Weakness or Sickness? A Look at James 5:14

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Weakness or Sickness? A Look at James 5:14

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“Is anyone among you sick? 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” (NKJV: James 5:14).

If James 5:14 tells us to call on our church’s elders when we are sick, then admit it—a lot of us need to ‘fess up! Have you even once called your church’s elders, seeking prayer? If you are like me, the answer is “no.” Then again, we’re not alone. James 5:14 also commands elders to lay their hands on the sick. If this means our elders are to do this every time a member is sick, then our elders are also guilty for not following Scripture. Have we all broken faith with our Lord Jesus?

The meaning of “sick”

We could try to explain the verse by supposing that James only intends elder attentions towards serious sickness, but the text doesn’t say that. Or, we could imagine such prayers and the laying of hands are to be done when a believer’s sickness is brought on by sin. But again, the text doesn’t say that, and some of the more hypochondria-prone among us might also be the most sensitive to personal sin, real or imagined. How could we know if our sickness were caused by sin, or the common cold?

Instead of translating the verb in James 5:14 as “sickness,” perhaps we should translate it as “weakness.” After all, this is how this verb is translated twelve of the fifteen times it appears in the NT letters to the churches.1 That’s reason enough to make it a solid choice in translation. But the idea of sickness in James 5:14 has a long and venerable history, even if it is pretty much universally ignored!2

If we translated James 5:14 using “weakness” instead of “sickness,” what would it mean? Most of this word’s uses in the NT letters refer to spiritual weakness. Paul says we ought “to receive the one who is weak in faith” (Rom. 14:1). A weak believer eats vegetables only and not meat, since he thinks this is how he ought to serve God (Rom. 15:2). Such a Christian can have a weak conscience (1 Cor. 8:12). In 2 Corinthians 11:29 Paul makes weakness analogous to being tempted into sin: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” We all know only too well that we are weak and often fall, but we are grateful that our strong Savior “sympathizes with our weakness” (Heb. 4:15).

The persecution factor

So if the weakness in James 5:14 is a susceptibility to sin, is there some special type of weakness that requires elder intervention? I suggest the context of James 5 shows that the believers James wrote to were tempted to deny Christ under threat of persecution and potential martyrdom. It’s an interpretation that starts all the way back in James 5:5 and runs through the end of the epistle.

James, writing to those who were persecuting the readers of his letter, tells them “you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (NASB: James 5:5). James wasn’t saying the persecutors were at risk of slaughter. They were busy fattening their hearts and persecuting Christians. They were, as we say, “fat and happy.”

It was the Christians who were “in a day of slaughter.” Several years before writing this epistle, James experienced this slaughter first hand when the apostle James was slaughtered by Herod in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1). So when James wrote “You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you” (James 5:6), he was castigating those who persecute and murder Christians. Such murder is violent and ruthless, but the righteous man, like Christ Himself, does not resist (1 Pet. 2:21-23). Such martyrdoms are fearsome things indeed. Who wouldn’t at least be tempted to deny the Lord in the face of such wanton brutality?

Patience for the Lord’s return

I believe the epistle of James reaches its climax in 5:7-8. Twice James tells us to be patient and to wait for the Lord’s imminent return. The word translated “patience” means to suffer long in hard and often unjust circumstances. Our example is God the Father, who is the “farmer who waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains” (James 5:7). He is raising a crop of souls to His glory, and He is patient about it. Whether believers die early for harvest (martyrdom), or later (natural death), He is long suffering and all-wise. We can trust God in day of early harvest—martyrdom. Even the martyrs who cry “how long” under the tribulation altar are told to wait on the Sovereign Lord for justice (Rev. 6:9-11).

In the section that follows James provides a number of practical helps for those being tested by persecution. Verse 9 exhorts, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” To grumble at other brothers who may have instigated persecution is to join the side of the enemy, and thus be condemned by one’s own action.

