Healing In The New Testament: Some General Conclusions
This paper falls into four main parts. First, the healings recorded in the gospels and in the Acts are listed, together with some inferences from their review; second, an attempt is made to set out some general principles relating to healing and wholeness from a scriptural perspective; third, the means by which healing may be achieved are examined; and fourth, some practical conclusions and suggestions are made concerning healing in the church.
HEALING MIRACLES IN THE GOSPELS AND THE ACTS
1. Detailed references
The following passages in each book are relevant to the subject of healing in the gospels and in the Acts, in that they record healings and set them in context.
a) THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
- 4:17 Jesus begins to preach
- 4:23-5 preaching and general healing
- 8:1-4 healing of a leper
- 8:5-13 healing of the centurion's servant
- 8:14-17 healing of Peter's mother-in-law, followed by general healings and exorcisms
- 8:28-34 healing of two demoniacs at Gadara
- 9:1-8 the paralytic healed through the faith of his friends
- 9:18-26 raising of Jairus' daughter, and healing of the haemorrhagic woman
- 9:27-31 healing of two blind men
- 9:32-4 healing of the dumb demoniac
- 9:35-8 general healings
- 10:1-4 commissioning of the twelve to exorcise and heal
- 10:5-7 command and authority given to preach the kingdom
- 10:8ff command to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons
- This passage in Matthew 10 is extremely significant, for these commands are given in the context of Jesus teaching his disciples. He emphasises:
- need for discernment (9-15)
- hostile reception to be expected (16-18)
- need to rely on God, the Holy Spirit (19-20)
- acceptance of hostility in the family (21-3)
- vital relationship with the master (24-5)
- ultimate dependence upon the Father (26-33)
- primacy of Christ and his demands (34-9)
- reward for faithfulness (40-2)
- 11:1 Jesus continues his ministry
- 11:2-8 signs authenticate the kingdom
- 11:9-14 healing of the man with the withered hand
- 11:15 healing of those who followed seen as a fulfilment of prophecy
- 11:22-45 healing of blind and dumb demoniac leads to teaching and challenge
- 14:34-6 healing of many, some merely by touching Jesus' garment
- 15:21-8 healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman
- 17:14-20 healing of the epileptic boy after the transfiguration
- 20:29-34 healing of two blind men at Jericho
- 21:14 healing of the blind and the lame in the Temple
- 26:51 the high priest's servant: the injury is mentioned in each gospel (see also Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50-1; John 18:10-11), but Luke alone refers to the healing effected by Jesus after the slashing of the ear
b) THE GOSPEL OF MARK
- 1:14 Jesus preaches the kingdom
- 1:23-7 healing of the man with an 'unclean spirit'
- 1:30-1 healing of Simon's mother-in-law
- 1:32-4 general healings of the sick and possessed
- 1:40-5 healing of the leper
- 2:1-12 preaching, and healing the paralytic
- 3:1-6 healing of the man with a withered hand
- 3:7-12 reference to healing of many
- 3:13-19 appointment of the twelve with the command to preach and authority given to cast out demons
- 5:1-20 healing of one demoniac at Gadara
- 5:21-43 raising of Jairus' daughter, and healing of the haemorrhagic woman
- 6:5-13 the twelve sent out two by two to preach, heal and cast out demons
- 6:53-6 general healings, even by touching Jesus' garment
- 7:24-30 healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman
- 7:31-7 healing of deaf and dumb man
- 8:22-6 healing of the blind man at Bethsaida
- 9:14-29 healing of the epileptic boy
- NB: the reference to the man, not a disciple, casting out demons in the name of Jesus (9:38-41)
- 10:46-52 healing of blind Bartimaeus at Jericho
- 14:47 the high priest's servant
c) THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
- 4:14-15 teaching in the synagogues by the power of the Spirit
- 4:16-29 unfavourable reception at Nazareth, and therefore few healings
- 4:31-7 healing of the man in the synagogue with an unclean demon
- 4:38-9 healing of Simon's mother-in-law
- 4:40-1 many healed and exorcised
- 5:12-14 healing of a leper
- 5:15-16 many followed to hear and be healed (but Jesus withdrew to the wilderness and prayed)
- 5:17-26 healing of a leper
- 6:6-11 healing of the man with the withered hand
- 7:1-10 healing of the centurion's slave
- 7:11-17 raising of the widow's son at Nain
- 7:18-23 healing miracles signal and authenticate the coming of the kingdom
- 8:1-3 preaching the kingdom of Cod, with a reference to the support given to Jesus by women who had been healed
- 8:26-39 healing of the Gerasene demoniac
- 8:40-56 raising of Jairus' daughter and healing of the haemorrhagic woman
- 9:1-12 the twelve sent out and commissioned to preach the kingdom and heal with the authority of Jesus
- 9:3-6 Jesus' instruction and the departure of the twelve apostles for their ministry by his authority
- 9:10-11 the twelve return after their successful mission
- 9:37-43 healing of the epileptic boy after the transfiguration
- 10:1-20 the seventy sent out to preach and to heal
- 11:14-28 healing of the dumb demoniac, and the teaching which results from it
- 14:1-6 healing of the man with dropsy on the Sabbath
- 17:11-19 healing of the ten lepers
- 18:35-53 healing of blind Bartimaeus
- 22:50-1 healing of the ear of the high priest's servant
d) THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
- 4:46-54 healing of the servant of a government official
- 5:2-9 healing of the man by the Pool of Bethzatha (Bethesda or Bethsaida)
- 5:11-47 opposition of the Jewish hierarchy, and the teaching which followed
- 6:2 reference to other healings
- 7:21 reference to one particular healing on the Sabbath
- 9:1-7 healing of the man blind from birth
- 9:9-41 opposition of the Jewish hierarchy after investigating the healing, and Jesus' encounter with the man he had healed, which awakens faith in him as Messiah
