CYBERJOURNAL FOR PENTECOSTAL-CHARISMATIC RESEARCH #24
"A Re-examination of Faith and Healing in the Gospels: Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Healing and Disability"
By Dr. Jennifer Anne Cox
A recent study of the Gospel of Mark has caused me to reconsider some of the passages which are often used to establish the connection between faith and healing. Some Pentecostals and Charismatics claim that healing is always given to those with sufficient faith. But this claim has proven to be problematic for many people, especially those who have not been healed despite their faith. Those who have not been healed, particularly Christians with disabilities, have often felt condemnation because of the teaching about faith and healing. For this reason, it is worth re-examining the evidence of the Gospel narratives to see what they have to say about the relationship between faith and healing. My contention is that faith in the Gospels has far more to do with trust in the person of Christ and his authority from God than it has to do with physical healing.
The discussion has two central foci. The discussion begins with an overview of Pentecostal views of healing and its relationship to faith. This includes a discussion of the problems for people with disabilities resulting from some views of faith and healing. The second section involves a discussion of several passages from the Synoptic Gospels which connect faith and healing. There are three types of healing narratives examined – those in which the person healed is the one with the faith; those in which the person healed is not the one with faith; and one in which faith is expressly said to be absent. I conclude with some implications for preaching, teaching and practice.
PENTECOSTALS AND HEALING
Pentecostal theology of healing
Candy Gunther Brown calls divine healing “an essential marker of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity as a global phenomenon.” It is divine healing, rather than speaking in tongues or prosperity, which most characterises Pentecostalism as distinct from other forms of Christianity.[i]Healing is part of the Pentecostal fourfold gospel in which Jesus is proclaimed as Saviour, Healer, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and Coming King. Early Pentecostals were influenced by evangelical divine healing preachers and challenged the prevailing Calvinistic view that believers must patiently tolerate sickness in submission to God. They believed that the Bible promised healing as a result of the death of Jesus. Most Pentecostals now see healing as an important aspect of gospel proclamation and a component of salvation.[ii] The universality of the importance of healing in Pentecostalism does not, however, imply a singular theology of healing.
Pentecostal, and Charismatic believers along with them, admit to a variety of views on healing. According to Henry Knight, Charismatic theologies of healing may be classified around two positions: those who assume that God has promised healing and is faithful to those promises and therefore believers are assured of healing if the right conditions are met; and those who believe that God is free and even enigmatic, so we cannot know for sure that it is the will of God to heal a particular individual. Pentecostal believers fall somewhere along this spectrum with some at the extremes and some taking a position in the middle. On the side of God’s freedom falls Kathryn Kuhlman. Kuhlman believed that although it is necessary to have faith in order to be healed, such faith would not guarantee healing. Most important for Kuhlman was faith in and focus on Jesus Christ. Influenced by Kuhlman, Charles Farah believed that although healing is in the atonement, not every person can expect to be healed in this age. Why particular people are not healed is a mystery of God’s sovereignty.[iii]
Francis MacNutt is a Charismatic Catholic who falls in the middle of Knight’s spectrum, believing that it is God’s will to heal and yet acknowledging that not every person with faith is actually healed. Focusing on faith instead of God makes faith into a law and causes people to become deeply discouraged. For MacNutt, faith is a gift of God and cannot be drummed up from within. We have faith in the faithfulness of God, his wisdom, power and goodness, but not in our own faith. Yet MacNutt still believes that faith is important for healing. He qualifies this by saying that all Christians have faith but some have the gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9). Faith is the courage to ask God for healing. Knight also places the Third Wave in the middle of the spectrum. John Wimber and Ken Blue believe that healings are a vital part of evangelism. Some are not healed, but healing is the norm. Faith is essential for healing; faith may be present in the healer or in the person desiring healing.[iv]
A different understanding of healing has recently emerged from prolific Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong. Instead of the standard Pentecostal expectation that all people with disabilities will be healed of their disabilities, Yong suggests that disabilities do not necessarily need to be healed. Since he views disability as more of a social and political problem than a physical one, the person with a disability may need technological assistance and social changes, but can be a fruitful member of society and the church without the removal of the impairment. From Yong’s disability perspective people with disabilities are already whole. He distinguishes between illness and disease as curable conditions and disability which cannot be improved. He does not even assume that the impairment will necessarily be healed eschatologically.[v]
On the other end of Knight’s spectrum falls the Word of Faith theology of healing. Of all of the varieties of Pentecostal views on healing this is the most contentious and most problematic. For this reason, I will consider it in more depth than other theologies of healing. Kenneth Hagin is credited with founding the Word of Faith movement, although it is generally claimed that he drew substantially on the ideas of E.W. Kenyon.[vi] For Kenneth Hagin, faith is what makes divine healing work. In exercising faith for healing, Christians are imitating God, because God exercised faith when creating the universe. With regard to Rom 4:17, Hagin writes, “Shouldn’t children of God act like God? … God is a faith God … And because we’re faith children of a faith God, we’re to act in faith. And faith calls those things which be not as though they were.” [vii] It is necessary to both believe in the heart and release faith by confessing with the mouth. Faith must be acted on. In order to be healed a person must disregard the symptoms of sickness and confess, according to 1 Pet 2:24, that he or she was healed by the stripes of Christ. Even when power for healing is present, this does not automatically mean a person will be healed. The sick person must activate the healing power by faith.[viii] Hagin claims to have received gifts of healing, but even these cannot operate without faith. “[I]t works by faith and by faith only.”[ix] Subsequent to Hagin many have preached this kind of healing theology, including Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar.