Persecution often begins when courageous Christians fearlessly preach the whole counsel of Scripture and convict the ungodly. To complain against these brave brothers in Christ is to demean their Judge who alone weighs motives. Such grumbling is a sinful response to persecution, and if not confessed, may require elder intervention as proscribed in verse 14. Instead of complaining against those who fearlessly proclaim Christ, James tells those potentially facing persecution “to take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” as “an example of suffering and patience” (James 5:10). James also tells us to look at those who suffer under the sovereign hand of God with a measure of admiration. Like Job, who is featured in verse 12, believers under threat of persecution receive personal lessons in suffering from the Lord who is both “merciful and compassionate.”

Our own struggle

We all need an attitude adjustment when it comes to suffering for the Lord. None of us handle suffering well by nature. We must be taught in days of difficulty how to love Him Who loved us even to the death. We first learn to trust the Lord in the small matters and annoyances of daily life, and when we are found faithful in such little things, are then entrusted by our Lord and Master with larger and more significant matters (c.f. Luke 16:10). None of us do persecution well without primary tutelage in the school of Christ. To grumble, or to resent our Lord, when persecution comes is to deny Him in some measure. We are instead encouraged by James in this passage to know the Lord through the trial, not in spite of it.

The danger for us who are weak by nature might be to give an oath of denial of Jesus Christ: “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath” (James 5:12). Such oaths reflect a sinful fear of man and love of self that are tantamount to apostasy. They were often rendered in obedience to Caesar or a pagan deity. In exchange for such an oath one could escape persecution and save his life. But such an action might reveal a lack of saving faith, for which reason James preemptively warns us never to give such oaths by saying, “but above all.” This, James says, is the one thing you must never do. Church history tells a long blood-stained tale of those who refused to take such oaths suffering terrible deaths, but glorious martyrdoms.

If we aren’t to offer oaths, then, what should we do when faced with persecution? James goes on to tell us how to rightly embrace the pain: “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises” (James 5:13). This particular word for “suffering” is used three other times in the NT and always denotes the suffering of persecution (2 Tim. 2:9, 2 Tim. 4:5, James 5:10). Persecution has at least two standard responses, then. Suffering, which is deep sorrow and grief, or cheerfulness, which results in praises (Acts 16:25).

Help from the body

But if we are tempted to walk away from Christ because of the staggering fear of persecution, James tells us to call for the elders. This brings us to our verse, James 5:14. “If we are weak” in the face of persecution, we are commanded to call on the elders of our church for spiritual support. Perhaps we are tempted to take an oath that might deny Christ, or to do something else that will shame our Lord. The elders must come, anoint us with oil for comfort and physical touch, and pray for us. If we have already sinned due to the pressure of persecution, we are to confess them in their presence (James 5:15). The Holy Spirit, guiding James’s quill, promises that we will be strengthened to meet the persecution, and completely forgiven of our failure and sin.

If we take the “righteous man” of James 5:16 to be the same “righteous man” of James 5:6, then the passage teaches that the weak one is now strong. He was about to fail, but now offers prayer that “avail much.” The trial has accomplished its goal. Now the strengthened brother is capable of turning back any other brother who may likewise stray from the truth (James 5:20).

Notes

1 When this word is examined in its noun and adjective forms, the translation of “weakness” becomes even more prevalent than “sickness.”

2 For a vigorous defense of “sickness,” see Peter Davids, James, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982, 192.


Ted Bigelow earned the MDiv and ThM at The Master’s Seminary and has a doctorate in expository preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He pastors Grace Church in Hartford, CT and has been married to Deena since 1987. They are blessed with 4 children who, by God’s mercy, love the Lord: Katie (20), Karryn (18), Daniel (15) and David (13). Ted is seeking a publisher for a book he has written on why churches should transition to eldership, based on Titus 1:5.

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Weakness

I agree that the meaning is spiritual weakness, not physical sickness. It is more parallel in thought with "suffering hardship" and "being cheerful" in v. 13. Also, the passage indicates a sure result, not a potential happening. If prayer and oil cured all physical sickness, surely there would be few Christians afflicted with disease. I haven't considered the connection to persecution, but I will think about it.

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The passage doesn't hone in

The passage doesn't hone in exclusively on a certain subset of weakness or sin. It certainly includes it though. And while the word can mean weakness, it also can mean sickness. Why do we try to exclude one meaning, if not for our prejudice against the power of God?

