Wahlen-Healing and Anointing
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A BIBLICAL VIEW OF PRAYER AND ANOINTING FOR HEALING
Clinton Wahlen Associate Director Biblical Research Institute Silver Spring, MD Introduction Countless examples of miraculous healing or cure are found in Scripture. But a biblical view of healing involves more than physical restoration. It also has a spiritual dimension. Recognizing this, however, raises the question of the relation between sin and disease, forgiveness and healing. Another issue is the role of prayer and the use of oil and other means for healing. Can religious ritual be differentiated from the use of magic or is the categorization dependent on the observer and religious polemic? How important is the spiritual fitness or expertise of the healer? In order to address these and other questions, we will examine quite broadly the practice of healing in the Old and New Testaments, paying close attention to the practices of prominent healers in the Bible which wh ich have particular relevance for this study. The practice of Jesus and the apostles apo stles holds special importance for the church, as do es the instruction given by James to anoint the sick with oil. Based on this focused survey of biblical material, some guiding principles for healing ministry can be derived. I.
Healing in the Old Testament A.
The most important statement in the OT concerning healing is found in Exod 15:26: “I am the LORD who heals you.”1 As the context makes clear, healing h ealing refers to 1
The verse supplies one of God’s covenant names and is translated more literally “I am the Lord your Healer.” The participial form used here, occurring only nine times in the
2 making Israel whole again by bringing them out from slavery and preserving them from the diseases of the Egyptians. Egyptians.2 The root used here, rp’ , is the most important term for healing and has the basic meaning of “restore, make whole” and refers in every case to “restoring a wrong, sick, broken, or deficient condition to its original and proper state.”3 The OT describes health holistically4 in the sense of total well-being, peace, prosperity, fertility, longevity, strength, righteousness, and obedience.5 It implies not only soundness of body but also belonging within Israel and harmony with God.6 The Hebrew language does not conceive of the body in isolation isolation from the person. It is living living flesh and bone, mind and spirit. When health is promised “to the bones” (Prov 16:24) 16:24) it means fully, entirely, through and through, as opposed o pposed to the superficial healing of flesh wounds (2 Kgs 8:29; 2 Chr 22:6) or skin ailments (Lev 13:18) and in contrast to the remedies provided by false prophets which are inadequate to heal Israel’s deep and persistent
OT, usually means “doctor, physician” (Gen 50:2 bis; Jer 8:22; Job 13:4; 2 Chr 16:12). The remaining three occurrences refer to God as healer (2 Kgs 20:5; Ps 103:3; 147:3). On the Ugaritic equivalent (asû), see esp. Hector Avalos, Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel (HSM 54; Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1995), 166-67. 2 If Israel remained faithful the diseases of Egypt would be p laced on their enemies (Deut 7:15; 30:7), but if unfaithful then they would suffer from these diseases and more, ultimately forfeiting all the blessings God had given them (Deut 2 8:22, 27-29, 59-63). For ancient Mesopotamian views of illness and healing, especially in connection with the Mesopotamian healing god Gula, see Avalos, Illness and Health Care , 99-231. Michael L. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), 72-78, points out that Exod 15:26 may best be read against the background of the polytheism of the surrounding peoples. 3 M. L. Brown, “rapha”, TDOT 13:596, 597. The range of meaning includes Elijah’s repairing the altar of the Lord (1 Kgs 18:30; cf. LXX’s iaomai!), 4 AUSS 21 (1983): 191-202 Gerhard F. Hasel, “Health and Healing in the Old Testament,” AUSS here 191; John Wilkinson, The Bible and Healing: A Medical and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 10, 17-19. 5 See Wilkinson, 11-16. 6 Note the parallelism of mrph with shlm in Jer 8:15; 14:19 and with khyym in Prov 4:22; also that the result of healing is said to be peace, prosperity, and covenant coven ant faithfulness (Jer 33:6).
3 rebellion (Jer 6:14; 8:11).7 Real healing must also ultimately reach the heart (Hos 14:4; Eze 36:24-28). Occasionally disease is seen as the outward evidence of God’s judgment upon sin as when Miriam is struck with leprosy (Num 12:9-10) or Asa’s feet become diseased (2 Chr 16:10-12). Wholeness and holiness in the Hebrew Bible, while not etymologically etymologically related as they are in English, English, are closely related related conceptually. The person’s relation to God as a whole human hu man being is “the basic interest of the Old Testament. The Hebrew mind was not interested in the body bod y for its own sake.”8 Both health (Exod 4:11; Job 5:18) and holiness (Lev 20:8; 21:8, etc.) have their source and rationale in God. Oil in Israel was used in several different ways.9 It was used in various offerings and to supply the lampstands of the temple, for anointing the sanctuary (including its furnishings and equipment), priests (especially the high priest), and kings. Oil was also used to soothe wounds (Isa 1:6), to anoint oneself after bathing (Ezek 16:9) or o r for banquets (Amos 6:6), and in the purification ritual for leprosy (Lev 14:15-18). There are some instances in the OT where God is shown shown healing directly. Four cases involve infertility, three of which were explicitly healed as a result of prayer .10 (1) God healed the women of Abimelech’s household in response to Abraham’s prayer (Gen 20:17-18). While Abimelech’s innocence is stressed (vv. 4-6), it does not contribute
Conversely, an incurable disease extends to to the bowels (2 Chr 21:18). 21:18). And rejecting God’s persistent pleading through his messengers is a kind of unpardonable sin (2 Chr 36:16; cf. Mark 3:29). 8 Wilkinson, 18 following J. A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (London: SCM, 1952). 9 Both Hebrew words for oil ( yitshar and shemen) refer to olive oil, the latter being the more common word. Yitshar is almost always used together with grain and new wine in reference to God’s blessings (e.g. Num 18:12; Deut 7:13; 11:14; 12:17, etc.). Further, see H. Ringgren, “ shemen, shamen, shaman,” TDOT 15:249-53. 10 The healing of Sarah’s womb is connected with a theophany (Gen 18:11-14; 21:1-20).
4 to the healing but seems rather to have prompted divine intervention so that Abimelech would not sin by defiling Sarah.11 (2) Rebekah was able to bear children in response to the intercessory prayer of Isaac (Gen 25:21)12 who, unlike his father Abraham, chose to rely on God for fulfillment of the divine promises of p rogeny (Gen 17:19; 21:12) rather than seeking a human solution to his wife’s infertility. Isaac may have had to wait some years for the answer to his prayer since it was twenty years after marriage that Rebekah conceived.13 (3) Rachel proffered her servant Bilhah to bear children for Jacob. When a son was born Rachel credited God with having “heard” her voice (30:6), suggesting that she had been praying all along for children. That Rachel continued to pray for children of her own is affirmed by v. 22: “Then God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her and opened her womb.”14 B.
Prophetic Models of Healing
As has already been mentioned, the OT portrays God as the ultimate healer of Israel. Still, human intermediaries intermediaries occasionally become conduits of the divine power for healing. In view of the holistic holistic definition of health given above, virtually virtually the entire OT
Divine intervention to preserve Sarah’s purity is implied in v. 6, a notion which receives significant elaboration in 1QapGen XX.8-32 which describes God sending a chastising and purulent spirit to physically afflict the king and his household (see Clinton Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits in the Synoptic Gospels [WUNT 2/185; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004], 39-41). 12 The verb ‘tr , used twice here (for Isaac’s entreaty and God’s answer to it), is commonly used for intercessory prayer as when Manoah prays for divine relief of his wife’s barrenness and Moses intercedes on behalf of pharoah for the plagues to be stopped (cf. n. 17below below); so Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), 176. There is possibly a reference in 4Q173 I.4 to the “intercessions of the Teacher of Righteousness” (E. Gerstenberger, “atar ,” ,” TDOT 11: 458-60 here 460. 13 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 (NAC 1B; Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 386. 14 Rachel’s praise to God and wish-prayer for another son gives no hint that the mandrakes referred to in vv. 14-15 assisted in the conception (so also Hamilton, 278).
