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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part Two)

Don Stewart :: What Is the Gift of Healing?

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What Is the Gift of Healing?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part Two) – Question 17

Scripture says that God has given “gifts” of healing to His church. Paul wrote the following to the church of Corinth about this spiritual gift.

To another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9 NET).

Healing can be simply defined as the restoration to health to those who have a physical infirmity. According to the statement of Paul, there are “gifts of healing.”

This phrase “gifts of healing” is difficult to interpret. It is only found three times in the entire New Testament, all in First Corinthians 12. Therefore, we do not find the gift of healing in other lists of New Testament gifts.

In addition, “gifts of healing” is not explained to us in this context or anywhere else in Scripture. Furthermore, each word is plural. This is literally says “gifts of healings.” What did Paul mean by this phase? What are the “gifts of healings?” It has been interpreted in several different ways.

Option 1: There Are Different Types of Healing

Some argue that since there are different types of illness, there are also different types of healing as well. Thus, these gifts of healing would indicate that there was a certain healing gift to cure one particular disease while another gift would be used to heal a different disease.

The problem with this is that we find no such distinction in Scripture. In fact, those who healed were able to heal each and every disease in which they confronted. In other words, they were not limited in their healing abilities.

Option 2: There Are Various Methods of Healing

Others believe that the gift refers to different methods used in the healing process. Thus, one healer would use one particular method to bring about a cure while another person with the gift of healing would use another method.

Again, this is not what we find as we look at the New Testament record. Those who supernaturally healed others were not limited to one particular method as to how they brought about the healing.

Option 3: The Gift Would Be Given at Various Times

Another possibility is that the gift of healing would be given to the apostles at various times. This means that the gift was not always available for the apostle. Instead it only operated from time to time as the Lord saw fit.

We may have a clue to the meaning as we look at other spiritual gifts spoken of in the plural. For example, the “workings of miracles” “distinguishings of spirits” and “kinds of tongues” are all defined as plural. This may indicate that the gift was to be used at the time and place of the Lord’s choosing. In other words, the person, while having the gift, could not use it any place and at any time.

While some would argue that use of the plural required these gifts to be used on more than one occasion this is not necessarily true. Otherwise, the gifts which are spoken of in the singular, such as the word of knowledge, and the word of knowledge, would then be limited to a one-time use. This would not make sense. Thus, there must be another reason as to why the plural, rather than the singular, is used in describing these as well as other gifts.

There Is Possible Evidence That the Gift Was Temporary

Those who believe the gift of healing was only used occasionally believe that the evidence leads us to that conclusion. The experience of the Apostle Paul is often used as an example of the gift being temporary. We know that Paul healed many people. The Book of Acts says.

Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them (Acts 19:11-12 NKJV)

Yet we find that there were certain people with whom Paul came into contact who were not healed. A man named Trophimus was left behind by Paul while he was still sick.

Erastus stayed at Corinth. Trophimus was sick when I left him at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20 CEV).

Epaphroditus almost died in Paul’s presence. We read about his experience in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It says.

I think I ought to send my dear friend Epaphroditus back to you. He is a follower and a worker and a soldier of the Lord, just as I am. You sent him to look after me, but now he is eager to see you. He is worried, because you heard he was sick. In fact, he was very sick and almost died. But God was kind to him, and also to me, and he kept me from being burdened down with sorrow (Philippians 2:25-27 CEV).

For some reason, Paul, who had the gift of healing did not exercise it with his dear friend.

In another instance, Timothy was not told to visit a person with the gift of healing but rather take wine for his physical infirmities.

Stop drinking only water. Take a little wine to help your stomach trouble and the other illnesses you always have (1 Timothy 5:23 CEV).

Why Not Call for a Healer for Timothy?

The idea that the gift of healing was merely temporary could have further support with what James wrote to the believers.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 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 5:13-15 TNIV).

We find that he told the infirmed believers to go to the elders rather than seeking a faith healer. This may indicate that the healers could not always use their gift whenever and wherever they wished.

This has caused many to conclude that the gift was only temporary. Thus, an individual who exercised the gift of healing on one particular occasion would not necessarily be able to use it on other occasions.

Not Everyone Agrees with This View of the Gift of Healing

While this is a popular explanation as to the meaning of the “gifts of healings” it is not accepted by everyone. For one thing, when Paul wrote to the Romans he testified that the miracles were with him wherever he went.

For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient–in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19 NKJV).

The inference here seems to be that he could exercise the gift wherever and whenever he wanted to. Yet this statement may merely mean that the gift was always with him wherever he went. We do not necessarily need to assume that he could exercise it whenever he wished.

