In this article I will deal briefly with the doctrinal position that healing of illnesses, physical or/and mental, can as easily by faith be obtained here and now as forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation of the soul.
The text 1 Peter 2:24 is often used as the foundation and also some texts in the Gospel of Matthew. Much has already been said and written about divine healing and the doctrine of ‘healing within the atonement’. David Petts, director of the ‘Assemblies of God Bible College’ In England gave in 1993 a paper about healing and reconciliation at the conference of the ‘European Pentecostal Theological Association’ which was held that year in Poland. The lecture was translated in Dutch some years ago and published in issues 51 and 52 of 'Parakleet', the official magazine of the ‘Brotherhood of Pentecostal Churches’ in the Netherlands. In this article I gratefully make use of some views, that David Petts put forward in his lecture; they throw light on the true meaning of some New Testament's texts.
Exegesis of and commentary on 1 Peter 2:24
As I said above, 1 Peter 2:24 is often quoted as an argument that healing can be obtained here and now as easily by faith as forgiveness and salvation. But even a brief study of the text shows already that the author did not at all have the intention to teach divine healing by faith to the group he addressed. Many healing evangelists however quote this text to give scriptural power to their doctrine of divine healing.
Looking at 1 Peter 5:12 we can establish that the purpose of the letter was to encourage the readers to keep a firm grip on the grace of God. It is further clear in this letter that Christians could expect suffering in this life, after which they will enter in glory. We see the principle 'glory follows after suffering' in chapter 1:6-8. The purpose of the letter then seems clearly to encourage Christians, who are suffering to keep to their faith.
We read in 1 Peter 2:18 that Peter wrote to servants. In those days servants suffered often very unjustly. The apostle encouraged them not to be rebellious when they were suffering, for also Christ had suffered unjustly. He bore our sins, so that we could receive forgiveness and live unto righteousness, (verse 24). The servant should make the conclusion that also his suffering wasn't without a purpose.
The quotation of Isaiah 'with his stripes we were healed' was clearly meant as an encouragement for these servants, who often were unjustly treated and had to endure pain. The Greek word 'molops' (stripes) means a bruise, a scar, or lash. They knew exactly what Peter was talking about.
Now the question must be asked: In which way could these servants be healed? The answer is: Peter had evidently the intention to let them know that they should concentrate on forgiveness of their sins, reconciliation with God and true salvation obtained through Christ. They were accepted as sons of God and He loved and respected them. Recognising this as the true meaning of the text it doesn't seem correct that people use it as a scriptural support for the doctrine of 'divine healing.' Moreover in support of our exegesis: We cannot find any reference to - what we would call - divine healing touches or gifts in this letter.
It seems indeed certain that Peter applied the quotation of Isaiah 'with his stripes we are healed' to a spiritual perfection. This spiritual perfection - the healing or the complete restoration of our soul - the Greek word ‘sôzô’ that is used here can also be translated as ‘salvation’ has become our inheritance through the reconciliation of Christ. For this reconciliation He endured much pain and suffering. Christ loved us then and now and is therefore the 'Keeper of our souls'. This view on the meaning of this verse is held by all well-known commentaries, and it is indeed difficult to argue that it should be taken in another sense. Again I emphasize that the letter is clearly an encouragement for Christians to endure suffering and give them the vision that through suffering they will come to final and complete salvation.
Petts said in his lecture that to always interpret and translate the Greek word ‘sôzo’ as healing is in fact the often made semantic mistake of reading the full breadth of meaning in a word, while in the particular context it should be given one of its specific meanings.
Healing in the proclamation of the Gospel
When we preach that people can receive bodily or mental healing here and now as easily by faith as forgiveness and reconciliation with God, it follows as a logical conclusion that believers need never to be ill and that makes the use of medical provisions totally unnecessary. However, we know too well to which terrible consequences this faith-teaching can lead people sometimes. Please notice that there is a big difference between receiving by faith forgiveness and a physical or mental healing. To have faith that sins have been forgiven is - while we are in this life - a ‘faith-knowledge’, a conviction in which you as a Christian may and should rejoice. That conviction will later, when we stand before God, be changed in an eternal reality. Now we see by faith, then we see by sight and have the full reality of it. To say that you are healed, either by a prayer, a word or a powerful touch, must be more than a conviction, for a healing has to become a physical or mental reality in this present life now. If healing is a fact it can and must be verified and demonstrated. If not, there is no healing. You may believe you are healed, but if you are not, you have only got your faith.
