Faith Healing

What is Faith Healing?

Faith healing refers to healing that occurs supernaturally, as the result of prayer rather than the use of medicines or the involvement of physicians or other conventional medical care. Such healings are often referred to as miracles.

The term is best known in connection with Christianity, but is also used in other religions. It is further used in relation to such occult, New Age healing techniques as Reiki.

This entry addresses faith healing within Christianity.

Legitimate vs. Illegitimate

The belief in, and practice of, faith healing is found among:

  • sincere Christians with a good understanding of the Bible’s teachings on the subject
  • sincere believers whose misinterpretation of Scripture (and/or use of private ”revelation”) implicitly or explicitly, contradicts Scripture
  • abusive churches and cults of Christianity
  • people involved in the occult
  • con artists, including many so-called charismatic preachers (e.g. Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff)

Based on the teachings of the Bible, there is a legitimate belief in – and practice of – faith healing.

There also is an illegitimate approach to this issue; one that usually puts people at risk to the point of injury and even death.



While faith healings do take place today just as they did in the early Christian church, the teachings of some churches, movements and individuals on this subject amount to spiritual abuse.

Unbiblical teachings on this subject range from aberrant to heretical. Many cults of Christianity preach and practice an unbiblical approach to faith healing. (Examples: Followers of Christ Church, General Assembly Church of the First Born).

Others place unreasonable demands on their followers, expecting strict obedience to extra-Biblical teachings rejected by legitimate churches and movements. (Example: the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses – theologically a cult of Christianity – regarding blood transfusions).

Legitimate churches, movements, and individuals do not equate using prescription drugs or receiving proper medical attention with unbelief, insufficient faith, or otherwise sinning against God.

Faith Healing in the News

At our sister website Religion News Blog, we keep track of faith healing stories in the news.

The most recent case is: Gregory and Garnet JaLea Swezey, parents in Carlton, Washington state who police say unsuccessfully tried to faith-heal their son back to health have been charged with second-degree murder.

What the Bible teaches about Faith Healing

The Bible does mention incidences of faith healing:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. {12} As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance {13} and called out in a loud voice, ”Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” {14} When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. {15} One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. {16} He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan. {17} Jesus asked, ”Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? {18} Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” {19} Then he said to him, ”Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
– Source: Luke 17:11-19

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. {15} And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. {16} Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
– Source: James 5:14-16

However, the Bible does not condemn, forbid, or even discourage the use of medicines or other proper medical care.

Matter of fact, Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke, was a doctor.

And the apostle Paul advised Timothy to use some wine for his stomach problems:

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
– Source: 1 Timothy 5:23

Note, too, that Paul does not criticize Timothy for his ”frequent illnesses.” Nor does he even suggest that Timothy’s illnesses indicate a spiritual problem such as lack of faith. Instead, Timothy is seen as a spiritual leader and a good example to all.

While Jesus healed many people himself, he spoke of physicians in a positive way:

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
– Source: Mark 2:17

The following is an entry from The Holman Bible Dictionary on the subject of Divine Healing:

God’s work through instruments and ways He chooses to bring health to persons sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The Bible not only tells of people’s spiritual status but is also concerned about their physical condition. This concern appears in the emphasis on healing, particularly in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church. Nearly one-fifth of the Gospels report Jesus’ miracles and the discussions they occasioned. The gospels record fourteen distinct instances of physical and mental healing.

Jesus commissioned His disciples to continue His basic ministry, including healing (Matt. 10:5-10; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). In the Book of Acts the healing ministry continued.

Psychosomatic is a word which literally means “soul and body,” referring to the close relationship of body and spirit. The soul affects the body, and the health of the soul may be an indication of the health of the body. In the Bible John wished for his friend Gaius, “above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2). This was an anticipation of the emphasis of psychosomatic medicine: a person is a unity; body and soul cannot be separated. Christianity and health are inextricably intertwined.

Most Christians believe in healing through faith; but trying to decide what techniques are scriptural, decorous, and psychologically helpful confuses the believer. Jesus used different methods in His healing ministry. They included calling upon the faith of the person or bystanders to be healed, touching the sick person, praying, assuring forgiveness of sin, uttering commands, and using physical media. On several occasions the faith of the individual was an important factor in the healing. Speaking to the woman who was hemorrhaging Jesus said, “thy faith hath made three whole” (Mark 5:34; compare Matt. 9:29).

The faith of other people became a factor. Jesus stated to the father of the sick boy that healing was possible if people had faith, and the man responded, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24). When the centurion sought Jesus to ask for healing his servant, the Savior responded, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel…. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (Matt. 8:10,13; compare Mark 2:5).

The most common methods of healing Jesus used were speaking words and touching the sick person with His hand. On occasions Jesus combined both of these. He used only words in the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43) and the healing of the ten lepers, (Luke 17:14). This was sometimes done at a distance as in the case of the nobleman’s son (John 4:50) and at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8).

Touching was important. When Jesus was in Nazareth He bypassed the unbelief of some (Mark 6:5). In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus used touch as the mechanism of healing (Luke 22:51). Healing also seems to have occurred as people touched either Jesus or His garments: the woman with the hemorrhage (Mark 5:27,29), and at other times in His ministry (Mark 6:56).

In three instances Jesus used saliva alone or with mud, a common healing medium in that day: with a deaf and speech afflicted man (Mark 7:33) and with blind men (Mark 8:23; John 9:6-7).

Apparently Jesus used oil, for when He sent out His disciples they “… cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6:13).

On four occasions Jesus’ compassion is specially noted in connection with healing the sick: the widow of Nain with her dead son (Luke 7:13-14). Similar situations are recorded in Matthew 14:14; Mark 1:40-42; and Matthew 20:30-34.

We should notice Jesus spoke about the connection of sin to some types of illness as when He warned the man He had healed, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more…” (John 5:14).

Christians are often confused about the ministry of healing, but these biblical teachings clearly appear:

  1. The Bible clearly states that Jesus believed in healing of the body.
  2. Jesus spoke of doctors in a positive way as He compared those in good health who have no need of a physician with those who do, (Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31). God has often healed by the way He has led dedicated scientists into the discovery of body function.
  3. The methods of healing Jesus used included prayer, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and assurance of forgiveness of sins. The church continued to use these methods (Jas. 5:14-16).
  4. Jesus did not use healing as a means of gaining attention but tried to keep the experience private. “Bless the Lord … who healeth all thy diseases” (Ps. 103:2-3).

– Source: John W. Drakeford , Divine Healing, Holman Bible Dictionary

Faith Healing – False Teachings and False Claims

False teachings on faith healing vary from group to group. Many attribute all sickness to demonic activity and include exorcism as a tool of faith healing.

Others, especially certain teachers associated with the word-faith movement, blame sickness on anything from unbelief to sin, and often tie promises of healing to slick pitches for financial contributions.

Many preachers make false claims about alleged faith healings, or – when asked for verifiable accounts – come up with next to nothing (e.g. Benny Hinn).

Claims of faith healings are also rife within controversial renewal and revival movements:

Claims of miracles occurring at these services (or in distant countries where they cannot be verified) are multiplying and becoming more and more wildly unbelievable all the time. Those who do not accept second hand accounts of miracles giving no names or facts are derided as lacking ”faith,” refusing to believe what does not fit ”their own tradition,” or ”putting God in a box.” ”Cessationist” has become a dreadful thing to be labeled. It is amazing to see how many succumb to this peer pressure and check their minds at the mention of the word ”miracle.” Yet so far there have not been any medically verified, true, supernatural, biblical miracles; it is pretty much the traditional faith healing story, with most claims concerning those ailments most susceptible to emotional influence, as in all the religions and systems of thought centered on producing healings.
– Source: ”Reaching the Lost” with Signs & Wonders, The Way of Cain

Research Resources on Faith Healing

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Articles

Apologetics Index research resource See also the articles in our news archive

Christian Child Fatalities From Religion-motivated Medical Neglect PDF file By Seth M. Asser, MD (Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, San Diego, California, USA), and Rita Swan, PhD., Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), Inc, Sioux City, Iowa. The abstract for this paper, which was published in Pediatrics. 1998 Apr;101(4 Pt 1):625-9, describes the conclusions as follows: “When faith healing is used to the exclusion of medical treatment, the number of preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering are substantial and warrant public concern. Existing laws may be inadequate to protect children from this form of medical neglect.”
Christian Does God Still Do Miracles? Excerpt from Does God Still Do Miracles? An M.D. Examines by Dr. Brad Burke, M.D.

God is definitely at work healing people today! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey as a physician, it’s that God’s ways are indeed higher than our own (Isa. 55:9). Still, we must take seriously the apostle Paul’s advice to “examine everything carefully,” especially as it relates to the “false teachers” among us who are looking to prey on the faith of innocent and unassuming believers.

