Throughout the Bible, there are many examples of God miraculously healing people of physical ailments and disabilities. Divine healing is a central part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and the healing power of God continues to be manifested today through the works of the Holy Spirit. This comprehensive blog post will examine what the Bible says about physical healing and its theological significance for Christians.
Physical healing is a major theme in the Bible. From the Old Testament accounts of God healing the Israelites, to Jesus’ miraculous healings in the Gospels, to instructions for the sick among early Christian communities, the Bible provides a wealth of insight into divine healing.
For Christians, especially those from Evangelical and Charismatic traditions, physical healing serves as evidence of God’s supernatural power and compassion. Stories of healing in the Bible bolster faith that God can and will bring restoration to suffering people. Many Christians believe healing is provided for in Christ’s atonement on the cross. The healing ministry of Jesus serves as a model for ongoing practices of prayer for the sick among Christian communities.
This blog post will provide an in-depth look at what the Bible says about physical healing and its implications for Christians today. Key topics will include:
- Old Testament foundations of divine healing
- Jesus as a healer and source of healing power
- Healing in the early church
- Theological debates about healing
- Prayer for the sick and anointing of the sick
- Relation between healing and faith
- Healing controversies in church history
- Approaches to unhealed illness
After examining these biblical texts and themes, we will conclude by highlighting key takeaways about the nature and purpose of physical healing in the Bible. This survey provides a framework for Evangelical and Charismatic Christians to better understand and activate the healing promises in Scripture.
- God is presented throughout Scripture as a healer who cares deeply about restoring people’s health and removing suffering.
- Jesus’ healing miracles demonstrate his divine authority and compassion as the Son of God.
- The Holy Spirit imparts spiritual gifts of healing to some in the church for the benefit of all.
- While not guaranteed, God often heals in response to faith and prayer of his people.
- Physical healing can glorify God and increase faith when it occurs, but God may have reasons for not healing that we do not understand.
- In cases of unhealed affliction, Christians are called to show compassion, support healing prayer, and trust in God’s wisdom and eternal purposes.
Old Testament Foundations
The Old Testament establishes important theological foundations for the concept of God as a divine healer. While not as prominent as in the New Testament, physical healing is a notable aspect of God’s interaction with his people Israel throughout the Old Testament narrative.
In Exodus 15, after crossing the Red Sea out of Egypt, God provides healing for the bitter waters at Marah when Moses cries out to the Lord. God affirms to the Israelites, “I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26 NKJV). This becomes a cornerstone verse establishing God’s identity as a healer.
Later in the Exodus wanderings, when Israelites are bitten by poisonous snakes, God instructs Moses to put a bronze serpent on a pole and all who look to it will live (Numbers 21:4-9). This account foreshadows Christ being lifted up for the healing of the world (John 3:14-15).
In the Psalms, the prayer book of ancient Israel, the theme of crying out to God for healing is common. Psalm 30:2 NKJV says, “O Lord my God, I cried out to You, And You healed me.” As an act of compassion and covenant love, God heals the physical sufferings of those who seek him in prayer.
The prophets also performed miracles of healing that pointed to God’s restorative powers. Elijah prays and God revives a young boy who had died (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha heals Naaman of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). God reminds Israel through Isaiah that the Messiah to come will bear their infirmities and heal their suffering (Isaiah 53:4-5).
These examples demonstrate that God was understood by Israel as a supernatural healer. While divine healing was not a daily occurrence, Scripture presents it as an act of mercy and sign of God’s authority to bring restoration to broken bodies and lives. This established a paradigm of hope in God’s power to heal that sets the stage for the healing works of Jesus.
Jesus as a Healer and Source of Healing Power
The healing miracles of Jesus during his time on earth comprise a major aspect of the Gospel accounts and the broader New Testament narrative. Jesus’ identity and ministry as a healer is presented as a fulfillment of Old Testament expectations of a healing Messiah.
All four Gospels record healings performed by Jesus of both physical disabilities and diseases. Examples include healing a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12), giving sight to a man born blind (John 9:1-41), cleansing lepers (Luke 17:11-19), making the lame walk (Matthew 15:30-31), restoring withered hands (Mark 3:1-6), and raising the dead (John 11:1-44).
Peter summarizes that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38 NKJV). The scope of Jesus’ miraculous healings demonstrated his divine nature and authority over affliction and the demonic forces that inflict suffering.
Beyond specific accounts, the Gospel of Matthew highlights how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah bearing people’s infirmities and diseases (Matthew 8:16-17 quoting Isaiah 53:4 NKJV). The healings authenticate Christ’s identity as Israel’s long-awaited Savior. They also reveal God the Father’s compassion and concern for restoring health and wholeness.