5 could be seen in terms of healing, i.e. as God working through patriarchs, priests, and prophets for the restoration restoration of human beings, especially Israel. Israel. However, this study focuses more particularly on those instances of healing that involve a physical restoration of health. The OT mentions a large number of different physical ailments15 together with various remedies and healers.16 Of the people involved in OT depictions of healing, four appear most prominently: Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah. Isaiah. The balance of our attention in this section will examine references to healing connected with these individuals. 1. Moses. In describing describing the plagues brought on Egypt, Egypt, the pharaoh sometimes implores Moses to pray to YHWH with the result that particular plagues are removed, though the last two instances immediately add that pharaoh’s heart was hardened.17 In other words, while pharaoh’s response conditioned the outcome, God’s gracious action to remove the plagues in answer to Moses’ prayers of intercession also had an effect, namely, the further hardening of pharaoh’s heart.18 Examining the episodes of Israel’s rebellion against Moses’ leadership, God’s wrath punishes the people with a plague but in each case the plague is stopped through the intervention of Moses, sometimes in tandem with others. Miriam’s leprosy,19 portrayed as a punishment from God for her and Aaron’s 15
See the discussion of epidemic and systemic diseases (affecting whole groups and individuals respectively) in Wilkinson, 36-52. 16 Our survey is necessarily brief and restricted restricted to major healing narratives. narratives. Under our definition of healing, other stories could be considered such as that of Hannah who prayed to God for a son, vowing to give him as a Nazirite, and receiving encouragement and affirmation of her wish wish from Eli (1 Sam Sam 1). However, considering additional examples would add little to what we are able to understand from the narratives selected. 17 Timing of the removal of frogs (Exod 8:8-10) an d flies (Exod 8:28-31) evidences YHWH as the supreme God; pharoah’s confession of his sin and of YHWH’s righteousness ends the plague of hail (9:27-29, 35); pharoah’s plea for forgiveness and for Moses’ intercession stops the plague of locusts (10:16-20). 18 See n. 12above above. 19 The Heb. term for leprosy (tsr’t ) seems to refer to a broader group of scaly skin
6 rebellion against Moses, is healed following Aaron’s plea to his brother and Moses’ fervent prayer to God;20 however, Miriam is excluded from the camp for seven days (Num 12:1-2, 9-15). Following the peoples’ opposition opposition to Moses’ leadership, a plague plague kills 14,700 but ceases as a result of Moses’ intervention and Aaron’s intercession with the censer to make atonement for Israel (Num 16:41-50). Later, venomous serpents are said to bite the people after they complain about food and water but those who look at the bronze serpent on the pole erected by Moses are healed (Num 21:5-9).21 At Peor, idolatry and intermarriage result in a plague that kills 24,000 but judges are appointed a ppointed to kill the guilty and the zeal of Phinehas Phinehas is credited with stopping stopping the plague (Num 25:1-9). On three other occasions, Moses’ intercession preserves the nation from being consumed by divine wrath.22 In most of the above examples, prayer is the dominant means for healing and/or preservation of life. Significant, however, is that in one instance the prayer of
diseases, the nature of which resembles the peeling-off skin of a stillborn child, as described in Num 12:12, rather than specifically to Hansen’s disease (see E. V. Hulse, “Nature of Biblical ‘Leprosy’ and the Use of Alternative Medical Terms in Modern Translations of the Bible,” PEQ 107: 87-105); cf. the NIV’s translation “infectious skin disease.” 20 So Philip J. Budd, Numbers (WBC 5; Waco, Waco, Tx.: Word, 1984), 137. That Moses’ prayer is an earnest plea for healing and not “bereft of emotion” ( pace pace Jacob Milgrom, Numbers: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation [The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990], 98) is indicated by the verb, which describes the manner of Moses’ prayer (cf. Exod 15:25; 17:4) and which is employed for “an appeal to God by one in pain” (Baruch A. Levine, Numbers 1-20 [AB 4; New York: Doubleday, 1993], 333, citing Deut 26:7; Isa 19:20; Ps 34:18; 107:28). 21 The bronze serpent does not function apotropaically to ward off the serpents but is designed to help the people already bitten. bitten. Only after the people confess their sin and Moses prays for the people does God prescribe the remedy; those who look upon the serpent will be healed. As R. Dennis Cole, Numbers (NAC 3B; Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 349 notes, “The verb translated “look” (ra’a) often carries with it the idea to see with belief or understanding, and it is to be so interpreted in this context.” 22 Exod 32:9-14 (the golden calf episode); Num 14:11-23 (the unbelief and intent to return to Egypt at Kadesh-Barnea); 16:21-24 (the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram); cf. Deut 9:18-29; 10:10.
7 Moses by itself does not seem to be sufficient—when the people rebel after the death o f Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. In this case, a ritual ritual also becomes necessary: Aaron intercedes with the censer to make atonement. atonement.23 The healings in the Pentateuch fit within the larger framework of the covenant: obedience brings supernatural blessings and health while disobedience brings supernatural infliction of disease; disease; also, supernatural healing follows follows repentance. For this reason, Brown refers to them them as “covenantal healing.” By contrast, he labels the supernatural healings depicted in the books of Kings and Chronicles “prophetic healing” because no cause for the illness or death is given. given.24 They include the raising of the widow’s son at Zarephath through Elijah (1 Kgs 17:17-24),25 the healing of Naaman’s leprosy and the raising of the Shunammites’s son through Elisha (2 Kgs 5; 4:8-36), and the healing of Hezekiah through Isaiah (2 Kgs 20:1-11; 2 Chr 32:24-26; cf. Isa 38:1-8). 2. Elijah During the famine announced to Ahab by Elijah, the prophet’s supply of water from the Wadi Cherith ran out and an d he was instructed to find a woman in Zarephath who would feed him (1 Kgs 17:7-9). 17:7-9). Despite the miraculous supply of meal and oil, the widow’s child died. The way in which the story story is told raises raises the question of anthropology. According to the narrative, “his illness was so severe that there was no
This priestly act is highly unusual in that it takes place outside the tabernacle. Milgrom even suggests that “it was a special emergency measure, improvised on the spot” ( Numbers Numbers, 141). 24 Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer , 92-93. 25 Some identify this as a resuscitation rather than a resurrection (e.g., Marvin A. Sweeney, I & II Kings: A Commentary [Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2007], 215; Wilkinson, 60; cf. Donald J. Wiseman, “Medicine in the Old Testament World” in Medicine and the Bible, ed. Bernard Palmer [Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1986], 13-42 here 42) but more commonly the departure dep arture of the nephesh is considered to refer to the child’s death.
8 breath [ne shamah] left in him” (v. 17). The absence of breath means the absence of life life (cf. vv. 18, 20). So when Elijah prays for the soul ( nephesh) of the child to return (v. 21), the petition is for the child’s being to be restored to its normal condition. condition.26 At the return/restoration of the nephesh, the child comes to life life again. While Elijah “stretched “stretched himself upon the child three times,” there is no indication that this caused life to return to the child but rather that the Lord answered Elijah’s prayer (v. 22). 3. Elisha A very similar resurrection story appears in connection with Elisha. A woman shows kindness to the prophet and Elisha promises that she will have a son the following year, and this prophecy is fulfilled. Some years later, the woman’s son is stricken with an illness and dies.27 At her plea Elisha comes, sending Gehazi on ahead to place the prophet’s staff on the boy, but this proves futile. futile. When Elisha arrives, he goes into the room to be alone with the child. child. He prays to the Lord, presses his face against the boy’s face, and stretches himself over the length of the boy’s body, all of which again appear futile. Elisha’s pacing back and forth emphasizes his anxiety at this apparent failure. Finally, after stretching himself over the boy a second time, the child revives, sneezes seven times, and opens his eyes (2 Kgs 4:35). In this case, the healing h ealing required more than prayer. The action of the prophet not once but twice was also required. The healing of Naaman’s leprosy also required action and, in this case, no prayer is offered. Elisha does not even come out to meet Naaman but sends a servant to give him The word ne shamah is used also in Gen 2:7 which is the locus classicus for anthropology: human nature, the “soul” (nephesh), is a combination of body made from “dust” (‘aphar ) and spirit or “breath.” When the breath departs, the soul soul leaves with it and the person is no more. This wording explicitly excludes the possibility of resuscitation (cf. n. 25above above). 27 On the range of possibilities suggested for the illness, see Wilkinson, 45. 26
9 instructions for what seems like a “self-cure.” After coming such a d istance, Naaman no doubt expects much more, especially in light of the Syrian king’s involvement and the enormous gift Naaman brings. But to cure leprosy Syria’s wealth, power, and political influence is useless. The one power capable of healing can do so even from a distance. Naaman is told to wash in the Jordan seven times in order to be cleansed of his leprosy. In this case the healing depends, not on the prophet or any hand waving by him (2 Kgs 5:11), but entirely on responding to the prophetic message. Naaman almost leaves unhealed but is finally persuaded to try the remedy and, through obedience, finds healing.
