The Prayer of Faith
We come now to the last portion of the book of James. There seemed to be a number of subjects yet in the mind of James that he had not touched on in his Epistle so in these last few verses he considers them together rather briefly. Among these subjects are: the healing of the sick, the anointing of oil, the prayer of faith, the confession of sins, and the restoration of an erring brother. There are a variety of opinions on some of these subjects; we do not intend to go into detail but to briefly point out the salient facts without entering into controversy.
This portion begins with the words, “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing Psalms.” The word translated “affliction” literally, according to Arndt & Gingerich’s Lexicon, means “suffering misfortune.” This suffering misfortune is not suffering from inward disease, but comes from an outward source, pressure from a hostile world. The statement is put in the form of a question, but we know that the original text had no punctuation marks at all. The quotation marks were put in centuries later by some man. It seems unlikely that James asked the question for information, because he knew that many of his brethren were suffering affliction,. His purpose in the first chapter was to encourage those who were suffering affliction. James is, rather, giving instructions to those who are afflicted to pray.
The Greek uses several words for prayer, and all of them are translated into English by the word “prayer.” This particular word that James uses here is restricted entirely to sacred uses; it is prayer made to God. Many people seemingly never think of prayer until some misfortune strikes them. God must resort to some strange circumstances sometimes to revive some of His children. They forget so easily until the pressure of misfortune drives them to prayer. It is better to be in the habit of prayer before misfortune strikes, then prayer will not seem strange.
“Is any merry? Let him sing Psalms.” The meaning of the word translated “merry” includes in it “the well-being of the soul, of life principle, or of mind.” This can be true in spite of affliction from a hostile world. There are Christians who are inwardly joyful while bearing affliction from the outside world. This joy cannot be touched by circumstances of life.
Is Any Sick?
The 14th verse reads, “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church.” The question mark is also used in this verse, and again James is not asking the question for information; there is sickness among Christians as well as there is among non-Christians. James is using this method to give instructions to those who are sick. They are to call for the elders of the church. It is the duty of the elders to visit the sick, but this sickness may not have been reported. So in case that the elders are not informed, the one who is sick should call for the elders to come to them.
The Annointing with Oil
When the elders come to the sick one, they are “to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” There are many differing opinions about the anointing with oil, but we shall refrain from entering into controversy with anyone, and only confine ourselves to what we feel is the correct interpretation of the passage. We are convinced that this is not a religious ordinance enjoined upon the church. Our reason for this conviction is the meaning of the Greek word used here for “anoint.” The word is “aleiphoo,” and this is the secular or wordly word for “anoint.” The Greek has another word for “anoint,” which is “chrioo,” and this word is used in a sacred sense. The word Christ comes from the root of this Greek word. “Chrioo” is the word used when God anointed His Son; it is used of David when he was anointed as king; it is used when the prophets were anointed by God; and it is the word used for Christians when they are anointed with the Holy Spirit. But James does not use the word “chrioo,” he uses the word “aleiphoo.” The word “aleiphoo” means “to rub, to oil, or to massage.” Perhaps a quotation from the book THE PATIENCE OF HOPE, page 123, by Spiros Zodhiates, a native Greek, would be helpful in understanding the word. He says, “Perhaps a bit of etymology and history of the word “aliephoo,” “to oil,” would be helpful in more fully understanding what James meant by it in this difficult verse. It comes from the root “lipos,” which means “grease.” It is therefore the verb which means to apply oil to something. In ancient times, for instance, people rubbed their bodies with oil after a bath. Also the Athletes of Greece used to have their bodies rubbed with oil to prepare them for the gymnastic events they were to enter. Therefore, metaphorically the verb meant “to stimulate to encourage through the application of oil.”
The word that James uses, therefore, rules out the fact that he is referring to a sacrament or rite with religious significance. He refers to the common practice of massaging the body with olive oil for the relief of physical suffering. It is still a common practice among the Greeks to massage the body with olive oil to relieve suffering, and those who have had their bodies so massaged report that the relief it affords is almost unbelievable.
It is the writer’s firm conviction that the anointing that James refers to is the rubbing or massaging the body with oil, not just a few drops, for medicinal purposes according to the custom of the day. While, no doubt, the sick one referred to was beyond the restorative power of oil, it was still to be applied in the name of the Lord for what relief it could give. The elders were to pray over him the prayer of faith, and the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. It is the prayer of faith that has the emphasis, not the anointing of oil. It is said that at one time J. N. Darby and J. G. Bellett carried a small bottle of oil with them, and often when they prayed for the sick, they anointed them with a few drops of oil. They had seen remarkable results and their fame spread abroad more than they liked, so they discontinued the use of oil and only prayed for the sick. They found the results without the oil as remarkable as with the oil. They found that it was not the application of oil but the prayer of faith that heals the sick.