The passage doesn't promise a sure healing it promises a saving of the one who is sick, not by anointing but by the prayer of faith. The whole point is we should pray for God to heal us. God does the healing and isn't constrained by any method, but what would be more natural than asking for the elders of your church to pray with you. Sin isn't exclusively the context as it only says "if he has sinned". The possibility exists that sin is connected with the sickness or weak state, but often we don't really know. If we do know, confession would need to be made in a proper way.

I recently was challenged by Daniel Doriani's commentary on James in the Reformed Expository Commentary Series from P & R. He is Presbyterian, but was moved by this passage to apply it in his church. He relates a few stories of God's remarkable work in healing but provides plenty of counsels against assuming this is an indiscriminate promise for complete healing always. I'd urge anyone to read his balanced and careful treatment of the passage. I do fear that behind some expositions like the one we see here are a philosophy which rules out anything that even sniffs of charismaticism. That kind of prejudice doesn't help us take the text at its face value.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Wow!

Bob,

It never really crossed my mind - the charismatic issue - as I was working through the James 5 passage. So I can't own the prejudice you attribute me - but I probably have plenty of others to repent of. However, a prejudice against the power of God...? I don't think so.

I too love Dan Doriani's commentary on James. I used it extensively in my preparation while preaching through the book. It is a masterpiece of pastoral wisdom. Really. But I do have differences with him, difference borne out of study, not anger or twisted logic. Quick example: look at Dr. Doriani's statement on p. 171, where he attributes the day of slaughter in 5:5 to a future day of the slaughter of rich people. However, the text clearly implies the day of slaughter has occurred in the past and still exists is in the present time. Dr. Doriani's study failed to recognize that, instead claiming it refers to a future slaughter, nor did he connect the slaughter to the the very next phrase written by James which limits the slaughter to Christians (5:6).

Are you accurate with your assertion that the "passage doesn't promise a sure healing it promises a saving of the one who is sick." I'm not so sure. James 5:15 actually does promise healing when it says "the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick." Now who's questioning the power of God?

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reply to Ted

I don't mean to imply that you are skeptical of God's power. That just seems to stand behind many's thoughts on this passage. I'm glad you enjoyed Doriani's commentary and I'm certainly not arguing for his infallibility or anything. "Restore" is the word "sowzo" or save. It can mean in the context restore or heal. But it doesn't have to. I believe James is saying ultimately all are saved through prayer. But God does heal and does that through prayer as well. It isn't a certain promise that all who pray will be healed but that all who pray in faith will be saved. There's a difference.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Reply to Ted and Bob

Ted, thanks for a great article. I have also come to believe this is the correct interpretation. Limiting the "weakness" specifically to the temptation to forsake Christ in the face of persecution is a new thought for me and, like Charlie, I will need to think about that some more.

Bob Hayton wrote:
While the word can mean weakness, it also can mean sickness. Why do we try to exclude one meaning, if not for our prejudice against the power of God?

Bob, we need to exclude one meaning because that's the only way to make sense of language. Although a word can mean multiple things, it only does mean one thing in any given context. Of all the possible meanings of a word (its semantic range) an author only has one in mind at a given point. (For example: I just used the word "point" which has multiple meanings, and can even be a noun or a verb. But I meant a particular definition of the word, and you interpreted what I meant based on context. It would be silly to argue that it can mean 1) a specific location, 2) a unit of scoring, or even 3) to extend the finger. I only meant one thing, and the determining factor is context.) The task of interpretation is to determine the author's original intention; That is what this article is seeking to do, primarily by examining the context.

Bob Hayton wrote:
"Restore" is the word "sowzo" or save. It can mean in the context restore or heal. But it doesn't have to. I believe James is saying ultimately all are saved through prayer. But God does heal and does that through prayer as well. It isn't a certain promise that all who pray will be healed but that all who pray in faith will be saved. There's a difference.

Yes, there's a very big difference. Are you proposing that v. 14 refers to physical sickness, but v. 15 jumps to spiritual salvation? As in: "14) If anyone is physically sick, he should call the elders, etc. and God might heal him, or He might not. 15) Oh, by the way, God grants salvation to everyone that prays in faith. Oh, and back to the physical sickness thing - sometimes that's because of sin."