In addition to physical healings, Jesus forgave people’s sins and healed them spiritually (Mark 2:5-12). Salvation brings an ultimate healing of the rift between humanity and God caused by sin. So Jesus as Savior brings holistic healing to make people whole in body and soul. His healings provide glimpses of God’s future Kingdom where all suffering will cease.
For Christians, Jesus serves as the ultimate source of God’s healing power. As the Son of God, Jesus possesses and mediates the limitless healing resources of the Father. Through ongoing relationship with Christ by the Spirit, Jesus’ followers participate in his healing ministry and find strength to endure suffering and overcome ailment.
Healing in the Early Church
The book of Acts shows that the early Christian church experienced miraculous healings as a key aspect of their ministry. Empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles performed “wonders and signs” including healings that added multitudes to the growing church (Acts 2:43; 5:12).
Peter heals a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10) and people in crowds who hoped for healing from simply touching his shadow (Acts 5:15-16). Stephen and Philip also did miraculous signs (Acts 6:8; 8:6-7). God worked unusual healings through Paul, like curing his own snakebite, raising Eutychus from the dead after a fall, and healing Publius’ father of fever and dysentery (Acts 28:3-9).
These healing accounts show God’s power continuing to work through Spirit-filled disciples as it did with Jesus. As the church expanded, healing provided divine confirmation of the Gospel across the Gentile mission (Romans 15:18-19). God’s miracles authenticated the revolutionary message of salvation through Christ for new cultures being evangelized.
Beyond apostles, Scripture records miraculous gifts of healing being distributed more widely in the early church. Paul teaches that the Spirit gives varieties of gifts including “gifts of healings” (1 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV) for the common good. James 5:14-15 instructs church elders to pray and anoint the sick, with the Lord restoring their health.
So the New Testament shows divine healing continuing in the ministry of the early church. This serves as a paradigm for Christians of all eras to pray for healing and expect God’s supernatural intervention according to his will. The healing power of Christ remains accessible to his Body through the Spirit’s abiding presence.
Theological Debates about Healing
Beyond biblical accounts, the miraculous healing tradition of early Christianity fueled various theological debates about the nature, scope, and purpose of divine healing that have continued through church history.
In the 2nd century, radical quasi-Christian groups like the Montanists began promoting ongoing prophetic revelations and miracle claims that challenged church authority. This provoked skepticism of signs like healing from more institutional churches. Leaders like Augustine argued miracles ceased after the apostolic era while others maintained God still healed miraculously.
Debates emerged around whether healing is provided categorically in Christ’s atonement like salvation. If Jesus’ suffering secures both, then can Christians claim healing with the same certainty as forgiveness? Questions also arose on why God chooses to heal some people but not others according to his wisdom and will.
Certain traditions like Pentecostalism have emphasized divine healing as a central tenet of faith while at times making controversial claims that all sickness results from personal sin or lack of faith. This has prompted criticism from cessationists who believe miraculous gifts like healing ceased in the early church.
These disputes reveal deeper discussions within Christianity around suffering, how God’s sovereignty and human agency interact, and how to interpret diverse biblical texts on healing. Despite differences, most traditions agree healing remains a blessing God delights in imparting to faith according to his redemptive purposes.
Prayer for the Sick and Anointing of the Sick
Based on Jesus’ model and New Testament teaching, praying for the sick has remained a common practice across Christian traditions as a way to seek divine healing.
James 5:14-15 provides instructions for elders to anoint sick people with oil and pray over them for their restoration. The Catholic tradition developed formal rites of Anointing of the Sick based on this passage. Critics note little biblical evidence that anointing oil itself heals, so conservative Protestants emphasize the scripture’s larger call for prayer.
Praying for the sick makes theoretical faith in God’s power concrete through tangible action. When joined by fellow believers, it allows experiencing firsthand the sustenance only God provides in times of vulnerability and pain. Even when physical cure does not result, prayer connects the suffering with Christ and the church in their affliction.
While practices differ between traditions, visiting and praying for sick congregants remains a vital pastoral role. Prayer waking, laying on hands, and anointing services provide additional rituals for the community of faith to implore God’s healing and comfort for the infirmed. Belief in God’s healing power motivates intercession for the sick.
Relation between Healing and Faith
The Gospels clearly connect healings Christ performed with the faith of the recipients. Matthew 9:22 records Jesus telling a woman healed from bleeding, “your faith has made you well” (NKJV). When ten lepers are cleansed, only the one who returns praising God is commended by Jesus for his faith (Luke 17:19).
