it by those exorcists, a successful use had, on the same occasion, been made of it by Paul. But, no: no such enterprise did he venture upon. Madman, devil, counterfeit madman, counterfeit devil,—by proxy, any of these he was ready to encounter, taking for his proxy one of his foul handkerchiefs or aprons: any of this sort of work, if his historiographer is to be believed, he was ready enough to do by proxy. But, in person? No; he knew better things.

"And many that believed," concludes this part of the narrative, ver. 18, "came and confessed, and showed their deeds." Yes; supposing there were any, by whom all this or any part of it was believed,—that they spoke and acted in consequence, may be believed without much difficulty: and, with this observation may the story, and the sort of elucidation endeavouring to be given of it, be left to close.

[Pg 380]


SECTION 9.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE VIII.—MAGICAL BOOKS BURNT BY THE OWNERS.—Acts 19:19, 20.

Such as it was, the supposable miracle last mentioned was not without its supposed fruit: destruction of property, such as it was—destruction of property, and to an amount sufficiently wonderful for the satisfaction of any ordinary appetite for wonders. But let us see the text. It follows in the verse 19, next after that, in which mention is made, as in the last preceding section, of what was done by the "many who believed."

"Many of them also," ver. 19, "which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men; and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver." "So mightily," ver 20, "grew the word of God, and prevailed." And there ends the story of the books of curious arts.

As to the sum total, nothing can be more precise: as to the items, could the list of them be but produced, this would be indeed a treasure. As to the denomination magical, given in the title of this section to those books, styled books "of curious arts,"—in the text, short is the only apology that need be made for it. Of the number of those curious arts could not, most assuredly, have been any of the arts included at present under the name of fine arts; of the character of the arts here designated by the appellation of curious, a sufficient indication is afforded by the story, by which the mention of them is, as[Pg 381] above, immediately preceded. They were the arts, by which effects were undertaken to be produced, such as the self-constituted Apostle undertook to produce by so much more simple means. How vast soever were the collection, what would be the value of it,—the whole taken together,—when so much more than could be done by everything which it professed to teach, could be done by about a score or a dozen words, on the single condition, that the lips by which they were uttered were properly commissioned lips, not to speak of the still more simple operation of the touch of a used handkerchief?

Of the state of art and science in the wake of the great temple of Diana, the representation here given is of itself no small curiosity. Books of curious arts—all of them arts of imposture—books, employed, all of them, in teaching the most secret of all secrets—books of this description, so well known to all men, as to bear a market-price! a market-price, so well known to all men, as if it were the price of bread and butcher's meat: and, in the single town of Ephesus, these books so numerous,—such the multitude or the value,—or rather the multitude as well as value, of them taken in the aggregate, that the price, that had been given for such of them as were thus given up, and which are only part, and, as it should seem by the word many, not the larger part, of the whole number, of those, which, at that same place, were at that same time in existence,—was, upon summing up, found actually to amount, so we are required to believe, to that vast sum.

Of the aggregate, of the prices that had been paid, we are told, for this smaller part of the aggregate number of the books, then and there existing on this single subject,—inadequate, indeed, would our conception be of it were we to regard it as not exceeding[Pg 382] the value of the whole library collected by King George the Third, and given by his successor to the English part of his subjects. Data, though not for numeration, yet sufficient for conception, are by no means wanting. To consult Arbuthnot, or any successor of his, would be mere illusion; in so far as the value of money is unknown, prices in money serve but to deceive. History—and that the most appropriate history—has furnished us with much surer grounds. Thirty pieces of silver, Matt. 28:3-10, was the purchase-money of the field, called the potters' field, bought for a burying-ground, with the money received and returned by the traitor, Judas, as the reward for his treachery. Suppose it no more than half an acre. What, in English money of the present day, would be the value of half an acre of land in or close by a closely built metropolis? A hundred pounds would, assuredly, be a very moderate allowance. Multiply the hundred pounds by fifty thousand, you have five millions; divide the five millions by thirty, you have, on the above supposition, 166,666l. and odd for the value of these books. Look to the English translation, look to the Greek original, the pieces of silver are the same.


