Christian healing

edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer (version

Contents of this webpage => History of early Christian healing Christian healing practices today
Resources on Christian healing available on other webpages

History of early Christian healing

Lloyd G. Patterson (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition, edited by Everett Ferguson, NY: Garland Publishing, 1998, pages 511-512, article on "Healing, religious"). The entire article is very informative, but below are some representative excerpts.

    Healing, religious: Overcoming bodily weakness or disease by divine power. Religious healing was as persistent a feature of early Christianity as of the pagan religious cults of the Greco-Roman world...

    Accounts of healing, from an early time (John 20:30f.), were designed to elicit faith or were said to have done so (1 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:12; Acts 2:43; 3:6-10; 5:12-16; 9:32-35; 14:3; A. Paul. 50-55; A. Jo. 38-45). Healings by those awaiting martyrdom (e.g., Eusebius, Mart. Pal. 1.1; Pass. Perp. 9:1; 16:4) and by ascetics (e.g., Athanasius, V. Ant. 80; Gregory of Nyssa, V. Gr. Thaum. [PG 46.916A]; Jerome, V. Hilar. 8.) were frequent. Bishop Novatian of Rome was said to have been converted through being healed (Eusebius, H.E. 6.43.14). This phenomenon of healing was an important factor in the growth of the church...

    Healings thus witness to God's purpose to free the whole creation for eternal life with him. In general, early Christians assumed that healings were manifestations of the redemptive power of God; they were more concerned to keep them in this perspective than, as in our time, either to promote healing as central to Christian experience or to deny their their occurence.

Hector Ignacio Avalos (Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999, page 83), writing about the practice of Christian healing during the first four centuries of the Christian era. The entire book is very informative, but below are some representative excerpts.

The implications of a theology based on the sufficiency of faith could be quite significant in simplifying a therapeutic strategy. First, such a notion could logically lead to eliminating the perceived need for pharmaceuticals. Tatian, the noted Christian polemicist of the second century, confirms the power of this logic in his portrayal of the whole pharmaceutical enterprise as a Satanic artifice:

"Pharmacy in all its forms is due to the same artificial devising. If anyone is healed by matter because he trusts in it, all the more will he be healed if in himself he relies on the power of God. Just as poisons are material concoctions, so remedies too belong to the same substance." [Tatian, Oracio ad Graecos 18]

Thus, for Tatian, faith in the power of God should indeed eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals. The other argument in Tatian is that remedies are as dangerous as poisons because they presumably share the same material constitution... A similar antipharmaceutical sentiment appears in Justin Martyr, who praises Christians able to heal patients who could not be cured by "those who used incantations and drugs." [Justin (100-165 A.D.), Second Apology 6; Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:190]

Hector Ignacio Avalos (Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, pages 507-509, "Medicine") The entire article is very informative, but below are some representative excerpts.

Medicine ... Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Israelite health-care system depicted in the canonical texts is the division into legitimate and illegitimate consultative options for the patient. This dichotomy is partly related to monolatry, insofar as illness and healing rest ultimately on Yahweh's control (Job 5.18) and insofar as non-Yahwistic options are prohibited. Since it was accessible and inexpensive, prayer to Yahweh was probably the most common legitimate option for a patient. Petitions and thanksgiving prayers uttered from the viewpoint of the patient are attested in the Bible (Ps. 38; Isa. 38.10-20).

Illegitimate options included consultants designated as "healers" (2 Chron. 16.12: Hebr. rope'im, NRSV: "physicians"), non-Yahwistic temples (2 Kings 1.2-4), and probably a large variety of "sorcerers" (Deu. 18.10-12). Warnings in the canonical texts, along with archaeological evidence for fertility cults, indicate that such "illegitimate" options were used widely in ancient Israel.

The foremost legitimate consultants in the canonical texts are commonly designated as prophets, and they were often in fierce competition with "illegitimate" consultants... Unlike some of the principal healing consultants in other Near Eastern societies, the efficacy of the Israelite prophets resided more in their relationship with God than in technical expertise. The demise of the prophetic office early in the Second Temple period probably led to the wide legitimation of the rope'im (see Sir. 38.1-15).

