Sunday, August 30, 2015

Healing and What the Bible Says


Article Source: R. K. Harrison, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 542

Healing may be described in terms of curing or restoring to health of a sick person, whether by promoting the closure of wounds, repairing the results of accidents or surgical disease, or administering effective treatment for specific pathological conditions of the body or mind. In the Scriptures healing is the restoration to a state of health by physical means or by miracle; the methods not necessarily mutually exclusive. To consider healing in the Bible, we shall look at health and longevity in the Bible, so as to see the methods of healing in the right context.

Health and Healing in the Old Testament

In the Bible times, health was a very highly prized possession among the Jews. The Hebrews thought of health in terms of physical strength and well being. Mental or emotional disturbances were generally related to some specific organs of the body. A brief summary of the qualities the ideally healthy Hebrew enshrined in his person are found in reference to David, who was skillful in playing, a man of valour, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him (First Samuel 16:18). Length of days was invariably one of the blessings invoked. Length of days showed a prosperous life as shown in Joseph (Genesis 50:26).

The land of Palestine was not the seat of endemic infection as were Egypt and Mesopotamia. Two reasons can be advanced – the rivers were fast flowing and did not breed mosquitoes and there were no imported diseases associated with flourishing trade connections. They lived the open air nomadic and agricultural lives. However, their environmental sanitation and precautions as we shall later discuss, did not encourage the spread of diseases.

In earlier phases of Hebrew thought, disease was regarded as a divine visitation consequent upon disobedience or sin. They also thought of etiological factors such as work of the enemy under divine permission (Job 2:7), spirits of deafness or dumbness (Mark 9:17), and parental sin (John 9:2). Because of the consistent spiritualizing of pathological phenomena, the general Biblical view of the incidence of disease related it more or less directly to divine interposition. Since God was the Physician of His people, it followed that healing constituted a manifest token of His forgiveness. Health in itself could be maintained by the punctilious observance of the divine commands throughout life, and if this discipline of the spirit was undertaken consistently, the blessing of material prosperity would be added to physical and mental health (Exodus 15:26). 

An important legislative stop to counteract the effects of ignorance (one of the great hazards in health), in matters of personal and communal hygiene was taken in the enactment of the sanitary sections of the Mosaic Law. In view of the commonly accepted theory regarding the incidence of disease in those days, the moral concepts of holiness contained in the Law indicated a new approach to the problem of sickness. The emphasis was now laid on the prevention of disease rather than its cure. If a man pursued a life of spiritual fellowship with God, he was entertaining the most valuable safeguard possible against sickness. But if, when disease arose, he attempted to cure it, he was trespassing upon the prerogative of the Great Physician and interfering with functions which lay solely within the operation of divine discretion. Thus the primary emphasis of the Law in this respect was prophylaxis (preventive treatment of disease), and because of this unique therapeutic emphasis Moses may well be spoken of as the father of preventive medicine. 

In the medical enactments of the Pentateuch, social hygiene was elevated to the level of a science, and the precepts of the Mosaic era survive to the present as a model of sanitary and hygienic insight. The medical code received its most comprehensive expression in Leviticus. The laws include:

The Sabbath: The legislation in Exodus 31:13-17 specifically mentions physical rest as an important element of Sabbath observance in conjunction with the worship of the Deity. The aim of the enactments concerning the Sabbath may thus be said to be twofold: 
  1. The religious aspect of the observance was intended to furnish men with an opportunity for mental and spiritual recreation. 
  2. The relaxation of physical efforts at properly regulated intervals appears to have been enjoined for the purpose of maintaining physical vigour at a consistent level of functional efficiency. The sensitive nature of physical mechanisms is such that the body requires regular periods of rest and cessation from normal occupational activities, otherwise a breakdown will occur. Just as the degree of physical and mental restoration obtained from sleep determines to a considerable extent the subsequent performance of the body, so the recreation of physical and mental states by the proper observance of a Sabbath will govern the degree of well-being which the individual can normally expect.

Laws Regarding Edible Foods: If the prophylactic concepts enshrined in Sabbath observance were intended to promote individual and social well-being, the legislation concerning the varieties of food which could be eaten beneficially was evidently enacted to serve as a guide for maintaining health and vigour. The dietary rules of the Pentateuch are by far the most scientific of their kind. Foods were thus classified into clean or unclean (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14). Only the flesh of vegetarians was to be eaten and all blood was to be drained and the flesh of an animal which had died from natural causes must not be eaten. These were enacted to protect the individual and the community health.

Circumcision: The practice of circumcision apart from its religious significance through its association with the covenant has certain positive hygienic values. It is widely believed to prevent venereal diseases and carbuncles. Modern medicine recommends circumcision as a means of preventing cancer of the penis.

Laws concerning Sexual Relationship and Sexual Hygiene: These laws were based on the concept of the family as a unit and therefore precluded intra sexual relationship (Genesis 20:12; Leviticus 18:6-18. On purely medical grounds, abstinence from sexual intercourse during menstruation is held to prevent the incidence of nonspecific urethritis, which may arise through such a practice. (Genesis 38:9; Leviticus 15:19-24)

Cleanliness: Among the Hebrews great emphasis was placed upon the washing of the body, despite the frequent shortages of water which occurred at different seasons of the year (Leviticus 14:2-30; Exodus 30:18-21) By the means of personal cleanliness the risk of communicating diseases through contagion or fomites would be reduced considerably, while the isolation of potential carriers of diseases for a specified period of time would also help to control the incidence of disease.

Laws of Sanitation: Mosaic legislation laid down carefully regulated sanitary procedures for the Israelites. Armies in the field were to bury their excreta (Deuteronomy 23:12-13); a practice which provided for effective control of faeces, urine and fly-infestations. This measure controlled air-borne plagues and epidemics.

