Luke 7:11-17 – A Widow’s Son Returned to Life


Luke 7:11-17


Jesus travels to Nain, where his compassion for a grieving widow leads him to bring her only son back to life.


This story proclaims Jesus’ power over death. It is not a story about Jesus rejecting or criticizing beliefs about corpses and their ability to transmit impurity. The power of holiness that Jesus possesses (or that possesses him) extends even to death. 

Many aspects of this story direct readers’ attention to the widow. Without a husband or any sons, she likely faces a dangerous and vulnerable future, because in her culture women usually relied upon male relatives for their social and economic well-being. In restoring her son, Jesus not only soothes her grief, he also restores her chances of thriving. There is no indication that the miracle has anything to do with rewarding anyone’s faith; Jesus is motivated simply by compassion for a widow facing a future of loss and perhaps jeopardy.

Luke clearly crafts this episode to resemble the story of Elijah and the widow in Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:8-24. Elijah prays to God for this widow’s dead son to return to life, while Jesus effects the miracle in Nain on his own, without having to pray. Both miracle stories conclude with the statement, “He [the miracle-worker] gave him [the son] to his mother.” These similarities are not lost on the crowd that witnesses Jesus’ miracle outside of Nain’s city gate, as people proclaim Jesus to be a “great prophet” in 7:16. Their statement is not wrong, for Luke often emphasizes Jesus’ similarities to the prophets in Israel’s history. In Acts 3:22, Peter even identifies Jesus as the “prophet like Moses” spoken about in Deuteronomy 18:15.