Biblical and Historical Evidences for Raising the Dead

The miracle of raising the dead is a belief grounded in the Bible and documented throughout Catholic history

(photo: Francisco Collantes, “The Vision of Ezekiel,” 1630)

Raising people from the dead is quite biblical:

Matthew 10:5-8 (RSV) These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (cf. Acts 9:36-41; 20:7-12)

People were raised from the dead even in Old Testament times, as in the case of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-23). The prophet Elisha also raised someone from the dead (2 Kings 4:17-37). Indeed, even Elisha's bones caused a man to be raised (2 Kings 13:20-21: an explicit biblical confirmation of relics).

If it is objected that these were prophets, and hence a special case (and so generally irrelevant), then we present the words of Jesus about John the Baptist, who is considered the last prophet:

Luke 7:26-28 “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, `Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Now, of course, I am not saying that raising the dead is as simple as anyone going out and praying for dead people. I don't plan on doing so, myself. Like all miracles, it would be an extraordinarily rare occurrence. Nor do I deny that the apostolic period was unquestionably a time of increased miraculous occurrences.

But I am maintaining that the dead coming back to life is an entirely biblical and patristic notion, so that it is not in a category that can be mocked as utterly ludicrous or impossible.

It can't be so easily dismissed, since Jesus assumes that His disciples (like He Himself) would also be able to heal the sick and cast out demons (as well as evangelize), in the same passage. He didn't separate raising the dead from the other things as if it were in an entirely different category.

In other words, if someone wishes to rule out all miraculous occurrences whatsoever, it’s starkly contradictory to biblical teaching. Jesus taught that there was such a thing as demons and demon possession. Are we too sophisticated today to agree with Him? Is there no healing at all anymore?

If it is objected that miracles occurred only during the apostolic period, we reply that nothing in the Bible remotely indicates the silly view known as “cessationism.” The truth of the matter is actually quite the contrary. In fact, St. James casually assumes that healing would continue to take place in the Church, by providing an example of Elijah stopping the rain for over three years, that he applied to the Church age (James 5:14-18).

I have in my library the book, Raised from the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles (Albert J. Hebert, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1986). The book recounts resurrection stories from the patristic period, as attested by St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the historian Sozomen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Ambrose. How about, for example, St. Augustine?

He recounted four or five such stories (Cardinal Newman credits him with five). In one such story. St. Augustine affirms the miraculous nature of relics (of St. Stephen, in this instance) and the occurrence of someone being raised from the dead:

Eucharius, a Spanish priest, residing at Calama, was for a long time a sufferer from stone. By the relics of the same martyr, which the bishop Possidius brought him, he was cured. Afterward the same priest, sinking under another disease, was lying dead, and already they were binding his hands. By the succor of the same martyr he was raised to life, the priest’s cloak having been brought from the oratory and laid upon the corpse. (City of God, Book XXII, Chapter 8)

St. Irenaeus casually assumed that these things still took place, and that it was folly for heretics to disbelieve it:

Nor can they furnish effective remedies for those external accidents which may occur. And so far are they from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity—the entire Church in that particular locality entreating [the boon] with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints—that they do not even believe this can be possibly be done, [and hold] that the resurrection from the dead is simply an acquaintance with that truth which they proclaim. (Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 31, 2)

St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was said to have raised three persons from the dead. Pope St. Gregory the Great tells the story of St. Benedict doing the same. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is reported to have performed this miracle. Bernard himself testifies that his friend St. Malachy (1095-1148) had raised a woman from the dead.

Others who were used by God to perform this extraordinary miracle are St. Patrick, St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), Blessed Margaret of Castello (1287-1320), St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Catherine of Sweden, St. Joan of Arc, St. Bernardine, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri, St. John Bosco, St. Martin de Porres, St. Vincent Ferrer, and Padre Pio.

Despite all this, some still think that belief in the miracle of raising the dead is the equivalent of what they mock as infantile fairy tales. It’s not. It’s a belief grounded in the Bible and also documented throughout Catholic history.