- 1:1-44 raising of Lazarus, including much teaching in the course of the narrative
- 11:45-57 hardening of the opposition from the Jewish hierarchy into a specific plan to kill Jesus
- 12:37-50 miraculous signs divide even the Jewish hierarchy, and the unbelief is seen as fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy (53:1; 6:10); even those who do believe are fearful, which leads Jesus to teach further and more urgently
- 18:10-11 the high priest's servant
e) THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
3:1-10 Peter and John heal the man blind from birth
3:11-26 preaching arising from the healing
4:1-4 reaction of the Jewish hierarchy and the common people
4:5-22 further results of the healing
5:12-16 record of signs and wonders, in which even Peter's shadow brings healing
6:8-10 Stephen performs signs and wonders, but the emphasis is on his preaching (v10)
9:17-19 healing of Saul's blindness by Ananias
9:36-43 raising of Tabitha (Dorcas) by Peter
14:3 signs and wonders performed by Paul and Barnabas
14:8-10 healing of the cripple handicapped from birth
14:11-18 events arising from the healing
15:12 reference to signs and wonders performed amongst the Gentiles by Paul and Barnabas
16:16-18 healing and exorcism of the demon-possessed slave-girl
19:11 extraordinary miracles wrought by Paul
- 19:12 healings and exorcisms brought about by the clothes belonging to Paul (NB: reference to the sons of Sceva who were 'professional' exorcists)
- 20:7-12 raising (or healing) of Eutychus
2. Summary of references
a) MATTHEW Thirteen healing miracles described, including exorcisms; five general references to healings without specific descriptions; one resuscitation; the commissioning of the twelve 'to preach and heal'.
b) MARK Twelve healing miracles described, including exorcisms; three general references to healings without specific descriptions; one resuscitation; the commissioning of the twelve 'to preach and heal'.
c) LUKE Fourteen healing miracles described, including exorcisms; two general references to healings without specific descriptions; two resuscitations; the commissioning of the twelve 'to preach and heal'; the commissioning of the seventy 'to preach and heal'.
d) JOHN Four healing miracles described, but no specific reference to exorcisms; one general reference to healings without specific descriptions; one resuscitation (the raising of Lazarus).
e) ACTS Four specific healing miracles described, six general references to healings, or to 'signs and wonders' (which almost certainly included healings); one resuscitation.
f) The following miracles are reported in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke):
i) healing of Simon's mother-in-law
ii) healing of the paralytic man
iii) healing of the man with the withered hand
iv) healing of the epileptic boy
g) The following occur in both Matthew and Mark:
i) healing of the leper
ii) one general report of healings and exorcisms
iii) healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman
iv) healing of the deaf and dumb man
h) The healing of blind Bartimaeus is specifically reported in both Mark and Luke, and the reference to the healing of the two blind men in Matthew could refer to the same incident.
3. General inferences from the accounts
The following fairly obvious inferences may be drawn from these accounts in the gospels and in the Acts:
a) Healings and exorcisms were common characteristics of the ministry of both Jesus and the apostles. It was perhaps not so much the fact of the healings as their generality and unique authority which authenticated the claims they made.
b) The healings were usually associated with preaching and teaching, either resulting from it or as a consequence of it. The spoken words and the sovereign acts must not be divorced from one another.
c) In John, particular healing miracles occasion special interest and are used as a vehicle for presenting the unique character of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. They also emphasise the fact that Jesus' authoritative words and acts always produce division, and attract vehement antagonism as well as intense devotion.
d) The authority for the acts of healing is always Jesus himself, either in his personal presence or through his apostles. The gift of healing as described in the Acts of the apostles is never something which originates in the disciples themselves; it is not a gift given to them, but rather a gift given through them. It is always 'in the name of Jesus Christ', which implies far more then the mere use of a phrase, however authoritative. Jesus' followers are always channels, never authors, of the blessings he gives.
e) Usually, but not always, the healings which are reported in some detail are recorded as being dependent upon the faith of the one being healed. Sometimes, however, it is the faith of relatives or friends, or even masters, which is the agency of the healing. Nor does it appear to be the strength or certainty of the faith which is important; even the feeblest turning to Christ to meet the need seems often to be quite sufficient.
f) There is no distinction which may validly be made between those healings which are 'miraculous' in any sense which might commend itself to modern man in that they cannot be explained in 'natural' terms, and those which may plausibly be so explained. That is a distinction which would have been meaningless both to the writers and readers of the original documents; it is therefore not permissible for us to try to make it. Nevertheless it is important to notice that in the examples given by the writers, healing is not invariably instantaneous, nor is it always accomplished without using means.
g) It is clear, especially in the case of lepers, that physical healing also resulted in the restoration of social relationships, and that Jesus conformed to the normal public health practice by sending the healed lepers to the priest for the confirmation of cleansing and healing, in order to effect that restoration. He does not bypass normal medical and legal practice in these instances.
