Healing By A Mere Touch As A Christian Concept -- By: Pieter J. Lalleman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 048:2 (NA 1997)
Article: Healing By A Mere Touch As A Christian Concept
Author: Pieter J. Lalleman

Healing By A Mere Touch
As A Christian Concept

Pieter J. Lalleman


On the basis of Otto Weinreich’s Antike Heilungswunder (1909), it is generally thought that the idea that a simple touch can have healing power originated with the Greeks. The present essay argues, however, that this concept is proper to the Gospels and to texts dependent on them. There are no Greek cases of such healings before the rise of Christianity. Before Christ, the concept of healing by a mere touch occurs only in one isolated case, viz. the Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran.

The idea that a touch of Christ is enough to accomplish a healing miracle or a resurrection from the death occurs several times in the Gospels. In Acts and in the Apocryphal Acts the idea is widened to include the apostle as the beneficent actor.1 In the Acts of John, for instance, a short episode relates that in Ephesus many brothers were healed by merely touching John the Apostle (c. 62). This story shares with two synoptic accounts (Mk. 6:56//Mt. 14:36; Mk. 5:27//Mt. 9:20-21//Lk. 8:44) the key words ‘to touch’ (ἁπτομαι) and ‘clothes’ (ἱματία). Acts 19:11-12 likewise contains a brief note on healing which states that people in Ephesus touched the apostle Paul. One cannot help thinking that the Acts of John consciously lets John perform his miracles in a way that resembles the activities of Paul in Ephesus. What most interests us here is that the author of the Acts of John knows and adopts the specific use of the word ἁπτομαι from the Christian tradition, but composes his story without overt references to the Gospels and the Lukan Acts.

A similar case occurs in another of the Apocryphal Acts, those of Peter. An apparently polemical story in Acts of Peter 28 contrasts the Christian way of healing with pagan methods, arguing that despite his magical powers (magia) Simon the magician is unable to raise a young man. Three times Simon lifts the boy’s head, but with no lasting result. Afterwards Peter merely touches the boy (tangens Petrus pueri latus dixit: surge. Et surgens puer…) and achieves the desired result.

The origin of the idea that a mere touch of the holy person o...

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