Healing in Redemption
by Joe McIntyre
The church has been divided over the subject of divine healing for many years. Various opinions exist within the community of Bible believing Christians. People who hold to orthodox belief on all the essentials of the Faith can be divided over the question of divine healing. In this article I want to examine this controversy and suggest some reasons why it exists. I want to present a case for divine healing being provided in Christ’s atonement and therefore available to God’s covenant people. I want to conclude with some reasons I believe we don’t see more divine healing in the Church and why I believe that this will change.
It is interesting to note, that while many have defended the idea of healing in the atonement, it is primarily the Pentecostal denominations that have formalized this view into their doctrinal statements. The statement of faith made by the Assemblies of God in 1916 concerning divine healing reads “In the Atonement full provision is made for our physical healing.” 1
In Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, Guy Duffield and N.M. Van Cleave comment, “The most positive answer to the question concerning God’s will with regard to healing today, is found in the relationship between Divine Healing and the Atonement. No doubt is entertained regarding Christ’s ability to heal, but the heart of the matter centers around the question: Did Christ make special provision for the healing of the body? Is this blessing included in the Atoning Sacrifice which He made on Calvary’s Cross? We believe that the Bible teaches that this is so.” 2 Duffield and Van Cleave write as scholars in the Foursquare movement.
A truth that seemed to have been emphasized in the light of the Pentecostal outpouring that led to the establishment of the Pentecostal denominations, was that healing was in Christ’s atonement. Although this truth was being proclaimed in the Faith-Cure movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century by many voices, few denominations embraced this idea. It was, however, part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance fourfold gospel. (Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King). The CMA was not initially a denomination but rather a fellowship of like-minded believers from many denominations. CMA founder A.B. Simpson wrote, “Divine healing is part of the redemption work of Jesus Christ. Its foundation stone is the cross of Calvary.” 3
The Influence of Cessationism
Until the late nineteenth century, most scholars were, for the most part, cessationist. While defending the miracles of the Bible, they did not believe that these things were for the Church today. Jack Deere notes, “The Reformers argued that the primary purpose of New Testament miracles was to authenticate the apostles as trustworthy authors of Holy Scripture. How would this argument prove that miracles were temporary? Because after the apostles had written the New Testament, miracles would have fulfilled their purpose and would no longer be necessary, for now the church would possess forever the miraculously attested written Word of God.4 (Deere’s italics) When seeking to understand the prejudice against healing in the atonement, we have to consider the weight of the influence of the great cessationist scholars of the past on today’s expositors. It is not a pleasant task to go against opinions that have been esteemed for hundreds of years.
Another hindrance to the idea of healing in the atonement is the influence of Platonic Dualism on the Church. An increasing number of scholars are challenging our Western presuppositions and noting that we are viewing reality through a Greek influenced lens, rather than a Hebrew perspective. Marvin Wilson says that we “have often found ourselves in the confusing situation of trying to understand a Jewish Book through the eyes of Greek culture.” 5 One of the ways in which we are guilty of this mistake, according to Wilson, is viewing our world dualistically, instead of as a “dynamic unity.”
Unlike the ancient Greek, the Hebrew viewed the world as good. Though fallen and unredeemed, it was created by a God who designed it with humanity’s best interests at heart. So instead of fleeing from the world, human beings experienced God’s fellowship, love and saving activity in the historical order within the world. According to Hebrew thought there was neither cosmological dualism (the belief that the created world was evil, set apart and opposed to the spiritual world) nor anthropological dualism (soul versus body). To the Hebrew mind a human being was a dynamic body-soul unity, called to serve God his Creator passionately, with his whole being, within the physical world.6
Timothy Smith notes, “The Hebrew sensibility, as contrasted with that of Hellenic Platonism, stressed the wholeness of human beings, the unity of their psychic and physical existence, and the bonds that link social experience to inward spirituality.” 7
I am suggesting that the reason many scholars want to limit the work of the atonement to our spiritual needs (forgiveness of sin) is rooted in the dualism pointed to in the above quotes. The most natural way for the Hebrew mind to read Isaiah 53 would be holistically, applied to the total man, not just the soul.
