Question: "What was in the shadow of Peter that healed people (Acts 5:15-16)?"
Answer: The early days of the church were a time of phenomenal growth and apostolic miracles. In Acts 5:15-16 we read, “People brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”
One thing we must note: nowhere does the passage say that anyone was actually healed by being in Peter’s shadow. Neither does the passage tell us that the apostles ever commanded people to line the streets or condoned such actions. The only facts that we can draw from the wording of verse 15 are that people obviously had a high regard for Peter’s miracle-working and that they placed faith in the efficacy of even his shadow. Verse 16 does say people were healed at that time, but there is no indication that Peter’s shadow was the cause. In fact, the verse specifies that “all were healed”—even those who were not under Peter’s shadow.
People wanted to believe there was something special about Peter, and they began seeking proximity to him in hopes of having some power pass over them. It wasn’t the first (or last) time that people sought a special blessing through a physical object. The paralyzed man in John 5 believed that water in a certain pool could heal his lameness. Some Ephesians in Acts 19 believed that healing power was concentrated in articles of Paul’s clothing (cf. Matthew 9:21). Some people today put their trust in handkerchiefs that have been “prayed over,” in relics of the saints, or in holy water.
In Acts 3 God’s power was demonstrated through Peter and John when a lame man was healed. The news spread quickly, and a great crowd gathered in Solomon’s Colonnade, full of amazement. Peter spoke to the crowd, correcting their assumption that he and John had special power in themselves: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (verse 12). The apostle then goes on to point the crowd to Jesus: “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (verse 16).
In Acts 5, the sick were not being healed by shadows or auras or magic garments; they were being healed as a direct answer to the apostles’ prayer in Acts 4:30: “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” The miracles performed by the apostles were demonstrations of the Lord’s power and mercy, affirming Christ Jesus as Savior and testifying that their message was true.
Trusting shadows is not wise. What if it had been a cloudy day? Would those in need have been out of luck? What happened at high noon, when Peter had no shadow to speak of? We are glad that God’s power to heal is not dependent on anyone’s ability to be in the right place, at the right time, under the right conditions. Shadows come and go, but God’s power is constant.