It is also important to examine the context in which particular narratives are set by the writers. There is no reason to suppose that the three synoptic gospels are simply collections of stories, with little rational form except a broad chronological grouping. Each writer had a different purpose, and it seems reasonable to suppose that his material is organised towards that purpose, as well as being chosen with particular reference to it. It would be too extensive a study to attempt to prove this for every healing recorded in detail, but an examination of John 4 illustrates the point clearly, and also affords some general principles which may illuminate the question of healing in its fullest sense. It may seem a strange chapter to choose for this purpose, but it contains an account of the occurrence of every dimension of healing, through meeting with the Lord Jesus Christ, and the experience of his authority and power.
SOME GENERAL PRINCIPLES RELATING TO HEALING
In John 4, we read the account of Jesus' meeting with the woman of Sychar. After that story, the chapter contains the report of the miracle of the healing of the royal official's son at Capernaum. Taking these two narratives together affords an excellent overview of much that the New Testament teaches about healing, both explicitly and implicitly.
A number of principles relating to the concept of 'healing' may be inferred from the New Testament as a whole; most are to be found, at least implicitly, in the chapter upon which we focus our attention.
- 1. Complete healing is four-dimensional
The following dimensions may be distinguished:
a) THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION
There is a need for the healing of the relationship with God, and for the maintenance of that relationship in a constant condition of health.
- It may be noted that the idea of 'sound' doctrine or 'sound' words (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 1:13; 2:1) employs the Greek words hygiatnousa didaskalia, hygiainonles logoi, and logos hygies. These are the same words as are used in the gospels and Acts in the literal sense of 'health/ or 'well', generally as the result of a miracle in which the healing of the body or the mind has taken place (Matt. 12:13; 15:31; Luke 17:10; John 5:9ff; Acts 4:10). Such miracles involve a meeting with Jesus which results in full healing of the entire person (John 7:23; see Luke 5:21ff), and point to the fact that Messiah, the Deliverer, the Saviour, has now in fact come (Matt. 15:21; see Mark 7:37; 8:23; Isa. 53:4).
The healing miracles are the sign that the age of full, complete, total salvation has begun, since the appointed Saviour has come. In the story of the lost son (the 'prodigal' son) hygiainonta (Luke 15:27; see 15:24) implies more than reinstatement in the household and the consequent restoration of physical well being; it also involves the healing of the relationship with the wronged father - on the father's initiative. Indeed it is this healing which makes possible all the rest.
For all of us there is the fundamental need for the healing of the broken relationship with God our Father, and from that all other healings follow. And the newly healed relationship has to be maintained, which is the point of holding to 'sound' doctrine. It is true in the most fundamental sense, and therefore it is health-giving both spiritually and in all the other ways which follow from that basic wholeness wrought by God at the very centre of the personality.
- This was precisely what the woman of Sychar experienced in her encounter with Jesus at the well. He declared himself to be the Messiah; she believed, and she was changed (John 4:25-30; 39-42).
b) THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DIMENSION
There is a need for the healing of the personality, for a growth of health, balance and integrity within the person. The biblical concept of 'righteousness' contains within it the idea of total integrity, full integration of personality, so that there are no tensions and internal conflicts. Because a person is now 'right' with God, there can be a beginning to his becoming 'right' with himself.
- The woman of Sychar was transformed psychologically as well as spiritually; she enjoyed a new freedom, and the psychological bondage, which was the inevitable consequence of her past sins, was broken. Her new relationship with the Saviour of the world (4:42b) released her from the inhibitions which had led her to cut herself off from her fellows (after all, she came to draw water alone at the hottest time of the day), and she went back to the town to tell them that the Messiah had come to Sychar (4:28-30).
This is a continuing work, lasting throughout our lives. It is based upon what Christ has done, and is effected by the Holy Spirit digging deep into the personality, healing the scars by bringing them into the open, and laying them down in the forgiving, healing, presence of Jesus. The miracles of Jesus' ministry, and that of the apostles, involving casting out 'demons' and 'evil spirits' and the curing of mental illness, are clearly particular instances in which deep psychological healing was effected in a very public and spectacular way. That is not to deny the reality of 'demonic possession', but it is scarcely possible to conceive deliverance from evil spirits without there being radical psychological healing as a result.
c) THE SOCIAL DIMENSION
There is clearly a deep need for the healing of relationships in social units of all types: between individuals in one-to-one situations, within both nuclear and extended families, in the local church, and in the wider community. Jesus' presence at Sychar effected this. The woman was an outcast; there were in her life many broken relationships and no doubt many family traumas as well. Yet her recognition of Jesus as the Messiah overcame her own resentment and effected a healing in the whole community (4:28-30, 39-42). It is surely no coincidence that the early church showed healed relationships and expressed that fact in practical action (Acts 2:44-7; 4:32-7; 6:1-4; 11:27-9).
