Should pastors still anoint with oil when praying for the sick?

I am painfully aware that I am the guy who wrote Visit the Sick, thus naturally become the guy who is suppose to know the answer to this question.  The fact is, I am still wrestling with it.  While teaching through James in our inductive Bible study on Wednesday evenings, I was recently confronted afresh with James’ instruction for, “The elders of the the church to come and pray over the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).  Despite the fact that there is clear instruction from Scripture on the matter, there remains a debate among faithful pastors on whether this is a practice that should remain in the modern church.  In the midst of many positions people take on this issue, I have narrowed the debate down to 2 positions:  

Medicinal Purpose:  Some argue oil was used as a healing balm for those experiencing illness in the biblical context.  Because of this, the anointing with oil was an effort to use modern medical means to aid in the healing process while praying with faith for God to heal.  This position is especially convenient for those who want to argue against anointing with oil today as oil is no longer used to treat sickness.  This position can be summarized in coming to the hospital, supporting the doctors and nurses efforts to treat the patient with modern medicine, while you still pray in faith for God to heal according to his will.

Spiritual Purposes: This position would argue there is a New Testament connection with the Old Testament anointing of oil as a setting apart of someone for God’s blessing and spirit to come.  Specifically this position in the context of James means this practice should continue today asking God to show his favor upon the sick and bring healing as the elders pray in faith.  Those who hold this position might be found walking through the hospital (possibly with other elders) carrying a small bottle of oil to anoint and pray for the sick.

There are many implications to hold either of these positions, which I plan to address in a future post.  For now, I wanted to put the question to each of you to see how you are wrestling with the practical implications of this instruction and why you hold the position you do.

What say you?

Posted in Hospital Visitation, Training for Ministry
115 comments on “Should pastors still anoint with oil when praying for the sick?
  1. John Kuvakas says:

    Having gone through this discussion, we still use the oil when our Elders pray over the sick. I think we may have a tendency to over-analyze things at times. I believe whole-heartedly in a grammatical/historical hermeneutic but I also believe there is some danger in over-contextualizing some passages as “that was then”. With enough Scriptural evidence to point toward the possibility that this procedure is spiritual, we chose to err on the side of a conservative interpretation and apply the command as it is written. At the end of our prayer, we always make sure medical treatment is being sought after and are willing to assist in that if needed.

    • shika says:

      you can never go wrong by following God’s Word. Lay hands on people, annoint them, it is all Biblical.

      • Danita Johnson says:

        Amen. I cannot understand why someone need to wrestle with clearly written and established scripture. In it, God states “I change not. I am the same yesterday, today and forevermore”. It is not up to us, at any time; and, during any generation to ‘change’ God’s guidance, to us, through His written Word. (Danita Johnson, Rockville MD)

        • Jim Crawford says:

          I totally agree with your statement. Why question the bible and practices? Has humanity evolved so much that it supersedes the knowledge, love, grace and compassion of our savior and lord?
          I recently had a miraculous experience that was personal and brought this all together. I was in Buffalo NY with my eldest son who was attending college. He has an auto immune condition from birth, and because of that is susceptible to a lot of illnesses. One of these illnesses he has is a kidney disease. Just around Easter his kidneys started to fail. He was not able to drink fluids or expel them. That led to a massive loss in weight and a massive blood clot on the brain. His graduation day was spent in neurological ICU. Since he was now a doctor himself, he discussed his issue with his physicians and decided to take an experimental treatment normally used for cancer patients. It was experimental. It would consist of two treatments and would take about a month to see any benefit. Around the same time, I was reading James 5:13-16
          Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
          Upon reading this and being convicted of the Word, I asked my son if he would be agreeable to receive and anointing with oil. He advised me that he wanted it. I quickly made arrangements with the local pastor to do the anointing with oil…we did this the day before his first treatment. The next day in a very weakened condition my son took the treatment. It was supposed to take 4 hours, but his lungs locked up, and the treatment was modified to 8 hours. Two days later, my wife arrived in town because he was in dire straits. That morning he got up, and ate breakfast, drank some liquids, and ate 3 meals that day. That was basically the first food he had taken in a few months. He has eaten every day since. The following week he went to the gym with me daily, and then received an email from his doctors, that all his kidney functions went back to normal. Keep in mind, his treatment was supposed to take one month before anything would even take effect. He has not had a recurrence now since May. We were blessed once again with God’s grace. I think there is a reason it is called “Faith!” I believe!

          • Shannon Moman says:

            Amen I believe

          • Jon says:

            I realize my reply is 6 months late, but I hope you do get to see this. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing and thank you for proudly stating where the credit is due. Sometimes God uses his gift of Doctors, vitamins, herbs and man-discovered medicines of His. Then in cases like this, He just decides to be a little more direct, a little more “hands-on”, so to speak and I think that is just to help all of us to strengthen and revitalize our faith in Him. Again, thank you very much for sharing, it def. did my heart a smile and reaffirmed what I have known and believed all along…….

      • Yvonne says:

        Yes!And do all these things Glory! Amen!

    • To me it’s obvious because it’s in the Word that you should do this but it’s a lot like many of the other things in the Word, it’s not a salvation issue.

      I firmly believe if you take something from the Bible and attempt to honor God that you will receive the reward that is written. You can see this going on in Israel where they may not even believe in the resurrection but believe in the promises of the old testament and they receive the blessing time and time again.

      Since I stumbled onto this I would love to see where your thoughts are now.

    • Dave Harper says:

      The anointing with oil was typical in the Old Testament and should be typical in the church today.
      When are we, the Church, going to be the”Church” ?
      If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, so why should the Church be any different.
      The phrase “modern church “ is saying we’re different than what God originally designed His church to be. Show me where your Bible says we’re to have changed.

    • Dinah M. Layer says:

      To me as reading the instructions of such anointed ingredients was truly too perfect for us today. Meaning, if they the elders today, believe that it is what God wants for us to still do today as a healing, spiritual work, are they, Elders, using the oil of the right ingredients? If it is something that only God can give you for the ingredients, and it is not in the oil you are using, then leave it along. God’s instructions for such ingredients was toooooo straightforward with a punishment set for such instruction for the ingredients. Pray for those with an anointed incenses of prayer, and leave the Oil to God!!

    • Dr. Everett Mendiola III says:

      nowhere in scripture we find the issue a used holy oil or water before he prayed to Appliance to someone’s forehead or over their head or poured over their head either want why I will tell you why because he was the Holy oil he was the holy water and +He lives in us+ it is simply a point of contact and symbolic we pour the oil of +Obedience+ in the form and in place of the Holy oil or holy water …By (Praying
      The Prayer Of Faith
      With Nothing Wavering) (That’s The Anointing Necessary)!

  2. Ben Mordecai says:

    If you are applying the full context of James 5, (i.e. counseling someone in repentance) why not apply the sign?

    • Francois Hendricks says:

      I agree with brother Mordecai. I believe the whole scripture and can’t see why we should cause so much confusion to those new to the Christian faith and the Holy Bible. We know its symbolic, take the table of the Lord is this also wrong in this New Age times … Just wondering

  3. Ben Thorp says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with continuing to anoint with oil, but equally I don’t necessarily think you have to do it every time – it’s not a magic formula!

    We need to recognise the principle – we should be praying for the healing of the sick – then the method is a secondary issue. We need to recognise that there are many different methods used throughout the New Testament, but that overarching principle is just that – we should pray for the sick to be healed.

    • I agree perfectly with you. thank you

    • myth buster says:

      But the method is not secondary, for it is written, “The prayer of faith will save him, and the Lord raise him up, and if he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven.” What is at stake is not merely physical healing, but the salvation of souls. Those who regard God’s commands as superfluous are in grave danger.