Keith Warrington has critiqued Hagin’s view of faith. He criticises Hagin’s lack of scriptural backing for the assertion that faith is necessary for healing and also the contradictory nature of Hagin’s statements on this matter. Hagin has an inadequate understanding of Jesus. He defines faith in terms of belief that a person will receive healing or an expectation of healing. This view has no basis in the healing ministry of Jesus. Warrington warns that Hagin’s understanding of faith as a ‘law of God’ is akin to magic and implies that anyone can harness this power with no need for a saving relationship with God.[x] Allan Anderson also criticises the Word of Faith movement because it lacks a positive theology of persecution or suffering. Other Pentecostals evidently share these concerns. Many would prefer not to be associated with these teachings.[xi]
Despite these issues, the Word of Faith teaching has spread throughout the world, being proclaimed by prominent leaders such as South Korean pastor Yonggi Cho, founder of the largest church in the world, and Nigerian Bishop David Oyedepo.[xii] It is difficult to measure the scope of the influence of the Word of Faith teaching. Joseph Williams avers that the views of prominent preachers are likely to influence the way in which average believers conceive of healing and the expectations which they have.[xiii] Kate Bowler notes in her history of the American ‘prosperity gospel’ that prosperity gospel networks intersect with many networks of Pentecostal denominations. Although a given denomination may not propound prosperity doctrines, a senior pastor may influence a particular congregation.[xiv] Given the ubiquitous nature of electronic media in the 21st century, whether or not a pastor in a particular congregation proclaims healing in the style of the Word of Faith movement, individual Christians may well be influenced by popular presentations of this view of healing as presented by Christian media ‘celebrities’.
One indicator of the prevalence of the theology of healing which assumes that faith will automatically result in healing comes from one British survey. William Kay conducted a written survey of British Pentecostal pastors (from the four main Pentecostal denominations there) who lived in Britain and were either presently ministering there or had retired from ministry. His survey results showed that almost all (99.5%) believed that God heals today and that the Holy Spirit is active in healing (99.1%). There was, however, quite a lot of variation in regard to the statement, “Divine healing will always occur if a person’s faith is great enough”. 19.8% agreed or strongly agreed with this statement. This result suggests that the view of about one fifth of Britain’s Pentecostal pastors is close to the Word of Faith movement. The percentage of pastors in this category increased with age and decreased with theological education. Yet a significant number of younger pastors are influenced by the Faith teachings of people such as Hagin and Copeland.[xv] The results of this survey suggest that a large number of Pentecostal believers in Britain are still hearing teaching that claims that those who have sufficient faith will definitely be healed. It is reasonable to assume that surveys in other western nations would produce similar results.
Problems with certain Pentecostal theologies of healing in relation to disability
Although Warrington observes that the perspective that lack of faith is the reason for a person not being healed has been modified in much of Pentecostalism, the evidence suggests that problems still exist in a significant portion of Pentecostal circles in regard to the doctrine of healing and faith.[xvi] It has certainly been my own experience that many Pentecostals and Charismatics still hold to a belief that God desires to heal every Christian. According to this theology, then, the reason that some Christians are not healed is because faith is not exercised appropriately.[xvii] Since these theological assumptions are still prevalent in many parts of the Pentecostal movement, it is important to consider both whether these assumptions are biblically underpinned and what the implications of these claims may be.
