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Elijah takes the widow's son upstairs and later returns the son to the widow downstairs so its assumed she wasn't with him during the miracle.

Peter closes the door of the room as well.

Elisha is also alone with the child.

I recognize there are some cases where the raising was public - particularly when Jesus was involved. However, I still feel as if there must be a theme and meaning here I'm missing.

  • This may be a better fit on Hermeneutics SE. – BYE Sep 29 '14 at 13:52
  • @Bye I'm not so sure about that in this case - an answer is more likely to come as a result of applying a theological framework in a way that will not be on-topic for BH.SE. – bruised reed Sep 29 '14 at 14:29
  • Are you seeking a particular perspective in asking this question? Even though it has been currently well received, it is still at risk of being closed as primarily opinion based without further scoping. I personally find your question interesting and I would like to attempt an answer from an Arminian perspective, but perhaps you can clarify exactly what viewpoint is important to you and what would be an objectively acceptable answer? – bruised reed Sep 29 '14 at 14:34
  • I suspect a solution to this question would come as a result of applying a theological framework. A lot of my questions get closed because I'm not sure how to edit them properly. So feel free to be liberal with your edits if you think its in danger of being closed, I'd just like an answer if there is one. – Sisyphus Sep 29 '14 at 16:33
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    @Sisyphus As you can see, you now have two very different and conflicting answers, so a 'primarily opinion based' closure would definitely have merit. Perhaps you can, with a close examination of these answers, see the value in you personally choosing the framework that you are most interested in and defining your question in those terms. If one or more of the answers is then ruled off-topic as a result, so be it - it is the price to pay for answering a primarily opinion based question before it is adequately scoped. – bruised reed Sep 29 '14 at 17:51
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Answering from a Charismatic Arminian perspective of Scripture:

This is an aspect of God's Glory being veiled. We see this principle in operation throughout scripture beginning with the expulsion from Eden in Genesis (the Paradise of God being 'veiled' - barred - to mankind, cf. Genesis 3:23-24) through to the exclusion from the New Jerusalem of

...dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. - Revelation 22:15 NKJV

This is one of the principles that lie behind:

Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. - Matthew 7:6 NKJV

Why does the Lord veil His Glory in this way? There are two main reasons:

1. God is looking for men and women of faith - veiling His Glory gives scope for faith to be exercised by those who diligently seek Him and press in through and beyond 'the veil'.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. - Proverbs 25:2 NKJV

The Lord is constantly watching everyone, and he gives strength to those who faithfully obey him... - 2 Chronicles 16:9a CEV

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see...without faith no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him. - Hebrews 11:1,6 CEV

Contrast Moses and his attitude to draw close to God versus the Israelites he was leading and their attitude to shrink back from God's presence (cf. Exodus 20:18-21) - the latter had seen many amazing miracles, but rather than draw nearer to the Lord in faith, they kept focusing on problems, grumbling and complaining and hanging back from the God that they feared but did not love; while the former was called a friend of God and encountered the Glory of God to such an extant that his own face shone with the reflected Glory which had to be veiled because the Israelites couldn't bear to look at it either. Referring to this incident, Paul encourages the Corinthian believers that:

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. - 2 Corinthians 3:16 NIV

ie it is the inward circumstances of the heart (particularly whether it is believing or unbelieving) that determine what someone 'sees', not the outward circumstances of miraculous signs and wonders.

2. The Lord is merciful, and tends not to give us revelation beyond our capacity to steward appropriately (with consequent judgment for failing to do so).

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” - Matthew 11:20-24 NIV

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” - Luke 12:47-48 NIV

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9 NIV

Peter was a man that received the incredibly significant revelation that Jesus was the Christ (both internally from the Father through the Holy Spirit, together with external corroboration on the mount of Transfiguration), but he initially wasn't equipped to steward this revelation effectively - he needed to be sifted and effectively broken (somewhat akin to Jacob's identity changing encounter with the Lord at Peniel - cf. Genesis 32), before he was ready to respond appropriately to what had been revealed to him.

