Does God Always Heal Physical and Spiritual?
As you lay sick in bed, you ask yourself does God always heal today? You turn on the early morning TV evangelist show and the speaker says, “Jeeeeeee-sus doesn’t want you sick!” The TV evangelist says as he nearly pokes his index finger through the camera lens. “When the devil comes to your door with disease, you just reeeeee-buke him in the name of Jeeeee-sus and the foul spirits will fa-leeeeeee!”
The closing theme music begins to play as the camera moves in for a close up and he continues to say, “So, fa-riends, if you want to be permanently free from all diseases, write today. And for just a small donation of twenty-five dollars or more, I’ll send you my latest book on how to…”
You take another Vitamin C and reach for a tissue as you change the channel and utter, “I wish getting over the flu was as simple as commanding, “Come out, foul spirits of post nasal drip!”
As we study God’s Word, we are compelled to believe in divine healing. Psalms 103:3 reads, “The Lord forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” And 1Peter 2:24 says, Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” But as I study God’s Word, I realise there is more to these scriptures and more to just standing firm in faith believing you will be healed, and there are also those whose methods are undesirable.
There are those who are constantly casting out demons of asthma, blindness, cancer, diabetes, emphysema, flu, gout, heart attack and the rest of the anatomical alphabet
Romans 8:18-22 clearly points out that illness in general is a result of the fall and the human sin condition. But Matthew 4:24, 10:1 and 10:8 reveal that individual illnesses are not satanically inspired. Matthew makes a clear distinction between dealing with diseases and demon activity.
There are those who promise healing for every disease
The Apostle Paul definitely had the gift of healing. Acts 19:11-12 reads, “God was performing unusual miracles through Paul. Even handkerchiefs and aprons he had used were taken to the sick, and their diseases were driven away, and the evil spirits would go out of them.” Acts 20:9-12 states he even raised the dead! However, even though Paul was performing incredible miracles, God did not always answer his own prayers for physical healing. Paul advised Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” 1Timothy 5:23. In 2Timothy 4:20 we read that Paul “left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” And his three prayers for his “thorn in the flesh” were not answered with physical healing, 2Corinthians 12:7-10. So does God always heal?
There are those who use healing for fundraising
There is not one single occurrence in the Gospels or the book of Acts of any money being exchanged or donated during a healing. Instead, when Simon, a recent convert and ex-sorcerer, asked to buy the Holy Spirit’s power to work miracles, Peter says, “May your money perish with you because you thought you could obtain God’s free gift with money! You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart isn’t right before God.” Acts 8:20-21. Yet despite this clear warning, we hear that recently, a famous faith healer boasted of making five million dollars annually from his healing ministry. This is certainly very different from Peter and John, who had no silver or gold, when they healed the man crippled from birth. Acts 3:6 reads, “However, Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold, but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, walk!”
There are those who make healing the focus of their public ministry
Thirty-seven accounts of healing are detailed in the Gospels and Acts. Only ten occurred with a crowd present. Twelve occurred in small groups and fifteen in private settings. Rarely today do we hear Christ’s reproof to the healed, “Don’t tell anyone!” Instead, we have weekly television programs featuring healing services, and monthly mailings with a plague of pictures of the healer. Speaking with tongues is also often pushed as if it is the only spiritual gift. Genuine healers will be more concerned about God’s kingdom being built up than their own. Jesus said in John 10:38, “Even though you don’t believe me, believe the miracles, that you may learn and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” The Apostle John wrote that the purpose of miracles is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31. If being healed draws attention to God and advances His kingdom, you could be healed. But if like the Apostle Paul, God can be glorified through emotional and spiritual, but not bodily healing, He may choose not to heal physically. Regardless of all this, it is His kingdom’s advancement that must always be the focus.
And last, there are those who criticise medical treatment
The Bible shows the positive role of physicians and medicines. Physicians were needed in biblical times as they are needed now. Obviously they had limited knowledge, but the knowledge they had was used. And it was not just that they externally set bones and bandaged wounds. The following shows that there was knowledge and use of medicine and physicians without condemnation. See Job 13:4, Isaiah 1:6 and Jeremiah 8:22, 30:12-13, 46:11, Ezekiel 27:17 for some Old Testament examples.
In the New Testament there are various references to medicines and medical assistance. One of Jesus’ parables tells of a Samaritan traveller who “poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them” Luke 10:25-37. It seems there was nothing unusual about this and at the time it was a way of helping the healing process. Why would Jesus use this example of physical help if there was something intrinsically wrong with treating and binding up wounds? We might also ask why Jesus would use the following analogy of spiritual healing if there is something inherently evil or bad about medical practitioners and their work. Jesus also said in Luke 5:31 “Jesus answered them, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick.” The comparison is with what Christ was doing spiritually. Verse 32 goes on to say, “I have not come to call righteous people, but sinners, to repentance.” As doctors help the body overcome the effects of physical disease, so Jesus provides healing for the human spirit. But there is no suggestion here that doctors should be avoided. In fact quite the opposite, it implies they do something good.
We must acknowledge however, that there is a story in three of the gospels that shows sometimes physicians can do little if anything to help. In one example Jesus healed a woman who had suffered much from many physicians. Mark 5:26 reads, “Although she had endured a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all of her money, she had not been helped at all but rather grew worse.” Here we see that God is able to heal when people can do nothing to help. At the same time we should take careful note that Paul travelled with Luke, whom he named, “the beloved physician”. Paul did not refer to him as a “former physician”. Doctors are only human and hence still make mistakes even today. We should ask God for guidance over the doctors we use.
