Anointing with Oil
Do Christians require anointing oil, i.e. olive oil, to heal the sick, as instructed in James?
Christians disagree much on the application of the passage in James. Some reject it as a practice for today. Some try to obey it exactly as detailed in James and do it only when someone specifically calls for the elders of the church. Others go much further than James and make it a regular part of some sort of healing service. I can only give you the conclusions I reached a few years ago after studying the issue. Here is the passage in question:
James 5:14-15 Is any sick among you? 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 shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
I greatly oppose those who make a mockery of this passage by setting up healing lines at healing services and use this passage to support their actions. As we shall see, this passage does not support the practices of healing services. The New Testament church was never commanded to have such services. However, I have no serious opposition to those who practice anointing of the sick when they call for the elders of the church according to the instructions in James. I know that they are just trying to obey the scriptures. But I personally do not anoint the sick as a practice. I believe it was a part of the age of the apostles and connected with other gifts such as speaking in tongues. The book of James was written early--during the time of the book of Acts. The changes that would take place with the completion of the New Testament had not yet taken place. Let me give you seven reasons I do not anoint with oil.
- It was a Jewish practice and never mentioned among the Gentiles. Anointing with oil for the purpose of healing is only mentioned two times in the Bible--in James 5:14 and in Mark 6:13. Mark 6:13 states "And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." It refers to the time Jesus sent His disciples out two by two (v.7)--"And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits." One of His commands is that they go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (see Matthew 10:5-6). Obviously, it was a Jewish practice. The only other mention of the practice is in the book of James. Although James has much practical instruction for us, it was written to Jewish believers. James 1:1 states, "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting." The "twelve tribes" refer to the Jewish people. Anointing with oil for healing is never mentioned in any other context in the New Testament.
- It was an early practice that was never mentioned during the age of grace. Even speaking in tongues was mentioned much later than anointing with oil. We see different practices for the sick in later times. Paul prayed for the removal of the thorn in the flesh (2Corinthians 12:7-9). He gave a medical prescription to Timothy (1Timothy 5:23). He often kept Luke the physician close to him (2Timothy 4:11). And, he had to leave Trophimus at Miletum sick (2Timothy 4:20). If Paul had to ability to heal by anointing with oil, why did he not do so? Much had changed about how God healed. The early healings were confirmations that the spoken words of Christ and His apostles were truly from God. Mark 16:20 says, "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen." Notice that the signs (that is, miracles) were for the purpose of confirming the word. For instance, if I came to you and said that Jesus arose from the dead and you must believe in Him for salvation, why would you believe me before the New Testament was completed? However, if I said this and then healed your son from a dreadful disease, what would you think about my message? This is the purpose of the early signs and wonders. It was to verify the truth of their words.
- Anointing with oil used a physical object (oil) in order to obtain divine assistance. This kind of practice belongs to the time of the sign gifts (see Acts 19:11-12).
- It provided absolute deliverance from physical illness as in the apostolic age. Many do not read the words carefully, but James states that "the prayer of faith shall save the sick." This is a promise of healing. This means that all who sought the elders and received the prayer of faith would be healed. Does this seem strange? It should not. It was standard practice by Christ and the apostles. Jesus went about "healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35). He sent out His apostles with power "to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (Matthew 10:1). Even after His resurrection, the apostles of Christ received sick folks and "healed every one" (Acts 5:16). It was only later that Paul prayed for deliverance and was refused (2Corinthians 12:7-9) or had to leave a co-worker behind because he was sick (2Timothy 4:20). When they first started, all who came to be healed were healed. God's reputation was on the line. Now, God shows us that He sometimes fulfills His will through sickness.
- As in apostolic healing, the burden of success was on the ones doing the anointing. In James, it is the elders who are called upon to pray and it is their prayer that saves the sick. Compare this to the time the disciples of Jesus could not cast a devil out of a boy (see Matthew 17:19- 0). Jesus did not blame the boy. He scolded the disciples for their lack of faith. That means that those who claim to heal people today are at fault when the sick person is not healed. It is not the fault of the sick.
- The practice made use of human mediators in order to obtain forgiveness of sins. In James, the elders are to pray for the sick person so that his sins may be forgiven. The sick person got forgiven because someone prayed for them and acted as a mediator for them. But 1Timothy 2:5 tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man and His name is Christ Jesus. The apostles were given power to remit sins (John 20:23) but today we go directly to Jesus to receive forgiveness.
- Today, God heals directly; not through the hands of men. In Matthew 10:1, Jesus gave his disciples power to heal the sick. That power is not given to men today. Again, notice the apostle Paul. In Philippians 2:27, he thanks God for having mercy on a man called Epiphroditus who was sick unto death before God healed him. Paul does not mention any sort of healing service or any power men had to heal the sick. Rather, he praises God for healing the man directly. That is the way God heals today. We seek Him in prayer and, if it is His will, He heals the sick person.