Living for the Glory of God ~ Vivir para la Gloria de Dios

Let the Sick Pray (James 5:14-15) ~ A Daily Devotion for April 16, 2014

“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. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” ~ James 5:14-15

Explanation of the Text: This text seems to have caused much controversy through its misinterpretation and misapplication. While it is true that there are many points that are difficult to understand and lack clarity, there are general overarching principles that can be extracted for our application. The first thing to recognize is the context of these verses. Following from verse 13, the emphasis is on continuing dialogue with God, that is to say, be in prayer. Verse 15 indicates that the prayer is instrumental in the healing, not the anointing. James exhorts the believers to call on the elders of the church to pray when they are sick. The elders are of course, the leaders of the church, responsible for the shepherding of the flock and the health of the church.

The second aspect of this is for the elders to anoint the sick with oil. The meaning of anoint has caused confusion for many, and provides one of the misinterpretations and misapplications of this text. First off, John MacArthur, Richard Trench, and A.T. Robertson agree the term for anoint can best be understood as meaning to rub.[1] The verse could be rewritten to read, “rubbing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Second, oil was used in both Luke 10:34 and Mark 6:13. It is important to note that in ancient times, oil, specifically olive oil, was taught to have medicinal qualities and that in the ministries of both Christ and the apostles, none used oil for healing.[2] The Bible points to three primary uses of oil:

1)       For medicinal reasons (Isaiah 1:6)

2)       For supernatural healing and exorcism (Mark 6:13)

3)       As an act of consecration or dedication (Genesis 31:13)

The evidence of the text suggests that the first two are unlikely and instead anointing with oil is more likely an act of devoting the person (and their body) to God for His purpose in healing.[3] This is all to be done in the name of the Lord, and while there are different interpretations, the important point to draw out of the text is the fact that the work is God’s and He is the one that does it.[4]

This idea is further emphasized in verse 15. There are some that use this verse to substantiate the claim that a person can be healed if they have enough faith, but if they don’t, then they won’t be healed. However, Paul, a great man of faith indicates in 2 Timothy 4:20 that he left Trophimus because he was ill. Could it not be expected that Paul did not pray, or that he did not have enough faith? Faith drives a person to God. If they did not have faith, then they would not pray to God in the first place. However, the verse indicates that it is God who will raise the person up. The idea that our own faith heals either ourselves or another person is a man-centric view and would suggest that it is us mere humans who are in control, and not God. Another aspect to faith as a part of healing, is must be remembered that even the faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10) and it can only be present in a believer’s life when it is part of God’s will to heal.[5] Therefore, the faith to be healed only comes from God, and thus the act of healing can only be an act of God according to His own authority and plan.

Examination & Application of the Text: James 5:15 closes with the phrase that sins will be forgiven. The connection between the body and the soul are remarkable in this context. There is often a connection between sin and physical ailments. This can be seen as part of the effects of the fall. However, sickness does not necessarily mean that there is sin in one’s life. Think of Job, who was afflicted but it was not the result of sin. However, recognizing this should force a person to at least examine their own life for sin that is present, and come before God to allow Him to forgive them.

Another aspect of this is that in physical ailments, prayer should be a first response from believers. One should be dependent on God and allow Him to work in one’s life.

In the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John MacArthur brings about an interesting perspective worth due consideration. He suggests that the sick here can be taken in regards to spiritual health. He suggests that those in the church may be worn down spiritually, praying to God, but feeling unfit and unable to move forward, they should call among the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil. As part of the role of elders, the spiritual health and vitality of the church is of primary concern. Therefore, this would be part of their function to maintain the spiritual well-being of the flock. Therefore, they come together, praying to God, and they will be delivered.


[1] John MacArthur Jr, James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 277-278.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker, James, Epistles of John, Peter and Jude, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1986), 176.

[3] Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 438.

[4] David Nystrom, James, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 305.

[5] Douglas Moo, James, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 187.

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