The assumptions made by those who proclaim that healing will definitely take place when faith is present can have some unwanted consequences for people with disabilities and those suffering from chronic illness. Nancy Eiesland, in her seminal book The Disabled God, comments on divine healing with regard to people with disabilities:
Healing has been the churchly parallel to rehabilitative medicine, in which the goal was ‘normalisation’ of the bodies of people with disabilities. As Nancy J. Lane writes, ‘Healing is expected to change the person who has a disability into one who does not. The burden of healing is placed totally on the person who is disabled, causing further suffering and continued alienation from the Church.’ Failure to be ‘healed’ is often assessed as a personal flaw in the individual, such as unrepentant sin or a selfish desire to remain disabled.[xviii]
Matt Edmonds comments similarly in A Theological Diagnosis that those in the Word of Faith movement are sure “that health will come to those who believe in the right way”.[xix] Because of this assumption that healing must take place, those who proclaim faith-healing are under pressure to produce healings, with the result that faith healers sometimes ‘edit’ the testimony of people with disabilities in order to give the impression that a healing has occurred when this is not so.[xx] Another result of the assumption that healing must occur is a tendency to blame the person with a disability if that person fails to be healed by the ministry of faith-healing. Blame for a failed healing must fall somewhere when the assumption is made that faith-healing cannot fail.[xxi]
Steven Fettke, a Pentecostal theologian who has a son with severe autism, makes some pertinent remarks to add to this discussion. In reflecting on his own Pentecostal tradition, he observes that although he and his wife have needed help over the years with their autistic son, Pentecostal churches have provided very little help. He attributes this shortfall to some cultural factors in Pentecostalism. Included in Pentecostal culture is the implicit condemnation of people with disabilities, because they are assumed to have a lack of faith. This assumed lack of spirituality results in marginalisation of people with disabilities. Pentecostals have also applied the perfectionism of the holiness tradition to disability, giving rise to expectations of healing. Another factor in Pentecostalism is a desire for success in ministry, which is generally ‘achieved’ by concentrating on people who have few problems, leaving people with disabilities on the outer in the local church.[xxii] Poignantly, he remarks about his son:
[T]he Pentecostal church I have known does not love him, serve him, or even know him. The Pentecostal church I have known in relation to my son only wants to cast demons out of him or ignore him. He is not demonised; he is a human for whom Christ died.[xxiii]
Australian Pentecostal scholar Shane Clifton has been an incomplete quadriplegic since 2010, despite being the subject of concerted prayer by many Christians from around the world. He reflects on his own experience and the experience of others in Pentecostal circles, observing that people with disabilities are ‘the elephant in the room’ when healing is being preached. Clifton wants Pentecostals to own up to the reality that miraculous healings are in fact rare. When healing is proclaimed those who are not healed become marginalised.[xxiv] In regard to Pentecostal doctrines of healing he opines:
Yet while the extremes of the faith movement are not universal, so that many Pentecostals affirm the mysterious nature of sovereignty and do not blame the sick for their illness, nevertheless, at the heart of the Pentecostal worldview is the idea that healing is God’s will, that Jesus’ healing ministry is an expression of his compassionate love and is paradigmatic, that people are virtuous if they persevere in prayer (for years if necessary), and that faith should be manifest in the supernatural. As a result, there is very little in Pentecostal self-understanding that enables it to make room for permanent illness and disability.[xxv]
There are further indications that people with disabilities do not always feel welcome in Pentecostal churches. In the 2011 National Church Life Survey commissioned by Christian Blind Mission Australia, Pentecostal Christians had the least personal contact with people with disabilities of all the denominations surveyed.[xxvi] In my personal experience a Pentecostal leader told me, “We don’t have people with disabilities in our church because we get them healed.” However, I suspect that the absence of people with disabilities in that church has another cause. It appears that the culture of faith healing in Pentecostalism is often not conducive to welcoming people with disabilities. It is therefore evident that there are some issues which need to be addressed in regard to the way in which faith and healing are connected in Pentecostal thinking and preaching. Both Pentecostals and people with disabilities need to consider the matter of faith and healing. I believe the way to move ahead in this discussion is to re-examine some of the texts in the Gospel narratives in order to see if faith and healing are connected and in what way. To do this I will examine several passages in the second half of this article.
TEXTS IN THE GOSPELS TO DO WITH FAITH AND HEALING
The subject of healing is vast and there are many aspects which might be discussed. It is not my intention to attempt a comprehensive discussion of healing or even of the relationship between faith and healing. Instead, I am going to discuss selected texts in the Synoptic Gospels which I believe are significant with respect to faith and healing.[xxvii] I contend that faith in the Gospel accounts has far more to do with faith in the person of Christ than it has to do with faith that healing will take place. It is the person of Christ who is always the object of faith.
The particular texts which are of interest to me in the Synoptic Gospels are those healing narratives which explicitly mention faith - πίστις (pistis noun) or πιστεύω (pisteuō verb).[xxviii] There are three types of passages in which healing and faith are explicitly connected, that is, the passage contains a mention of faith and a healing: passages in which the person with the faith is the one who is healed; passages in which the person with faith asks for the healing of another; and passages in which there is explicitly said to be no faith. An examination of these passages reveals the priority of faith in the person of Christ over faith in the act of healing. I will begin with the passages in which the person with faith is the one who is healed.
Passages in which the person healed is the one with faith[xxix]
The first passage mentioning faith and healing together which I will consider is the story of the woman with the issue of blood found in Mark 5:25-34 and its parallels in Matt 9:20-22 and Luke 8:43-48. The woman in this story had a uterine haemorrhage for twelve years and was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak. I will examine the passage in Mark as it is longer. Because of her illness, this woman was considered unclean, and was thus unable to be part of the life of her community and synagogue. She was also unable to fulfil her expected role of childbearing. She was, for this reason, a woman without hope. Yet she had heard about Jesus and this resulted in her having faith. This faith involved, not so much a carefully worked out theology, but a trust that Jesus was able to help her, even if this looked unlikely. The passage focuses on the fact that Jesus is the source of healing power, not only a mediator of power. The woman’s faith was not in her healing, but specifically in Jesus’ ability to heal her. The faith which this woman demonstrated is something which is stimulated by the presence of Jesus.[xxx] I contend that the woman exhibited saving faith as the following discussion intends to argue.
Of particular interest to the matter of faith and healing is a statement which appears in Mark 5:34, Matt 9:22, and Luke 8:48.
Matthew 9:22 “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.”
