A suggested meaning of "anointing with oil in the name of Lord" in James 5:13-16
James 5:13-16 (NASB) "Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins,they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
Today's post will consider the actual command of anointing with oil and tracking out how it is to operate from beginning to end. James' was the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh. His epistle or letter represents the earliest material in the New Testament with respect to practices and doctrine. The practice of anointing with oil is prescribed by James in James 5:13-16. The chief question before us, as with any part of God's word is: "what does it mean?" As we comment through James 5:13-16, applications for today's Christian and the local church will be offered.
1. How the command to be anointed with oil in the name of the Lord is to be carried out in the church. James 5:14
James 5:14a The sick congregant must submit to the Elders and leadership of the church. To make such a request is an act of humility. Humility before the Lord positions that person to be acted upon by God for emotional, spiritual and of course, physical healing. (see 1 Peter 5:6). Whichever remedy or combination occurs is up to God's purpose. James then writes "let them offer a purposeful prayer". Quite literally, the "Elders" (actual ordained men or some form of representative leadership) are being commanded to fulfill the request of the sick congregant and come to pray with and over that person.
James 5:14b As the Elders met to pray with the sick congregant, there had to be an attending physical act. The physical act in this instance would be a sign corresponding to both their expression of faith and the One to whom they're appealing. The sign mentioned here in James' text is that of anointing oil. Standard word-study references explain the word translated "anointing" as referring to the application of oil by anointing with a household remedy. In addition to James 5:14, we see the following pattern set by Jesus and the disciples in Mark 6:13 - "And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them."
The use of oil in the scriptures often signifies the Holy Spirit and the power and favor of God being bestowed on that individual (Exodus 30; 1 John 2:20,27). One reference work discusses how in ancient Greece, anointing oil was used for rubbing sore muscles in gymnasts or athletes. This background may be partly informing James 5:14, suggesting the picture of Elders administering the oil to the person in a rubbing or topical application. They would accompany their anointing with the prayers, doing everything in the name of the Lord.
2. The manner of the provision of healing promised in the act of anointing with oil. James 5:15
Commentary: James 5:15a This particular verse is perhaps the most scrutinized and disagreed upon sentence in James 5:13-16. At issue is how much certainty of healing is promised in the passage. James 5:15a could be rendered: "and the prayer from faith will save the one who is severely ill and the Lord will raise Him up. The phrase translated "severely ill" refers to somebody who is in a continual state of illness or hopeless sickness. Another reference work points to a similar meaning of the person having fallen under some type of illness.
In these verses, the prescription of anointing with oil is for those who are experiencing perhaps more common and non-terminal illnesses (James 5:14 i.e - "is anyone sick among you") all the way to those in the worse condition (James 5:15 "severely ill").
Closing thoughts for today:
The question before the reader is of course how much certainty of healing is promised in the verbs translated "will save" and "will raise"? Let's note three observations:
1. First of all, in terms of the definitions of "will save" and "will raise", some interpreters have tried to make "will save" a term referring to spiritual healing, since the verb is often used in contexts describing salvation. However, there are numerous passages referenced by others that show this verb as referring specifically to saving or freeing from disease (Mt 9:22a; Mk 5:34; 10:52; Lk 8:48; 17:19; 18:42 compared to James 5:15). One way of rendering this verb to bring out its meaning could be "restore".
The second verb translated "to raise" or "will raise" can also be legitimately translated "to restore to health" in James 5:15. (BAG 214) Thus when we consider that God is offering the opportunity for physical restoration, the provision promised within this setting is specified and made definite. As to whether there is an immediate restoration/healing or progressive restoration/healing at a later time cannot be determined from the passage.
2. Secondly, both verbs are in the future tense. As the name of the tense suggests, both verbs are referring to a state or reality that is not current in the writing of the speaker or the experience of the readers.
3. Thirdly, James appears to be prescribing a remedy for those in the church who are suffering. In general terms, the outcome of healing should never be doubted. As was stated already, the only thing we are not told in the text is how long of time could pass between the administering of the anointing oil and the healing performed by the Lord.
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