A very interesting outcome is seen with a king who was told from God he would die from his sickness but God changed his mind and healed in mercy. In 2Kings 20:1, Hezekiah was told he was, “sick and near death”. Isaiah was sent to him with God’s message after the king had turned to God for help. Isaiah said in 2Kings 20:5, “I, the LORD, the God of your ancestor David, have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and in three days you will go to the Temple. I will let you live fifteen years longer. I will rescue you and this city Jerusalem from the emperor of Assyria. I will defend this city, for the sake of my own honor and because of the promise I made to my servant David.” The one additional fact to be noted in this instance is that verse 7 goes on to say, “Then Isaiah told the king’s attendants to put on his boil a paste made of figs, and he would get well.” Here we have a combination of approaching God, answered prayer, and a physical remedy with recovery. The use of a remedy is interesting in itself. Why not just heal the king? This shows that sometimes even when divine healing is taking place physical intervention can be used.
Centuries later Paul gave Timothy advice about caring for his health in certain ways. Paul wrote in 1Timothy 5:23, “Stop drinking only water, but use a little wine for your stomach because of your frequent illnesses.” Paul is saying that some wine can physical help with some illnesses. The same would be true for all types of physical help. Note that Paul is giving medical advice and not healing. Why is this? What would the proponents of the “name it and claim it” word of faith healing movement have to say to Paul about his medicinal advice? After all, Paul would have to be one of the greatest men of faith.
Common sense must prevail in that medical help is indeed essential at times. For example in accidents, pain relief or childbirth. Rachel died in giving birth to Benjamin. Genesis 35:19. If you were in a car accident and bleeding to death would you let the ambulance take you to hospital or would you refuse and wait on God? The fact is that God does heal in situations when there has been no medical help and also when there has been and continues to do so. It’s also fact that He does not always heal immediately, and sometimes He doesn’t heal at all and and they await the resurrection. See what happens when you die.
The medical profession today is capable of many procedures that it was not in earlier times. This is a fact that makes the judgment of what we should do in various circumstances a far more complex issue than it used to be. Not all procedures are wise and some results clearly show that. Second opinions are often wise and advisable. God’s wisdom is clearly necessary to guide us through the maze of options. Obviously, if there is no medical help available and we are in an emergency health situation, we should pray for God’s help and get the medical help we need when available. For those who are reluctant to use doctors or they have not been able to help or even diagnose the problem, allow me to recommend an excellent alternative in a natural Christian health retreat that has helped people from all over the world called Living Valley Springs health retreat.
God has given us wisdom to understand these remarkable and wonderfully made bodies and it is only logical for us to treat our bodies well and to take advantage of the medical knowledge and treatments our world possesses. Also, if we have been supernaturally healed, it should be humanly verified. Often when Jesus healed leprosy and other diseases, he ordered them to go the priests, who served as the public health officers of the day to have the healing verified. Therefore, if you believe you have been healed, do not make any changes in your activities or medications until a doctor can verify the healing. Very sadly, there are tales of diabetics who believed they were healed and pigged out on junk food to celebrate their miracle, and immediately went into a near fatal insulin coma. In conclusion, there are faith healers and there are fake healers.
There are fake healers that use actors in the audience. Some have mastered psychological techniques to make people believe they have been healed. Others use people’s normal remission of disease as proof of their healing powers. Some have even performed real miracles using satanic power. Matthew 24:24 warns that “false christs and false prophets will appear and display great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” But the Holy Spirit will help us discern those who are using human or satanic powers to accomplish healings with two simple questions.
- Who is getting the blame for the sickness? If demons are getting all the blame and nothing else, he or she is probably not legitimate.
- Who is getting the credit for the healing? From Sarah giving birth to Isaac at ninety years of age to the dead who are raised in the book of Revelation, God and His power must always be the focus. Not the healer or the healed.
So the questions remain, does God always heal or does God heal today? There is no doubt we serve an awesome, loving and merciful God who continues to perform many miracles, but what we are going to look at here is whether they are as prevalent today as they were in the first century and misunderstood scriptures in reference to healing. I hope you will read on with an open mind and look at all aspects of this topic like the Bereans would, “...every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if those things were so.” Acts 17:11. The Bible translations used here are King James, Good News Bible, and the International Standard Version.
Physical healing or Spiritual?
This topic is covered in more detail later but I have included the following article in italics from CRI, which covers the subject very well while reinforcing the very reason for this document. This article is “Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute” and we are grateful for allowing its use.
First Peter 2:24 says of Christ, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
One of the primary rules of biblical interpretation which must never be violated is context. What is the context in 1 Peter 2? Answer: salvation. There is no way to interpret it in any other sense. The verse is talking about Jesus on the cross dying for us, enduring punishment and bearing our sins, thereby providing salvation for us.
When certain people get hold of this passage, however, they change the context from salvation to physical healing. Every time such people see the word “heal” in the Bible they assume it refers to the miracle of divine healing for the body, regardless of whether the context indicates otherwise.
