It is important that if any gift is exercised and used in the church that there be a theological understanding of the gift. A proper theological understanding will lead to a ministry philosophy for the gift and this will then lead to the contextualization of that gift in a local church.
It seems clear from Scripture that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to believers for the building up of the church. Yet, these gifts are to be used in a way that brings glory to God and should never be done in a disorderly way.
To be responsible with the gifts that God has given, it is important for leaders to develop a theological understanding of the gift from Scripture. The Scripture becomes the litmus test and foundation for the use of the gift over and above experience.
I have chosen to write on the gift of healing specifically because it is a gift that is rife with debate. Is miraculous healing for today? Is healing the job of every believer? Is healing guaranteed if faith is employed? These questions and hundreds of others make this specific gift a unique one that needs to be understood Biblically. Furthermore, the gift of healing is one that can be (and has been) abused by people in the name of Christ. Healing can conjure up aspects of mysticism and be carried out in an uncomfortable way by some.
I intend for this article to serve as my personal contribution to the theology on the gift of healing. I seek to understand the gift of healing from Scripture so that I can understand the gift myself and guide those I lead faithfully. Second, I intend for this article to provide practical guidance for the gift today. This guidance is intended for the gift of healing to be utilized in an orderly context. Sometimes there is reluctance to put boundaries in place when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit for fear of “quenching” the Spirit or “putting the Holy Spirit in a box.” However, even Paul was quick to install boundaries in the early church so that order would be had in the church gatherings (1 Corinthians 14).
My desire is that the truth of Scripture be elevated, and the practice of those truths executed in a way that brings glory to God. I believe that when the truths of Scripture are being carried out in ways that are faithful there is less tendency for confusion and manipulation.
Healing in the Gospels
Miraculous physical healing finds its origin in the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew records that Jesus went all throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Kingdom of God, and healing diseases and afflictions of the people (Matt. 4:23). Not only was Jesus healing physical illnesses, he was also casting out demons. It is important to note that the Bible, on numerous occasions, differentiates between physical healing and exorcism of demons (Matt. 4:24, Mark 1:34, Luke 6:18). The healings that Jesus performed varied from making a blind man see (Mark 8:23), making a lame man walk (Matt. 15:31), to raising a man from the dead (John 11:43).
The miraculous power of Jesus was reserved for Jesus alone except when he conferred this power upon the disciples and the seventy-two followers at distinct points in time. In Luke 9, we are told that Jesus called the twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. He sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:1-2). The disciples went out and seemed to have success in their journey, yet it appears this power was not given to the disciples indefinitely. Only a few verses later in Luke 9:40 the same disciples are unable to cast out the demon in a boy.
Luke chapter 10 records Jesus sending out a larger group of his followers known as the seventy-two. This group of disciples was sent out with a similar mission to the twelve disciples. They were to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:9).
When these seventy-two returned to Jesus, they are rejoicing in the gift that Jesus had conferred upon them. Yet, Jesus answers them sharply, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Aside from these two instances, there is no record of the healing power of the disciples being utilized while Jesus was on earth; other than these two records in the Gospel’s, all healing and demonic exorcism was done by Jesus alone.
Healing in Acts
After Jesus ascends to heaven, the Holy Spirit comes upon the church in Acts 2. At this point, the miracle-working power of the disciples is recorded. In Acts 3 Peter and John heal a lame man at the gate called Beautiful (Acts 3:7). The man, who had been lame since birth, began walking and jumping and praising God. The disciples capitalized on the moment and preached Jesus to the crowds that witnessed this miracle.
Acts records that many signs and wonders were done regularly among the people by the hands of the Apostles – even to the point where they were laying sick people on mats out in the streets so that they might be healed as Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:12-15).
The miraculous power that was being displayed was not exclusive to the Apostles only. There is evidence that this power extended to other disciples. Acts 6 talks about a disciple named Stephen who was “full of grace and power” and was doing great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). In addition, a disciple named Philip was sent to Samaria and he preached the Kingdom of God while performing signs including healing and exorcism of demons (Acts 8:4-8).
Peter is recorded as healing a man named Aeneas who had been bed-ridden for eight years (Acts 9:32-35). Additionally, Peter raises a woman named Dorcas to life (Acts 9:40-42).
