Context is crucial to understand what writers are trying to say. This is a given most people take for granted. But it is even more important when we are dealing with healing. Studying the usage of those Hebrew and Greek words, it becomes obvious that healing took on different definitions. When Elijah repaired an altar, he “healed” it. In this context, healing simply meant “to repair.” The prophets occasionally used the word healing to talk about the curing of the spiritual sickness of the nation. Healing could also be the cure of someone’s disease. Each time the word healing is used, it can best be understood by understanding the context surrounding the word, because the context gives it the intended meaning that the writer wanted to say.
Modern faith healers place healing verses within the context of modern faith healing world view, so even though healing verses have context (faith healing), the context provided is not from the Bible, but from a slowly evolving faith healing worldview.
JESUS BORE OUR SICKNESSES
There are three passages that are at the very heart of faith healing. According to faith healers, every one of those passages are used to tell people that healing belongs to every Christian and all we have to do is accept the truth the Bible teaches us and stop listening to our symptoms. But, does the Bible really mean what faith healers tell us? Let’s find out.
The first verse that is at the center of the other two is found in Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” This verse is used so much in the faith healing circles, no one would dare to look at or even consider that there is a context to the verse: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6).”
Isaiah 53:5-6 is commonly used to tell people that Jesus took all our physical sicknesses and diseases on the cross. So when we do get sick, when we break bones, sever spinal cords, get cancer, develop arthritis or diabetes – all these are symptoms that we can ignore, reject, or claim do not exist because Jesus took them on the cross and because Jesus took them on the cross, we should not let the symptoms of disease direct us in any way. The question we need to ask is this: Did Isaiah mean that the suffering servant bore all of our physical diseases?
When the book of Isaiah first began in chapter one, Isaiah pointed out that as a nation, Israel was sick and beaten up: “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head [there is] no soundness in it; [but] wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment (Isaiah 1:5-6).” Isaiah was not talking about individuals but rather, he was talking about the entire nation of Judah. Judah was spiritually sick and beaten. Isaiah used the metaphor of beating and healing, but did not talk about physical healing. In fact, the only time Isaiah talked about physical healing was when Hezekiah was about to die. In that story, Hezekiah was healed with the help fig leaves which were a common ingredient of the ancient world’s medicines (Isaiah 38:21).
Reading the context of Isaiah 53, it is clear that Isaiah was not talking about physical healing. Isaiah wrote about spiritual healing of the soul for a nation.
1 PETER 2:24-25
When Peter wrote his letter to certain churches in his day, he referred back to Isaiah by saying that by Jesus’ stripes we were healed. I have heard the use of this verse to emphasize the past tense of healing, as the preachers would say, “This does not say we will be healed, it does not say we are healed, … it states, ‘We were healed!’ That means it has already taken place and it is just a matter of our taking the healing.”
So once again, I will look at the context to help me to understand what Peter was telling his readers. I will make the context bold.
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).
Before and after the phrase “by whose stripes you were healed,” Peter talked about sin and falling away. He said nothing about physical sickness or healing. Peter used the passage in Isaiah to tell his readers that their souls were healed in the death of Jesus. Using this verse to claim physical healing is taking the verse out of context.
For over 30 years, Jesus was a human being like you and I. Many modern theologians like to separate pre and post resurrection, so that we have the Jesus of history (pre-resurrection) and the Jesus of faith (post-resurrection). The Jesus of history is the Jesus people saw and heard, or as John put it:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1John 1:1-3).
Before the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles only knew Jesus as the Jesus of history. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that when the disciples realized they were following the promised messiah, they still could only see Jesus from a political/carnal point of view. It was only after the crucifixion and resurrection that the disciples began to piece together what Jesus said and how he had to suffer and die. It was only after the resurrection that the disciples could see that Jesus was more than an historical Jesus and begin to see him as the Jesus of faith.
The Jesus of faith is the post-resurrection Jesus. He is the Jesus we only know as the resurrected God. The apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament, yet he focused almost entirely on the meaning behind the cross and resurrection and the consequences of those three days for us today. He said very little about any of Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles or acts. While focusing almost entirely on the Jesus of faith, Paul did separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus of faith in his own way: though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more (2 Corinthians 5:16).
Having established the difference between the historical Jesus (the Jesus we have known after the flesh – as Paul would say) and the Jesus of faith, we can now look at the verse in question.
When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with [his] word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Himself took our infirmities, and bare [our] sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17).
First of all, notice the immediate context. Jesus, the historical Jesus was working miracles of different varieties. Matthew was not referring to miracles that took place after the resurrection.
Secondly, look at the rest of Matthew and how Matthew uses the Hebrew Bible’s prophesies.
- When Jesus was born from a virgin, (Matthew 1:22-23) a prophecy in Isaiah was fulfilled.
- When Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6), a prophecy from Micah was fulfilled.
- When Jesus was taken to Egypt (Matthew 2:15), a prophecy from Hosea was fulfilled.
- When Herod killed children in Bethlehem in an attempt to get rid of Jesus (Matthew 2:17-18), a prophecy from Jeremiah was fulfilled.
- When Jesus was moved to Nazareth (Matthew 2:23), an unknown prophecy was fulfilled.
- When John the Baptist started his ministry (Matthew 3:3), a prophecy from Joel was fulfilled.
- When Jesus began his earthly ministry preaching in Galilee (Matthew 4:13-14), a prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled.
- When Jesus began healing (Matthew 8:16-17), a prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled.
None of Matthew’s prophecies had anything to do with the post-resurrected Christ. Matthew focused completely on the historical Jesus. He wanted his readers to know that the man Jesus (the Jesus of history) – that Jesus and his ministry fulfilled Bible prophecies. The Biblical prophecies Matthew quotes focus completely on the man Jesus and not on the resurrected Christ.
The world of faith healing has taken Matthew 8:16-17 out of context to fit faith healing doctrine. The same is true with Isaiah 53:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:24-25.