It is sad that a topic which was such a welcome and compassionate feature of the ministry of Jesus, his disciples, and the early church, should have become a focus of controversy for contemporary groups, even resulting in the overt abuse of many suffering people and their caregivers.
Clearly, we will not solve all the problems of two millennia in one brief study, but perhaps we can make a few suggestions to add some light and reduce the heat of the discussions. Please bear in mind that this is the earnest intention of this posting!
The first surprise is in the lexical meanings of the three different word groups that have been rendered “heal.” The most common, therapeuo (v.), therapeia (n), is also the least specific. L/S lists “to do service (to gods or people), to honor parents, to wait upon a master, to pay attention, to treat medically, to train animals, to cultivate land, to prepare food or drugs, to mend garments”! It is only in juxtaposition with a diagnosis that one can be anywhere near certain that “healing” is the intention. Perhaps we should start by expanding our understanding of the extent of Jesus’ ministrations to folks with widely varied needs!
Iaomai (v.), iama and iasis (n), are more exclusively focused upon medical attention: “heal, cure, treat diseases; remedy or counteract” are primary, with “repair” also included as well as “refine” (as in alchemy).
Sozo, more commonly rendered “save” with “eternal” consequences by modern evangelicals, seems primarily to be used in more desperate situations: its first listing is “to save from death, to keep alive”, but also includes “to recover from sickness, to keep safe or preserve, to remember or keep in mind, to rescue.” Its prefixed form, diasozo, is similar, but more emphatic.
The words referring to diagnoses are likewise extremely diverse. About half the time, the accounts specify the problem of the sufferer: blindness, deafness, crippling of legs, feet, or hands; paralysis, leprosy, hemorrhage, fever, or even a cut-off ear! Notice, please, that demonic conditions are treated as a separate malady (16x), and not, as some would have it, simply showing ignorance of the source of distress. Elsewhere, usually in a crowd setting, the record shows Jesus being presented with “all kinds of diseases” and “healing them ALL”. Descriptions of these “generic” afflictions also use widely varied vocabulary.
Arrhotos, (arrhoteo, -ia) (5x) may refer either to “sickness, especially epidemics, a lingering infirmity, or moral weakness.”
Asthenos (astheneo) the most common, (35x) can include weakness, feebleness, sickliness, disease”, but also “poverty” (Herodotus), “moral weakness” (Plato), or “any person who is needy, insignificant, or powerless”! Most of us fit somewhere in there!
Malakia (3x) may be “moral weakness, sickliness, or cowardice.”
Nosos, nosema (13x), the only one essentially confined to physical conditions, encompasses “sickness, plague, disease, distress, anguish, any disease of the mind, or any grievous affliction.”
These words usually occur in different combinations of two or three in the various gospel narratives, seemingly thereby to indicate that whatever the problem, Jesus, and by extension, his people, both care, and do something about it!
Regardless of the specific vocabulary, the vast majority of references to healing occur in the gospels (58x), and nearly all of those focus on Jesus’ personal action, although there are 7 instances of authority being delegated to the disciples (in one of which their attempt failed – Lk.9:42). Healing definitely figured into the expectations and ministry of the early church, as evidenced in Ac.3 and 4, 5:16, 8:7, 9:34, 10:38, 14:9, 28:8,9; I Cor.12:9, 28, 30; Jas.5:16). Here, too, though, it was not always immediately successful (Ac.9:36).
Contrary to the claims of folks who propose to “teach” others to “heal”, the New Testament reveals no requirements, techniques, prescribed incantations, or ceremonies; and any healing that occurs is overtly and immediately attributed to the power of God in Jesus.
There are no flamboyant professional healers, except the sons of the Jewish priest, Skeva, (Ac.19:13-17), who did not fare so well in Ephesus. Peter and John (Ac.3:12,16) and Paul and Barnabas (Ac.14:8-18) had clear opportunity to take credit to themselves for miraculous healings, but uniformly rejected personal acclaim, insisting repeatedly that it was the Lord’s doing and not theirs.
“Gifts of healing” (I Cor.12:9, 28, 30) are indeed among the equipment provided by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of folks both within and outside the Body, but as noted in #25, “gifts” are not the possession of the person who employs them, but rather the Lord’s provision for the individual who is in need. James (5:14-16) assigns this responsibility to the elders (#42) of the group.
