Prayer for the “Sick”

Drew Berding

‘When we are too weak spiritually to pray, we are to call for the elders to pray for us that we might be strengthened [restored] spiritually.’”
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James 5:14-15

James 5:14-15, 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; 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.

This verse has frustrated me for years. Obviously, many people have called for the elders who have prayed in faith and the sick ones have not been healed. In fact, they may have gotten worse or died.

Does this mean God doesn’t keep His promises? Or does it mean their faith was not strong enough? Or does it mean we have misinterpreted what this verse says? I think it is the later—we have misunderstood the Scripture.

First of all, look at the context. Everything is about spiritual matters—not physical matters.

Preceding verses:

For example look at the verses which precede the verses we are studying. Verse 12 talks about falling under judgment.1 Verse 13 talks about praying and praising God.2 These are spiritual matters.

Following verses:

Also look at the verses that follow the verses we are studying. Verses 16-18 talks about confessing sins and praying.3 Verses 19-20 talk about straying from the truth, saving souls, and covering sins.4

Context:

Clearly, everything in the context preceding and following the verses we are studying is about spiritual matters rather than physical matters, so why should we think our verses are talking about physical “sickness” rather than spiritual “sickness”?

Sick:

The word translated “sick” in verse 14 is the Greek word “asthenei” (NT:770) which means literally “without strength.” Often it is translated “feeble” or “weak” or “impotent.” It can refer either to physical5 or spiritual6 7 8 9 weakness.

There are other Greek words10 11 that are more frequently used to designate physical sickness rather than the one used here.

Furthermore, the word translated “sick” in verse 15 is the Greek word “kamno” (NT:2577) which is only used two other places.12 13 In both places it is translated “weary” and clearly means “weary spiritually.”

Therefore it is safe to conclude it means the same thing here: weary spiritually.

Healed:

The word translated “healed” in verse 14 is the Greek word “sozo” (NT:4982) which literally means “saved.”14 15 16 Although it can be translated “healed,”17 18 in most cases it is referring to spiritual healing. One scholar says “sozo” is used 120 times in the New Testament but is only translated “healed” three times.

For example, it is used in the spiritual sense in every case in Romans (8x), 1 Corinthians (9x), 2 Corinthians (1x), Ephesians (2x), 1 Thessalonians (1x), 2 Thessalonians (1x), 1 Timothy (4x), 2 Timothy (2x), Titus (1x), Hebrews (2x), 1 Peter (2x), Jude (2x) and Revelation (1x). Most important, in the book of James where we are examining verses 14 and 15, the author uses the word “sozo” four other times 19 20 21 22 and each time it refers to salvation. Therefore isn’t it reasonable to assume he means the same thing here?

Furthermore, there are other Greek words that are usually used for physical healing that James chose not to use.23 24 If he had meant “physical healing” he would have used one of those.

Elders:

If James had meant a physical cure he probably would have said to call for a doctor rather than the elders. The only caveat to this is that many people at that time in history presumed that physical sickness was the result of sin.

Conclusion:

James 5:14-15 does not refer to physical sickness but instead it refers to spiritual weakness.

A more accurate paraphrase:

When we are too weak spiritually to pray, we are to call for the elders to pray for us that we might be strengthened [restored] spiritually.

Photo Attribution: Deb Dowd – Unsplash.com

Footnotes

  1. James 5:12, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.”
  2. James 5:13-14, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.”
  3. James 5:16-18, “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. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”
  4. James 5:19-20, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
  5. 1 Cor 11:30-31, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.”
  6. Rom 4:19, “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.”
  7. Rom 8:3, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did.”
  8. Rom 14:1-2, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
  9. 1 Cor 8:11-12, “For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”
  10. “kakos” (NT:2560)
  11. “arrostous” (NT:732)
  12. Heb 12:3, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
  13. Rev 2:3, “…and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”
  14. Matt 18:11, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”
  15. Matt 1:21, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
  16. Mark 16:16, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
  17. Mark 5:22-23, “One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23 and implored Him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.'”
  18. Mark 5:28, “For she thought, ‘If I just touch His garments, I will get well.'”
  19. James 1:21, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
  20. James 2:14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
  21. James 4:12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”
  22. James 5:19-20, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
  23. The most common one is “therapeuo” (NT:2323) from which we get the English word “therapeutic.”
  24. “iaomai” (NT:2390) usually translated “cured.” It occurs 28x.

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NOTE: Bible references unless otherwise stated are from the NASU (New American Standard Updated) copyright the Lockman Foundation.

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