God’s Word for You
James 5:13-14 Anointing with oil
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, September 1, 2020
13 Is anyone among you suffering hardship? Let him pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
When we read this passage, we should remember the context of what came before. James is coaching us on the proper use of language and the way we use our words. Whether there is hardship or happiness, we should speak to God, either in prayer or in praise through music. If an illness prevents someone from praying, they should have someone invite the church elders (pastors or other ministers or leaders) to pray over them. Along with prayer, there is also an “anointing with oil.” In the grammar of the sentence, “pray” is the main verb, while “anointing” is a participle, secondary and supplementary. The anointing is not the important event; the prayer is. The oil did not bring the true healing; the prayer was the vital element.
Oil was simply a typical basic medicine, used in almost all circumstances and almost always quite useful. Oil (olive oil) was used for wounds, burns, aches and pains, skin diseases, headaches, and even paralysis. King Herod was said to have taken a bath in oil when he was near death in the hope that it would bring about a cure. Oil was also a symbol of God’s blessing in the Scriptures (Micah 6:15). It was “the oil of gladness” (Isaiah 61:3; Psalm 45:7), used for anointing the head (Psalm 23:5, 92:10) and to show God’s blessing in general (Ecclesiastes 9:8). It was used while bathing (Ruth 3:3), as a cosmetic (Esther 2:12), and it was of course an important part of the diet: “I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey” (Ezekiel 16:19). Oil was evidently used as a polite greeting of guests (Luke 7:46). Another use was to symbolize ordination (Psalm 133:2) or the appointing of a king (1 Samuel 16:13) although anointing did not automatically make just anyone a priest or a king.
Sometimes this passage is used as a reference for a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church and in some Eastern churches. Since the Council of Trent (1545), the Catholic Church has observed seven sacraments, adding to baptism and the Lord’s Supper the following: confirmation, penance (not repentance), extreme unction (anointing with last rites for the dying), orders (the ordination of priests), and marriage. Of these additional five, only marriage is commanded by God. The Lutheran Church identifies the marks of a sacrament as a sacred act which (1) uses the word of God, (2) was instituted by Christ (at the command of God), (3) gives the forgiveness of sins, and (4) contains some earthly element. Using the terms “word, instituted, forgiveness, element,” I often use the acronym “WIFE” when teaching this to classes.
Not all readers may be interested in what follows, but I will briefly address each of Rome’s additional rites:
(1) Confirmation is a praiseworthy custom, but has no basis in scripture, no command from God, no forgiveness attached to the practice except as the doorway to the Lord’s Supper, and no earthly element.
(2) Penance is not the repentance of the Bible (which is contrition and faith), but is a human work consisting of a meritorious sorrow, a confession of sins secretly to a priest, alone, which is neither commanded nor even demonstrated in Scripture (John taught publicly without a booth for confession, Mark 1:5), and the works of penance demanded by a priest, which place forgiveness on the shoulders of someone other than Christ, who alone atoned for our sins and who gives us forgiveness through faith alone (Galatians 3:25-26).
(3) Last rights or extreme unction is an anointing given to the dying. The anointing of this passage in James is for physical healing, as is that of Mark 6:13, but the Catholic teaching is that the final anointing is for giving “health and strength to the soul, and sometimes to the body, when we are in danger or death from sickness” (Baltimore Catechism, question 956). There is no promise attached to this anointing in the Bible, but as a custom there is nothing to reject it. Professor Kuske wrote: “The implication in the anointing is understood as being symbolic of God’s mercy and help” (Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly).
(4) The ordination of priests (or the taking of orders of monks and nuns) professes to imprint an indelible character on the priest and confer the power to sacrifice the body and blood of Christ. This is in direct contrast to Scripture, which assures us that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Christ, our true and only High Priest, “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12). And again, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). These testimonies show that there is no longer any sacrifice to be made for our sins; it is done, once and for all sins. Therefore ordination does not give the power to sacrifice Christ, but is simply an outward sign to show that the church has called an individual to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments publicly in the name of the congregation. This is also why our ministers are not called priests (since we do not make sacrifices), but pastors, since we guide a flock.
(5) Marriage is commanded by God, and this is carried over by the word of Christ: “At the beginning God ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:6-9). But the command of Christ alone does not make a sacrament, because the government is also a command and institution of God (Mark 12:16-17; Romans 13:1-4), and the government never forgives sins before God.
Our Church’s confession (Apology Article XIII) is clear enough about this subject. As for anointing with oil, it was done with faith and prayer, and these are the important aspects. We would do well to apply the medicine in the I.V. tube, the bandage, the chemotherapy, and even radiation treatments, with faith and prayer. Where the body is concerned, let our profession of faith stand as the good doctors and caring nurses apply their skill and craft. We give our bodies to the care of “many doctors” (Mark 5:26). Where the soul is concerned, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess [your faith] and are saved” (Romans 10:10). Show your faith in the words you say and sing, and even in your very thoughts. This gives glory to God.
Now praise we Christ, the Holy One,
The blessed virgin Mary’s Son.
From east to west, from shore to shore
Let earth its Lord and King adore.
All honor unto Christ the Lord,
Eternal and incarnate Word,
With Father and with Holy Ghost
Till time in endless time be lost. (Christian Worship 39:1,7)
Pastor Timothy Smith