  4. Bruce says:

    I understand that the oil is not the vehicle for the healing, but a spiritual and visual representation of the work of the Holy Spirit. I also firmly believe that obedience always brings blessing whether the physical healing takes place or not. Faithful obedience to the imperatives in Scriptures is the route that I want to conduct my life and ministry in. In the end, whether I have the oil with me or not, I still pray and that is really the point is it not? To pray for the sick, suffering and dying and not getting too hung up on the oil is the real point of this kind of ministry.

    Blessings, Bruce

    • Miguel says:

      I like what you say about the oil being a visual representation. Even if we do not embrace a “sacramental” understanding of rituals like this, I believe that visual representations are powerful conveyors of the reality the represent because they focus our attention on something we might not otherwise notice. Yes, the oil is not “magic,” but the Spirit it represents is all-powerful. I doubt most people are thinking about golf while this is administered to them. I think instead it encourages them to put their trust in God as the ultimate healer.

    • mike says:

      So then do you baptize people? This logic would then have to apply to baptism as well.

    • Jasmi says:

      Thank you for sharing your understanding of anointing with oil. It is my understanding as well. You have helped me to communicate it with others in a simple format.

      Thanks Bruce

    • Sarah says:


  5. John says:

    I guess my question is this: is the sign something that is culturally bound or trans-cultural? For instance, most of us (or all of us!) wouldn’t hold to a literal obedience to Paul’s command to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” Instead, we find a culturally-appropriate alternative that still conveys the intention of the command (warm embrace, etc). So, does oil itself have to be used (something common in the first century) or can we find some else that would convey the same intention? Maybe an intentional laying on off hands, etc? Blessings!

    • briancroft says:

      A good question, John.

    • Hope says:

      I minister in a part of the world where people use amulets to ward off the evil eye, and other folk practices for blessings (or curses…). I happily lay on hands when I pray for the sick, but wonder if oil would be interpreted as carrying the same kind of power/magic. People say that when we (believers) pray, God hears us. If we used oil, maybe they’d say that the oil or the anointing procedure did it. Then again, the use of physical objects to somehow carry blessing is not beneath God (Acts 19:11-12)…

      • Regi says:

        Doesn’t God know this? We are becoming smarter than God. I do anoint the sick with oil just as part of obedience. Naaman was reluctant to take 7 dips in Jordan, but his servant was wise. He said “had the prophet ordered more difficult things wouldn’t you do it?” Water in Jordan had no magical power, but obedience to God is wise. Jesus even healed with a mixture saliva and dust. Has it some magical power? No. It also shows God can work miracles by means of insignificant things. When we obey God, we may be mocked at by some. But it is better to bear the mockery and appear to be foolish for the sake of God! God’s blessings shall follow.

    • Another good example is, “take a little wine for your stomach.” I’ve never heard that being practiced today as an act of biblical obedience.

      • Alex Norton says:

        If your refering to the apostke Paul writing to Timothy;

        Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach. Timothy was a young man growing strong in his Faith, but Paul mentions him having an infirmity or condition (depending on what bible translation you use).

        If it was a condition Timothy had with his stomach, the wine could help ease the pain. I am not sure though. I am only 16 and I am still learning about the bible.

        I am really curious about anointing oil though and have a lot more to pray and think about than I had imagined before.

      • Doug Mongwe says:

        The water in the well was stagnant and not treated,and it caused miscarriages to woman because of the bacteria. A wine was used as a medicine to treat indigestion problems

    • Doug Mongwe says:

      Because of so much sexual immorality and lack of self control it is not practiced and also because it does not symbolise what it used to be.holy kiss lost its true meaning when Judas betrayed it is regarded as homosexual practice. And believers don’t want to be associated with such things.

  6. Kevin Corbin says:

    The oil is symbolic of the power of the Holy Spirit who in fact does the healing. It’s a practice we continue to use on a regular basis. We recognize the value of the medical profession and recommend that people use them, but we have also seen some incredible things happen through prayer and anointing. I know the Scriptures trump experience, but this is clearly a prescriptive passage, I see no reason to relegate it to a cultural anomoly and our experience supports it. Do we see 100% healing when we do this? No. Do we see enough to constantly amaze us? Yes. We’re a conservative evangelical church, skeptical about signs and wonders and teh like, but I have seen many things explainable no other way and I’m not talking about teh hocus-pocus travelling miracle shows. I’m speaking personal hands on (and oil on) experience.

  7. Carey says:

    Our church’s position, and mine as Pastor, has been to use the oil, if for nothing else than to simply obey the command in faith. We honestly don’t know which meaning was intended by the Apostle (and doubt anyone does nowadays), but believe that using the oil neither hurts nor hinders.

  8. I’m a young man in college and was brought up seeing the anointing being done with oil on the sick by the elders in my own home and in friends homes. I’d default to this principle, but alike you Mr. Croft am wrestling with this. In response to John’s comment above (8:47am), it would be great to hear what the parameters are in deciphering culturally-bound and trans-cultural texts; what governs our interpretation with these harder texts? Or perhaps if someone could link a guiding article. thanks.

    • Doug Mongwe says:

      There was a holy anointing oil that was used to consecrate auticles in the tent of God to make them holy. And it was to be used only by the priests.Exodus 30:22-33. And it was also used to about newly appointed kings and prophets of God so that they may receive the holy spirit and to set them apart as God’ chosen ones.

      And there was also olive oil that was used as a medicine to people with medical condition e.g leprosy, dry skin,and some hand liver effection that affected their circulation system. The liver vains got thin and the was insufficient blood flow and oxygen and nutrition in the body.and that resulted in causing the skin to dry and crack and itches and to be pale.olive oil was also used as a rub rub for bruises.remember the story of a good Samaritan who applied it to a man who was robbed and badly hurt Luke 10:30- 37 and 2 chronicle 28:15. Olive oil was also used as a lotion Ezekiel 16:9. And again it was also used to strengthen the hair Luke 7:46. Olive oil was used to prevent premature skin aging, it was used to prevent stretch marks and to reduce them, for massaging to help with blood circulation, it was used as a sun screen because in old days where exposed to full sun,it was used to help regenerate skin tissues.

      Unfortunately now the olive oil is used for a different purpose than its original is used to exploit people in the church with twisted false doctrine.

      • sarah Cooperwood says:

        That is so true we have to understand that laying hands and all of that is not for the Christian to day because we don’t have that power we recieved the gift of the holy spirit when we went down in the water grave of baptism. baptism.

  9. Ann says:

    My husband has been a pastor for just a few years now, having come into this role a little later in life. Our most recent time of using oil are written in the story of my daughter’s illness on my blog. God used that faithfulness of ours, I guess because it was seriously like a light switch was thrown and my daughter began to recover. To this day, one of the top pancreatic surgeonsin the country, the doctor who treated her, says “I don’t know what made her well. Something changed that night and I just don’t know what it was.”

  10. Jack Hairston says:

    James puts the onus on the sick person. If s/he has fait to call for prayer by elders and ask to be anointed, then I do both. If the person does NOT have that faith, then to do so would be worse than useless. As Jesus said, “Let it be unto you according to your faith.”

    • Ethne says:

      I beg to differ. In this case James put the onus on the elders doing the praying. It clearly says call for the elders, they are to anoint with oil, then they are to pray. It then says the “prayer of faith” (who is doing the prayer? The elders!!) shall save the sick. Sometimes a person is so weak and sick that he/she has no ability to exercise anything: it is then that the elders have to stand in for him and exercise their faith.

      • Leah says:

        Finally! Someone understands this verse…..the prayer of faith puts the onus on the elders….they are the ones anointing and praying….why else do we call for them….when i have been so sick and unable to even utter the words for healing with conviction due to my illness i have called upon my elders….i am like a child in need of her father to protect her. The elders of our day are akin to the priest(s) of the OT who prayed on behalf of the people for their sins and illnesses and anything else that was needed. During this crisis time we need 2 or more gathered in His Name to pray….thank you so much for pointing the prayer of faith to those who are praying and not to the one requesting the prayer….

