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Why Don’t Baptists Anoint With Oil?

Thursday, March 23, 2017 19:18
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by Rev. Joda Collins

James 5:14-15 states, “Is any sick among you?  Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up….”  However, Baptists (for the most part) do not anoint the sick with oil.  Why?
The author (of the book of James) is the half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was (probably) the Pastor of the church in Jerusalem that some scholars believe numbered about 15,000 people.  The church in Jerusalem was probably comprised mostly of Jews. The book of James is thought to be written in 48 or 49AD which makes it the first New Testament book.  For James, being a Jew and a pastor of a church comprised mostly of Jews, it would be natural to write from a Jewish perspective to fellow Jews feeling no need to clarify customs well-known by most Jews.

The book of James begins, “James…to the twelve tribes (of Israel)….”  (Parenthesis mine.)  Jews knew that the first and the only Old Testament mention of using oil relative to the sick is found in Isaiah 1:6 where the oil was administered (anointed) as a medicine.  The Christian Jew would also know that Jesus sent the disciples to minister to the sick using oil as medicine (Luke 10:34).  Also, they would know the teaching of Jesus relative to the Good Samaritan using oil as medicine on the the beaten traveler (Mark 6:13).  Myrrh (an oil) was mixed with water and used as a pain killer (Mark 15:23).   In these four references oil is used as medicine. 

James denotes the use of oil for sick people. Baptist believe the four references noted above establish that oil is used as medicine. Since elders of the church are seldom called on these days to perform medical acts, their use of oil as medicine to rub on a sick body is not a custom to follow.  In addition, there is no follow-up instance in the New Testament with the practice of church elders (pastors) anointing sick people with oil. Therefore, Baptists believe anointing the sick with oil, like circumcision, the Nazirite vow and Saturday as the day of rest/worship, is something that belongs to Jewish custom and/or faith more than (or, “not”) the Christian faith.  

Revelation 3:18 denotes using eye salve (oil) for medical purposes; albeit Revelation 3:18 has a spiritual application.  While Revelation 3:18 was not written at the time of the writing of James, it is worthwhile to denote that the Isaiah, Luke, Mark and Revelation mention of using oil for sick people is as medicine which gives weight to the conclusion that James intended the use of oil as medicine along with prayer.

However, most Baptist preachers will secure a little olive oil and cheerfully apply it to the forehead or hand of a sick person if asked to do so because we (they) recognize that many people (justifiably) link the oil with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 25:1-13) and the use of oil combined with the prayer of faith in God’s ability to heal to increase the faith of everyone, many or some involved. 

Those who believe the use of oil in James 5 is symbolic of the Holy Spirit presence and power call attention to the fact that James specifically states it is the prayer of faith that fosters the God-ordained healing and not the medicinal properties of the oil, thus the oil is symbolic and an instrument of faith, and not medicinal beyond the faith factor.  They also point out that the Bible denotes oils used in many ways that would be considered symbolic of God’s blessing, presence.and/or power (Exodus 30:22-29,

), thus justifying using oil as a faith factor. 

There is sufficient contextual evidence to justify James direction to use oil as medicine in conjunction with the prayer of faith, or oil as an aid to faith to complement the prayer of faith.  God loves faith! (Luke 7:9.)   Whatever your sincere, prayerful and studied faith dictates regarding James 5:14-15, do that.  “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”  (Romans 14:22, New American Standard, 1977.)

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Rev. Joda Collins
I make no claim that anyone else agrees with me.


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