Semitic scholar Michael Brown observes, “In our contemporary occidental mentality, we tend to separate the concept of ‘healing’ and ‘forgiveness.’ Yet. When the psalmist prayed, ‘LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you’(Ps.41:4/5), he recognized that his sin was the source of his sickness, and that God’s ‘healing’ would make him whole again in body and spirit. The ‘either physical or spiritual’ dichotomy often seen in comments on OT verses with rapha [the Hebrew word for healer/healing] is extremely faulty. In fact, regardless of one’s understanding of the etymological origin of Semitic rapha, OT usage insists that references to the Lord as Israel’s rope [healer] be taken in the broadest possible sense.” 8
As Brown points out, we tend to separate the physical from the spiritual because of our often unrecognized presuppositions, but this is not the Hebrew view of life and reality. Our Greek-influenced thinking downplays the importance of the physical in a way that the Hebrew mind would never embrace.
Hebrew View of Life
George Eldon Ladd tells us that in the OT concept of Life, “There is no antithesis between physical and spiritual life, between the outer and inner dimensions in man, between the lower and higher realms. Life is viewed in its wholeness as the full enjoyment of God’s gifts.” 9 Ladd goes on to mention physical prosperity, productivity, a long life, bodily health/well-being and physical security as aspects of Life as the OT portrays God’s will for his covenantally obedient children.
Commenting on the Hebrew concept of life, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states, “The OT speaks of life as the experience of life rather than as an abstract principle of vitality which may be distinguished from the body. This is because the OT view of the nature of man is holistic, that is, his function as body, mind, spirit is a unified whole spoken of in very concrete terms. Life is the ability to exercise all one’s vital power to the fullest; death is the opposite. The verb µ¹yâ “to live” involves the ability to have life somewhere on the scale between the fullest enjoyment of all the powers of one’s being, with health and prosperity on the one hand and descent into trouble, sickness, and death on the other.” 10
This is not the way many Western Christians view life and spirituality. The controversy over healing and prosperity in the Church today certainly underscores this conflict. Whatever may be said about the motives and styles (and exegesis) of some who preach healing and prosperity, it must be acknowledged that the Scriptures show God to be concerned with all aspects of our life. Our tendency to downplay healing and God’s promises for productivity and physical blessings is not derived from a truly Biblical worldview. It is quite possible for these areas to emphasized in a balanced and healthy way. While an overemphasis on these truths is unbalanced, an underemphasis on them in not fully Biblical.
Physical healing can be shown to be something Semitic people (in general) would have sought in their covenant relationships with their gods. Since blessing and cursing in all areas of life was attributed to some deity, pleasing or appeasing the ‘gods’ was an important part of their lives. When the God of Israel told the Jews that he would care for them in all the areas of life, he was claiming his superiority over all “rival” gods. To claim less would have been to acknowledge inferiority to the pagan gods who claimed the power to bless and to curse. This may seem simplistic to us, but, as Ladd suggests, “a profound theology underlies it. Life… can only be enjoyed from the perspective of obedience to God and love for him.” 11 Their cultures already saw life as the outworking of covenant issues, so the God of Israel entered into covenant with them and promised to be the source of every blessing. In this way he was “weaning” them from the temptation toward polytheism to look only to him.
Our dualistic view of life causes us to separate the spiritual from the physical and we think God thinks like us! To think as a Hebrew seems carnal to us. Perhaps God really cares about things like our health!
Part of the difficulty may be the question of priorities. Certainly in the eternal scheme of things, our spiritual well-being is more important than our physical health or happiness in this life. No one would question this premise. Yet, while holding to this priority of values, can one also deeply care about other issues? Indeed, does God deeply care about the other issues of our lives? The Biblical witness seems to say he does. And further that he has made provision for it.