A number of times in Scripture the word healing has specific reference to spiritual healing. There are diseases of the soul that have to be healed and the primary disease of the soul is man’s unregenerate state, which is rooted in sin. The good news is that God has provided healing for this disease of the soul. And that is what Peter is talking about in 1 Peter 2:24. He is not saying that physical healing of the body is guaranteed to every believer.
Certainly, healing for the body is a benefit of Christ’s death on the cross, a benefit for the church as a result of His atoning sacrifice. However, it is not it has never been in the history of the church a guarantee that God has to heal your body; He doesn’t have to!
God does say He will graciously entertain our prayers. He says that if we exercise faith, and if our request is in accordance with His will, He will hear us. But He never said that the mark of true spirituality is that you would never sneeze.
Some within the church will try to tell you, “God’s perfect will is that you are never going to be sick.” Well, I’ll tell you something: there are certain lessons if you are honest that you’ll admit you never would have learned unless the Lord flattened you out long enough to get your attention. Sometimes God teaches us things through our suffering.
Moreover, I must say that sometimes a person, after praying for a healing, may receive a no from God a benevolent no, a kindly no, a protective no maybe, but no nevertheless. Tragically, however, there are teachers in the Faith movement, for example who have the colossal gall to tell people that if they were more spiritual, if they had more faith, if they believed like they believed, they would be well. Such faulty teaching can crush whatever faith these poor people have.
Now, I believe you should go to the Lord and believe Him for healing, and trust Him for healing, and pursue Him for healing. And I believe you should search your soul to make certain there is nothing in your life standing in the way of healing. But you must come to Him and lay yourself out on His conditions. The Scripture says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). If perhaps God intends to teach you something through an illness, He might not heal you immediately.
So don’t think you are being neglected by the Holy Spirit if you don’t get healed. Don’t assume that the Lord is against you. Don’t conclude that you necessarily have an absence of faith or secret sin.
Take a good look at 1 Peter 2:21: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Circle the word example in this verse. Here we are told that Jesus suffered. And He left us an example. We are to follow in His steps.
And what is the meaning of Philippians 3:10, which refers to “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”? Let us be clear on this: suffering is an integral part of the fact of life, and is often used by God in the development and maturation of the Christian.
The apostle Paul had a greater standing with the Lord in terms of his ministry than I have or anybody else has ever had. According to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul requested healing from the Lord three times. And three times he got an answer back: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Translation: God said no to Paul’s request for healing. And God had a purpose in saying no.
Did Paul have lack of faith? Rubbish! Was Paul suffering from some secret sin that he was carrying around? Do you see how utterly absurd this is? Do you see how it plays on people’s emotions and lives? Do you see how it undermines faith in the absolute authority of Scripture and transfers it to a human being whose experience becomes the criteria?
This type of teaching eats like a cancer in the body of Christ and it must be resisted and opposed at every opportunity so that Christians will not have a cloud hanging over their heads all the time. Instead, they will realize that Jesus really does love them (despite their illness) and that any healing that may come is in His sovereign hands, not ours.
The three views on Healing and the Atonement
The most controversial issue centred on the topic of “does God always heal today”, is whether physical healing is in the Atonement. There are at least three major theories on healing and the atonement. I believe only one of them is really true to God’s word and most importantly will give us an adequate framework to build a healing ministry in which we can minister holistically to everyone involved. Because the others are so prevalent and widely taught, however, it is important to understand them as well.
Before discussing these three different theories, we should clarify exactly what is meant by healing being “in the atonement,” just to make sure we are talking about the same thing. First of all, the primary issue at stake here is physical healing, not spiritual, emotional, or other types of healing (although these issues are related). Secondly, the atonement refers to God’s saving work for humanity through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. So, when the question is asked, “Is healing in the atonement?” the question we are actually asking is, “Is physical healing guaranteed to followers of Christ as a result of his reconciling work in the same way that spiritual healing is guaranteed?” Having more adequately defined the question, let’s consider the three theories.
The first theory we will discuss is that healing is not in the atonement. That is not to say that proponents of this view believe that physical healing does not occur. They believe it is in no way guaranteed by the work of Christ. When healing does occur, it is an “uncovenanted mercy.” God has not promised us that it would occur and he is not obligated to heal. He simply has mercy, or reasons we do not understand, and sometimes heals someone when it is His will. One of the assumptions behind this theory is that people are divided into components; spiritual, physical, emotional, etc. The atonement is thus seen as having significance and saving power for our spiritual component only (by forgiveness of sins), which has already taken place through faith.
The main problem with this theory is that it does not really explain to people why only some are healed. Healing is seen just as a mysterious, seemingly random act of love contained in “God’s sovereignty.” While it is indeed an act of love on God’s behalf, we are left with an image of a God who is capricious and unfair. People may think, “He healed Jane, but not me!” or “Why did Bob get healed and my dad die? Does God love that family more than mine?” This theory does not give an adequate explanation to people who are hurting when God does not always heal.
The second theory is that healing is in the atonement and that it can be appropriated or claimed here and now. This view states that it is God’s will that we be healed here and now. A direct cause and effect relationship is drawn between faith and healing. If we have enough faith and pray hard enough, God will always heal. This is often part of a “health and wealth” gospel, which also claims our financial prosperity is guaranteed. It assumes complete spiritual and physical healing in this life. Proponents of this view claim to simply take the Bible at its word. In actuality, they read their twentieth century context into the Biblical texts, not considering the original intent, which results in poor or completely wrong interpretations of key passages. They also ignore many other texts and fall short of the overall New Testament picture. God does clearly stand on the side of healing as we shall see below, but many of Paul’s writings also indicate times where the apostle Paul was himself not healed or he couldn’t heal others he was in contact with. See Galatians 4:13-15, Philippians 2:25-27, 1Timothy 5:23 and 2Timothy 4:20 etc. In none of these situations is there an indication of a lack of faith.