Contrast Peter's faith journey with that of Ananias and Sapphira or Simon the Sorceror who you can see as people who were caught up in the excitement of God doing great things (through the believer's extravagant giving and the outpouring of the Spirit on the Samaritans), and wanting 'a piece of the action', but failing in their attempts and being judged, because their focus on the outward mechanics of what was happening around them was no remedy against the unbelief and consequent self-focus that was in their hearts.

Similarly - and I believe of most relevance to the cases you're referring to - the situation in Acts 19:13-17 with the sons of Sceva is another example of people who focused on the outward mechanics (using the name of Jesus) and neglected the interior necessity of faith (in the one whose name was being used) with drastic consequences.

Now given this background, imagine if you will, an average person's response to seeing a manifestation of God's Glory through someone being raised from the dead without previously cultivating a heart to diligently seek God as per Hebrews 11:6, they like pre-sifted Peter will want to camp in the Glory, grab a piece of the action like Ananias and Sapphira or Simon Magus, or focus on the mechanics like the sons of Sceva and try to reproduce the same results without undergoing the necessary refinement of faith. It will only bring them judgment not blessing.

This is why in today's age most of the more notable miracles such as the dead being raised, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking etc. are happening in the 'third world' amongst people of sincere and desperate faith rather than those from 'developed' nations with their modern medicine who are largely rich and in need of nothing (cf Revelation 3:17). In particular, those who have developed theologies to explain the lack of miracles they see are largely shielded by the providence of God from witnessing outbreaks of His Glory in this manner as they are ill-equipped to deal with them - they would be at risk of adding to their unbelief the faith-(what measure they have)-shipwrecking-sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

edit: A further excellent reason is suggested through comment and I include it as well: Even though God does sometimes (nearly always? - cf. Amos 3:7) use human agents as part of the process of working His mighty works amongst us, it is right and proper for those human agents to downplay and even obscure their own part in the process in order that all honour and praise goes to the only One worthy of it. This particular aspect of veiling the Glory was not necessary of course in Jesus' case as he could say quite frankly:

that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. - John 5:23 NIV

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    We're not as far apart as you might think, particularly regarding the concept of glory. Whether a Christian is an instrument in God's hands, through prayer, to raise a person from the dead OR simply to give a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul in Jesus' name, God will honor each of these apparently disparate acts only if the overriding motive for performing them is for Jesus/God to be glorified. If after serving people in Jesus' name, the beneficiaries of God's healing and provision think "Now there goes a great man or woman . . .," well, "Houston, we have a problem." Don – rhetorician Sep 30 '14 at 12:42
  • @rhetorician Agreed, in fact I'd like to include a bit along those lines. I understand you didn't read my post earlier, but that doesn't stop me from feeling force of your words in paras 2-4 of your answer and wondering whether I've read way too much into the examples the OP is referring to, but I'll just fix up as best as I can and leave further judgments in the Lord's hands. – bruised reed Sep 30 '14 at 13:05
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REVISED. CONTAINS NEW FINAL PARAGRAPHS

There is nothing inherently wrong with digging and searching for a deeper meaning in the Scriptures. Very often such efforts are rewarded and bear fruit that lasts.

On the other hand, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (sorry for the questionable analogy, but I'll bet it sticks in readers' memories). To read something into the text which is not there can sometimes lead to over-spiritualizing Scripture and, in effect, "go beyond" Scripture's (and therefore God's) meaning and intent. This error is tantamount to adding to or subtracting from Scripture (see Revelation 22:18-19 for an application of this principle to the prophetic word of God).

Having said these things, I suggest that sometimes a detail from a biblical narrative is just that: an ordinary and relatively insignificant element of the narrative.

Throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity this error of looking for spiritual significance where often there is none has led to some pretty fantastic (emphasis on the root word, fantasy) interpretations and interpretive schemes. One example of this error concerns biblical numbers. Obviously, some numbers in the Bible have special significance, such as the following:

  • seven, a number of completion and even perfection: from the seven days of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, to the seven churches, stars, and lampstands of Asia in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, chapters 1 and 2.

  • six, the number of man: from God's image bearers being created on the sixth day of God's creative work, to the triple six as the mark of the beast in Revelation 13:18. where the text tells us explicitly the number six is "the number of a man" (NAS).