Why not take the much more consistent and obvious interpretation that, if you're spiritually weak you need to seek spiritual help (from mature Christians) and you can rest assured that God promises to always raise us up spiritually when we turn to Him in faith. And often our spiritual weakness is due to sin in our lives; Confessing that sin is a crucial step in being restored to spiritual health.

No semantic gymnastics needed, and it fits both the larger and more immediate contexts beautifully.

Just my take, for what it's worth.
Grace and peace!

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Eric--thanks for that quick

Eric--thanks for that quick hermeneutics lesson. It's very timely, given Derek Thomas's recent address to the attendees at the Ligonier Conference. Raised pentecostal, I have a lot of indoctrinated layers and manmade traditions (of course, always presented in the light of twisted Scipture) to try and shed. Whenever I study Scripture, I'm always trying to "unlisten" to Sunday School teachers or youth group leaders whose influences in how I previously read Scipture saturated my persective and still ring in my spiritual ears, today. All, of course, with me readily running to each ear tickling talk or conversation. Smile :) So whenever I read articles and someone clearly defines the rules of of how to study Scripture--I feel compelled to comment and thank those who are willing to share their tidbits, even though I know your original intent was to defend your position and not a lesson in hermeneutics, per se. Trust me, in talking to other laypeople, we are thankful for such comments.

I have nothing of real value to contribute to the article itself, except to say that it is a well-written paper that is easy for the lay(wo)man to glean and has been very helpful in going through my own study in James. In full integrity, this was written by my Pastor, but I hope it does not detract from the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it through (at least) 3 times. For me, one of Ted's greatest strengths is taking potentially hard to hear and academically rigorous passages and dividing out the material for the every day Christian, without losing any of the richness, accuracy or depth of the text.

Bob--I've always enjoyed your public ministry and will continue to do so. But as someone who is privileged to be shepherded by Ted, hears him preach and sees his life, the man most definitely does not fit into the skeptical-of-God's-power category.

Blessings to all!

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one last go at this

I think there are times Biblical authors intentionally use ambiguous language. An example isn't coming readily to mind, however. I remain unconvinced that weakness is the only interpretation or application of this text. I fear we sometimes rush in and try to peg an interpretation on a text, and if it seems to fit we declare our interpretation final. I want to be more careful than that in this text. Other sound interpreters and men of faith interpret the passage differently and we would do well to listen. In fact most translations don't translate the word "weak" and that should mean something.

I'm just going to give some reasons for believing it is more than weakness and then probably bow out at this point.

Here is the text: James 5:13-16

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

The phrase "the Lord will raise him up" in vs. 15 fits more in line with the sick being raised from their beds. The word "healed" in vs. 16 signifies physical healing. These contextual clues have been strong enough for various translations to translate the word which can mean "weak" as "sick" (which it also can mean). In fact, of the numerous English translations that Biblegateway.com has, only Young's Literal doesn't use "sick" for this word. That version says "is any infirm among you?... the prayer of faith shall save the distressed one..." This kind of unanimous opinion by Bible translators should caution against a new interpretation which reads out the idea of "sickness" from the text.

A survey of classic Bible commentators is equally unanimous favoring the notion that physical healing from sickness if primarily in view (although several allow both a physical and spiritual healing). I looked up, Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, John Gill, John Wesley, Adam Clarke, John Darby, AT Robertson, Geneva Bible footnotes, Jameson-Fausset-Brown, and John Calvin. They all agree on the word being for sickness.

Furthermore, there is the action of anointing with oil. Mark 6:13 shows that the apostles anointed with oil may who were sick and healed them. The context there certainly implies physical healing. And Luke 10:34 shows how oil was often used in attending the sick and hence a strong connection between oil and need for physical healing would be understood.

Also the fact is that James 5:15 says they'll be healed and also if sins were committed the sins would be forgiven. Doesn't that seem to imply a mixing of physical and spiritual healing? Often a spiritual weakness would inherently involve sin. Here the sickness may or may not involve sin.