Mark 5:34 “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”
Luke 8:48 “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’”
These three are not identical but have similar features. The statement, “your faith has made you well” is identical in the Greek of each of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Greek ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se) is interesting because of the word translated as “made well”. σέσωκέν (sesōken) is a perfect active indicative 3rd person singular of the verb σῴζω (sōzō). This verb is one which has a wide range of meanings; BDAG lists possible meanings as, “rescue, liberate, keep from harm, heal, preserve.”[xxxi]
M. Eugene Boring comments that σῴζω (sōzō) is “a rich word”. In Mark 10:17, 25, 26 it is used as the equivalent of “have eternal life,” “enter the kingdom of God” and “be saved”. “Thus, even when it refers ‘only’ to physical healing, the connotation of restoration to fullness of life, this-worldly and eschatologically, is not far away.”[xxxii] Francis Moloney makes a similar observation about the women who was healed of her uterine haemorrhage: “He calls her daughter, bringing her into a chosen people of God, and informs her that her faith in what God could do in and through Jesus has made here whole. … Her wholeness, however, is not only physical.”[xxxiii] Gerard Mackrell, in his monograph The Healing Miracles in Mark’s Gospel, comments:
All the miracles show that for Mark the healings were not merely clinical acts; nor were they merely acts of pity or compassion; but saving acts. ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace …’ (Mark 5:34). Mark uses the Greek ‘sesōken,’ which can mean ‘has healed’ but also ‘has saved’. Had he wished to limit his meaning to a purely medical healing he would have used the Greek ‘therapeuō,’ and had he done so he would have been stating the obvious since the medical healing was there for all, especially the patient, to see. What could not be seen, however, was the deepest of healings – forgiveness of sins.[xxxiv]
Further evidence of the woman’s salvation is found in the blessing which Jesus gave to her, “Go in peace” (Mark 5:34). Although this was a common farewell, the context implies that her relationship with God had been restored.[xxxv] The peace which Jesus offered anticipates eschatological salvation.[xxxvi] Together these point to the fact that the woman’s faith did more than merely bring about her physical healing. Other uses of the phrase “your faith has healed you” may solidify an understanding of what this means.
The other passages which use the exact same phrase, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se), are Mar 10:52 (paralleled in Luke 18:42), and Luke 17:19. The first of these is the story of Blind Bartimaeus (Mar 10:46-52), otherwise simply called a blind man (Luke 18:35-43). There are several indicators in this passage that the statement “your faith has made you well” means much more than mere physical healing. First, in Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus was the second human being (Peter being the first) who gave Jesus a christological title – in this case “Son of David”. [xxxvii] While this phrase need not necessarily be understood as a messianic designation, it is evident that the blind man believed that Jesus, the “Son of David,” had the power to convey to him healing and mercy, something which is usually asked of God (e.g. Ps 6:2; 9:13).[xxxviii] Secondly, the story begins with Bartimaeus sitting “beside the way” and ends with him following Jesus “on the way” as a disciple. The use of verbs “call” – φωνεω (phōneō) is a synonym for καλεω (kaleō) - and “follow,” in concert with “way,” presents parallels with Mark 1:16-20 and 2:13-17, in which the first disciples were called to follow Jesus. The fact that Bartimaeus left his cloak behind is in keeping with the fact that Peter and John left their fishing boats behind and Levi left his tax-collector’s booth.[xxxix] Bartimaeus made a complete commitment to trust in Jesus, “Son of David,” and he received his sight.[xl]
These aspects of the story indicate that the event was not simply a healing miracle but a call to discipleship. The blind man was not only healed of his blindness but followed Jesus “on the way” – a phrase which is associated in Mark with Jesus’ passion predictions.[xli] This strongly suggests that the faith which Bartimaeus expressed in the passage is a saving faith, the kind of faith which is found in the disciples of Jesus. The statement which Jesus makes to Bartimaeus in 10:52, “ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se),” so often translated as “your faith has made you well,” might be better translated as “your faith has saved you.”
A third healing narrative in which the phrase ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se) appears is Luke 17:11-19, the story of ten ‘lepers,’[xlii] who asked Jesus for mercy and were cleansed. Only one returned to give thanks. The word used in the Gospels for leper is one which denotes a number of different skin diseases. The issue was not so much health related as social, because the lepers were considered cursed by God and unclean. Thus they could not enter normal society. The passage has parallels to the story of Elijah and Naaman the leper (1 Kings 5), which is mentioned by Jesus in Luke 4:27, particularly since the one leper who returned to Jesus was a Samaritan, a non-Jew like Naaman. The story highlights the insight of one who is outside of Jewish society; a Samaritan was able to discern who Jesus is, while many Jews were not able to do so.[xliii]
All ten of the lepers were cleansed by Jesus, but when the Samaritan leper returned to give thanks to Jesus he was told, “ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se),” “your faith has saved you”. There are several indicators in the passage that σέσωκέν (sesōken) is a reference to salvation and not simply a word used of healing. First, the word used in verse 17 regarding the recovery of the lepers is καθαρίζω (katharizō), that is, “made clean,” which is what would be expected when speaking about curing ‘leprosy’. Secondly, the one who came back “saw he was healed”. Luke uses seeing in his Gospel as an indicator of insight. In this case the Samaritan showed that he had understood the identity of Jesus. Unlike many of the Jewish people who met Jesus, the Samaritan worshipped Jesus in the way one would expect of true children of Abraham.[xliv]
Joel B. Green concludes that, although σῴζω (sōzō) is a word with a variety of nuances, “here, something more than healing must be intended” because efficacious faith is specifically mentioned; all the lepers were cleansed, but only this man is σῴζω (sōzō).[xlv] “The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith gained something more – namely, insight into Jesus’ role in the inbreaking kingdom. He is enabled to see and is thus enlightened, itself a metaphor of redemption.”[xlvi] John Nolland explains the difference between the faith of the one man and the wrong response of the other nine.
