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Don Stewart :: What Do the New Testament Letters Have to Say about Divine Healing?

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What Do the New Testament Letters Have to Say about Divine Healing?

Divine Healing – Question 12

The four gospels provide us with information about the healing ministry of Jesus Christ while He was here upon the earth. We find that the Lord was able to heal whomever He pleased, wherever He pleased, as well as any disease or infirmity which He was confronted with. The record is clear that Jesus supernaturally healed the sick of their ailments.

We are also given information about the disciples of Jesus ability to heal. They exercised this ability while the Lord was here upon the earth as well as after He ascended into heaven. The Book of Acts records these healing miracles of Jesus’ disciples.

The Subject of Sickness and Healing in the New Testament Letters

There are also a few statements about sickness and divine healing which are found in the New Testament letters. These references have caused much discussion among Bible-believing Christians. We can make the following observations about what we find as well as what we do not find.

There Are No Specific References of People Who Were Supernaturally Healed

First, we do not find any direct reference to an individual who had been miraculously healed. None. In a section on spiritual gifts, the Apostle Paul mentions “gifts of healing” in his letter to the Corinthians. He also wrote to the Romans about the fact that he exercised various signs and wonders wherever he went. Yet there were no contemporary examples of divine healing.

Statements about Sickness and Healing in Hebrews and James

Apart from the writings of Paul, we only find statements about illness and healing in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews as well as in the Book of James. We read the following words in Hebrews.

How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3, 4 TNIV).

Signs, wonders and miracles confirmed the words of the apostles. It is assumed that these signs, wonders, and various miracles included supernatural healing.

James wrote about what a sick person is supposed to do; they are to call for the elders of the church.

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5:14-15 TNIV).

Apart from the writings of Paul, these are the only mentions of sickness and divine healing in the New Testament letters.

There Is No Mention of Divine Healing in the Letters of Peter, Jude, or John

We do not find any mention of miraculous healings in the two letters of Peter, the letter of Jude, or any of the three letters of John nor the Book of Revelation. Scripture does not tell us why this is so. Opinions vary.

This lack of mention of the healing miracles had caused some to believe that the miraculous gift of healing had been withdrawn by that time, or at the very least, was declining. Others, however, would say that this is merely an argument from silence. The fact that these letters did not mention anything about miraculous healings does not necessarily mean the gift was no longer functioning. The lack of mention of healing miracles could be simply explained as having to do with the purpose of these letters. In other words, since there was no issue about healing that needed to be addressed, the subject was not dealt with.

There Were Ailing Believers Who Were Not Healed of Their Infirmities

In the Book of Acts, we do not find any specific examples of believers who were said to be ill and who were not healed. Whenever some type of ailment is mentioned there is always a testimony of a supernatural healing. Of course, this does not mean that each and every believer was healthy at all times. However, no explicit examples are provided of believers who were infirmed.

Yet we find a number of examples in the New Testament letters of infirmed people who were not supernaturally head of their illness. The evidence is as follows.

Paul Wrote of His Own Chronic Illness

In his letter to the Galatians, in a context of speaking of his illness, Paul wrote about the willingness of these believers to exchange their eyes for his. He put it this way.

As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me (Galatians 4:13-15 TNIV).

This seems to be an indication that Paul suffered with some type of chronic eye problem or eye disease. In addition, it appears that this ailment remained with him as long as he lived.

Epaphroditus Was Saved from Death

We also find a believer named Epaphroditus. Paul wrote to the Philippians that this man was sick and almost died. While this person did not die, there is nothing in the account to suggest that he should have gone to someone who had the gift of healing. In fact, Paul wrote the following.

Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow (Philippians 2:27 TNIV).

Paul said that the Lord had mercy on Epaphroditus and healed him. However, nothing is said of the option of seeing someone who had the gift of healing.

Timothy Was Constantly Ill

The Bible says that Timothy was ill with a stomach problem as well as with frequent physical problems. Paul acknowledged this fact when he wrote the following words.

No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23 NKJV).

Note that there is nothing in Paul’s statement to encourage Timothy to seek out someone who had the gift of healing.

In addition, this statement reveals that Paul had no problem with Timothy using wine for medicinal purposes. In other words, it was not wrong to use medicine or other things which may have medicinal value.

A Sick Man Named Trophimus Was Left behind by Paul

There was an infirmed man named Trophimus who was left behind by the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote about this as follows.

Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick (2 Timothy 4:20 NKJV).