SECTION 10.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE IX.—AT TROAS, EUTYCHUS FOUND NOT TO BE DEAD.—Acts 20:7-12.

In this story may be seen another example, of the facility with which, when men are upon the hunt for miracles, something may be made out of nothing: the most ordinary occurrence, by the addition of a loose word or two, metamorphosed into a miracle.

[Pg 383]

Paul, one evening, was treating his disciples with a sermon: he was at the same time treating them, or they him, with a supper. The architecture of the house was such, that, under favourable circumstances, a fall might be got from the top of it, or thereabouts, to the bottom, without much difficulty. If any difficulty there was, on the occasion in question it was overcome. According to circumstances, sermons produce on different minds different effects: from some, they drive sleep; in others, they produce it. On the occasion in question, the latter was the effect experienced by a certain youth. His station is represented as being an elevated one:—so elevated that, after the fall he got from it, it may be believed without difficulty, he lay for some time motionless. Paul "went down" to him, we are told, and embraced him. The youth received the embrace; Paul, the praise of tender-heartedness:—this is what may be asserted with a safe conscience, though it be without any special evidence. Trifling, however, is the boon he received from that congregation, in comparison of what he has been receiving from so many succeeding ones—the reputation of having made so brilliant an addition to the catalogue of his miracles. By the accident, whatever may have been the interruption, given by it to the festivity, no end was put to it. Sermon and supper ended, the rest of the congregation went their way: and with them went the youth, to whom had anything serious happened, the historian would scarcely have left us uninformed of it.

On this occasion, between the hero and his historian, there is somewhat of a difference. The historian will have it, that when Paul reached the body he found it dead. Paul's own account of the matter is the direct contrary: so the historian himself informs[Pg 384] us. Here then the historian and his hero are at issue. But, the historian, having the first word, makes, if we may venture to say so, a rather unfair advantage of it, and by this same first word gives a contradiction to what he makes his hero say in the next. "He was taken up dead," says the historian, who was or was not there: "His life is in him," says the preacher, who was there beyond dispute.

But let us see the text.

ACTS 20:7-12.

7. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech till midnight.—And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.—And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.—And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him, said, Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him.—When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.—And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

At this time of day, any such contrariety might produce some embarrassment; but, when it is considered how long ago the thing happened, no such uneasy sensation is experienced. A supposition, by which all embarrassment is excluded, is so immediately obvious, as to be scarce worth mentioning. When Paul reached the body, the soul was already in the other world; but, with the kisses goes a whisper, and the soul comes back again. Whether from indolence or from archness, there is something amusing in the course the historian takes for enlivening his narration with these flowers: he sketches out the outline, but leaves it to our imaginations to fill it up.

[Pg 385]


SECTION 11.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE X.—ON SHIPBOARD, PAUL COMFORTED BY AN ANGEL.
ACTS 27:20-25.

And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be preserved was thenceforth taken away.—But after long abstinence Paul stood in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened to me, and not have loosed from Crete, but have prevented this harm and damage.—And now I exhort you to be of good courage: for there shall be no loss of life among you, but of the ship, there shall be loss.—For there stood by me this night an angel of that God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying,—Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo, God hath graciously given to thee all who sail with thee.—Wherefore, Sirs, be of good courage: for I believe God, that it will be as it hath been told me.

The sea being stormy, the crew are alarmed. The storm, however, is not so violent, but that Paul is able to make a speech, and they to hear it. To keep up their spirits, and, at the same time, let them see the sort of terms he is upon with the Almighty, he tells them a story about an angel. The angel had been sent to him upon a visit, and was but just gone. The business of the angel was to quiet the mind of the Apostle. The matter had been settled. The precious life was in no danger: and, not only so, but, out of compliment to him, God had been pleased to grant to him the lives of all who were happy enough to be in his company.

In the situation, in which so many lives are represented as being placed,—no very severe condemnation can easily be passed upon any little fraud, by[Pg 386] which they might be saved. But, is it really to be believed, that this angel, whom, in a deckless vessel, for the vessels of those times were not like the vessels of present times, no person but Paul either saw or heard, was really sent express from the sky by God Almighty, on such an errand? If not, then have we this additional proof,—if any additional proof can be needed,—to help to satisfy us,—that, where a purpose was to be answered, falsehood, or as he would have called it lying, was not among the obstacles, by which Paul would be stopped, in his endeavours to accomplish it.