[F]aith is … attributed to one who acts decisively on the basis of the conviction that God’s help is to be found with Jesus and who responds in gratitude to God’s gracious action. … Faith is seen when there is no break in the pattern of divine initiative and human response by means of which a restored relationship to God is established. In 17:12-19 the pattern is broken for the nine.[xlvii]
The Samaritan had faith which both knew that Jesus was the source of help and which responded to Jesus in gratitude. The faith of the Samaritan, therefore, did not so much bring about his healing ἰάομαι (iaomai v 15) or his cleansing καθαρίζω (katharizō v 17) as his salvation σῴζω (sōzō v 19).
The final passage which contains the expression ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se) is Luke 7:36-50. Unlike the passages discussed above, this contains no healing miracle. In this pericope Jesus was having dinner with a Pharisee when a woman known to be a sinner entered and washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with perfume. The woman was more insightful about who Jesus is than the Jewish leaders. Jesus did not tell the woman that she was forgiven, but it was evident by her actions that she was aware of her new status. Instead he declared her forgiveness to the dinner guests in order that her new status might be evident to the community.[xlviii] But then, in verse 50:
Jesus addresses her with words usually reserved for the conclusion of miracles of healing: ‘your faith has made you whole’ (8:48; 18:42; 17:19); and he sends her away ‘in peace’. Such language cannot be limited to ‘spiritual’ well-being or even, in other co-texts, to ‘physical’ vitality, but speaks of a restoration to wholeness, including (even if not limited to) restoration to the full social intercourse from which she has been excluded.[xlix]
The point should now be evident. The expression ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se) used in all of these passages is not simply a statement about physical healing, but rather it is a statement about salvation, a salvation granted because of faith in Jesus, and a salvation which includes not merely spiritual salvation but restoration to physical health, along with restoration to community participation. Faith is not so much the key to healing in these passages as the key to the eschatological salvation which is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith expressed by these different people is faith in the person of Christ, not faith in the possibility of physical healing. This should cause us to reconsider the connections between faith and healing which have been expressed by many Pentecostal preachers, particularly of the Word of Faith variety.
Two passages where faith is explicitly mentioned, but the person healed is not the one who has faith
To strengthen my point that faith in the Gospel accounts is primarily about trust in the person of Christ, rather than a requisite for healing, I will consider two passages in which the person who had faith was not the person who was healed. In both of these passages the person who had faith was given assurance of receiving salvation. Healing did take place, but faith was connected to the salvation of the person who expressed faith in the person of Christ, rather than emphasis being given to connecting faith and healing.
The first example of a healing where faith is mentioned and the person healed was not the one with faith is found in Matt 8:5-13 (paralleled in Luke 7:1-10). It is the story of a centurion whose servant is sick. The story does not speak of the faith of the sick servant, but only emphasises the faith of the centurion.[l] The centurion came to Jesus to ask for healing for his servant, but the centurion did not believe he was worthy to have Jesus in his home. What was amazing about this Gentile was that he reasoned that someone as great as Jesus would be able to exercise authority in a greater way than the centurion himself, who was quite accustomed to giving and taking orders and to expecting obedience. Jesus had not at this point healed anyone at a distance, and healing at a distance was considered by Jews of the time to be both extremely difficult and uncommon.[li] This demonstrates what great faith this Gentile possessed.
Jesus told the crowd about his amazement at the man’s faith, such faith as was not found in Israel. He said that many will come from the east and the west to share in the blessings of the patriarchs. The feast with the patriarchs is a metaphor for salvation or the blessing of the new age. Jesus alluded in this saying to the centurion’s inclusion in the banquet. This salvation was something which Jews expected to inherit, but many would not because of their lack of faith.[lii] Matthew uses “faith” only eight times in his Gospel.[liii] Although the faith of the centurion began as a practical faith which believed that Jesus could heal his servant, later Matthew conceives of the centurion’s faith in a fashion close to the Apostle Paul’s idea of faith. Faith makes a person a child of Abraham.[liv] Salvation was conferred on this Gentile because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Another passage where faith is mentioned in relation to healing is Matt 15:21-28 (paralleled in Mark 7:24-30, where faith is not explicitly mentioned). Here Jesus was approached by a Canaanite woman, who asked him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. There is evidence in this passage that this Gentile woman had faith in Jesus as Messiah. She addressed Jesus as “Lord, Son of David”. This may have been flattery, but more likely, in view of the faith she expressed later, it was recognition that he is the Messiah. She knelt before Jesus, giving him due reverence. When the woman would not be sent away, Jesus told her that he had come only for Israel and, “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” The woman replied that even dogs eat the crumbs under the table. She acknowledged that she could not claim to be part of the chosen people of God, but nonetheless there are crumbs. Jesus told her she had “great faith”. The link between “great” and “faith” is made only here in Matthew. This woman and the centurion (in my previous example) are the only people publicly lauded for their faith by Jesus.[lv]
When faith is absent – the people of Nazareth
Another passage which may shed some light on faith and healing is found in Matt 13:53-58 (paralleled in Mark 6:1-6a), in which Jesus visited his home town and was rejected by those who lived there. When Jesus went to his hometown, the people of Nazareth had no problem accepting that Jesus both taught and did miracles.[lvi] However, they were not sure as to what was the source of Jesus’ authority.[lvii] They questioned whether his authority was human, demonic or from God.[lviii] Instead of accepting that Jesus did miracles with the authority of God, the people of Nazareth could not get past the fact that Jesus grew up there and they knew his family. He must, they reasoned, be someone just like them. How could a man who was so familiar have authority from God?
