Overview:

A little-known Old Testament story tells of the healing power of a dead prophet’s bones. The Bible has lots of odd miracle stories. What would it mean for our world if these stories were real?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The book of 2 Kings has a brief story about Israelites burying a man (2 Kings 13:20–21). When they saw bandits approaching, they threw the body into the tomb of the prophet Elisha and fled. The body touched the bones of Elisha, and the man came to life.

This two-verse story fills me with questions! Consider how it impacts the Christian worldview.

  • Were Elisha’s bones permanently curative, or was the cure haphazard like a slot machine, or did this happen only once? Why is there no mention of other people using this marvelous discovery? Surely word would have spread, and others would have taken advantage of this cure.
  • How many ancient sages’ or prophets’ bones had this property? Do we have any today that can do this, or does the magic fade with time? Besides bones, what other body parts were magical? And what could they do besides restoring life? You’d think that something that can restore life would be able to perform lesser cures like fix a broken bone or cure a cold. Could they cure baldness? If so, that would be surprising since Elisha was famously bald.
  • Surely some holy relics in churches today have magical properties. If they can’t restore life, maybe they can perform lesser miracles. Which relics are real, and which are fake? Why aren’t these used to reliably cure people today (especially today, since we know that we are saddled with the trials of life, unlike Jesus, who thought that the End was just around the corner). And if relics can’t reliably do anything, why revere them?
  • If the communion wafer and wine, once blessed, become the body and blood of Jesus (in the Roman Catholic church, anyway), what magic can we expect from that? As an aside, if consuming the eucharist and wine have an effect in the supernatural world, why consume it every time it’s offered? Shouldn’t once be enough?
  • The dead man was restored to life by touching Elisha’s bones, but isn’t it odd that Elisha himself stayed dead?

We can wonder why this miracle story was put in. But now that it’s in, the Bible must justify it.

Imagine a biologist dropped onto an isolated island who wanted to catalog the strange new plants and animals. That’s who I feel like—I want a taxonomy of this magical world we apparently live in. Perhaps the bigger question is, why isn’t everyone else similarly intrigued? Why don’t they ask the questions above?

It seems that Christians see these Bible miracles as a hierarchy. There are the big ones: the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus, and others are central to the Christian belief. It’s hard to be a Christian and not know these stories.

But other miracles are not as well known: in addition to Elisha’s magic bones, Jesus reattaches a man’s ear (Luke 22:49–51), cloth that had touched Paul magically heals the sick (Acts 1:11–12), Balaam’s donkey speaks (Numbers 22:28), Elisha makes a lost ax head float on water (2 Kings 6:1–7), and Jesus predicts that a coin will be found inside a fish (Matthew 17:27).

This dichotomy is a problem. You can’t embrace the fundamental set of miracles and think deeply about why they’re in the Bible and what they mean to the ordinary Christian but then ignore the not-so-fundamental set and what it says about the world we’re living in. Christians can’t dismiss these peripheral stories with a careless, “Well, I guess I’ll have to ask God when I see him in heaven!” If the Bible is history, these miracle stories define our world as much as the famous ones.

Could Elisha’s bones really restore a corpse to life? Maybe. Or maybe we take the easy route and say that the Bible is just what it looks like—a collection of myths and legends.

I’m really excited
to be going to the World Series!
I just wish God didn’t hate
<insert the team we just beat>
so bad.
— seen on the internet

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...