Feigned Miracles and Gullible People

By Wayne Jackson

The famous showman, P. T. Barnum, once said something to the effect that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Those are harsh words to charge against sincere religious people, but honesty forces us to concede they are applicable in some cases. There are hucksters in religion, and multitudes fall for them. Let me give you a couple of recent examples.

As I took the envelope from my mailbox, I saw the large letters across the top: Raised From The Dead! Instinctively, I knew two things: (1) This was a money-raising scam. (2) There would be no proof for any alleged “resurrection.”

The letter—authored by Paul Eshleman, director of the JESUS Film Project—was sent under the auspices of Campus Crusade for Christ International out of San Clemente, California. In the left margin of the first page were photos of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and well-known artist, Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic who paints beautiful pictures with a mouth-held brush). With these dignitaries endorsing the letter, I was even more anxious to examine the evidence. Here is the story.

A sixteen-year-old girl in a remote region of India was about to be buried; suddenly, she sat up. According to the report, the young lady testified that she had been dead, but the Lord “sent her back” to tell her neighbors about “the real God.”

When I read this “testimony,” the first thing that came to my mind was the biblical narrative regarding the rich man who died, and then remembered that his brothers back on earth were in danger of entering eternity lost. He therefore sought permission to leave the Hadean realm, returning to them on earth with a message of warning.

The text in Luke 16 unequivocally affirms that he was denied the privilege. Abraham informed him that if one refuses to be convinced by the Scriptures, he would not be led to believe even if a messenger returned from the dead (Luke 16:27ff).

But according to this promotional letter, the “resurrected” girl in India lived for seven days more (before she died again). During this time she told her story repeatedly; supposedly, hundreds “became Christians” as a result.

I guess “father Abraham” really didn’t know what he was talking about after all!

Amazingly, the letter goes on to make the following admission:

A miracle? I can’t prove it to you. There’s no death certificate. No doctor’s report. I can tell you that people in rural India do know death when they see it.

So now we get an appendix to the story—one, incidentally, which is ruptured! Don’t ask for evidence. There is none. There is no proof that the girl actually was dead. In fact there is no documentation of any sort that this incident happened at all.

[Note: There have been many cases, even here in America—with all our technology—where someone was perceived as “dead” who actually wasn’t.]

Eventually, Mr. Eshleman came to the main point. He wanted me to send $50 to help with the JESUS Film program. One hundred dollars would be even better.

My final thought was this. Surely Joni Tada must be wondering: “If God is working miracles today—to help spread his word—why doesn’t he bring me out of this wheelchair and grant to me the use of my four withered limbs?”

Everyone knows this poor lady’s condition is genuine and dire. Were she suddenly to “rise and walk,” there would be no question but that a miracle had occurred. Why don’t we ever see those kind?

Then there’s the matter of those “gold” teeth. Several large Pentecostal groups have claimed that God recently visited their services and blessed certain of their members with “gold” teeth. More than three hundred of these accounts have been circulating among the “Charismatics” (those who claim miraculous gifts) within the past several months.

For example, “Pastors” Joel and Linda Budd of Tulsa, Oklahoma are affiliated with the Open Bible Fellowship in that city. According to a report in the June issue of Charisma magazine, Linda Budd’s eighty-year-old mother was twice visited recently by the Lord. She received five gold crowns on one occasion, and two others at a different time—actually while she slept one night.

Here is a case that would be so easy to check. Surely there are dental records for this elderly matron. These could be produced to demonstrate that: (1) prior to a certain date, she had no gold crowns; (2) following that date, there were several gold teeth—with absolutely no crown-work having been done by any dentist.

Do you suppose the Budds would supply the name of “mom’s” dentist? Do you really think they would encourage an investigation of this matter? After all, the Bible does say: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit [i.e., teacher], but test the spirits, whether they are from God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, NASB).

This is not a joking matter. It’s serious business to make claims asserting direct intervention by God.

Yes, there’s “one born every minute.” And they’re not all down at the carnival, buying a ticket to see the “two-headed woman who walks, and talks, and has skin like a reptile!”

See our article, Miracles.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.