Category Archives: oil and james 5:14

"To Oil, or not to Oil?

The question comes from James 5:14 which says, “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.”

No, we do not need to anoint with oil today, unless it be with “The oil of gladness” (Hebrews 1:9). Oil is representative in our day and time of making the sick as comfortable as possible and using every physical means available that would aid healing.

“But doesn’t the Bible mean what it says?” Certainly, but what exactly does the Bible say?

The Greeks had two words for this, very similar, but still two different words. Ah-lay-thoe, which refers to the common use of oil, and Chree-oh which is used in reference to sacred things such as anointing.

Consider the use of this word “ah-lay-thoe,” also translated “anointed” in Luke 7:38 & 46. A woman anointed Jesus’ feet with oil; then Jesus reprimands Simon for not anointing His head with oil. Other passages where “ah-lay-thoe” is translated “anointed” are: John 11:2; 12:3; Mark 16:1, as well as James 5:14. Compare those passages with Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38, and Hebrews 1:9, which translate the word “chree-oh” as “anointed,” and you will see the difference in meaning, a difference which cannot be ignored. One cannot use the word “ah-lay-thoe” in reference to the sending of the Spirit upon Jesus or the ceremony of inaugurating a king, etc. The word “Christ” literally means “the Anointed One.” Christian is derived from this word, and both terms are forms of Chree-oh.

All Christians have an “anointing” from God (2Corinthians 1:21; 1John 2:20 & 27). The word in each of these passages is “chree-oh.” It is a sacred anointing. It is NOT the word which James uses in 5:14. He uses the word “ah-lay-thoe” which simply means “an oiling.” “…and let them pray over him, oiling him with oil in the name of the Lord…”

If what the Elders are to do is what the Catholic priest does, that is, put a bit of oil on the eye lids, the ears, the nostrils, the mouth, the hands, the kidneys, and the feet, then James could not use the word “ah-lay-thoe” because what the priest does is supposedly a sacred act. Linskey says that the participle which James uses means that the sick person’s body is to be rubbed with oil just as the nurse now rubs a patient’s body with alcohol. The ancients used olive oil in this way. Isaiah 1:6 used the expression, “mollified with oil” (ASV), “soothed with ointment” (NKJV) in relation to treating bruises, scratches, etc. The good Samaritan applied oil and wine to wounds and bruises (Luke 10:34). Herod the Great was bathed in a vessel full of oil when he was thought to be near death’s door (Josephus, Ant. 17).

Th oiling was to be done “in the name of the Lord.” Praying was the main act, using oil in the name of the Lord was a second and minor act. Both the imperative and the participle are aorist’s which simply means that single acts are referred to. Also, the imperative (praying) is antecedent to the oiling. That is, “having oiled with oil, let them pray.”

We also note that James writes, “If ANYONE…” This would include women and children. I am of the opinion that when an elder or two came to a woman’s or child’s bedside, some member of the family was asked to apply the oil before the prayers were offered.

The addition of “the name of the Lord” to the application of oil does not make this a sacrament or a ritual, for “all that we do, we are to do in the name of the Lord” (Col. 3:17), and “whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we do it all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31).

There are other words translated “anointed” in our English versions (e.g.. John 9:6), that have no practical application to this particular topic.

In summary, the application of the oil was preparatory in nature. Using the common word, literally meaning “rub with oil,” James is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, and grooming. If a person is sick, we should do all we can to comfort them; utilize any medical treatment available; and put it all under the umbrella of prayer. Toby Miller

Find the truth about God and become a New Testament Christian. Find out more about New Testament Christianity by running some Internet searches for “church of Christ” and “churches of Christ.” You may also want to visit http://www.abiblecommentary.com for Bible study information.

Remember, in order to be saved and enjoy all God’s blessings (not the least of which is salvation), a person must have faith (Jn. 8:24), be willing to repent (Lk. 13:3), and after confessing Christ as Lord, the final step is water baptism (Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). Bible baptism is by immersion only (“burial,” Rom. 6:4), and once it is done, heaven puts that person “into Christ” (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3). After proper baptism a person has their sins forgiven (Acts 2:38).

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