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Prayer vs. medical help

What the Bible says about physical
healing by prayer (faith healing)

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Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

There are many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures in which God hears the prayers of the Israelites, or enters in to a contract with them, and grants them healing. It is not necessarily clear whether the promise applies only to certain individuals among the Israelites, to the whole Jewish nation, or to people of other lands as well. Some passages are ambiguous about the time interval of the healing: whether they referred to ancient times, or to modern times as well.

bulletExodus 15:26: "...If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee." (KJV)

bulletII Kings 20:5: "...Thus saith Jehovah, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee..." (ASV) Here, God tells Isaiah to inform Hezekiah that God has heard his prayer and seen his tears, and that He will cure him of a serious boil.

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Healing promises in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

Some passages enthusiastically promise that prayer will always result in healing - at least for believers. Some are:

bulletMatthew 7:7-11: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (ASV)

bulletMatt 21:22: "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." (ASV)

bulletMark 16:18 "they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (ASV) This passage appears to be a forgery. They are verses not written by the author of the Gospel of Mark but added by an unknown, later editor.

bulletJohn 15:7: "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (ASV)

bulletJames 5:14-15: "Is any 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: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." (ASV) This appears to be a guarantee of recovery for anyone who goes through a specific religious ritual, led by elders from his church. Not only healing would be automatically accomplished, but the formerly ill person would have his sins forgiven.

bulletRomans 8:32 "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?" (ASV)

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Healing failures in the New Testament:


Matthew 19:19-20: "Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, 'Why couldn’t we drive it out?' He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you'." (NIV) Jesus' followers were unable a boy or man who suffered from epilepsy because they did not have enough faith. Jesus and his followers attributed the cause of epilepsy to the presence of indwelling demons.

bulletJohn 11:2-4: "And it was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. But when Jesus heard it, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby." (ASV) Although Lazarus was sick and his sisters pleaded with Jesus to heal him, Lazarus eventually died. Jesus later raised him from the dead, for his own glorification.

bullet1 Corinthians 15:42-53: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption...dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (ASV) Death and disease is seen as an inevitable, unavoidable component of life on earth. Paul writes that it will only be overcome at the time of resurrection.

bullet2 Corinthians 12:7-9: "...there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me". (ASV) Paul suffered from a "thorn in the flesh" that he asked God to heal. His requests were rejected. Paul was neither able to cure himself or persuade God to cure him.

bulletGalatians 4:13-14: "but ye know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you the first time: and that which was a temptation to you in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but ye received me as an angel of God, (even) as Christ Jesus." (ASV) Paul apparently suffered from an apparently incurable infirmity of the flesh. He is pleasantly surprised that the Galatians did not despise him because of his problem.

bulletPhilippians 2:25-27: "But I counted it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker and had heard that he was sick: for indeed he was sick nigh unto death." (ASV)
Epaphroditus, one of Paul's co-workers became ill. Paul was apparently unable to cure him. It was only when Epaphroditus became fatally ill that God cured him.

bullet1 Timothy 5:23: "Be no longer a drinker of water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." (ASV) Apparently, Timothy suffered from stomach problems and other illnesses that Paul was unable to cure, but could only suggest the use of wine to ameliorate the symptoms.

bullet2 Timothy 4:20: "...but Trophimus I left at Miletus sick." (ASV) Paul was unable to heal Trophimus, but had to leave him behind, still sick, at Miletus.

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  1. Ron Rhodes. "Is physical healing guaranteed in the Atonement (Isaiah 53:3-5)?," at:

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Faith healing > here

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Copyright © 1999 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 1999-MAY-11
Latest update: 2011-FEB-18
Author: B.A. Robinson
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