Paul and Barnabas become key figures in the second part of the Book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas are sent out by the church to preach and plant churches. It seems that the power of miraculous signs accompanied these two men as well. When Paul and Barnabas were at the city of Iconium it is recorded that “They remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). Most likely, healing was among these signs.
It is important to note that between chapters 14 and 19 in Acts there is no talk of any miracles of healing. Rather, as Paul went from town to town it says that he would reason with those in the Synagogues.
Yet, in Acts 19 the miraculous power is seen again. “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:13-12).
One chapter later, Paul raises a young man named Eutychus from the dead after he falls out of a window while listening to Paul preach (Acts 20:10).
The last recorded healing in the Book of Acts describes Paul healing the father of a man named Publius. Publius was the chief on the island of Malta. Paul prayed for the father, who was stricken with fever and dysentery, and he along with everyone on the island who had the disease were healed (Acts 28:7-9).
Healing in the Epistles
There is a drop-off of recorded miracles after the Book of Acts. Other than references to the gift of healing, (which I will address later) there are no recorded healings that take place. The only reference to healing comes in the Book of James. The instruction reads as follows: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:13-14). This is not surprising as the Epistles generally are letters of instruction for the churches and do not contain historical accounts as the book of Acts does.
The Gift of Healing in 1 Corinthians
Paul talks specifically about various gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to believers for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7) and for building up the church (1 Cor. 14:26). Paul makes it clear that the gifts that are given by the Spirit are given to individuals as God wills it (1 Cor. 12:11).
One of the gifts mentioned is the gift of healing. It is interesting to note that the word for “gift” is plural (i.e. gifts of healing). One scholar suggests that this could imply gifts for healing of specifics kinds of ailments.
This is the only place where the specific gift of healing is mentioned.
We have just done a quick walk-through of healing through the New Testament. There a few things that are obvious; healing was a normal part of Jesus’ ministry and a normal part of the workings of the early church. There are a few things that I would like to make note of here regarding the Scripture that we have read as it will serve to help later on in this discussion.
First, I find it interesting that the power of healing was given to the disciples temporarily while Jesus was still on earth. Since the gift of healing is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples must have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit for a limited time.
Second, it is important to note that the recordings of healings in Acts are initially only performed by the Apostles. This does not change until chapter 6 when, after the Apostles pray over Stephen and Philip, they are recorded as doing miraculous signs. Later, it is recorded that Paul and Barnabas perform miraculous signs and healings.
Third, the lack of mention of healings in the Epistles either means that healing was such a normative part of the church that there was no need to mention it, or healing had begun to become less common and there were no healings to report. We will talk about this further later.
Questions about Healing
Is there clear indication that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including healing, ceased after the early church?
There is an argument that suggests that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were given temporarily to the early church and the Apostles as a means of verifying the message of Jesus. While miracles certainly verified the Gospel, given the evidence later in the New Testament it is hard to make a case that they completely ceased. It seems reasonable that Paul would not have given such a lengthy discourse on spiritual gifts nor would the Holy Spirit have allowed it to be placed in Scripture if there was not some aspect of it that was for the church today. The language in 1 Corinthians 12 does not indicate that the gifts were in any way fading or going away. Rather, the language indicates that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were being practiced by every-day Christians in the church at Corinth. These were not the Apostles nor itinerant disciples. Paul is writing to address the use of spiritual gifts in the context of a local church.
It is hard for me to conclude based on the Scriptural evidence that the gifts of the Spirit have entirely ceased. I cannot see anything that clearly indicates this in the Scripture. What is clear is that the gifts of the Spirit are given byGod tobelievers according to His will. If a gift ceases, it is completely in the hands of God.
Is healing something that is guaranteed?
I cannot find any indication in Scripture that healing is guaranteed in every situation. In 2 Timothy 4:20, Paul writes about a man named Trophimus who he had to leave for ill in Miletus. Knowing Paul it would seem almost certain that Paul would have prayed for healing for this fellow servant of Christ, yet we see that healing was not granted in this case. Second, Paul himself describes a “thorn in the flesh” that God had not taken away (2 Cor. 12:7) although Paul had asked that it be removed. Third, Paul notes that Timothy is stricken with frequent illness and must drink some wine to help him cope (1 Tim. 5:23). Fourth, Paul refers to more than five hundred people whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Paul mentions that many of these witnesses are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:5). Is it not reasonable to assume that some of those who had passed away had done so because of illness that they had not recovered from?
