What Does The Bible Say About Healing?
By Jack Kelley
Because of my middle daughter’s recent bout with cancer (victorious) I have had occasion to study the subject of healing again. In doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people have formed their opinions about healing through hearsay and false teaching rather than from what the Bible actually says about it. So what does the Bible say about healing? Let’s find out.
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6)
Some people use this passage as an example to show that the Lord refused to heal people sometimes. But a clear reading shows it was their lack of faith, not His refusal to perform, that resulted in only a few sick people being healed. Because the people of the Lord’s home town had known Him from childhood, their faith in His supernatural power was weak, so weak in fact that “all” He could do was heal a few sick people. Could the God of the Universe be constrained by the degree of our faith? It appears that way.
In contrast, all through His ministry, wherever He went, people without number were healed. They followed Him on foot for days, sometimes winding up 50-60 miles from home without food or shelter. On two occasions that we know of He fed them Himself because there wasn’t anything for them to eat. In Matt. 14:13-21 He fed 5,000 plus an additional number of women and children. And in Matt. 15:29-39 it was 4,000 more, plus women and children.
When people heard He was coming to their town they brought their sick into the square where they waited, expecting to be healed, and by the thousands they were. They believed it, they expected it, they experienced it. Look at these examples.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matt. 4:23-25)
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. (Matt. 13:34-36)
I Want To Do That
And it wasn’t just Jesus. He gave this healing power to His disciples, too, to show us that He could work these miracles through men of faith. (Later, in John 14:12, He expanded that authority, saying that anyone with faith in Him would do what he had been doing. That means you and I also have the authority to heal the sick in His name!)
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:6-7, 12-13)
As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. (Acts 5:15-16)
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12)
In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. (Acts 14:8-10)
Things sure are different today. Now if our prayers for healing aren’t answered, we either make excuses for God (it wasn’t His will or it wasn’t His timing) or we blame Him (He doesn’t heal people any more). And yet, no where in the New Testament, when asked to heal someone, did Jesus or the apostles say, “It’s not God’s will” or “It’s not His timing” or “We’re not doing that anymore.”
The one time a man asked Him if He was willing, Jesus replied, “I am willing.” (Matt. 8:2-3) The one time a man asked if He was able, Jesus replied, “If you believe, I am able.” (Mark 9:23) The one time a man’s friends tried to convince him it was too late because his daughter had died, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just believe and she will be healed.” (Luke 8:50).
That Was Then, This Is Now
Today, some parts of the Church teach that the gifts of the Spirit, including healing, were withdrawn after the time of the Apostolic Church, using 1 Cor. 13:8-10 below as their justification. In my opinion this an incorrect position, based on a misinterpretation of the passage. Let’s read it.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
Those who deny the gifts are still being given say that these verses refer to the completion of the New Testament canon. They say the gifts were for the time when the Church didn’t have the completed word of God and the apostles had to rely on their Spiritual gifts to build the Church.
But Paul went on to say that now we see only a poor reflection, then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part, then we shall know fully even as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). The first time this statement will be true is just after the rapture when we’ll be standing before the Lord in our perfected bodies. That’s the time when John said we’ll be like the Lord for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). That’s when perfection will come and, since we’ll no longer need them, that’s when the gifts will cease. Until then, they are ours to use.
Another group teaches that the gifts of the Spirit were intended to be a sign to Israel that the Holy Spirit could be poured out even on the Gentiles. They claim that after the Council of Jerusalem, when direct entry into the Church was given to the Gentiles, the gifts ceased because Israel was being set aside and the Church would soon become predominately Gentile. As evidence of this they say Paul never performed any more healings after the Council met. And yet, after Paul washed up on the island of Malta, having been shipwrecked, he healed the father of Publius, the chief official of the island, and all the other residents who were sick as well (Acts 28:7-9).
To support their claim that God does not always agree to heal us, some teach that He refused to heal Paul, even though he asked for healing three times. This is another provably false teaching.
