Monday, February 18, 2008

ASK THE PASTOR: Should Christians Anoint with Oil?

Question from Patricia in Michigan

ASK THE PASTOR: Should Christians use anointing oil for the sick?

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14 (NIV)

This passage provides the clearest scriptural support for the practice of anointing the sick with oil. I firmly believe in the importance of this practicel. However, this verse is open to multiple interpretations. The three most common interpretations are as follows:

Roman Catholic View: RC interpreters find here the legitimacy for ‘extreme unction’, a practice whereby a priest administers sacred oil (after a complicated ceremony to actually make the oil “holy”) in a rite to a sick or dying person.

Medicinal View: Many Protestants view the oil as the medicine of the New Testament day. They would see this as the first-century equivalent of going to a doctor.

Symbolic View: This view understands the oil to be symbolic. Combined with prayer and in the name of the Lord, the oil serves as a physical symbol that the sick individual is being set apart unto the Lord.

To decide among these options, we first need a better understanding of the Biblical practice of anointing. To ‘anoint’ literally means to pour or rub oil on a person or thing. In the Old Testament, the practice of anointing could be used in secular situations (such as finalizing a legal contract, or preparing a shield for battle) or for religious purposes. Regarding the latter category, objects were anointed, such as the temple and its furnishings (Ex 40:9-10), garments (Lev 8:30), and sacred vessels (Ex 30:26). Religious anointing was also used for certain types of people, such as kings (I Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 9:6), priests (Ex 29:29; Lev 4:3), and prophets (I Kings 19:16; 1 Chr 16:22; Ps 105:15). The person anointed was symbolically set apart as holy and consecrated to the Lord. In other words, they were his and to be used according to his purposes. In the New Testament anointing the sick is connected with the preaching of repentance. Mark 6:12-14 states that “they went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them….” The James passage cited above is in the same vein as the Mark passage.

The Roman Catholic view cannot be accepted for the simple reason that it is a clear elaboration of the passage. James 5:14 contains no hint of priestly oversight (“the elders”) nor is the oil considered sacred. The focus of the passage (and its surrounding verses) is on personal repentance, faith, and submission to God—not some religious rite. The Medicinal view has some advantages but ultimately fails. Certainly Olive oil, according to Old Testament and Jewish understanding, was prized for its nurturing of human well-being and for its healing properties. But the passage specifically says the elders should anoint with oil. If the issue were simply the application of medicine why involve the church elders? Certainly family members or a local physician would be better choices. If health care were in view, the contemporary application would be to bring the church leaders with you to your next doctor’s appointment!

The best understanding of this passage is that the anointing of oil upon a sick individual is a symbolic declaration that this person has been set apart to God. Medicine has failed. Human ability has failed. The leaders of the church gather together, and in the name of the Lord, symbolically pronounce their submission to and faith in the almighty God. Such an anointing in not a guarantee of healing; rather, it is a declaration of faith. If the person recovers, God is glorified because He was the agent of healing. If the person does not recover, God is glorified because the person was set apart for Him as His special treasure.

In the end, anointing with oil is never simply about healing the sick. It is chiefly about God getting the glory for being God.

You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter: Questions about faith, scripture, theology, or daily Christian living can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.


  1. So do you use the entire bottle of oil and just dump it all over the person... does the amount of oil matter depending on how much you really are trusting God? :)

    But seriously, what type of oil is generally used?


  2. Pastor Jim

    Have you considered that the word for sick in this passage is not the typical word used for sickness and might be best translated as weak? In addition, the Greek word for anoint is not the typical word for sacramental or ritualistic anointing. Finally, oil in biblical times was often used medicinally. Also, oil is often used to symbolize times of joy and feasting. Because of these considerations, I think that anointing with oil for healing is not James' intent. Instead, James intends elders to pray for those who are weak (weakness includes sickness). And, the oil either points persons to joy and blessing, or it indicates the application of medicine.

    Pastor Jeremy Lee
    Twining Baptist
    Twining, MI

  3. You bring up excellent points. There are two primary words for anointing, as you infer. While it is true that the other word is most often used for ritualistic anointing, the word used here can convey that meaning as well. As for the issue of the word for weak, I studied this quite a bit. It did strike me as odd when working through the Greek text, but I noticed almost all of the more technical commentaries didn't take issue with it. I think your point is valid, though, and deserves further consideration.

    I would still reject a medicinal interpretation, but an interpretation which sees this as a means of symbolically convey joy or blessing seems possible.

    - Josh Gelatt

  4. Hey Jim, I posted an article on this topic in the Pastors Area of last week and it got some great discussion. You might enjoy looking at it, Should We Anoint the Sick with Oil Today?

    The article is by Pastor Harold Dinsmore.


    Craig Webb

  5. This another good perpspective on the sick. I have trying to find true biblical counsel about this because amny christian friends are embracing the Young Living approach and if I may be so bold YL and David Stewarts "HEALING OILS OF THE BIBLE" is teaching a new gospel to these who accept these teachings using oils

  6. Josh said "Such an anointing in not a guarantee of healing; rather, it is a declaration of faith."
    Look at James 5:15 "and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him."
    I struggled with this verse for years. It says WILL. But some say if the person is not healed, it was because they didn't have faith. That's not true because healing of some is not God's will. Remember Jesus left someone sick.

