James and the Gift of Healing

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recently, Tim Challies posted on Daniel Doriani’s commentary on James. I found it incredibly intriguing, and it was well worth the read. I wrestled with it for days. While I don’t want to dive into the deep end with regard to the continuationist vs. cessationist debate, I would like to examine further healing and the book of James.

In his post, Challies shares the following quote from Doriani’s commentary:

Sick men and women call the elders as a group. They do not call those with a gift for healing; rather they call all to pray for healing. James says the prayers of a righteous man are effective. Since the first qualification for an elder is holiness—not social standing or theological acumen—the prayers of elders are effective. The elders pray for healing, not for miracles. It doesn’t matter if a healing is quiet or splashy, True healings garner all the attention they need.

The reference from the book James is:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14-16)

I do believe that Doriani’s commentary has some great insight into the passage. It is particularly useful in understanding why the elders would be called to pray for the one who is sick. However, I believe Doriani’s implications against the gift of healing fail for a couple of reasons.

  1. Most likely, the Epistle of James was the earliest of the New Testament books written, well before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Even cessationists would agree that the gift of healing would have been present at the time James wrote his letter. Thus, James could not be presenting an argument against the gift of healing grounded in the cessationist framework. Even if the gift of healing has ceased now, it had not yet ceased when James had written his letter.
  2. It is an argument from silence. James’ position on the gift of healing could hardly be determined from this passage for the simple reason that he did not even mention the gift. We do not know why he did not mention it. Doriani’s statements are speculative. He is reading the continuationist-cessationist debate into the text.
  3. Doriani appears to make some statements against a straw man continuationist. Why else would he say “The elders pray for healing, not for miracles” or “It doesn’t matter if a healing is quiet or splashy, True healings garner all the attention they need.”

Again, I still find this a profitable discourse. Doriani’s insight should not be shirked by the continuationist. Continuationists could be served from Doriani’s statements.

Follow-Up Questions:

  1. When was the last time you saw the elders called to pray for healing?
  2. Instead of placing James in opposition to the gift of healing, how would these work in tandem?
  3. What could the elder do in the situation that the one gifted in healing could not?