Once again it is a continuing work of the Holy Spirit. The frequent exhortations found in the letters of the New Testament for social relationships to be those appropriate to the profession made, also bear testimony to the importance of this dimension. Furthermore, all the fruit of the Spirit relate directly or indirectly to interpersonal relationships. Love is not love if it is not expressed socially. Joy can hardly be enjoyed in isolation; it must surely be shared. Peace springs from inner spiritual healing, but certainly has an expression in interpersonal relationships. Patience implies an attitude of heart and mind exercised in community. Kindness involves action towards someone else. Goodness, though in a real sense intrinsic and individual, must also be expressed in action. Faithfulness or trustworthiness is exercised in a social context. Gentleness must be directed towards others. Self-control is inevitably a characteristic which is eminently public and social. Thus the Holy Spirit provides a continuing inner spiritual work of grace, effecting a developing psychological healing which cannot but result in improving interpersonal relationships, and therefore in social healing also. Spiritual wholeness produces psychological wholeness, which in turn produces wholeness in the community. That is the miracle which ought to occur in local communities of Christians and which would demonstrate the reality of the inner work of God's Spirit more publicly and effectively than anything else; which is presumably the reason why the apostolic exhortation is so often directed at the righting of wrongs in interpersonal relationships.
Compare 'the acts of the sinful nature' with 'the fruit of the Spirit' (Gal. 5:19-26). On the one hand we have 'sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like'; and, on the other, 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control'. Every one of these is exercised in a social context of one sort or another, and it is the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit. This is true inner healing, and it is the fundamental work of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul summarises thus:
- ... those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another (Gal. 5:24-6)
It is important to note the tenses and the moods of the verbs. Christians 'have died to sin' with Christ on the cross in his death. They 'have been made alive' with him in his resurrection, so they 'live a new life' (Rom. 6:1-4). That life is the life of the Spirit; to live it Christians have to 'keep in step with the Spirit'. This is the deepest and most continuous healing, preparing them for complete wholeness in the glory of the Father in heaven. It is in fact the fulness of salvation towards which we all, as children of God the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ his Son, are moving together - not as individuals.
d) THE PHYSICAL DIMENSION
Minds and personalities express themselves through bodies; there can be no social relationships except those achieved through bodies. Hence to emphasise the previous dimensions is in no sense to deny the importance of the body. Healing and wholeness must embrace the body as well as the heart and mind.
- It is recognised that the apostle John is highly selective in his use of miracles or signs in the structuring of his gospel. It is therefore no coincidence that the story of the woman at the well, with its clear implications in relation to spiritual, psychological and social healing, is followed immediately by the narrative of the bodily healing of the official's son. It is again the presence and the authoritative word of Jesus which effect the miracle. The apostle thus balances the previous story with one that emphasises the importance of the body and its wholeness.
The physical healing described in John 4 was real and, in the purpose of God, completely necessary. It must therefore not be devalued in any way whatsoever. Nevertheless the healed body eventually died and disintegrated. This was also true of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus after his body had been buried for three days (John 11:38-44). Thus, while healing, recreation and renewal of the total personality by the sovereign word of the Lord are permanent and eternal, the healing of the body can only be temporal. That is why the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so important. God will provide the recreated personality with a new body adequate to express that personality in the glory of his presence.
- This does not imply that the ordinary human body is unimportant, nor that its proper function in this present space-time world is of no consequence. It is on this earth the only mode of expression the recreated, renewed and healed personality has for making itself seen and known. And it is in the here and now that the new creation begins and is developed. So the physical body is of supreme importance, but its significance is always determined by the greater purposes of God for the individual and the groups within which he or she lives and works.
- 2. Discussion
Healing, leading to wholeness and integrity (that is the fulness of salvation in its total biblical meaning), involves four things:
i) healing of the relationship with God
ii) healing of the integrity of the personality
iii) healing of social relationships
iv) healing of the body
(i) is primary, and everybody needs it. Without it the other three are transient and temporary, even if they can be achieved. Furthermore, with reference to our present physical bodies, (iv) is of necessity always temporary. Only at the resurrection of the body in all its transformed glory will there be a permanent, adequate vehicle for the expression of the recreated spirit, the renewed personality and the perfection of social relationships, as everything is related to Christ in glory.
The miracle of (i) should lead progressively to the pervasion of the person by (ii), and the development of (iii) in the family, the church, the local community, and society as a whole. It is then almost inevitable that some dimensions of (iv) will also be achieved. Even if there is no healing of bodily disease, the whole situation will be transformed by a change in the attitude of the individual to that pathological condition, and perchance also through the changed set of social relationships.
