I recently received this question about anointing with oil for healing from a blog reader:
It was an honor to connect with you. Thank you so much for the book, Skeleton Church. It was awesome to glean from it concerning our church. I bless Almighty for having you now in my life.
I am the kind of person who always wants to dig deep, because I am sick and tired of going with the flow without understanding the source or the origin of something.
Through our connection I was able to get your study on tithing [Note: the book can be found here]. Wow, what can I say! This kind of book helps “realign” us from dead doctrines.
Here is my question: For some years and now I have not felt OK with the “Anointing Oil” that many of us use. If you can recommend something on this, I would appreciate it.
Here is my response to this question about using anointing oil for healing:
I wrote a paper on healing over fifteen years ago, and in that paper I dealt with several of the passages that some Christians use today for the practice of using oil to anoint for healing. Here is an excerpt from that paper about James 5:14.
James 5:14 and anointing with oil
James 5:14 begins by asking, ”Is anyone of you sick?” While some try to explain away what James is writing about by saying that it does not actually refer to someone who is physically sick, but instead someone who is spiritually or emotionally weak, I think it is best to go with the traditional and most common way of reading this text and see it as a a reference to physical sickness.
The reason that this is the best is because of what follows. James says that the one who is sick “should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Of the two steps listed here, (1) calling the elders for prayer and (2) the anointing with oil, the most important step is the prayer – which is why it is listed first. But in the Greek, it is actually the second step in logical order. A literal translation would read something like “he should call the elders to pray after having anointed him with oil.” The order is anoint first, pray second.
So then, what is this anointing with oil for the sick?
Sadly, the language barrier between Greek and English has caused much misunderstanding of the idea of “anointing with oil” throughout church history.
Many think that the anointing with oil is the type of anointing we see in various places in the Bible where a priest or prophet takes a vial of oil and puts some of it on their head (cf. 1 Samuel 16:13). This kind of anointing is symbolic of God’s choice of a specific person for a specific task. The oil represents the presence and power of God coming upon the person in an unusual way so that they can accomplish unusual tasks for Him.
With this in mind, many have said that the anointing here in James 5 is therefore symbolic of the Holy Spirit at work in the individual through the prayer of faith to heal the sick person. In other words, the anointing of oil in James 5:14 is thought to be sort of a symbol for the healing power of God coming upon the person to delivery them from sickness.
This is a very common view, and one that I held for many years. Recently, however, I have come to a different conclusion about what James is teaching.
How to Truly “Anoint with Oil” for Healing
As indicated above, many people relate the anointing here with the sacred and religious anointing with oil that we see elsewhere in the Bible. But that type of anointing is typically referred to by the Greek word chriō, which does mean “to anoint.”
The word used here, however, is the Greek word aleiphō. This word is primarily a medical term meaning “to rub or massage with oil.” The rubbing of a person with oil (aleiphō) was a common medical practice for the sick or injured to promote and encourage the healing of wounds and diseases.
What this means is that the anointing with oil of the sick in James 5:14 is is not a religious practice at all, but is a medical practice. When James says, “have the elders pray after having anointed the sick person with oil,” we can understand this text to be saying this: “have the elders pray after giving medicine to the sick person.”
To anoint the sick with oil is to give medicine to the sick
When James instructs his readers to anoint the sick with oil, he is telling them to give medicine to sick people. Other texts support this idea.
For example, it should be noted that olive oil (which was what James would have been talking about) does have certain medicinal qualities and is still used in modern medicine. The ancient historian Celsus mentioned its use for fevers, and Josephus said that Herod was given an oil bath in an attempt to cure him of his deadly disease. In the Bible, the Prophet Isaiah wrote of oil as being helpful for wounds (Isa 1:6), and the Good Samaritan mixed oil with wine to treat the wounds of the beaten traveler (Luke 10:34).
So, James is saying that if a person is sick, he should first of all seek medical help, and then ask the elders of the church to come pray.
Objection: But why are the elders involved?
One objection to the view above is that the involvement of the elders proves that this is not just medicine, but is a spiritual anointing with oil. Yet even here, there are very good reasons for the elders of the church to be involved.
First, asking the elders to pray for the sick person shows care for the brethren.
