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Gifts of Healing

HEALING, GIFTS OF (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων). The term “gifts of healing” appears three times in 1 Corinthians 12 (vv. 9, 28, 30). The theme of the chapter is the unity in which the “one and the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:11) distributes and administers the varieties of gifts within the one body of Christ at Corinth. The application is that believers, as members of Christ’s body, have need of one another that all may benefit in the performance of particular ministries (1 Cor 12:4-7) and, therefore, they ought not to be divided by schism of any kind.

Certain gifts, such as apostleship, prophecy, and teaching (1 Cor 12:28; cf. Rom 12:6-8), have modi operandi and fulfill the normal needs of the Church; others have special and exceptional functions. While they could be associated with certain members in the Church (1 Cor 12:30), these particular individuals are not set forth as appointed with gifts so as to become official or regular workers of miracles or healers. While Peter and Paul (as well as Philip in Samaria) had an extensive healing ministry as recorded in the Book of Acts, they were not known as divine healers, nor is there any such designation elsewhere in Scripture. Gifts of healing were spontaneous within the assembly, and their exercise implied the rendering of service among believers. The pl., “gifts of healing,” suggests varieties of the sicknesses healed and the different manners in which the healings took place.

Further light is cast upon the function of these gifts in James 5:13-16, where procedure is given for the corporate local church regarding those who particularly desire bodily healing. The sick (James 5:14, literally, “without strength,” and thus perhaps prostrate) patient is to call for the elders of the church who are to anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. Biblical anointing is symbolic of the Holy Spirit who administers the manifestation of gifts (1 Cor 12:8-11). Kings, high priests, and prophets were anointed with oil which sanctified them to a special work for God. The Tabernacle, the altar, and the vessels were anointed “to sanctify them,” and Aaron was anointed “to sanctify him” (Lev 8:10-12). There is no suggestion of medicinal use of the oil, since this might have been administered by anyone beside the elders. The use of oil symbolized sanctified commitment of the sick body to the operation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of quickening the mortal bodies of believers that they might be enabled and led to fulfill the ministry He has purposed for them as fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:11-17).

The promise in James 5 is that the anointing of oil “and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up” (v. 15). Furthermore, believers are to confess their faults to one another and pray for one another that they may be healed, since “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (v. 16).

Thus it appears that the suggested procedure as related to the sick who are to call for the elders of the church is not the only circumstantial manner by which God heals. God also heals as believers pray for one another; but it is the elders and not so-called “divine healers” that are to be sought when believers who are sick in body are hindered from gathering with the assembly. The prayer of faith is required; and the gift is in no way separated from the Giver, the blessing from the Blesser, or a human healer from the divine One. Sin is the greatest hindrance to the prayer of faith, whether it be in the patient or in those who pray in fellowship for him (James 5:15, 16). Sin is not necessarily the reason why God does not heal or give the prayer of faith, since the Holy Spirit “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor 12:11).

John Calvin comments: “As the gift of healing as yet continued, he (James) directs the sick to have recourse to that remedy. It is, indeed, certain that they were not all healed; but the Lord granted this favor as often and as far as he knew it would be expedient; nor is it probable that the oil was indiscriminately applied, but only when there was some hope of restoration. For, together with the power there was given also discretion to the ministers, lest they should by abuse profane the symbol. The design of James was no other than to commend the grace of God which the faithful might then enjoy, lest the benefit of it should be lost through contempt or neglect.

“For this purpose he ordered the presbyters to be sent for, but the use of the anointing must have been confined to the power of the Holy Spirit” (Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, p. 335).

Today there is a new interest and a rethinking of the entire field of Christian healing. There is no reason to believe that gifts of healing have passed from the ministry of the Church. Although from the Early Church to modern times records of divine healing can be found, the missing ingredient is the full ministry of the Church in the exercise of charismatic gifts with the proper balance and relationship of the gifts as set forth by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. See Spiritual Gifts.


J. Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (1948), 335; H. J. Blair, “Spiritual Healing: An Enquiry,” EQ, XXX (1958), 147-151; J. G. S. S. Thomson, “Spiritual Gifts,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (1960), 497-500; A. Z. Hall, “Cross and Caduceus,” ChT, V (1961), 6, 7; W. S. Reed, “Developments in Christian Healing,” ChT, V (1961), 13, 14; W. H. Anderson, “Sacramental Healing,” ChT, V (1961), 8, 9.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Among the "spiritual gifts" enumerated in 1Co 12:4-11,28 are included "gifts of healings." See Spiritual Gifts. The subject has risen into much prominence of recent years, and so calls for separate treatment. The points to be considered are:

(1) the New Testament facts,

(2) the nature of the gifts,

(3) their permanence in the church.

1. The New Testament Facts:

2. The Nature of the Gifts:

On this subject the New Testament furnishes no direct information, but it supplies evidence from which conclusions may be drawn. We notice that the exercise of the gift is ordinarily conditional on the faith of the recipient of the blessing (Mr 6:5,6; 10:52; Ac 14:9)--faith not only in God but in the human agent (Ac 3:4 ff; 5:15; 9:17). The healer himself is a person of great faith (Mt 17:19 f), while his power of inspiring the patient with confidence points to the possession of strong, magnetic personality. The diseases cured appear for the most part to have been not organic but functional; and many of them would now be classed as nervous disorders. The conclusion from these data is that the gifts of healing to which Paul alludes were not miraculous endowments, but natural therapeutic faculties raised to their highest power by Christian faith.

Modern psychology, by its revelation of the marvels of the subliminal self or subconscious mind and the power of "suggestion," shows how it is possible for one man to lay his hand on the very springs of personal life in another, and so discloses the psychical basis of the gift of healing. The medical science of our time, by its recognition of the dependence of the physical upon the spiritual, of the control of the bodily functions by the subconscious self, and of the physician’s ability by means of suggestion, whether waking or hypnotic, to influence the subconscious soul and set free the healing powers of Nature, provides the physiological basis. And may we not add that many incontestable cases of Christian faith-cure (take as a type the well-known instance in which Luther at Weimar "tore Melanchthon," as the latter put it, "out of the very jaws of death"; see RE, XII, 520) furnish the religious basis, and prove that faith in God, working through the soul upon the body, is the mightiest of all healing influences, and that one who by his own faith and sympathy and force of personality can stir up faith in others may exercise by God’s blessing the power of healing diseases?

3. Permanence of Healing Gifts in the Church:

There is abundant evidence that in the early centuries the gifts of healing were still claimed and practiced within the church (Justin, Apol. ii.6; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. ii. 32, 4; Tertullian, Apol. xxiii; Origen, Contra Celsum, vii.4). The free exercise of these gifts gradually ceased, partly, no doubt, through loss of the early faith and spirituality, but partly through the growth of an ascetic temper which ignored Christ’s gospel for the body and tended to the view that pain and sickness are the indispensable ministers of His gospel for the soul. All down the history of the church, however, there have been notable personalities (e.g. Francis of Assisi, Luther, Wesley) and little societies of earnest Christians (e.g. the Waldenses, the early Moravians and Quakers) who have reasserted Christ’s gospel on its physical side as a gospel for sickness no less than for sin, and claimed for the gift of healing the place Paul assigned to it among the gifts of the Spirit. In recent years the subject of Christian healing has risen into importance outside of the regularly organized churches through the activity of various faith-healing movements. That the leaders of these movements have laid hold of a truth at once Scriptural and scientific there can be little doubt, though they have usually combined it with what we regard as a mistaken hostility to the ordinary practice of medicine. It is worth remembering that with all his faith in the spiritual gift of healing and personal experience of its power, Paul chose Luke the physician as the companion of his later journeys; and worth noticing that Luke shared with the apostle the honors showered upon the missionaries by the people of Melita whom they had cured of their diseases (Ac 28:10). Upon the modern church there seems to lie the duty of reaffirming the reality and permanence of the primitive gift of healing, while relating it to the scientific practice of medicine as another power ordained of God, and its natural ally in the task of diffusing the Christian gospel of health.


Hort, Christian Ecclesia, chapter x; A.T. Schofield, Force of Mind, Unconscious Therapeutics; E. Worcester and others, Religion and Medicine; HJ, IV, 3, p. 606; The Expositor T, XVII, 349, 417.

See also

  • Healing