Conversely, in the Christian, the purpose of the healing of the pathological conditions of the body is to provide an effective vehicle for continuing whatever service the Lord requires. In the one who is not a Christian, healing is first intended to provide further opportunity for repentance and faith, or perhaps to facilitate the general purposes of the common grace of God in mankind and the world generally. The point is that physical or psychological healing must never be divorced from the wider purposes of God. Such healings are not isolated 'events-in-themselves'. They always relate to something greater and more important, and this is true whether the healings are achieved through normal medical means or through some inexplicable direct act of God by his Spirit.
In view of these considerations it is clearly dangerous to isolate so-called 'miraculous' healing from healing achieved by the normal practice of medicine. The naivete of such an approach will be examined later. However, it is even more dangerous to isolate it from the wider context within which it is inevitably set in Scripture. All true healing comes from God, and ultimately is fully four-dimensional in its scope. Everyone, without exception, needs it. Furthermore, in this life, everyone needs such healing continuously and continually. From one perspective, the whole Christian life, in fact and experience, should be a process of progressive healing.
Full and complete healing comes only at the clothing of the Christian in his resurrection body - of which the resurrection body of Jesus is the first fruit - when the new creation is completed. The seed has already been sown in the person of the individual Christian by the Spirit of God at the new birth, and it grows there to transform him into a whole person: in his personal integrity as a dimension of biblical 'righteousness'; in the integration of his personality; and in his relationships with others in whom the Holy Spirit has sown the same seed. This is the full 'new creation' -- an essentially corporate concept. The new birth of the individual is part
of that new creation, and makes him part of it. The new birth is a means to that end, not an end in itself. The development of integrity, leading to growing personal integration and deeper social relationships in the body of Christ - which is the 'new creation' - continues throughout life.
What then may be said concerning the healing of the body in the context of wholeness in its four dimensions? It has been stated that healing and wholeness in the spirit, the personality, and the body of Christ, are permanent and eternal, and that the resurrected body will ultimately be the only fitting expression of that work of God. The necessary condition for this is that the present body should pass away and be replaced. This does not imply that the present body is of no significance. Jesus did not consider it unimportant; nor did his apostles and the early Christians. The evidence for this is to be found in the number of healing miracles recorded in the gospels and the book of the Acts, and we have no reason to suppose that the recorded list is in any way complete or exhaustive. The body which we now have in this world, limited by space and time, permeated and contaminated by sin, is the only vehicle we have in the present for expressing that new personality which is even now being renewed and recreated by God through his Holy Spirit, in a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an inescapable reason why the healing of this body should be sought when it is necessary, but it is not to presuppose that such healing should be 'miraculous' in the general imprecise meaning of that word. It is perhaps no coincidence that, in the economy of God, Paul's companion for at least some of his missionary journeys was Luke, the 'beloved physician'. The healing of the body in this life is the means of providing an adequate vehicle for the service of God in this life. As such it is indispensable, although it may be that God can be glorified through its suffering and pain as well as through its healing; that is his sovereign decision, not ours. We ought to seek healing when we are ill; there is no virtue in sickness and illness in themselves. God may use them, but we are not to seek them in order that he might do so. He may call us to serve him by bearing them, rather than by healing them, but that is not our decision.
THE MEANS OF HEALING
Having established the fact and need for healing, and having set the healing of the body and mind in its full context, it is now necessary to make some observations on the means God uses to achieve healing.
- 1. All real healing comes from God
He is the completely sovereign Creator and Redeemer; he can act as he wills. His purpose, revealed in Christ and set down in Scripture, is that he will heal in order to bring wholeness in the senses which have already been examined. In achieving that healing and wholeness. God is free to act by using means, without using means, or against means.
- a) Thus it is the special grace of God, poured out on his own people, which works that spiritual healing which is full salvation and complete wholeness, manifesting itself in due time in the integration of the personality and creation of loving social coherence in the Christian community. This may be associated with the healing of physical disabilities by the same special grace, or that grace may give strength to endure and glorify God in and by such disabilities.
- b) Since physical ills are the result of sin permeating the very fabric of the old creation, though not generally specific judgements of God on the particular sins of individuals, all healing is an operation of the general grace of God to all men. It is part of that goodness of God which is intended to lead men to repentance and new life. Such healing may be worked through the use of medical skills, or be psychosomatic, or even the direct act of God, and those through whom God chooses to work are not necessarily committed Christians. If it does not lead to repentance and faith, then in the final analysis it has not produced full healing, and in that sense it has failed to heal.
The question arises as to whether the devil can heal in order to delude men into a false security which prevents them from seeking and receiving the full wholeness which God alone offers. It is perhaps significant that in the story of Job, though it is the devil who afflicts him, it is God who is spoken of as restoring to him his health and prosperity. The devil certainly can counterfeit some of the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 John 4:1-6). Whilst it is dangerous to be dogmatic on this matter, it may perhaps tentatively be suggested that, though the healing is ultimately from God, the sinful blindness of men and subtle delusions from the devil prevent men from recognising that fact and thus progressing beyond the physical healing to the miracle of spiritual healing in their hearts and minds.
