faith healing 4092

Faith Healing

April 29, 2021

Faith Healing, a process through which a person is restored to physical, mental, or spiritual health by what is believed to be the direct intervention of divine power. Faith healing can be distinguished both from scientific medicine, which treats illness with specific remedies developed through observation and research, and from prescientific medicine, which combats illness with remedies gathered from traditional lore—including, for example, the medicinal use of certain plants and herbs. Prescientific medicine, however, is often practiced by persons whose religious authority resembles that of a priest. Such medicine men or witch doctors, although they employ empirical remedies, are also thought to communicate with the supernatural agencies believed to be responsible for both illness and its cure. Thus, prescientific medicine and faith healing are related, and are often combined within a single pattern of treatment.

A polarization of attitudes toward faith healing has taken place in modern times. According to scientific medicine, rigidly conceived, all illness—often including mental disorder—is a result of physiological malfunctioning; in this scheme of things, faith healing has no credible role. At the other extreme, some practitioners of faith healing believe that the genesis of all disease lies in the disorder of the mind or spirit—realms in which faith healers see themselves as uniquely effective. Two quite different manifestations of this second attitude are represented by Christian Science and charismatic Christian faith-healing sects. The former holds that the origin of all evil, including physical illness, is in the mind’s ignorance of true reality, whereas the latter regard illness in biblical terms—that is, as caused by demons—and practice healing techniques through which the divine Spirit is believed to triumph over the evil spirits.

Other, less rigid points of view exist between these extremes. For example, people commonly turn to prayer as a last resort if scientific means of treatment have failed. Also, many people regard health as the complex result of many physical, emotional, and spiritual determinants, believing that the most effective way to produce a cure is to use all available means of treatment concurrently, including prayer.


Faith healing was known among the ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed that Asclepius, the god of medicine, might appear in the dreams of sick people who slept in the temples devoted to his worship, and that the god then cured them or prescribed a regimen of treatment for them to follow. In contrast, the Old Testament has few references to faith healing. The most specific occurs in 2 Kings 5:1-14, where Elisha cures Naaman of leprosy by a ritual washing in the Jordan River. In the New Testament Gospels, however, are perhaps the most famous faith-healing stories of all time. In the stories of Jesus’ miracles of healing, illness is regarded as the sign of the presence of evil spirits, and Jesus’ power to heal is proclaimed as evidence that God’s kingdom has come in his person.

Jesus conferred power over disease on his disciples, and a healing ministry has been claimed and exercised by the church since its inception. The apostle Paul considered healing one of the special gifts of the Spirit (see Corinthians 12:9), and the possibility exists that certain persons may possess this gift to an extraordinarily high degree. By about the 3rd century ad, belief in the curative powers of holy relics became widespread. The practice of taking afflicted persons to shrines has been common since the Renaissance. Healing shrines, such as the one at Lourdes, France, draw millions of pilgrims every year.


Although the faith of a believer is generally regarded as the channel of cure, Christian theology insists that the actual agent in healing is God’s Spirit. Thus, faith, in the sense of trust and expectancy—rather than in the sense of subscription to orthodox doctrine—is the prerequisite to healing. The association between sin and disease is traditional in Christian theology (see James 5:14-16), and in Christian practice the confession of sin has usually preceded the anointing of the sick, the laying on of hands, and the prayers that constitute the Christian liturgy of healing.

Contributed By:
Charles P. Price

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