SECTION 12.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE XI.—AT MALTA, A REPTILE SHAKEN OFF BY PAUL WITHOUT HURT.—Acts 28:1-6.

A fire of sticks being kindled, a reptile, here called a viper, is represented as "coming out of the heat," and fastening on Paul's hand. On beholding this incident,—"the barbarous people," as the inhabitants are called, whose hospitality kindled the fire for the relief of the shipwrecked company, concluded that Paul was a murderer: and were, accordingly, in expectation of seeing him "swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly." Nothing of this sort happened, their next conclusion was, that he was a God. As such, did these barbarians, as did the civilized inhabitants of Lystra, sacrifice to him, or in any other way worship him? No: these conceptions of theirs reported, there the story ends.

Of this story, what is to be made? At this time of day, among Christians in general, what we should[Pg 387] expect to find is, that it passed for a miracle. But, if by miracle is meant, not merely an accident, somewhat singular and extraordinary,—but, by a special act of Almighty power, an effect produced, by means disconformable to the uniform course of nature,—it might be too much to say, that even by the reporter himself, it is for the decided purpose of its being taken for miracle, that it is brought to view.

If, however, the design was not here, that the incident should be taken for a miracle,—the story amounted to nothing, and was not worth the telling. But, if it is to be made into a miracle, where is the matter in it, out of which a miracle can be made?

The reptile—was it really a viper? Neither the barbarians of Malta, nor the reporter of this story, nor in a word, at that time of day, any other persons whatever, were either very complete or very correct, in their conception of matters belonging to the field of natural history. At present, reptiles are crawling creatures. At this time of day, when leeches are excepted, to fasten upon the part they have bitten is not the practice with any reptiles that we know of. If, instead of viper, the Greek word had been one that could have been translated leech,—the story would have been probable enough, but, were it only for that very reason, no miracle could have been made out of it. Shaken down into the fire, that is, into the burning fuel,—a small reptile, such as a leech, how brisk soever in the water, would be very apt to be overpowered by the heat, before it could make its escape: with a reptile of the ordinary size of a viper, this would hardly be the case.

Be this as it may, "he felt,"—so says the story,—"he felt no harm." How came it that he felt no harm? Because the Almighty performed a miracle to preserve him from harm? So long as eyes are[Pg 388] open, causes out of number—causes that have nothing wonderful in them—present themselves to view before this. "The beast," as it is translated, "was not a viper":—if really a viper, it happened, at that moment, not to be provided with a competent stock of venom: it had already expended it upon some other object:—by some accident or other, it had lost the appropriate tooth. Not to look out for others,—any mind that was not bent upon having a miracle at any price, would lay hold of some such cause as one of these, sooner than give itself any such trouble as that of torturing the incident into a miracle.

To bring under calculation the quantity of supernatural power necessary to the production of a given effect is no very easy task. At any rate,—without more or less of expense in a certain shape, nothing in that way could ever be done. In the case here in question, what could have been the object of any such expense? Was it the saving the self-constituted Apostle the pain of a bite? The expense then, would it not have been less—the operation, so to speak, more economical—had a slight turn been given to Paul's hand, or to the course of the reptile? But, in either case, neither would the name of the Lord, nor—what was rather more material—that of his Apostle, have received that glorification which was so needful to it.

Any such design, as that of giving an unequivocal manifestation of Almighty power, such as should stand the test of scrutiny, testifying the verity of Paul's commission to the end of time,—any such design could the incident have had for its final cause? A more equivocal,—a less conclusive,—proof of the manifestation of supernatural power, seems not very easy to imagine.

Here then comes once more the so often repeated[Pg 389] conclusion:—the narrative began to be in want of a miracle, and the miracle was made.

In those days, among that people, miracles were so much in course, that without a reasonable number of them, a history would hardly have obtained credence: at any rate it would not have obtained readers, and without readers no history can ever obtain much credence.


SECTION 13.