2. The interactions of body, mind and spirit are very complex
The individual person is a single whole, and exists and lives as such. Distinctions of body, mind and spirit are made in order to assist our understanding, not to express definable entities which can exist quite separately from one another. That is another reason why the credal doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so fundamental to Christian faith; the recreated spirit and the renewed mind require a new body in order to be a complete created person. Only God is pure uncreated Spirit. Hence there are real interactions within the human person which fundamentally affect our view of healing.
- a) At the most material and natural level, the healing of a sick mind can effect healing of the physical body through psychosomatic interactions. Conversely, healing the physical disabilities of a sick body may well effect a healing in the mind. Such effects can sometimes be surprisingly sudden and rapid, even almost instantaneous. They are in no sense specific interventions of divine power overruling the course of nature.
- b) The healing of the spirit in relation to God, whether in conversion resulting from regeneration, or in subsequent workings of the Holy Spirit, should result in a developing healing of the personality, and a growing healing of broken social relationships. This may in turn result in a healthier body and life-style, and in many cases does precisely that.
- c) The healing of the body may lead to true healing of the spirit in relation to God, and thereby bring healing of the personality, social renewal, and further growth in physical health.
This interaction is part of the order of creation, albeit now marred and spoiled by sin and death. The creation principle, which was applied first to the marriage bond (what God has joined let no man wrench apart), is relevant here also.
3. True Christian healing is not to be confused with what is commonly known as 'faith healing'
Healing which is in the fullest sense 'Christian' will always heal or develop the relationship with God; that is its distinguishing characteristic.
- a) The healing of the physical body or the mind and personality in someone who is not yet a true Christian should be associated with the coming of that man or woman to Christ in repentance and faith for the first time, though the healing and the conversion may not necessarily occur at the same time; the turning to Christ may well come later. The point is that, if the healing of body or mind does not sooner or later lead to commitment to Christ, then it has failed to achieve the ultimate objective for which God gave it. It does not produce the wholeness which all full healing is capable of achieving. But there is no evidence from Scripture to suggest that, once having been given by God, physical or mental healing is taken away if it does not lead to a turning to Christ; the gospel narrative of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus is relevant to this point (Luke 17:11-19).
- b) In the converted man or woman, such healing of mind or body will lead to a growth in the relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. It will fit for new service, produce deeper devotion, or engender more costly commitment. If it does not do so, then it has failed to produce the fruit for which it was given, which is increasing wholeness in every dimension of life.
Faith healing, in the sense in which it is generally understood, is in effect paranormal healing; it is healing which we are unable to explain in terms of the commonly received wisdom of modern medicine. It cannot be doubted that it sometimes works. Nor is it the prerogative of committed Christians. It is the product of processes which we do not yet understand; it may be extended to include a whole range of paramedical, parapsychological and other alternative therapies; and it may well have psychosomatic elements within it. Those who are capable of bringing such healing do not possess the spiritual gift of which Paul speaks (1 Cor. 12:28-30) any more than members of the medical profession do, simply because they are able to effect healing. This spiritual gift is given only to regenerate men and women, and is given quite specifically for the building up of the church, as the context makes abundantly clear.
All healing is ultimately from God; full healing produces total wholeness. Christian healing, in the sense set out above, alone can achieve this, although that does not make partial healing any less real. But without the spiritual dimension such healing is essentially temporal and transient; it is the healed relationship with God which gives all other dimensions of healing eternal significance.
4. In the precise sense, miraculous healing is God acting without means or against means
The observed phenomena may be indistinguishable from those associated with faith healing as outlined in the previous section. Sometimes they may be clearly distinguished as in the case of the man with the withered hand (Matt. 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11). More often they will not be so easily discerned.
- a) Thus it is a confusion to speak of 'divine healing' as though it were simply the equivalent of 'miraculous healing'. God works in many ways, and not only through the strictly 'miraculous'. By faith God may be seen as active in all healing.
- b) It follows that it is very difficult to discern strictly miraculous healing simply by examining the phenomena associated with particular instances. The fact that the healing is sudden or spectacular does not demonstrate that it is a miracle; nor does slow, gradual improvement achieved by the normal practice of medicine imply that God has no part in the healing.
- c) The important fact is not so much the 'how', but rather the effect it has on the one healed, as a whole person, and upon those who witness it. If it brings glory to God, draws people to Christ, builds up the faith, and leads into growth of the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, then it has achieved its end.
Ultimately, perhaps the mechanism of the healing does not matter very much, provided that this glorious end is accomplished. The greatest miracle is still the sovereign act of God in regeneration, if only we had eyes to see, minds to understand, and hearts humble enough to worship and wonder.
5. Healing of the body or the mind in a Christian can involve at least one of five somewhat different sets of phenomena
Any of these may be validly seen as healing; often they are to be found in combination. Any one set is a true answer to prayer for healing, and God will answer in one way or another.
- a) The symptoms of the disease or defect may be removed by God rectifying the fundamental cause.
