James 5:14-15 Proper Rendering

Whenever I see a possible conflict in Scripture, I like to get to the very bottom of it. I know that the Bible does not conflict with itself, so I have to take the verses and see what the verses are actually saying rather than what they appear to say. This was the case when I read the following two portions of Scripture:
1. Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. (1 Corinthians 12:1, 4, 7-11 NLT)
2. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. (James 5:14, 15 NLT)

1 Corinthians 12 is quite clear about how it is the Holy Spirit who distributes the gift of healing throughout the Body of Christ as He sees fit and not just to the leadership. So I now had to turn to James 5:14-15 and see what’s going on. The following is what I discovered from my investigation:

James 5:14-15 is actually dealing with spiritual weakness rather than physical sickness. The biggest problem that must be overcome in order to understand James 5:14-15 as dealing with spiritual weakness rather than physical sickness comes from the English translations. These translations advance the physical sickness interpretation. Perhaps the main reason why this passage is considered to be difficult to interpret is that interpreters seek to fit physical healing into a context of spiritual weakness, resulting in many difficult issues.

In order to help understand that the English translations lead the reader directly to an understanding of James 5:14-15 as being a physical illness, below are the several places where a more interpretive translation was chosen over a more basic, less interpretive translation:

“Sick” (ASTHENEO) in James 5:14 has a basic meaning of “weak.”
“over” (EPI) in James 5:14 has a basic meaning of “for.”
“anointing” (ALEIPSANTE) in James 5:14 has a basic meaning of “rubbing.”
“offered in” in James 5:15 has a basic meaning of “of.”
“restore” (SOZO) in James 5:15 has a basic meaning of “save.”
“Sick” (KAMNO) in James 5:15 has a basic meaning of “weary.”
This passage would be easier if the translators did not lead the reader to the physical sickness interpretation of this passage.

If we eliminate the bias in the translations toward a physical sickness or a spiritual weakness and simply translate the words according to their basic meaning, then James 5:14-15 would read:

“Is anyone among you weak? He ought to call the elders of the church to pray for him, applying oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the one who is weary, and the Lord will raise him and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”

Notice that the burden is placed on the one who is weak to call the elders. From there, God’s warning is to the elders so they do not neglect their duty because, for the one who is spiritually weak, they are the last resort. Too many churches use this as a formula to call the physically sick forward in their services to be prayed for by their leaders. 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 states that the manifestation gifts are distributed to the Body of Christ as the Holy Spirit determines for the common good, not solely to the leadership of the church.

As a final note, this does not mean that God will not physically heal someone who steps forward in a prayer line at church and the leadership anoints them and prays over them. It only means that when it comes to physical healing, there are no formulas. God can even use handkerchiefs (Acts 19:11-12) if He so pleases.

About annointing

Defender of the Christian Faith
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