A difficult Scripture is the one found in James 5:15 where, in speaking of sickness, James says that if a person is sick and brought to the elders, the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick. Some have used this Scripture to argue that healing is guaranteed as long as enough faith is utilized. This misrepresents the text, however, as there is much evidence to suggest that the healing referred to here is not necessarily physically (though it could be a part of it). Rather, James is indicating both a potential physical healing coupled with an even more important spiritual healing which comes about through forgiveness of sins.
Is it the duty of Christians to heal?
Much debate has centered on this topic. Many will use the Scripture in Mark 16:9-20 as an argument that healing is a validating sign that accompanies those who are saved. Thus, healing should be normative for all who profess the name of Jesus. I even heard a pastor suggest that he believes that the atonement of Christ provides for complete physical healing. I do not agree with this position for a few reasons. First, anyone with a modern translation of the Bible can see that Mark 16:9-20 was not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Mark. This portion of Scripture was included in the King James Version of the Bible because the King James used later Medieval manuscripts to translate it. As time and discovery has happened it has been clearly seen that these verses were not in the earliest manuscripts of Mark. This section was added later. In modern translations this is indicated. It would be un-wise to create a theology based on this Scripture. This is the only portion of Scripture where it mentions that “these signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17-18). Therefore, it is erroneous to make this statement based on this Scripture. Second, Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given byGod. Therefore, it is not individuals but God who brings healing. It is only the duty of Christians to heal in so much as God utilizes them through the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the Great Commission must be considered in this discussion. The Great Commission from Jesus is to go and preach the Gospel and make disciples. Notice that the priority of the Great Commission is not healing specifically. The goal of the Great Commission is the Gospel being preached and people giving their lives to Jesus and walking with Him.
Is healing for believers only?
It does not appear in Scripture that receiving healing is exclusively for believers in all situations. Dr. Michael Brown argues that healing is part of the covenantal blessing of believers,but God’s mercy extends beyond to those who have not yet put their faith in Christ. It is possible that healing for non-believers is used by God as a means to stir their hearts to repent and seek Him.
How should the gift of healing be approached in wisdom?
Exercising the gift of healing, like the use of any spiritual gift, should be done decently and with wisdom. The gift should never be used as a way to bring attention to the individual, as a “show,” in a way that would bring embarrassment, or in an aggressive or pushy way. I would like to offer 6 approaches for utilizing the gift of healing.
Be incredibly sensitive to the person being prayed for: It is incumbent upon us to make sure that we are being sensitive to the privacy of the person we are praying for. As little attention as possible should be drawn to the moment.
Pray in a normal tone and with normal language: Shouting, using complex words, and praying for an overly long period of time should be avoided. When praying for healing pray with sincerity, pray with conviction, and pray in normal, conversational language.
Do not pray ‘suggestively’ or manipulatively: Suggestive prayer is when the person praying ‘suggests’ that the person might be feeling or experiencing something at that moment. This type of prayer can delve into mysticism and encourage a person to agree with something that is not really happening. In the same way, manipulative prayer ‘prods’ the person being prayed for to say or ‘experience’ something.
Do not imply lack of faith as the result of continued illness: This is false theology. As we can see from Scripture, many people who had great faith were not healed for whatever reason. A person should never be led to believe that a lack of faith is what has led to a sickness, injury, or chronic issue.
In conclusion, it seems clear that healing did not cease after the first century church. Miraculous physical healing was initated by Jesus as a sign of the Kingdom of God and continued with the Apostles and the church.
Thus, based on the Scriptures found in 1 Corinthians it seems reasonable to conclude that physical healing is still for today. The mystery resides in whenand howhealing takes place. Does God always bring healing? We can see from Scripture and experience that He does not. Why this is the case we do not know.
What we can know is that as believers we can confidently pray in faith that God can bring physical healing. Beyond this, it is completely in the hands of God as to whether he chooses to provide the healing.
Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. James White, “The Healing Debate Part 2,” Revelation TV, accessed December 5, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OFclA8kL-0&list=WL&index=20&t=2713s.