If our presupposition is that the spiritual dimension is God’s primary concern it will be very difficult to boldly approach him about the other areas of life – even if we have promises in his word that cover those other areas. Our Greek worldview tells us that this life is basically evil and should not be blessed. Someday we will “escape” this flesh and real life will begin in heaven. While it is certain that life in heaven will be wonderful, it is doubtful that we will need to claim God’s covenant promises there. They are for here and now.
This over-prioritizing of the spiritual is not the teaching of Scripture. The bodily resurrection is a necessity because man was created to inhabit a body. The body is important in the eternal scheme of things. And it’s a lot easier to get things done in this world with a healthy body!
Covenant Promises and Divine Disclosure
In his dealings with Israel, (and with the Church) God is always the initiator. This is not to say that the prayers of the God’s people don’t influence him, but that God alone determines what he will do for his people. No one ever sent a delegation to God and said, “Here’s what we would like you to promise us.” God reveals himself and makes promises as he chooses, not as men wish. So if God reveals himself in a particular way it because he desires to be known in the chosen manner. “Basic to ancient Hebrew religion is the concept of divine revelation. While God is conceived of as revealing his attributes and will in a number of ways in the OT, one of the most theologically significant modes of divine self-disclosure is the revelation inherent in the names of God.” 12
So when the Lord revealed himself to Israel at Marah (Ex. 15:22-26) this is a significant revelation of how God desires to be known to his people. As Keil and Delitzsch point out, “it was intended to impress this truth upon the Israelites, that Jehovah as their Physician would save them from all the diseases which He has sent upon Egypt, if they would hear His voice, do what was right in His eyes, and keep all His commandments.” 13
To a Jew, the Pentateuch was the foundation of everything. The Law stated the terms of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and the Prophets confirmed it. But the first five books were esteemed above all else. So if a truth was established in the Law, it was, for Israel, beyond dispute. It was also important that things be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6; 19:15).14 The apostle Paul refers to this in 2 Corinthians 13:1: “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”
God had chosen to reveal himself by the name of The Lord our Healer in Ex. 15:26. In Ex. 23:25 he says he will take sickness away from [his people’s] midst. In Deut. 7:15 he affirms that he will take away from them all sickness.15 This threefold witness would forever establish God’s will to a Hebrew believer. Healing, health and long life were to be expected for the covenantally obedient.
It is often assumed (with some truth) that Jesus healed to validate his ministry as the Messiah. Yet Paul makes it clear that Jesus was, in his earthly ministry, confirming the covenant with Israel. “Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers.”(Rom. 15:8 my italics).
The Blessing of Abraham
The covenant blessings were actually promised to Abraham and his seed. The Law (and its curse) was added later until the Seed, (Christ), should come to whom the promises were made. Sickness was part of the curse of the broken Law. As Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us… that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus…” As pointed out above, health and provision, protection and victory were aspects of covenant provision among all Semitic people and their gods. The God of Israel promised to provide all that the other gods offered their devotees, if they would serve him alone. 16
As New Covenant believers we may claim for our inheritance in Christ, “all the promises of God,” because they are “Yes and Amen in Christ”(2 Cor. 1:20). Paul, here, is referring to the Old Covenant promises. This would include Ex. 15:26, 23:25, Deut. 7:15.
The basis for the idea that healing is in the atonement is derived from the literal Hebrew rendering of Isaiah 53. Most English translations of Isaiah 53:4 interpret the two key Hebrew words relative to this discussion in ways that obscure rather than clarify their healing content.
Isaiah 53:3-5,10a KJV
3 He is despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows
[boak=m^ ( mak°ôb)] and acquanted with grief [ yl!j( ( µ©lî)]. And we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs [ yl!j( ( µ©lî)] and carried our sorrows [ boak=m^ ( mak°ôb)]; Yet we did esteem him stricken of God and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.[ ap*r* ( r¹p¹°)]
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; He hath put him to grief [ hl*j* ( µ¹lâ)]
(These words are translated identically in the NASB. The NIV translate sorrows and suffering in verse 3; infirmities and sorrows in verse 4; and cause him to suffer in verse 10)
Now compare these with Young’s Literal Translation:
3He is despised and left of men, a man of pains and acquainted with sickness; And as one hiding the face from us, He is despised, and we esteemed him not.
sicknesses he hath borne, and our pains – lo, he has carried them; And we – we have esteemed him plagued, smitten of God, and afflicted.