The reader of Mark’s Gospel should not be in doubt about the source of Jesus’ authority, because this question has been answered in the narrative before this point. The kingdom of God has arrived and now people must believe the gospel. Mark is clear that Jesus was authorised by God to teach and do miracles; Mark states this in his prologue. But the people of Nazareth did not understand this fact, and their familiarity with Jesus caused them to reject the possibility that he had authority from God, and thereby they rejected him. The rejection of Jesus in his home town parallels his rejection by the leaders of Israel.[lix]
The result was that Jesus could not (Mark), or did not (Matthew) do miracles there, only healing a few people. Mark connects this failure to the people’s lack of faith,[lx] while Matthew (13:58) makes it more explicit. In Mark’s Gospel (see especially 4:35-5:43), the miracles of Jesus are “done within a context of faith,” albeit sometimes weak faith; but there was no faith in Nazareth.[lxi] In Matthew’s Gospel the people of Nazareth are criticized for their “unbelief” (ἀπιστία apistia) yet when the disciples are reproved because of lack of faith the term used is milder, “little faith” (ὀλιγοπιστία oligopistia).[lxii] Furthermore, Mark’s Gospel situates the miracles of Jesus within the wider context of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. Each miracle can only be understood within this wider context; the meaning of the miracles is found in light of the eschatological event of the cross and resurrection, and the miracles are proleptic of these events.[lxiii] “It is only faith in Jesus as the crucified and Risen One that allows one to see the miracle stories as pointing to the saving act of God.”[lxiv] Thus the unbelief of Nazareth put the people in the same category as Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (11:20-24), because they did not repent despite the miracles performed by Jesus.[lxv]
Warrington observes that this incident, especially as recorded in Mark 6, is inappropriately used to justify the belief that lack of faith prevents Christians ministering healing or exercising gifts of healing. He prefers to interpret the statement that Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them” (Mark 6:5) “as a sovereign decision on his part not to minister to them because they rejected his person, message and mission.”[lxvi] The people’s lack of faith pertained not to Jesus’ ability to heal, but was rather a total rejection of Jesus. By this rejection they demonstrated that they were not fit for the kingdom of God. If Jesus had performed any more miracles there he would have only heightened their guilt.[lxvii]
Therefore, although this passage may seem on a surface level to clinch the argument that healing requires faith, the question which must be asked is, faith in what? It was not a lack of faith in the miraculous that prevented Jesus from doing miracles there. The people were amazed by his miracles; they were not hindered by unbelief in regard to the miraculous. But rather, it was their rejection of Jesus himself as one who came from God. Our faith must have an object, and that object in the Gospels is always the person of Jesus Christ. Like faith in the other passages I have examined here, the lack of faith in Nazareth was a lack of faith in Jesus as God’s anointed one.
A linguistic consideration provides more weight to my argument. It is interesting to note that in the stories in which the person healed was not the one with faith, and the one in which it is explicitly said that the people did not have faith, the vocabulary is distinctly different to the healing pericopes where the person healed is the one with faith. The word for healing used in the story of the centurion is ἰάομαι (iaomai). When the Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed, the word used is ἰάομαι (iaomai). In Mark’s version of the rejection in Nazareth, Jesus healed a few people. The word for healing here is θεραπεύω (therapeuō).[lxviii] Yet when the person who is healed is explicitly said to have faith the expression ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (hē pistis sou sesōken se) appears. In those instances faith results in the person being σῴζω (sōzō).
There is no doubt that Jesus healed many people in his ministry, some of whom who did not follow him as disciples. However, it is clear that some of the people who were healed also became disciples of Jesus, or to express this another way, they were saved. Now σῴζω (sōzō) is a word that is used for salvation in many contexts. On the use of σῴζω (sōzō) in the Gospels Werner Foester observes that when σῴζω is used in the healing narratives it does not refer to a mere part of the body, but always to the whole person. This is evidenced in the phrase ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε, “your faith has saved you,” which appears in both the story of the woman with the uterine haemorrhage and that of the sinful woman in Luke 7:50, where there is no physical cure.[lxix] I believe that we must attribute salvation to the people for whom the clause ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε is commonly translated as “your faith has healed you”.
