Indeed, when James 5 teaches that the sick believer is to consider his spiritual needs and fellowship with the Lord, pray and get godly counsel and fellowship, and use medicine, he affirms a view of the relationship between God as healer and physicians dominant in inter-testamental Judaism as seen in the Apocrypha in the Wisdom of Ben Sira:
1 Make friends with the physician, for he is essential to you; him also God has established in his profession. 2 From God the doctor has his wisdom, and from the king he receives his sustenance. 3 Knowledge makes the doctor distinguished, and gives him access to those in authority. 4 God makes the earth yield healing herbs, which the prudent should not neglect. 5 Was not the water sweetened by a twig that people might learn his power?[i] 6 He endows humans with the knowledge to glory in his mighty works, 7 Through which the doctor eases pain 8 and the druggist prepares his medicines; thus God’s creative work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth. 9 My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, for it is he who heals. 10 Flee wickedness; purify your hands, cleanse your heart of every sin.[ii] 11 Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and memorial, a generous offering according to your means. 12 Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; for you need him too. 13 There are times that give him an advantage, 14 and he too beseeches God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. 15 Whoever is a sinner toward his Maker will be defiant toward the doctor. (38:1-15)[iii]
Intertestamental Judaism taught: “Pray to God, for it is He who heals. Flee wickedness; purify your hands, cleanse your heart of every sin . . . then give the doctor his place.” James likewise taught that God heals, but one must use medicine. Rejecting medicine is not Biblical faith—it is disobedience to James 5 and ungodly fanaticism.
James 5:14-15 provides no support whatsoever for Pentecostalism’s doctrine of healing. Pentecostalism is either ignorant of or ignores the historical background to James 5:14-15 and its support for the use of medicine in healing. Without dealing with arguments to the contrary, Pentecostalism assumes that James 5:14-15 is a binding prescription for believers in the entire church age. Pentecostalism’s faulty, non-Baptist view of the church allows him to believe that the statements of James 5:14-15 are valid for those not part of true Baptist churches, although only such churches truly have church leadership such as elders. Pentecostalism makes all disease the result of sin and failure to ascend to the Higher Life, while James specifically indicates not all disease is the result of personal sin, and Pentecostalism’s Higher Life theology was unknown in the first century and for the first 90% of church history. Pentecostalism’s neglects the fact that the faith of “the prayer of faith” is a gift from God, exercised in accordance with His sovereign will, rather than the spontaneous production of every man at his own will.[iv] James, unlike Pentecostalism, teaches that only when it is God’s will to heal can the prayer of faith be proffered to God. Nor does James 5:14-15 specify that the healing is miraculous. Indeed, James enjoins the sick to use medicine to be healed, while Pentecostalism discourages the use of medicine. James 5:14-15, when interpreted in a literal, grammatical-historical way, provides no support whatsoever for Pentecostalism’s Faith Cure. James 5:14-15 is only a witness for Pentecostal healing theology if one holds to an a priori commitment to the Pentecostal position, based on supposedly authoritative testimonials to its effacacy outside of Scripture, combined with a hermeneutic of either empty proof-texting or allegorical eisegesis.
[i] Ben Sira refers to Exodus 15:25, following the Jewish tradition that “supposedly, the water passed through the porous wood, which filtered out enough of the impurities to make it potable” (pg. 84, Exodus: The JPS Torah Commentary, N. M. Sarna, on Exodus 15:25). Indeed, the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 15:25 specifies that Moses used the “bitter oleander tree” (ynpdrad ryrm Nlya), since “Palestinian tradition accords the power of sweetening brackish water . . . [to] bitter oleander” (pg. 577, Exodus 1-18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, W. H. Propp, on Exodus 15:25). Likewise, Philo wrote:
181 And when they had departed from the sea they went on for some time travelling, and no longer feeling any apprehension of their enemies. But when water failed them, so that for three days they had nothing to drink, they were again reduced to despondency by thirst, and again began to blame their fate as if they had not enjoyed any good fortune previously; for it always happens that the presence of an existing and present evil takes away the recollection of the pleasure which was caused by former good. 182 At last, when they beheld some fountains, they ran up full of joy with the idea that they were going to drink, being deceived by ignorance of the truth; for the springs were bitter. Then when they had tasted them they were bowed down by the unexpected disappointment, and fainted, and yielded both in body and soul, lamenting not so much for themselves as for their helpless children, whom they could not endure without tears to behold imploring drink; 183 and some of those who were of more careless dispositions, and of no settled notions of piety, blamed all that had gone before, as if it had turned out not so as to do them any good, but rather so as to lead them to a suffering of more grievous calamities than ever; saying that it was better for them to die, not only once but three times over, by the hands of their enemies, than to perish with thirst; for they affirmed that a quick and painless departure from life did in no respect differ from freedom from death in the opinion of wise men, but that that was real death which was slow and accompanied by pain; that what was fearful was not to be dead but only to be dying. 184 When they were lamenting and bewailing themselves in this manner, Moses again besought God, who knew the weakness of all creatures, and especially of men, and the necessary wants of the body which depends for its existence on food, and which is enslaved by those severe task-mistresses, eating and drinking, to pardon his desponding people, and to relieve their want of everything, and that too not after a long interval of time, but by a prompt and undeferred liberality, since by reason of the natural impotency of their mortal nature, they required a very speedy measure of assistance and deliverance. 185 But he, by his bountiful and merciful power, anticipated their wishes, sending forth and opening the watchful, anxious eye of the soul of his suppliant, and showed him a piece of wood which he bade him take up and throw into the water, which indeed had been made by nature with such a power for that purpose, and which perhaps had a quality which was previously unknown, or perhaps was then first endowed with it, for the purpose of effecting the service which it was then about to perform: 186 and when he had done that which he was commanded to do, the fountains became changed and sweet and drinkable, so that no one was able to recognise the fact of their having been bitter previously, because there was not the slightest trace or spark of their ancient bitterness left to excite the recollection. 181 a‡ranteß d∆ aÓpo\ qala¿tthß me÷cri me÷n tinoß wJdoipo/roun mhke÷ti to\n aÓpo\ tw◊n e˙cqrw◊n ojrrwdouvnteß fo/bon. e˙pilipo/ntoß de« touv potouv trisi«n hJme÷raiß, au™qiß e˙n aÓqumi÷aiß h™san uJpo\ di÷youß kai« pa¿lin h¡rxanto memyimoirei√n wJß mhde«n eu™ propeponqo/teß: aÓei« ga»r hJ touv paro/ntoß prosbolh\ deinouv ta»ß e˙pi« toi√ß prote÷roiß aÓgaqoi√ß hJdona»ß aÓfairei√tai. 182 qeasa¿menoi de« phga»ß e˙pitre÷cousin wJß aÓruso/menoi cara◊ß uJpo/plewˆ, di∆ a‡gnoian taÓlhqouvß aÓpathqe÷nteß: pikrai« ga»r h™san: ei¶ta geusa¿menoi gnamfqe÷nteß twˆ◊ par∆ e˙lpi÷da ta¿ te sw¿mata parei√nto kai« ta»ß yuca»ß aÓnapeptw¿kesan oujc ou¢twß e˙f∆ e˚autoi√ß wJß e˙pi« toi√ß nhpi÷oiß paisi« ste÷nonteß, ou§ß aÓdakruti« poto\n ai˙touvntaß oJra◊n oujc uJpe÷menon. 