Anyway, I should stop now. I'm leery of forsaking a traditionally held understanding of this passage in favor of a novel idea which may have some contextual support.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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"Afflicted spiritually"

Toward Bob Hayton's mentioning of Daniel Doriani's commentary as being balanced, I was interested to read on p. 195 of his James commentary:

James seems to have a major malady in view. The terms for the illness suggest something serious. The sick person is, literally, "weak" asthenei) in James 5:14. In 5:15 James uses the stronger term kamno. It means "wear out" and suggests the weariness or exhaustion that often accompanies illness. It reminds us that sickness exhausts the the spirit as well as the body. Pastorally speaking, this suggests that elders could lay hands on and pray for Christians who are afflicted spiritually. Depression, stress, and anxiety can wear us out more than some illnesses.

Though Doriani does speak of physical sickness, these remarks seem to fit in with Ted Bigelow's exposition of the broader context -- weakness in the face of intense persecution.

Brian Hurst

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Brian Hurst wrote: Toward Bob

Brian Hurst wrote:
Toward Bob Hayton's mentioning of Daniel Doriani's commentary as being balanced, I was interested to read on p. 195 of his James commentary:

James seems to have a major malady in view. The terms for the illness suggest something serious. The sick person is, literally, "weak" asthenei) in James 5:14. In 5:15 James uses the stronger term kamno. It means "wear out" and suggests the weariness or exhaustion that often accompanies illness. It reminds us that sickness exhausts the the spirit as well as the body. Pastorally speaking, this suggests that elders could lay hands on and pray for Christians who are afflicted spiritually. Depression, stress, and anxiety can wear us out more than some illnesses.

Though Doriani does speak of physical sickness, these remarks seem to fit in with Ted Bigelow's exposition of the broader context -- weakness in the face of intense persecution.


Brian I totally agree that weakness is part of what James is addressing. The only problem I have with Ted's work here is his conclusion that we should not allow any other meaning beyond weakness. I don't see how contextually or even linguistically we can say this does not address physical sickness. Mine is the historic position and I have every major Bible translation on my side too......

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Theological reasons

Bob,

Thank you for the thoughtful discussion. You make some good points and have given us something to chew on. Certainly having commentary and translation support is not a small argument. However, simply being the "historical interpretation" doesn't eliminate other linguistic, contextual, and theological arguments. If the final word on interpretation was simply to agree with what had been said before, then our only task in study is to read an English translation, read a commentary, and go with that. Now obviously, if a given interpretation has weighty support in the commentary literature, then careful consideration is warranted. But just being "novel" doesn't make one automatically wrong. (BTW, Ted's interp is not novel. He's not the first I've heard it from.)

For me, this question is one of those "This is where I am right now" issues. I appreciate the dialog here and find it helpful. However, I'm currently still convinced that physical sickness cannot be what James has in mind. And the primary reason for that isn't linguistic, or even contextual, but theological.

You have argued that physical sickness must be what is primarily in view here. To that, I respond with a few questions:

- Do you practice this personally? When you get sick, do you call an Elder instead of a doctor?
- Do you teach others that God has promised to heal any physical sickness if this procedure is followed and if prayer is made in faith?

I know you have said you don't, but if your interpretation is applied consistently, I don't see how either of those can be avoided. If "sick" = physical illness, then James' injunction is "If anyone is physically ill, call the Elders." And the following promise is "God will heal all physical illness."
In your own words:

Quote:
physical healing from sickness if primarily in view

Quote:
The context there certainly implies physical healing.

Quote:
The phrase "the Lord will raise him up" in vs. 15 fits more in line with the sick being raised from their beds.

But then you say:
Quote:
The passage doesn't promise a sure healing it promises a saving of the one who is sick

If "the prayer of faith will save the sick" and "the Lord will raise him up" isn't a sure promise, then I don't know what is. The only way out of this is the double speak that it's about both physical and spiritual healing...but primarily physical...but also spiritual. And how is it determined when James switches back and forth between the two very distinct concepts? When it fits the desired interpretation. That seems a dangerous hermeneutic.

My position is that either physical or spiritual weakness is in view, and that you can't have it both ways. We must find a way to interpret consistently and non-arbitrarily throughout the entire passage. I believe understanding "weakness" to refer to spiritual weakness is the only way to do that.