When you next hear the word “miracle,” I encourage you to keep these points in mind. Could the astonishing healing be hearsay? Could the human body have healed itself—temporarily or permanently—from a cyclical or self-limiting disease? Did the doctor truly believe that natural forces could not explain the healing in any way? Is the layperson’s information surrounding the “miracle” medically accurate?

The amount of medical confusion and misinformation in church services, the media, and on the Internet is staggering. If you or a loved one is eagerly awaiting a miracle of healing from God, remember that His answers to our prayers for divine intervention may indeed come in the form of a miraculous healing. However, they might also come through natural forces that God has already set in place. And sometimes, they may not come at all—or at least not in a way that we can immediately recognize. In whatever form the answer comes, though, we must continue to trust God and rest in His perfect love for us.

Christian Is physical healing guaranteed in the atonement (Isaiah 53:3-5)? by Ron Rhodes
Secular Outlaw these miracle merchants Wycliffe Muga, Daily Nation, Kenya, Sep. 29, 2001, Opinion

The question, however, is: Who are these people who claim to have been cured? Where do they come from? Why is it that they are always strangers whom nobody has seen before? And why are they never seen again thereafter?

Each Kenyan town has its easily recognised blind beggars or cripples. If any of these were healed, the whole town would acknowledge that a miracle had been performed. But the great evangelists come and go, and these blind beggars and cripples remain exactly where they were before.

This is not in the biblical tradition of miracle healing. Jesus Christ, in whose name the evangelists claim their healing powers, performed his miracles in the open and invited verification. In Luke 5:12 window, after Jesus had healed a man of leprosy, he told the leper to go at once and show himself to the priests for it to be confirmed that his leprosy had, indeed, been healed.

Christian Should Christians go to doctors? Question answered by the Christian website, GotQuestions.org. Among other things, the answer highlights many Bible verses that speak of medical treatments.

So, should Christians go to doctors? God created us as intelligent beings and gave us the ability to create medicines and learn how to repair our bodies. There is nothing wrong with applying this knowledge and ability towards physical healing. Doctors can be viewed as God’s gift to us, a means through which God brings healing and recovery. At the same time, our ultimate faith and trust is to be in God, not in doctors or medicine. As with all difficult decisions, we should seek God who promises to give us wisdom when we ask for it (James 1:5).

Secular Suffering Children and the Christian Science Church Caroline Fraser, Atlantic Monthy, Apr. 1995 (Note: despite the name, Christian Science is – theologically – a cult of Christianity)

The unwillingness of many Christian Science parents to seek help from physicians for their critically ill children has led to many painful and unnecessary deaths and, increasingly, to legal actions that have become burdensome to the Church and its members.

Secular When Faith Fails Children Rita Swan, The Humanist, Nov. 2000

Matthew lived a week longer in intensive care on a respirator and then died. Immediately afterwards, my husband and I left the Christian Science church. Sadly, our experience isn’t unique. There have been far too many other children who have suffered and died under similar circumstances. This is why my husband and I founded Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. (CHILD), a national membership organization that promotes the rights of children to medical care and opposes religion-related abuse and neglect of children. And this is why we think it is important to share not only our own story but those of other parents and their children.

Books

Christian Behind the Scenes: The True Face of the Fake Faith Healers by Yves Brault. Brief review by PFO

“A startling examination of the fraud and deceit present in the inner-most circles of today’s most charismatic ministries such as Benny Hinn, Franz Anton Mesmer, etc. Brault reveals the acts of unscrupulous preachers and teachers who prey on the vulnerability of the unsuspecting masses.”

Christian Divine Healing: A Scriptural Approach to Sickness, Faith and Healing by Andrew Murray
Christian Does God Still Do Miracles? Excerpt from Does God Still Do Miracles? An M.D. Examines by Dr. Brad Burke, M.D.
Christian Faith Beyond Faith Healing: Finding Hope After Shattered Dreams By Kimberly Winston

Faith is easy when everything is going our way, but when suffering and an overwhelming sense of loss visit us? Winston tells the stories of several devout believers in faith healing who maintained their faith while awaiting a miracle that didn’t come, and attained greater compassion and empathy as the fruit of their misfortunes. Theirs are heartbreaking tales of misplaced faith and the pain caused by the zealousness of false prophets, and many will shed tears of righteous anger at the needless suffering of innocent children, no matter how well intentioned were their faith-healing parents and guardians. Offering no judgments, Winston allows the stories to speak for themselves. She also presents a brief history of faith healing, from biblical times and texts to the televangelizing of Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart, and comments on the Jewish healing movement, which looks to 6,000 years of Jewish tradition for wisdom. Despite its dark subject matter, this slim volume is an inspirational triumph, powerfully appealing to those who have experienced sorrow and tragedy.

