I believe in divine healing as set forth in the Word of God. I do not believe in so-called “divine healers.” The sole motive of this article is to fortify and protect God’s own dear people.

What do these “healers” claim?

While there may be minor exceptions, “healers” generally claim:

That bodily healing is in the atonement in the same way as salvation from sin is in the atonement. Christ bore our sickness as our sins on the cross.

That the redemption of the body is physical and present. “Why wait until we get to Heaven for bodily deliverance?” is the charge.

That God is “Jehovah-Rophi” (God our Healer) just as much as He is our Savior.

That it is always God’s will to heal the body of His child. A God of love will not permit us to suffer physically.

That healing depends solely on the faith of the sick. If one is not healed, it shows either the presence of sin or the absence of sufficient faith.

That sickness is the result of sin and is from the Devil.

That Christ’s ministry of healing continues today just as in His earthly life, and that the power and program to perform miracles given to the apostles is the power and program of the church today.

The Bible’s answers to healing questions

Is healing in the atonement? Healing is in the atonement in the sense that all of God’s provisions for believers are made possible only through the Cross. However, to claim that bodily healing is in the atonement in the same sense as soul salvation is untenable.

Deliverance from death has been secured through atonement. But death is everywhere present. To claim that bodily healing is a necessity because it is in the atonement would require claiming that deliverance from death is also for the present (but cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26).

God’s Word teaches that the redemption of the body is yet future for the believer. We are “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20, 21). Our deliverance from physical pain is future: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

The one passage appealed to by those who teach healing in the atonement is Matthew 8:16 and 17. These verses assert that bodily health is ours just as much as is spiritual salvation. Note in these verses that the Cross is not in full view. This event took place before Christ’s death. Capernaum is not Calvary! When Christ healed in the incident of verse 16, He did not bear vicariously the diseases He cured (the Greek verb does not have this sense but rather a sympathetic bearing—see the same word in Galatians 6:2 and Romans 15:1). There is much struggling with the Scriptures to try to prove that Christ bore our sickness on the Cross. The phrases “with his stripes ye were healed” (Isaiah 53:5) and “by whose stripes we are healed” (1 Peter 2:24) have become a sort of healing slogan.

In Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2, the context makes it clear that the healing that is in view is healing for sin. Both contexts provide the figure of the sheep that have gone astray to illustrate what this healing is!

Similarly, in Psalm 103:1–5, the same conclusions are valid. David was not addressing his body but his soul in this psalm. To pounce on a phrase to support a theory with complete disregard to the whole tenor of the Scripture is not safe interpretation.

Is healing the program of the church today? The answer is both yes and no! Certainly the program of the church today should include praying for the sick in the will of God. And just as certainly, I am convinced that the church’s program should not include mass healing lines.

A careful examination of James 5:13–16 reveals that there is some suffering that is to be endured in patience and some that may be removed through prayer. This same chapter states, “Be patient therefore, brethren, . . . take, my brethren, . . . for an example of suffering affliction . . . the patience of Job” (vv. 7, 10, 11). Now, since Job is specifically mentioned (v. 11), this suffering must include physical suffering.

The elders are to pray, and the sick one is to pray. The prayer of faith must always include the restriction, “according to his will” (cf. 1 John 5:14).

The anointing with oil is not likely medicinal but symbolic of the Holy Spirit, an outward symbol (like baptism) of an inward reality. It is not “means or no means,” but faith in prayer.

Note that this passage does not teach that all sickness is the result of sin, but only that some sickness is. Also it does not teach that God forbids the use of means.

Finally, this passage does not allow for mass healing meetings! It is an individual affair to be conducted privately and not publicly.

Those who claim that the program given to the Twelve in Matthew 10 is the program for the church today cannot duplicate the works of the apostles, such as in raising the dead.

The commission found in Mark 16:15–18 is often appealed to as the basis for including healing in our evangelism. It is hardly fair to build a doctrine upon such a disputed passage as Mark 16 (contemporary Biblical scholars indicate that this portion is not found in some of the oldest manuscripts). Many dependable Bible teachers believe that these signs (see also 1 Corinthians 12:9–11 and 27–31) were temporary to establish the gospel. Once the gospel was established by the signs, the signs themselves were done away.

I am certain about two things: (1) These signs did not accompany every believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28); and (2) they were signs of the divine mission of the church and were not given to certify the faith of the individual. Dr. Gaebelein has noted in answer to this problem: “Miracles are distinctly stated to be ‘the powers of the age to come’ (Heb. 6:5). They are not characteristic of the present age. They were set in the church at the beginning for signs to them that believe not (1 Cor. 12:28; 14:22). But they are not included in the permanent gifts which remain until the present work of grace has accomplished its purpose (Eph. 4:1–6).”

Is sickness caused solely by sin and Satan? Does sickness reveal the presence of sin, or is it synonymous with sin? The Bible makes it clear that some sickness is the result of sin from Satan. Satan can cause sickness (Job 2:1–10; Luke 13:10–16). But it is also definite that some sickness is not the result of sin at all (John 9:1–3, where our Lord answered the disciples, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”).