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Raised pentecostal, I have a

Raised pentecostal, I have a lot of indoctrinated layers and manmade traditions (of course, always presented in the light of twisted Scipture) to try and shed. Whenever I study Scripture, I'm always trying to "unlisten" to Sunday School teachers or youth group leaders whose influences in how I previously read Scipture saturated my persective and still ring in my spiritual ears, today. All, of course, with me readily running to each ear tickling talk or conversation. Smile .

Are you as bitterly anti-pentecostal as your remarks seem to suggest?.

Richard Pajak

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reply to Erik

Erik,

I think my practice should change to match Scripture. I was convicted in my study of James to be sure to call on the elders for anointing and prayer when next I or a loved one is seriously sick.

James 5 is closing the discussion of the entire book. I think you would see that "the prayer of faith" is not just any old prayer. James 1 referenced the need for faith coupled with prayer, so just as the verses which teach if we ask anything in Jesus' name he will do it should not be stretched into a magical formula to get whatever we want, so too James 5 should not be stretched into a blanket verse promising healing no matter what as long as we pray and anoint with oil.

Doriani mentions that "raise him up" sometimes refers to raising the ill from their beds, but also refers to the resurrection. And "save" can have spiritual and physical connotations both.

Again, I believe the mixing of forgiving sin with healing is showing the author of James himself, intends a full-fledged application to physical and spiritual concerns.

Now if you say this deals with spiritual weakness only, let me still press the point. Have you ever sought the elders when spiritually weak? Have you ever encouraged anyone you know to do this? It seems we look at the passage and say, it can't obviously mean that, we don't practice that so... let's dig and see what it must mean. Then we say okay it just means spiritual weakness. Then we further add clarifications that this would only apply in time of persecution like James addresses. The end result is we don't apply the passage at all.

I think we should be cautious of that scenario just as much as we caution against an over-zealous application of this text.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Some final thoughts

Bob,

Thanks for continuing the conversation; I know you intended to "bow out" earlier, so thanks for staying around. However, I fear we're largely talking past each other at this point, and this will likely be my final post. If I may quickly respond to a few of your comments:

Bob wrote:
I think my practice should change to match Scripture. I was convicted in my study of James to be sure to call on the elders for anointing and prayer when next I or a loved one is seriously sick.

I appreciate your honesty and admire your attempt at being consistent in the application of your interpretation. However, I must note that you have interjected a concept foreign to the passage. The qualifier "seriously" sick simply isn't there. James just says "is any sick/weak?" May I ask how you determine which physical ailments warrant this action?

Bob wrote:
I think you would see that "the prayer of faith" is not just any old prayer. James 1 referenced the need for faith coupled with prayer, so just as the verses which teach if we ask anything in Jesus' name he will do it should not be stretched into a magical formula to get whatever we want, so too James 5 should not be stretched into a blanket verse promising healing no matter what as long as we pray and anoint with oil.

1) I don't know what "any old prayer" is. Any prayer void of faith is not prayer.
2) The "ask anything in my name" passages are in a specific historical context, directed to the Apostles. James is written to the church at large.
3) The verse says "the prayer of faith WILL save the sick." Period. Not,"the prayer of faith MIGHT save the sick." No stretching required. That's what it says.
4) Our chief obligation in prayer is to pray according to the Lord's will. But we don't always know what that is. As is the case of physical illness: sometimes, often even, it is God's will for a believer to be sick. So to pray for physical healing no matter what very well may be to pray contrary to the Lord's will. But, it is never the Lord's will for a believer to be spiritually weak; Thus to pray, in faith, for spiritual healing is assuredly to be praying in God's will. And we have God's promise that he spiritually strengthens the weak when we ask.

Bob wrote:
Doriani mentions that "raise him up" sometimes refers to raising the ill from their beds, but also refers to the resurrection. And "save" can have spiritual and physical connotations both.

That's true. But that's simply a starting point for study, not a final conclusion. Yes, those words have a wide semantic range. But the interpreter must determine which meaning the author intends here. (That it "sometimes" refers to one thing indicates the need to determine if THIS passage is one of those times. That it "can" mean something doesn't mean that it DOES here.) Furthermore, to leave it as ambiguously a little of both renders both the instruction and the promise virtually meaningless. Do you honestly think James is saying "If you're physically ill OR spiritually weak OR a little of both, call the Elders, anoint with oil, etc. and the prayer of faith will bring salvation OR spiritual healing OR ultimate resurrection, OR possibly physical healing (although not always, because we all know God doesn't do that.)"?