In addition to the faulty Biblical basis of this theory, it leaves us with many problems with the human side of the equation. The first theory could not explain why some people are healed and the second why most people are not healed! The explanation given is very inadequate when someone is not healed. It is because they have failed to appropriate the healing that God offered them. Either their faith, the faith of the people praying, or the faith of the community is not strong enough so they are to blame. The psychological and spiritual damage this teaching can cause is obvious. Even in faith, many times healing does not occur. What is the conclusion for the person not healed who has been taught this theology? They either grieve over their inadequate faith or they decide that God does not really care. Either can tragically destroy their relationship with God.
The third and final theory we will now discuss also states that physical healing is in the atonement. It is however, NOT guaranteed in this life. The healing we are guaranteed in the atonement is instead an eschatological reality. That is, it is something that will be completely fulfilled at the end of time, at the final resurrection, when God’s Kingdom comes in all its glory. However, things which are eschatological in nature can also to a certain extent be present now in this life. When God the Son became man in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God began to break in on earth. This view sees salvation for the whole person (physical, emotional, and spiritual) as eschatological in nature. Ultimately we will receive complete forgiveness of sins, total emotional healing, and perfect physical healing at the resurrection. We also have the Holy Spirit who ministers in and through believers and gives us assurance of these ultimate realities in this age. Through faith, we receive assurance of our forgiveness. Likewise, through faith we are to pray for healing, which will sometimes break in as a sign of the Kingdom here on earth. See Romans 8:23-24 and 2Corinthians 5:1-4.
In order for this third theory to be valid, it must answer the two related questions, which the above theories failed to answer adequately: “Why only some people are healed?” and “Why most are not healed?” Both questions are answered in an eschatological understanding of the atonement. When people are healed, they are healed as a manifestation of the Kingdom. This healing is not only God’s grace for the person healed, but also proclaims God’s glory. It is an affirming sign to the believing community and a witness to unbelievers. Why God does this in any particular case one could only guess. But because when healings do occur it is for the whole body of Christ, when people are not healed, this does not need to be seen as a lack of love for that person.
Another very important thing to remember here is that God has also provided what one could say are perhaps greater gifts through the Spirit for those that are not physically healed in this life. He gives them assurance of his presence and his strength in their life through their weakness. God said to Paul, “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak. I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2Corinthians 12:9-10. See also Romans 8:26.
Christ identified with us in our suffering and pain through his own life as a human and his death on the cross. Even if we were healed of all our illnesses and infirmities, it can only be temporary as we all eventually die regardless of God’s healing power. The result of Spiritual healing, relationship and the blessing of God’s presence on the other hand, are eternal and much more important.
Too often ministries of healing have come from the perspective that physical healing is guaranteed in this life. The damaging results have been discussed above. But the Bible is clear that we should participate in the in breaking of God’s kingdom by healing the sick through prayer, James 5:14-16. In the mystery of the tension we now live in with the Kingdom partially here, but not fully realized, some will not be healed when we pray. We also, very importantly need to minister God’s love and peace. We must remind the unhealed, that God is there with them in their physical brokenness and pain, and that through relationship with him they can have great joy even in that place. This ministers holistically to everyone with validity and integrity and for the whole body of the Church.
Proving Healing in the Atonement
The atonement is perhaps the most important theme of the New Testament. If physical healing is indeed promised in the atonement now, one would therefore expect more teaching on it than just the alleged interpretation of one verse. And yet, every New Testament passage that has teaching on the atonement is significantly silent about healing. When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, for example, He said, “Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matthew 26:27–28. The apostle Paul also states only one single purpose for Christ’s death, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” 1Corinthians 15:3.
The question that may be asked is “Why is there no part of Scripture which may be legitimately and indisputably interpreted to teach that Christ died for sicknesses?” The answer lies in the fundamental differences between sin and sickness. Sin is an insult to God’s holiness and deserves the penalty of death. In no sense can the same be said for sickness. The absurdity of applying to sickness, all that applies only to sin is evident. Christ never forgave disease. He forgave sin. Jesus did not teach anywhere that sickness needed His death. Sin is the only thing that demands expiation by blood. If sickness needs atonement, then sickness implies a clouded conscience and broken fellowship with God as sin does. The most abiding spiritual lessons come from sickness.
That there is healing in the atonement is true in that all gifts and blessings come to us from the cross. “Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son---will he not also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32. There are many blessings in the cross, the fullness of time for the enjoyment of which has not yet arrived. Deliverance from death is ours through the atonement, yet death is still here. Calvary removed the curse of sin, but this curse is still upon the whole creation groaning to be delivered from such a state. 2Corinthians 5:4 says, “While we live in this earthly tent, we groan with a feeling of oppression; it is not that we want to get rid of our earthly body, but that we want to have the heavenly one put on over us, so that what is mortal will be transformed by life.” We cannot claim now all that is included under the atonement of Christ, or universal exemption from sickness on the grounds of the finished work of the cross.