        • Adam says:

          I agree. Yes if a sick person is saved, and has faith in the Lord, then obviously that bodes well for him. But think about this…say an atheist person is sick and true believers come to lift them up in prayer, you’re saying God wouldn’t heal them because because they are atheist? Wrong, this could be their introduction to Christ right here and save their soul and change their life…this is the ENTIRE point of intercessory prayer, but this isn’t the topic anyway. It’s about the anointing oil…I believe this is another biblical practice that has slowly shifted into being used by smaller percentages of churches because of the aforementioned cultural uses/displays of it. If oil was used more on a daily basis as it was in Mesopotamian times or during the first century AD, then I believe more churches would use it. Picking and plucking a few verses, and interpreting in the most literal way possible makes you think that if you don’t do these things then you’re praying wrong and nothing will come of it. I truly do not believe this is true. Above all FAITH and you’re own personal relationship with the Lord is the most important and obviously God knows our heart and if we are being earnest when talking to him, using or not using oil isn’t going to sway him one or the other. Sure if you have it, use it. If not, God will still listen, that’s just how he operates…

  11. Miguel says:

    I think that this practice is spiritually healthy as it encourages people to find their strength and healing in Jesus. I believe many of the pentecostal extremes we see in the area of the “gift of healing” may not have developed as they have if this practice had not been so neglected. Though a firm protestant, I believe that behind all 7 of the “sacraments” were good, biblical principles of discipleship and edification that we evangelicals need to find some way to recover. This particular one is the simplest: we can still practice it just as written in scripture. I know many Baptist churches who have periodic “healing” services which focus on prayer and this ritual. It is also helpful for us to recognize the sovereignty of God in our sickness so we might be challenged to place our faith in His goodness. For a Baptist, I suppose I’m pretty Anglican when it comes to this one, but I’m not alone: 5 of 5 churches where I have been a member (I’ve moved a bit) made good use of this.

  12. brian says:

    Speaking as a deacon…

    When these situations arise, the pastoral staff and deacons gather with the individual. The entire passage of James 5:13-16 is read aloud. The instruction is taken all the way out to the confession of sin. If the individual has unconfessed sin or feels there is something in their life hindering their relationship with Christ it is confessed, our Pastor then anoints with oil and we all lay hands on the family member and prayer is said over them for healing of physical problem as well for their spiritual life. We then (pastors and deacons) make it a point to follow-up with the individual to see how they are doing.

    This is not something we do at all time with every sick person. Most time it is used in extenuating circumstances only and even then it is because we’ve been asked to do so. I’ve only been apart of the deacon ministry for 3 years and only been apart of something like this only 3 times, so it is more on the rare side for us.

    Additionally, believe that the confession of sin is often overlooked within this passage and is something that shows the serious of the matter and begins an honest part to healing and recovery.

    When I make a sick visit or see someone in the hospital, I’ve never personally, myself, anointed someone with oil and done this. I visit and talk and pray with them and/or family that our present.

    I look forward to seeing the rest of the discussion and blog posts.

    • Ann says:

      This is exactly how my husband has done it and I think it follows the Biblical text well.

    • Troy Nesbitt says:

      So if someone who is sick asks you to pray for them on the spot like at work or in the mall but you have no oil I guess that means you can’t pray???
      O I can’t pray for you because I have no oil or give me 5 minutes to go buy some oil I’ll be right back.
      Many scriptures are taken out of context, or not considered by culture or method during biblical time.
      If anointing with oil is symbolic then it’s not necessary for healing.
      We are already anointed by our union with Christ and our faith is the oil that brings healing NOT OLIVE OIL.
      We can easily become over religious trying to be so exact to scripture when in actuality it’s not as we conceive.
      Is baptism symbolic? Yes but if you don’t get baptized will you be banned from heaven? No because baptism doesn’t save you GRACE THROUGH FAITH DOES.
      Is taking communion symbolic? Yes.
      Will you be banned from Heaven because you never take communion? No because communion doesn’t save you.
      Does doing what’s symbolic hurt? Of course not especially if Christ commands it but if a sick person asks for prayer but we have no oil, USE WISDOM!!
      Instead of relying on the oil, rely on God to heal them because of your faith after all faith trumps symbolism every time.

      • debra says:

        Thank you Troy! Why substitute the Power that lives in the born again believer? James had years and years of practicing the Old Covenant. When we read on in James, it has old covenant wordage, unlike Paul’s (most but not all) new covenant teachings.

      • myth buster says:

        The only thing ridiculous here is your form of godliness while denying the power thereof. For the record, we don’t let our stockpile of oil for anointing the sick run dry. We make sure to keep excessive amounts on hand. If you think Communion is a mere symbol, throw it out and tread it under foot! When God tells you how to worship Him and tend His flock, you don’t substitute your own judgment for His commands.

  13. AE says:

    If we use oil, then must the women wear head coverings? Must we literally kiss one another? Why not cast lots? Why are these instructions and practices like these not obeyed “for nothing else than to simply obey the command in faith?” This is a cultural statement not binding on us today. I’m no more inclined to rub a church member down with ben-gay than I am to symbolically anoint with oil. I am, however, inclined to tell them to visit their doctor or drink a good cup of herbal tea. James emphasizes that prayer brings healing, so the oil probably had Jewish medicinal purposes. Essentially, we pray with them then tell them to go to their doctor. I view this passage the same way Paul tells Timothy to drink wine for medicinal purposes. I’m quite sure a critical commentary will shed light on the historic background to the use of oil and its medicinal purposes.

    • William Brown says:

      I am inclined to agree with what you said about the oil in James 5:, it makes good scence, we must rightly divide the word. I recently was attended a service like this at a lady’s house, the Preacher made it clear that it was only olive oil and that any and all healing comes from the Lord.
      But as I think on the matter, I believe the oil could have been left at home and instead all of us there pray that if it be His will He would heal her, but it certainly didn’t harm anything and perhaps she felt better.

  14. Rick says:

    The question comes to mind, is there a tendency to relegate this to be culturally bound because it doesn’t fit well within the grid of our rational-empirical culture? Our tradition often is very careful to be clear that outward observances such as these are merely symbolic when I think the argument may be made that there is sanctifying grace to the individual and the whole Body of Christ in their observances, particularly as we follow scripture in ways that are so obviously counter-cultural. I too am still wrestling With the two positions on the text, and in preaching through this text recently left it open for those in the church who desired oil anointing with prayer to make it known to us when we come to pray for them. Interested tomsee this discussion develop further.

  15. Blake says:

    What does the greek used for the word “oil” imply? I thought that the word was better translated “ointment” which, to me, would seem to imply medicinal use.

    • Jack Hairston says:

      There are two Greek words that can be translated “anoint.” One is “christos” but the one James uses is the other one. Let the conclusions begin…

  16. Brady says:

    I reference James and offer to pray and annoint with oil almost every Sunday during worship, but when visiting the sick at home or in the hospital I tend to go “oil-less”. I think this shows the congregation the importance of scripture, while not pushing it into legalism.

  17. Pastor Harold says:

    John MacArthur wrote a good explanation of this being a case for medical use. (can’t remember where I read it) If I remember things right, the word for “anoint” in James lit means to rub vigorously, not just dab on the forehead. That leaned me toward not using oil, prayer cloths, or any other agent of transfer. But I never criticize those who do.

  18. Evelyn G Noweder says:

    I have to say that I find it so interesting that on the one hand we talk about the inerrancy of Scripture and that we rely on Scripture as the basis for our belief, but then when there is something we don’t want to hold to, we try to find explanations to explain why it was only true for those at the time it was written. And then, who decides when a word in Scripture is one to be held to forever and one that was simply cultural? I grew up in a church that claimed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only intended for the age of the apostles. And we have the question of women’s place in the church. I find it all so confusing and so difficult to know who to believe and who should be drawing the lines.

  19. Tangental perhaps, but I wonder if folks who use oil can tell me _what_ kind of oil they use?

    Something like baby oil?