- b) The missing element may be renewed or remade by recreation.
- c) The diagnostic symptoms may remain, but the prognosis they normally indicate may be frustrated.
- d) The sufferer may be enabled to fulfil God's purpose and bring glory to him by using the sickness as a means of grace.
- e) The final complete healing may come about through death. This is the gate of glory through which the redeemed and renewed person receives the resurrection body which is the ultimate healing of the body.
God must be allowed to answer the prayer for healing by his sovereign choice of the best course for each individual, which he alone knows, in the context of his greater and perfect purpose.
HEALING IN THE CHURCH
It is now necessary to try to derive some practical steps for the application of these principles.
1. The role of faith is to take God at his word and act upon it, since it is true
Faith is trusting God, believing that his word is true, and acting upon it. We trust him because of what we know him to be, through the Scriptures, and pre-eminently through the birth, life, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that because of what he is, we can rely on his word. We act upon that word because we know that it is true and reliable.
Though it may only be present in embryo, fulness of faith in relation to salvation, healing and wholeness involves:
- a) recognition of need
- b) recognition of the complete adequacy of Jesus Christ to meet that need fully
- c) recognition of who Jesus Christ is
- d) recognition that his will, choice, and decision is best
- e) resting in conscious acceptance of his will and purpose to answer as he sees best in the context of his eternal purpose
- f) acting on his general word in Scripture, and his special word to us in relation to a particular situation.
In relation to healing of the personality, the church community, or the body, we act in the same way and on the same basis as we do in relation to the healing of the spirit by the removal of the barriers between us and God. We believe God's promises in Scripture, we rely on them, and we take the appropriate action. We also exercise our minds, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in examining the particular situation with which we are concerned. Sometimes the Lord Jesus, by his Spirit, will give a more detailed word for that situation, telling us what we ought to pray for in quite specific terms. We then reach out in faith and trust, leaving to him the outcome and the working out of the answer to our prayer. He is faithful, he will hear, and having heard will answer as he sees best for us in the long, rather than the short, term.
Concerning physical or mental pain and distress, it is the short term with which we are, not unnaturally, so often preoccupied. However, the purpose of God, and therefore our best interests, may be furthered by his sustaining us in that pain or distress rather than by his removing it. He promises us grace to help in time of need, not grace to remove the apparent cause of that need (Heb. 4:16). This is not, of course, to say that he will not remove the cause, but rather that it is his prerogative to decide what he will do in answer to our prayer for mercy and help.
It is therefore a categorical error to suppose that lack of physical or mental healing in response to prayer is the result of a 'lack of faith'. It may be that God is delaying the answer, or it may be that he purposes to provide grace and strength to sustain the pain and debility.
Having said this, it is important to assert that the prayer for spiritual healing is always heard, however weak the faith. Its results may not always be immediately apparent; they take time to work out, and that working out can be hindered and inhibited by many things. The exploration of this in practice and experience is the process of sanctification in the individual. If many Christians were as concerned to seek holiness as they so often are to seek physical or mental healing, or solutions to personal and social problems, then it is arguable that we would see more physical, mental and social healing, not less. Being and staying right with God would achieve far more than we imagine or conceive.
Then it is perhaps also necessary to point out that healing in the Christian community is the will of God, and that it too can be readily inhibited and hindered by the sin and obstinacy of men. Here again, if we truly sought such healing with the dedication with which we so readily seek the solutions to our personal problems, then mental and physical healing might also follow for many of us.
The fact is that we need to get the priorities right, for we too readily reverse them. But none of these observations is intended to deny the reality of physical or mental healing by God: through means, without means, or against means (in spite of the efforts of the medical profession?!). Furthermore, it is quite futile to attempt to separate 'miraculous' healing (i.e. healing without means, or against means) from healing which has a plausible 'natural' explanation. The most that can be said, even with the most detailed study of particular cases, is that certain instances defy explanation in terms of our present understanding of biology and medicine. For the same reason, it seems to beg the question when it is asserted that healing 'miracles', in that narrow sense, ceased with the close of the apostolic age. Using a more applicable and less exclusive notion of 'miracle', there seems to be abundant evidence from church history that they did not cease.
2. Healing is rightly sought, and the ministry of healing rightly exercised, in the local community of Christ's church
Christ is now risen, ascended and exalted. His bodily presence is no longer with us on this earth. The church is now his body on earth, and it is through that body that Christ works today by his Spirit, in healing of spirit, mind and body, as in every other gracious activity. It is therefore right that the local church should engage in healing activities, provided that the concept of healing is cast in the broad categories already defined. But all dimensions need to be embraced, though the priorities must be observed.
Thus there are a number of practical points which may be drawn from the previous discussion:
- a) Healing gifts are given, as are all spiritual gifts, for the building up of Christ's church. They ought not to be exercised independently, as 'gifts-in-themselves', outside that context. So it might be suggested that 'healing missions', conducted by itinerant healers without the support of local churches, especially if they concentrate on the healing of the body, are inappropriate. Personally I would go even further and suggest that missions with such an emphasis are inappropriate anyway.