4. Isaiah Isaiah told Hezekiah to set his house in order because he would die soon (Isa 38:1). Being in the prime of his life, Hezekiah was unwilling to accept this prophecy (v. 10) and so prayed for healing, reminding God of the faithful and good life he had lived and weeping bitterly (2 Kgs 20:3). Immediately after this prayer and as a direct result of it, God spoke to Isaiah, instructing him to return to Hezekiah, to apply a poultice of figs, and to give the king this divine assurance, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold I will heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord” (20:5). The poultice is not mentioned as the cause of healing but rather it comes as a result of God’s response to Hezekiah’s fervent prayer, tears, and desire to live longer, an appeal which met with God’s favor. The element of covenant relation appears to have outweighed even the word w ord of the Lord spoken previously by Isaiah. Another factor seems to be the potential the king’s healing held as a testimony to the Babylonian envoys of
10 YHWH’s mercy, power, and relation to His people.28 C. Healing in the Wisdom Literature In the wisdom literature, healing is mentioned fairly often. often.29 In the Psalms, it usually appears in connection with “prayer for preservation and healing” which often includes “a confession of guilt and a request for mercy.”30 At times healing is physical (Ps 6:2; 41:4) and individual (30:2) while at other times it is corporate (107:20), but never far away is the confession of the Lord as the healer .31 Sometimes healing is associated with covenant faithfulness (Prov 3:8) or with forgiveness and being saved from death (Ps 6:5; 30:9; 103:3-4; cf. Isa 38:17-19).32 Known sin should be confessed and forsaken before healing can be expected (Ps 38:4, 19; Prov 28:13). Psalm 39 includes illness vocabulary, confession of sin, and a prayer for recovery (vv. 8-11). Psalm 88 may be intended as a prayer to be offered while ill,33 but there is no appeal for healing nor expectation of recovery. Physical suffering rather than healing sometimes seems to b e God’s will. On the positive side, God’s wisdom brings life to the one who cherishes it in his heart and also is what brings b rings healing to the flesh (Prov 4:22). Human words too, if
Both 2 Chr 32:31 and Isa 39:3-7 indicate an element of contingency and therefore hint at the possibility of a more positive outcome. 29 The word rapha’ occurs in Job 5:18; 13:4; Ps 6:3 [Eng. 2]; 30:3 [Eng. 2]; 41:5 [Eng. 4]; 60:4 [Eng. 2]; 103:3; 107:20; 147:3; Eccl 3:3; Lam 2:13. 30 Klaus Seybold and Ulrich B. Mueller, Sickness and Healing (Trans. Douglas W. Stott; Biblical Encounters; Nashville: Abingdon, 1981), 44 who see healing liturgies behind these psalms; e.g., in Ps 32, YHWH’s hand of discipline is recognized, followed by searching one’s conscience, confession of guilt, and prayer which make healing and forgiveness possible (58). Further on prayer and healing in the Psalms, see Klaus Seybold, Gebet des Kranken im Alten Testament: Untersuchungen zur Bestimmung und Zuordnung der Krankheits- und Heilungspsalmen (Mainz: Kohlhammer, 1973). 31 See Ps 103:3; 147:3 (emotional as well as physical p hysical healing). Cf. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer , 151-52: “National recovery, bodily healing, and spiritual rejuvenation all flowed from one source: the Lord.” 32 Similarly, Ibid., 150. 33 So Avalos, Illness and Health Care , 257.
11 they are “truthful, wise, comforting, and upbuilding”34 can bring healing, acting like a tree of life (Prov 15:4). OT Summary and Conclusion From this brief survey of healing in the Old Testament, there appears to be no clear formula for healing apart from the obvious point that it usually flows from reliance upon God within the larger context of covenant faithfulness. At the same time, the healing power of God is not scripted or ritualized. Sometimes it is connected with the faith and/or participation of the the supplicant (Naaman, Hezekiah). At other times, times, as in Pharoah’s requests to Moses for prayer, it arises more from desperation than from faith. Sometimes the personal presence of the healer (better, the human instrument through which God’s healing power is revealed since human intermediaries are never called
roph’im)35 seems to have made a difference difference (Elisha). At other times the the healing takes place at a distance from or in the absence of a representative from God (Naaman).
II. Healin Healing g in the the New Testam Testament ent A. General Considerations 1. Historical Context In the Greco-Roman period, the practice of ancient medicine underwent significant development. Most dominant was Hippocrates, whose influence continued through the first and second centuries of o f the Christian era through such physicians as Celsus and Galen. Judging from the extensive writings of these and other physicians, the process of healing began to be removed from the magico-religious realm and placed on a 34
Brown, 164. Avalos, Illness and Health Care , 286, pointing out that when the term is applied to humans it usually underscores the ineffectiveness of physicians (287-90); so also Hasel, “Health and Healing in the Old O ld Testament.”
12 more “scientific” basis despite reliance on philosophical models with their metaphysical presuppositions.36 Influential alongside such medical practitioners, whose services were prohibitively expensive except in extreme cases (cf. Mark 5:26 par.), par.),37 were the numerous healing centers with temples and rituals honoring va rious healing deities spread throughout the Roman empire.38 Visitors to these centers found reports of healing inscribed on stone plates, included among which was this affirmation: “Because the help of human physicians had failed, the sick came to the god for whom the impossible is possible.”39 Within a Jewish context, as we have seen from the OT, YHWH was the healer of Israel and so traveling to healing hea ling centers would be a denial of faith. The Jerusalem temple was renowned as a center of forgiveness and atonement but not healing. In fact, the stringency of purity regulations in the Second Temple period beyond even that of the levitical laws, hindered those with physical ailments from approaching the temple.40 The nearby pool of Bethzatha, however, reputedly provided such possibilities (John 5:2-4). Still, as the invalid’s complaint illustrates (v. 7), the crowdedness of some healing centers
See, e.g., J. Keir Howard. Disease and Healing in the New Testament: An Analysis and Interpretation (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2001), 14-19. 37 Cf. Hector Avalos, “Health Care,” NIDB 2:763: “Christianity may have attracted patients who were too poor to afford the fees charged in many Greco-Roman traditions,” citing Matt 10:8; cf. Acts 8:19-20. 38 Joel B. Green, “Healing,” NIDB 2 (2007): 755-59. These deities de ities included Isis, Asclepius, Hygeia (health personified, cf. Gk. hygieia), and others. 39 Quoted in Seybold and Mueller, 101, who also note some overlap between physicians and healing centers: Galen called himself the therapist of Asclepius Asclepius and physicians cared for the sick at the Asclepion in Kos (102). 40 Thus, e.g., the lame man sits outside the gate called “beautiful” in Acts 3:2 but, after being healed, goes into the temple with Peter and John (v. 8). 8 ). Further, see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits , 83 and n. 75, 113 and n. 27. Cf. Hector Avalos, Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999), 44: “chronically ill patients were excluded altogether from the temple and from the community itself.” 36
13 seems to have “effectively denied access for the persons who most needed healing.” he aling.”41 Besides prayer, many relied on folk healers, “holy men,” and /or assorted “miracle” remedies. A few no doubt resorted to a combination of these options. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa (2nd half 1st c AD) was said to heal by means of prayer, the fluency of his prayer indicating whether or not the supplicant was healed (b.Berakhot 34b). 34b).42 In addition to such healers, a larger support system that included family members and others within the society contributed to the healing process.43 In Jewish circles, because sickness was frequently considered a punishment from God,44 cures often included religious components. Forgiveness normally had to be sought before healing could be expected: “The sick person will not arise from his sickness until one [God] has forgiven him all his sins [Ps 103:3 quoted]” (b.Nedarim 41a). Anointing with various oils was performed in ancient Greece and Rome for a variety of reasons, both common and religious: as perfumes and after bathing; as offerings to the gods or in connection with other religious or magical rites; before and after meals, sometimes with religious connotations; as a way of reverencing or preserving sacred stones and statues; in burial rites. Oil was also used medicinally but not usually with religious connotations during the Second Temple period.45 A magical view of 41
Avalos, “Health Care,” 763, who adds a dds that, in some traditions, healing was confined to certain days, making Jesus’ healings on Sabbath more significant (cf. Luke 13:14-16). 42 See also Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 72-78 (and notes): reputed ability to heal, exorcize and even raise the dead by the power of prayer and simple command. 43 See John J. Pilch, Healing in the New Testament: Insights In sights from Medical and Mediterranean Anthropology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 26. 44 E.g., Job; also John 9:1-2, but Jesus rejected this (John 9:3; Luke 13:1-5); cf. Seybold and Mueller, 126-27. 45 Luke 10:34 (as also in earlier times, Isa 1:6; Jer 8:22; 46:11; 51:8); cf. Celsus, Med . 3.23.3; Philo, Dreams, 2.58; Josephus, J.W. 1.657 (also Ant. 17.172), describing how physicians (unsuccessfully) treated a severe illness of Herod the Great by lowering his body into a large vessel of warm w arm oil. Rabbinic sources also attest the medicinal use of oil (John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica,
14 anointing with oil, particularly in connection with baptism for the expulsion of and/or protection from demons, is found mainly in post-NT period sources. sources.46
[Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1979], 2:415); Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (6 vols; Munich: C. H. Beck, 1922–1961), 1:249, 427, 986. See also Angus Bowie, “Oil in Ancient Greece and Rome,” in The Oil of Gladness, 26-34. 46 For references, see Heinrich Schlier, “aleiphō”, TDNT 1: 230-31; see also Thomas M. Finn, “Anointing,” Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (ed. Everett Ferguson; 2d ed.; New York: Garland, 1990), 43-45; regarding the Test. Sol. 18:34 within its larger context, see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits , 61. The NT references to anointing should be distinguished from later church anointing in connection with baptism (Jeffrey John, “Anointing in the New Testament,” in The Oil of Gladness: Anointing in the Christian Tradition [ed. Martin Dudley and Geoffrey Rowell; London: SPCK, 1993], 64-72).
