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Sender's name: Daphna'

Do you believe or practice the anointing of oil for sickness today?




The important question is not whether I believe it or not, but what does God want?  The biblical passage concerning anointing with oil for sickness is from James:


"Is anyone among you sick? {Then} he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:14-16)."


Here, a sick person is instructed to call for the elders to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  By implication, a confession of sins would also be involved in this.  There is disagreement over the significance of the anointing in the case.  There were several purposes for anointing which included the following:  1) For hygene or care of the body (Ruth 3:3; 2 Chr 28:15);  2) As an expression of joy, and therefore omitted during fasting (2 Sam 12:2; 14:2; Mic 6:15; Matt 6:17).  3) To show honor to a guest (Psalm 23:5; Luke 7:46).  4) In association with healing the sick (Mark 6:13).  According to Josephus, it was administered by physicians when used medicinally (Wars 1:656; Antiquities 17:172).  5) To signify holiness, separation and dedication to God (Gen 31:13; Exo 40:15; Num 3:3).   Some other purposes for anointing was to anoint Kings (Jud 9:8; 1 Sam 9:16-17; 10:1; 16:12-13; 2 Sam 5:1-4; 1 Kng 1:39), Priests (Exo 29:7; 30:22-33; Lev 8:12; 21:12), to signify the anointing of Jesus (Heb 1:9; Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38), and for Christians (2 Cor 1:21; 1 Jno 2:20).  In effect, what anointing signified was the setting apart of something.  Even when it came to the articles of the temple, they also were anointed (Exo 40:9; Num 7:1; Lev 8:10-13).


The possible meanings for anointing in the James passages could be one of the following:


1)  It was miraculous.  The difficulty was that James was a general letter.  It was not sent to a specific church.  If the anointing were miraculous, the assumption would be that all the elders were miraculous.  This would mean that every church would have to have elders with miraculous ability.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the text that shows that this instruction was to involve a miracle.  Miracles do not need anointing.  There were many miracles in the Bible that did not use an anointing.  The text makes it clear that it is not the oil, but the prayer of the faithful elders that will raise the sick person up and make him well.


2) It was medicinal, as in Luke 10:34.  The difficulty with this is that the word used in Luke 10:34 is not anoint.  In addition to this, the oil used here (as will as Isaiah 1:6) was specifically for wounds, not just any sickness.  If it were medicinal, you would expect there to be more than just oil.  There were other medicines in existence other than oil.  While oil would be useful in some ailments, it would be useless in others.  If it were medicinal, why not call a doctor?  In this case, it was the elders who were to be called.


3)  It was symbolic.  This is probably how the anointing to supposed to be taken.  The oil was to be symbolic of commending the sick person to God.  First of all, the oil was to be anointed in the "name of the Lord."  The healing that was to take place is not because of the oil, but because of the faith.  The actual healing comes from God.  A parallel to this would be our baptism.  The salvation that comes out of baptism is not because of the water.  The forgiveness comes from God who grants the forgiveness.  By the same token, healing does not come from the anointing, but from God who hears the prayer offered in faith.  The early church practiced anointing with oil for hundreds of years until it degenerated into "extreme unction" or "last writes," which bears little resemblance to the practice James talks about in this passage.


Should we anoint the sick?  If not, then what would be the reason.  We have a clear Biblical passage that instructs us to do this.  It may not make a lot of sense, but why not?  Baptism seems to make sense.  After all the Bible instructs us to do it.  The Bible also instructs the sick to call for the elders to anoint them.  Do we have enough faith to do what God's word tells us?


John Telgren

P.O. Box 452

Leavenworth, KS 66048


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