James 5:13-16 (NASB) “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins,they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Introduction: As a pastor I often experience the direct impact illness and suffering has in the lives of church members, my own family and in my own life. The subject of God’s healing power and will to heal has been an issue that I have found to be both encouraging and mysterious. Oftentimes when reading anything on the subject, one will encounter one of two extremes: either God wills all Christians to be healed or He is in a general sense no longer performing miraculous acts of healing in the church. To offset these two extreme positions, this blogger has found James 5:13-16 to be very helpful in shedding light on this very personal, emotionally charged and what can be spiritually liberating subject.
Main point and plan of this study in James 5:13-16: In order to encourage the study and application this text, a fresh exegesis on James 5:13-16 will be offered, along with life applicational headings and commentary. Along the way we will to do the necessary spade work of digging into the Greek text of James 5:13-16. To insure the maximum benefit to the most readers, ample English commentary will be given. Any comments made will aim at shedding as much light as possible on the text and lead out its meaning – which is the goal of exegesis. Pertinent cross references, word studies and background remarks will also be presented to aid insight and study.
We have considered introductory issues related to James 5:13-16 as well as God’s concern for those who are physicially ill. Today’s post will consider the actual command of anointing with oil and track out how it is to operate from beginning to end. We will also deal directly with what manner of provision of healing is available or promised in the act of anointing with oil in the name of the Lord.
How the command to be anointed with oil in the name of the Lord is to be carried out in the church. James 5:14
Commentary: James 5:14b προσκαλεσασθω τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας. The verb προσκαλεσασθω is an aorist, middle imperative of the verb παρακαλεω meaning “let him call to himself”. The sick congregant must submit to the Elders and leadership of the church. To make such a request is an act of humility. Humility before the Lord can move God to act on behalf of that person and lift them up in due season. (see 1 Peter 5:6) James then writes another aorist, middle 3rd person plural imperative verb in the following command to the Elders: “καὶ προσευξάσθωσαν ἐπ’ αὐτὸν” which translated means: “let them offer a purposeful prayer”. Quite literally, the Elders are being commanded to fulfill the request of the sick congregant and come to pray with and over that person.
James 5:14c As the Elders met to pray with the sick congregant, there had to be an attending physical act, a sign corresponding to both their expression of faith and the One to whom they’re appealing. Oftentimes in the Greek New Testament, authors will follow a string of imperatives with a participle used in an imperatival way, which is what we see in the aorist active participle “ἀλείψαντες” (“anointing”). The participle derives from the verb αλειφω with the specific meaning assigned by BAG as referring to the application of oil by anointing with a household remedy. In addition to James 5:14, we see the following pattern set by Jesus and the disciples in Mark 6:13 – “And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.”
The use of oil in the scriptures often signifies the Holy Spirit and the power and favor of God being bestowed on that individual (Exodus 30; 1 John 2:20,27). LSJ Greek Lexicon gives an interesting insight from the more Classical Greek era, mentioning how anointing oil was used for rubbing sore muscles in gymnasts or athletes. Incidently LSJ also makes specific reference to James 5:14, suggesting the picture of Elders administering the oil to the person in a rubbing or topical application. They would accompany their anointing with the prayers, doing everything in the name of the Lord (ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου).
The manner of the provision of healing promised in the act of anointing with oil. James 5:15
Commentary: James 5:15a This particular verse is perhaps the most scrutinized and disagreed upon sentence in James 5:13-16. At issue is how much certainty of healing is promised in the passage. James 5:15a reads in the Greek: “καὶ ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα καὶ ἐγερεῖ αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος·” = “and the prayer from faith will save the one who is severely ill and the Lord will raise Him up. The participial phrase τὸν κάμνοντα is defined by Bauer Ardnt and Gingrich, page 402, as referring to somebody who is in a continual state of illness or hopeless sickness. In Liddle,Scott and Johnson’s Lexicon, page 740, a similar meaning is given of the person having fallen under some type of illness. Both Greek lexicons indicate that the person is in a desparate state of illness that perhaps is terminal.
In these verses, the presciption of anointing with oil is for those who are experiencing perhaps more common and non-terminal illnesses (James 5:14 ἀσθενεῖ τις ἐν ὑμῖν = is anyone sick among you) all the way to those in the worse condition (James 5:15 τὸν κάμνοντα – “severely ill”).
The question before the reader is of course how much certainty of healing is promised in the verbs σώσει = “will save” and ἐγερεῖ = “will raise”. The specific meanings of the verbs will play a large role in how the text is interpreted. Additionally, how we understand the two verbs in terms of their tense (future) and portrayal of certainty and reality of healing (called ‘mood’ in Greek) will determine the conclusions we draw. Let’s note three observations:
1. First of all, in terms of the definitions of σώσει = “will save” and ἐγερεῖ = “will raise”, some interpreters have tried to make σώσει a term referring to spiritual healing, since the verb is often used in contexts describing salvation. However, there are numerous passages listed by Bauer, Ardnt and Gingrich, page 798, that show this verb as referring specifically to saving or freeing from disease (Mt 9:22a; Mk 5:34; 10:52; Lk 8:48; 17:19; 18:42 compared to James 5:15). One way of rendering this verb to bring out its meaning could be “restore”. The second verb ἐγερεῖ (from εγειρω) is generally translated “raise up” but can also be legitimately translated “to restore to health” in James 5:15. (BAG 214)
Thus when we consider that God is offering the opportunity for physical restoration, the provision promised within this setting is specified and made definite. As to whether there is an immediate restoration/healing or progressive restoration/healing at a later time cannot be determined from the passage.
2. Secondly, both verbs are in the future tense. As the name of the tense suggests, both verbs are referring to a state or reality that is not current in the writing of the speaker or the experience of the readers. As one surveys a Greek Grammar on the subject of the future tense, it is discovered that the New Testament uses the future tense in a variety of ways. One of those catagories is called “The Gnomic Future” and is described by Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (GGBB), page 571: “The future is very rarely used to indicate the liklihood that a generic event will take place. The idea is not that a particular event is in view, but that such events are true to life. In the Gnomic future, the act is true of anytime.” Some examples cited by Wallace of the Gnomic future are: Matthew 6:24; Romans 5:7 and Romans 7:3.
3. Thirdly, both verbs are in the indicative mood. Daniel Wallace writes about the indicative mood in his Greek grammar, Beyond the Basics (BBGG), page 448: “The indicative mood is, in general, the mood of assertion, or presentation of certainty. It is not correct to say that it is the mood of certainty and reality.” Wallace later comments: “Thus it is more accurate to state that the indicative mood is the mood of assertion, or presentation of certainty.” Whenever we consider the mood of the verbs σώσει = “will save” and ἐγερεῖ = “will raise”, James appears to be prescribing a remedy for those in the church who are suffering all kinds of diseases.
Closing thoughts for today
In general terms, the outcome of healing should never be doubted. As was stated already, the only thing we are not told in the text is how long of time could pass between the administering of the anointing oil and the healing performed by the Lord.