This is the fifth and final part in a series on James 5:14-18. Check the first four posts in this series here: By His Stripes We are Made Whole ~ A Pentecostal Exposition of James 5:14-18* – Part 1: Historical and Literary Context, Three General Views on What James Means by “Sick”, Elders, Oil and What the Sick are Saved From in James 5:14-18, and The Prayer of Faith, Confession, and Righteousness.
What is the Doctrine of Healing in the Atonement?
The Pentecostal doctrine of healing in the atonement greatly informs the theological and practical interpretation of James 5:14-18 in a number of ways. So first, what is the doctrine of healing in the atonement and is it biblical? The doctrine of healing in the atonement (HIA from here on out) teaches that Christians are miraculously healed physically through the same atonement that brought them spiritual salvation (Kydd 710). HIA proclaims a Gospel for the whole person by confessing that Christ “is the source of health because He Himself has been made health for us even as He was made sin for us” (Purdy 504). According to classical Pentecostalism, the healing of the body should not be understood apart from the Gospel, but squarely in the center of it – the atonement. This is a Gospel for the whole person and for all people (490). Space does not permit me to provide an extensive overview of all the passages that support HIA, but the main texts that are always discussed are Ps. 103:3, Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24, and Matt. 8:17. Both Matt. 8:17 and 1 Peter 2:24 quote Isaiah 53:5 but apply it in different ways. Whereas “Matthew has physical healing primarily in mind, Peter has spiritual healing in mind, Yet by taking advantage of the same image to define Jesus’ work of spiritual restoration, he is not ruling out Matthew’s recognition of physical healing” (503). This divinely-inspired double-interpretation actually vindicates a kaleidoscopic understanding of the atonement in which healing is an aspect of the atonement among many.
There is actually a good amount of support for this interpretation of Matt. 8:17 among conservative and not specifically Pentecostal Bible scholars. Dr. D. A. Carson says in his commentary on the book of Matthew that “This text and others clearly teach that there is healing in the Atonement” (Carson 207). Carson goes on to caution against believing that it is always God’s will to heal because in this life we don’t actually enjoy all of the benefits Christ bought on the cross. Both Dr. Leon Morris and Dr. Craig Keener express similar interpretations of the passage as well in their commentaries (Keener, Matthew 177-8, Morris 198-9). Even the patriarch of modern Fundamentalist Cessationism, B.B. Warfield acknowledged that healing was part of Christ’s provision for us in the atonement (Warfield 176-7).
How it effects James 5:14-18
With HIA at least presented as a viable theological option, it is now able to serve as a theological lens through which James 5:13-18 can be interpreted with even greater clarity, specifically when to it comes to the question of the prayer of faith. The text assumes that the normal result of anointed prayer will be the physical healing of the sick brother or sister (Purdy 521). In fact, “James does not appear to consider the possibility that healing might not be attained” (Thomas 47). Although there are clearly exceptions that stand out in the New Testament of people who did not get healed (Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 and Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:23 to name two), this is not the normative picture Scripture paints. “God’s normative will is to heal the sick on the basis of Christ’s work, through the believer’s faith in Him” (Purdy 521). Therefore, when the elders are encouraged by James to pray “the prayer of faith” which will heal the one who is sick, he is not telling them to muster up enough faith to deserve or pry the healing out of God’s hands. No, instead they are simply exercising faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross in the same way all true Christians do for their positional justification every day. This also clarifies why James does not tell the congregations to seek healing from specific charismatically-endowed people who have the gift of healing and instead commands the elders and the whole congregation to pray for the sick to be healed (Thomas 32). If healing is purchased for all believers on the cross, than the congregation is doing nothing more than asserting what God has already promised to give, even if it doesn’t see its fulfillment in this life but in the life to come (Purdy 505).
In conclusion, James 5:13-16 is clearly talking about physical healing when all elements are considered. Additionally, James’ main message of wholeness in the Christian life is heavily promoted by the emphasis on healing in 5:14-16 and even more so when set against the theological backdrop of healing in the atonement. The Church needs to get back to the regular practice of elders anointing the sick with oil, the whole congregation praying for healing for one another, and the community confessing sins to each other. Less time should be spent defending people’s lack of faith in God’s desire to heal and more time spent promoting Christ’s full gospel of healing for the body and (more importantly) the forgiveness of sins.
[*This blog series was originally a research paper for Dr. Keith Krell’s Romans class at MBI-Spokane under the title of By His Stripes the Community is Made Whole: A Pentecostal Exposition of James 5:13-18]
(This list of citations apply to the entire series and not just this post)
Blomberg, Craig, and Mariam J. Kamell. ZECNT: James. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008. Print.
Bowden, Andrew M. “An Overview of the Interpretive Approaches to James 5.13-18.” Currents in Biblical Research 13.1 (2014): 67-81. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Carson, D. A. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1984. Print.
Davids, Peter H. NIGTC: The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982. Print.
Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993. Print.
Kydd, R. A. N. “Healing in the Christian Church.” The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Ed. Stanley M. Burgess. Rev. and Expanded ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 2002. 698-711. Print.
MacArthur, John. MNTC: James. Chicago, Ill.: Moody, 1998. Print.
McCartney, Dan. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. Print.
McKnight, Scot. NICNT: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2011. Print.
Moo, Douglas J. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. ; 2000. Print.
Morris, Leon. PNTC: The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans; 1992. Print.
Purdy, Vernon. “Divine Healing.” Systematic Theology. Ed. Stanley M. Horton. Revised ed. Springfield, Mo.: Logion, 2003. 489-524. Print.
Ropes, James Hardy. ICC: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1916. Print.
Serrao, C. Jeanne Orjala. NBBC: James: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2010. Print.
Tamez, Elsa. “James: A Circular Letter for Immigrants.” Review & Expositor 108.3 (2011): 369-380. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Thomas, John Christopher. “The Devil, Disease And Deliverance: James 5:14-16.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 1.2 (1993): 25-50. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. Counterfeit Miracles. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1918. Print.
Wilkinson, John. The Bible and Healing: A Medical and Theological Commentary. Edinburgh: Eerdmans, 1998. Print.