Saturday, May 06, 2006

To Oil Or Not To Oil?

To Oil Or Not To Oil? A Must Read!

What About Oil
Jay Adams

"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church;
and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord..."

Jam 5:13-16 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: (15) And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (16) Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.


What About Oil?

Oil in the passage under consideration has been misunderstood. Thinking of the use of oil in the ceremonial anointings of prophets, priests and kings in Old Testament times, some have interpreted its use here in a similar way. That, along with the translation of aleipho, the Greek term in the passage, as "anoint" in the King James Version, has led to an unfortunate understanding that brings about the need to discuss the passage in some detail.

First, you must understand the correct meaning and use of the word aleipho.

Unlike the rendering in the King James Bible, aleipho does not refer to a ceremonial anointing. Indeed, the word "anoint" as a translation of the verb would be incorrect and misleading in any context. There is another term, entirely unrelated to aleipho that does mean "anoint," that James would have used if he had any intention of speaking of a ceremonial act. Indeed, this other verb is so important in the New Testament that it is the basis of one of the most significant terms used to describe our Lord Himself. That word is the Greek verb chrio, from which Christos, "the anointed one," is derived, and from which, by transliteration, we obtained the English designation Christ. The English and the Greek word from which it is derived are renderings of the Hebrew for "Messiah." Messiah clearly refers to the One Who was to be anointed as the Prophet, Priest, and King. Obviously, the use of chrio in such a context is ceremonial to its roots.

What, then, does aleipho mean?
Obviously, there must be a difference; indeed, James must have chosen it rather than chrio for good reasons ­­ precisely because:
1) he did not intend to speak of a ceremonial act;
2) because the difference in the two verbs was the determining factor in his choice of terms.
What does aleipho mean?

The difference between aleipho and chrio has nothing to do with the element that is applied to the sick Christian. In both oil was used. The distinction between the verbs, rather, is a distinction having to do with action. In anointings, oil is poured upon the head; in actions described by aleipho, oil is rubbed or smeared upon the body. Indeed, the word aleipho, that James used, is mundane rather than ceremonial. It was used to describe the way Greek athletes rubbed down their bodies with oil and grease before wrestling, and ­­ of greatest import to us ­­ it was a favorite medical term both in the Scriptures and elsewhere. It describes how oil, either as such, or as a base mixed with medicinal herbs, was applied to the body. Used in the context of sickness by James, it is clear that his intention was medicinal.In Isaiah 1:5,6, God describes Judah as a sick nation, beaten and bruised from head to foot. In v.6, He insists that nothing has been done to cure her injuries. He specifically mentions that her wounds have not been bandaged and her bruises have not been "softened with oil." Clearly, the medicinal use of oil is prominent in the passage. In the New Testament, Jesus describes the action of the good Samaritan as bandaging wounds and "pouring oil and wine on them." (Luke 10:34). There is no doubt that oil was used medicinally in both Old and New Testament times.In the Loeb Classical Library edition of Hippoccrates' medical writings (Vol III), we find ample evidence of the use of oil as a medicine. Dr. E.T. Witherington, in his general introduction says bandages were soaked in some application, the most important being forms cerate which consisted of wax liquefied in olive oil or oil of roses, and to which sometimes pitch was added. Wine and oil were also used on bandages (pp. xx, xxi).Here are some actual quotations from Hippocrates himself speaking of wounds and injuries:

". . . putting linen on it and moisten with oil." (p.29); " . . .sprinkling it with oil and wine" (p 147); ". . . moistened with oil and wine" (p165); ". . . sprinkling it with warm wine and oil" (p.353).

Rather than sanctioning some sort of ceremonial anointing, James was advocating the use of prayer accompanied by medicine. That, of course, makes a very great difference in how we apply the passage today. In those days, elders, or anyone, for that matter (remember the good Samaritan) could apply simple remedied for ailments; physicians did not have a corner on the work. Indeed, while there were many physicians around, they were not always readily available. It would be natural, then, for the elders to come to the sick room, pray and administer the best remedies they had.

The passage indicates that, as in the cases of Job and the blind man (John 9), many illnesses are not traceable to sin in the sick person.

They are part of a cursed world that, because of Adam's sin, suffers from injury and disease. In that case, prayer and medicine would restore the patient to health.

But James also suggests that in some instances, the sick person's illness is due to his own sin.

That could happen in two ways:

1. either the illness was caused by sinful behavior (drunkenness leading to chirrosis of the liver, for instance) or

2. by a judgment of God inflicted on unrepentant children of God (Cf. the example in I Corinthians 11: 27­-32).

In such cases, prayer and medicine were not sufficient; he must also confess his sin to God (and, presumably, to anyone else against whom the offense was committed).

James' exhortation to the sick, and his clear description of what the elders are to do when helping the sick, is entirely consistent with what the twelve did when they went our to preach and to heal the sick:

"So they . . . rubbed oil on many sick people & healed them (Mark.6:13)."

Again, the word aleipho, not chrio, is used indicating that they were to do precisely what the elders are to do to heal the sick. Moreover, when you examine the interesting passage in Acts 28:8,9, you discover though Paul cured people miraculously (v. 8 ), he (and/or Luke) also "gave medical treatment" to many (as the word used in v. 9 indicates). Paul did not miraculously heal Timothy of his "frequent illnesses" ( I Timothy 5:23), but advised him to use wine medicinally to help his stomach troubles. And, rather than curing him miraculously, Paul had left Trophimus behind sick ( II Timothy 4:20).

It is plain, then, that medicine and medical treatment, were not only accepted by New Testament writers as legitimate means to accompany prayer, but advised and used by them.

The next time your faith healing friends throw this passage in James at you, if you remember the facts in this pamphlet, you will be able to refute their erroneous claims. And, you will not be tempted to follow advice that superficially seems biblical, but in reality proves not to be.

Instead, when you are seriously ill, call for the elders of your church and use the best medical treatment available.


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