Most pastors and evangelists do know very well that the preaching that everyone, who believes will receive healing here and now, meets with great difficulties. For those, who are not healed – and, please let’s be honest about it, there are many who do not receive healing – are tempted to doubt the authenticity of their faith, the truth of the Bible as God's Word and sometimes even their eternal salvation. Often a feeling of guilt develops in such people and they can even totally lose their faith. Sometimes medicines were (and still are) refused because of 'faith' in healing, saying: "I am healed - by faith." This way of believing that healing had taken place was (and is) sometimes followed by the tragic consequence of amputation or even a premature death.
The Holy Spirit and healing
Petts argued that, when healing results from the reconciliation through Christ, because it is totally included in it, it follows that it is also included in an indirect manner, (Romans 8:23). Believers have received the Spirit of the new life as an advance-payment of their future inheritance. The apostle Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 12:9that the gift of the Spirit has been given to us on the ground of the reconciliation and that the Spirit gives 'gifts of healings. This text can be interrelated in two ways:
First, I mention the mostly used interpretation. The Spirit gives some believers the gift to heal people by a word or act of authoritative faith, with or without laying on of hands or anointing with oil.
The second interpretation suggests especially in view of the Greek plural 'gifts' and 'healings' in the text that every healing obtained by prayer and faith, is a gift of the Spirit Himself. And seeing that the Spirit gives the gifts to whom He wills, He also gives the healings to whom He will. This explanation makes immediately clear why some people not to say so many people are not healed, though they seem to believe so earnestly for it and seek it with great effort. If we accept this meaning we can now state - in harmony with the Gospel that every healing, given by the Spirit is an 'advance-payment' upon and sign of our ultimate, definite healing, which will take place when we will receive our a glorious, incorruptible body.
This second interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:9 does not however necessarily exclude the first one, because we do recognise that the Spirit does channel healing power through believers with special gifts of faith, knowledge, working of miracles and discerning of spirits.
Let me be clear about my understanding: Every healing, received by prayer and faith in Christ, whether it is experienced and recognised as a miracle or understood in the form of a more or less normal process, may be thankfully received as a result of the atoning work of Christ, and be viewed upon as administered through the Holy Spirit.
A doctrine about reconciliation and healing
Petts suggested to make a change in the doctrine of reconciliation and healing. I follow him in this statement:
Illness is, as all suffering and also as death, the end of this physical life, a consequence of the Fall. The death of Christ has redeemed us of our sins and therefore Christ's death has taken away the deep spiritual cause of illness. Believers may, by faith, already receive foretastes of the full redemption through the power of the Spirit. The ultimate and total success of Christ's victory will be realized at his second coming. Then believers will be healed in the fullest sense of the word, for the corruptible in which decay has been ruling, shall put on incorrupt ion, (1 Corinthians 15:54).
When we look in this way at the blessings resulting from the atonement of Christ, we bring the doctrine of divine healing in harmony with the work of the Holy Spirit, who will complete the redemption of the believers. We acknowledge at the same time that healing is given on account- and on ground of the reconciliation of Christ, but that the Spirit ministers it in each instance to believers. He distributes the gifts of healings to whom He wants, (1 Corinthians 12:11). Each healing He gives is not only a gift to the individual, but to the body of believers, of whom he is a member, (1 Corinthians 12:26,27).
This view is in our opinion not only scriptural but also in harmony with the experience of many dear children of God. If the Spirit gives a healing, He can do it by laying on of hands, the anointing with oil, or through an authoritative word or give it as a completely unexpected present. This view on divine healing may also explain why evangelists and other believers in international ministries see often more people being healed in countries where people are poor en often without any medical care than in rich, civilised countries. They have the same ministry, exercise their faith and pray the same prayers everywhere, but it is the Spirit that ministers the healings as He wills.
In closing, I express the hope that some will allow themselves to be corrected in their preaching and teaching so that needless damage to the faith and wellbeing of believers will be prevented and as a positive result Christ be more glorified by the Spirit’s administration of true healings.Leusden, The Netherlands, October 1998, revised July 2011
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