Bob wrote:
Again, I believe the mixing of forgiving sin with healing is showing the author of James himself, intends a full-fledged application to physical and spiritual concerns.

Then that would require a "full-fledged" application of the physical aspects, leaving us with the promise that God will heal all physical illness. Qualify it all you like, but I can't get around the categorical language of that promise.

Bob wrote:
Have you ever sought the elders when spiritually weak? Have you ever encouraged anyone you know to do this?

Absolutely. There are times in a believers life when he is struggling spiritually so deeply that he can't even pray for himself and should enlist the prayers of his spiritual elders in a unique way. The laying on of hands is nothing mystical or magical, but simply the encouraging power of direct human contact. Oil was a general medicine in the 1st century, the application for us being that in times of spiritual struggle there are often attendant physical repercussions, and it is wise to deal with those appropriately in addition to the prayer, encouragement and counseling.

Bob wrote:
It seems we look at the passage and say, it can't obviously mean that, we don't practice that so... let's dig and see what it must mean.

I hope it's clear that my reason for questioning the "sick = physical" interpretation is NOT because it' isn't common practice, but because a unilateral promise of physical healing is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture and with normal Christian experience.

Bob wrote:
Then we say okay it just means spiritual weakness.

Again, you seem to assume that the superior hermeneutic is to leave it as open as possible, allowing for all possible word meanings. But that's not interpretation. If we did that in every passage we would have an essentially meaningless Bible in many instances. A good rule is: A given passage has only ONE correct interpretation, but multiple possible applications.

Bob wrote:
Then we further add clarifications that this would only apply in time of persecution like James addresses.

I don't happen to agree fully with Ted on that point, but I can see where he is coming from contextually.

Bob wrote:
The end result is we don't apply the passage at all.

That is NEVER the proper result of correct interpretation. All Scripture is profitable and has some level of application for us. Just because someone may wrongly come to that conclusion in no way invalidates a particular interpretation.

Okay, this post has gotten entirely too long! I will stop, and as I said, this will likely be my last. I don't claim to have the corner on truth here, I'm simply stating why I take the interpretation I do. I have enjoyed and benefited from this discussion and I pray we will all be driven deeper into God's Word, with a desire to understand and obey as the Holy Spirit leads each of us.

Grace and peace,
Eric

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Oil

It's not clear that the oil is medicinal. "Anointing with oil" in biblical times can be fairly synonymous with doing your hair and the other stuff that gets you ready to be presentable in public. It's often a symbol of refreshment, and it was a common practice to grant your guests some oil for them to freshen up (see Luke 7:46;Micah 6:15; Psalm 92:10). I think the phrase signifies refreshment, and probably sometimes they did bring real oil along. It is certainly signifying that praying for the person is to be accompanied by physical manifestations of your care. If your friend is depressed, you don't just pray over him and leave him. You throw him in the shower and get him ready to go out and face the world.

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Persecution does happen today

Persecution does happen today when sin and error is confronted. It's the nature of the world's relationship to truth. So, I hope that application in the face of suffering in this way would not be considered something that cannot still happen, and that physical sickness does occur, and so the interpretation must be physical suffering?

Brian Hurst

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Richard Pajak wrote: Raised

Richard Pajak wrote:
Raised pentecostal, I have a lot of indoctrinated layers and manmade traditions (of course, always presented in the light of twisted Scipture) to try and shed. Whenever I study Scripture, I'm always trying to "unlisten" to Sunday School teachers or youth group leaders whose influences in how I previously read Scipture saturated my persective and still ring in my spiritual ears, today. All, of course, with me readily running to each ear tickling talk or conversation. Smile .

Are you as bitterly anti-pentecostal as your remarks seem to suggest?.

Richard,

If you replaced your misuse of the word "bitterly" with the word "discerningly"--you'd have a much more accurate picture.

