Do handkerchiefs and aprons have healing powers?

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By BibleAsk Team


The idea that handkerchiefs and aprons can possess healing powers finds its primary reference in the New Testament, specifically in the book of Acts. This concept raises intriguing questions about the nature of miracles, the role of physical objects in divine healing, and the broader theological implications.

The Biblical Basis: Handkerchiefs and Aprons

The key passage that mentions the use of these items for healing is found in Acts.

  • Acts 19:11-12 (NKJV): “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.”

This passage describes extraordinary miracles performed through the apostle Paul, where items that had touched his body were used to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. Here, the apostle Luke, who was also a physician, included these details to stress on the supernatural aspect of these healings.

Context of Paul’s Ministry

To understand this phenomenon, it is essential to consider the broader context of Paul’s ministry and the nature of miracles in the early church.

Paul’s Missionary Work in Ephesus

Acts 19 describes Paul’s extensive ministry in Ephesus, a city known for its diverse religious practices and magical arts.

  • Acts 19:8-10 (NKJV): “And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was marked by powerful preaching and teaching, leading to a widespread dissemination of the gospel.

Unusual Miracles

The miracles associated with Paul, including the use of handkerchiefs and aprons, are described as “unusual.”

  • Acts 19:11 (NKJV): “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul.”

The term “unusual” suggests that these miracles were not the norm but rather exceptional acts of divine intervention. It is clear that these items had no healing power whatsoever. They only served to aid faith.

The Role of Physical Objects in Healing

The use of physical objects in miraculous healings is not entirely unique to Paul’s ministry. Several instances in the Bible illustrate how God used tangible items to convey His healing power.

Jesus’ Healing Touch and Garments

Jesus’ own ministry included instances where physical touch and garments played a role in healing.

  • Matthew 9:20-22 (NKJV): “And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, ‘If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.’ But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, ‘Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was made well from that hour.”

The healing power associated with Jesus’ garment highlights the significance of faith and the point of contact through a physical object.

  • John 9:6 (NKJV): “When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.”

Also, Jesus used clay for giving sight to the blind to strengthen the man’s faith because the ancients believed that saliva contained some healing properties.

Peter’s Shadow

Another example from the New Testament is the healing power associated with Peter’s shadow.

  • Acts 5:15 (NKJV): “So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.”

This passage demonstrates that even Peter’s shadow was believed to carry special power, further illustrating the role of faith and divine intervention.

Theological Implications

The healing associated with special items in Acts 19 has several theological implications regarding the nature of miracles, faith, and the means through which God works.

God’s Sovereignty in Miracles

The passage emphasizes that it was God who worked the miracles through Paul, underscoring divine sovereignty.

  • Acts 19:11 (NKJV): “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul.”

This statement clarifies that the power resided not in the objects themselves but in God’s sovereign will and power.

The Role of Faith

Faith plays a critical role in the context of miracles involving physical objects. The recipients of these miracles believed that contact with objects associated with Paul would bring healing.

  • Acts 19:12 (NKJV): “So that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.”

This mirrors other biblical instances where faith is a key component of miraculous healings. The Bible teaches that there are only two conditions required in supernatural acts of divine healing: divine power and faith. Material things that may bridge the gap between divine power and human faith are only modes for the exercise of the faith. But God did the work. The apostles were the instruments. But it was the faith of the sick that made them recipients of the actual healing. To the sick, Jesus affirmed, “your faith has made you whole” (Mark 5:34, NKJV).

Historical and Cultural Context

Understanding the cultural and historical context of Ephesus during Paul’s time provides further insight into the significance of these miracles.

Ephesus and Magical Practices

Ephesus was known for its practices of magic and the occult, which likely influenced the perception and reception of miraculous healings.

  • Acts 19:18-19 (NKJV): “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

The renunciation of magical practices by new believers underscores the transformative impact of the gospel and the distinction between divine miracles and occult practices.

Public Demonstration of God’s Power

The public nature of these miracles served to demonstrate the superior power of the God of Israel over local deities and magical practices.

  • Acts 19:17 (NKJV): “This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”

The miracles authenticated Paul’s apostolic authority and the message of the gospel, leading to widespread awe and reverence for the name of Jesus.

Contemporary Application and Misinterpretation

The biblical account of healing through handkerchiefs and aprons has been subject to various interpretations and applications in contemporary Christian practice.

Legitimate Expression of Faith

In some Christian traditions, the use of oil for anointing the sick is a legitimate expression of biblical principles.

  • James 5:14-15 (NKJV): “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

This passage supports the use of tangible elements (like anointing oil) in the context of prayer and healing, aligning with the principle seen in Acts 19.

Caution Against Superstition

However, caution must be exercised to avoid superstition and the attribution of intrinsic power to objects themselves, rather than recognizing them as instruments of God’s power.

  • Acts 19:13-16 (NKJV): “Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”

This incident highlights the danger of attempting to replicate miraculous works without genuine faith and divine authorization.

Conclusion

The biblical account of healing through handkerchiefs and aprons in Acts 19 illustrates the extraordinary ways in which God’s power was manifested through the ministry of Paul. These miracles were unusual, emphasizing divine sovereignty, the role of faith, and the use of tangible objects as aids for faith. While the Bible does indicate that such objects were used by God to effect healing, it is clear that the power resided not in the objects themselves but in God who worked through them.

Contemporary applications of this principle should be approached with a balance of faith and discernment, ensuring that practices align with biblical teaching and avoid superstition. The primary lesson from these accounts is the emphasis on God’s sovereign power to heal and the importance of faith in receiving His miraculous works.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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