If the atonement guarantees physical healing now, then Christians who are not healed would have good reason to doubt their salvation also, since proponents of the healing in the atonement view say both healing and salvation are derived from the same atonement and so it is as easy to be healed as it is to be saved and one who is truly saved should never fall sick or suffer pain, since Christ has endured these for us. A debt that has already been paid by Christ does not need to be paid again by us. These statements can and have absolutely devastated many Christians. So, how then should we regard Christians who seem to be paying the debt again by falling sick or suffering pain?
The primary purpose of the atonement of Christ was to cover sin. The secondary purpose was to begin to correct the effects of sin such as sickness and disease. We can categorically declare that all who turn to Christ by faith will find forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God. However, we cannot claim in confidence that all who turn to Christ by faith for healing will always obtain the blessing of health. For example, death is an effect of sin. While it was conquered in the atonement, we will not experience complete freedom from death until the appointed time. Therefore it is acceptable to say that healing is in the atonement, but it is presumptuous to assume that healing will always be experienced now like the forgiveness of sins.
Healing Scriptures that are quoted
We will continue this study by examining the Bible verses on healing that some use to prove that the atonement always guarantees physical healing now. We will start by continuing with 1Peter 2:24.
1Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to those sins and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” This quote from Peter came from Isaiah 53:5 which says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
People who say that Jesus bore all the cancer and leprosy in the world, understate His agony and have an inadequate appreciation of the infinite weight and suffering that was involved in Christ taking upon Himself the sins of the world. The concept of a dual work on the cross, Christ’s bearing our sins and sickness, is a serious misapplication of Scripture. Sickness is only one of the many ultimate effects of man’s sin. Jesus took the cause (sin) of all of our sufferings upon Himself at the cross in order to rid us ultimately of all of its effects. It is illogical to affirm that for any or all of the effects to be abolished, it would be necessary for Him to bear any one of the effects (e.g. sickness) along with the cause. By dealing with the cause, (sin) He adequately dealt with all of its effects.
Jesus took care of the problem of sickness by bearing our sins on the tree. Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, “A curse on everyone who is hung on a tree!” It was not necessary for Him to bear our sicknesses for us to be healed. We would never dispute that we are indeed healed by Jesus’ stripes. But is the word heal (Hebrew “rapah”) referring specifically to physical healing? Studying the Old Testament reveals that it was not often used to include physical healing, but in fact was more commonly used to imply spiritual healing e.g. Jeremiah 3:22, “Return, O faithless sons, I will heal (rapah) your faithlessness.” and Psalms 107:20 “He sent His Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” We also find that when the Pharisees murmured against Jesus for eating with sinners, “…Jesus answering said unto them, they that are WHOLE need not a physician; but they that are SICK. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” Luke 5:31-32. Here Jesus refers to the righteous as being WHOLE but the sinners as being SICK and in need of Him as a physician to heal them from their sins.
When we study the context of Isaiah 53 we discover that we could not have a more spiritual theme. This is the great prophetic passage dealing with Christ’s intercessory work between God and man. And when we examine the context of 1Peter 2:24, we see that Peter quoted Isaiah not in reference to physical healing, but spiritual.
Note the Bible translation used here is; “The New Testament: An Understandable Version” It reads verbatim as, “Jesus took upon Himself our sins [when] His body was placed upon the cross so that we, [through] dying to [i.e., giving up] the sinful life, would live for righteousness. You were healed [from your sins] by His being brutally treated.”
It is without a doubt safe to say that the healing Christ brought for us extends from the spiritual over into the emotional, mental, and physical planes, but as we will later consider more deeply, the actualising of this healing will not be fully realized until the resurrection, and hence there is no absolute guarantee of healing now. Healing is a benefit of the atonement, not an irrevocable gift.
Matthew 8:16-17, “…they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” This is the second major passage used to support the healing in the atonement teaching. Since Matthew is quoting Isaiah 53:4 which as we have just seen, deals with the atonement quite explicitly, and he applies the text to physical healing and deliverance, many feel that this is irrefutable proof that healing is guaranteed in the atonement now. However, such thinking overlooks one extremely significant point. Matthew tells us that this passage of Isaiah is fulfilled right there in the healing ministry of Jesus, before the atonement ever took place. Take another look at Matthew 8:16-17 again. It clearly speaks of people being brought to Jesus for healing and it was these healings that fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah who said, “He Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”
The Greek in Matthew of Isaiah 53:4 is an exact translation of the Hebrew, and the same translation should have been made in both places. Isaiah fully states the doctrine of the atonement, or that the Messiah was to suffer for sin. The word translated “grief’s” (Hebrew) in Isaiah, and “infirmities” (Greek) in Matthew, means in Hebrew and Greek, “diseases of the body.” It does not refer to disease of the mind or to sin. To bear those griefs is clearly to bear them away, or to remove them. This was done by his miraculous power in healing the sick. The word rendered “sorrows” in Isaiah, and “sicknesses” in Matthew, means “pain, grief, or anguish of mind.” To carry these is to take them away. The cause of all sorrows was sin, which He removed by the atonement. The passage in Isaiah and Matthew, therefore, mean precisely the same thing. Thus it is clear that while Isaiah 53:4 does refer to physical healing, its fulfilment was in the healing ministry of Jesus, as noted by Matthew, and not on the cross, and therefore it offers no guarantee of healing to us today.
