When I read James 5:14-16, it says if I’m sick to call the church elders to anoint me with oil, pray for me and God will heal me. If I read it thru 21st century eyes, I’ll do just that. This would mean that the church elders would be very busy praying and anointing people with oil. Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with church elders praying for a sick person and anointing them with oil. God can and does heal people this way. But it’s not the only way He heals.
One very important part of hermaneutics (interpreting the bible) is to hear the verse with 1st century ears. In other words, to hear and understand the verse as 1st century people would have. Once we understand it as 1st century people would have, only then can we apply it to ourselves in the 21st century.
Getting back to James 5:14-16, in 1st century Palestine, oils were used for two purposes:
– to anoint someone for service, like a new King (Exodus 40:15 & Numbers 3:3)
– for healing. Certain oils were used as medicine. Luke 10:34 says, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” Wine would be a disinfectant and pain killer. Oil would be the medicine.
Now let’s re-read James 5:14-16. James could be calling for the sick person to take medicine and receive prayer. This interpretation gives it a whole new meaning. Most Christians I know would do both…take medicine and pray (and get put on some prayer chains, if possible). The fact that James brackets the medicine taking with prayer says that while we should do both, prayer is more important. Prayer is mentioned in verses 13 & 15 while oil is only in verse 14. Mentioning prayer again in verse 16 shows just how important prayer is.
Do you see how important it is to interpret scripture in it’s original context first before applying it to our life in the 21st century? If you read these verses thru just 21st century eyes, you’d NEVER go to a doctor when you get sick. In fact, there are a very small number of Christians who won’t go to a doctor because of these verses. Most of their cases end tragically.
We should read all historical documents thru the eyes of the time period that they were written in. As an example of how critical this is, let’s look at the 1st amendment of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
The 1st amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Only in the mid-20th century have we re-interpreted this to mean a total and complete separation of church and state, even though the words “separation of church and state” do not appear here at all.
So where does the idea of a “wall of separation” come from? In a private letter that President Jefferson sent to the Danbury, CT Baptist Association. Jefferson assures them that the federal government will, in no way, interfere with or institute a national religion or denomination like they had in Britain which we just freed ourselves from. He meant this ‘wall’ to be a one way wall. That the federal government would not interfere with any religion or denomination. Supreme Court Justice James Wilson (1742-1798) said, “The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statue is to discover the meaning of those who made it.” “This wall was not to limit public displays or activities of religion but to limit the federal government from interferring with or prohibiting those expressions of it.” Jefferson did not mean that religious people could not influence government. In fact, he knew that they had that freedom and would use it.
While the federal government couldn’t dictate beliefs to churches, they believed and supported them where they could. The Supreme Cout recognized that we were a “Christian nation” in there 1892 decision of Holy Trinity versus the United States, 143 US 457 (https://www.conservapedia.com/Church_of_the_Holy_Trinity_v._United_States).
This is why they allowed the individual states to have state religions supported by state tax dollars. And when the states decided to not have tax supported state churches anymore, none of them listed the 1st amendment as their reason not to. Only in the 2nd half of the 20th century have the courts re-interpreted the 1st amendment to suit their own desires. In fact, the 1st 10 amendments were enacted solely to limit what the federal government could do. The only reason for the freedom of religion part of the 1st amendment was to prevent the federal government from establishing a national religion/denomination with tax dollars like they did in England.
This is why reading documents as to what they meant to the original audience (the original intent of the authors) is so very important. This matters when we’re reading the bible or something like the U.S. Constitution/Bill of Rights.
Book…”Original Intent” by David Barton
For His Kingdom,