Reflections on the Book of Acts #19: Facecloths and Aprons?

Here’s the link to Acts 19.

Sometimes you read a passage of Scripture and something sticks out because it speaks to you, because it’s especially meaningful or helpful.

Then there are bits that stick out because when you read them, you think, “Huh?”

This chapter of Acts has one of those. Here it is:

God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, so that even facecloths or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.

Acts 19:11-12

What was that? Facecloths and aprons that had touched Paul’s skin healed people? How does that work exactly?

My first reaction is that this all seems superstitious. Am I really expected to believe this? I mean, it is in Scripture, after all. And Scripture is the inspired word of God.

But, still, this is strange.

Or is it? Is it entirely unprecedented?

Consider how Jesus spat, made a muddy paste, and put it on a blind man’s eyes:

After he said these things he spit on the ground, made some mud from the saliva, and spread the mud on his eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means “Sent”). So he left, washed, and came back seeing.

John 9:6-7

Again, “Huh?”

Begs the question, did Jesus need this mud to give the blind man his sight?

I wouldn’t think so. He healed many people without saliva and mud.

Now according to one commentary I checked out, saliva was thought by the ancients to have curative properties. Another comments that “Jesus commonly used methods that were despised in the eyes of the world. He used weak and insignificant things in working out his purposes.”

Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.

It also occurs to me that we have the tendency to separate the spiritual and the physical. The former is what’s really important, while we can dismiss the latter.

So perhaps Jesus is reinforcing the connection between the two. Maybe what’s happening with Paul in our passage from Acts is an extension of Jesus’ ministry.

Maybe this is a concession on God’s part, a willingness to work through the superstitious practices and means of people in Paul’s day. Perhaps it’s a kind of divine condescension.

What makes the use of facecloths and aprons additionally odd is that we often turn to the example of the earliest Christians to know how to follow Jesus ourselves.

Do we do this here and now? Or was this only for the apostolic period? After all, it was facecloths and aprons that had touched Paul’s skin. I’m pretty sure no one wants a facecloth that I’ve used!

All I know is that it’s presented in a matter of fact way with no further comment. Luke the narrator, who is also a physician, apparently sees nothing unusual about it.

If nothing else, it highlights just how profoundly different the experience of the Christian life, church, and ministry was at the beginning of the Jesus movement from what we typically experience and expect now.

I don’t know if that is good or bad or if it simply is. But it’s worth noting and thinking about.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Book of Acts #19: Facecloths and Aprons?

  1. Linda Perrin

    I am enjoying your reflections on the book of Acts. I have been reading Acts, Romans and now Corinthians… the story of the early years of the Way is moving and thought provoking. They endured! They followed! They were on a mission!! They are examples for us!

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the Book of Acts #20: Eutychus – grace notes

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