Of course, if Paul could exercise the gift whenever he wished, then we have the problem as to why he did not exercise it with Epaphroditus, Trophimus or himself for that matter. Indeed, he wrote to the Galatians about his own infirmity.

You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first (Galatians 4:13 NKJV).

This issue continues to be debated among Bible-believers.

Understanding the Healing Gift

While there are things we do not know about the “gifts of healings, there are a number of observations which we can make about this particular gift.

It Is Not Medical Knowledge

There are some Christians who believe that the gift of healing is the practice of the medical art. They do not believe there is anything supernatural involved. This perspective believes the gift is still around today with those who are physicians.

However, the gifts of healing, as listed in Scripture, are not the same thing as medical knowledge or certain practices that help people who are sick. Rather, these gifts are supernatural abilities to restore someone to health; they are works that are entirely of God. God Himself has said.

For I am the LORD, who heals you (Exodus 15:26 NIV).

It is the Lord who ultimately heals.

Healing Is Not the Same as the Gift of Miracles

The gift of healing is not the same as the gift of miracles. The gift of miracles is a much broader gift. Indeed, it contains a wide range of mighty works of God. The gift of miracles overlaps the gift of healing. Consequently, it is wrong to equate them.

People Were Supernaturally Healed after Jesus Ascended into Heaven

The healing miracles were not limited to the earthly ministry of Jesus. In fact, we find a number of examples of the gift of healing being exercised after Jesus ascended into heaven. We can cite the following examples.

Peter Healed People on a Number of Occasions

The Apostle Peter exercised the gift of healing on several occasions. One of these episodes was with a lame man. We read the following account in the Book of Acts.

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:6-8 NASB).

Here we find Peter exercising the gift of healing as this man was instantaneously healed.

In another instance, Peter healed a man named Aeneas. We read of this later in the Book of Acts. The Bible says.

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:32-35 TNIV).

Again we find the supernatural gift of healing exercised by this apostle.

Peter also brought a woman named Dorcas, or Tabitha, back from the dead. This account is also recorded in the Book of Acts. It says.

There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. About this time she became ill and died. Her friends prepared her for burial and laid her in an upstairs room. But they had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!” So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other garments Dorcas had made for them (Acts 9:36-39 NLT).

Peter obviously had this healing gift.

Stephen, the Deacon, Performed Miracles

The martyr Stephen, who was not an apostle, also performed “signs and wonders.” The Book of Acts records the following.

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8 NRSV).

Although healing is not specifically listed among the signs that Stephen performed, it is likely that it included miraculous healing.

Paul and Barnabas Were Able to Heal People

Paul and Barnabas are said to have performed signs and wonders among the people with whom they ministered. The Bible says.

Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands (Acts 14:3 NASB).
God Worked Signs and Wonders through Them.

We are told specifically that the Apostle Paul healed people. The Bible gives this account of what took place in the city of Lystra.

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk (Acts 14:8-10 NRSV).

Therefore, we find a number of documented healings in the New Testament through the hands of Jesus’ apostles.

People Were Amazed at the Healing Miracles

The Bible also says that people were amazed when the gift was exercised. After Peter healed a lame man, the Bible records the following.

He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him (Acts 3:8-10 NIV).

The miracles caused amazement in the eyes of the people. Indeed, this type of event was not something they were used to seeing.

The Sign of Healing Sometimes Caused Belief

There are instances when God’s supernatural healing of someone caused people to believe in Jesus. In fact, we find that Jesus’ healing of a man with an unclean spirit caused the people to inquire about His identity. Mark records the following response.

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching— with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee (Mark 1:27,28 NRSV).

This demonstrates the purpose of any healing. It is to confront people with the claims of Jesus Christ.

When Peter healed a man named Aeneas it says that many people believed in Christ. We read.

There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.” Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:33-35 NASB).

The sign of healing caused belief in this instance.

On another occasions Peter brought a woman named Dorcas back from the dead. This also caused belief among the people.

And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord (Acts 9:42 ESV).

There were occasions when people believed in Jesus Christ because of the healings that the believers performed.

The Signs of Healing Did Not Always Cause Belief

While healing was a sign gift, and the signs often caused people to believe, this was not always the case. Jesus’ miracles did not always cause the people to believe. In fact, on one occasion His miraculous powers were attributed to the devil. We read about this in Matthew. It says.

But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24 NLT).

In this instance the miracle caused the religious rulers to attribute Jesus’ power to the devil.

When Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, the religious leaders became more determined to kill Him. The Bible says.

Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there. They came not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus the one He had raised from the dead. Therefore the chief priests decided to also kill Lazarus... (John 12:9, 10 HCSB).

Notice that these people not only wanted to kill Jesus, they wanted to kill Lazarus also.