    • Ann says:

      We tend to use olive oil but one time, we were at our hotel where we hold church and my husband wanted to pray over and anoint with oil one of our dear friends who was struggling with recovery from donating a kidney. He just went to the kitchen and asked for about a tablespoon of cooking oil in a paper cup and that’s what he used. 🙂 So any oil will do. I’d just stay away from motor oil unless that’s all you have. LOL

      • Ben Thorp says:

        I recently read a biography of CT Studd, who was very keen on anointing. At one point on his travels he was very sick, and asked his companion to anoint him with the only oil they had available – lamp oil!

  20. John says:

    In regards to the oil itself, I don’t think James has any kind of medicinal use in mind. In fact, quite the opposite–from the surrounding context, he seems pretty clearly to be speaking of a work that God is going to do in response to the prayer.

    Scott, I think D. A. Carson talks about that issue of cultural/trans-culture somewhere. I’ll try to find it (and remind myself of what he says!).

  21. Aaron says:

    A pastor friend of mine practiced option 2, anointing out of simple obedience to the text, seeing some connection of a faith-filled anointing as part of setting someone apart for God’s special working. But it wasn’t a mass-anointing of many people; he anointed one woman in their congregation, and then made that woman the special, focused attention of public and private prayer for the whole church for about a month (while still seeing doctors). So they set her apart for special prayer. I’d be interested in doing some ancient research to see how many types of illnesses were treated with oil. I could see a medical value of anointing a topical malady (like a rash or wound) with oil for medicinal purposes, but I don’t immediately see the value of pouring oil on someone’s body for blindness, pneumonia, cancer, etc.

  22. Jonathan Feinberg says:

    I don’t see why anyone would argue from any stance without a good, qualified hermeneutic background of the verses clearly discussed to give good reason for their position. No one should be interested in “if” you church anoints the sick with oil or not, the question alone should be “should” it be practiced today. I had read good commentary in the past that led me to believe in the medicinal view, but now I will research it again.

    Still strange as to why anyone would just feel the need to say if their church does use oil or not. There is just no point to that. Sorry…

  23. Tom says:

    James 5:14 says > Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. v 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up……
    Heaven forbid you or I should say that the writer here is a liar. This was an apostle of the Lord Jesus. I would rather believe a faithful apostle than the pulpit of faithless men. Pastors who don’t accept this as instructions will have to answer to Jesus why they did not follow His instructions. I do understand that God’s ways are bigger than we know. And if oil is not available God will honor the request of healing faith. God is a good and mighty God. I Peter 2 : 24 …. by whose stripe you were healed. Thank you Jesus for paying for my sins on the cross. And healing that comes from accepting the gift from Jesus’ wounded body. Jesus is Lord. Amen. Amen.

  24. Nelson Swiger Jr. says:

    To be honest I have not even questioned this or thought to and do not plan to. We anoint with oil in our congregation and see no need to make a change.

  25. Jonathan Feinberg says:

    So Tom, do you greet every believer you meet with a kiss? Because in 1 Cor. 13:12 and in 1 Cor. 16:20 there is a command to do so. Apply that same absolute and literal thinking and you will find that passages like these are not the only ones you need to take a close look at.

    Do not conclude that those who want to know the hermeneutic of a passage are attempting to “spirutualize away” all the commands in Scripture. Being a good Berean and then following is proper.

  26. J.Kru says:

    I think it’s pretty simple.
    James says to anoint with oil. So go anoint with oil.
    There is pre-existing Biblical imagery with oil:
    Oil was a part of the sacrificial system: wafers were smeared with oil.
    Oil was poured on the stone pillar that Jacob built from the stone he slept on.
    God anointed his priests with oil – Ex. 30:31-32. Aren’t we all priests?
    Samuel anointed David with oil.
    Elijah saved a woman from starving by a miracle with oil.
    Oil was one of the promises of blessing in the promised land.
    Streams of oil are a blessing – Job 29:6
    It makes the heart glad – Prov. 27:9
    You shouldn’t let it be lacking on your head. Eccl. 9:8

    Ezekiel 16:9 “Ezekiel 16:9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.”

    God anointed us with oil – Hebrews 1:9.

    With respect, I think that the idea that oil is just a symbol, so it has no meaning and is unnecessary, is a Gnostic attitude that ought to be dropped.

  27. Melissa says:

    A good book to read regarding this is “Healing Oils of the Bible”

    It will make you really think about this issue and what we have faith in today.

  28. Chaplain Kathleen says:

    I am a nursing home chaplain. I meet people every day who have never had someone offer a spontaneous prayer for their needs. Just hearing someone invoke God on their behalf is a new experience to them. They are equally moved by being anointed and receiving communion. Our religious leaders have lost much of their ability to do “hands-on” ministry. I go through a half-pint of hand sanitizer every week, as I tend to touch and hug patients if the Spirit leads me to. I have held hospice patients in my lap as they died. I’m in favor of more physical contact with the sick and dying. And anointing, as a practice specifically mentioned in the Bible, is the best of all methods of “reaching out” in a physical sense.

  29. Fr Chris says:

    First, ancient unbroken tradition asks for olive oil to be used…or at least a vegetable oil of some sort.

    Secondly, while I’ve seen some interesting leading a sick person to repent, I have yet to see anyone deal with the fact that Jamessays that this special form of prayer not only brings healing but also the forgiveness of sins.

  30. Richard says:

    Personally I am not sure what to think. I find both sides of the discussion to be quite compelling, but I see no reason why priests shouldn’t anoint the sick with oil.

    Lord, holy Father, giver of health and salvation,
    as your apostles anointed those who were sick and healed them,
    so continue the ministry of healing in your Church.
    Sanctify this oil, that those who are anointed with it
    may be freed from suffering and distress,
    find inward peace, and know the joy of your salvation,
    through your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

  31. John Van Woerden says:

    Jesus was often a man of few words when He healed the sick or possessed. I would like to do the same this time. Take Gods word for what is says, obedience to the Gospel and God will be Glorified.

  32. Dwight Moore says:

    I appreciate all the above comments, but especially agree with the above posting that James 5 speaks of the one sick asking in faith for prayer, laying on of hands and anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. I would not impose this but I would comply with the ill believer’s request. Oil is referred to 187 times in Scripture, both in OT and NT always referring to the Holy Spirit attending in response to sacrifices and seeking God’s favour and His face in prayer. E.g. It is apparent from Mark 6 that the Lord Jesus Himself taught his disciples to anoint with oil when praying for the sick.

    Mark 6:12-13, “And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.”

    So women wearing hats is mentioned once with the proviso that it is a custom, and a holy kiss is mentioned often, but today is done in many cultures while not in others. Laying hands on in prayer with or without oil however is probably still almost universal at ordinations so why not also when someone is seriously ill and asks for this blessing?

  33. Jim Foxvog says:

    The word “aleiphoo” means “to rub, to oil, or to massage.” I’ve been studying the healing power of massage. It is naturally valuable in many situations. It’s a very powerful antidepressant. The early church practiced full body anointing. This still has natural physical benefits. But it is much greater with prayer. One does not need to be a certified massage therapist to give someone a massage — note the word “give”; one can not charge. Of course with mixed genders, there needs to be a third person present. After some centuries, the church started appointing deaconesses to anoint the women, but this was not the original practice.

  34. Woodie says:

    Looks, like I’m coming to this discussion late, but I have found it very helpful so far. My question seems silly next to all the deep thoughts here, but let’s say you are going to anoint with oil and pray over a sick person tomorrow in the church service. How do you do it?
    I am a novice pastor teaching through James and we have a man whose been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Tomorrow we are going to put into practice what we’ve been learning, but I don’t know how to anoint anyone. For example, how much oil do I use? Should I pour it on so that it drips off onto the carpet or just give him a couple drops? When I pray should I put my hands on the oil or on his shoulder so i don’t get oily? What kind of oil should I use? Olive or one of those fancy fragranced oils?
    I guess these questions are moot for me since I will have already done the service by the time I get any replies, but maybe it could help someone like me in the future.

