“The prayer of faith”[i] is a specific,[ii] Divinely enabled and energized[iii] petition for healing, for the person to be healed and raised up from his bed of sickness.[iv] As faith is a gift from God (Philippians 1:29; James 1:17-18), so when a particular healing is in the will of God, the Lord can enable the sick person, the elders, or the church to present the prayer of faith to Him, giving them belief that this specific healing is His will (cf. Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24), and then answering their Divinely-produced faith. Only when healing is God’s will, giving Him greater glory and bringing a greater benefit to the sick believer than the spiritual strengthening that comes through trial (James 1:2-3, 12) does the Holy Spirit enable any group or individual among the saints to offer the prayer of faith, one free from any doubt (cf. James 1:6), for healing. The prayer of faith cannot be offered by Christians simply convincing themselves that a particular healing is going to take place—supernaturally produced faith must undergird the prayer, and such faith is only at times, not all the time, produced by God in accordance with His will.
Furthermore, James 5:14-15 does not specify that the healing is miraculous. Whenever a person recovers from illness, whenever he is enabled to arise from a sickness that had left him bedridden, it is truly affirmed that the healing comes from the Lord and that it was the Lord who raised the sick one up (James 5:15). Nothing in James 5 requires that the healing be miraculous any more than the promise that the Lord gives wisdom to those who ask Him for it requires the performance of a miracle (James 1:5). Indeed, James does not speak of healing through the sign gift of miraculous healing that was limited to certain Christians (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30), but of healing in answer to prayer that could be offered by any Christian (James 5:16) without any regard for miraculous gifts. When Epaphroditus was sick, and was not miraculously healed, but recovered through the less dramatic means that God uses to cure the overwhelming majority of non-fatal illnesses, Paul could still affirm that Epaphroditus’ recovery was because “God had mercy on him” (Philippians 2:27). James 5:14-15 does not limit God to the exertion of miraculous power in His work in delivering the sick—James recognizes that every good and perfect gift, including recovery from sickness through non-miraculous means, comes from the Father (James 1:17). When God answers prayer and a sick believer recovers, whether because of a special supernatural intervention or through the mechanisms the Creator has placed within the human body, sustained by the strength of Him in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17) and because of His gracious Divine decree for the restoration of physical health (Ephesians 1:11), it is true that the Lord was the One who healed and raised up the sick. God heals, when in accordance with His loving will and in answer to the Divinely-enabled prayer of His obedient people, He uses medicine to cure maladies. James 5:14-15 never specifies that the healings in question were miraculous, instantaneous, or in other ways identical in character to the miraculous healings Christ and the Apostles performed—both on those with faith and on those without faith—as signs to validate their Divine authority.
Furthermore, the “anointing . . . with oil” of James 5:14 actually requires the use of medicine, rather than prayer alone, for the healing of the sick. The use of oil for healing was accepted medical procedure at the time, and James commends the use of medical means with his reference to anointing with oil. The verb to anoint in James 5:14 is not the verb expected for ceremonial anointing, but a general anointing that would include the use of oil for physical and psychological well-being. The oil is to refresh, strengthen, and heal the body through the natural means God has created in the physical realm. The good Samaritan, to assist physically the wounded man in the Lord’s parable, “went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:34).[v] “[W]ounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores” are to be “closed . . . bound up . . . [and] mollified with ointment [oil][vi]” (Isaiah 1:6). The “balm in Gilead” was for use by the “physician” so that “health” might be “recovered” (Jeremiah 8:22). Extrabiblical literature contains abundant references of a similar nature to the medicinal use of oil. The evidence for the medicinal use of oil in James 5, and its use outside of Scripture as a medicine, will be examined, Lord willing, in following posts.
[i] hJ eujch\ thvß pi÷stewß. Note the use of the article.