In Lystra, Paul healed a man who had been crippled for all of his life. The Bible explains what took place.

In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk (Acts 14:8-10 NIV).

The people thought Paul and Barnabas were gods and wanted to sacrifice to them.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them (Acts 14:11-12 NIV).

However, this adoration did not last long.

Eventually the people turned on Paul. We read what soon took place.

Now some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and turned the crowds into a murderous mob. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, apparently dead (Acts 14:19 NLT).

Therefore, miraculous healings do not always result in conversions. There were times when it caused the opposite reaction.

Some Believe the Gift Is No Longer Given Today

As we earlier mentioned, there are many Christians who believe that divine healing was specifically for the purpose of confirming God’s Word before the New Testament was completed. Once the New Testament was finished the gift was withdrawn. Therefore it only had a limited use and duration. It was among the many sign gifts that were given to confirm the Word of God before the completion of the New Testament.

Others Believe the Gift Remains to This Day

There are others who see this differently. It is pointed out that it is nowhere expressly stated that the gift of healing was only for a limited period of time. Those who hold this view contend that the burden of proof is on those who say that God no longer gives this gift. They also contend that there have been those in the history of the church who were given the gift of healing. There is also the claim that we have people today who have been given this supernatural gift from the Lord.

In summary, we find that the gift of healing was given to certain believers in Jesus Christ in the early church. As to whether it is still being given to select individuals today, or whether it has been withdrawn, is a matter of debate.

Summary – Question 17
What Is the Gift of Healing?

The ability to heal was part of Jesus’ miraculous ministry. There is no doubt about this whatsoever. In addition, after our Lord ascended into heaven we find that healing miracles still occurred. These were done by means of His authority which He gave to certain members of the early church. The New Testament documents a number of these healing miracles. Miracles of healing were recorded of Peter, Stephen, Paul and Barnabas. There are a number of points that need to be addressed about this particular spiritual gift.

To begin with we find that Paul wrote about “gifts” of healing in his list of spiritual gifts. It is literally “gifts of healings.” This phrase has been variously interpreted.

Some think it refers to various types of ailments which healers had authority over. In other words, one person could heal blindness while another healer had the ability to cure the deaf. Yet we find that those who healed in Scripture were not limited to the infirmity in which they could cure. In other words, they could heal any disease or infirmity in which they came into contact.

There is also the view that this refers to the various methods of healing. One healer would employ one particular method while another healer would use a different method. However, this does not fit with what we find in the New Testament. Indeed, each person who healed was able to employ a variety of methods including direct commands as well as touching the person.

There is the view that it emphasized that healing gifts were temporary. In other words, one who had the gift of healing could not exercise whenever and wherever they wished. It was only on certain occasions that the gift was manifest. This is why it is spoken of in the plural as “gifts of healing.”

Those who hold this view usually see healing as one of the temporary sign gifts. They point to the fact that Paul, who had the gift of healing, could not exercise it whenever and wherever he wished. Indeed, he could not heal his friend Epaphroditus nor a man named Trophimus. Neither could he heal himself. In addition, he told Timothy to take wine for his continual illnesses rather than exhorting him to seek out someone with the healing gift. This may explain why James told the ill person to call for the elders of the church for prayer. Those with the healing gift were not able to exercise it on any and all occasions.

There are those who disagree with this view. They point to Paul’s statement to the Romans that seems to say that his healing ability went with him wherever he ministered. However, that does not necessarily mean that he could heal on every occasion. Indeed, it merely says that the potential use of the gift was always available.

While there are things about the gift of healing which we do not know there are a number of things of which we can be certain. For one thing, while the ability to supernaturally heal is a miracle it is not the same as the gift of miracles. Indeed, this is a wider category. Healing is one particular way in which miracles were expressed.

Neither is the gift of healing to be confused with medical knowledge. In fact, the healings recorded in the New Testament were supernatural events. In other words, they could not be explained by natural means.

At times, these healings caused people to believe in Jesus. They recognized the supernatural natural power which was behind the healing.

However, on other occasion, the message of Jesus Christ was rejected. This is further evidence that signs and wonders are not sufficient to cause someone to believe.

Christians are divided over the issue as to whether the gift still operates today. There are many who believe that healing was among the sign gifts. These particular gifts were given to the first generation of Christians to confirm the spoken Word of God. However, once the New Testament was committed to writing the healing gift, along with the other sign gifts, were unnecessary.

Others believe that this gift is meant to last the duration of the church age. Thus, we should be able to find people today who have been given this supernatural ability.

What Are the Tests for Assessing Any Present-Day Claims of Miracles? ← Prior Section
What Is the Gift of Discernment, or Distinguishing, of Spirits? Next Section →
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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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