SUPPOSABLE MIRACLE XII.—AT MALTA, DEPUTY PUBLIUS'S FATHER CURED.—Acts 28:7-10.

"In the same quarters," says the story—it follows immediately upon that of the viper. "In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and lodged us three days courteously.—And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever, and of a bloody flux, to whom Paul entered in and prayed, and laid his hands on him and healed him.—So when this was done, others also which had diseases in the island, came and were healed.—Who also honoured us with many honours, and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary."

Of the fevers, which, within the compass of any given spot, and any given space of time, have place, it almost always happens, that a certain number go off of themselves. Of, perhaps, all sorts of fever,—at least of almost all sorts at present known, thus much is agreed upon by all physicians:—they have at least two regular courses, one of which terminates[Pg 390] in death, the other or others in recovery. Supposing the person in question to have had a fever,—what is pretty clear is—that, if of itself, it would have taken a favourable termination, there was nothing, in the forms employed by Paul, viz., utterance of prayers and imposition of hands, that could have any natural tendency to cause it to take an unfavourable one.

But—the course afterwards taken by the fever, was there anything in it to distinguish it from the ordinary favourable course? If not, in that case, so far from miraculous, there is nothing that is so much as wonderful in the case.

Note here two things—the narrator one of the party; the narrative so loose and uncircumstantial. But to see is one thing; to narrate, another.

Three days, it seems, and no more, did Paul and his suite stay at the house of this Publius. Was it during that time, or not till afterwards, that Paul performed on him those ceremonies, of which healing is represented as having been the consequence? Was it within that same space of time, or not till afterwards, that the healing is supposed to have taken place? As to the English word healing, it cannot be accused of being indecisive. But in some languages they have words, by which a very convenient veil is thrown over the result. In the languages in question, for the endeavour to heal, whether successful or unsuccessful, the word employed is the same. The Latin affords one of these convenient words, curo. The Greek has another, iasato, and in the Greek original of this history, this is the word employed.

In a case where a ceremony and nothing else is trusted to, it being supposed that the patient really has the disease, the safe and prudent course is, so to order times and seasons, that between the time of performing the ceremony, and the time at which[Pg 391] restoration to health is expected to take place, the time shall have come for the practitioner to have shifted quarters; for, in this case, this is an interval more or less considerable during which it being taken for granted that the desired result will take place of course, reward, in the shapes of profit and honour, will pour in upon the scientific head.

Here, as elsewhere, not only no symptoms are particularized, but no place is mentioned: no time is particularized, no persons are mentioned as percipient witnesses: even the individual who was the subject of the cure is not mentioned by name.

As to the givers of the supposed honours and presents—persons are indeed mentioned:—mentioned, but no otherwise than by the name of others. One individual alone is particularized: particularized as having received the benefit of these ceremonies. This is the father of Publius. This man, to use the phraseology of the passage, was also healed. But—this man who was he? He was no less a person than the father of the chief man in the island. Well then, what are the honours, what the allotment of "such things as were necessary?" What were the proofs of gratitude, afforded by this man, who was so much better able to afford such presents, than any of those other persons cured? By such proofs of remuneration, some evidence—some circumstantial evidence,—supposing them exhibited at a proper time, would have been afforded, in proof of the reality of the service. But, neither by the person thus spoken of as healed, nor by his son—the chief man in the island,—is it said that any such proofs were afforded. For such a silence when the case of an individual was brought to view, coupled with the express declaration made, of gifts presented by persons unnamed,—three cases cannot but present themselves, as being any one[Pg 392] of them more probable, than that, on this occasion, a real miracle was performed. One is—that there was no disease, perhaps no such person: another is, that though there was a disease, it went off of itself: the third is, that it never went off at all.

One thing may be asserted without much fear of contradiction: and that is, that in this country, if in terms such as these, accounts were inserted in the public prints;—accounts of diseases cured without medicine;—diseases cured by nothing but words and gesticulations;—though the accounts given were ever so numerous, not the smallest notice would they be thought worthy of,—not the smallest attention would they receive from anyone, unless it were for the joke's sake.