4 Surely our sicknesses he hath borne, and our pains he hath carried them
5 And he is pierced for our transgressions. Bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace is on him. And by his bruise there is healing to us.
10a And Jehovah hath delighted to bruise him; He hath made him sick
Our popular English translations, (other than Young’s) tend to soften the language regarding sickness and healing. The Jewish Publication Society, however, translates
3 A man of pains and acquainted with disease
4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried
5 And with his stripes we are healed
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him by disease.
Translators with no prejudice against healing see no reason not to translate these terms in their usual sense. We will now examine the Hebrew words used in these verses.
The word translated sorrows in the KJV, NASB and NIV and translated pains in Young’s translation is holi in the Hebrew. (In the KJV, even with its prejudice against healing, holi is translated disease 7x; grief 4x; sickness 12x; be sick 1x.) It is a general word for pain, whether physical or psychical. “Both physical pain and psychic pain are entailed, but no precise distinctions are drawn… Neither dimension of pain, however, can be eliminated from consideration in any text, given the understanding of the human as a psycho-physical totality.”17 The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament suggests sickness, disease, illness as the basic meanings of the word, noting, “The word is translated ‘griefs’ in Isa. 53:3-4, although it may be better translated ‘sickness,’ whether physical or spiritual.” 18
The word which is translated grief(s), suffering and infirmities in our common English translations is makob. The word is used 16 times in the Old Testament, of which at least 11 have to do with mental suffering.19 These meanings are not really debated. What is debated is whether they are really saying that Christ in His atonement bore our physical and mental sufferings as well as our sins. If He did, then there is a basis to believe a provision for physical and mental healing is in Christ’s finished work.
The word translated healed in verse 5 is rapha and is the standard word for healing. It is used over 60 times in the OT. The KJV translates it: cure 1x; heal 30x; make whole 1x; physician 5x; be healed 6x; be made whole 1x; cause to be healed 1x; heal 6x; repair 1x; be healed 1x; be healed 1x. Brown, Driver and Briggs translate it to heal, to make healthful. Semitic scholar Michael Brown prefers restore, make whole as the true meaning. 20
The words used in the original text are broad enough to include spiritual, mental and physical healing. This is not really debated. But because of the prejudice against healing (and the prejudice against the physical aspects of God’s covenant provision in general) the Hebrew words are taken in their narrowest possible way instead of the broad way which, as Brown suggests, would be normative for a Hebrew.
Metaphor? It is often suggested that these words are merely metaphors for sin. The atonement, in the minds of many, has to do with sin, and sin only. There are cases in the OT where the words for sickness can be clearly seen to be metaphors for sin. (See Is. 1:5-6, for example). But even in these examples it is possible to read an unnecessary dualism into them. If what I have been suggesting about the Hebrew worldview is accurate, sicknesss, whether physical or spiritual, would have been seen as the outworking of covenantal judgment. Physical sickness was the curse of the broken Law and could not be seen as a unrelated, non-covenantal issue.
