Academic journal article International Review of Mission

James 5:14-18: Healing Then and Now

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

James 5:14-18: Healing Then and Now

Article excerpt


Much exposition of James 5:14-18 has tended to polarize the teaching therein. Either the author is seen to be promulgating medical therapy or spiritual ministry, a restoration to physical health or spiritual wellbeing. Instead, it will be proposed that James is advocating the re-establishment of wholeness of a comprehensive nature. The key aspect in the guidelines is prayer and, in particular, the prayer of faith, the latter to be equated with a prayer that is in accordance with the will of God. Other issues explored include the identity of the suffering, the significance of the use of oil, the identity of those who offer prayer, the relevance of the use of the name of the Lord, the place for confession and the value of the illustration concerning Elijah. James offers a path to wholeness and healing in their fullest sense, and encourages believers to participate in this ministry. This will necessitate actively righteous lifestyles on their part combined with compassion, wisdom and love; the whole will enable them to minister appropriately.


The book of James is an important text relating to the topic of healing. Not only is it one of the earliest books (if not the earliest) in the New Testament (NT), but also it was written by the leader of the most important Christian centre in the early church, based in Jerusalem. The book provides a practical framework that is also applicable to contemporary healing situations. Given the above, and the unfortunate fact that the early church infrequently applied the advice, it is instructive to consider the salutary suggestions presented by James.

James offers his guidelines in a deliberately comprehensive way (1) to accommodate a wide scenario of ministry opportunities. The guidelines provide a path to wholeness and healing in their fullest sense: a potential harmony of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a person. (2) James is not only offering hope for those in his community who are physically ill but also for those who find themselves marginalized as a result of other forms of weakness.

What is the weakness?

All modern translations of James 5:14-18 refer to the identity of the suffering concerned as being sickness. As a result of this, most readers have assumed that the ministry offered in the passage is only relevant for those who are (seriously) physically ill. However, sickness is not the only cause of one being marginalized or dis-abled. Discouragement, spiritual weakness, emotional weariness and fear are examples of conditions that are not often defined as sickness but which can be as debilitating and as damaging, if not more so, than some forms of physical sickness. The variety of words used by the author to refer to the weakness concerned indicates that while physical illness is not to be ruled out as a form of weakness that may warrant the prayer of the elders, other types of weakness may also be envisaged. It is of 'no surprise that the Greek terms astheneo and kamne, translated "sick" in this passage, are Used in many different settings to identify a range of weaknesses.

The term "sick" (5:14) is a translation of astheneo. The latter is used in Jewish, Christian and secular Greek writings of that era to refer to a variety of conditions including spiritual weakness, physical weakness and sickness as well as less common meanings that relate to other forms of weakness. Too quickly, an interpretation has been offered for this passage in which the ministry offered and restoration expected relates to healing of physical sickness. Though this may be part of the whole, other symptoms may also be anticipated. An appreciation of the range of meanings of astheneo helps to confirm this.

In secular Greek writings, the word, in all its compounds, is used to represent different states of being. It is used to suggest "bodily weakness" including "sickness", (3) but it is more widely used to denote other forms of weakness. …

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