While the atonement in Isaiah 53 is the central theme, the entire life and ministry of Jesus is also considered, extending even beyond the Second Coming. The final point of Isaiah 53:4 is that even though Jesus was seen healing the people, they still considered His execution to be a judgment against Him from God. “Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
Exodus 15:26 and Psalms 103:3
Exodus 15:26 “And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I [am] the LORD that healeth (rapah) thee.”
Psalms 103:3 “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth (rapah) all thy diseases;”
After reading these two verses, it is easy to see that both have the key issue of iniquities or sin as the context. As the context is the same for both these verses, we will cover them together. Many people will not want to accept what I am going to say next, but I will demonstrate it to be true using various scriptures, i.e., the healing referred to in these verses is as per 1Peter 2:24 which is healing diseases of the soul or healing as a result of sin. As already discussed, the word heal (Hebrew “rapah”) is not often used to include physical healing of the body. It was more commonly used to imply spiritual healing. We should note that “rapah” occurs 68 times in the Old Testament and does not often refer to physical healing. The Greek word used for physical healing in the New Testament for when Jesus healed people is “therapeu” and occurs 44 times and always referred to physical healing. This is because we received spiritual healing through Jesus stripes. 1Peter 2:24
From here we will use a few scriptures to further demonstrate that “rapah” refers mostly to spiritual healing. In Jeremiah 3:22 GNB it says, “Return, all of you who have turned away from the LORD; he will heal you and make you faithful. You say, “Yes, we are coming to the LORD because he is our God.” This on the surface again sounds like it implies physical healing but when we look at the King James translation, we can see how easily we can misinterpret scripture and how careful we have to be interpreting different translations. Jeremiah 3:22 KJV, “Return, ye backsliding children, [and] I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou [art] the LORD our God.” Now we can see that this verse was referring to spiritual healing as the people had backslidden into sin.
Here is a similar example in Psalms 41:4 GNB which says, “I said, “I have sinned against you, LORD; be merciful to me and heal me.” And again if we look at the King James we can see absolute proof that the word heal here is definitely that of a spiritual nature. Psalms 41:4 KJV, “I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.” Here the words “Heal my soul” means restoring the soul to spiritual health by forgiving the sin which is the cause of the sickness.
2Chronicles 30:20 KJV says, “And the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.” This scripture again is referring to spiritual healing due to sin which is probably best shown by simply reading the Good News translation which says, 2Chronicles 30:20 GNB, “The LORD answered Hezekiah’s prayer; he forgave the people and did not harm them.”
Hosea 11:3 KJV “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.” The healing here again is spiritual where healing in a spiritual sense generally signifies the forgiveness of sin, which the Lord’s people may have and not know it. Are you starting to get the full picture now? All these verses involve sin and God desiring to heal us spiritually.
When we looking at the context of Hosea 7:1, we can again see that the issue is sin and God wants to heal the souls of His people of this deadly disease called sin. It says, “Whenever I want to heal my people Israel and make them prosperous again, all I can see is their wickedness and the evil they do. They cheat one another; they break into houses and steal; they rob people in the streets.”
We have to get out of the mentality of taking the word healing as always meaning physical healing when mentioned in the Old Testament. The examples above are just a few of what could be cited to show that “rapah” was referring largely to spiritual healing. This being the case, why would “rapah” in the Old Testament be referring more to spiritual healing when we have the tendency to see it as physical healing? Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. Why would God have so much emphasis on spiritual healing rather than physical in the Old Testament? Could it be that without spiritual healing our souls would be doomed to destruction in hell fire? I think perhaps giving eternal life is far more important to God than physical healing, whether it be cancer or the common cold. God has the emphasis on spiritual healing because without it, we would indeed die for our sins and be eternally separated from Him. God does not view physical healing as importantly because this can only result in the death of our mortal bodies. Spiritual healing is what is required now; God will deal with the physical later when he gives us new glorified bodies. See Philippians 3:21.
James 5:14-16 reads, “Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven. So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect.”
This is indeed a difficult passage, because on the surface it appears to categorically state that healing will come if certain steps are followed. James said if anyone is sick he should call on the elders to pray for him and I agree 100% that we should always do this as the scripture demonstrates but not lose faith or become discouraged if God’s will is different to ours. We should always trust that God’s will for our lives is going to be best. Despite the clear words of this passage, as always, we cannot focus on just one passage and base our theology on this alone. We must always take all passages that are relevant to the topic and look at them as a whole to get the full picture of what the Bible tells us.
In the very early period of the New Testament elders existed. They were the recognized leaders of the Church. Not only were they instituted, but also elders were responsible to do certain things that not every member of the Church was. This prayer for healing is one of the things that elders were to do, and I would say that the elders to be called would require the gift of healing for consistent healing every single time. Paul said in 1Corinthians 12:28-30 not all had the power to heal. This also leads us back to the question of whether the gift of healing is as prevalent today as it was when establishing the Church.
