HEALING, GIFTS OF [ISBE]
HEALING, GIFTS OF
- (charismata iamaton): Among the "spiritual gifts" enumerated in 1 Cor 12:4-11,28
are included "gifts of healings." See SPIRITUAL GIFTS
. The subject has risen into much prominence of recent years, and so calls for separate treatment. The points to be considered are: (1) the New Testament facts, (2) the nature of the gifts, (3) their permanence in the church.
1. The New Testament Facts:
The Gospels abundantly show that the ministry of Christ Himself was one of healing no less than of teaching (compare Mk 1:14 f with 1:32-34). When He sent forth the Twelve (Mk 6:7,13) and the Seventy (Lk 10:1,9), it was not only to preach the Kingdom of God but to heal the sick. The inauthentic conclusion of Mark's Gospel, if it does not preserve words actually used by Christ Himself, bears witness at all events to the traditional belief of the early church that after His departure from the world His disciples would still possess the gift of healing. The Book of Acts furnishes plentiful evidence of the exercise of this gift by apostles and other prominent men in the primitive church (Acts 3:7 f; 5:12-16; 8:7; 19:12; 28:8 f), and the Epistle of James refers to a ministry of healing carried on by the elders of a local church acting in their collective capacity (Jas 5:14 f). But Paul in this passage speaks of "gifts of healings" (the plural "healings" apparently refers to the variety of ailments that were cured) as being distributed along with other spiritual gifts among the ordinary members of the church. There were men, it would seem, who occupied no official position in the community, and who might not otherwise be distinguished among their fellow-members, on whom this special charisma of healing had been bestowed.
2. The Nature of the Gifts:
On this subject the New Testament furnishes no direct information, but it supplies evidence from which conclusions may be drawn. We notice that the exercise of the gift is ordinarily conditional on the faith of the recipient of the blessing (Mk 6:5,6; 10:52; Acts 14:9)--faith not only in God but in the human agent (Acts 3:4 ff; 5:15; 9:17). The healer himself is a person of great faith (Mt 17:19 f), while his power of inspiring the patient with confidence points to the possession of strong, magnetic personality. The diseases cured appear for the most part to have been not organic but functional; and many of them would now be classed as nervous disorders. The conclusion from these data is that the gifts of healing to which Paul alludes were not miraculous endowments, but natural therapeutic faculties raised to their highest power by Christian faith.
Modern psychology, by its revelation of the marvels of the subliminal self or subconscious mind and the power of "suggestion," shows how it is possible for one man to lay his hand on the very springs of personal life in another, and so discloses the psychical basis of the gift of healing. The medical science of our time, by its recognition of the dependence of the physical upon the spiritual, of the control of the bodily functions by the subconscious self, and of the physician's ability by means of suggestion, whether waking or hypnotic, to influence the subconscious soul and set free the healing powers of Nature, provides the physiological basis. And may we not add that many incontestable cases of Christian faith-cure (take as a type the well-known instance in which Luther at Weimar "tore Melanchthon," as the latter put it, "out of the very jaws of death"; see RE, XII, 520) furnish the religious basis, and prove that faith in God, working through the soul upon the body, is the mightiest of all healing influences, and that one who by his own faith and sympathy and force of personality can stir up faith in others may exercise by God's blessing the power of healing diseases?
3. Permanence of Healing Gifts in the Church:
There is abundant evidence that in the early centuries the gifts of healing were still claimed and practiced within the church (Justin, Apol. ii.6; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. ii. 32, 4; Tertullian, Apol. xxiii; Origen, Contra Celsum, vii.4). The free exercise of these gifts gradually ceased, partly, no doubt, through loss of the early faith and spirituality, but partly through the growth of an ascetic temper which ignored Christ's gospel for the body and tended to the view that pain and sickness are the indispensable ministers of His gospel for the soul. All down the history of the church, however, there have been notable personalities (e.g. Francis of Assisi, Luther, Wesley) and little societies of earnest Christians (e.g. the Waldenses, the early Moravians and Quakers) who have reasserted Christ's gospel on its physical side as a gospel for sickness no less than for sin, and claimed for the gift of healing the place Paul assigned to it among the gifts of the Spirit. In recent years the subject of Christian healing has risen into importance outside of the regularly organized churches through the activity of various faith-healing movements. That the leaders of these movements have laid hold of a truth at once Scriptural and scientific there can be little doubt, though they have usually combined it with what we regard as a mistaken hostility to the ordinary practice of medicine. It is worth remembering that with all his faith in the spiritual gift of healing and personal experience of its power, Paul chose Luke the physician as the companion of his later journeys; and worth noticing that Luke shared with the apostle the honors showered upon the missionaries by the people of Melita whom they had cured of their diseases (Acts 28:10). Upon the modern church there seems to lie the duty of reaffirming the reality and permanence of the primitive gift of healing, while relating it to the scientific practice of medicine as another power ordained of God, and its natural ally in the task of diffusing the Christian gospel of health.
Hort, Christian Ecclesia, chapter x; A.T. Schofield, Force of Mind, Unconscious Therapeutics; E. Worcester and others, Religion and Medicine; HJ, IV, 3, p. 606; The Expositor T, XVII, 349, 417.
J. C. Lambert