But second, in those days the leaders of the church were often the ones who administered the medicine. Doctors and physicians were not common, and since medical knowledge was not very advanced, many of the remedies could be prescribed and administered by average people. It was only until recently (maybe within the last two hundred years or so) that medical advancements have become so numerous and complex that only doctors can keep up to date on all of them.
In fact, a pastor named George Herbert from the 16th century writes in his book, The Country Parson, that since doctors are so rare, it is a good idea for pastors to know as much medicine as possible and administer it when they can.
The third reason to call for the elders is because of their godliness. James says that the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16), and James gives the example of Elijah whose prayers kept it from raining for three years, and then prayed for it to rain and it did. The point is that the elders are also supposed to be righteous and godly men, and so their prayer also can be effective in helping the sick person get well.
It is always a good idea to ask others to pray for you when you are sick. James encourages this practice here. But their prayer is not in partnership with some sort of strange magical healing oil which is dabbed on the head of the sick person. No, their prayer is in partnership with the medical practices of that day.
So today, a person who is sick should seek medical treatment and ask for people to pray.
Objection: But this takes glory away from God!
When some people hear this explanation of James 5:14, they say, “Doesn’t this remove some of God’s glory or take away some of the credit that is due Him if we go to a doctor?”
My response is that is does not. Not in any way! I believe that all medical and scientific advancement is a gift from God, and should be used to the fullest extent possible. Besides, as Dr. C. Everett Koop once said, all healing is God’s healing and the physician is just an instrument.
Besides, seeking out the help of modern medicine is not an attempt to leave God out of it. James is very clear that while getting medical treatment is the first step to take, the most important step is when a Christian approached God with the prayer of faith.
God has blessed men and women today with wonderful knowledge of how the body works and how the healing processes of the body can be supported. But when it all the medicines have been prescribed and all the surgeries have been performed, it is God who helps a person will get well. Knowing this, we do not ignore the medical knowledge which He has allowed to become known, for such things are also the good gifts of God and should not be refused.
So what does James teach about healing in James 5:14?
James instructs the sick person to go seek medical help, and most importantly, not forget to pray and have other godly and gifted people pray as well.
Are you sick and in need of healing? Do not refuse medical help out of some wrong idea that medicine is not spiritual. It is! Go get whatever medical help you can, and also ask others to pray with you for healing. Then, when medicine and faith work together and you are healed, give praise and glory to God, both for what He has done in your body, and also for what He has taught the medical-scientific world about how the body works.
Michael Flud says
Great explanation of this. It really shows how practical the Bible really is and how we so easily miss it by trying to over spiritualize everything.
Robert Laity says
I do not believe that attributing ALL glory to God for any healing is “over-spiritualizing everything”. God gives us our very breath and keeps our hearts beating. Should he turn from us for a mere fraction of a second we would cease to exist. Oil is what we Catholics call a sacramental, used in unison with prayer in order to help us in the realization that healing, although it may appear to come solely through the hands of God’s servants (Physicians), actually comes from God.
Ur explanation is untrue sir.oil and medicine are different.oil is God gave orders to use the oil
Michael Flud says
Do you have any thoughts on verses 15-16 where it says things like, if you have committed sins you will be forgiven…confess sins to each other and pray so that you may be healed. Never understood the connection between confession of sins and healing. But here it seems as if they are somehow connected.
Ken Webster says
Hi , not sure how long ago this post was. The passage says “if”they have sinned. The if seems to indicate that sin may or may not be a factor in the specific illness. We do know that stress can cause or at least exacerbate an underlying condition. Certainly if the guilt of sin is troubling a person, that stress alone may well impact the path to health and healing. It is a point of weakness the enemy will exploit. I believe the advice here is that if there is sin, then deal with it properly so it is no longer able to adversely affect the persons physical, mental and spiritual well being. There is a phrase to make straight the path. What this means is to remove spiritual opposition, impediment or resistance. Forgiveness makes straight the path. Anyway. just my 2 cents worth.
I once read a book that correlated specific sins with specific illness. I never believed a word of that because that is like a law of magic. It is the wrong kind of thinking. Spirituality is a living personal relationship where insight is given directly through the living relationship. It may be given directly into the heart and mind or it may just pop out of mundane life events and you will just know. Sometimes it comes quickly, other times only after a long and difficult journey. Stick with that journey and it will come at the right time. It seems to me healing can be like this too.
