“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.”
anointing him with oil
The question about “anointing” here is whether this is ceremonial anointing or simply applying oil medicinally. It first appears that this passage teaches that the elders can physically heal sick believers, but this is out of agreement with the context. The context deals with believers under persecution. This person is physically sick because of his sin.
James here uses the more basic term rub with oil, not the term for ceremonially anoint. Our word in this verse is the ordinary word, not the ceremonial word for anointing. It was usual that people of the first century applied oil to sick people. However, it is not anointing, but prayer that heals the sick.
in the name of the Lord
Spiritual leadership is to minister “in the name of the Lord.” The word “name” refers to God’s essence. All spiritual ministries must be consistent with the essence of God’s character. Later James says that if one of the spiritually weak commits sins, God would forgive his sins, indicating that this is a spiritual problem, not a physical problem.
The Bible does not teach that all sickness is the direct result of sin, but the Bible does teach that some physical illnesses are due to extensive unconfessed sin. The answer to spiritual failure is “confession” (5:16).
Ps. 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to You.
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Pr. 28:13, “He who covers his sins will not prosper,
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
1 Jn 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
God guarantees the healing of spiritually sick people.
Some take the false doctrine of “extreme unction” from this passage. The idea of extreme unction is to gain grace by the anointing of oil administered at death to gain God’s approbation or favor. There is nothing in this passage that supports that idea.
Again, neither does this verse teach that elders can heal physically sick people. It teaches that they can heal spiritually sick people. Confession of sin will deliver us from the power of sin. If we allow sin to control us over long periods of time, then God may use divine discipline on us.
Some sickness is due to our sin, and some God designs to glorify Himself. Not everyone who gets sick has a spiritual problem. There are some things better than physical healing. God does not always heal the sick. If that were so, then there would be no deaths. God designed that Paul has an eye disease (2 Co 12:9f). He allowed Timothy to have stomach problems. We all wait for the redemption of our bodies.
Ro 8:23, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”
The context of this verse is the sin unto death (5:20). This verse is the last call of the Lord before committing the sin unto death. We can shun the sin unto death by confession of sin. We can address only certain physical illnesses by dealing with spiritual issues. Prayer can only heal a sick believer in deep rebellion against God.