What is more,—numerous are the publications, in which, encompassed with circumstantiality in all manner of shapes, not only the names of the fortunate patients are mentioned, but under the signatures of those patients declarations made, assuring the public of the reality of the cure,—and yet, when at the same time, by competent persons, due inquiry has been made, it turns out after all that no such cure has been performed.

Accounts, which would not be believed were they to come out at a time of so widely diffused knowledge, are they to be believed, merely because the time they belonged to,—facts and accounts together,—was, as to all such matters, a time of universal ignorance? The less a man understands the subject, the more firmly is he to be believed, as to everything he says of it? Or is it that, between then and now, men and things have undergone a total change? and, if so, when did it take place?

[Pg 393]


SECTION 14.

CONCLUSION: THE SUPPOSABLE MIRACLES CLASSED AND SUMMED UP.

Inferences,—conveying more or less of instruction,—may, perhaps, be found deducible,—at any rate our conception of the whole series taken together, will be rendered so much the clearer, by bringing the same supposed marvels again under review, arranged in the order of time.

For this purpose, the time may be considered as divided into three periods.

In the first are included—those, which are represented as having had place during the time when at the outset of his missionary expedition, Paul had Barnabas for his associate. Of these there are two, viz. 1. At Paphos, A.D. 45, Sorcerer Elymas blinded. 2. At Lystra, A.D. 46, cripple cured. Of this part of the expedition, the commencement, as in the current account, placed in the year 45.

In the second period are included—those, which are represented as having had place, during the time when Paul, after his separation from Barnabas, had Silas for his associate, and the unnamed author of the Acts for an attendant. This ends with his arrival at Jerusalem, on the occasion of his fourth visit—the Invasion Visit.

In the current accounts, this event is placed in the year 60. Within this period, we have the seven following supposed marvels: 1. At Philippi, A.D. 53, divineress silenced. 2. At Philippi, A.D. 53, earthquake: Paul and Silas freed from prison. 3.[Pg 394] At Corinth, A.D. 54, Paul comforted by the Lord in an unseen vision. 4. At Ephesus, A.D. 56, diseases and devils expelled by Paul's foul handkerchiefs. 5. At Ephesus, A.D. 55, Exorcist Scevas bedeviled. 6. At Ephesus, A.D. 56, magic books burned by the owners. 7. At Troas, A.D. 59, Eutychus found not to be dead.

In the third period are included—those which are represented as having had place, in the interval between his forced departure from Jerusalem for Rome, and his arrival at Rome.

In the current accounts, this event is placed in the year 62. Within this concluding period, we have the following supposed marvels: 1. On shipboard, A.D. 62, Paul comforted by an angel. 2. At Malta, A.D. 62, a reptile shaken off by Paul without his being hurt. 3. At Malta, A.D. 62, Deputy Publius's father cured by Paul of some disorder. Year of all these three last marvels, the same as that of Paul's arrival at Rome. Total number of supposed marvels, twelve.

To the first of these three periods belong two supposed marvels, which, supposing them to have any foundation in truth, present themselves as being, in a greater degree than most of the others, exposed to the suspicion of contrivance. A moderate sum, greater or less according to the state more or less flourishing of his practice, might suffice to engage a sorcerer, for a few minutes or hours, to declare himself struck blind: a still more moderate sum might suffice to engage an itinerant beggar, to exhibit himself with one leg tied up, and after hearing what was proper to be heard, or seeing what was proper to be seen, to declare himself cured.

This was the period, during which Paul had Barnabas, or Barnabas Paul, for an associate. In these[Pg 395] cases, if fraud in any shape had place,—it is not without reluctance, that any such supposition could be entertained, as that Barnabas—the generous, the conciliating, the beneficent, the persevering Barnabas—was privy to it. But, times and temptation considered, even might this supposition be assented to, on rather more substantial grounds, than that which stands in competition with it: namely, that for the production of two effects,—comparatively so inconsiderable, and not represented as having been followed by any determinate effects of greater moment,—the ordinary course of nature was, by a special interposition of Almighty power, broken through and disturbed.