15 2. Overview of Healing in the New Testament The NT writers employ various words for healing,47 each with a slightly different nuance that also varies somewhat depending on the context in which they are used. The healing stories in the Gospels and Acts describe a variety of maladies ranging from organic defects such as crippled limbs or o r blindness to demon possession, but healing is consistently attributed to the power of God working through Jesus and the apostles rather than to any specific medical expertise or remedy. The common people, however, sometimes associate things connected with these miracle-workers as having a kind of magical power. These things include Jesus’ garment (Mark 5:28), Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15),48 and cloths belonging to Paul (Acts 19:11-12).49 The Pauline epistles, on the other hand, han d, in reference to specific cases of illness, give no suggestion that healing is always in accordance with God’s will, nor do they explicitly mention healing by anything other than natural means. Epaphroditus became ill and almost died, but was eventually able to return to Philippi after his recovery (Phil 2:25-30). Timothy was advised to use wine medicinally for his frequent stomach ailments
Most common is therapeuō and iaomai and their cognates. But the words sōzō and apokathistēmi in the sense of healing also appear as do stereoō, apallassō, holoklēros, hygiainō, and related words. Further, see Wilkinson, Wilkinson, 77-83. Verbs related to the cleansing of leprosy and the expelling of demons are more specialized and not as pertinent to this study. Further, on their use in the Synoptic Gospels, see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits , 83-89, 114-20, 144-51. 48 Wilkinson, 177 contrasts the desire of “some” in v. 1 5 for Peter’s shadow to fall on them with the “all” actually healed in v. 16 as well as the explicit mention in v. 12 that it was by the “hands” of the apostles that people were healed rather than by their shadow. 49 Jesus’ use of spittle, which seems to be used as an extension of his person, should be distinguished from this. Cf. Seybold and Mueller, 156 (whose observations, however, apply more to pagan than biblical notions of power): “Breath and spittle are considered the mediators of special powers which these substances conduct from the power bearer to the sick person. Spittle, like blood, is particularly effective; it is ‘condensed breath’ which comes out of the miracle worker.” Similarly, they see the use of oil in connection with healing as “power transferral” (186) but that the healing is from the Lord Himself (187). 47
16 (1 Tim 5:23).50 Trophimus, being sick, was left behind by Paul in Miletus (2 Tim 4:20). Paul himself prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed but the Lord told him to bear this suffering patiently (2 Cor 12:7-9).51 Paul does acknowledge miracles of healing as a gift of the Spirit possessed by some. But his consistent use of the term
charismata “gifts of grace” in connection with such miracles (1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30) is simultaneously a reminder of the source of the miraculous power and that healing can neither be commanded nor guaranteed.52 More prominent for Paul is the life in Christ which includes suffering for his sake (2 Cor 4:8-12).53 Several NT passages seem to refer to healing in a more metaphorical or spiritual sense. Heb 12:12-13, resuming the athletic metaphor with which the chapter begins, urges readers not to act like defeated runners with limp hands and knees paralyzed by cramps but to be strong and to make sure their feet are heading straight to the finish line. They are not to turn aside from their faith in Jesus54 through whom alone is healing. The 50
Wilkinson, 193 indicates that two principal options have been suggested for the use of wine in this passage: (1) as an antiseptic mixed in with water to ensure that the water would be safe to drink (cf. 2 Macc 15:39); (2) as an aid to digestion on the assumption that Timothy may have suffered from chronic gastritis. The explicit mention of “frequent ailments” seems to favor the second option (so Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible: A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages [Berrien Springs, Mich.: Biblical Perspectives, 1989], 246). 51 Some explain Paul’s thorn in the flesh as non-physical (religious opposition or persecution, mental anxiety or depression, or some form of temptation such as pride, doubt, sensuality or ill-temper), while others suggest various physical ailments as possibilities (stammering, deafness, bodily injury, chronic pain, disease of the nervous system, eye problem, epilepsy, malaria or a chronic infection). See Wilkinson 205 -6; also Martin, 2 Corinthians, 413-16 who on pp. 417-18 points to contextual evidence, including Paul’s likening of it to the sufferings of Christ in vv. 9-10, to support interpreting the thorn in the flesh as physical. 52 Similarly, Albrecht Oepke, “iaomai ktl.”, TDNT 3: 214. Note also M. Dennis Hamm, “Healing, Gifts of,” ABD 3 (1992): 89, that the “charismata iamatōn are precisely experienced as gifts of God, not simply as human abilities.” 53 Further, see Keith Warrington, “Healing and Suffering in the Bible,” International Review of Mission 95 (2006): 159-62. 54 Cf. the only other NT uses of the verb ektrepō in 1 Tim 1:6; 5:15; 6:20; 2 Tim 4:4.
17 idea here is very similar to 1 Pet 2:24-25, where readers are reminded that they “were straying like sheep” but that Jesus bore their sins that they might not sin but live for righteousness. By His wounding for sin, he writes them, “you hav e been healed.” In both these passages, the acceptance of Jesus’ vicarious suffering brings healing from spiritual weakness and sin.55 A kind of spiritual healing is also in view in Rev 3:18, where Jesus exhorts the Laodiceans to anoint (enchrisai) their eyes with eyesalve in order that they may see. The last reference to healing in the NT is the mention in Rev 22:2 that the leaves of the tree of life are “for the healing ( therapeian) of the nations.” This verse illustrates the artificiality of making too sharp a distinction between physical and spiritual healing.56 The new creation will effect a total, holistic restoration in harmony with the conception of healing that permeates the Old Testament. This idealized healing encompasses body, mind and spirit. In James 5 also, the spiritual and physical components of the anticipated healing seem to be so blended as to make it difficult if not impossible to distinguish them. This passage more than any other in the New Testament also seems to ritualize hea ling and so requires more detailed consideration. In general, however, the observation of Avalos is worth remembering: Christianity exhibited some significant differences in the role of prayer in healing. Many Greco-Roman traditions combine prayer with elaborate rituals at healing centers, but Christianity’s emphasis on the value of faith alone or on very simple rituals served to eliminate the need Ceslas Spicq, TLNT , 1:462 n. 2 finds close parallels in Xenophon ( An. An. 4.5.15: “Turning aside in that direction [ektrapomenoi], they sat down and refused to go further”); also in Philo (Spec. Laws 2.23); he translates the occurrence in Heb 12:13 “not deviate” (1:463). 55 1 Pet 2:24c (tō mōlōpi iathēte ) apparently quotes Isa 53:5 (tō mōlōpi … iathēmen ). 56 Alluding to Ezekiel’s vision of progressive restoration toward an Edenic paradise: the river of God makes stagnant waters fresh (literally, “the waters shall restore to health [hygiasei]”) and causes trees to flourish, the leaves of the trees providing “health” or “healing” (hygieian, 37:8, 12); cf. LSJ 1841-42.