To claim that sickness is synonymous with sin is illogical. We will to sin, but whoever willed to be sick?

While I agree that all sickness is the result of Adam’s sin, not all sickness is the result of the Christian’s personal sin. A good question to ask is, “What about the illness and death of infants?”

Another good question is, “Can a person be right with God and be afflicted with sickness?” The answer is self-evident from two godly servants: “Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died” (2 Kings 13:14); “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Is it always God’s will to heal? It is dogmatically stated by healing-movement advocates that it is always God’s will to heal the sick. God is a God of love, but it was not His will to heal Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7, 8) or Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23) or Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20) or Lazarus (John 11) or Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:27, 30). Of tremendous significance is 1 Peter 4:19: “Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (cf. 1 Peter 3:17; Philippians 1:29; Romans 8:18).

A careful study of all the references to the will of God in the New Testament will reveal that physical deliverance is never included (e.g., John 6:40; Galatians 1:4; Colossians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:18; 1 Peter 4:19).

Is Bible healing all a matter of faith? If one is not healed, it is proof of weak faith or lack of faith, say the faith healers. This kind of teaching is destructive to those who fail to find healing. It becomes a “doctrine of despair.”

The miracles of healing by Christ and the apostles often took place apart from faith, such as the experience of the man with the withered hand (Matthew 12:10–13). The impotent man (John 5:5–13) did not know Who had healed him. The blind man (John 9:11, 17, 25, 36) did not know Christ.

Does faith in God exclude the use of natural means? Is it wrong to go to the doctor? Is it a sin to use medicines? The Bible shows that healing can come through the use of means as well as without means. Isaiah prescribed a fig plaster for Hezekiah’s boil (2 Kings 20:7); Paul advised Timothy to take wine medicinally for his stomach’s sake and his oft infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23); Luke was the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14); and our Lord recognized the ability of physicians when He said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12; Luke 5:31).

But some will quote 2 Chronicles 16:12: “Asa . . . in his disease . . . sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians.” The context shows that Asa was in a backslidden condition. His death was not caused by seeking a physician but in turning his back on God. Many commentators believe that the “physicians” in view were pagan medicine men who used magic amulets and superstitious exorcisms.

What causes sickness? This question is basic to a clear understanding of the whole healing question.

(1) Neglect of God’s laws. Israel escaped the diseases and plagues of the surrounding nations by scrupulously obeying the dietary and hygienic laws given in God’s Word. Someone has said of Christians who ignore God’s laws, “Don’t tempt God with your body.”

(2) The result of sin and Satan. In connection with demon oppression, Matthew 4:24 distinguishes between those who had “divers diseases” and those “which were possessed with devils.”

(3) Divine chastisement, given to refine or to build Christian character. The Corinthians became sick as a result of being chastised for unworthily partaking of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:30). The psalmist, as well as Peter, spoke of the blessing that affliction may be (Psalm 119:67, 71; 1 Peter 5:10). Paul declared that his sickness caused him to manifest the power of God (2 Corinthians 12:9), and through affliction we may bring comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).

(4) Sickness may be to the glory of God. God may sometimes get more glory out of our illness than He gets out of our health (John 11:4).

(5) Sickness may be the result of wrong attitudes. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22; cf. 15:13). It is likewise true that a miserable heart results in the need for medicine because it brings bodily sickness.

(6) Sickness may be traced to the fact that we are still in our “lowly” bodies (Philippians 3:21).

If you recognize what causes sickness, you will be on the right road to knowing how God intends that you should deal with your sickness.

What are the characteristics of healings in the Bible? This is so much in contrast to much that is practiced today that we should note it particularly. Dr. Herbert Lockyer noted that the healings of the Bible were selective, not mass healings; signs to confirm the testimony of Christ and of the apostles; always successful—none failed to receive healing who were touched or contacted; organic and radical; without atmosphere and publicity; and Christ-exalting. The activities of mass healing movements do not include these specifications.

What should Christians do when they are sick? I would suggest the following steps:

(1) Seek to discern why you are sick. Is it because of sin? Have you been neglecting God’s laws or Word? Is your sickness simply the result of having a body susceptible to decay and disease?

(2) If sin is confessed and God’s laws obeyed, seek healing in His will, either with or without means as He may direct.

(3) If you continue to suffer in the will of God, seek to recognize that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

What position should believers take? It is my personal conviction that believers need to reject faith healing as practiced today. “Faith healers” are possibly sincere, but woefully mistaken. On the other hand, the church needs to demonstrate a wider ministry of prayer for the sick, accompanied by a sympathetic bearing of one another’s burdens in Christ’s name.

It is my prayer that you may have personally accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and that “always . . . Christ shall be magnified” in your body, “whether it be by life, or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

The King James Version is used where Scripture is quoted in this article.

John Boehmer, now with the Lord, was pastor of High Park Baptist Church, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This article originally appeared in the August 1953 Baptist Bulletin. The article has been condensed from its original form due to space limitations; content and meaning were not altered in these changes.