Avon– The Hebrew word for iniquity avon, is used 3 times in Isaiah 53. In verse 5, “he was bruised for our iniquities.” In verse 6, “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And in verse 12, “for he shall bear their iniquities.” In the light of the relationship between sin and sickness that the OT reveals, the meaning of this important word to the atonement of Christ is underlined dramatically. “the usage of avon includes the whole area of sin, judgment, and ‘punishment’ for sin. The Old Testament teaches that God’s forgiveness of ‘iniquity’ extends to the actual sin, the guilt of sin, and God’s punishment of the sin.” 21
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, further explains, “as the above references indicate, it denotes both the deed and its consequences, the misdeed and its punishment. Both notions are present, but sometimes the focus is on the deed (“sin”), and at other times on the outcome of the misdeed (“punishment”), and at other times on the situation between the deed and its consequences (“guilt”)…. The remarkable ambivalence between the meanings ‘sin as an act’ and ‘penalty’ shows that in the thought of the OT sin and its penalty are not radically separate notions as we tend to think of them.”22 Brown, Driver and Briggs give iniquity, guilt, or punishment of iniquity as the basic meanings of avon. This source also states that Isaiah 53:11 “He shall bear their iniquities” should be translated, “the consequences of their iniquities he shall bear.”23 All of this is consistent with what was suggested above, namely that the Hebrews would not have separated sin and its punishment or forgiveness and healing the way it is commonly done in Protestant theology and scholarship.
Robert Young, to cite one more example, translates Isaiah 53:6 “And Jehovah hath caused to meet on him the punishment [avon] of us all.” Young clearly saw Jesus as bearing the consequences of our sin in this verse.24 Sickness and disease were the curse promised to those who broke the Law. (Deut. 28:59,60,61). They were the punishment for covenant breaking.
The two primary references to Is. 53 in regard to healing that are quoted in the New Testament are Matthew 8:17 and 1 Pet. 2:24. It is important to examine these verses in the light of the above discussion.
Matthew 8:16-17 NKJV
16 When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick,
17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.”
Delitzsch’s comment from Is. 53:4 is interesting in the light of this discussion. “In Matthew (viii. 17) the words are rendered freely and faithfully… Even the fact that the relief which Jesus afforded to all kinds of bodily diseases is regarded as a fulfillment of what is here affirmed of the Servant of Jehovah, is an exegetical index worth noting. In [Is. 53:] 4a it is not really sin that is spoken of, but the evil which is consequent upon human sin, although not always the direct consequence of the sins of the individual (Jn. ix. 3).
“[The Hebrew word translated borne in Is. 53:4, Verily He hath borne our diseases and our pains; He hath laden them upon Himself (Delitzsch translation)] signifies to take the debt of one’s sin upon one’s self, and carry it as one’s own i.e., to look at it and feel it as one’s own, or more frequently to bear the punishment occasioned by the sin, i.e., to make expiation for it, and in any case in which the person bearing it is not himself the guilty person, to bear sin in a mediatorial capacity, for the purpose of making expiation for it.
“But in the case before us [Is.53:4] , where it is not the sins, but “our diseases” and “our pains” that are the object, this mediatorial sense remains essentially the same. The meaning is not merely that the Servant of God entered into the fellowship of our sufferings, but that He took upon Himself the sufferings which we had to bear and deserved to bear, and therefore not only took them away (as Matt. Viii. 17 might make it appear), but bore them in His own person, that He might deliver us from them. But when one person takes upon himself suffering which another should have had to bear, and therefore not only endures it with him, but in his stead, this is called substitution or representation…” 25 Clearly Delitzsch saw healing in the atonement and even points out that Matthew’s translation into Greek fails to encompass the full substitutionary aspect that the Hebrew original brings forth.
Some have suggested that Matthew was stating that the healings in the earthly ministry of Jesus were the fulfillment of Is. 53:4. Matthew was not writing his gospel during the earthly ministry of Jesus. His gospel was written many years after Christ’s resurrection when the application of Is. 53 to Jesus was accepted in all parts of the Church. Jesus, in his earthly ministry, both forgave sin and healed disease based on His coming atonement. To suggest that His fulfillment of these verses in His earthly ministry exhausted their application would be as unlikely as suggesting that His forgiving of sins while on earth exhausted the atonement as far as forgiveness is concerned. Just the opposite is true! These attempts avoid the implications of healing in Is. 53 strike me as the fruit of the dualism and cessationist presuppositions mentioned above.
