Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore

By W. Paul Reeve; Michael Scott Van Wagenen | Go to book overview

4
Raising the Dead
Mormons, Evangelicals, and Miracles in America1

Matthew Bowman

THE POWER TO RAISE THE DEAD was among the gifts Christ gave his twelve apostles. The Gospel of Matthew records that he “commanded them, saying, Go … and as ye go, preach, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give.’” Later, Paul asserted that these promises of miracles were not mere rhetoric. However, neither were they to be marveled at, for Paul scoffed at Agrippa’s doubt, asking “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”2

It should be no surprise, then, that those religious movements that preached a renewal of the spirit of primitive Christianity in the early years of the American republic claimed also the spiritual gifts that the Bible described. Indeed, these verses indicate two ways that American Christians understood the Biblical heritage of miracles. The tradition represented here by Christ identified the miraculous with the evangelical pulpit, with the force and emotion of Spirit-filled preaching and confidence bred of millennialism and imminent divine intervention. These were the miracles of the charismatic Methodist

1 A version of this essay was previously published in John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 27(2007): 75–97, and is reprinted here by permission.

2 Matthew 10:5, 7, 8; Acts 26:8 (King James Version).

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