Secular The Faith Healers by James Randi

Are there people chosen by God to heal bodily ailments through the power of prayer alone? Randi’s answer is “maybe,” but on the basis of his three-year investigation into faith healers, he hasn’t found any evidence of it and suggests it may be nothing more than a religious con game. The author, a professional magician, has made it a sideline to expose fraud and misconceptions in the realm of the paranormal. Leading evangelists such as Oral Roberts, Peter Popoff, W. V. Grant, Pat Robertson, and others are all shown to use tactics that are at best misleading, to guide the faithful into believing that they have been supernaturally cured by prayer alone. At worst, some of these men are shown to be cynical frauds preying on the desperation of the seriously ill.

Secular When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Lawoffsite by Shawn Francis Peter.

Relying on religious traditions that are as old as their faith itself, many devout Christians turn to prayer rather than medicine when their children fall victim to illness or injury. Faith healers claim that their practices are effective in restoring health – more effective, they say, than modern medicine. But, over the past century, hundreds of children have died after being denied the basic medical treatments furnished by physicians because of their parents’ intense religious beliefs.

The tragic deaths of these youngsters have received intense scrutiny from both the news media and public authorities seeking to protect the health and welfare of children. When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law is the first book to fully examine the complex web of legal and ethical questions that arise when criminal prosecutions are mounted against parents whose children die as a result of the phenomenon known by experts as religion-based medical neglect.

Do constitutional protections for religious liberty shield parents who fail to provide adequate medical treatment for their sick children? Are parents likewise shielded by state child-neglect faith laws that seem to include exemptions for healing practices? What purpose do prosecutions really serve when it’s clear that many deeply religious parents harbor no fear of temporal punishment?

Peters offers a review of important legal cases in both England and America from the 19th century to the present day. He devotes special attention to cases involving Christian Science, the source of many religion-based medical neglect deaths, but also considers cases arising from the refusal of Jehovah’s witnesses to allow blood transfusions or inoculations.

Individual cases dating back to the mid-19th century illuminate not only the legal issues at stake but also the profound human drama of religion-based medical neglect of children. Based on a wide array of primary and secondary source materials – among them judicial opinions, trial transcripts, police and medical examiner reports, news accounts, personal interviews, and scholarly studies – this book explores efforts by the legal system to balance judicial protections for the religious liberty of faith-healers against the state’s obligation to safeguard the rights of children.
– Source: Book description, Amazon.com

News & News Archive

Apologetics Index research resource Faith Healing news tracker & news archive, provided by Religion News Blog. Also available: RSS News feed of article relating to Faith Healing
Apologetics Index research resource Older articles, archived between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 31, 2002.

See Also

Apologetics Index research resource Attleboro Cult (“The Body”)
Apologetics Index research resource Benny Hinn
Apologetics Index research resource Bible Readers Fellowship
Apologetics Index research resource Christian Science
Apologetics Index research resource Demonology
Apologetics Index research resource Followers of Christ Church
Apologetics Index research resource Greater Assembly Church of the First Born
Apologetics Index research resource Religious Freedom versus Responsibilities
Apologetics Index research resource Signs and Wonders
Apologetics Index research resource Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (“Stop Suffering”)
Apologetics Index research resource Word-Faith theology

Websites

Secular CHILD, Inc. Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty

Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD, Inc.) is a non-profit national membership organization established in 1983 to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect. CHILD opposes religious exemptions from duties of care for children. CHILD is a member of the National Child Abuse Coalition.

Secular Child Abuse in Idaho – Deadly & Legal This site includes news and articles, background information and many other research resources.

More children die because of faith-based medical neglect in Idaho than in any other state. The combination of Idaho’s terrible laws and several congregations with religious beliefs against medical care has cost the lives of hundreds of children. Only eight other states have a statutory religious exemption from manslaughter or negligent homicide of a child.

The main sect in Idaho with beliefs against medical care is the Followers of Christ. Others are the Church of the Firstborn and the Christian Science Church. The Followers and Firstborners have similar historical roots and congregations in Oregon who have also lost children because of medical neglect. After Oregon repealed its religious exemptions in 2011, some Oregon Followers have reportedly moved to the safe haven of Idaho where faith-based medical neglect of children is legal.
– Source: Child faith deaths in Idaho. Links added.

Christian Deborah Elizabeth Shepherd 1974 – 1983 ” We believed the Bible – we trusted God’s promises We were sure of faith healing as much as believers could be.”

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