Today in the Church what is known as “healing prayer” to God on behalf of the sick is commonly practiced, that is, asking God to heal the sick and then leaving the results up to Him with no further action on our part other than “trusting” Him. Was such prayer practiced in the gospels and in Acts by the disciples?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly to most Christians, is “no.” The gospels record neither Jesus nor his disciples “praying for the sick and leaving the results up to God” as the Church does today. But because Jesus had authority and power over diseases, he did not need to pray and ask his Father in heaven to heal the sick. Rather Jesus healed the sick miraculously.
Then Jesus gave a measure of this miraculous healing power and authority to his disciples, sending them out to proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost and to heal the sick—not to pray for the sick as we do traditionally today.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1-2)
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:1 & 9)
This authority was exercised by the disciples generally by issuing commands to infirmities, sick people, and demons in the name of Jesus Christ. As with Jesus, the healing power was transferred to the infirm through the laying on of hands or by physical contact.
A study of Acts reveals that the disciples continued to minister healing to the sick in predominantly the same way during the new dispensation. They did not simply pray for the sick, but rather the sick were healed when they exercised the authority and power the Lord had given them in the time of the gospels. In addition to the use of authority and power, the very different gift of healing was on occasion also in operation, for example, through Peter’s shadow in Acts 5.
In Acts there is recorded an instance of prayer when Paul ministered to the sick.
Acts 28:8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.
A closer look at this passage tells us that while Paul did in fact pray, the gentleman was not actually healed until afterwards when Paul laid his hands on him for the Lord’s power to touch him. This is the closest we get to traditional healing prayer—meaning, only prayer alone—recorded in the gospels and Acts.
We can reasonably conclude that traditional healing prayer to God alone on behalf of the sick as is done today was not a familiar practice in the gospels and Acts. Perhaps it was even foreign to those early disciples since we do not see any instance of traditional “healing prayer” either in the gospels or in Acts. Where then could it have originated?
We of course refer to James 5:14-16.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16)
The practice of “healing prayer”—so prevalent in the church today—is based on this passage.
But notice that James teaches us to “pray over” sick believers, and not to “pray for” them as is done traditionally in the church. What exactly did James mean by “pray over?”
To answer this question, let us note that James, whoever he may have been—whether the younger brother of Jesus or another James who lived much later—never claimed to have received a new revelation about ministering to the sick which Jesus never taught. He never claimed that the Church had entered a “new dispensation” with regard to ministering healing to infirm believers. Therefore what he taught about this practice must have been based on what he learned from Jesus or on what Jesus taught in the gospels. And we have already seen that Jesus never taught traditional healing prayer, but rather laying hands over the sick with power and speaking over them with authority.
Therefore we can reasonably conclude that with “praying over” James was not teaching traditional healing prayer, but rather the use of the power and authority which Jesus entrusted to his disciples in the gospels.
Time after time we have witnessed that when infirm believers are prayed over in this way with power and authority in the name of Jesus, miraculous healings take place often immediately. But when they are prayed for according to the tradition of the Church, there is almost never any such miracle to speak of.
Mark 7:1-13 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus (2) and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (3) (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. (4) When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) (5) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (6) He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (7) They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ (8) You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (9) And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (10) For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ (11) But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)– (12) then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. (13) Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
For more convincing and complete study on this, please click on Ministry to Sick Believers in the Context of the Body of Christ according to James 5.