This is what The People’s New Testament (1891) by B. W. Johnson commented:
“Is any sick among you. In the early church, when miraculous gifts were imparted by the laying on of apostolic hands “as a sign to unbelievers,” one of these was the gift of healing. In most early churches founded by the apostles some one of the elders would have this gift. There is no more reason for the descent of this gift to our times than of any other miraculous power. This passage, then, describes what was peculiar to the early church. The sick were anointed by the elders with oil, a symbol of the Spirit, which effected the healing, hands were laid, and prayer offered…”
In these verses, James outlines the steps for prayers for healing. First, these elders in keeping with God’s institution pray for the ill person and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. After the elders anoint with oil and pray, verse 15 says that God will raise the sick person up if the prayer is offered in faith. This is a solid Biblical principle that should always be followed, and we should always stand firm in unwavering faith believing for healing, and as a result, there will be many times where divine healing will manifest. However, we must also consider some facts that some would rather not hear or believe, but they cannot be denied. The Bible states not all have the power to do miracles or heal, and Jesus said the reason for all the miracles was so people would believe and God’s kingdom on earth would be established. Today the Church is well established and therefore this reason for the constant miracle on top of miracle no longer exists. This explains why today most cannot indisputably say that they know someone with the gift of healing, again leaving healing to God’s Sovereign will and trusting Him always.
The Bible teaches that there will be death, illness, and affliction. If this verse is taken at face value, then obedient Christians could call the elders, be anointed, and be healed every time. This would cover illness and affliction, but James also knew that there would be times of such affliction. The opening chapter of James calls on us to count it as joy even when we have various trials and afflictions. Even the apostles were evidently unable to prolong their own lives by having such anointing. So the Bible does not lead us to expect that all illnesses will be removed until the time described in Revelation 21-22, which speaks of no more crying and no more pain and no more death.
Equally undeniable is this: The most sincere Christians in all ages have tried to apply this verse literally and universally, and still many died from illnesses and there are no credible claims that all illnesses can always be cured. When I say no credible, that rules out most of the flamboyant TV faith healers, who themselves cannot sustain a proof that they can heal all and every illness.
It is the universal experience of Christianity that even when we pray, even when we pray in faith, even when we have the elders standing with us in prayer, still sometimes, God does not always heal physically. It is true that he always answers prayer and that he ultimately heals. In fact, the word may mean, “will make the sick person whole,” and that would certainly happen if an ill person died, and at the second coming of Christ when “this mortal shall have put on immortality,” 1Corinthians 15:54. However, that is not what we are praying for when we ask for God’s healing.
The best way to understand this passage is to acknowledge before we apply it that it must be interpreted harmoniously with other passages in Scripture. To do so, means that we understand that God only heals those whom he wants to heal according to His will. We may pray in faith, and we may anoint with oil, but all of this must be submitted to God’s will. He does not heal at our whim or verbal command. He heals wonderfully in accord with his will. This verse gives confidence that God may heal, but it should never be thought of as guaranteeing healing simply because steps are followed.
In situations or circumstances where it is within God’s will to heal, (see 1John 5:14) these verses make perfect sense. It is comforting, if we view it within the context of the other scriptural teaching. It will haunt us and lead us to doubt God if we take it out of its context. This particular promise does not belong to every situation, so much as it does to particular circumstances that are in God’s will. Indeed, the final part of verse 15 helps confirm that this is the meaning. The final part being, that if a person has sinned, the “sins they have committed will be forgiven.” Interpreted similarly, a sinner should ask for forgiveness, but if that person is not a believer in Christ, the verse has little application for him. That prayer, like the one of healing, is limited by the sovereign will of God.
3 John 1:2
3John 1:1-2 reads, “The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. 2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
Some interpret 3John 1:2 as God saying that it is his desire for us to always be in health and prosper. From reading all of God’s word, we can see that it is what God ultimately wants for us, but it is no guarantee that it is what God will give us right now. It will be according to his sovereign will.
We can clearly see this scripture is taken out of context when we read verse one before it. These two verses are John wishing that his friend Gaius whom he loves is in good health. It is no different to us saying to old friends, “Hi…how have you been? I hope you have been well.” Paul also said in Galatians 5:12 ISV, “I wish that those who are unsettling you would castrate themselves!” Does this also mean that it is God’s will for us to castrate ourselves? Of course not. God did not say it and it was not said to us. If we decide scriptures have double or extra meanings like this, then we can manipulate the scripture into saying whatever we want it to say. This is not a good practice. All of Romans 16 is based on greetings such as this and that is all they are, greetings and good wishes.
John 14:12 reads, “Truly, truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”
Some people use this verse in John as a basis of the belief that it is always God’s will to heal all that were sick, and since He said we would do greater, not lesser works than He, if we have the faith we should expect everyone we pray for or those who touch us to be healed also. While it must be acknowledged that this argument sounds reasonable, there are certain inescapable flaws in it.
First, many good scholars have variously interpreted exactly what Jesus meant by “greater works”. If Jesus was referring only to physical miracles and healings, what greater works could possibly be done than those that Jesus did (e.g. what could be a greater physical sign than raising the dead? It does not get better than that!) It would seem that any greater work would have to be predominately of a spiritual kind. Hence it is the opinion of many scholars that Jesus was anticipating the disciple’s enactment of the Great Commission through which by the preaching of the gospel, men and women would be saved, and the Kingdom of God established on earth through the Church.