[ii] The use of the words eujch/ and eu¡comai for prayer in 5:15-16 supports the character of the prayer in question as a specific petition, here for healing (cf. the use of the words for a specific vow). Other words for prayer are much more common. The noun eujch/ appears in the New Testament in Acts 18:18; 21:23; James 5:15, and in the LXX in Genesis 28:20; 31:13; Leviticus 7:16; 22:21, 23, 29; 23:38; 27:2; Numbers 6:2, 4–9, 12–13, 18–19, 21; 15:3, 8; 21:2; 29:39; 30:3–15; Deuteronmy 12:6, 17, 26; 23:19, 22; Judges 11:30, 39; 1 Samuel 1:11, 21; 2:9; 2 Samuel 15:7–8; Job 11:17; 16:17; 22:27; Psalm 21:26; 49:14; 55:13; 60:6, 9; 64:2; 65:13; 115:9; Proverbs 7:14; 15:8, 29; 19:13; 31:2; Ecclesiastes 5:3; Isaiah 19:21; Jeremiah 11:15; Daniel 6:6, 8, 13; Jonah 1:16; Nahum 2:1; Malachi 1:14; 1 Esdras 2:4, 6; 4:43, 46; 5:52; 8:57; Judith 4:14; 2 Maccabees 3:35; 15:26; Ode 3:9; Sirach 18:22; Baruch 6:34. The verb eu¡comai appears in the New Testament in Acts 26:29; 27:29; Romans 9:3; 2 Corinthians 13:7, 9; James 5:16; 3 John 1:2, and in the LXX in Genesis 28:20; 31:13; Exodus 8:4–5, 24–26; 9:28; 10:18; Leviticus 27:2, 8; Numbers 6:2, 5, 13, 18–21; 11:2; 21:2, 7; 30:3–4, 10; Deuteronomy 9:20, 26; 12:11, 17; 23:22–24; Judges 11:30, 39; 1 Samuel 1:11; 2:9; 2 Samuel 15:7–8; 2 Kings 20:2; Job 22:27; 33:26; 42:8, 10; Psalm 75:12; 131:2; Proverbs 20:25; Ecclesisastes 5:3–4; Isaiah 19:21; Jeremiah 7:16; 22:27; Daniel 6:6, 8, 12–14; Jonah 1:16; 2:10; 1 Esdras 4:43–46; 5:43, 52; 8:13, 49; 2 Maccabees 3:35; 9:13; 12:44; 15:27; 4 Maccabees 4:13; Ode 3:9; 6:10; Wisdom 7:7; Sirach 18:23; 34:24; 38:9 Baruch 1:5; 6:34. The usage in both the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament and Apocrypha supports the sense of a specific petition in James 5:15-16.
Furthermore, hJ eujch\ thvß pi÷stewß is characterized at the end of James 5:16 as a de÷hsiß, an “urgent request to meet a need, exclusively addressed to God, prayer,” used “to denote a more specific supplication” than “proseuch/, the more general term” (BDAG). “proseuch/ [is] . . . prayer in general, de÷hsiß [is] . . . prayer for particular benefits” (pg. 188, Synonyms of the New Testament, Trench).
[iii] That is, in 5:16 e˙nergoume÷nh is passive, referring to a prayer the believer is enabled to pray by the Holy Spirit, a de÷hsiß . . . e˙nergoume÷nh, v. 16. Compare e˙nerge÷w in Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29.
[iv] hJ eujch\ thvß pi÷stewß sw¿sei to\n ka¿mnonta, kai« e˙gerei√ aujto\n oJ Ku/rioß. sw¿sei is here used for physical salvation or deliverance of the sick one (to\n ka¿mnonta), and e˙gerei√ refers to being “raised up” from the sickbed (cf. Mark 1:31; Luke 5:24-25; Proverbs 6:9, LXX).
[v] “The good Samaritan used oil and wine to treat the wounds of the injured man (Lk 10:34). Because of its alcoholic content, the wine would have an antiseptic action, but at the same time would tend to coagulate the surface of the raw wound and permit bacteria to thrive under the coagulum. The oil, by its emollient effect, would tend to nullify this latter undesirable side effect of wine and would also be soothing due to its coating action. A dressing was then applied, and the patient was taken to a resting place” (pg. 1430, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, W. A. Elwell & B. J. Beitzel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988). “[O]live oil and wine . . . were the provender that the Samaritan had with him on his journey. A mixture of them for medicinal purposes is known from Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.11, and from the later rabbinic tradition (m. Šabb. 19:2). In the OT olive oil is said to be a softener of wounds (Isa 1:6); elsewhere in the NT it is used to anoint the sick (Mark 6:13; Jas 5:14). The acidic nature of wine would serve as an antiseptic” (pgs. 887-888, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, J. A. Fitzmyer, on Luke 10:24).