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     Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14, ESV).  In this verse we are studying today in Bible class we learn the following: the word sick pertains to physical sickness; the sickness is, evidently, one wherein the sick one is unable to move, thus he is to call for (an imperative) the elders of the church; the elders, responding to that call, are to pray over (for) the one who is sick. Moreover, the elders are to anoint with oil on the one who is sick, doing so by the Lord’s authority.

For what purpose did the anointing with oil serve? There are two possibilities: medicinal, symbolic. The medicinal application has substantial documentation for practice (Gareth Reese), but the application would have much limitation associated with it (for instance, a heart condition). Thus, while a medicinal application can apply, there may also be an occasion for a symbolic/practical application.

Is there something miraculous in the occasion as determined by the context? Nothing is specified. Yet, some think there is a miraculous application to the passage. If James has in view something miraculous, then direct application of the passage is not for us today. If, on the other hand, it is not miraculous, then we are left with two options, 1) ceremonial/symbolic, 2) medicinal. The perspectives of Bible scholars are varied.

My own perspective on the passage is not dogmatic, but it seems to me this is what is in view. The word “sick” can refer to both physical illness as well as spiritual, I am inclined to think it is the latter (cf. v. 15), though a physical sickness has much support. I understand the word “oil” to be a literal application, that is, ceremonial. Regardless, the emphasis of James in this paragraph is in relation to prayer (5:13-18). While particular application might be difficult in some respects, prayer is not.

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