18 for travel to such centers (see Matt 8:8; John 5:1-9). Likewise, Christianity resisted temporal restrictions on when healing could be administered (Mark 3:2-5). 3:2-5).57 B. Prayer and Anointing in the Gospels and Acts 1. Jesus’ Healing Ministry Healing occupies a sizeable role in the gospel of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, preaching and healing constitute inseparable signs of the in-breaking power of God’s kingdom,58 “a reminder that behind the healing ministry of Jesus and others stands Yahweh the healer.59 Approximately 33-40% of each gospel comprises narratives of healing.60 While counts of the exact number of healing miracles performed by Jesus vary depending on which stories are considered to reflect the same episode, a summary of what we can glean from the healing narratives found in the four gospels makes a useful point of reference and appears as an appendix to this paper.61 With few exceptions, whenever the means employed by Jesus is specified (on 3 occasions it is not), the healing takes place by a touch or a word (21 of 28). Besides these, saliva is involved in three instances (always in combination with either a touch or a word or both) and once Jesus is
Avalos, “Health Care,” 763. In fact, Jesus seems intentionally to have healed on the Sabbath as a sign of the redemption available through the kingdom proclamation (see n. 68 below). 58 See Matt 4:23; Mark 1:15 (followed by references to ex orcisms and healings in 1:212:12); Luke 4:18-19 (citing Isa 61:1-2); 7:22 par. (healing and proclaiming the good news as evidence to John the Baptist of Jesus’ messianic mission); 9:6 (the disciples’ kingdom proclamation likewise has this twofold character of preaching and healing); John 9:35-41 (healing the blind is emblematic of Jesus’ work as the light of the world, cf. 1:9; 8:12; 12:46). 59 Green, “Healing,” 758. Calling the in-breaking kingdom the Grundthema of every healing story, see also Ferdinand Hahn, “Heilung und Heil aus der Sicht des Neuen Testaments” in Ärztlicher Dienst weltweit: 25 Beiträge über Heil und Healing in unserer Zeit (ed. Wolfgang Erk and Martin Scheel; Stuttgart: Steinkopf, 1974), 175 -85. 60 See Wilkinson, 65: 40% each in Matthew and Mark, 35% in Luke, and 33% in John. 61 See pp. 34 below. 34 below.
19 touched rather than vice-versa.62 The dominant word for healing in the Gospels is sōzō, which can also mean “save.”63 Together with its cognates in the NT, it forms the basic vocabulary for salvation in the New Testament. The word embraces not just physical healing or cure but total healing or wholeness,64 and “always reestablishes a person’s integrity by removing from him chronic impairment: blood flow, blindness, leprosy, lameness, or possession.”65 In other words, healing involves not only the elimination of physical danger, distress or illness but a restoration to wholeness and represents a sign of the redemption which the kingdom proclamation offers. The story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man brought to him on a pallet is apropos apropo s here; forgiveness becomes the implicit prerequisite for complete healing (Mark 2:1-12 parr.; cf. John 5:14). 5:14).66 Especially significant is the healing by Jesus specifically of those whose purity and fitness to approach God in temple worship was considered dubious by virtue of their physical ailments,67 including healings 62
Sometimes the gospel writers mention Jesus healing groups of people b ut providing few further details (e.g., Matt 8:16-17; Mark 1:32-34, 39; 3:11; Luke 4:40-41). 63 It occurs almost as frequently as therapeuō and iaomai combined. On the specific terminology for healing in the NT (excluding sōzō), see F. Graber and D. Müller, “Heal,” NIDNTT 2 (1976): 163-72. 64 Compare the identical assurances of Jesus in Luke (hē pistis sou ses ōken se), which nevertheless tend to be translated differently: to the sinful woman w ho anointed him and whose sins were forgiven, “Your faith has saved you” (7:50); but to the Samaritan leper, “Your faith has made you well” (17:19). Further, see Frederick J. Gaiser, “‘Your Faith Has Made You Well’: Healing and Salvation in Luke 17:12-19,” Word and World 16/3 (1996): 291-301. 65 Walter Radl, “s ǭzō”, EDNT 3:320. 66 Michael L. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer , 230 argues that Jesus’ words to the paralytic “would be inexplicable unless the connection between the man’s condition and his sin was presupposed.” See also Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1940), 267. The priority of forgiveness to cure and the connection between the two in order to experience total healing is suggested by Ps 103:3; cf. Gaiser, 300. 67 See n. 40 above. Notable is the curing in Matthew of the blind and the lame who approached him in the temple , obviating the implicit problem of his potentially defiled listeners remaining in that holy place (21:14; cf. 15:30-3 1).
20 on the Sabbath.68 To the woman cured of a constant blood flow, Jesus not only assured her of physical healing, but also uniquely addressed her as “Daughter” and spoke to her a blessing (“Go in peace”) thereby giving reassurance that her impurity had been removed and her place in Israel’s religious society restored.69 Through these healings, Jesus on the one hand affirmed the close connection between holiness and wholeness and even seems to have affirmed sin as the cause of disease, while at the same time denying personal sin as the necessary explanation for all disease. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ healing work focuses on the miraculous element with deeds of supernatural power or authority a uthority (dunamis) witnessing to the in-breaking
sēmeion) of His messiahship and illuminates kingdom, while in John it becomes a sign ( sēmeion the nature of His kingdom.70 Motivations which are connected with Jesus’ healing miracles include showing compassion and the desire to answer a cry for mercy (Luke 18:38), rewarding expressions of faith (Matt 8:13; 9:29), manifesting God’s glory (John 9:3; 11:4), and showing the fulfillment prophecy (Luke 7:22-23). 7:22-23).71 At the same time, it should be remembered that “Jesus is the Savior who refuses to save himself (Luke 23:35), the physician come not to heal himself (Luke 4:23), the one whose ministry and whose service lead to the cross.”72 Immediately striking, in terms of this study, is that the Gospels give no clear
John C. Brunt, A Day for Healing (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1981). See also the emphasis on the “redemptive nature” n ature” of the Sabbath healings in Samuele Bacchiocchi, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness: A Theological Study of the Good News of the Sabbath for Today (Berrien Springs, Mich.: self-published, 1980), 151-58. 69 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002), 238. 70 Cf. Wilkinson, 97-98. 71 There also appears to be at least one healing out of necessity in order that Jesus’ intentions would not be misunderstood (Luke 22:49-50). 72 Gaiser, 300. 68
21 instance of Jesus ever healing by means of prayer or anointing. Even in connection with resurrections from the dead, Jesus offers no audible prayer such as Elijah or Peter did (1 Kgs 17:21; Acts 9:40). One possible p ossible explanation for this is that all of Jesus miracles were done with others looking on (cf. Matt 6:6), though, in the case of Lazarus, it seems at a minimum that Jesus offered up a silent prayer either beforehand or in the moment (John 11:41-42).73 A more plausible explanation may be found in the uniqueness of Jesus’ relationship with the Father as Son.74 This will become more evident by way of contrast as we turn to descriptions of the disciples’ healing work. 2. The Apostles and Healing Mark tells us that the disciples of Jesus, in connection with their mission to Israel, urged repentance (cf. 1:15), expelled demons, and healed the sick by anointing them with oil (6:13). This verse, which is part of Jesus’ mission instruction to his disciples, indicates by the use of three ve rbs in the imperfect (exeballon, ēleiphon, etherapeuon) the ongoing character of the apostles’ work throughout the period of their mission. The expelling of demons is clearly distinguished from the healing of the sick.75 According to the verse, anointing the sick (arrōstous) with oil facilitated healing. The context sugg ests that this
Mark 9:29 indicates that in difficult cases the disciples should p ray but the text gives no hint that Jesus prayed in this instance. 74 While the Christology of each of the canonical can onical gospels carries its individual nuance, all connect Jesus’ exorcism and healing work with his status as Son: Mark 1:11; 2:10-12; 5:7; 9:7, 25-27 (all of which are paralleled in Matthew and Luke); John 5:21, 25-26; 11:4, 27; 20:31. On the various emphases in the healing miracles of each of the Synoptic Gospels, see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits , 83-86, 114-17, 133, 144-47. 75 There is no thought that the demons caused sickness; otherwise the mention of h ealing would be more closely connected with the exorcisms. Further, see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits , 84 n. 77, 88; William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1974), 209-10 and n. 42; France, Mark , 251 considers likely that the use of oil here was symbolic “of God’s care for and restoration of the patient.”