Is it or is it not a matter worth remarking—that, of all these twelve supposed occurrences, such as they are,—in not more than four is the hero represented,—even by his own attendant, historian, and panegyrist,—as decidedly taking any active part in the production of the effect? These are—the blinding of the sorcerer, the cure of the cripple, the silencing of the divineress, the curing of Deputy Publius's father: the three first, at the commencement of this supposed wonder-working part of his career; the last,—with an interval of fifteen years between that and the first,—at the very close of it. In the eight intermediate instances, either the effect itself amounted to nothing, or the hero is scarcely represented as being instrumental in the production of it. These are—the being let out of prison after an earthquake had happened—being comforted, whether by God or man, in a vision or without one—having handkerchiefs, by which, when he had done with them, diseases and devils were expelled—being present when a gang of exorcists were beaten and stripped by a devil,[Pg 396] whom they had undertaken to drive out of a man—being in a place, in which some nonsensical books were burned by their owners—being in a house, in which a youth said to be dead, was found not to be so—being comforted by an angel, who had the kindness to come on board ship uninvited—shaking off a reptile, without being hurt by it.

Whatever store may be set at this time of day upon all these marvels, less cannot easily be set upon them by anybody than was by Paul himself. For proof, take the whole tenor of his own Epistles, as well as the whole tenor of his visions, as delivered by his attendant. Numberless as were the scrapes he got himself into,—numberless as were the hosts of enemies he everywhere made himself,—open as all ears were to everything that presented itself as marvellous,—unable as men were to distinguish what could be done from what could not be done,—pressing as was at all times the need he had of evidence, that could arrest the hands of enemies,—on no occasion do we find him calling into his aid, so much as a single one of all these supposed irrefragable evidences.


[Pg 397]

FOOTNOTES:

[77] And they had also John to their minister, 13:5. What John was this? Answer, see chap. 15:37 to 40. This appears to have been that John, whose surname was Mark, who was the cause of the angry separation of Paul from Barnabas.

[78] Another branch of his trade, already mentioned in this same chapter, as having been carried on by him in this same place, namely, Ephesus,—and which, where circumstances created a demand for the article, appears to have been more profitable than that of expelling devils or diseases,—is that, of which the Holy Ghost was the subject. This power of conferring—that is to say, of being thought to confer—the Holy Ghost,—such, and of such sort was the value of it, that Simon Magus, as there may be occasion to mention in another chapter, had, not less than one-and-twenty years before this, offered the Apostles money for it. Acts 8:18-24, A.D. 34. This power, two preceding verses of the same 19th chapter, namely the 5th and 6th, represent Paul as exercising: and, whatsoever was the benefit derived, twelve is the number of the persons here spoken of as having received it.

Acts 19:5-7. After "they," the above twelve, v. 7, disciples, v. 9, "were baptized, v. 5, in the name of the Lord Jesus;" when Paul, v. 6, "had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." Here then, if, by thus laying on of hands, it is by Paul that any operation is performed, it is the conferring of "the Holy Ghost." But this power, whence had Paul received it? Not from Jesus, had the self-constituted Apostle received this gift, whatever it was, any more than he had baptism, by which ceremony, as appears from Acts 8:16, it was regularly preceded: as in the case of the magician it actually had been. Not from Jesus: no such thing is anywhere so much as pretended. Not from the Apostles, or any of them; from two, for example, by commission from the rest—as in the case of Peter and John, Acts 8:14-19:—no such thing is anywhere so much as pretended. In no such persons could this—would this—their self-declared superior, have vouchsafed to acknowledge the existence, of a power in which he had no share. On this occasion, as on every other, independently of the Apostles did he act, and in spite of the Apostles.

As to the "speaking with tongues and prophesying," these are pretensions, which may be acknowledged without much difficulty. Tongues are the organs most men speak with. As to prophesying, it was an operation that might as well be performed after the fact as before the fact: witness in Luke 22:64, "Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?" Read the Bible over from beginning to end, a prophet, whatever else be meant, if there be anything else meant, you will find to have been a politician: to prophesy was to talk politics. Make a new translation, or, what would be shorter, a list of corrigenda, and instead of prophet put politician,—a world of labour, now employed in explanations, will be saved.


Previous Section | Home | Contents | Next Section

HTML © 2002 - 2017