Out of curiosity, can you share the name of this book saying that specific sin cause specific disease?
I’m not the original commentor, so I don’t know. But there’s a book called “None of these diseases” that is like what he described.
Personally i dont think oil is neccesary for healing but it can boost the faith of a person similar to the use of hankies that have been prayed over for healing sometimes people get healed that way God is able to work in any situation we just have to believe.To someone that knows nothing but believes that the oil will help to heal the person then who am i to say that it is wrong.brentnz
Glenn Nead says
Michael, you are touching upon two of the four sacraments Catholics recognize that may be received more than once- the anointing sick and confession, both of which are administered by a priest. My first wife received anointing of the sick multiple times due to her chronic pain and health issues and I’ve received it at least twice, once before an angiogram and once as a caregiver of Catherine. For confession, Catholics are required to go at least once a year; the Pope goes weekly! The priest acts in the person of Christ to forgive and also acts to represent those affected by the sin as often you cannot seek forgiveness from the person(s) you actually offended. Assuming you are sincere, it is a relief to be specifically told that you are forgiven and you can start anew. Associated with this connection of health and confession, is proper reception of the Eucharist; should we receive knowingly with grave sin, we can suffer ill health because of it.
Craig Giddens says
Why would a person go to a priest when we have direct access to God?
C.B. Hall says
Right on, Craig. I know some people that are in the Catholic church and they are without any question born-again Christians. The ones I know do not accept many of the teachings of the Catholic church, but they go there to help others learn the truth of God’s Word. No where in the Word of God does it teach a mere man can act in the person of Christ. We are children of God, we are not Jesus Christ and we cannot, must not, try to substitute ourselves in His place. Actually, that is blasphemy. Jesus Christ is our High Priest. We are a kingdom of priests. I’m glad to hear the Pope confesses his sins weekly, but, like most of us, he better start doing it more often, and not to some mere man. Only God can forgive sins. The Catholics have put the Pope on a pedestal that no man should be on. He is only a mere man, and hopefully, he has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. I cannot judge his heart or his Christianity, but I can judge his actions and his words. Thus far, he gets a negative score on both.
We’ll put. I know some Catholics are saved sad to say most are not.If I were Catholic an got saved I would come out of that religion. SALVATION IS WHAT WE ALL NEED.I am not being mean just from the heart.Every time someone says this they say we are judging , no some things just need to be said heaven an hell are to serious. GOD bless
Jeremy – very interesting. Good stuff. Thanks for the explanation. All of this makes a lot of sense, but one question, you say that it would have been olive oil. How do we know that is was olive oil and not another oil? The bible mentions numerous oils. This document lists 14 specific oils that are mentioned in the bible: myrrh, frank incense, calamus, cedar wood, cinnamon, cassia, galbanum, onycha, spikenard, hyssop, sandalwood, myrtle, cypress, and rose of sharon.
Thank you for this article. I had read a similar explanation many years ago – about oil being the “medical preparation” for healing of the day – with a modern-day understanding that the oil we might use today could be symbolic of the medical preparation for healing – yes, even as we take advantage of the wonders and miracles of modern medicine. Not either/or, but both/and. Together. Prayer and medicine. A good example of holistic health and healing and wellness. It has made good sense to me.
Very interesting, Jeremy. Your article opens up a new perspective. What do you think about Revelation 22:2? Do you think the leaves mentioned there go hand in hand with the oil the elders used?
I just want to shared with my little testimony with you. I was alcoholic for eleven years. I was diagnosed with liver almost damaged and kidney. I could not moved or even able to drink a water I was dying because we could not able to afford medical helps my mom was crying and praying at last I knew I was departing from earth I asked my mom to forgive me but she said she has already forgiven me she told me to ask God to forgive me I tried my best to rolled down from my bed and kneel down to prayed for forgiveness instantly I saw vision I saw my own heart it brusted out like dirty water and many many animals and things came out from my heart .I was healed by Jesus.without any medicine helps .today I have a little downtrodden ministry called faith prayer ministry without any helped from any one.i like serving among non Christian because I was not theologian only bible school graduate. Thank you
Thank you for this biblical perspective on healing.