- b) The exercise of healing gifts is part of the ministry of the whole church. Indeed it might be said that, in the broad sense of healing envisaged in this paper, the whole ministry of the church as the body of Christ in the world is a ministry of healing to produce wholeness in the individual, in the local Christian community, and in society at large. The desire we have to separate these three aspects can be dangerous, and they can be held together provided that it is remembered that the healing of the relationship with God is primary in each of these aspects.
- c) Prayers for healing should be part of the ministry of the church. These should be both general and specific, and should include the healing of personalities and the healing of relationships as well as the healing of the body. They must be both public and private.
- d) All services of worship should be 'healing' services, concerned with the total needs of mankind, corporately and as individuals. Special 'healing services' should be merely an extension of this, to provide a particular opportunity for individuals to bring special needs of all kinds to the attention of the leaders of the local church. They may then be made the concern of the whole congregation, either by mentioning them publicly if the individual agrees, or secretly and implicitly by including them as part of a non-specific prayer. Attention is thereby focused on the needs of a particular individual, whether or not the specific need is made public. Such prayers ought to be an act of the whole church; the congregation is not an audience, but is required to participate by praying silently or very quietly with the leader who is articulating the prayer for healing. It is not only the faith of the individual with the named need which is exercised, but rather the faith of the whole church acting corporately in intercession and supplication. That ought to be the point of special 'healing services'.
- e) The 'elders' of the local congregation have a special responsibility in this ministry. They will normally be the leaders who offer the public prayer for private needs in the service of worship. It may be appropriate also to exercise the ministry of the laying-on-of-hands and anointing with oil, either in the service or privately at home with the needy person. When it is done privately it may sometimes be desirable and appropriate to bring to the attention of the congregation gathered for worship the names, and even on occasion the specific needs, of those who have been visited during the previous week, so that they may be prayed for by the whole church.
- f) Holy Communion seems to be the most appropriate service in which such ministries might be exercised. It focuses supremely and symbolically upon the saving work of Jesus Christ as the source and ground of all healing; it is the sacrament of his redeeming and healing sacrifice. Furthermore, it is also the corporate act of the local church as part of the universal church, the body of Christ, offering itself to the Lord for his use and service. That service is itself the work of healing in the fullest sense of the word, for it is the bringing of the saving, healing presence of Christ to individuals, families, communities and societies in their sin, alienation, brokenness, tension and sickness.
- g) The Book of Common Prayer contains an Order for the Visitation of the Sick. It requires modification and adaptation with some real discretion before it is at all suitable for incorporation into a healing service, and also before it is appropriate for use in private visitation of the sick. The Prayer Book of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa contains an Order for Ministry to the Sick which is more easily modified for contemporary use in the congregational context. Strangely, the Alternative Service Book does not contain any Order for this purpose. These Orders, suitably modified, may usefully be incorporated into the liturgy for Holy Communion, where a specific healing dimension along the lines suggested is to be included.
- h) Furthermore, personal needs should never be mentioned publicly without the express permission of the individual concerned. Even when such permission is given, there is still a serious responsibility laid upon the elders with whom the confidence is shared to seek true discernment from the Holy Spirit as to whether the publication of the need is right and appropriate.
- i) The scriptural plural 'elders', in the letter of James (5:14-16), should be taken seriously. Specific prayer in services of worship with an emphasis on healing as suggested in this paper should involve at least two 'elders', not necessarily clergy, but certainly men and women of prayer, experience and Christian maturity. Even private prayers for the sick in their homes should preferably involve a small group, rather than just one individual. This is especially so if the laying-on-of-hands or anointing with oil is to be practised in any situation.
- j) In 1 Corinthians 12, there are references to 'gifts of healing' (or 'healings') (vv9, 28, 30). Three observations may be made:
- i) This gift seems to be seen by the apostle as being quite distinct from the gift of 'working miracles'. Are we then to suppose that the 'healings' worked by this gift are not necessarily, or perhaps even mostly, 'miraculous'? If this were so, healings worked through normal means would be included; the distinctive element would then not be the fact that the healings were miracles, but rather that effectual prayer played a significant part in producing new health out of the sickness. The gift to which he refers would thus be a gift of prayer.
- ii) If this is so, then the emphasis changes so that the healing or healings are a gift of God by his Spirit to the person healed, mediated through the prayers of individuals and groups who have special gifts of discernment and perception in relation to sickness and disease. The one who mediates the gift is simply a channel of God's grace and power on particular occasions; his gift is not a power given to him as a tool to be used on his own initiative, however close to God is his walk of faith, and however prayerfully he uses it. The healer is God alone.
- iii) In whatever way the phrase 'gifts of healing(s)' is interpreted, the fact remains that, in Paul's ordering, it is subsidiary to the apostolic gift, and to prophecy and teaching. The relationship between healing and preaching and teaching which is so apparent in the gospels and in the Acts is thus fully maintained by the apostle Paul in this passage.
- There is perhaps much more which might be said on these matters, but the guidelines laid out may be of help in encouraging a scripturally balanced theology and practice of healing in the church.