It is just as fruitless to try to develop a prescribed “methodology” as it is to identify “qualified” individuals or “appropriate” occasions for healing. The occasion is appropriate wherever / whenever there is a need: healing consistently accompanied Jesus’ own teaching. The Sabbath was no problem for him, as it was for the “official” types who opposed him (Lk.6:7, 13:14, 14:3), nor did it matter where it happened: on a public street (Lk.8:44), in someone’s home (Lk.4:38,39 and others), or in a synagogue (Lk.4:33). His instructions to his disciples (Mt.10:1, 10:8, Mk.3:15, Lk.9:1,2; 10:9) and the subsequent ministries of Philip (Ac.8), Peter and John (Ac.3,4), Paul (Ac.16:18, 28:9) and others, likewise, had no restrictions or outlines to follow.
Jesus’ examples of “technique” are just as varied. He did not even need to be present for his “word” to accomplish a healing (Mt.8:7-13, Lk.7:7, Mk.7:26-30), but at other times, he gave explicit instructions to the patient (Mk.2:11, Jn.5:8, 9:7), or addressed commands to a demon (Mt.8:28-32). But most frequently of all, he reached out and touched the suffering person – whether or not that was officially sanctioned or socially acceptable. According to the Law, a leper (Mt.8:3), a dead person (Lk.7:11) or a woman (Mk.1:31) was not to be touched. We will revisit this graciousness in the next post.
There were even occasions where the afflicted were restored by simply touching his clothing (Mt.9:20, 14:36, and parallels)!
The commissioned disciples seem to have added the practice of anointing with oil (Mk.6:13): there is no record of Jesus having done so, although he did use mud [clay] once (Jn.9:6). James (5:14) later advocated this practice. No one gives any explanation, although the purely secular example of the “good Samaritan” illustrates the common use of oil in treating wounds.
Apostles also employed a simple command (Ac.3:6, 9:34, 14:9), or a touch (Ac.28:8, 3:7, 9:12, 9:41) even, again, of a garment (Ac.19:11). Their carrying on of the healing ministry often specifically includes prayer (Ac.4:30, 9:40, Jas.5:16), although this is not mentioned in Jesus’ activity.
But what of that shibboleth of self-styled healers – the “magic word”, “faith”?
First of all, please refer back to study #1, exploring the word pistis, and remember that it is NOT an alternative term for autosuggestion! In most contexts, “trust”, “faithfulness”, or “loyalty” is a more accurate translation. Jesus only once scolded anyone for its lack: and that was in explaining to the disciples the reason for their failure to heal a demon-tormented child. He did ask the father in that scene to trust him – but that is the only record of his articulating any such condition. There are places where he credited a person’s trust / loyalty for their healing (Mt.9:22, 29; 15:28 and parallels), but the vast majority of incidents include no such statement – and the man introduced in Jn.5:13 did not even know who had healed him! In Mk,.2:5, it is the trust / loyalty of the men who carried their friend to Jesus that is commended. And in the many crowd scenes, no sorting of any kind is recorded. We have only the simple statement that “he healed them ALL.” (Mt.4:23,24; 8:16, 9:35, 12:15, 19:2, 21:14, and parallels)
Completely absent is any requirement that a person “claim” a healing of which there has been no evidence. Had the blind man in Mk.8:24 been urged to do so, Jesus would have had no occasion to offer the “second touch” that completed his restoration! And it was the irrefutable evidence of the lame man strolling around with Peter and John that so flummoxed the bigwigs at the temple (Ac.4:14). Repeatedly, observers are described as marveling at what they had SEEN.
Also absent is any suggestion of “blaming the victim” for his condition – a concept that Jesus plainly repudiated in Jn.9:1-4 – and which is the apex of the cruelty of the modern “healing business”!
So – with all this variety, is there anything of which we may be certain?
*Jesus not only announced his purpose “to heal the broken hearted” (Lk.4:!8) in his inaugural address, but demonstrated the compassionate use of his power to restore people throughout his earthly career, whether the need was physical illness, lack of food, moral laxity, or even death!
*In assigning responsibility to his disciples, these same concerns are dominant: both before and after his departure.
*The provision by means of the Holy Spirit, for the continuation of Kingdom service on the part of its citizens included physical healing among the many assignments and enablements by which they are expected to represent their King to the world.
May we help each other to learn to do so responsibly!