I’m a nurse, and I like using natural health remedies for myself, but I also know when to go to my doctor or the ER (if necessary) for treatment. And of course, prayer is always a part of healing.
But many Christians are suffering because of the false teaching that it is a sign of great faith to only use oil and prayer for healing. This is a dangerous teaching. I was in a church that taught your faith should make you well if you were anointed. So having to go to a doctor and use medications was a sign of spiritual failure, and a lack of God’s favor.
Malcolm Bernstine says
I am making ready to start my radiation treatment for Cancer. I decided to anoint myself with oil. I needed to refresh myself on the knowledge of. This article did way beyond I expected. THANK YOU
In light of the so many unbiblical and charismatic jumbo jumbo, this teaching is one of the rarest and most cogent, practical and scriptural exposition on using oil for healing. Thank you.
Deanna Bucci says
I agree. In 2010 I was diagnosed with a rare and incurable eye disease. I immediately sought out my eye doctor, who in turn sent me to a specialist who in turn sent me to John Hopkins ER. I could not drive there so I was dropped off and left there for like almost 48 hrs. As I began to feel sorry for myself I head the Holy Spirit tell me to quietly pray over each person who would come through the ER. So I did. Hours went by and finally I was seen. Lots of tests were done and within 24 hours they were able to eliminate 7 other possible diseases and diagnosis me. They only have a few options of treatments but no cures. They told me had I waited 2 more days I could have lost my site in both eyes permanently.
I received 2 different injections in each eye and had to return in 3 weeks to receive yet another round as well as high doses of steroids. My vision was like 20/100 or possibly worse. I went to church and they began to pray over me.
I eventually felt led to move back to my hometown just in case things took a turn for the worse. I began going to Cleveland clinic. The Lord opened the door yet again by referring me a specialist who trained the specialist I just had in MD. It was at that moment I knew God was telling g me He was going to heal me, that faith and science were going to merge. That my doctor was going to see literally a miracle through me. I didn’t know how that was going to unfold but I began to speak it outwardly to my doctor and told him to expect it.
In 2012, the disease became very active and I went legally blind in my left eye. After getting over the initial shock of hearing him say there is no treatment for blindness I heard it again, God was going to heal me. Through all my visits I began telling my doctor that I will get my site back, God said he was going to heal me and I was trusting Him.
A new church I had began going to anointed me and began praying for me as well as others.
About 7 months later, I knew there was a change and when I went in for my monthly check up my vision with glasses was 20/40.
I began crying and the his asst. Also began crying. He didn’t know what to say or how to document. I continued to tell him God was going to give me 20/20 and he was going to heal me from this disease.
In 2013 I moved yet again, and finally came to a place where God united me with my church family. A anointed praying church family. And they have been coming into prayer and agreement with my Divine healing.
In Jan. of 2020 I heard the Holy Spirit tell me that this would be the year that I would see through his eyes which are 20/20. Keep in mind I have had to get injections in one or both eyes on an avg. of every 3 months since 2010.
In Sept. Of 2020 I went for my follow up and was told that it had been 10 years that month since my diagnosis, and it also had been 1 year also that month since my last injection and I had 20/20 vision with my glasses. And my optometrist had told me weeks prior when I went to get new glasses that my nearfarness had improved.
I believe I am healed, regardless if my doctor will say it or not. It is no coincidence that my follow up happened in the month when it all began and when I had my last injection. We both witnessed a Divine miracle if faith and science coming together even he can not document it that way.
Sometimes we must remain persistent, patient and faithful regardless of all that we don’t see happening, for faith is all about what we don’t see but what we truly believe God says.
James Chase says
Excellent message on the topic of anointing the sick with oil. However, is it essential for healing?
I am of the understanding that it was one of the spiritual gifts in the first century while the apostles were alive, but was not applicable after the apostles no longer alive. In other words, it was a sign gift that is no longer used.
For example, speaking in tongues is also not applicable for today.
Ankpese James says
Good write up
Leke Victor says
Thank you for this clarification.
Does this answers the anointing with oil made by the disciples in Mark 6:13?