Saturday, November 02, 2013

The prayer of faith will save the sick

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. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (Jas 5:13-18).
How does this passage fit into the cessationist paradigm? 
i) One strategy would be to say it represents miraculous healing, and, as such, this promise was confined to the apostolic age. We've retired this passage from our practical canon of Scripture. 
Remember, cessationists distinguish between miraculous healers and miraculous healing. They deny the ongoing existence for the former, but allow for the ongoing occurrence of the latter. Yet this passage clearly involves human intermediaries. So is it past or present? 
ii) Another strategy is to say this represents non-miraculous healing. Ordinary providence, or maybe a "remarkable" providence. 
In order for it to be miraculous, the elders would have to exercise the "gift of healing" (1 Cor 12:9). We know that elders lack the gift of healing since not every one they minister to is healed. If they had the gift of healing, this exercise would be uniformly successful. 
What are we to make of that explanation?
iii) If it's non-miraculous, then is a homeopathic remedy? It just a cheap alternative to modern medicine? Would the patient have the same results if he went to the doctor? Took a pill? Had a shot? 
That explanation makes cessationism indistinguishable from a naturalistic, rationalistic interpretation. 
iv) What about contemporary Christians who turn to Jas 5:14-15 because modern medicine has failed them? This is their last resort. They have terminal cancer, or some incurable chronic or degenerative illness. A debilitating or life-threatening condition which medical science is unable to cure. 
If Jas 5:14-15 represents nonmiraculous healing, then there's no point in medically hopeless patients resorting to this promise. Is that the position cessationists take?
iv) Did James expect the prayer of faith to be a fail-safe? Or does v15 presume an implied proviso, which is made explicit in Jas 4:15? 
v) Is the "prayer of faith" in Jas 5:15 categorically different from the "gift of healing" in 1 Cor 12:9? Paul prefaces the gift of healing with the gift of faith (v8). The gift of faith evidently refers to a wonderworking faith. The "mountain-moving" faith of 13:2. 
In other words, faith that works miracles. A miracle-effecting faith, of which miraculous healing is a special case. The gift of healing and the gift of faith go together, where the latter depends on the former. 
But isn't that precisely what Jas 5:15 has in view? The prayer of faith effects the cure. The prayer of faith heals the sick. The same linkage we find in 1 Cor 12:8-9. 
vi) Does the gift of faith ensure healing? Paul was a healer (Acts 14:8-10; 19:11-12; 28:7-9), yet he didn't heal Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20). Did he leave Torphimus uncured because he was able, but unwilling to heal Trophimus, or willing but unable to heal Trophimus? It's hard to see why he'd refuse to heal a valued coworker if it lay within his power to do so. Likewise, why didn't Paul heal Timothy (1 Tim 5:23)?
If, then, the gift of healing doesn't guarantee success, the fact that Jas 5:14-15 isn't uniformly successful doesn't mean it's non-miraculus. Hence, (iv) & (vi) disprove (i). 
vii) What about the parallel with Elijah (vv17-18)? James uses that to illustrate the prayer of faith. Elijah was a wonderworking prophet–second only to Moses. Although rain and drought are natural conditions, in the narrative, these are the natural effect of a supernatural cause. God answering his prayer. Isn't the reader supposed to view that as something miraculous? A nature miracle? Controlling the forces of nature? Nature acting at your bidding? 
viii) Incidentally, in James, the prayer of faith refers to the faith of the elders, not the patient. If the patient remains ill, that doesn't represent a deficiency of faith on his part. He exercises faith by calling in the reinforcements to add their faith to his. 


  1. Slightly linked Steve, what commentary/ies would you recommend for 1 Corinthians? The Thiselton one you mentioned? (I'm considering pastoral ministry in the future, if that helps you to pitch at the right level, but I haven't started to learn Greek yet).

    1. Thiselton is the best on the Greek text, although it's meandering and poorly formatted.

      The best two current commentaries are by Joseph Fitzmyer, and Roy Ciampa/Brian Rosner

      David Garland's is pretty good, too. However, Fitzmyer and Ciampa/Rosner are later, and take him into account.

      Best forthcoming commentaries: Bruce Winter, E. Earle Elllis, Gordon Fee, and Charles Wanamaker

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  3. The fact is that the underlying Greek word for "save" can also be translated as "heal" or "cure" (e.g. the Darby, MKJV, Murdock, Weymouth 1912 et al). As it, and its various word forms, are alternatively translated in the Gospels depending on context. Greek lexicons attest to this. Some continuationists (e.g. some charismatics) believe that it can and does sometimes mean both. That's because rather than a Hellenistic conception of man as a duality with each aspect having clearly defined boundaries, the New Testament writers had a Jewish understanding of anthropology and redemption. They had a holistic understanding of human nature such that what affects the mind or soul or spirit also affects the body and vice versa. That each aspect of human nature is intricately connected to and intertwined with the other aspects [the dichotomist vs. trichotomist dispute need not enter this discussion, though I lean toward the former].

    The writers also had a holistic/comprehensive understanding of God's redemptive salvation such that God was interested in saving human beings in all spheres of life mentally, physically, spiritually, socially, even economically, politically, tribally and [let it be said] environmentally [hence the promise of an eventual "New Heavens and New Earth"]. And so, some continuationists derive a deeper secondary meaning in other passages that use the word "save" or "salvation." For example, the verse, "all those who [in faith] call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved" has the secondary meaning of "healed" (Rom. 10:32 cf. Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). Another example is 2 Cor. 6:2 which could be interpreted as, "...behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of [healing]."