By the postexilic period the Priestly code (P) severely restricted access to the temple for the chronically ill (e.g., "lepers" in Lev. 13-14; cf. 2 Sam. 5.7 on the blind and the lame) because of fear of "impurity." ... The theology of impurity, as a system of social boundaries, could serve to remove socioeconomically burdensome populations from society, the chronically ill perhaps being the most prominent...

Perhaps the most far-reaching consequence of the Priestly code was the growth of chronically ill populations with little access to the Temple. Since Jesus and his disciples appear to target these populations (Matt. 10.8; Mark 14.3), early Christianity may be seen, in part as a critique of the priestly health-care system...

J. Keir Howard (Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, pages 509-510, "Medicine and the Bible"). The entire article is very informative, but below are some representative excerpts.

Medicine and the Bible ...The Bible itself knows little of physicians as such, and in the faith of Israel it was God alone who was the healer and giver of life. Most references to physicians are uncomplimentary (as in Mark 5.25-26, more temperately put in Luke 8.43) or at best neutral. Other than the reference to Luke "the beloved physician" (Col. 4.14), the only positive remarks about medical practitioners occur in Sirach 38.1-15, where the reader is exhorted to "honor physicians for their services." Even in this passage however, the emphasis is on the need for confession of sin before any true healing could take place and the role of God as healer...

In the Bible itself, it is the religious component that dominates in a situation where religion and medicine are inextricably bound together...

The establishment of such a causal relationship between disease and a failure to meet religious and moral obligations was, in some sense, an attempt to answer the unanswerable question, "Why me?"... Thus, consulting a physician for help could be construed as a denial of the primary role of God and evidence of lack of faith in him, as well as lack of willingness to acknowledge personal sin (2 Chron. 16.12).

Many of these concepts were perpetuated in Christianity, even though such a simplistic viewpoint was challenged in the Bible (e.g., in the book of Job and John 9:1-3). The early church, however, undoubtedly interpreted such views too literally, and medical treatment was displaced by an emphasis on prayer and fasting in order to chasten the individual. From the Renaissance onward, however, medicine and theology became increasingly divorced from one another, allowing the development of medicine along the now-familiar lines of scientific principles from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries onward. Nonetheless, there has always been in Christianity a healing ministry that has been seen as biblically based (see, e.g., Luk 10.9). In general, this has not been considered as in competition with orthodox medicine but rather as complementary to it. Some more recent developments in healing ministries derived from biblical literalism, however, seem to be an attempt to return to a prescientific worldview, and will inevitably be in conflict with modern medical practice.

Some Christian healing practices today

Mary Baker Eddy (Miscellaneous Writings [Mis] and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures [S&H]). J. Kier Howard (see last paragraph above) states, "There has always been in Christianity a healing ministry that has been seen as biblically based." Howard also refers to such ministry's conflict with modern science. Below are descriptions of a prime example of systematic efforts to responsibly establish -- in the modern scientifically oriented world -- what Howard describes as biblically literal healing ministry. Extended quotations below are provided in the attempt to provide a balanced and fair representation of Eddy's teachings, which often have been misrepresented and misunderstood by both opponents and proponents.

It should be noted that Eddy used relevant modern terms and analogies to enable today's readers to better understand and appreciate biblical teachings, just as did early Christian writers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Athenagorus, Theophilus, Tertullian, and Origen did in the second century A.D. For instance, when Eddy used the term divine Science or simply Science (with an uppercase S), she was referring to the biblical term, the Holy Spirit, which the Gospel of John also refers to as "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and as "the Comforter" (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7; variously translated as the Advocate, the Counselor, the Paraclete, the Defense Attorney). In light of this, a "Christian Scientist" may be considered to be anyone whose practice of Christianity and Christian healing includes following Christ in thinking, speaking, and acting as instructed and directed by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. In this sense being a Christian Scientist is a way of life and is in no way defined by or limited to any denominational affiliation. Thus, when reading Eddy's writings, one can understand the intended biblical concept by silently substituting the phrase "Holy Spirit" wherever one reads "Science" or "divine Science" -- or in many cases where one reads "Christian Science." In the same way wherever one reads, "Christian Scientist," one can silently substitute, "one who is a methodical disciple of Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit." (See also