This is an interesting statement from Paul. We know that he exercised the gift of healing on a number of occasions. Yet, for some reason, he did not heal this man Trophimus.

How Do We Explain These Sick People?

The record is clear. Certain people became sick, and remained sick. This needs to be explained in some manner. One obvious conclusion we can draw is that believers in Jesus Christ were not always in a healthy state neither were they always healed from their sickness or infirmities. Thus, even if the gift of supernatural healing was still operating at this time it is clear that not everyone who believed in Christ benefited from it.

Is There a Difference between the Gift of Healing and the Sign of Healing?

Some try to make the distinction between the gift of healing, which was one of the spiritual gifts, and the “sign of healing” which was exercised by the apostles and their associates. They argue that the sign of healing was limited to the first generation of Christians but the gift of healing was to continue on in the church. It is argued that Paul had the “sign” of healing but not the gift of healing. This is why he and these others were not healed by him.

Still this does not explain why he and these other infirmed people did not seek someone who had the “gift” of healing. Even if a distinction can be made between the sign of healing and the gift of healing, it still does not explain why these sick believers did not attempt to find someone with the healing gift.

Comparing Divine Healing in the New Testament Letters with the Rest of Scripture

It is helpful if we compare what the totality of Scripture has to say about the subject of supernatural healing. First, we find that miracles of healing occasionally occurred during the Old Testament period. Then we find that there was widespread healing in the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the four gospels. In the Book of Acts, healing miracles are recorded but there is a question as to whether they took place with the same frequency as in the life of Christ.

The New Testament letters do not have anything directly to say about specific examples of divine healing. Instead they record examples of a number of people who were ill who were not directed toward somebody with the gift of healing. This may be due to the gift having been withdrawn at this time or it may be that the purpose of the letters did not include the need to write about this subject. Bible-believing Christians continue to discuss the best answer to this question.

Summary – Question 12
What Do the New Testament Letters Have to Say about Divine Healing?

As is true with the Old Testament, the four gospels, as well as the Book of Acts, the New Testament letters provide us with information about the subject of divine healing. From these letters, we can make the following observations on this subject.

While the Old Testament, the four gospels, and Book of Acts give instances of God supernaturally healing the sick, we do not find any specific examples of this in the New Testament letters.

When writing about spiritual gifts, Paul does mention “gifts of healing” in his letter to the Corinthians. Yet he does not explain what he means by this. In addition, in his letter to the Romans, Paul also wrote of his demonstrating signs and wonders wherever he went to preach the gospel. This, we assume, included healing miracles. Yet he gave no specific examples of supernatural healing in any of his letters to individuals or the churches.

Moreover, the letter of Jude, the two letters of Peter, the three letters of John, as well as the Book of Revelation, do not mention anything about physical infirmities or supernatural healing from any sickness.

Add to this, there are four examples in the letters of Paul concerning people who were in a sickly state. However, there was no encouragement that the sick or infirmed person seek out someone who had the gift of healing.

Paul spoke of his own illness. He wrote that Epaphroditus was spared from dying in Paul’s presence. He further said that a sick man named Trophimus was left behind by him. Finally, he told Timothy to take wine for his stomach problems as well as his many infirmities. In none of these cases do we find the mention of divine healing or the idea of attempting to find someone who was able to supernaturally heal. What makes it even more puzzling is that Paul himself had the gift of healing. Yet he could not, or did not attempt, to heal any of these people. This includes himself. Why didn’t he do this?

Indeed, if the gift of healing was still operating at that time then why do we find this taking place? This has been a matter of lively discussion among believers. Some feel it is because the gift of healing had been withdrawn at this time or at the very least winding down. This is why we do not find anyone encouraged to seek out someone with the gift.

Yet this is not the only explanation that Christians offer. It has also been contended that the purpose of these letters did not necessitate any statements, one way or the other, about divine healing. This is why we do not find any specific references to people who were healed. However, it still does not explain why these people, who were in the presence of the Apostle Paul, became sick and remained sick.

What we can conclude is that if the New Testament gift of healing is still functioning today then we should expect to see the same sorts of healing that are documented in the four gospels as well as in the Book of Acts. Anything less would not constitute a “New Testament” healing. Of this, we can be certain.

What Do We Learn from the Healing Miracles of Jesus' Disciples Which Are Found in the Book of Acts? ← Prior Section
Does the New Testament Give Examples of "Faith Healers?" Next Section →
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