1 Pet. 2:24
The other New Testament verse that divine healing advocates frequently cite as a ‘proof text’ is 1 Peter 2:24:
…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. (NKJV)
This is usually objected to by stating that the context is not about healing but sin. D. Edmond Hiebert, for example, states “The context indicates that the reference is not to the healing of physical sickness or disease. The passage cannot be used to teach that bodily healing is available in the atonement as salvation from sin is found at the cross.” 26 This comment is typical of most conservative, non-Pentecostal (and some Pentecostal) scholars. But is it a valid view?
If what I have been offering above as reasons for the prejudice against healing in general and healing in the atonement in particular has merit, then Hiebert’s argument is really a perfect illustration of the dualism and cessationist presuppositions referred to above. And there is another difficulty with Hiebert’s (and those who follow this logic) interpretation.
Most people, scholars or otherwise, would agree that our spiritual experiences greatly color how we interpret the scriptures. The unregenerate scholar sees the new birth as a metaphor. Because the new birth is outside of his experiential knowledge, he must explain it in a way that is supported by his worldview. The conservative evangelical scholar, however, can never look at the new birth as a metaphor unrelated to experience.
Those who receive the gift of tongues can never wonder if “ tongues are for today?” Their experiential knowledge of Biblical truth determines, at least to some degree, their interpretation. That’s why we have Evangelical and Pentecostal scholars.
So when we read Peter, what well of experience and what worldview would he be drawing from? Western dualism and a cessationist bias? Hardly. Would he separate forgiveness from healing and consider them two entirely unrelated categories like so many scholars do today? I don’t think so. Peter would think like a good Jew!
As to healing, what would his experience have taught him? He had spent 3 and a half years participating in the healing ministry of Jesus. He saw multitudes healed, many whom he prayed for along with the other disciples. After the day of Pentecost, he saw multitudes healed through his ministry and the ministry of the others around him. When he wrote 1 Peter 2:24 was he inclined to speak of healing as a metaphor for forgiveness? If so, that would be entirely inconsistent with both his worldview and his experience. He would be more likely, given his experience and worldview, to feel a need to explain his use of healing as a metaphor than to assume that his readers would take it that way. His readers were part of the community that had witnessed a tremendous amount of healing. It should also be noted that his ministry was primarily to the Jews, the part of the community that shared his worldview and presuppositions.
Why Isn’t There More Healing?– If what I am saying is correct, the question might be asked, “Why then don’t we see more healing? You say Christ has provided it, then why do so many not respond to prayer?”
An illustration: There have been seasons in the history of the Church when the Church failed to preach a gospel of regeneration. The new birth was not proclaimed and therefore only a few entered into that experience. Other ideas were substituted for the teaching concerning regeneration. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. When the word is not preached clearly, people have no basis for faith. Given the prejudice against healing and the influence of Greek thought to downplay the importance of the physical it is no wonder that many fail to appropriate healing. No basis for confidence in the will of God concerning healing has been given to most of the Church. We can only trust God for the things we know He wants us to have. Traditions have muddied the waters around healing.
Those who have proclaimed healing in the atonement the loudest have sometimes burdened the sick ones with more guilt about being sick. In their zeal to defend what they perceive to be an important Bible truth, they have offered no comfort to those who, for whatever reason, are not healed. This of course, is not helpful. But neither is maintaining an incorrect view of the scriptures in order to justify our experience. So often God’s sovereignty is offered as the answer when we don’t experience the things promised by the word. “God is sovereign over His sovereignty” someone said. (Whatever that means!) Charles Spurgeon said “Before he pledged his word he was free to do as it pleased him; but after he has made a promise, his truth and honour bind him to do as he has said. To him, indeed, this is no limiting of his liberty; for the promise is always the declaration of his sovereign will and good pleasure, and it is ever his delight to act according to his word; yet is it marvelous condescension for the fee spirit of the Lord to form for itself covenant bonds. Yet he hath done so” (my italics). 27