    An obvious objection that will be leveled against these types of interpretation is that not everyone who calls on the Lord for healing is actually healed. Therefore, (according to this objection) if people took that approach and weren't healed, it would lead to those people starting to call into question the truthfulness of Scripture and the faithfulness of God regarding the salvation of the soul. But that assumes that faith for the salvation of the soul must be of the same type/kind, degree/strength, purity and maturity for the healing of the body. Yet, Scripture clearly teaches that there are "proportions of faith" (Rom. 12:6) and "measures of faith" (Rom. 12:3) that God assigns to individuals. It also distinguishes regular faith from "the gift of faith" as well as "the prayer of faith", which may be two different things or the same thing described in two different ways (1 Cor. 12:9; Jas. 5:15). Scripture also constantly encourages us to have faith, grow in faith, move from faith to faith knowing that Christ is the perfector of our faith (Rom. 1:17; Jas. 1:5-8; 2 Thess. 1:13; Heb. 12:2; Matt. 17:19-21; 21:21-22; Mark 11:22-24; Luke 17:5-6; John 14:12-14; Acts 3:16; 14:9; 1 Cor. 13:2; 1 John 3:21-22; 5:14-15). If there were only one kind of faith with only one kind of degree/strength, then the disciples weren't saved since they asked the Lord to increase their faith (Luke 17:5).

    BTW, as a Calvinist I do believe that the attainment and growth of faith is ULTIMATELY by God's sovereign gifting, though we are commanded and responsible to exercise and increase it. Just as God can justly require faith from and condemn the non-elect for not believing on Christ despite the fact that it was ultimately in God's hand to grant or without justifying faith; so God can justly expect growth in and be disappointed in believers (i.e. the elect) for not growing in their faith even though that growth in faith (and by extension sanctification) was also ultimately in God's hands to grant or withhold.

    1. There are many "Jehovah/YHWH" compound names in the Old Testament. But the most well known are the following 8.

      Most of us have no problem affirming and proclaiming that the first 7 have their ultimate fulfillment under the New Covenant. But when it comes to the 8th, many Christians hesitate even though the New Covenant is superior to the Old (2 Cor. 1:20; Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 12:24; 2 Cor. 3:6-11; 2 Pet. 1:4).

      1. Jehovah-Jireh ("Jehovah/YHWH is our Provider"), compare with Rom. 8:32; Gen. 22:14; Matt. 6:8, 11 25-26, 30-33; Luke 12:24, 28-32; Phil. 4:19; 2 Cor. 9:8, 10-11

      2. Jehovah-Tsidkenu ("...our Righteousness") , cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; Isa. 23:6; 53:11; Rom. 10:9-10

      3. Jehovah-Mekaddishkem ("...our Sanctifer"), cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; Exo. 31:12-13; Lev. 20:7-8; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; Heb. 12:14

      4. Jehovah-Raah/Roi/Rohi ("...our Shepherd"), cf. John 10:11-14; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 1 Pet. 5:4

      5. Jehovah-Shammah (" There [i.e. present, here and with us]"), cf. Matt. 28:20; Eph. 2:13

      6. Jehovah-Shalom (" our Peace"), cf. John 14:27; Col. 1:20

      7. Jehovah-Nissi (" our Banner [i.e. victory]) cf. Col. 2:14-15; 1Cor. 15:57

      8. Jehovah-Rapha/Rophi/Rophe (" our Healer/Physician") Act 9:34; Matt. 8:16-17; James 5:14-16, Mark 1:41; Exo. 15:26; 23:25-26; Ps. 103:2-3; Mal. 4:2; Acts 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:23-24

  4. C. Michael Patton relates a story told him by J.P. Moreland:

    ...J. P. Moreland once told me when I asked him why God does not heal amputees a story that continually possesses my mind when these kind of things are on the table. He said that he once witnessed a guy who was missing an ear (it was just skin where the ear should be) and had it grow back as people (including Moreland) prayed for him. He said that they watched as there was a break in his skin, blood that came out, and a slight “ear” formed. What is interesting about this story is that the ear did not grow completely back. When the miracle was all done, he just had a hole there, a bit of an ear, and could hear out of it.

    1. Moreland's testimony of a partial healing reminds me of other modern testimonies of partial (and progressive?) of healing. For example, by Roger Sapp (who I respect as a reputable charismatic who genuinely operates in the supernatural by God's power [rather than the dark side]).

      Here's a testimony of Sapp regarding a partial healing (already cued up at 6 min. 51 seconds):

      Here's another video of one of his testimonies of creative miracles:

      Here's one by Curry Blake: and Assuming, for discussion's sake, Blake is telling the truth has he sincerely believes it and it actually happened; then he seems to have forgotten whether it was the left arm or right arm.

      Charles and Francis Hunter described a partial healing of a thumb in their book "How to Heal the Sick". The book is online HERE. The account beings on page 247.

      I could cite more claims of partial healings, but it'd take too much time. The testimony of J.P. Moreland has a lot of weight in my opinion because he's a very rational person. He has to be since he's a (Christian) philosopher.

    2. Here's a collection of 44 testimonies of the supernatural by Roger Sapp. Most of them are of healings or miracles.

      Spiritual Treasure by Roger Sapp

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    1. Don't spam my combox with your generic screed against charismatics. I presented a fairly detailed exegetical argument. Either address the specific argument or say nothing. This is not a soapbox for you to vent.