Healing is a central focus of Pentecostal theology, but healing needs its proper place. The Gospels include a large number of physical healings, but healing is not the gospel as such. The gospel is “the gospel of Jesus Christ” as is evidenced by the first verse of both Mark, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1), and John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Physical healing is ultimately part of salvation (Rom 8:23), but that healing is most certainly not complete in this present age. It does not always occur in response to prayer; this was true in the New Testament, not simply today (for example, 1 Tim 5:23; 2 Tim 4:20). Revelation 21:4 promises no more death, mourning, crying or pain. It does not, however, promise that this will occur prior to Jesus’ return. We do well to remember Clifton’s observation that healing can become an idol.[lxx] A greater focus on discipleship is a cure for this possibility.
My examination of the Gospel accounts has demonstrated that faith in the Gospels is very much connected with salvation. The people in the above passages who expressed faith were granted salvation by the person of Jesus Christ. The granting of salvation is expressed by the Gospel writers in a variety of different ways, but this does not detract from the fact that faith leads to salvation. The connection between faith and salvation is evident in the narratives in which the person with faith also received healing, as well as in the passages in which the person with faith is not the one healed. For those without faith, that is, those who reject Jesus in his home town, salvation is absent, even if some healings occurred. The Gospel accounts are written to demonstrate that faith is centred on the person of Christ, not on physical healing.
That Jesus Christ is always the object of faith in the Gospels has implications for how we should view faith and healing today. The presence or absence of a disability is not an indication of a person’s trust in the person of Christ. There are many Christians who have strong faith in the person of Christ, while at the same time are living with a disability. Equally, there are many people of weak faith who are perfectly whole in body. Indeed, the presence of a disability in person’s life can be the catalyst to a deeper trust in Christ. As Clifton has observed, “In fact, people with disabilities and long-term sickness are uniquely placed to model virtue (fortitude, perseverance, resilience, and so forth), precisely because of the challenges that inevitably accompany their day-to-day experience.”[lxxi] An overemphasis on healing may result in condemnation of people who are strong believers, but who are deemed lacking in faith because of their disability. This can lead to people with disabilities being shunned by churches or abandoning church membership to avoid the constant onslaught of people who persist in telling them to have more faith in order to be healed.
I do not wish to suggest here that prayer for healing not something which is worthwhile. As our God is powerful and merciful, healing of disease and disability is a possibility even in the present life. My concern, however, is that the insistence, in some Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, that healing will inevitably result when faith is present has negative consequences for people with disabilities and chronic illness. If Pentecostal theology produces condemnation instead of joy and comfort, then it is right that we should question what is being proclaimed. It is good to come to the Father in faith to ask for what we desire, including for physical healing, but we must at the same time come humbly. Our trust should never be in our own faith, but always in the person of Christ. Such faith will not be shaken if physical healing does not occur, because faith is trust in a person and not trust in health.
Finally, I offer a few suggestions for further consideration. These are extremely brief but I hope that these may open up areas of discussion so that a more helpful theology of healing may ensue and so that people with disabilities will be respected and feel comfortable within Pentecostal and Charismatic contexts. First, John Christopher Thomas concludes that prayer is always an appropriate response to sickness or disease. The church should pray in expectation of healing until there is a word from God.[lxxii] This suggestion is a good one but presupposes a congregation which is disposed to and practiced in listening to the voice of the Spirit and in discerning what God is saying. Such a mature church requires purposeful teaching and discipleship. Secondly, given how uncomfortable people with disabilities often feel in the presence of Pentecostal preaching about healing, a positive respect toward people with disabilities needs to be both taught and practiced. Before anyone decides to pray for healing for the person with a disability, that person should be asked if that is what they desire. People with disabilities have other needs and do not necessarily want to receive prayer for healing. Thirdly, a very intentional shift needs to be made away from putting the expectation to have faith on the person with the illness or disability and instead placing that expectation on the believing community as a whole. Too much blame has been placed on people with disabilities for not being healed, whether that blame is explicit or implicit. Shifting the onus to the community may be a catalyst to discussions regarding the reasons why the church has less apparent authority to heal than the New Testament suggests should be the case.
Brown, Candy Gunther. "Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing." In Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, edited by Candy Gunther Brown, 3-26. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Fettke, Steven M. "The Spirit of God Hovered over the Waters: Creation, the Local Church, and the Mentally and Physically Challenged, a Call to Spirit-Led Ministry." Journal of Pentecostal Theology 17, no. 2 (2008): 170-182.
Foerster, Werner and Georg Forhrer. "Sōzō, Sōtēria, Sōtēr, Sōtērios." In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol VII, edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, 965-1024. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971.
[i] Candy Gunther Brown, "Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing," in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, ed. Candy Gunther Brown (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3.
[ii] Allan Anderson, "Pentecostal Approaches to Faith and Healing," International Review of Mission 91, no. 363 (2002): 524-525.; Joseph W. Williams, Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 3.
[iii] Henry H. Knight, III, "God's Faithfulness and God's Freedom: A Comparison of Contemporary Theologies of Healing," Journal of Pentecostal Theology 1, no. 2 (1993): 66-67, 74-77.
[iv] Pavel Hejzlar, Two Paradigms for Divine Healing : Fred F. Bosworth, Kenneth E. Hagin, Agnes Sanford, and Francis Macnutt in Dialogue (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 107-108.; Knight: 80-86.