22 healing was miraculous so that the oil functioned symbolically rather than medicinally.76 The use of oil, representing the spirit-power available in connection the kingdom proclamation,77 also demonstrates the apostles’ dependence on divine power, unlike Jesus who healed the sick and expelled demons without external means.78 In Acts, healing comprises only 4.5 percent of the book, far less than any of the gospels.79 Besides demon possession, ailments healed include lameness, paralysis, blindness, and dysentery. There are also two resurrections, of one who died of disease (10:40) and another from an apparently fatal head injury (20:10).80 Luke (like the Gospel of John) tends to use the word sēmeion for healing miracles in Acts.81 This label, together with acting “in the name of Jesus,”82 testifies that the apostles’ work is not only a continuation of Jesus’ ministry but imbued with the same power. However, by comparison with the work of Jesus described in the Gospels, not only are the healing miracles in Acts far fewer in number (less than half as many), they also do not appear to be integral to the accomplishment of the apostolic mission.83 76
According to John, “Anointing in the New N ew Testament,” 51 the apostles “expect and achieve physical healing.” 77 So also France, Mark , 251.; similarly Julius Schniewind, Das Evangelium nach Markus: Übersetzt und erklärt (NTD 1; Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1958), 97. 78 So Henry Barclay Swete, The Gospel according to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction Notes and Indices (3d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1909), 119; John, “Anointing in the New Testament,” 51 (but also makes the unwarranted suggestion on p. 52 that Mark attributed this practice to the apostles based on local church practice). That Jesus healed either by word or touch and occasionally with saliva shows that healing proceeded from His person (cf. Mark 5:30) and that He was not indebted to any external substance. 79 Wilkinson, 157; similarly, Warrington, 158. 80 Ibid., 158. Further on healing and an d exorcism in Acts, see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits , 145, 147, 165-67. 81 E.g., Acts 4:16, 22, 30; 8:6-7; other words include holoklēria (Acts 3:16, a NT hapax). 82 Use of Jesus’ name is connected not only with miracles of healing and exorcism (Acts 3:6; 4:10; 8:12-13; 16:18; cf. 19:13, 17) but also with the apostles’ preaching and teaching (4:18; 5:40; 9:27), baptism (2:38; 8:16; 10:48), and potential martyrdom (21:13). 83 The healings, while they encouraged many to believe the gospel, appear incidentally
23 Prayer is mentioned in connection with healing only twice. The first instance is Peter’s resurrection of Dorcas. There is some similarity with Jesus’ resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, again showing the apostles’ work to be reminiscent of Jesus’ ministry. ministry .84 However, the fact that Peter kneels and prays before turning toward Dorcas and telling her to arise is distinctive (Acts 9:40). The second instance of healing in connection with prayer is Paul’s healing of the father of Publius, who was feverish with dysentery. Going in to where he was lying, Paul healed him through prayer and the laying on of hands. Faith on the part of the friends of Dorcas clearly played a role in her resurrection. It may also have been involved in the healing of Publius’ father, but this is not explicit. C. Prayer and Anointing in James 5 We turn now to the only instance in the New Testament of prayer and anointing being used in combination to effect healing. Oftentimes anointing the physically ill is performed only after exhausting all human means of recovery. The tendency of turning to God as a means of last resort is mentioned by Philo, who describes those who sudden ly seek God for healing as having no “firm faith” and “Facing-both-ways” [epamphoteristais]: …they first flee to the help which things created give, to physicians, herbs, drug-mixtures, strict rules of diet, and all the other aids that mortals use…. But when no human help avails, and all things, even healing remedies, prove to be but mischievous, then out of the depths of their helplessness, despairing of all other aid, still even in their misery reluctant, at this late hour they betake themselves to the only saviour, God. He, for He knows that what is done under stress of necessity has no sure foundation, does not in all cases follow His law (of mercy), but only when
(Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-35; 20:7-12) or by request (14:8-10; probably also 9:36-42; 28:7-8). The one narrated exorcism seems to occur almost as a last resort (16:16-18). 84 In addition to the exclusion of people from the sick room, the words spoken to Dorcas by Peter in Aramaic would be Tabitha qumi, almost identical to Jesus’ words to Jairus’ dead daughter Talitha qumi (Mark 5:41).
24 it may be followed for good and with profit.85 While Philo’s estimate of such people sounds similar to those James refers to as unstable, doubting, and “double-minded” (1:6-8),86 the New Testament nowhere insists on a
perfect faith in order to effect a miraculous cure.87 The passage relevant for our study (Jas 5:13-18) begins more generally and seems to be largely about prayer.88 Verse thirteen begins, “Is anyone among you suffering [kakopatheō]? Let him pray.” Three different verbs for the sick and suffering, each with distinct connotations, are employed in this passage. The noun form of this first verb is found a few verses earlier in reference to the suffering/misery (kakopathia) and patient endurance of the prophets prophe ts (cf. Matt 23:37; Luke 9:22), also specifically mentioning Job (vv. 10-11).89 Despite the focus on suffering, physical weakness, and illness, there is in this passage only one explicit reference to healing and it occurs outside of the prescribed ritual of prayer and anointing for the sick. Within the more general context of Christians Ch ristians confessing their sins to one another, James urges his readers to pray for one another “that you may be healed [iathēte]” (v. 16). The occasional link between forgiveness and healing, which this study has noticed in other passages, appears to be present here also. Philo, Sacrifices, 70-71 (LCL 147, 149, the Gk. term appearing on p. 146). On the meaning of “double-minded,” see Eduard Schweizer, “dipsychos” TDNT 9: 665; Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982), 74-75. A similar idea appears in 1QH XII.10-18; T.Benj. 6.5-7; cf. the midrash on Deut 26:16 not to pray with “two hearts” (Tanḥ. 12-13). 87 E.g., despite the fact that the supplicant retained some unbelief, Jesus expelled the unclean spirit from the man’s son (Mark 9:24-27). 88 Prayer is mentioned eight times in six verses. Three different nouns are used for prayer (euchē , deēsis, proseuchē ) and two different verbs ( proseuchomai and euchomai). 89 Two possible nuances exist for kakopatheō: toil/hardship or suffering (BDAG 500; Spicq, “kakopatheō , kakopatheia,” TLNT 2:238). In view of the context, the latter is most likely, as commentators on this passage generally conclude and also BAGD 397. 85 86
25 But this reference seems primarily to refer to healing in a broader sense, i.e., to spiritual healing and restoration, which follows the co nfession of sin and prayer.90 And even if physical healing should be the intended meaning in this verse, it results not from confession or forgiveness but from prayer. There is no suggestion that sin is the cause of illness. Rather, prayer is in focus, suggesting that even the practice of anointing does not n ot by itself guarantee healing. As a careful study of this passage makes clear, the petition for healing remains subject to God’s will. Two different words for the sick appear in vv. 14-15. The verb astheneō appears in v. 14, “Is anyone among you sick ?” ?” Literally, it means “weak” and stresses physical illness or incapacitation.91 In the Gospels and Acts, this word and its cognate are used almost exclusively to refer to the sick healed by Jesus and the apostles.92 Verse fifteen uses a different term, “ill” (participial form of kamnō, v. 15), which is the more general word for the patient93 but may have a stronger connotation here, suggesting someone physically worn out or wasting away.94 In fact, the word is sometimes used of those who are dying.95 Such a circumstance would help explain the unusual procedure of the sick person summoning the elders of the church to come and pray over (ep’ auton) him/her, 90
Iaomai is used here in this broader sense (BDAG 465 ) and is fairly frequent in the NT
(e.g., Matt 13:15; Luke 4:18; Acts 28:27; Heb 12:13; 1 Pet 2:25). In 2 Cor 12:5-10, Paul prays for a “thorn in the flesh” to be removed but God told him to bear this sickness, because His grace is made perfect in “weakness” (astheneia, used in both vv. 5 and 10). In other words, though never welcomed or enjoyed, suffering is not necessarily bad and, in fact, is to be expected as we faithfully proclaim the gospel because we will be attacked by Satanic forces. In fact, Paul’s illness afforded him an opportunity to preach the gospel in Galatia (4:13, “weakness of the flesh” specifies a physical illness, Gustav Stählin, “asthenēs, astheneia, ktl.,” TDNT 1:493). 92 E.g., Matt 10:8; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; 5:15; John 4:46; Acts 5:15; 9:37; 19:12, 1 9:12, etc. 93 Spicq, “kamnō,” TLNT 2:252. 94 Louw-Nida §23.142. 95 BDAG 506-7 (citing Wis 4:16; 15:9; Sib. Or. 3, 588); Spicq, TLNT 2:252 n. 3. Note also how Job describes himself poetically as approaching the grave: “I pray as I am dying [kamnōn] and what have I accomplished?” (Job 17:2; cf. 10:1). 91
