Prescriptive or Descriptive?

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In today’s Bible reading*, we see how people respond to the miraculous signs and wonders they witness at the hands of the Apostles. “As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” Acts 5:15 (CSB)

Any time we see a mighty move of God, we all want to get in on what God’s doing. But at the same time, we need to be careful with our response. It’s easy for our emotions to get ahead of our brains. And that’s what it sounds like Luke reports in Acts 5:15. Verse 16 seems to indicate that being in the path of Peter’s shadow actually caused people to be healed.

But notice that Luke is describing what happened. That’s the nature of the history genre, the type of writing of Acts. History describes what happened. And Dr. Luke was careful in both his Gospel and in Acts to faithfully describe what he learned in his investigation. (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2)

Amazing things were happening in the early days of the life of the church. God did some incredible things. But note that Luke doesn’t say that these things happened at any other time throughout the rest of Acts. Now, I’m not saying that God couldn’t keep on working these miracles. But it’s clear that Luke doesn’t mention it again after these two verses. (Acts 5:15-16)

It’s also important to note that no other New Testament writer mentions it anywhere in their writings either. Also absent is any instruction (even in Acts) which prescribes that people should try to arrange the infirmed so that Peter’s shadow could grace them and heal them.


Before I go any further, let me say definitively that I believe that God is God and I’m not. God can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, wherever He wants. I believe that the only expiration date God has placed on His gifts is the return of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 13:8–12 [note that we haven’t yet seen him “face to face”])

Now, having said that, I’ll add that when we read history, like Acts, we must remember that we’re reading descriptions (what happened), not prescriptions (how things are supposed to happen).

I hope you can see that we could get into a lot of trouble if we insist that all you need to do is go to a faith-healing crusade and sit in the faith healer’s shadow to be healed. To do that is to force a meaning on the Bible text that simply isn’t there. And to do that is to put vulnerable people in very vulnerable situations where if they don’t get what they’re promised, they blame God. God is not honored by someone’s misuse and twisting of the Bible.

Can God heal and do miraculous things today? Absolutely! Can God use doctors and medicine? Absolutely. We’ll see when we get to Acts 28 that it’s wise to pray and seek medical help. Does God always heal and do miraculous things? Yes, but not on our timetable and not on our dictates.

God has not obligated Himself to do anything in response to our requests. We must always remember that God is God. And we aren’t.

* Today we are reading Acts 5.

This devotional was originally published on January 29, 2020.

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