    For man to know Life as it is, namely God, the eternal good, gives him not merely a sense of existence, but an accompanying consciousness of spiritual power that subordinates matter and destroys sin, disease, and death. This, Jesus demonstrated; insomuch that St. Matthew wrote, "The people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." This spiritual power, healing sin and sickness, was not confined to the first century; it extends to all time, inhabits eternity, and demonstrates Life without beginning or end. [Mis 189:21]

    To-day the healing power of Truth is widely demonstrated as an immanent, eternal Science, instead of a phenomenal exhibition. Its appearing is the coming anew of the gospel of "on earth peace, good-will toward men." This coming, as was promised by the Master [see Joh 14:12, 25, 26], is for its establishment as a permanent dispensation among men; but the mission of Christian Science now, as in the time of its earlier demonstration, is not primarily one of physical healing. Now, as then, signs and wonders are wrought in the metaphysical healing of physical disease; but these signs are only to demonstrate its divine origin, -- to attest the reality of the higher mission of the Christ-power to take away the sins of the world. [S&H 150:4-16]

Divine Science derives its sanction from the Bible, and the divine origin of Science is demonstrated through the holy influence of Truth in healing sickness and sin. This healing power of Truth must have been far anterior to the period in which Jesus lived. It is as ancient as "the Ancient of days." It lives through all Life, and extends throughout all space. Divine metaphysics is now reduced to a system, to a form comprehensible by and adapted to the thought of the age in which we live. This system enables the learner to demonstrate the divine Principle, upon which Jesus' healing was based, and the sacred rules for its present application to the cure of disease. Late in the nineteenth century I demonstrated the divine rules of Christian Science. They were submitted to the broadest practical test, and everywhere, when honestly applied under circumstances where demonstration was humanly possible, this Science showed that Truth had lost none of its divine and healing efficacy, even though centuries had passed away since Jesus practised these rules on the hills of Judaea and in the valleys of Galilee. [S&H 146:23-13]

Does the theology of Christian Science aid its healing? Without its theology there is no mental science, no order that proceeds from God. All Science is divine, not human, in origin and demonstration. If God does not govern the action of man, it is inharmonious: if He does govern it, the action is Science. Take away the theology of mental healing and you take away its science, leaving it a human "mind-cure," nothing more nor less, --even one human mind governing another; by which, if you agree that God is Mind*, you admit that there is more than one government and God. Having no true sense of the healing theology of Mind, you can neither understand nor demonstrate its Science, and will practise your belief of it in the name of Truth. This is the mortal "mind-cure" that produces the effect of mesmerism. It is using the power of human will, instead of the divine power understood, as in Christian Science... [Mis 58:19-10]

* Note: Eddy used Mind as a synonym for God. She also followed Joh 4:24, 1Jo 4:8,16, and Exo 3:14 in using Spirit, Love, and the I AM as synonyms for God. Some other synonyms for God that she used include Soul, Life, Truth, and Principle, all for which she found biblical justification. For more details see

Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.), a prominent early mainstream Christian, and some other early Christians also referred to God as Mind. Clement, in his Exhortation to the Greeks [ANF 2:199], wrote around 195 A.D.:

For the image of God is His Word, the genuine Son of Mind, the Divine Word, the archetypal light of light; the image of the Word is the true man, the mind which is in man, who is therefore said to have been made "in the image and likeness of God," assimilated to the Divine Word in the affections of the soul, and therefore rational; but effigies sculptured in human form, the earthly image of that part of man which is visible and earth-born, are but a perishable impress of humanity, manifestly wide of the truth.