Why have I gone into all these details?  To show the high standard of health precautions and preventive medicine. This accounts in part for why the Bible spoke comparatively little about curing of diseases.

Jesus and Healing in the New Testament

What was the attitude of Jesus to health and healing? In the light of what we have been saying, the Old Testament attitude to health and healing appears to be that health was a divine gift and along with material prosperity was confidently expected by the faithful in Israel. When disease occurred, however, the sufferer could only look to God, the Physician of His people, for healing and recovery. Any recourse to human aid was usurpation of divine prerogative (Second Chronicles 16:12). Thus apart from a few folk remedies, there is no outline of medical treatment for diseases as such in the Old Testament, because such systematized therapeutics simply did not exist among the ancient Hebrews. Occasionally however as in the case of Asa, Hezekiah and a few others, prophets gave advice concerning treatment to those who were sick.

But when Jesus came, He did not attempt to explain disease, His attitude toward its presence in the lives of individuals marked a considerable advance in thought on the Old Testament opinion regarding sickness and disease. Instead of manifesting an attitude of contempt towards the weak and the sick, Jesus shared in His recorded sermon that His earthly ministry was closely bound up with the frail and feeble of body and soul. In the first place, Jesus was firmly convinced of the Father’s purpose for human wholeness and salvation (John 3:16; 10:10); and never once supported the Old Testament concept of disease as a punishment sent by God. Instead He looked at disease as the result of evil producing an imbalance within the personality. Because Jesus looked at the individual as a whole, while He was concerned to heal the sick in body, he invariably paid close attention to the mind and spirit of the sufferer. His encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4) transformed what might have been a casual conversation into a powerful therapeutic analysis which penetrated her outward poise, revealed the chaos and conflict in her emotional life, and confronted her with the person of the living Christ as the answer to her deepest needs. 

It must be borne in mind that Jesus’ curative acts were a spontaneous expression of His sympathy and a sign of the Kingdom of God, and did not constitute clinical demonstration of therapeutic techniques. Fundamentally, all His healing activity was His conviction that disease was not an established part of divine order of things (Luke 13:16). The circumstances of the case largely determined the mechanisms or techniques he employed, but these were generally secondary to His persistent desire to grapple with the sin which so frequently lay behind the specific ailment. This therefore could explain the frequently used “Your sins are forgiven you, go in peace or sin no more”
There are good reasons to believe that in His healing activity Jesus was endeavouring to raise the sufferer whom He encountered to a more advanced degree of spirituality. It was His desire that men should be won to the Kingdom of God (Luke 7:21-22). 

The Gospel accounts make it clear that some measure of faith was normally evoked by Jesus as a condition of healing (Matthew 9:29; Luke 17:19, 18:42). Certain healing took place without specific mention of faith being present (Matthew 9:1-8; 12:9-13), but it is obviously implicit in the sufferer’s response to the words of Jesus. In other healings there is no mention of the attitude of the sick person in this respect (Luke 13:11-13; 14:4; 22:51) which may in part be because the miracles of healing were incidental to other considerations.

In all, we can discern two methods of healing from the Scripture viz: (a) healing by physical means and (b) By miracles.

(a) Healing by Physical Means: Healing by means of medicines and surgical appliances is supported by Scripture. Local applications of ointments and bandaging of wounds was certainly standard treatment in Old Testament times (Isaiah 1:6). Moreover, the use of a plaster made of a cake of figs to be laid upon Hezekiah’s boil was recognized as appropriate treatment and was advocated by God’s prophet (38:21). The broken arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt was said by the prophet to require a bandage to bind it (Ezekiel 30:21). Doubtless this bandage included the application of splints, for studies on Egyptian mummies have been found with broken bones treated with splints made of the bark of trees fixed with balm of Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22; 46:11; 51:8). 

Other than these few instances, the Bible gives little or no information regarding healing with medicines.

(b) Healing By Miracle: Miraculous healing with or without associated use of physical means is frequently referred to in the Bible. It was performed not as broadcast philanthropy, but as a sign. The purpose of the miracles was to show that God was at work in a new way, using and accrediting men so that their message might be believed. 

It is interesting if not fascinating to note that Christ in two cases (Mark 8:23; John 9:6) used saliva to anoint the patient’s eyes for healing. It could be conjectured here that Jesus used saliva partly to strengthen their faith and partly to teach that divine healing may go hand in hand with the use of recognized medical remedies. 

We have a number of discussion questions which will enable us discuss in greater details this all important issue, which has divided many Churches. May it unite us the more as God Himself teaches us through the Scripture!

Discussion Questions

  1. The Old Testament as well as the New Testament talk very little about healing except for occasional references to incidental healing. Would you in your opinion attribute this to: 
    • Infer no support for healing or 
    • Absence of diseases that required the healing or 
    • Ignorance of know-how and absence of drugs?
  2. In the Garden of Eden there were trees and also in Revelation 22:2 talking of the New Jerusalem. Both trees (Eden and New Jerusalem) talk of producing food and being used for healing. What would you suggest in the light of modern medical findings that all our foods come from trees and all our drugs are made from trees? Could God have had the curing of our diseases in mind when He made trees – so medicinal?
  3. There are varying views today among Christians: some believe that the use of drugs is indicative of absence of faith and therefore are unscriptural. Others believe that refusal to use drugs amount to “tempting the Lord your God”; yet others do not know what to believe. Based on the Scripture what is your view?
  4. The Speaker said that Jesus using saliva to heal the bind man, (The Egyptians believe before Christ came that saliva cures blindness) tended to support that faith and use of drugs should go hand in hand. Do you share in this view?
  5. Often you find crusade posters which invite people to bring all their sick for healing and miracles. How scriptural is this practice?

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