  35. Paul says:

    Use oil if you want. Healing has happened with oil and without oil.
    My experience has been this.

    Ask them if you can pray for a healing. Tell them not to pray but just to receive and pay attention to what is happening to their body. If they have no faith tell them you have plenty and they can have some of yours. If they are not Christian, pray anyway because once they are healed there is a very good chance they will accept Christ. Now hold their hand or just place your hand on a “safe” area of their body. Such as the top of the shoulder or the top of their head. Ask them if first. Make sure they are comfortable with your touching them.
    Begin with a prayer of request. See what happens. Ask the person to try to do something they could not do before. If they can, watch the faith rise! Pray again (if needed). This time command for a healing. If nothing has happened try this.
    Ask the Holy Spirit what you should do.
    The following are examples of prayer. Just remember that if this prayer works one time, it does not mean it will work again. God is not a vending machine.
    You might be shocked by that statement but God wants us to always be depending on our relationship with Him. Therefore asking the Holy Spirit is very important.
    This prayer is a suggestion of a prayer of request.
    Father I thank you for your love and the healing that will now take place.
    Holy Spirit come and glorify the name of Jesus with signs wonders and miracles.
    Father I ask for (body part/sickness) to be healed in Jesus name.
    This prayer is a suggestion of a pray of command.
    Father I thank you for your love and the healing that will now take place.
    Holy Spirit come and glorify the name of Jesus with signs wonders and miracles.
    I command the unclean spirit of sickness to be bound and cast out in Jesus name. I command the (body part/sickness) to be healed in Jesus name.
    Success in healing prayer depends on your relationship with God. You are the vessel that carries the prayer to Heaven. Also if there is a sin issue with you or the person this can impede the healing. Confess your sin each day. Ask them to confess to God now.
    Unforgivness can also be an impediment to healing. Have you forgiven others.
    Remember the Lords Prayer. Now ask the person if there are any sin issues or someone they haven’t forgiven.
    One final and very important thing. If there is any change in the condition make sure you thank the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Always be in Thanksgiving.
    How deep the Fathers love for us.

  36. Daniel says:

    I have struggled over this oil issue for sometime now.I just found the truth today from the discussions. According to James 5:14, a sick person should request for prayer then anoint. Again in Mark 6:12 – 13 we are asked to anoint the sick. So I think I have come to terms with the truth. Which is cast out devils without the oil and if there is sick person after casting out the devil, I’ll anoint them with oil. Jesus is our perfect example. He instructed the disciples to use oil in Mark 6:13. We should remember that James was a disciple.Using of oil was not introduced by James but by Jesus the Man himself. What I’ll do is to make Jesus bigger and real so people do not put their faith in the oil. This was my problem. The oil should not take the place of the power in the Name Jesus. Just like praying in tongues 1Cor 14:15 . Please read the passage I’ve quoted, both is required but should be done orderly. Whoever created this platform may MY God BLESS YOU. I’m thankful. Amen

  37. Daniel says:

    I have struggled over this oil issue for sometime now.I just found the truth today from the discussions. According to James 5:14, a sick person should request for prayer then anoint. Again in Mark 6:12 – 13 we are asked to anoint the sick. So I think I have come to terms with the truth. Which is cast out devils without the oil and if there is sick person after casting out the devil, I’ll anoint them with oil. Jesus is our perfect example. He instructed the disciples to use oil in Mark 6:13. We should remember that James was a disciple.Using of oil was not introduced by James but by Jesus the Man himself. What I’ll do is to make Jesus bigger and real so people do not put their faith in the oil. This was my problem. The oil should not take the place of the power in the Name Jesus. Just like praying in tongues 1Cor 14:15 . Please read the passage I’ve quoted, both is required but should be done orderly. Whoever created this platform may MY God BLESS YOU. I’m thankful. Amen

  38. Daniel says:

    I recently came across another scripture and it threw more light on the preparation and use
    of the anointing oil. I think I’ll have to understand this oil thing. I thought I did but I have to be patient and get it right. Please read
    Exodus 30:22-33

  39. Drew Ross says:

    I would like to make a suggestion. The oil spoken of in James and elsewhere was made from Olives. Oil is often a symbol of God’s Holy Spirit in Scripture. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives. Gethsemane means “olive press”, the implement used to make olive oil. By his stripes we are healed. I believe this goes far beyond mere symbolism to be a powerful, tangible vehicle for our faith. Just as water is a tangible symbol for the cleansing of our sin, so is oil for the power of God to heal. Yes, it is a symbol, but yes also it is our incredible God moving in the natural to touch our very bodies and make us whole. Please tell me why we would want to abandon such a rich and powerful action that gives anchor to our faith? Usually because we are fearful of being labeled in a negative light. Go ahead and give me the label, I’m going with Scripture.

  40. Patrick says:

    As human beings we get kind of crazy and easily sidetracked. Remember the Israelites did this with the brass serpent. God means something for good, and we have the innate capacity to turn it into something vain or destructive. If we are talking about following the levitical priests prescription and protocol for anointing oil (which the apostles no doubt did in a new covenant manner), i.e., how its to be made, and by whom, and then how it is to be applied, etc.. then the church today is unquestionably falling short of these strict procedures.

    Yet , there is something we can forget so easily. God is concerned with the heart more than anything else, more than outward ceremonies and procedures. e.g., David ate of the show bread which was unlawful, but that was ok with God according to the testimony of Jesus, because David’s heart was right with God. I’m not at all saying we have liberty to be frivolous with holy ordinances, but we must not get caught up in legal exactitude.

    I am thoroughly persuaded that if someone’s heart is right with God in faith and humility, and that person is either administering the anointing oil or receiving it, even though the oil was not made according to Levitical specs and protocol, that the person receiving the oil will be touched by God’s power (exactly how, God knows) because of the one (minister or receiver or both) who has faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

    Having said that, I also believe there is a lot of abuse and ego among many ministers and TV preachers involving anointing and special anointing; persons whose hearts are not right with God, even though they argue otherwise. Of such there will be warnings, and if no repentance is forth coming there will be judgements. This will happen, not because the exact Levitical procedure has not been followed but because of hypocrisy, greed, ego…

    Let us pray for those who are caught up in such vanities, and remember any one of us can slide into deception.

  41. Tom Drion says:

    I’m fascinated by all the comments and the post. Thanks for all this, and a helpful website.

    Personally I’m now convinced that James is NOT speaking about people who are ill.

    Seems I’m alone here, but I’m not entirely alone (see MacArthur’s sermon from

    Here’s why:

    1. I hold (somewhat differently to MacArthur) that James 5:12-18 as a unit telling us “Don’t swear, but pray in response to suffering.”
    2. The gist of the context is crucial:
    a. 5:7-11 says, be patient in suffering.
    b. 5:12 says don’t take an oath (in the context of suffering, esp. persecution, the pressure would be to take an oath to escape it, as Peter did under pressure.) just speak the truth.
    c. 5:13-18 says pray pray pray pray pray
    d. 5:13 picks up the same word for suffering as in 5:10 kakopatheias/kakopathei linking the two sections clearly and the two types of suffering together. The idea would be – under such trials… is anyone among you suffering like we just discussed with the prophets? (Remember they were just told to be patient!) If so… if you’re suffering like this… he should pray! (Present tense aspect indicates general rule)
    e. 5:13 Is anyone cheerful, let him sing psalms – cheerful = euthumei => used in NT of being of good courage.
    3. NOW comes the crux: 5:14 Is anyone weak? (asthenei = weak or ill… but please NB the many uses of it metaphorically for weakness! This is a perfectly legitimate use at this point, and fits well with the context. i.e. are you suffering/persecuted like the prophets?? Pray. Are you coping well and cheerful? sing praises! Are you struggling spiritually to the point of being ready to give up? Call for the elders of the church and let them pray over you etc.)
    4. Most commentators 1st acknowledge that asthenei can = weakness or sickness and then immediately say it must mean sickness because of the use of another word for sickness in v.15 (kamnonta). Lexicons show kamnonta = either weary or sick, and Heb 12:3 is the only other NT use and is clearly ‘weary’ “so that you may not grow weary…” So the case is not proven that asthenei must mean sick because of kamnonta! Also – weary fits with the flow of thought established above… the person under pressure from severe suffering who has reached the point of utter weakness spiritually… has got to the point where he needs others to pray for him as he can’t deal with it all himself & is ready to crumble! He’s grown weary cf. Heb 12:3!!
    5. OK – so what about the anointing? Is that a fly in the ointment for this interpretation? No.
    a. The word for anointing as is pointed out above is not the more commonly ceremonial word (chrio), but the common word (aleipho) for anointing with oil used throughout the NT. It would typically use a fair amount of oil, not just a dap or a wipe.
    b. Key is the passage in Lu 7:45-46 where Jesus points out to Simon (after He’s just been anointed by Mary with a whole pound of the finest ointment) that Simon failed to carry out the common courtesy of greeting Him with a kiss, and anointing his head with oil. It was customary to do such things in order to greet & then refresh your honoured guests in a dry/dusty climate. Those two aspects of welcoming an honoured guest are clearly culturally and even climate driven. Similarly Jesus in Mt 5 could instruct people when they fast to anoint their head with oil… this would be a strange thing in the UK/US modern culture, as we’d look a bit greasy to say the least, and in fact look unwashed… but in a culture without such regular washing habits/shampoo etc… oiling-up made you “clean” and ready for respectable company… thus to hide your fasting and keep it secret, you must keep yourself looking in good shape so that people don’t ask, “What’s up with you?” and you have to admit to fasting.

    6. All this goes to show that anointing need NOT have either a medicinal OR sacramental significance. In fact I don’t believe it had either… and the key to that is to hold the above in view, and consider what is meant by anointing “in the name of the Lord.”

    7. What does it mean to anoint someone “In the name of the Lord”?? The phrase “in the name of the LORD” occurs frequently through the OT. I looked carefully at all the occurrences, and came up with three basic nuances of understanding that could apply here:
    a. to speak “in the Name of the LORD” would be to speak on God’s behalf cf. Deut 18 and the false prophets.
    b. to come against Goliath in the name of the LORD would be to come believing that God was behind what you were doing.
    c. to build an alter in the name of the LORD as Elijah did at Carmel would perhaps be to do so for God, for his reputation, something particularly dedicated to God and for his sake.
    8. In the NT Colossians 3:17 is the clincher! “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
    a. How can you do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus? (For this to be interpreted in some sacramental way we would have to walk around like some kind of weird cult saying “In the name of the Lord Jesus I pick up this pen… in the name of the Lord Jesus I fill out this form…”) It must mean simply, for his sake, to please Him!
    b. So what were these elders doing anointing someone who was really having a hard time spiritually and who had become weak to the point of being ‘weary’ and ready to give in… unable to pray for himself… in need of the elders to come to him? Answer? They were showing him the culturally normal expression of high honour and kindness… and they were doing that in the name of the Lord, as if to say, this is what the Lord would want… the Lord would have us do this to you! He washed the disciples feet (another similar act of cultural honour/kindness). Similarly, the Lord wants us to show you kindness and honour. Now having done that (the aorist participle for anointing can be taken to suggest that they did this first) let’s pray for you!
    9. In that context – the prayer of faith will save/rescue (the word sodzo can mean that) the one who is WEARY from his condition… and the Lord will raise him up (he’s been DOWN!!)
    10. If (perhaps) he’s sinned… he’ll be forgiven.
    11. SO pray for one another so that you may be ??healed?? No… restored spiritually! Yes – iathete/iaomai can mean that! See Mt 13:15 John 12:40 Acts 28:27 all applying Isa 6:10 ‘healing’ to spiritual restoration.
    11. Prayer of a righteous person is powerful & effective etc.
    12. Wonderful example of Elijah to encourage us to ask for prayers from fallible men!
    Final questions:
    If indeed it’s all about sickness… then all James just said about patience seems out of place! What need is there to be patient? Just call the elders and claim your healing!
    If indeed it is about sickness… then there is a cast iron promise that the prayer of faith will heal the sick.

    OK – long post over… now to prepare the sermon some more… hope it’s helpful and no one feels the need to beat me about this. If you do… I have no one to go to who I can in good conscience ask to anoint me with oil!

    Your brother in Christ


    • David Williamson says:


      Thats the most helpful overview of the section I’ve read. Not sure I go with you the whole way down as yet, but am patiently working through it! Thanks for giving a clear line down the passage.


    • Rotimi says:

      Thank you. This is a very useful over view.

  42. Jerry says:

    What doe’s the Bible say? do we just tare that page out because one dont agree? of course not we dont add to or take away from the scripture, or we dont lean on our own understanding,Job thought he knew so much and God rebuked him and told Job you dont even know the measure thereof, The Bible says to anoint the sick with oil annoint them with oil whats the big deal,James was anointed by God,the bible say’s do my prophet’s no harm.

  43. joe walker says:

    this is merely for your information but the LDS church uses oil anointing for the purposes of blessing the sick. and also uses oil anointing in its temple ceremony.

  44. David says:

    How about the request for proxy anointing? What is the precedent for anointing (with oil) one person on behalf of another not present?

  45. Tammy says:

    Even Mary Jesus mother said, do exactly as HE instructs you. When Jesus turned the water into wine. God him self reminded Noah to build the ark exactly as God had instructed him. James 5, Call for Elders and anoint with olive oil (Fresh) is no different. It is in the new testament and should be practiced nothing douting by the Elders, as it is clearly a command, If any amoung you are sick, call for the Elders, anoint then with oil. It is just another way man disobeys God. God tells us not to doubt in our hearts. You doubt by not practings what the Holy Ghost wrote.
    Peace be unto you.

  46. Simple water immersion was used for washing in ancient times, as they didn’t have soap, so since we shower and soap up today, should we dispense with water, since we know justification is by faith alone?

    Should we dispense with the Lord’s Supper since bread and wine are not the same kind of staples they were in 1st Century Israel, and repentance and faith are spiritual, not physical?

    Ridiculous ideas, in my opinion.

    OF COURSE we should obey God’s Word through the Apostle James, and have the Elders annoint with oil and pray in faith. God uses sacramental means, and we should obey His Word, even (and especially) when we don’t understand how He is working.

    • Leah says:

      I wonder why it is that we struggle? For me it means God is trying to ‘get to me’ to ‘make me more like Him’. Sometimes it is harder to know. I have been very ill since July and have struggled every day to understand why my life was turned upside down and I was placed in bed , in the hospital, or some days on the floor. I have cried out to the Lord for mercy and healing. I have had the elders pray for me….with and without oil….I don’t think God is particular as to the ‘correct method’….I do beleive that the outcome of prayer has to do with the beleif of the person praying. When I was so sick I couldn’t lift my head and could not pray except for relief from pain and sickness I counted on my elder-my husband to pray for and over and to anoint me with his hands placed on me….it is the Holy Spirit who anoints us….I know this….in the temple long ago the priest was covered with oil before he could enter the holy of holies-if not he would have been killed by God….he had to follow the rules….the symbol of oil….is just that….however, during warfare prayer and entrance into demonic strongholds or individuals possessed by demons I have used oil to cover the lentels of the doors and the windows and have placed oil throughout the place that was inhabited by the person oppressed…and I have covered my head and anointed myself….as a Jewish believer I understand this symbol of the covering of the Spirit as I place that oil over these areas….it is not the oil…it is my petition in the act asking the Ruach Ha’Kodesh to cover and anoint these areas I have touched….in Jesus name.