    1. I should have been more clear: The person prayed for by the Elders WILL MOST CERTAINLY BE HEALED, that is the promise of James 5:15. It is a guarantee. What is not guaranteed is WHEN that person will be healed. James 5:15 says "The Prayer of Faith WILL save the one who is sick, and the Lord WILL RAISE HIM UP." Pay attention to that last line. It is referring to what happens after we die. We will be raised up to life again. James is saying that Faith saves. We will die, but we will be healed from death (when we are raised up to eternal life). We may have cancer, but we will be healed from cancer. Etc. James isn't talking about healing in this life, but rather the better, fuller, perfect, and eternal healing that is guaranteed to all who are in Christ. Sometimes, however, God chooses to heal now (in this life). But the healing James' is referring to is eternal.

  7. Question can i rub the oil on my body and say a few psalms to cast of evil tht was sent to me by 2 coworkers :((

    1. Evil can't be "sent" to you by anyone. According to Scripture, evil isn't some sort of curse or incantation that effects some innocent victim--though that is how it is usually depicted in movies. In the Bible, evil is something that defines all mankind. It is a state of rebellion against God which distorts our hearts, minds, and lives. Jesus came to save us from this evil. If you rubbed oil all over your body you would certainly make a mess, but it wouldn't help your spiritual condition at all (even if you quoted scripture while doing it). But it would be more serious than that, because when we attempt to "fix" ourselves outside of Jesus we are actually engaging in sin. The way we remove evil from ourselves is to fall on our knees and repent of our sins and then commit our lives to Jesus Christ. When we make him our Savior and Lord over our lives, then we are freed from sin and death.

  8. Great answer Josh. I am a pastor of a church that has never practiced anointing with oil. In researching the topic you have been most helpful and given some wonderful insight. Thanks

  9. Thanks for your insights. I came across your blog is searching why Christians would use anointing oils today. I see anointing oils for sale and I've wondered why/how they should be used. Does it make any sense to anoint oneself in prayer before the Lord, or before service/worship? I'm not sure I understand the practice. Thank you!

  10. I intrust the spirit of the lord, avoiding my worst addictions in spite of living for the Lord that gives second chances, and offers forgiveness.

    If one has been anointed, let him also repent.

    If one is being healed, let him also repent.

    If one has been anointed, however ignores the
    spirit-- how then will he repent?

    The reason of repentance is the
    same reason you leave a burning home,
    you do not want to die--

    therefore you do not stay.

    The practice of sin leaves many
    of us scouting for the definition of happiness-
    many have different forms and ways to define it.

    Leaving these practices brings us joy-
    because by faith in his promises-
    and by his forgiveness- we may no
    longer be guilty and pretend to be

  11. I'm a mother of two little boys. We are pentecostals. A lady at a church told me quite strongly that i 'should' anoint my children and their beds every night to receive a stronger level of blessing and healing. As a result, my children would sleep through the night like bears in winter, hah! I can't help but feel uneased about it. I feel, it's like as simple as "I am saved by mercy". That's it. And by the holy spirit in me, I bless my children every night regardless of how they sleep. I know God loves and provides for us. For me, faith is most important and I won't miss out on blessings even if I don't anoint my children.
    I'm unsure if my way of thinking is enough ? Should I get fanatic about this oil thing and start throwing it around to receive more blessings?!
    Thanks :)

  12. We are Christians. In 2007 our son became very ill, the doctors said to say goodbye as they gave him really no chance of survival. One of our friends reminded us that we should anoint the sick. The nurses gave us some oil(can't remember what type) and we anointed him and prayed. He was then taken off for another operation, to see if there was anything the doctors could do. After the operation, the doctors came back smiling. I will never forget the words "I don't know what happened" It would take too long to tell the whole story, but he is still with us and now has 3 children. I do not, however, believe that anointing with oil is a guarantee of healing on this earth. It is doing what I believe the Bible tells us to do, and basically handing the person "over to God".

  13. That's a great testimony. My question would be regarding anointing of oil is this, should deacons and deaconess anoint those who come for prayer every Sunday? The reason I asked that question is, every Sunday at this Church I used to attend the altar call would be made and all of the deacons, deaconess, and Ministers would stand before the altar, then someone would come around with oil and pour a little in each persons hand. This was done every week, and as the people came for prayer, they would put oil on them. I have never felt comfortable with that and being a Pastor's son and walking into the ministry myself, I feel that it's more of ritual than being led by the Holy Ghost. Am I wrong for thinking this way? Someone please give me your perspective. Be Blessed

    1. Derek, the problem with that is that James 5:14 specifically says the sick person should "call for the elders", meaning that the individual is too sick to even come to the church's gathering. In other words, in Bible times they used this in dire cases. I've also seen churches that let people regularly get dosed with oil for every minor little thing in life (relationship struggles, paying the bills, broken arms, etc).

  14. I have been asked to come to a home bible study and be a 'set in' for my brother (who is having health issues), to be anointed with oil and be prayed over for his healing. Is this Biblical?

    1. Anonymous, no. I would suggest this is not biblical. It is also quite silly. Remember, this is not a magic incantation that is taking place, nor can spiritual blessings be conferred by proxy. The whole point of anointing with oil is to set the person apart unto the Lord. It is, therefore, a declaration that the person belongs to the Lord and an appeal for the Lord to heal, all while believing that one day ultimate healing will certainly take place (in glory).

    2. Josh<

      What is your take on Acts 19:11-12

  15. Josh,

    What is your take on Acts 19:11-12