Jesus could not have been referring only to physical healing when He made this statement, otherwise He would be guilty of false prophesying. The simple fact is that the healing ministry of Jesus has never been duplicated in history; even by the Apostles (we shall see examples later). This fact is illustrated again and again even in the ministries of those who preach healing in the atonement is guaranteed. Many for whom they pray are not healed. We see from this that the healing ministry of Jesus was of a different order than that of the Church, to establish a unique purpose, i.e. the legitimacy of His claim to be the Messiah. See John 10:38 and John 20:31. However, even Jesus did not heal everyone. In John 5 we read that by the pool called Bethesda, Jesus found “a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered” (verse 3). Yet, after selecting only one man Jesus “slipped away while there was a crowd in that place” (verse 13). He could have healed everyone, but as in John 9 He chose to heal only one and for the glory of God.
Mark 16:14 reads, “Last of all, Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them, because they did not have faith and because they were too stubborn to believe those who had seen him alive. 15 He said to them, “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people. 16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 Believers will be given the power to perform miracles: they will drive out demons in my name; they will speak in strange tongues 18 if they pick up snakes or drink any poison, they will not be harmed; they will place their hands on sick people, and these will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had talked with them, he was taken up to heaven and sat at the right side of God.”
Mark 16:17-18 are indeed scriptures that are widely misunderstood. Having a detailed look at the context here, we see that Jesus was telling His Disciples to go into the world and preach the Gospel, in order that the Church would be established. If we look at the book of Acts we can see what Jesus prophesied here is seen to be fulfilled. Let’s have a look at some of these points.
Firstly Mark 16:17 GNB says, “Believers will be given the power to perform miracles,” or in the King James; “these signs will follow those who believe.” Jesus was not saying that every single one of these signs would follow every person that believed as some interpret, but these are signs you will see from those who believe which is verified by Paul in 1Corinthians 12:29-30 GNB, “They are not all apostles or prophets or teachers. Not everyone has the power to work miracles or to heal diseases or to speak in strange tongues or to explain what is said.” And for final proof, Paul also said in 1Corinthians 12:10, “The Spirit gives one person the power to work miracles; to another, the gift of speaking God’s message; and to yet another, the ability to tell the difference between gifts that come from the Spirit and those that do not. To one person he gives the ability to speak in strange tongues, and to another he gives the ability to explain what is said.” The disciples were probably informed so they would not be surprised by what they saw, e.g., when Paul was bitten by a snake, the people around expected him to swell up and die. When he didn’t they thought he was a God.
The book of Acts shows that some, but not all were given the power to do miracles as Jesus said. Acts 14:3 says “The apostles stayed there for a long time, speaking boldly about the Lord, who proved that their message about his grace was true by giving them the power to perform miracles and wonders.” Paul and Stephen were certainly excellent examples to the apostles of some of the miracles or signs that were said to follow those that believed. Acts 6:8 shows “Stephen, a man richly blessed by God and full of power, performed great miracles and wonders among the people.” And in Acts 19:11, “God was performing unusual miracles through Paul. Even handkerchiefs and aprons he had used were taken to the sick, and their diseases were driven away, and the evil spirits would go out of them.” Paul also raised the dead, Acts 20:9-12.
On the day of Pentecost the prophecy “they will speak in strange tongues” was fulfilled. This is one gift that cannot be argued is still given to some spirit filled Christians, but it is still not given to all. See what is speaking in tongues for more. Acts 2:3-4, “Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.” When the apostle Peter first preached the Gospel to the Gentiles they also spoke in other tongues they had not learnt. Acts 10:44-46, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come from Joppa with Peter were amazed that God had poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speaking in strange tongues and praising God’s greatness.”
Mark 16:18 Begins by stating, “if they pick up snakes or drink any poison, they will not be harmed.” This was shown to be possible and true in Acts 28:3-6, “Paul gathered up a bundle of sticks and was putting them on the fire when a snake came out on account of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. The natives saw the snake hanging on Paul’s hand and said to one another, “This man must be a murderer, but Fate will not let him live, even though he escaped from the sea.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire without being harmed at all. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after waiting for a long time and not seeing anything unusual happening to him, they changed their minds and said, “He is a god!”
Does anyone of us really believe today, that all Christians could be bitten by a snake and all be totally unaffected as Paul was? If it did it would be a fairly isolated case and by God’s sovereign will.
Here is a final example of signs that did not follow someone that believed and why. Acts 8:18, “Simon saw that the Spirit had been given to the believers when the apostles placed their hands on them. So he offered money to Peter and John, and said, “Give this power to me too, so that anyone I place my hands on will receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter answered him, “May you and your money go to hell, for thinking that you can buy God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in our work, because your heart is not right in God’s sight.” Now Simon believed but none of the signs followed and we can see why. We must also remember that Mark was not a witness to what he wrote here and that translating Greek or Hebrew to English is not an exact science.
Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible commented the following on Mark 16:17:
“Them that believe: The apostles, and those in the primitive age who were endowed with like power. This promise was fulfilled if it can be shown that these signs followed in the case of any who believed, and it is not necessary to suppose that they would follow in the case of all. The meaning is, that they would be the result of faith, or of the belief of the gospel. It is true that they were. These signs were shown in the case of the apostles and early Christians. The infidel cannot say that the promise has not been fulfilled unless he can show that this never occurred; the Christian should be satisfied that the promise was fulfilled if these miracles were ever actually wrought, though they do not occur now; and the believer now should not expect a miracle in his case. Miracles were necessary for the establishment of religion in the world; they are not necessary for its continuance now.”
Does God Always Heal Today? - Page two