[v] See for instance Amos Yong, Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 60, 245, 270-271.; Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 23, 120.
[vi] Williams, 80, 112.
[vii] Kenneth Hagin, Mountain Moving Faith (Tulsa, OK: Rhema Bible Church, 1993), 85. (cited in Hejzlar, 99.)
[viii] Hejzlar, 99-100.
[ix] Kenneth Hagin, I Believe in Visions (Old Tappan, NJ: F.H. Revell, 1972), 59. (cited in Hejzlar, 102.)
[x] Keith Warrington, "Healing and Kenneth Hagin," Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 3, no. 1 (2000): 120-125.
[xi] Anderson: 529.
[xiii] Williams, 22.
[xiv] Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 251.
[xv] William K. Kay, "Approaches to Healing in British Pentecostalism," Journal of Pentecostal Theology 7, no. 14 (1999): 119-122.
[xvi] Keith Warrington, "Healing and Exorcism: The Path to Wholeness," in Pentecostal Perspectives, ed. Keith Warrington (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 152.
[xvii] Ibid., 162.
[xviii] Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1994), 117. The quote from Lane is from Nancy J. Lane, "Healing Bodies and Victimization of Persons: Issues of Faith and Healing for Persons with Disabilities," The Disability Rag Resource 14, no. 3: 12.
[xix] Matt Edmonds, A Theological Diagnosis: A New Direction on Genetic Therapy, 'Disability' and the Ethics of Healing (London: Jessica Kingsley, 2011), 154. Italics original.
[xx] For a testimonial example of this kind of ‘editing’ see Arne Fritzson and Samuel Kabue, Interpreting Disability: A Church of All and for All (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2004), 34-35.
[xxi] Edmonds, 155-156.
[xxii] Steven M. Fettke, "The Spirit of God Hovered over the Waters: Creation, the Local Church, and the Mentally and Physically Challenged, a Call to Spirit-Led Ministry," Journal of Pentecostal Theology 17, no. 2 (2008): 1-5.
[xxiii] Ibid., 6.
[xxiv] Shane Clifton, "The Dark Side of Prayer for Healing: Toward a Theology of Well-Being," Pneuma 36, no. 2 (2014): 205-216.
[xxv] Ibid., 216.
[xxvi] CBM Australia, National Church Life Survey: Personal Experience of Disability (2011), 12.
[xxvii] It is not possible to consider all of the possible passages in an article of this size, so I have chosen only specific passages. Other passages which connect faith and healing include Acts 14:8-10 and James 5:14-16. For a more comprehensive look at issues to do with healing in the New Testament see for example: John Christopher Thomas, The Devil, Disease and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998).; John Wilkinson, The Bible and Healing: A Medical and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998).
[xxviii] There are many passages about healing in which faith is implicit, but I will not be considering any of these here.
[xxix] In Matt 9:1-7 (paralleled in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26) faith is mentioned, but it is not clear whether it is the faith of the friends or the faith of the paralytic. Therefore, I have not included it for consideration here.
[xxx] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 160.
[xxxi] W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, and F.W. Danker, B D A G - Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 195., entry 6284
[xxxii] Boring, 156.
[xxxiii] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 108.
[xxxiv] Gerard Mackrell, The Healing Miracles in Mark's Gospel : The Passion and Compassion of Jesus (Slough: St Paul, 1987), 7. Italics original.
[xxxv] Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1 - 8:26, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1989), 299.
[xxxvi] Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 271.
[xxxvii] Boring, 305.
[xxxviii] Ibid.; Moloney, 209.
[xxxix] Boring, 305-306.
[xl] Moloney, 210.
[xli] Ibid., 165.
[xlii] This story is only found in Luke. I use the word leper even though the Greek lepros is undoubtedly not the equivalent of Hansen’s disease.
[xliii] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 620, 623.
[xliv] Ibid., 624-626.
[xlv] Ibid., 627.
[xlvii] John Nolland, Luke 1 - 9:20, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1989), 360.
[xlviii] Green, 306, 313-314.
[xlix] Ibid., 314.
[l] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 194-195.
[li] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 267.
[lii] Morris, 195.
[liii] 8:10; 9:2; 9:22; 9:29; 15:28; 17:20; 21:21; 23:23
[liv] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 315-316.
[lv] Morris, 402-406.
[lvi] It is not clear whether he did miracles there or they had simply heard about his miracles elsewhere (Ibid., 365).
[lvii] Boring, 165.
[lviii] Morris, 365.
[lix] Moloney, 112.
[lx] Boring, 166.
[lxi] Moloney, 113.
[lxii] France, 550.
[lxiii] Boring, 195.
[lxiv] Ibid., 196.
[lxv] France, 548.
[lxvi] Warrington, "Healing and Exorcism: The Path to Wholeness," 163.
[lxviii] These words were found using BibleWorks 7.
[lxix] Werner Foerster and Georg Forhrer, "Sōzō, Sōtēria, Sōtēr, Sōtērios," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol VII, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 990.
[lxx] Clifton: 225.
[lxxi] Ibid., 221-222.
[lxxii] Thomas, 312.