  • twelve, another number of perfection: "Twelve can be found in 187 places in God's word. Revelation alone has 22 occurrences of the number. The meaning of 12, which is considered a perfect number, is that it symbolizes God's power and authority, as well as serving as a perfect governmental foundation " (see here).

On the other hand, to see significant, symbolic numbers everywhere in Scripture can lead to errors in interpretation. For example, to see the five loaves and two fish the lad contributed to Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 as being symbolic of five virtues and two attitudes toward Jesus, namely, belief and unbelief, is risible, not to mention poor hermeneutics.

As for your examples of Elijah, Elisha, and Peter, the reason for their need (or desire) for privacy may have been for any one or more of the following, starting with Elijah:

ELIJAH, 1 Kings 17:17 ff.

  • to spare the widow further grief when by seeing him lying on top of her dead son ("What are you doing, prophet? Isn't it bad enough my son is dead, and now you're desecrating his body?")

  • to give him time to think and pray without a grieving mother in the background distracting him with her crying and sobbing

  • to spare the widow further grief should his prayers to YHWH on behalf of the dead child prove ineffectual and the mother then blame Elijah and his God even further for this tragedy (see v.18, where she blames Elijah for resurrecting her sin and putting her son to death!)

ELISHA, 2 Kings 4

  • privacy and freedom from distraction. Like the widow of Zarephath, who blamed Elijah for the death of her son, this time the Shunammite woman blamed Elisha for deceiving her and making her think she would have a son for the rest of her natural life. Now here he is, dead.

  • (see the first reason under "Elijah," above)

PETER, Acts 9:36-42

  • privacy and freedom from distraction. The widows who were with Peter in the upper room where Tabitha (i.e., Dorcas) was laid to rest, temporarily, were probably making quite a racket, and for good reason. Tabitha was much loved, and she loved much. The widows had proof of her "almsdeeds" (KJV) in the form of garments she had made with the intent of donating them to the local Salvation Army's Family Thrift Store! Peter shooed them out so that he could have some peace and quiet while he prayed to the Lord on behalf of the dead woman, who was a disciple of Jesus.

Of more interest to me, interpretively, is the mention of an upper room in each of the three accounts. Not that there is necessarily any special significance of its being mentioned, but I'd like to do a little digging in that regard. Perhaps there are some cultural factors at work.

I also find interesting the physical contact between the healer and the healed in each of the resurrections. Is there some special significance to that? Does it symbolize the impartation of resurrection life through the believing prayer of a righteous man? What does James, the stepbrother of our Lord say?

"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (5:16b NAS).

In conclusion, there may just be an element of deeper meaning in the three resurrections you've cited, particularly when you compare them to the resurrections Jesus performed during his public ministry. Perhaps, just perhaps, the two prophets and the apostle wanted simply and humbly to avoid the spotlight, preferring to have all the glory go to God and not them; consequently, they eschewed crowds.

As for Jesus' resurrection miracles, his primary purpose in performing them was to bring glory to both the Father and the Son (i.e., himself!), as was certainly the case with Lazarus's resurrection from the dead:

"[Jesus] said [to the messenger whom Mary and Martha sent to Jesus to tell Him Lazarus was ill], 'This sickness [of Lazarus] is not to end in death, but for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified by it'" (John 11:4, my emphasis).

"Jesus said to [Martha], 'Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?' So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me'" (ibid., vv.40-41 NAS, my emphasis).

  • 'Ouch!' This time I feel like I'm at the pointy end of your rapier-like rhetorical ability. +1 for arguing your case well Don, even if I do heartily disagree with you! – bruised reed Sep 29 '14 at 17:53
  • Thanks for the encouragement. To be honest (is there any other way to be in this forum?), I had not read your answer before I crafted mine. I will read it tomorrow, however, and let you know what I think. BTW, I added a couple paragraphs at the end of my answer as a result of having a conversation tonight with a good friend and brother in the Lord. His name is Chuck, and he was just diagnosed with MDS, a precursor to full-blown leukemia. Don – rhetorician Sep 30 '14 at 3:56
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I think the reason privacy was required was the same reason Jesus opted for the same when raising the dead, and that is, to generate uncontaminated faith that would not include anyone's unbelief or doubt.

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