To get the context, let’s read Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Now let’s learn what the passage really says. The word for thorn literally means a pointed stake, and recalls a situation in Judges 2 when the Israelites failed to rid the land of all its previous inhabitants as God had commanded (Deut. 20:16-18). Because of their failure to obey Him, The Angel of the Lord declared that these people would become perpetual enemies to oppose the Israelites physically and distract them spiritually. He then coined the phrase “thorn in your sides” to symbolize their physical and spiritual opposition. From that day to this, these people have inflicted incredible physical abuse upon God’s people.
The word torment actually means to rap with the fist, or buffet. It also comes from a root meaning to physically punish.
In both these words there’s a clear implication of physical attack. So the real story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh goes more like this. Everywhere Paul went he was physically abused. Hear his own account from 2 Cor. 11:23-26:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.”
I urge you to study these events carefully in the Book of Acts. For example, in Philippi Paul and Silas were stripped and severely beaten with rods. The flesh on their backs was bruised and bleeding, and the pain was incredible, but they were taken to prison without medical attention, their hands and feet secured in stocks, forcing them to sit in an upright position, making sleep virtually impossible even if the pain would have allowed it.
But at midnight they were heard singing hymns of praise and the doors of the prison broke open, freeing them. They went to the home of the jailer, who washed and fed them. The miracles he had seen caused his whole family to be saved that night. The next morning when they were officially released, they walked 30 miles to Amphipolis having received no medical treatment and having had no recovery time, not even a night’s sleep. (Acts 16:22-40) The Lord had healed them.
But an earlier incident in Lystra is perhaps the most dramatic A group of angry Jews from Antioch and Iconium had followed Paul to Lystra. When they caught up with him they took up stones and stoned him. (Acts 14:19-20) Remember, stoning was the Jewish method of execution. It consisted of immobilizing a person, sometimes by burying him up to his waist, and then hurling rocks at his head and upper body until he died.
Believing they had been successful and that Paul was dead, they dragged his body out side the city and left it there for the wild dogs to eat. But the believers gathered around him and prayed. Paul got up and went back into the city with them. The next day he walked 25 miles to Derbe. It’s like walking home from your execution; it just doesn’t happen.
These are incredible examples of God’s miraculous power. Contrary to the incorrect interpretation of 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul was physically healed by the grace of God over and over again. He was rescued from the open sea and even raised from the dead. It was a great testimony of God’s strength perfected in Paul’s weakness.
Your Faith Has Healed You
When you net out the duplicate accounts, some variation of the phrase “your faith has healed you” appears seven times in the Gospels. Seven times, the Lord credited the person’s faith for their healing. Seven is the number of divine completion. He knows that His power to heal is constant. The variable is our faith. This has led me to conclude that a miraculous event is simply the intersection of God’s constant power with the faith of a believer.
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) Life was so much more tenuous in Biblical times than in ours that we can’t begin to imagine the difference. Nor can we understand how much closer to God they were. Their faith was real, the most critical component of their life. Those who could, read the Bible. Those who couldn’t, listened to those who could. Their lives centered around the study of His word. There wasn’t any entertainment industry so they told the stories of Biblical heroes to their children. They discussed theology with each other. Every male from the age of 12 knew the Torah by heart. All this was done in obedience to God’s word.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4-9)
There were no drug companies and no hospitals. Their doctors were the priests. God promised them that if they obeyed His commandments He would see to it that they wouldn’t get the diseases of the Egyptians. (Exodus 15:26) God was their healer, and when they were obedient, they enjoyed healthy secure lives equal to or longer than ours, and every bit as satisfying. It was preventive medicine in its purest form, and produced life spans in their time similar in length to ours today (Psalm 90:10).
All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock-the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. (Deut. 28:2-8)
I have written several times of the Lord’s promise to meet all of our needs if we’ll just seek His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:31-33). These are both imputed to us by faith. We’re not to worry about our lives here because the Lord has sworn to provide for us. Our job is to trust Him. Even in times of trial we’re to live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Paul admonished us not to focus on the things that can be seen because they’re temporary. We’re to fix our eyes on the things that can’t be seen because they’re eternal. (2 Cor. 4:18) God will take care of the rest.
Israel was required to obey God’s commandments to enjoy health and security. The Church is called to believe His promises, like Matt. 6:31-33 and especially the one below.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:14-16).
In another study, we’ll talk about why prayers for healing don’t always produce immediate results and what we can do about it. See you then.