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.Back to ministering healing to infirm believers

Perhaps since the time of the Early Church the body of Christ has not had an effective and balanced understanding of how to minister healing to the infirm. Current understanding of healing primarily focuses on two approaches. The first is the teaching taken from James 5:14-16. The second utilizes the gift of healing listed in 1 Corinthians 12.

James 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)

James gave these instructions to the Church on how to minister healing to believers. The elders were to be called; they were to pray over the sick person and to anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. Then in verse 15 comes a declaration that should amaze most evangelical believers—the “prayer offered in faith” will bring healing; the Lord will arouse him from the infirmity. This is amazing because it seldom accords with the experience of our present-day Church with regarding to healing. More often than not, the sick are not healed when James 5 is applied according to prevailing understanding. When on occasion the healing does take place, it is usually not instantaneous and could lead to doubt that God actually intervened supernaturally to heal. For the most part, the Church has “by faith” turned a blind eye to this inconsistency between current understanding of the teaching from James and actual experience. Often “God’s will” will be cited to explain why miraculous healings do not quite occur as they are described or taught in Scripture. It can also be argued with some validity that infirm believers are not healed because they have not confessed their sins according to verse 16. But this cannot explain the inconsistency in its entirety. Some have indeed confessed their sins, but remain unhealed. This teaching taken from James 5 is most often applied in non-charismatic evangelical settings.

In Pentecostal or charismatic circles, while James 5 is acknowledged, the gift (or gifts) of healing as taught in 1 Corinthians 12 may carry greater weight as a means of ministering healing. From time to time we hear of outstanding miracles taking place in this way, especially in large events held by specially-gifted evangelists. Not every believer, however, has been given this gift of the Holy Spirit; in fact there appear to be relatively few. (Some enterprising charismatic ministers who do have this gift in great measure have turned it into fame and luxurious lifestyles befitting celebrities.) Because few appear to have this gift to any appreciable extent, miraculous healings of “New Testament” caliber are also relatively rare in charismatic churches as well.

In contrast, frequent supernatural healings are recorded in the Book of Acts. Is there a way by which we can explain this difference other than resorting to cessationism which teaches that the age of miracles ceased after the original apostles passed on?

Authorship of the Epistle of James is traditionally attributed to James, the younger brother of Jesus. If this is true then we can assume, not unreasonably, that James learned about healing directly from his older brother Jesus while He was ministering on earth. However, there are scholars who have noted that the cultured Greek found in the epistle could not be from the brother of Jesus who was a simple Palestinian. 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 the epistles, he wrote it to encourage believers to continue in the teaching handed down by Jesus Christ. Let us therefore examine in the gospels how Jesus taught His disciples to minister healing to the sick. It can be shown clearly that this same teaching was later carried over and applied in the ministry of the disciples as recorded in Acts. Today the Church is still living in the same dispensation of Acts.

Mark 6:7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. …12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

The practice of anointing with oil as taught by James in James 5 may have originated with Jesus himself who taught and sent the disciples out to anoint the sick with oil as they preached repentance to the lost. It is important to note that Mark 6:13 above clearly states that the disciples “healed them” in this way; it is not recorded that they actually prayed for sick people. In fact, nowhere in the gospels did Jesus command the disciples to pray for the sick. He always commanded them to heal the sick.

Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Luke 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’

Thus we see clearly from Mark 6 that Jesus taught his disciples to anoint the sick with oil, to heal them as well as to cast out demons. Perhaps this offers a tantalizing clue as to the correct interpretation of James’ teaching in his .

In Mark 6, Jesus taught anointing with oil and healing the sick. In James 5, James taught anointing with oil and praying over the sick. It cannot be explained persuasively why James would alter what he learned from Jesus (or from earlier writings) and teach something different to the Church. It is far more likely that he taught the same thing. Therefore it is possible that “praying over” the sick is not the same as “praying for” the sick, but actually means healing the sick as taught by Jesus. The Greek prepositions translated “over” and “for” can differ in meaning.

The word translated “over” is from the Greek word epi. It is a preposition that is almost always found to describe the relative physical position between two objects: over, upon, on, at, by, before, of position, against, or across. For example, in the expression to “lay hands on the sick,” the Greek preposition used is epi, the same one used in the expression to “pray over.” In contrast, the Greek preposition huper (as used in to “pray for”) can mean “on behalf of” or “for the sake of.” That is exactly what we do when we pray to the Lord for someone else. However, when the object of the preposition huper is in the genitive case, then according to Strong’s Dictionary the phrase can be translated “pray over” as well. In this particular instance the object of the preposition—(pray for) “each other”—is in fact in the genitive case. Therefore even in James 5:16 the expression can be rendered “pray over each other.”

(However we may want to translate the Greek word huper in verse 16—whether “for” or “over”—we can all agree that believers should be praying to the Lord for one another needs. That is totally separate from the matter of physical healing for a sick believer.)

Jesus taught his disciples to heal the sick by laying hands on them or, as the Greek allows, by laying hands over them. When James taught about “praying over” the sick, he may in part have been referring to laying hands on the sick as he himself might have been taught by Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus also taught his disciples to speak authoritative commands over the infirm to heal them. If they gave the commands with mountain-moving faith, the diseases and demons would go and the sick would be healed.

Matthew 17:20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Thus when James spoke of “the prayer offered in faith” in verse 15, it is possible he was referring to the “mountain-moving faith” which he learned from Jesus or from the gospels.

James 5:15 And the prayer offered in [mountain-moving] faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (phrase in brackets added by me)

When authoritative commands are given with mountain-moving faith, there is an expectation that diseases and demons will obey. James does not appear to allow much wiggle room of the sort that current teaching allows for the sick not to be healed. We are not at all saying that every infirm person is going to be healed. That extreme scenario usually does not come to pass. But we are pointing out the wide chasm that now exists between James’ teaching on healing the sick and the disappointing results we see in the Church today.

We conclude that James did not simply teach praying for the sick, he taught praying over the sick: healing the sick as he himself may have seen Jesus do. If we understand James’ teaching in this way and then apply it to ministering to the sick, we will witness many miraculous healings taking place as predicted by James 5:15.

There is no persuasive argument apart from cessationism to support the thesis that healing the sick in the gospels and in Acts should be so radically different from the practice of healing in the Church today. Rather it can be shown clearly from Scripture that what Jesus taught His disciples about healing in the gospels was also applied by them in the period of the Book of Acts, especially by the apostle Peter. Today, nearly two thousand years later, the Church is still living in the very same dispensation of Acts. Therefore we should still be healing the sick today as Jesus taught His disciples in the gospels. (Note: Before infirm believers today can be healed, they must confess their sins as James taught. Moreover, prayer for sick believers can also accompany praying over them.)

There was, however, one major addition beginning on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended. When He came to fill the disciples, among other things He brought to them the gifts of the Spirit, including the gifts of healing. In Acts there were manifestations of this gift, for example, the miraculous healings associated with Peter’s shadow in Acts 5:15-16. Apart from this, however, the disciples in Acts continued to heal the sick as Jesus had taught: the issuing of authoritative commands accompanied at times by the laying on of hands.

When the Church can understand the teaching of James 5 in the light of what James learned about healing from Jesus Himself or from earlier writings, then we will begin to see the sick healed regularly. This will take place whether the context of the healing ministry is building up the body of Christ or in the very different context of proclaiming the Kingdom of God to the lost. For us in The Elijah Challenge, the more important context is the evangelistic one of preaching the gospel to the lost. In front of the lost the Lord may perform the miracles more quickly, powerfully, and dramatically in order to draw their attention to the One who has authority to forgive sin and grant eternal life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.