  47. Tammy says:

    The Holy men of God wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. James 5 is a command by the Holy Spirit for us to follow. God word never changes. God can make you whole, old/new testament. He spoke and it came to be.

    Did you ever think that God wrote this, as he wanted us to follow his steps. Maybe, again he set standards to see if we would obey. He told Adam and Eve not to eat, touch the tree of good and evil.

    So in James God told us as a command, if any
    among you are sick, CALL for the ELDERS, ANOINT them with OIL (OLIVE OIL)(FRESH)and PRAY over them.
    The LORD WILL RAISE them. Elders means at least 2 l(PLURAL) You must pray in FAITH nothing douthing. If it is not working, then you are missing a step, your amiss. Study to correct the steps. You have to believe in the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and ask in the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST. GOD commanded in steps, as a process. If you do not do the commands right, then it will not work, as anything else. Remember the simplicity of CHRIST.

    May the LORD open your understanding, LUKE

  48. jenny churchwell says:

    The church may be “modern” but God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It’s to each there own but I myself enjoy seeing ppl follow in the same manner as Jesus did.

  49. Let’s read the most popular verse used to justify the use of the oil today. James 5:14
    “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

    If you take this verse in isolation you may get it wrong. We have to find out why the Apostle James is recommending the use of oil in healing the sick. This is because there is nowhere in the Bible that the disciples used anointing oil after the Holy Ghost was given. Paul and Peter did a lot of miracles and healing but never was reference made to them using anointing oil. Probably they used it but it was not recorded. If that is true then why was it not recorded if really it had the prominence it now has among today’s believers? The Apostles laid hands, used handkerchiefs, shadows – all recorded. Why don’t we have record on the use of the oil after Pentecost if it was a requirement for receiving the anointing as it seems today?

    The book of James is the first epistle to be written to believers. It was written to the twelve tribes of Israel which were scattered abroad (James 1:1). This means it adheres to Jewish customs and practices. No wonder it emphasises more on the law and works. And it is in this epistle that believers were referred to as “sinners” (James 4:8). In Jewish custom, oil is used to anoint the sick. And this is due to the medical element of the oil. Indeed, the olive oil is medicinal just as a moringa oil (if there is any) would be. When used as food, it provides unimaginable health benefits. It heals cancer, diabetes, stroke etc. – and it boosts the immune system.

    All these point us to the fact that the anointing oil rather has a natural potency to heal. And the Jews used it habitually for its health benefits. So the Apostle James is calling for the use of medication in addition to prayer for the sick. And he adds that it must be done in the name of the Lord. Remember that when the good Samaritan met the wounded man, he also used oil – normal practice. When Jesus sent out the disciples, Bible says they anointed the sick. Mark 6:13 – “And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. He didn’t ask them to use oil but they applied it because it was a normal practice – not wrong at all for them to use it.

    However, there is nowhere Jesus used anointing oil to heal. Matthew 8:16, “. . . and he cast out the spirits with HIS WORD, and healed all that were sick.”

    In the same way, Jesus never used any of our modern medicines to heal but we use them and it is not a sin. So using the oil is not necessarily a sin but it must not be ritualised as though without it the Holy Spirit cannot operate.

    • Rotimi says:

      Evangelist Okai, thank you so much. This is the clearest, simple and in my opinion (as an an elder) the appropriate revelatory explanation of Mark.

      It is not a commandment/ perpetual obligation to use the or any oil. In the end it is prayer of faith that will save the sick irrespective of the oil.

      My greatest caution on the use of the oil is that very quickly I have seen people ‘use’ and depend on like a kind of talisman, which at the very best should have be a faith extender.

      Personally, my prayers have always worked without the oil. I keep it that simple.

      Have a wonderful day.

  50. Heather says:

    As a teen I was diagnosed with what in the medical world is a practical death sentence. (Stage 3 Myelodisplastic Syndrome) Before my scheduled bone marrow transplant my mom brought the elders to our house and annointed me with oil. Not only was the transplant canceled, but within a year I was completely healed. Doctors can only call it what it was.. a miracle and, what I call divine intervention. I believe it was faith that saved me. 18 years later I remain cancer free.

  51. Lisa says:

    When in doubt obedience is key. Many times in scripture (MANY) things make no earthly sense. God requires our obedience. I am not saying there is supernatural powers in the oil, but obedience is still key. That being said, if you are somewhere and are asked to pray for healing and have no oil, pray anyway.

  52. Jeff says:

    As with any Bible passage the most important thing we can do is look at the original Greek (or Hebrew if in the Old Testament). When you do that the question isn’t should we anoint the physically sick with oil, but is the passage actually talking about physical sickness at all? The Greek word used in this passage for “sick” literally means “to be weak.” A few times in the Gospels this word is translated to mean physical sickness, but whenever it’s used in Acts or the Epistles it’s referring to spiritual or emotional weakness. Later in verse 15 is says that the “sick person will become well.” The Greek word used in verse 15 is different to the word used in verse 14 and every other time in Scripture (including the LXX) is translated as weakness. Also if you look at the context of this passage it is talking about being in a place of hardship or being downtrodden. The illustration James gives in the following verses to prove his point on the effectiveness of prayer is when Elijah prayed for rain (has nothing to do with physical sickness). If verses 14 & 15 are referring to physical sickness, they seem very out of place. I think the biggest problem with this passage is the English translation. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for the sick. I absolutely believe in physical healing and have seen and personally experienced it. However, I don’t see a Biblical precedent for anointing with oil. In New Testament times, anointing with oil was used for cleansing and refreshing. Taken in that context it makes perfect sense to anoint someone with oil who is spiritually and emotionally weak.

  53. Eric says:

    There are some who use annointing oil, and glorify God; and others who don’t and glorify God. Who cares, Christ is being preached. But then there are those who sell oil, this is a practice from hell and has given rise to the debates like our discussion here. Oil is oil is oil. But some believe it has to come from Nigeria or Jerusalem. Then I preach, don’t touch that oil. The Devil is being Glorified.

  54. Jim Crawford says:

    Dealing with someone else’s sickness is an awkward feeling especially if the person is deathly sick with no hope of being cured. Are the prayers and blessings with oil avoided because of our own discomfort? Are the opinions of doctors worth more than the actions of Christ? Are true healings and miracles only events that took place in the lifetime of Christ? If so, Christianity and faith in it is a sham. We can either believe in a loving God, redemption and healing in His Son Jesus Christ and guidance of the Holy Spirit that He left us. If Christ empowered fishermen, and tax collectors the power to heal without deferring to medical authorities or other elders in the church who are we to debate? Elders in the church may debate and disseminate the meaning of the Gospel – the Word of God, but while they debate they are not actually performing the will of God which can be witnessed only by their actions. Not their ability to break down the Word of god and define the actual meanings. Perhaps they are really afraid that a lack of healing may bear witness to the Elder’s lack of faith in the Word and in the power of God.
    Anointing with oil is an outward sign of healing and it is not the reason why a person recovers – it is only a symbol. Real healing comes from faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and to those participating who trust in Him for the perfect healing which of course only our Lord can decide. They will not mine be done.

  55. Nathan says:

    In case some are still wondering on this topic, I suggest Matthew 17 and Mark 9 for reading.

    Both instances Jesus discusses miracle working with his apostles.

    I tend to believe from reading the gospels and the writings of Paul that there were are many ways for God to work, if you anoint someone and you don’t feel you get the results you should (AND your heart is right with God) pray and fast.

    The priests of Israel are commanded to anoint lepers for example, Jesus said he did not come to change the law but fulfil it. So it makes a case for anointing the sick as we are called to be His priests.

    In all cases pray with others and let your requests be made known to God, if you are His child he will give you wisdom.

