Let me start by saying (to your relief no doubt) that this Part will be shorter than the previous two. It was prompted some time ago, when I read the tragic news that the folks at Bethel Church in Redding were praying for the resurrection of a deceased little girl. Aside from the obvious tragedy of a child dying, the news was pretty disturbing for theological reasons. In this article, the leader of Bethel Church, Bill Johnson, explained why he thought his congregation (and others around the world, presumably) should pray for the resurrection of the dead child:
“Resurrection is at the heart of Jesus’ behavior but it is also in His command to those who follow Him,” the pastor said, referencing Matthew 10:8, where Jesus sends out the 12 apostles and tells them: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
The article notes that, “Although some maintain that those instructions were only for that group of disciples in that age, and not for everyone, Johnson stressed that the Great Commission says otherwise because Jesus told them to teach everything that they had been taught.”
I have several thoughts on this and will (as promised) keep them brief.
The idea of Johnson that Jesus told everyone who received the Great Commission to teach everything they’d been taught is a bit misleading. Here are the statements of the Great Commission from the gospels (Luke and John lack a Great Commission statement):
18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28:18-20)
15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (Mark 16:15)
Mark is very focused — the Great Commission there is to proclaim the gospel. It’s hard to get “teach everyone everything” out of that statement. Consequently, let’s consider Matthew’s statement, which is really the one everyone thinks of when talking about the Great Commission due to its detail.
Notice that Matthew has Jesus telling the 11 disciples (Judas was obviously no longer among them) that they were to teach others to “observe” all that Jesus had commanded them. BDAG notes that this lemma (τηρέω / tēreō) has the semantics of keeping watch, guarding, holding, preserving, keeping, obeying, fulfilling, attending to.1 At this point I have a simple question for Johnson: Where did Jesus teach the disciples to pray that the dead be raised? The answer is that he really didn’t. Rather — as Johnson noted in the article by quoting Matt 10:8 — Jesus commanded the disciples to go out and raise the dead. So, if Johnson really wants to be consistent here, he wouldn’t be telling people to pray that the dead are raised — he’d be telling them that they are under command to raise the dead.
So, should we be out there raising the dead? Matthew 10:8 does say (and the verbs are in the imperative mood) “heal the sick, raise the dead …”
Let’s think about this a bit.
Matthew 10:8 is in fact one of only two places where a verb for “raising” (and there are several) is in the imperative mood in Greek (the mood of command) with “the dead” as its object. If you have Logos Bible Software you can see that for yourself with this search (for the lemma νεκρός [“dead”] when it appears with any of six lemmas for “raising” in the imperative mood (just use right clicks; don’t type all this!):
lemma:νεκρός@J AND lemma:ἀνίστημι@V??M OR lemma:ἐπαίρω@V??M OR lemma:ἐξανίστημι@V??M OR lemma:συνεγείρω@V??M OR lemma:ἐξεγείρω@V??M OR lemma:ἐγείρω@V??M
The other instance is Eph 5:14, where the usage is obviously figurative since the “sleeper” (the person “not awake” to various elements of the spiritual walk):
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
That leaves Matt 10:8 as the only instance where anyone is commanded to raise the dead.
The audience for this command was, of course, the group of Jesus’ original 12 disciples. I am with those that say this command is to be restricted to the original disciples, the point Johnson objected to. That’s because the context is on my side, not his. As is so often the case with these “debates,” Johnson lifts the phrase out of its context to make his point. Here’s the rest of the passage — please ask yourself if Johnson is obedient to the rest of it, or if there is any mandate that he, or other believers, must do “all” these things. I think the answer is obvious — it’s very clearly framed by the disciples’ ministry:
8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matt 10:8-15)
A few highlights … Per Johnson’s hermeneutic, we (this is for all believers, mind you, since Jesus taught it) are to:
- teach / preach (“give”) without being paid; hopefully our needs will be met. No salaries, just faith.
- acquire no wealth (people hung bags in which they kept coinage from their sashes / belts)
- take no luggage when we travel for teaching and preaching — just take what we’re wearing
- shake of the dust from our feet if we aren’t received
- stay in peoples’ homes; that means no hotels (they did have inns at the time, you know; they are off limits)
It never ceases to trouble me how Johnson and those whose context is similar will isolate the supernatural stuff (healing, cleansing lepers, casting out demons, raising the dead) and completely forsake all the rest of the points. And we know this is indeed the case.
I think the context is quite clear. These instructions were for the 12 as they went out into Judea. After we get out of the gospels, you see similar things happening (the supernatural elements) and you also see the apostles and others sent out to start and nurture churches (like Paul) doing living this way. Perhaps if we lived that way, too, we might see those other things. Or perhaps we might note how Paul and the writers of other epistles don’t presume that every believer is so supposed to lived this way . . . or that they don’t repeat a lot of these commands in their epistles. Where is the command in the epistles — the inspired material written to churches — to cleanse lepers, heal people, cast out demons, and raise the dead? It isn’t there. Instead, we get selective gifting from the Spirit in these respects. There is a gift of healing, but as Paul plainly says, not all believers have such gifting (or any of the gifts; 1 Cor 12:29-30). Let me note that there is no gift of raising the dead (nor is there one for casting out demons / evil spirits).
Perhaps Johnson would have us believe the New Testament writers failed to teach believers “all” that they were taught. They didn’t pass on commands about raising the dead, healing, casting out demons. I don’t know. If he does I wouldn’t be terribly surprised, but I’d nevertheless find that quite sad. What I do know is that his justification for heightening the personal loss of this family is very poor and biblically uninformed. I also wonder why, if this was really what we were supposed to do, and Johnson and others really believed it, his course of action isn’t taken for every death — at least in the case of every person who dies that attended Bethel? My guess is that this case was especially painful for personal reasons. It’s all the more troubling to think there may be people at Bethel who wondered why the leadership there didn’t recommend praying for the resurrection of their loved one. The whole situation was, and is, tragic.
- William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 1002. ↩