Jesus Raises a Girl from a Deep Sleep
The Raising of Jairus Daughter, by Henry Thomson (c. 1820)
Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson March 6–12: Matthew 9–10; Mark 5; Luke 9
As a deeply religious person, I believe that Christ performed miracles during His earthly ministry. As a scientist, I believe that we can, at least perhaps in some cases, understand how those miracles occurred. On 11 July 1869, President Brigham Young stated, “Yet I will say with regard to miracles, there is no such thing save to the ignorant — that is, there never was a result wrought out by God or by any of His creatures without there being a cause for it. There may be results, the causes of which we do not see or understand, and what we call miracles are no more than this — they are the results or effects of causes hidden from our understandings.”1
Thirty years later, in his book, The Articles of Faith: A Series of Lectures on the Principal Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first published in 1899, Elder James E. Talmage said, “Miracles are commonly regarded as supernatural occurrences, taking place in opposition to the laws of nature. Such a conception is plainly erroneous, for the laws of nature are inviolable. However, as human understanding of these laws is at best but imperfect, events strictly in accordance with natural law may appear contrary thereto. The entire constitution of nature is founded on system and order; the laws of nature, however, are graded... The application of a higher law in any particular case does not destroy the efficacy or validity of an inferior one; the lower law is as fully applicable as before to the case for which it is framed.”2
Brigham Young also stated, “It is hard to get the people to believe that God is a scientific character, that He lives by science or strict law, that by this He is, and by law he was made what He is; and will remain to all eternity because of His faithful adherence to law. It is a most difficult thing to make the people believe that every art and science and all wisdom comes from Him, and that He is their Author.”3
In 1891, Elder Parley P. Pratt stated in his book, Key to the Science of Theology, “Among the popular errors of modern times, an opinion prevails that miracles are events which transpire contrary to the laws of nature, that they are effects without a cause. If such is the fact, then, there never has been a miracle, and there never will be one. The laws of nature are the laws of truth. Truth is unchangeable, and independent in its own sphere. A law of nature never has been broken. And it is an absolute impossibility that such law ever should be broken.”4
Today, the Bible Dictionary states, “Miracles should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power. Some lower law was in each case superseded by the action of a higher.”5 Science is the search for explanations of the natural phenomena we experience. Some of what science reveals we refer to as laws of nature. If miracles are accomplished by higher laws then perhaps they can act as guide posts directing us into paths where those higher laws may be discovered. Such a search, in my opinion, in no way distracts from the miracles but, on the contrary, helps us better understand and appreciate them. Have any of those higher laws already been discovered, which were not known 2000 years ago? I think we can find one such higher law revealed in Matthew chapter 9.
We are told the following story in Matthew 9:18-19 and 23-26: “While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples…And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.” We are told in Luke 8:41 that this ruler’s name was Jairus and that he was “a ruler of the synagogue.”
Why did Jesus follow Jairus to his house and how did he know that the maid was “not dead, but sleepeth”? Jesus answered these questions himself, for he said in John 5:19, “…Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” Therefore, God the Father apparently told Jesus to follow Jairus to his house and that the maid was asleep – but a sleep that was perceived by everyone around her as death. According to Bible Hub, the Greek word here is καθεύδει (katheudei) asleep,6 not the Greek word κώμα (koma) meaning a “deep sleep” or coma.7 It appears that although people have often thought of the term “sleepeth” as a metaphor, Jesus probably meant it literally – as He was told him by his Father. Here, Jesus was being told of a higher law than what was known at the time. The lower law stated that when a person is dead he or she is dead – and there is nothing that anyone can do about it – thus the mourners around Jairus’ daughter laughed Jesus to scorn because He thought He could do something about it. Remember, in the scriptural accounts of this miracle, Jesus never once said that the maid was dead. Today we understand the higher law that someone may appear to be dead but is in a deep sleep, which we call a coma, and from which it may be very difficult to retrieve the person.