26 implying that the illness is incapacitating96 and/or too urgent to be done in connection with a regular church gathering. gathering.97 The “elders” are not just older members but the appointed leaders of the church ch urch,,98 thus helping to reinforce the importance of a spiritual rather than merely a “medical” solution or family/folk remedy.99 The anointing itself, as the grammatical subordination of the action suggests, is to be done during the season of prayer, not before, 100 and serves to exclude the use of magical charms or incantations which were so common in the ancient world, even in Jewish circles. circles.101 In fact, early Christianity’s prevailing practice of prayer to God for healing contrasts sharply with the syncretistic and magical rites that came into the church in subsequent centuries:102 “Neither the prayer, nor the oil, nor the So Ralph P. Martin, James (WBC 48; Waco, Tx.: Word, 1988), 206. On the unusual expression ep’ auton, see Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 37A; New York: Doubleday, 1995), 332. There is no hint h int in the text that the laying on of hands was involved (Wilkinson, 256-57; pace John, “Anointing in the New Testament,” 55), an interpretation at least as early as Origen, Homily in Leviticus , 2.4, who includes “imponant ei manus” in quoting the verse. 97 Similarly, Davids, 192; Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid, James: True Religion in Suffering (The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier; Boise, Id.: Pacific Press, 1996), 212. 98 A church role analogous to the Jewish leaders in the local synagogue (Davids, 193; James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James [NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1976], 197) but distinctively Christian (contrast the more general reference to “assembly” synagōgē in 2:2; pace Maynard-Reid, 212-13). Besides frequent references to Jewish elders, presbyteroi also occurs in a technical Christian sense, both in Acts (11:30; 14:23; 20:17) and in other epistles e pistles (1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1, 5). 99 As Robert J. Karris, “Some New Angles on James 5:13-20,” Review and Expositor 97 (2000): 211 suggests, it also may point to the role of the church family as the primary means of support rather than the paterfamilias “who would dispense herbs and charms” (Ralph Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity [New York: Norton, 1997], 59 quoted by Karris on p. 210). 100 The participle is a contemporaneous aorist. See James Hardy Ropes, The Epistle of St. James (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1916), 305; Adamson, 197; pace Johnson, 331. 101 So also Ropes, 305; Adamson, 197. On magic and healing in the ancient world, see Howard Clark Kee, Medicine, Miracle and Magic in New Testament Times (SNTSMS 55; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Susan R. Garrett, Demise of the Devil: Magic and the Demonic in Luke’s Writings (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1989). 102 Compare the apostolic opposition to magic (Acts 13:6-12; 19:18-20) with the 96
27 name of the Lord spoken spoke n by the miracle worker work magically or automatically here, because the author expressly emphasizes that the Lord himself will lift the fallen one.”103 As we have seen, oil was commonly used medicinally in the ancient world but its role here in connection with w ith prayer follows closely the New Testament example of the apostles employing it for miraculous healing and is emblematic o f the power of the Spirit present through the kingdom ushered in by Jesus.104 The oil’s kingdom significance should not be too surprising in view v iew of the fact that already in the Old Testament oil in connection with anointing symbolizes the Spirit. Spirit.105 At the same time, the NT uses different Greek words in order to distinguish anointing by the Spirit for ministry (chriō) from the anointing of the sick for healing h ealing or of the dead for burial (aleiphō), the latter term being used here.106 However, regardless of what type of anointing is mentioned, the oil in itself represents divine power—in this case divine power for h ealing rather than any medicinal efficaciousness in the ritual, because the anointing is to be done “in the name of the Lord” (v. 14).107 increasingly “magical” understanding of the sacraments later on as well as Gallagher’s reference to the tendency of o f Christians to dabble in magic evident from the fourthcentury canons of the Synod of Elvira (Eugene V. Gallagher, “Magic,” EEC , 559-60). See also n. 46 above. 103 Seybold and Mueller, p. 187. 104 See above, pp. 13 and 21. 21. 105 The anointing of David and Saul with oil is connected with both divine and demonic spirit influence in 1 Sam 16 (on which see Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits, 26); likewise the coming Davidic king is anointed with the Spirit of God (Isa 61:1; Zech 4:6; cf. Dan 9:25). 106 John, “Anointing in the New Testament,” 59. Jesus was anointed (chriō) by the Spirit (Luke 4:18, quoting Isa 61:1; Acts A cts 4:27; 10:38; Heb 1:9), as are His followers (2 Cor 1:21; and, with the noun form chrisma, 1 John 2:20, 27 bis); but the body of Jesus was anointed (aleiphō) for burial (Mark 16:1; John 11:2; 12:3; cf. Luke 7:38, 46) and the apostles and elders anoint (aleiphō) the sick for healing (Mark 6:13; James 5:14). Interestingly, compound forms of chriō are used for anointing the blind with healing h ealing ointment (John 9:6, 11; Rev 3:18). On the later practice of anointing in connection with baptism, see n. 46 above. 107 Ingo Broer, “elaion,” EDNT 1: 425.
28 The prayer offered on behalf of the sick by the elders is to be a “prayer of faith” (v. 15). The word for prayer (euche) is used in the NT on ly here in this sense. sense.108 The un prefixed verb form (euchomai, possibly more literary)109 is used twice by Paul in the sense of intercessory prayer that the church may be restored “to moral and spiritual health” (2 Cor 13:7, 9).110 James is not suggesting that healing depends depend s only on the faith of the elders and not that of the person who is ill, because the sick person himself, rather than someone else on their behalf, must summon the elders. This does not mean that an anointing should not be done in the extreme situation that the sick person is unconscious or o r otherwise physically unable to do so. In fact, while miraculous healing in the Gospels and Acts almost always depends on the faith of the supplicants, one exception in Mark 2:1-12 is instructive.111 In view of the paralyzed man’s inability to come to Jesus for healing, his friends carry him there. Particular reference is made to “their faith” (v. 5), indicating that the faith of his friends, if not decisive, at least played an important role in the man’s healing. Likewise, elders of the church may “bring to Jesus” in prayer someone physically unable to request their
Its basic meaning is “wish” (cf. Spicq, euchomai, euchē , 2:152-54) but in the LXX often means “vow” (which is also the meaning in the other two occurrences occu rrences of the word in the NT: Acts 18:18; 21:23). On various forms of wish-prayers in Scripture, see Clinton Wahlen, “The Temple in Mark and a nd Contested Authority,” Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007): 251-52. 109 Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005), 923 n. 28. 110 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Seco nd Epistle to the Corinthians (HNTC; New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 339. 111 Other exceptions are the healing/exorcism miracles performed at a distance (Matt 8:5-13; 15:21-28), both times Jesus noting the remarkable faith of the one interceding for the distressed person (Matt 8:10; 15:28). In two other ca ses fathers beg Jesus to help their sons, but faith seems to be lacking; healing comes only after faith is clearly expressed (John 4:47-50; Mark 9:17-27). Even resurrections by Jesus, while no t strictly healings, also stress the role of faith for their accomplishment (Mark 5:36, 3 9-40; John 11:25-27, 39-40). 108
29 intercession. That the paralyzed man concurs conc urs with his friends’ efforts is clear from the fact that Jesus forgives his sins, which also finds a parallel in the assurance in James that “if he has committed sins it will be forgiven him” (5:15b). Finally, the “prayer of faith” mentioned by James is connected perhaps p erhaps also with the assurance found in the succeeding verse: “the effectual plea of a righteous person is powerful” (5:16), which is then illustrated by Elijah’s prayer of faith that brought three and a half years of drought followed by abundant rainfall (5:17-18).112 The result of the ritual, described in seemingly uncon ditional terms in v. 15, is that “the prayer of faith will save the sick.” James 5:15 uses a more general word for
sōsei) not heal (unlike v. 16).113 The possibility of healing is healing meaning “save” ( sōsei certainly implied, but no healing is explicitly promised. Rather the prayer offered in faith
will save save the sick and the Lord will raise him (or her) up. The use of egerei, which is commonly employed for resurrection from the dead as well as for Jesus resurrecting the saved at His return,114 ultimately refers to the resurrection. In fact, just a few verses later,
sōsei] him James reminds his readers that convincing a sinner to return to God will save [ sōsei from death (v. 20). Therefore, the probable reference in v. 15 is more likely not to a miraculous physical healing but to the eschatological gift of eternal life bestowed on the saved whose bodies will be glorified and who will be restored to perfect physical health at the second advent (1 Cor 15:40-44; Phil 3:21).