183 e¶nioi de« tw◊n ojligwrote÷rwn kai« pro\ß eujse÷beian aÓbebai÷wn kai« ta» progegono/ta hØjtiw◊nto wJß oujk e˙p∆ eujergesi÷aˆ sumba¿nta ma◊llon h£ dia» metousi÷an aÓrgalewte÷rwn sumforw◊n, a‡meinon ei•nai le÷gonteß tri÷ß, oujc a‚pax, uJp∆ e˙cqrw◊n aÓpoqanei√n h£ di÷yei parapole÷sqai: th\n me«n ga»r a‡ponon kai« tacei√an touv bi÷ou meta¿stasin oujde«n aÓqanasi÷aß diafe÷rein toi√ß eu™ fronouvsi, qa¿naton d∆ wJß aÓlhqw◊ß ei•nai to\n bradu\n kai« met∆ aÓlghdo/nwn, oujk e˙n twˆ◊ teqna¿nai to\ fobero\n aÓll∆ e˙n mo/nwˆ twˆ◊ aÓpoqnhØ/skein e˙pideiknu/menon 184 toiau/taiß crwme÷nwn ojlofu/rsesi, pa¿lin i˚keteu/ei to\n qeo\n Mwushvß e˙pista¿menon th\n zwˆ¿wn kai« ma¿lista th\n aÓnqrw¿pwn aÓsqe÷neian kai« ta»ß touv sw¿matoß aÓna¿gkaß e˙k trofhvß hjrthme÷nou kai« despoi÷naiß calepai√ß sunezeugme÷nou, brw¿sei kai« po/sei, suggnw◊nai me«n toi√ß aÓqumouvsi, th\n de« pa¿ntwn e¶ndeian e˙kplhvsai, mh\ cro/nou mh/kei, dwrea◊ˆ d∆ aÓnuperqe÷twˆ kai« tacei÷aˆ, dia» th\n touv qnhtouv fusikh\n ojligwri÷an ojxu\n kairo\n thvß bohqei÷aß e˙pipoqouvntoß. 185 oJ de« th\n iºlewn auJtouv du/namin fqa¿nei proekpe÷myaß kai« dioi÷xaß to\ touv i˚ke÷tou thvß yuchvß aÓkoi÷mhton o¡mma xu/lon dei÷knusin, o§ prose÷taxen aÓra¿menon ei˙ß ta»ß phga»ß kaqei√nai, ta¿ca me«n kateskeuasme÷non e˙k fu/sewß poiouvn du/namin, h£ ta¿ca hjgno/hto, ta¿ca de« kai« to/te prw◊ton poihqe«n ei˙ß h§n e¶mellen uJphretei√n crei÷an. 186 genome÷nou de« touv keleusqe÷ntoß, ai˚ me«n phgai« glukai÷nontai metabalouvsai pro\ß to\ po/timon, wJß mhd∆ ei˙ th\n aÓrch\n e˙ge÷nonto/ pote pikrai« du/nasqai diagnw◊nai, dia» to\ mhde« i¶cnoß h£ zw¿puron thvß aÓrcai÷aß kaki÷aß ei˙ß mnh/mhn uJpolelei√fqai. (Moses 1:181-186)
While likely erroneous and in truth the record of an actual miracle—although the statement in Exodus 15:25 that the Lord “taught” Moses a tree (X$Eo ‹hOÎwh◊y …whôérwø¥yÅw) to use for the healing in response to prayer is suggestive—the Jewish tradition that Exodus 15:24-27 records an event where the Lord healed Israel, not by direct miracle, but through natural means, the purification of the bitter water by Divinely and providentially ordered properties in the tree that Moses employed, illustrates the Jewish view that healing through the employment of medicine and properties the Creator placed within His creation was by no means despised or looked down upon, as in Pentecostalism’s Faith Cure doctrine. The Jews believed that the power of God was declared and His glory manifested through the use of medicine in healing.
[ii] Compare Sirach 38:10 with James 4:8, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” kaqari÷sate cei√raß, aJmartwloi÷, kai« aJgni÷sate kardi÷aß, di÷yucoi.
[iii] Sirach 38:1 ti÷ma i˙atro\n pro\ß ta»ß crei÷aß aujtouv timai√ß aujtouv kai« ga»r aujto\n e¶ktisen ku/rioß 2 para» ga»r uJyi÷stou e˙sti«n i¶asiß kai« para» basile÷wß lh/myetai do/ma 3 e˙pisth/mh i˙atrouv aÓnuyw¿sei kefalh\n aujtouv kai« e¶nanti megista¿nwn qaumasqh/setai 4 ku/rioß e¶ktisen e˙k ghvß fa¿rmaka kai« aÓnh\r fro/nimoß ouj prosocqiei√ aujtoi√ß 5 oujk aÓpo\ xu/lou e˙gluka¿nqh u¢dwr ei˙ß to\ gnwsqhvnai th\n i˙scu\n aujtouv 6 kai« aujto\ß e¶dwken aÓnqrw¿poiß e˙pisth/mhn e˙ndoxa¿zesqai e˙n toi√ß qaumasi÷oiß aujtouv 7 e˙n aujtoi√ß e˙qera¿peusen kai« h™ren to\n po/non aujtouv mureyo\ß e˙n tou/toiß poih/sei mei√gma 8 kai« ouj mh\ suntelesqhvØ e¶rga aujtouv kai« ei˙rh/nh par∆ aujtouv e˙stin e˙pi« prosw¿pou thvß ghvß 9 te÷knon e˙n aÓrrwsth/mati÷ sou mh\ para¿blepe aÓll∆ eu™xai kuri÷wˆ kai« aujto\ß i˙a¿setai÷ se 10 aÓpo/sthson plhmme÷leian kai« eu¡qunon cei√raß kai« aÓpo\ pa¿shß aJmarti÷aß kaqa¿rison kardi÷an. 11 do\ß eujwdi÷an kai« mnhmo/sunon semida¿lewß kai« li÷panon prosfora»n wJß mh\ uJpa¿rcwn 12 kai« i˙atrw◊ˆ do\ß to/pon kai« ga»r aujto\n e¶ktisen ku/rioß kai« mh\ aÓposth/tw sou kai« ga»r aujtouv crei÷a 13 e¶stin kairo\ß o¢te kai« e˙n cersi«n aujtw◊n eujodi÷a 14 kai« ga»r aujtoi« kuri÷ou dehqh/sontai iºna eujodw¿shØ aujtoi√ß aÓna¿pausin kai« i¶asin ca¿rin e˙mbiw¿sewß 15 oJ aJmarta¿nwn e¶nanti touv poih/santoß aujto\n e˙mpe÷soi ei˙ß cei√raß i˙atrouv.
Translation from pgs. 438-439, The Wisdom of Ben Sira: A New Translation with Notes, Introduction and Commentary, P. W. Skehan, & A. A. Di Lella (2008). New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008. Note their commentary on the passage.
[iv] Indeed, perfectionistic theology in general neglects the fact that faith is a gift from God, rather than an autonomously generated product of man.