Just a quick word, Richard. In my opinion, it would have been charitable for you to ask your question in such a way that is more in line with the reasonable, fact-finding discussion that has taken place as result of this worthwhile article. Comment one-liners lobbed in grenade fashion (pull the pin and throw) using words like "bitterly" and "anti" are unhelpful in any situation. It would never be my desire to offend any brother and sister, in Christ, who are immersed in the pentecostal movement. It would, however, be my desire for anyone immersed in the movement, who desire legitimate discussion, to E-mail me and I would be more than happy to talk to them about the experiences that God has lead me from and into--whether or not we come to any agreement or not.

But the proper hermeneutic Smile of my simple comment was not to directly (bitterly or discerningly) attack such doctrines or the movement, head-on, but to share with Eric (and anyone reading) my thankfulness to God in how He is kind to correct "a lot of" wrong doctrines through illuminated eyes and ears via the proper study of Scripture. It is comments like Eric's that continue to be the most helpful in any situation--whether I agree with the article or not. Eric's comments (and others here, too) only add to the good uses of the internet world. It helps me, personally, to avoid the the manmade, traditional ways of studying (frankly, just reading--in my case) taught to me as I grew up in a church.

Richard, if it offended you, I apologize for that offense, but I do not apologize for my remarks. There was nothing malicious or harsh intended, or even said as you suggest. I hope my "quick word" is helpful to you as you continue to strive in adding to discussions in a charitable fashion.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Kim Noble

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my last word

I want to thank everyone for the discussion here. I'm not pretending I don't have more study to do with this passage. I plan on studying it further. But the recent comment about anointing with oil being a physically refreshing thing in that day, reminds me once more of another physical link to the passage and sickness. Mk. 6:13 which I mentioned above.

I still think the passage addresses sickness, and a certain kind of sickness: a wearisome illness that produces weakness. That's the kind of sickness which may be connected with sin and hence forgiven sin is part of the healing process. Nothing in the passage in my mind rules out seeking medical help too. But always our trust should be in God not in medicine. Sadly, often times, we don't seek His face like we should when faced with illness.

I am going to bow out at this point now. Thanks again....

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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skjnoble][quote=Richard Pajak

"If you replaced your misuse of the word "bitterly" with the word "discerningly"--you'd have a much more accurate picture.
Just a quick word, Richard. In my opinion, it would have been charitable for you to ask your question in such a way that is more in line with the reasonable, fact-finding discussion that has taken place as result of this worthwhile article. Comment one-liners lobbed in grenade fashion (pull the pin and throw) using words like "bitterly" and "anti" are unhelpful in any situation. It would never be my desire to offend any brother and sister, in Christ, who are immersed in the pentecostal movement. It would, however, be my desire for anyone immersed in the movement, who desire legitimate discussion, to E-mail me and I would be more than happy to talk to them about the experiences that God has lead me from and into--whether or not we come to any agreement or not.
But the proper hermeneutic Smile of my simple comment was not to directly (bitterly or discerningly) attack such doctrines or the movement, head-on, but to share with Eric (and anyone reading) my thankfulness to God in how He is kind to correct "a lot of" wrong doctrines through illuminated eyes and ears via the proper study of Scripture. It is comments like Eric's that continue to be the most helpful in any situation--whether I agree with the article or not. Eric's comments (and others here, too) only add to the good uses of the internet world. It helps me, personally, to avoid the the manmade, traditional ways of studying (frankly, just reading--in my case) taught to me as I grew up in a church.
Richard, if it offended you, I apologize for that offense, but I do not apologize for my remarks. There was nothing malicious or harsh intended, or even said as you suggest. I hope my "quick word" is helpful to you as you continue to strive in adding to discussions in a charitable fashion."

Thanks for your reply...I was responding to the tone of the remarks as they came across to me as it seemed to express some hurt. No offence intended nor taken. I also tend to have a natural inclination to jump to the defence of my brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal tradition whenever I infer something negative from what I read so was querying what was lying behind your comments. ( I am not always diplomatic in my choice of words either as you have observed...thank you for your reproof)

Richard Pajak

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To Richard:

Thank you for your thoughtful words. Your follow-up comments also serve as a good reminder of my own choice of words, so thank you. Have a blessed day, today! Kim Smile

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