  56. Simon Schrock says:

    I scanned over these posts with interest. I am a pastor. In our church the ladies cover their heads, the brothers greet each other with a kiss, the sisters likewise (we encourage cheek to cheek or lips to cheek), we ordain from the congregation by use of lot, and we anoint the sick with oil upon the request of the sick one. We have varying results, but invariably the sick one testifies to a much greater level of peace about their condition. Several weeks ago we anointed a brother with lots of pain. Before the week was out he testified to being almost pain free (it was serious pain). Almost two years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia. I asked for anointing, and also took treatment. Today I am enjoying exceptionally good health. We have anointed others who did not seem to get better. This is not something that one “learns” how to do, but we enter into it by faith. We serve ourselves well to practice obedience to all of the known will of God.

  57. Craig Botha says:

    Even thousands of years before James said that the elders should be called to pray for the sick and anoint them with oil, anointing had a double meaning. The first is the same as massage (though massage is a modern word), the second is symbolic. Oil in the scripture is very symbolic. It symbolises the Holy Spirit, it symbolises healing. The laying on of hands is also symbolic of a healing massage. The fact is that when we pray, laying on hands, and anointing with oil, it is God who does the healing. Jesus made this clear when He broke all the rules and anointed the blind man’s eyes with mud. Jesus showed that the pwer is not in the anointing oil, but it is God who heals. So yes, go ahead and anoint with oils, and lay hands on the sick, it symbolises the healing power of God through His Spirit.

  58. Michelle says:

    Interesting read. I too have wondered about. This verse. And like 2 other posts mentioned, wondered if it wasn’t reffering to emotional / mental weakness instead of sickness…Jesus always instantly healed someone, He never prayed them to health, did He? So why would we be instructed to pray for someone who is sick, when the elders can/should heal them. I am open for learning, so please do enlighten me on my opinion. Thanks

    • myth buster says:

      Not all presbyters have the gift of miracle working, but all presbyters have the authority to anoint the sick and pardon the dying. In this manner, the Holy Spirit operates in them, for they received the Laying of Hands.

  59. Tom Goode says:

    If the Bible says to do it, James 5:14, then we should do it. If we start to analyse the reasons, we would probably do nothing in the Bible, but we walk by Faith, so if it says o it, then I assume it won’t be wrong.

  60. Emmanuel Alieu says:

    We should encourage our pastors to use the anointing oil when praying for the sick as it is instructed by the true and infallible word of God and should not use it as holy idol that can distract their members from putting their trust in the Lord they should not also sell it or price it in order to enrich themselves

  61. Timothy Senerwa says:

    Thanks all, i’d rather use oil in anointing and praying for the sick and ithen find out in eternety that I was not supposed to use it than omit and find out that I was supposed to use it.

  62. myth buster says:

    I am surprised by the confusion that abounds among Protestants about this. Catholics and Orthodox would not even need to ask this question, for we practice the Anointing of the Sick to this day. The purpose of the Anointing of the Sick is twofold: spiritual rejuvenation and physical healing. Someone who is suffering from serious illness or injury, especially one who is near death, should send for a bishop or presbyter to anoint him and pray over him. If the Lord wills, he will be healed physically, but regardless, the Anointing prepares his soul for eternity, for “if he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven.” Let those who are able to confess their sins confess them first, but if unconsciousness, delirium, muteness or language barrier should render confession of sin impossible, the Anointing and prayer of faith will effect the same pardon as is available through Confession. And even if the sick person has no unconfessed sin, the Anointing supplies courage and moral strength in the face of death, when the legions of Hell seek to cause the sick person to doubt God’s mercy and promises, for despair or unbelief in the hour of death can thwart a lifetime of faith.

  63. The Greek word that sick is translated from is asthenei, and can be translated weak, feeble, without strength, powerless, needy, poor or sick, depending on the context.
    It appears 33 times in the NASB. Of those 33, it is translated “sick” 18 times. I think that it is important to note that in all but four of the times this word appears in the epistles it does not refer to physical sickness. As an example, Paul’s use of asthenei in 2 Corinthians 12:10 describes weakness produced by the sufferings of life, as I believe it does here in James 5:14.
    Some commentators suggest that rather than translating asthenei sick, it should be translated weak. James also speaks of suffering in verse 10. From the immediate context is quite clear that the suffering James has in view is related to ill treatment, rather than some debilitating sickness.
    James moves beyond the suffering believers in verse 13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray”, to address those who have become weak by that suffering. It seems that the weak are those who have been defeated in the spiritual battle, who have lost the ability to endure their suffering. They have tried to draw on God’s power through prayer, but because of the persistence of the spiritual battle have become spiritually weakened, possibly succumbing to sinful attitudes (James 5:15). They have become so spiritually weak and confused that they are not able to pray effectively on their own. As a result, they need the help of the spiritually strong, the elders (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
    True elders are the spiritually mature. It is the same thought in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” The wounded, exhausted, spiritually broken sheep are to go to their shepherds, who will intercede for them for renewed spiritual strength.
    This is an important ministry of the church’s pastors and elders. Regrettably, struggling believers are often handed over to so-called “professional” counselors, who often have little or no power in prayer. Those who have been defeated in the spiritual battle do not need to hear opinions of human wisdom; they need to be strengthened by the power of God through their leaders’ prayers and biblical counsel. All that to help us understand the phrase “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
    I also do not understand this being done by the elders as a reference to some symbolic ceremony. Aleipho (the root form of the verb translated anointing) is never used in the New Testament to refer to a ceremonial anointing. Greek scholar A. T. Robertson comments, “It is by no means certain that aleipho here … means ‘anoint’ in a ceremonial fashion rather than ‘rub’ as it commonly does in medical treatises” (Word Pictures in the New Testament [reprint, 1933; Grand Rapids: Baker, n.d.], 6:65). Richard C. Trench adds: “Perhaps the best way to translate the phrase would be “rubbing him with oil in the name of the Lord”; it literally reads “after having oiled him.”
    It seems most likely that the elders literally rubbed oil on believers who had suffered physical injuries to their bodies from harsh treatment as in the case of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:34. It would have been a gracious, kind act on the part of the elders to rub oil on the wounds of those who had possibly been beaten, or into the sore muscles of those made to work long hours in harsh condition. But the greatest benefit could likely have been the simple human touch to someone may have been more acquainted with harsh treatment.

  64. johnson dele jude says:

    My question is: is it proper for ministers or pastors to anoint the elders?

  65. use oil is biblical but some preachers uses it as former of business selling it in church

  66. Pastor K says:

    “At my last church, my mentor and Senior Pastor at the time would exemplify this practice every time he preached a sermon where there was a mention of healing in the text. He would invite people who are sick or suffering physically to come up the front after the service for prayer with the elders…” Not to split hairs but does/did he really exemplify James 5:14-15? The text instructs the sick to call on the elders not the elders to call for the sick.

  67. Eric says:

    Jesus send us to heal the sick and I believe the invitation works both ways. Otherwise laziness would creep into the church, where we claim we were waiting for the sick to invite us. We must visit them and offer to pray for them.

  68. Tom Goode says:

    An excellent comment. Perhaps not offer to pray for them, that is still the elders calling on the sick, but I think that the elders should visit the sick and make it known that they are willing to pray for them and anoint them, then it is up to the sick to call upon the elders’. Sometimes you can visit people and not relate your availability.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Should pastors still anoint with oil when praying for the sick?"
  1. […] Should Pastors still anoint with oil when praying for the sick? – Brian Croft opens up this discussion at his blog, Practical Shepherding. Personally, I feel James 5:14 is instructive enough on the subject (though I can understand how the more hyper-charismatic type healing ministries have left people feeling uncomfortable). At my last church, my mentor and Senior Pastor at the time would exemplify this practice every time he preached a sermon where there was a mention of healing in the text. He would invite people who are sick or suffering physically to come up the front after the service for prayer with the elders and a lot of the time he would anoint them with oil. I think that we should do more of this both corporately and privately in our churches. […]

  2. […] Pastor Brian Croft notes in his blog post, “Should Pastors Still Anoint with Oil When Praying for the Sick?”, the oil serves a spiritual purpose, not simply a medicinal one: There is a New Testament […]

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