Peter Koehler and Eelco Wijdicks published a paper in the journal Brain about the history of coma. They stated, “The term ‘coma’, from the Greek koma, meaning deep sleep, had already been used in the Hippocratic corpus (Epidemica) and later by Galen (second century AD). Subsequently, it was hardly used in the known literature up to the middle of the 17th century. The term is found again in Thomas Willis’ (1621–75) influential De anima brutorum (1672), where lethargy (pathological sleep, which he localized in the outer cortex), ‘coma’ (heavy sleeping), carus (deprivation of the senses) and apoplexy (into which carus could turn and which he localized in the white matter) are mentioned, the sequence indicating increasingly deeper forms of unresponsiveness. The term carus is also derived from Greek, where it can be found in the roots of several words meaning soporific or sleepy. It can still be found in the root of the term ‘carotid’ [the arteries to the face and brain]. Thomas Sydenham (1624–89) mentioned the term ‘coma’ in several cases of fever (Sydenham, 1685).” Koehler and Wijdicks also stated, “Cranial surgery and the discovery of the brainstem reticular activating system in the first half of the 20th century contributed to further increases in knowledge.” And further, “In the 1960s, two major works on coma by Fisher, Plum and Poser were published and ushered in the beginning of a comprehensive clinical examination in coma… This transition is very recent, based on close clinical observation and interpretation of experimental and pathology studies and less on modern neuroimaging.”8
The Epidemica of the Hippocratic corpus referenced by Koehler and Wijdicks is Of the Epidemics, by Hippocrates, 400 BC, translated by Francis Adams.9 In that work, Hippocrates mentioned “coma” or “comatose” nine times. In his Case i, he described one Silenus, who “lived on the Broad-way, near the house of Evalcidas. From fatigue, drinking, and unseasonable exercises, he was seized with fever…” Hippocrates said that on the tenth day Silenus was “comatose, sleep slight.” He died on the eleventh day. In another Case i, Hippocrates described the case of “The wife of Dromeades having been delivered of a female child…On the fourth [day]…somewhat comatose; slight epistaxis, tongue dry, thirst, urine thin and oily; slept a little, upon awaking was somewhat comatose…” She died two days later. In a third case, Hippocrates described “A woman, who lodged on the Quay, being three months gone with child, was seized with fever…coma…quite coherent.” In all three of these cases, Hippocrates obviously is not describing a person in a “deep sleep.” To him, the Greek word koma must have meant something quite different.
Although the Ancient Greek word κῶμα (kôma) is usually defined as “deep sleep,” the word can also mean “lethargy.” It appears that this latter definition is what Hippocrates meant in his Epidemics. Furthermore, the term “comatose” in the Epidemics would mean “lethargic.” Therefore, it does not appear that Hippocrates ever wrote about the modern concept of coma – as in a deep sleep. The Hippocratic corpus (Epidemics) was apparently the only reference Koehler and Wijdicks, could find to the word “coma” before the time of Christ, as Galen lived over one hundred years later.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “The Greek influence on Jewish medical thought was considerable…the scholars were…followers of anatomic pathology [which was taught by Hippocrates]…They studied and collected herbs and roots for healing purposes, though their chief remedies were prayer, mystic formulas, and amulets.”10 None-the-less, the concept of a coma, in modern terms, does not seem to have been part of either the Greek or Hebrew medical lexicon. Therefore, it appears that Christ’s knowledge of a coma could only have come from His Father. In addressing the matter of Jairus’ daughter, Christ never said that she was dead – but insisted that she was asleep – and Christ had explicit faith that he could raise her. Mark’s account (5:41-42), states, “And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.”
This miracle is a perfect example of how Christ’s actions, as instructed by His Father, followed higher natural laws that were not known at His time. In this case, we know a lot about comas – but still not enough to be able to bring all cases back to consciousness. We now understand how a young girl, who everyone thought was dead, could be sleeping. Not understanding a coma, the professional mourners in the room with the young girl laughed at Jesus when he told them that she was only asleep. In our modern time, still not knowing all the higher laws of nature, we can also believe in Christ and His miracles, as He told Jairus, “Fear not: believe only…” (Luke 8:50) Yet the very fact that Jesus performed miracles by means of higher laws encourages some of us to seek after those higher laws and expand our visions of reality. However, just because we can begin to understand the mechanism behind some of the miracles, that does not discount the existence of those miracles.
Please join me for my weekly discussions of Where Science Meets Religion – The Infinite Creation – 6 PM each Thursday at the Century Ward meeting house (at 4th and Fredregill, Pocatello). Last week we discussed the Creation of Stars. This coming week we will discuss The Creation of the Earth and anything else you want to discuss. I will also be Zooming the sessions: Meeting ID: 935 754 2152 Passcode: nka
Trent Dee Stephens
1. Young, Brigham, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, pp. 140-141, 1869
2. Talmage, James E., The Articles of Faith: A Series of Lectures on the Principal Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1899, The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah; gutenberg.org/cache/epub/42238/pg42238-images.html#Page_222; retrieved 29 January 2023
3. Young, Brigham, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, pp. 302, 1870
4. Pratt, Parley P., Key to the Science of Theology, 1891, reprinted by Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, UT, 1965
5. churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bd/miracles?lang=eng; retrieved 29 January 2023
6. biblehub.com/matthew/9-24.htm; retrieved 15 February 2023
7. Google Translate; translate.google.com/?hl=en&sl=en&tl=el&text=coma&op=translate; retrieved 15 February 2023
9. classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/epidemics.1.i.html, retrieved 24 February 2023
10. jewishvirtuallibrary.org/medicine, retrieved 24 February 2023