The early church also carried expectations that sufficient faith could access divine healing. As Peter heals the lame man in Acts 3, he attributes the miracle to the man’s faith in Jesus (3:16). Jesus himself said believers could move mountains through faith-filled prayer (Matthew 17:20).
At the same time, Scripture contains examples where God heals despite people’s lack of faith. Paul heals pagan Maltese islanders of dysentery with no mention of their faith (Acts 28:8-9). Jesus occasionally heals out of compassion even recoiling at doubts (Mark 9:14-29).
So while strong faith can be a channel for God’s healing power, he retains sovereignty to heal whenever he chooses. Scripture presents faith as beneficial for receiving healing but avoids rigid formulas that miraculously guarantee healing for the faithful. Christians can have great faith and still endure illness for reasons known only to God.
This delicate balance provides hope that God responds to faith-filled prayer while avoiding cruelly blaming the sick if they go unhealed. Perfect theology of the health-faith relation remains elusive this side of eternity. But God graciously heals many who seek him, even if healing only fully comes in the resurrection.
Healing Controversies in Church History
The miraculous healing tradition has constantly created controversies within church history. Two major areas of debate have been claims of modern healing miracles and the emergence of Pentecostal healing revivals.
Throughout history, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others have promulgated miraculous healings associated with saints and their relics. Protestants frequently criticized these claims as fraudulent or demonically inspired, sparking disputes. Reports of supernatural healings during revivals like Cane Ridge fueled anti-emotionalist backlashes among rationalist critics.
In the late 19th century, radical holiness healer John Alexander Dowie founded Zion City outside Chicago after sensational miraculous healing claims drew multitudes. Faith healing tents and traveling evangelists like Aimee Semple McPherson became popular despite mainline Protestant skepticism. Their scandalous excesses like McPherson’s dubious reported resurrection led many conservative Christians to reject the healing movement.
After World War II, the global Pentecostal healing revival transformed opinions. Oral Roberts took healing to mainstream audiences through radio and television. The healing ministry of Catholic Franciscan friar Padre Pio attracted widespread devotion. Kathryn Kuhlman drew millions to her miracle services, gaining even limited acceptance among non-charismatic Protestants wary of pretended healings.
Despite lingering disagreements, these movements forced broad recognition that God still heals today in response to faith. Health and wealth extremes rightly draw critique, but the miraculous should not be dismissed out of rationalistic prejudice against the supernatural. God uses divine healing to draw people to Christ when exercised biblically and appropriately.
Approaches to Unhealed Illness
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the theological understanding of divine healing is why God chooses not to heal everyone who seeks him in faith. Why are some prayed for relentlessly yet remain ill until death?
Some imply if the sick only had more faith or greater holiness they would be healed. But the Book of Job refutes attempts to always trace suffering to personal sin. Paul discusses a “thorn in the flesh” that God refused to remove despite pleading (2 Corinthians 12). God allows suffering for purposes that remain ultimately mysterious this side of eternity.
When faced with persisting affliction, mature Christian reflection emphasizes maintaining hope rather than presuming to know why God has not healed. Christians can intercede fervently for the sick while trusting God’s greater wisdom if health is not restored. Expressions of grief and sadness are appropriate, but not hopelessness, since we rest in a God who conquered death itself through the resurrection.
Compassion and support for those carrying illness are also vital for the church. Blaming victims adds cruelty to suffering and contradicts Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized. We are called to weep with those who weep and pray ceaselessly for their relief while trusting that the God of all comfort remains sovereign even when healing does not come in this life.
This survey of physical healing in the Bible reveals divine healing as a central part of the Scripture’s redemptive narrative. God miraculously heals as an act of compassion displaying his authority and desire to bring restoration. The life and ministry of Jesus provides the ultimate demonstration of God’s willingness and power to heal human brokenness and suffering.
For Christians, prayer for the sick and belief in God’s healing power remains important while recognizing mysterious paradoxes in God’s will that make healing sporadic this side of eternity. While debates persist around secondary issues, the miraculous healing tradition calls the church to cultivate faith and caringly minister to the sick and infirm.
Despite not always removing affliction now, we rest in the hope of complete healing to come in Christ’s final defeat of sin and death. Then as Revelation 21:4 NKJV promises, our resurrected life with God in the new creation will hold no more sickness, suffering, and tears. Until that day, may the church embody God’s healing presence as we intercede through prayer and acts of mercy.