Cf. 1 Kgs 18:41-45. Karris, 215-16 draws attention to Giovanni G. Bottini La (La preghiera di Elia in Giacomo 5,17-8: Studio della tradizione biblica et giudaica. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Analecta 16 [Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1981], 172) , who notes a parallel idea in The Lives of the Prophets 21.4-5 (OTP, 2:396) and the significant OT background in Deut 11:13-17; cf. 1 Kgs 8:35-36; Luke 4:25. 113 The other four occurrences of sōzō sōzō in James refer clearly to eschatological salvation (1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20). So also Johnson, 332. 114 1 Cor 15:52 112
30 Even after all the conditions mentioned in James 5 are met—summoning the elders, praying and anointing in the name of the Lord, praying a prayer of faith, confession of sin to one another and praying for one another—it must be recognized that the NT nowhere gives a carte blanche guarantee for miraculous healing. There are some assurances given that sound as if we can be certain to receive whatever we pray for.115 However, such an assurance always assumes a submission to whatever God’s will is.116 A prayer offered in faith will always also be offered in submission to God’s will; otherwise it would be a prayer of presumption. Prayer, in itself, presupposes that the result depends more on God’s intervention than human h uman exertion. Nevertheless, a place remains for the human element, which apparently appa rently is indispensable or prayer would be meaningless.117 Perhaps the larger emphasis of the passage is on prayer rather than on the anointing an ointing itself specifically because the final outcome, whether o r not a person is physically healed, must ultimately be left with God. Conclusion In light of this biblical overview of prayer and anointing for healing, a number of points stand out. First and foremost, healing comes from God and therefore comprehends complete restoration of the person, physically, spiritually, and socially. Health includes not only physical well-being but peace, prosperity, purity of heart, holiness, and 115
E.g., Mark 11:24; John 14:13-14; John 16:23-24. This is made clear, e.g., in 1 John 5:14; cf. John 15:7. 15 :7. Note also the helpful corrective of Joel James Shuman and Keith G. Meado, Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine, and the Distortion of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 43: “whereas religion once taught its adherents to worship wo rship God, whether in sickness or in health…, religion now teaches its adherents to worship their de sire for health and to use God—whomever that may be—to facilitate that desire.” 117 Note the paradoxical nature of Jesus’ teaching: God knows what we need before we ask (Matt 6:32) but we are still supposed to ask (Matt 6:11; 7:7)! Cf. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 525: “It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask.” 116
31 obedience. Closely connected with health is the idea of separation from sin. While it is only exceptionally that disease comes as a direct judgment of God on sin, all disease is ultimately the result of sin, which helps to explain the occasional association between forgiveness and healing. Disease is a symptom of sin but it is not in itself sinful, nor does individual sin necessarily explain a particular disease. Sinful practices sometimes bring disease and rebellion against God leads to judgments in the form of disease and death. But repentance and forgiveness at their deepest level have to do with sin more than disease; and they ultimately guarantee the banishment of disease because, through the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom has removed sin’s power and sin’s sting and provided salvation. Prayer opens up the possibility for God to work in healing and making whole, sometimes directly but most often working through others to effect healing, including the cure of disease and physical restoration. Healing also depends very much on the supplicant’s response, including the confession of sin and repentance. Furthermore, it is available not only for Israel but even for those outside the covenant such as Naaman. This illustrates the essential role of faith which in the New Testament becomes the predominant element in miraculous healing: “According to your faith, let it be done for you” (Matt 9:29). The healing power of the kingdom is not limited by national or ethnic boundaries but flows freely to Gentiles, in some ways more freely to them than to the children of Abraham (Matt 8:10-11). The role of prayer underscores the fact that healing can never be commanded but is always subject to God’s will and occurs as the result of God’s mercy. Throughout history, various support systems and health care centers existed to
32 promote healing. To the ubiquitous folk healers with their remedies and “holy men” calling upon their gods, the Greco-Roman world added physicians with expertise in the then “modern” methods of healing. Mostly, however, these centers, healers, and doctors exhibited only limited medical success. Many and varied maladies are mentioned in the Gospels and Acts but these pose no hindrance to the advancing kingdom but actually serve to further the spread of the gospel through reports of divine healing. The power of God is at work through Jesus and His appointed representatives. Sometimes the people attribute magical qualities to things associated with their person but Scripture univocally credits all healing to the power and will of God rather than to any a ny human instrumentality. The healing work of Jesus manifests a new and special quality in that it takes place unmediated even by prayer, apparently flowing out of His unique relation to God as Son. Alongside these miraculous evidences of the kingdom’s onset is the clear indication that the Christian pathway is defined by the cross and marked by suffering. Following in the footsteps of Jesus leads to difficulties and “thorns in the flesh” which require abiding faith, patient endurance, and unwavering faithfulness. Thus, in the epistles, we find that many are not healed, not even Paul despite his persistent prayers. Suffering for Christ becomes a privilege and healing the notable exception when it serves to advance God’s kingdom intent. Healing from sin and freedom from fear of death is never far away and constitutes a far more important NT theme which finds its ultimate realization in the earth made new with a healed people and the tree of life with its healing leaves. Of the many ways in which oil was used in the Second Temple period, it rarely carried religious connotations. Throughout Scripture, though, its role is usually a spiritual one. It signals God’s calling, evidences divine blessing, and symbolizes the operation of
33 the Holy Spirit. The NT word for anointing most relevant for this study (aleiphō) is connected to healing and burial but not to baptism. The apostles healed the sick by anointing them with oil, not medicinally but by means of the kingdom power of o f the Spirit imparted by Jesus. Miraculous healings occur not as part of their mission but as an accompanying sign, witnessing to the truthfulness of their proclamation as eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and to their apostolic authority. Likewise in James, not healing but prayer and the spiritual role of the church through its elders is the focus. It is a prayer of faith that matters most, of the elders as well as of the person who appeals for their ministry on his or her behalf. Thus it is not the ritual itself but the spiritual reliance on God and His will that is effectual for healing. Furthermore, of greater weight than physical cure is the moral condition co ndition of the person which is prerequisite to healing, if not physically then in any case certainly and ultimately when raised to receive final salvation and the gift of eternal life. Complete healing only takes place at the second advent. God’s healers today may employ practical, medical means to effect physical cure but should also recognize that their work is not done until it takes care of the whole person, not just for this life but with eternity in view.118
Very helpful early on in the preparation of this study has been Ann Hamel, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and whose second dissertation is particularly relevant to this subject: “An Examination of Formational Prayer as a Theosomatic Approach to the Treatment of Trauma in Missionaries” (D.Min. diss.; Ashland Theological Seminary, 2007). The holism of the Bible’s concept of health and healing is increasingly recognized, including in more popular and practical treatments of the subject. See, e.g., Francis MacNutt, The Prayer that Heals (Notre Dame: Ave Maria, 1981); also helpful (despite a less biblical approach to spiritual warfare) is Charles Kraft, Deep Wounds, Deep Healing (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1993). A classic treatment of healing from a holistic biblical perspective is Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1942).
Appendix Jesus’ Miracles of Healing, Exorcism, and Resurrection Categor Cate gory y
Descript Desc ription ion
Referen Refe rence(s ce(s))
Means Mean s
Blindness 1. 2. 3. 4.
At Bethsaida Bartimaeus Man born blind Two blind men
Mark 8:22-26 Matt 20:29-34//Mark 10:46-52/Luke 18:35-43 John 9:1-41 Matt 9:27-31
saliva, touch touch//word saliva mud, word, water touch, word
Leprosy 1. 2.
Man full of leprosy Ten lepers
Matt 8:1-4/Mark 1:40-45/Luke 5:12-16 Luke 17:11-19
touch, word word
Miscellaneous Infirmities 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 1 0. 1 1.
Paralyzed man Crippled man Man with withered hand Woman bent over Ill slave of a centurion Severely ill son Moth Mother er-i -inn-la law w with with feve feverr Woman with flow of blood Deaf and mute man Man with dropsy (edema) Man with severed ear
Matt 9:1-8/Mark 2:1-12/Luke 5:17-26 John 5:1-9 Matt 12:9-14/Mark 3:1-6/Luke 6:6-11 Luke 13:10-17 Matt 8:5-13/Luke 7:1-10 John 4:46-54a Matt Matt 8:14 8:14-1 -15/ 5/Ma Mark rk 1:29 1:29-3 -31/ 1//L /Luk ukee 4:38 4:38-3 -39 9 Matt 9:20-22/Mark 5:25-34/Luke 8:43-48 Mark 7:31-37 Luke 14:1-6 Luke 22:50-51
word word word word, touch (distant) word/unstated (distant) word touc touch/ h//w /wor ord d fringe touched touch, saliva, word touch touch
Demon Possession 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
In Capernaum Synagogue After the Sabbath Near Gerasa Epileptic boy Mute man Mute man//and blind Mary Magdalene Syrophoenician woman
Mark 1:23-28/Luke 4:33-37 Matt 8:16-17/Mark 1:32-34/Luke 4:40-41 Matt 8:28-34/Mark 5:1-20/Luke 8:26-39 Matt 17:14-21/Mark 9:14-29/Luke 9:37-43a Matt 9:32-34 b Luke 11:14-16//Matt 12:22-23 Mark 16:9/Luke 8:2 Matt 15:21-28/Mark 7:24-30
word word/unstated/touch word word unstated unstated unstated (distant) word
Raising the Dead 1.
Widow’s son at Nain Lazarus
Mark 5:21-24, 35-43/Luke 8:40-42, 49-56// Matt 9:18-19, 23-26 Luke 7:11-17 John 11:1-44
touch, word// touch touch, word [prayer]c/word
While some consider the stories of the healing of the royal official’s son in John 4:46-54 and the healing of the centurion’s slave in Matt 8:5-13/Luke 7:1-10 to derive originally from a single event, there are sufficient differences to suggest otherwise (see Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, 1:631-32). b The description of the healing in Matt 9:32-34 is so similar to the healing narrated in Matt 12:22-23 that some consider the former to be a “doublet” (on which see France, The Gospel of Matthew, 368-69). c Prayer, while not narrated, is referred to in John 11:41.