Here we will study how to minister healing not in the evangelistic context of sharing the gospel with the lost, but rather in the more familiar context of building up the body of Christ. Ministering healing to believers is generally based on teaching from James 5:14-16.
Who was the author of this epistle? Scholars tell us it was either James the younger brother of Jesus or a James who lived much later. If the author was in fact the younger brother of Jesus, then we can assume, not unreasonably, that James learned about healing directly or indirectly through the ministry of his older brother Jesus. If the author was in fact someone who lived much later, we can assume that his epistle was based on inspired understanding gleaned from earlier teachings, writings, and Scriptures. Whoever was the author of this epistle, he wrote it to encourage believers to continue in the teaching handed down by Jesus Christ.
So how did Jesus teach his disciples to minister to the sick? He never taught them to pray for the sick as is done traditionally in almost every church today. Rather he taught them to heal the sick by laying hands over them and exercising the authority he had given them over infirmities.
In light of this, let’s look at the instructions given by James.
James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Notice that James specifically said “pray over” the sick, and not “pray for” the sick. Let us see whether or not this two terms are equivalent by looking at the Greek prepositions translated as “over” and “for” in English. We will see that praying over the sick is not the same as praying for or on behalf of the sick.
“Pray over him” in Greek is “Προσευξασθωσαν ἐπί αυτον.”
Here is what a Bible dictionary says about the preposition ἐπί which is pronounced “epi”.
ἐπί: superimposition (of time, place, order, etc.); of direction (with the object in the accusative case) meaning “over, upon, towards,” etc.
Now, the object of ἐπί is “αυτον” which means “him.” And this object “αυτον” is indeed in the accusative case. By contrast, the Greek word “υπερ” translated “for” as in “pray for” indeed means “on behalf of.” So what could James have meant by “pray over”?
Could praying over the sick be identical to what Jesus taught, which was speaking over the infirm with authority and laying hands over them? We have seen that ministry to the infirm as Jesus taught his disciples in the gospels was very similar to how the sick were healed in Acts. In both they ministered to the sick with authority and power. Why should healing in the gospels and in Acts be so different from what it was in the time of James and today? Apart from the doctrine of cessationism which teaches that the Lord no longer uses his disciples in the miraculous as he did in the gospels and in Acts, there is no valid reason for it. So how did James get this “new” teaching about ministering healing which was never mentioned by Jesus?
Did James ever claim to have received a new and previously unknown revelation about ministry to the sick—as Paul claimed with regarding to his understanding of grace which he received directly from the Lord? No, Scripture does not tell us that James received some new revelation about healing. We conclude that what James taught about healing in this chapter he learned from his older brother Jesus, whether directly or indirectly. When he taught praying over the sick, he meant speakingover them with authority and laying hands over them—exactly as practiced and taught by Jesus.
James 5:15a And the prayer of FAITH will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
First of all, do we detect any doubt here that the Lord will heal the sick person with the prayer of faith by the elders? No. Therefore the kind of faith taught by James here includes faith of God. Thus praying over the sick with the “prayer of faith” includes the use of power and authority with mountain-moving faith or faith of God as taught by Jesus.
Both the one ministering healing as well as the sick believer must have faith
James 1:6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
Mark 11:24 …Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
However, there is an important condition for the believer to be healed.
James 5:15b And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
The condition is that, as believers who are accountable, our sins must first be forgiven.
Our sins can be forgiven by confessing our trespasses to one another.
16a Therefore confess your trespasses to one another…
Confessing our trespasses to one another can result in reconciliation.
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
This is what we should do if someone has something against us, and we want to be healed of a physical infirmity. We confess our sins to one another. But what if you hold something against someone else?
Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
When we confess our trespasses to one another and are reconciled to one another by forgiving one another, then God will forgive us, and then we can be healed through the prayer of faith.
James 5:16b and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Why is it “pray for” here, but earlier in verse 14 it is “pray over”? Let’s examine this…
The Greek text has “ευχεσθε υπερ αλληλων” which means “pray for one another.” But according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon, the Greek preposition ὑπέρ here (pronounced “huper”) can also mean “over” when its object is in the genitive case. In such a case it can be translated “of place, above, beyond, across….”
The object of the preposition υπερ above is αλληλων, and this object is in fact in the genitive case. Therefore a valid translation of James 5:16b is also “pray over one another.” A case therefore can be made that in both James 5:14 and 16, James is teaching “praying over the sick,” and not simply “praying for the sick” as is traditionally taught and done. Moreover, we do of course pray for one another within the body of Christ regarding our various needs. But for miraculous healing from the Lord, we pray over one another with power and authority as Jesus taught in the gospels.
When the sick are “prayed for” in the traditional manner, the results are at best uncertain as we have all experienced. But when they are also prayed over as Jesus did and taught his disciples, the results are very often immediate and miraculous.
James 5:14-16 is not instructing us in the operation of a special gift of healing which not every believer has. Instead, James is explaining how any scripturally-qualified elder can minister healing to infirm believers by anointing them with oil and the exercise of authority over their infirmities with faith of God.
We are convinced that the Church has misinterpreted James’ instructions in James 5:14-16 for ministering to the sick. As a result, when we pray for the sick in the traditional way we almost always do not witness any miraculous healing taking place. But when we pray over the sick as Jesus and his disciples did, we will often see the sick miraculous delivered and raised up by the Lord.
What about the “powerful and effective prayer” of Elijah the righteous man?
James 5:16b The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
Now exactly how did Elijah pray as mentioned in verse 18 here?
1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
The Hebrew for “word” here is “dabar” which occurs 13 times in the Old Testament in connection with some word, thing or action which is commanded. According to Strong’s “dabar” or “word” can also be translated “commandment”.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible renders 1 Kings 17:1 as: “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, I stand before Him, and there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!”
Therefore when Elijah “prayed,” he actually exercised authority by issuing a command. Exactly how did Elijah “pray” for the rain to fall?
1 Kings 18:42 “…Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” 44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
In verse 42 we see Elijah at the top of Carmel bending down and putting his face between his knees. It is not clear exactly what he is doing. Some might conclude that he is praying. Whatever the case, the rain does not begin to fall until he actually orders his servant to “go and look toward the sea.” Moreover, Elijah had to persevere, issuing a total of eight commands to his servant before the rain actually fell.
Therefore exactly what did James mean when he wrote in James 5:18: “Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops”? The “prayer” of Elijah which brought the rain was actually an authoritative command to his servant.
Therefore when James uses the “prayer” of Elijah as an example to follow for praying over the sick as taught earlier in the chapter, he is actually teaching the use of authoritative commands to the infirmity or the sick person. We also see that perseverance can be a very important factor when exercising authority while ministering to the sick.
In conclusion, James was not teaching traditional prayer for the sick as we know it. Rather he was teaching the use of authoritative commands as Jesus did and as he taught his disciples in the gospels.