The spirit of the prayer of the righteous heals the sick, but this spirit is of God, and the divine Mind is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; whereas the human mind is a compound of faith and doubt, of fear and hope, of faith in truth and faith in error. The knowledge that all things are possible to God excludes doubt... [My 292:26-2]

Christians who accept our Master as authority, regard his sayings as infallible. Jesus' students, failing to cure a severe case of lunacy, asked their great Teacher, "Why could not we cast him out?" He answered, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer..." This declaration of our Master, as to the relative value, skill, and certainty of the divine laws of Mind over the human mind and above matter in healing disease, remains beyond questioning a divine decision in behalf of Mind. [My 190:13]

We must learn how mankind govern the body,--whether through faith in hygiene, in drugs, or in will-power. We should learn whether they govern the body through a belief in the necessity of sickness and death, sin and pardon, or govern it from the higher understanding that the divine Mind makes perfect, acts upon the so-called human mind through truth, leads the human mind to relinquish all error, to find the divine Mind to be the only Mind, and the healer of sin, disease, death. [S&H 251:15-24]

Obedience to material law prevents full obedience to spiritual law,--the law which overcomes material conditions and puts matter under the feet of Mind. Mortals entreat the divine Mind to heal the sick, and forthwith shut out the aid of Mind by using material means, thus working against themselves and their prayers and denying man's God-given ability to demonstrate Mind's sacred power. Pleas for drugs and laws of health come from some sad incident, or else from ignorance of Christian Science and its transcendent power. To admit that sickness is a condition over which God has no control, is to presuppose that omnipotent power is powerless on some occasions. [S&H 182:19-32]

The superiority of spiritual power over sensuous is the central point of Christian Science. Remember that the letter and mental argument are only human auxiliaries to aid in bringing thought into accord with the spirit of Truth and Love, which heals the sick and the sinner. [S&H 454:29]

It is often asked, "If Christian Science is the same method of healing that Jesus and the apostles used, why do not its students perform as instantaneous cures as did those in the first century of the Christian era?" In some instances the students of Christian Science equal the ancient prophets as healers. All true healing is governed by, and demonstrated on, the same Principle as theirs; namely, the action of the divine Spirit, through the power of Truth to destroy error, discord of whatever sort. The reason that the same results follow not in every case, is that the student does not in every case possess sufficiently the Christ-spirit and its power to cast out the disease. The Founder of Christian Science teaches her students that they must possess the spirit of Truth and Love, must gain the power over sin in themselves, or they cannot be instantaneous healers. [Mis 40:9-25]

If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief. [S&H 443:14-19]

Until the advancing age admits the efficacy and supremacy of Mind, it is better for Christian Scientists to leave surgery and the adjustment of broken bones and dislocations to the fingers of a surgeon, while the mental healer confines himself chiefly to mental reconstruction and to the prevention of inflammation. [S&H 401:27-32]

If Christian Scientists ever fail to receive aid from other Scientists, -- their brethren upon whom they may call, -- God will still guide them into the right use of temporary and eternal means. Step by step will those who trust Him find that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." [S&H 444:7]

Prayer, watching, and working, combined with self-immolation, are God's gracious means for accomplishing whatever has been successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind. [S&H 1:6]

Dr. William Backus (The Healing Power of a Christian Mind: How Biblical Truth Can Keep you Healthy). Dr. Backus is a Christian psychologist and an ordained Lutheran clergyman. As a good indication of the book's contents, he begins as follows:

Once in a while an unexpected event leaps serendipitously into your life and points you in a new direction. Not long ago I received a letter from a man I'd never met -- Dr. Daniel Fountain, a physician in Zaire. Reading about Dr. Fountain's amazing discovery was, for me, one of those exhilarating events.

After introducing himself, Fountain launched into a description of a new AIDS-treatment program which he oversees... He explained that the AIDS epidemic had ravaged some African countries, including Zaire, where doctors often do not have AZT and other AIDS medications at their disposal. The situation is bleak indeed. But Dr. Fountain, a man of faith, had a hunch. Since he lacked the resources to medicate his patients, he wondered if he could help them treat themselves in another way -- that is, by replacing the negative and depressing mind-set that can accompany illness with life-giving spiritual truths.

That caught my attention...

Today, I am convinced that strengthening your spirit with the bold, encouraging, life-giving truths that are revealed in the Bible -- God's Word -- will help you move toward physical wholeness and overall well-being.


edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer