A paper written by David Petts for the General Council Of Assemblies of God in Great
Britain and Ireland at the request of its Executive Council, January 2001.
I was originally requested to present a paper on this topic at the AoG General Conference to
be held in April 2001 to prepare for the debate with regard to the proposed change in the
Statement of Faith on the subject of healing. It has now been decided that the paper be
circulated in advance in order to allow for ample consideration to be given to such an
At the outset I need to make it clear that I am writing as an AoG minister specifically for a
readership of AoG ministers and representatives of assemblies who will be meeting in
Prestatyn in April for our annual General Council Conference. As such I am writing as one
who believes our Statement of Faith as it presently stands, but who believes that it could
certainly be improved.
I shall argue that atonement terminology is not the best way to present our belief in Divine
Healing even though there clearly is a very real sense in which deliverance from sickness, by
Divine Healing is providedfor in the Atonement as our present Constitutional Minute states
The Executive Council is proposing that this should be replaced with the following:
WE BELIEVE in the healing power of Christ bringing deliverance from sickness by [he
means of prayer, laying on of hands, the anointing with oil and the gifts of the Holy Spirit
(ME 16:17-18; Jam.5:13-16: 1 cor.12:9-10).
In a circular letter accompanying this paper I have briefly outlined why I believe that this
wording is to be preferred to that of the present Statement. Here I shall concentrate on the
disadvantages of linking our understanding of healing directly to the atonement. Let me
emphasise that the issue before us at Conference, and therefore the subject matter of this
paper, is not whether healing is in the atonement or not, but whether its relation to the
atonement is the best way to express our belief in God’s willingness and power to heal
Since the major issue, therefore, is whether to retain atonement terminology in our statement
about healing, I propose in this paper to explore various ways in which healing may be
understood to be in the atonement, some of which I consider to be biblically valid2 and some
of which, I believe, are questionable. I will then argue that, because of the questionable ways
in which the doctrine is understood, and panicularly because of the ways in which it is
sometimes applied, it would be best to leave out any reference to it in our Statement of Faith.
It would clearly not be possible or necessary within the scope of this paper to deal with the whole issue of
healing in relation to the atonement. Those who wish to investigate my views in greater depth may wish to
consult my thesis on the subject: Healing and the Atonement, PhD Thesis, Nottingham University, 1993,
approx. 120,000 words (400 pages). This is obtainable from Mattersey Hall for the cost Of the photocopying
(E20 + postage).
2 | am conscious that I may be strongly asserting my personal opinions here, but that is somewhat inevitable in a
paper of this nature. I cenainly do not consider myself to be above correction in these matters, and my views are
submitted here in a spirit of humility for your thoughtful consideration. For a doctrine to be ‘biblically valid’ in
my view it must be clearly supported by the Scriptures when correctly exegeted in the light Of the context in
which they are set, Unfortunately detailed exegesis will not be possible within the scope of this paper.
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2. Ways of understanding that healing is in the atonement
In this section I shall consider five ways in which healing is understood to be in the
atonement. Doubtless there are others, but I consider these five to be broadly representative
of the various views currently held within the Fellowship. They may be summarised as
A. On the cross Jesus carried our sicknesses substitutionally,just as He carried our sins
B. Healing is indirectly in the atonement
C. Healing is ultimately in the atonement
D. Sickness is a work of Satan and on the cross Jesus conquered Satan and his forces
E. Healing is a part of the message of the gospel.
I shall deal with each of these in turn explaining briefly why I accept or reject the particular
version of the doctrine in question. Before doing so, however, it may be helpful to State that I
reject A but accept without reservation B and C, and with some qualification both D, and E. I
will give more precise definition to this as we proceed.
A. On the cross Jesus carried our sicknesses substitutionally, just as He carried our sins
This is the view that was held by the early proponents of the doctrine. Space does not allow
here for a detailed discussion of the development of the doctrine , but it is generally agreed
that the doctrine emerged in the Holiness Movement in the USA in the second half of the
nineteenth century and through the influence of writers such as Carrie Judd Montgomery
transferred from the Holiness movement into the early Pentecostalism of her day. It was
given great prominence in the 1950s and 60s by healing evangelists like T. L. Osborn and
today is promoted by Faith Movement writers such as Copeland and Hagin. It is also held by
a number within our own Fellowship although there is reason to believe that relatively few
hold the doctrine in this form
By this form of the doctrine I mean the doctrine that teaches that Christ bore not only our sins
but also our sicknesses when he died on the cross. As a result, Christians may claim their
healing on the grounds that they need not have the sickness because Christ has already
carried it for them substitutionally. Once this is understood faith will appropriate the healing
which has already been accomplished at Calvary. Why should I suffer pain if Christ has
already carried my pains and sorrows?
Thus Gloria Copeland, commenting on Matthew 8: 17, makes the following statement:
“When Jesus bore away our sins, He also bore away our diseases. The cross pronounced a
double cure for the ills of mankind. The Church of Jesus Christ has been made just as free
from sickness as it has been made free from sin. A Christian may continue to sin after he has
been born again. but he does not have to, Sin shall no longer lord it over him unless he
allows it (Rom. 6:14). A Christian may continue to be sick after he has been born again hut
Those who may wish to do so may consult my thesis, or indeed Don Dayton’ s excellent book:
Dayton, D. VV., Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987
It is diffcult to know exactly how many of our ministers hold the doctrine in this particular form. It is
interesting to note that in a recent survey conducted by William Kay, although 89.9% of our ministers agreed
that physical healing is provided by Christ’S atonement, only 19.7% believed that divine healing will always
occur if a person’s faith is great enough. This suggests to me that some 700/0 believe that healing is in the
atonement, but not in the sense we are discussing in this section, for surely if they believed that Christ carried
our sickness injust the same way as He carried our sins they would believe that healing would always occur in
response to faith? For further details see Kay, W.K„ Pentecostals in Britain, Carlisle, Paternoster, 2000, p. 101.
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he does not have to. He has been redeemed from sickness. The price has been paid for his
healing. Sickness can no longer exert dominion over him unless he allows it. Most believers
have only known a part of their redemption. Their faith will operate to the degree of their
knowledge of God’s Word. They would have begun to live in divine health long ago if they
had realised that healing belonged to them. As you accept the fact that as surely as Jesus bore
your sins, He also bore away your disease, weakness, and pain, your days of sickness will be
This rather lengthy quotation adequately summarises the teaching of those who hold this
view which I would summarise as:
the view that Christians may claim healing from sickness on the grounds that Christ has
already carried that sickness for them just as he has carried their sins.
I have already stated that I personally cannot embrace this view. My reasons for saying this
are primarily biblical — I do not believe that this is what the Bible teaches — but, as I shall
show later, there are also good pastoral and practical reasons why this particular version of
the doctrine is to be rejected. At this stage I shall just deal with the biblica16.
The verses usually adduced as evidence for this version of the doctrine are Matthew 8:17 and
I Peter 2:24 which are NT citations from Isaiah 53:4-5. In my view it is, to say the least,
questionable whether Matthew 8:17 should be interpreted this way, and it is clear to me that I
Peter 2:24 most definitely should not! In Appendices I and 2 at the end Of this paper I have
outlined my reasons for saying this. Here a summary will be sufficient.
The context in which Matthew 8:17 is set is not the cross but Jesus’ healing ministry taking
place some three years before the crucifixion. The verse is undoubtedly about physical
healing, but it is questionable whether Matthew is relating it to the atonement. Please see
Appendix 1 for further clarification.
1 Peter 2:24 is undoubtedly about the atonement, but is certainly not about physical healing.
Divine healing is not under discussion in the context and is not mentioned anywhere in the
epistle. The healing referred to here is spiritual, healing from the wounds of sin. I have no
doubt that people have, in God’s mercy, been physically healed by ‘claiming’ such verses,
but that is no reason to base a doctrine on them! Please see Appendix 2 for further
Accordingly for good biblical reasons (exegetical and theological) I reject the view that Jesus
died for our sicknesses in the same way that He dies for our sins. But that does not mean that
there is no sense in which healing is in the atonement. I believe there are reasonable grounds
for saying that it is, as I shall seek to demonstrate in the following sections.
Copeland, G., God’s Willfor You, Fort Worth, KCP, 1972, pp. 126-127.
6 The issues I deal with here are essentially exegelical, In my thesis (pp. 280-291) I have also discussed
lheological difficulties with the concept Of atonement for sickness. Space forbids detailed discussion here, but
the questions below are worthy of consideration.
If healing can be received on exactly the same basis as the forgiveness of our sins:
Why do we not always receive healing immediately when we ask for it?
Why does James 5 instruct sick Christians to ask for anointing with oil? Surely all they would need to do is
to claim the healing for themselves?
Why didn’t Paul claim healing for the sickness he had in Galatians 4: 13?
Why does Paul encourage Timothy to take a medicinal remedy for his frequent illnesses (l Timothy 5:22)
rather than instructing to claim his healing by faith?
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B. Healing is indirectly in the atonement
This view, which I have embraced for many years, does not see Jesus as carrying sickness on
the cross. Rather, he carried our sin. But the existence of sickness in the world is one of the
results of sin. Indeed, in bearing sin Jesus was dealing with the root cause of sickness. In a
sense, therefore, He was indirectly bearing sickness. Perhaps this is made clearer by quoting
from my book You ‘d Better Believe It which has been widely circulated in the Fellowship,
originally under the title Know the Truth (first published in 1976):
“In both Old and New Testaments we see God’s power and willingness to
heal his people, When God made man he made him perfect and put him in a
perfect creation. Everything God made was ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). It is
clear that man was not only morally, but also physically perfect. There was no
sickness in the Garden of Eden. There is to be no sickness in heaven
(Revelation 21:4). The existence of sickness is the result of Adam’s sin. The
whole of creation was affected by the Fall (Romans 8:22).
But just as God has not left us without a ransom for sins so too he has not left
us without a remedy for sickness. By Christ’s atoning death on the cross he
has reconciled to God all those who believe. By faith in the substitutionary
sacrifice offered at Calvary repentant sinners are brought into right
relationship with God. Their sins are washed away. The effects of the Fall are
counteracted. Sin, the root cause of sickness is atoned for. By restoring us to
fellowship with our Maker, Christ has, by his death, made provision for the
healing of our bodies.
It is in this sense that healing may be rightly said to be ‘in the atonement’. Of
course, the word ‘atonement’ by its very meaning essentially refers to sin.
Because of the atonement we are redeemed, we are reconciled to God, we are
no longer enemies but sons. And the blessings of the New Testament are no
less than those of the Old. To those who are by covenant his people, God still
says, ‘I am the Lord who heals you'”
But this is not the only way of understanding that healing is indirectly in the atonement. It
may also be understood in this way with reference to the work of the Spirit. I Corinthians
12:9 (cf. v. 30) makes it clear that healing is a work of the Spirit. Yet we receive the gift of
the Spirit as a result of the atonement.
That the atonement is the basis upon which the Spirit is given is made clear in Galatians 3:13-
14. In its context Galatians 3:14 stresses the extending of God’s blessings to the Gentiles, but
the verse clearly indicates an underlying theology that sees the reception of the Spirit as at
least a part of God’s purpose brought about by Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.
Further, Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-18, 15:7-9 emphasises that the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles
was a demonstration on God’s part that he had accepted and justified them, and clearly
implies that the reception of the Spirit presupposes a man’s acceptance with God. In short,
the gift Of the Spirit is a result of the atonement and healing is the work of the Spirit.
Therefore, healing is, indirectly at least, in the atonement. For detailed discussion of this
argument, please see my thesis pp. 345-355.
C. Healing is ultimately in the atonement
The understanding that healing is indirectly in the atonement is closely linked to the idea that
it is also ultimately so linked. If we understand Paul ‘s teaching correctly concerning the Spirit
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as the earnest, the deposit which guarantees our future inheritance (cf also terms such as seal
and firstfruits which carry a similar force), we will recognise that the blessings of the age to
come are in some measure available to the Christian now through the work of the Spirit.
Accordingly we may expect healing now. Our ultimate healing, however, will take place at
the Second Coming, our ultimate victory over death and our reception of an immonal and
imperishable body. Our bodies will be ‘changed’ (I Corinthians 15:51) and our sicknesses
will all be healed.
In support of this, notice that Paul is concerned in this passage not only with the resurrection
of the dead but also with the transformation of those who are still alive at the Second
Coming. Their bodies are to be ‘changed’ too. In v. 50 he states that flesh and blood cannot
inherit the kingdom of God and that the corruptible does not inherit incorruption. The living
as well as the dead, need to be transformed in order to take part in the Kingdom of God.
Thus both the living and the dead are in some way to be ‘changed’ at the Second Coming.
In verses 52-53 Paul speaks of the necessity for the corruptible to be clothed with
incorruption. Thus the living as well as the dead are to be ‘changed’ for they have
‘corruptible’ bodies which must ‘be clothed with incorruption’ (v. 53). Thus by referring not
only to the corruption which takes place in our body after death but also to the corruptible
nature of our present body Paul clearly brings the healing of sickness within the scope of the
physical transformation which will take place at the Second Coming.
Further, it seems to be self-evident that if a body were to become incorruptible it would by
definition be no longer subject to sickness. Moreover, if it had been sick before, upon
becoming incorruptible it would immediately cease to be sick. In short the clear implication
of Paul’s teaching is that the change which is to take place at the Second Coming will by the
very totality of its nature involve the healing of sickness.
But there is at least one further factor that indicates that the healing of sickness may be
understood to be implicit in this passage. This is with regard to the references to Adam. If I
am right in understanding with most commentators that Romans 8: 1 8ff refers to the Fall 7 and
that there is no need to exclude sickness from the scope of Paul’s use of our present
sufferings, then a connection in Paul’s thinking between Adam’s sin and the origin of
sickness has already been established. The references to Adam in I Corinthians 15 (vv. 21-
22 and vv. 45-49) must now be considered in order to determine whether or not they confirm
With regard to vv.21-22 it seems evident that this is a clear reference to the Fall. Paul argues
that as death came through a man (sc. Adam) so through a man (sc. Christ) came resurrection
from the dead, for ‘as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’. Paul’s
understanding of the resurrection of those ‘in Christ’ (which later in vv. 50-57 he makes clear
will take place at the Second Coming) is thus closely linked with his understanding of the
fa118. Death comes through Adam because of the Fall. Life comes through Christ whose
resurrection Paul sees as the firstfruits of the resurrection of those who are in Christ. The
resurrection of which he speaks is thus the ultimate antidote to the sufferings ushered in by
the Fall, and if, as I have suggested, Paul understood sickness to have resulted from the Fall,
then the Second Coming must surely be the end of it.
7See Thesis p. 234 and notes 22 and 23 on pp. 244-5.
SFor support for the understanding that I Corinthians 15:221-22 refers to the Fall see the following
commentaries: Barrett, pp. 351-353, Conzelmann, p. 268, Fee, p. 751, Goudge, p. 147, Héring, p. 164,
Robertson & Plummer, p. 352f.
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I conclude, therefore, that Paul believed that the Fall was the origin of sickness and that the
Second Coming would be its ultimate antidote. My arguments in reaching this conclusion
may be briefly summarised as follows:
a) Romans 8:18ff indicates that Paul saw the Fall as the origin Of suffering in the universe.
The breadth of scope in the passage eliminates entirely the view that sickness should be
excluded from Paul’s thinking here. Thus for Paul the Fall is the origin of sickness.
b) I Corinthians 15:51 ff indicates that the transformation which Paul envisaged would take
place in Christians’ bodies at the Second Coming would occur not only for the dead but also
for the living. That transformation which involved the corruptible being clothed with
incorruption, would by its very nature mean healing for any Christian who might be still
physically sick at the time of the Second Coming.
c) Since, as I have argued, Paul’s understanding of the Fall underlies his teaching about
resurrection and the Second Coming in I Corinthians 15, and since the resurrection which
occurs at the Second Coming is the antithesis of the death which results from the Fall,
then it follows that sickness too, which Paul also understood to result from the Fall, will
be dealt with at the Second Coming, the lesser being subsumed by the greater.
These considerations, it seems to me, indicate a strong probability that Paul believed that
sickness finds its origin in the Fall and its end at the Second Coming. Although this is
nowhere specifically stated in his writings such a view is at the very least by no means
inconsistent with his teaching in Romans 8 and I Corinthians 15 and, in my view, is strongly
implied by it. If this be so, then the ultimate physical healing for all Christians will take place
at the Second Coming. Of course we are still waiting for the redemption of our bodies
(Romans 8:23). If, along with the rest Of creation, we groan a little right now, we must
remember that the day is coming when the sons of God shall be revealed, when the creation
will be delivered from its bondage to corruption, and we shall be clothed with incorruptible
D. Sickness is a work of Satan and on the cross Jesus conquered Satan and his forces
In the last section I argued that sickness in the world results from Adam’s sin. Even if this is
correct, however, it must be borne in mind that this is by no means the only emphasis in the
New Testament. Sickness is sometimes understood, particularly by the Synoptists, as the
result of the activity of Satan or of evil spirits rather than as the result of sin.
In Acts 10:38 Peter refers to Jesus as healing all who were oppressed by the devil, and
although this should not be taken to mean that all sickness is of satanic origin, it certainly
implies that some is. This is confirmed by such passages as Matthew12:22, Mark 9:17, 25,
and Luke 13:11.
This last case is noteworthy in that the woman’s curvature Of the spine is attributed to both a
‘spirit of infirmity’ (v.11) and to ‘Satan’ (v. 16). Presumably the spirit is seen as an agent of
Satan. (Cf also Luke 7:21 where Luke uses therapeuo in connection with evil spirits). There
is no suggestion that the woman’s condition had been caused by her sin; rather, as a ‘daughter
Of Abraham’ she had a right to be set free from her long-standing affliction without a
moment’s delay – without even waiting for the Sabbath day to pass (v. 16). Sickness is seen
as a bondage from Satan from which Jesus had come to set people free (cf. Acts 10:38)9.
9 For further discussion of the relation between sickness and Satan, see The Devil, Disease, and Deliverance by
Pentecostal writer JC Thomas, Sheffield, SAP, 1998, passim.
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But if sickness is understood to be the work of Satan and his forces, then Christ’s death might
reasonably be understood to have dealt with sickness if it can be shown to have dealt with
Satan10. This is certainly implied in passages such as Hebrews 2:14, Revelation 12:9-11, and
Colossians 2:15. These three passages indicate that Christs death was understood by New
Testament writers as a triumphant victory over Satan and his forces. But may they
legitimately be interpreted as meaning that Christ conquered sickness on the cross?
Taking each passage in its context, deliverance from sickness is nowhere part of the
discussion. Nevertheless there is no reason to suppose that the writers in question understood
Christ’s victory over Satan to have been limited to the specific areas they were addressing.
If, as seems likely, their understanding was that Christ’s victory was total, then these verses
may well indicate a wider understanding of that victory. If that be the case then the view that
Christ’s death dealt with sickness in that by it he conquered Satan who is understood to be the
author of sickness is at least credible.
It needs to be borne in mind, however, that the New Testament does not ascribe all sickness
to Satan and that, therefore, a healing in the atonement theory based solely on Christ’s victory
over Satan at Calvary could hardly claim to cover cases of sickness not inflicted by Satan.
For further discussion, please see my thesis pp. 235-239.
E. Healing is a part of the message of the gospel
I have included this section because the strong connection in thought between the atonement
and the gospel. I have argued in my thesis (pp. 206-227) that although we cannot
automatically conclude from the fact that the Greek word for ‘save’ (sozo) may also mean
‘heal’ that healing is necessarily a part of salvation, it is nevertheless ultimately part of our
salvation (cf. Section C. above). I also believe that healing should be considered to form a
part of the Gospels at least in the broadest sense of the term. That is what I shall argue here,
although I do not consider that linking healing with the gospel demonstrates necessarily that
healing is in the atonement.
Examination Of the ‘gospel’ word-group in Matthew, Luke and Paul (John does not use it)
shows that in Matthew and Luke healing may be understood to be a part of the gospel
because the gospel is a message about Christ’s kingly authority and as such includes acts of
healing. SeeMatthew4:23, 9:35, 11:5, Luke 4:16ff, 7:22, 9:1-6.
The gospel comprises a variety of diverse elements. For example, F.F.Bruce, following
C.H.Dodd, suggests the following:
1. the prophecies have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming Of Christ;
2. he was born into the family of David;
3. he died according to the Scriptures to deliver his people from this evil age;
4. he was buried, and raised again the third days according to the Scriptures;
5. he is exalted at God’s right hand as Son of God, Lord of living and dead;
6. he will come again to judge the world and consummate his saving workl
‘ÖGustav Aulen draws attention to the ‘dramatic’ view of the atonement which sees Christ’s death as a cosmic
drama in which God in Christ does battle with the powers of evil and gains victory over them. He claims that
this was ‘the ruling idea of the Atonement for the first thousand years of Christian history’. Aulen, G., ‘Chrisms
Victor’, London, SPCK, 1931, pp. 22-23.
11Bruce, F.F., Gospel article in ‘New Dictionary of Theology, Leicester, 1988, pp. 278-279. This
summary of the Gospel is almost identical to the kerygma offered by C..H. Dodd in ‘The Apostolic Preaching
and its Development’, London, Hodder, 1936, p. 21.
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It seems to me that this is a reasonably accurate summary Of the basic elements of the gospel
message, although I would have expected at the end of 5 a reference to the gift of the Spirit to
the church as a result of Christ’s exaltation (cf Acts 2:33.38-40). The relationship between
healing and the gospel may now be summarised. Healing is directly connected with elements
I, 5, and ultimately 6 of the gospel. During the earthly ministry of Jesus it was part of the
good news that the new age had been inaugurated by his coming. Since his death and
resurrection, signs and wonders (which include miracles of healing) are granted by the Spirit
as evidence of Christ’s exaltation. And healing will be a part of the consummation of his
saving work in the age to come.
Furthermore healing must be seen as an important accompaniment to the proclamation of the
gospel. It should be not so much something we preach about as something we do! In Romans
15:16-20 Paul refers to his ministry to the Gentiles in the service of the gospel (v. 16) through
which Christ has won obedience from the Gentiles by word and deed (v. 18). This has been
accomplished (v. 19) by the power ofsigns and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He
claims to have ‘fulfilled the gospel of Christ’ in a context of signs and wonders performed by
the Spirit’s power12
There is here a clear connection between signs and wonders performed by the Spirit – and
these would undoubtedly include healing- and the proclamation of the gospel. This does not
mean that the signs and wonders and miracles of healing are a part of the gospel message —
that is summarised for us in I Corinthians 15: I -4 — but they are an important accompaniment
to Paul’s proclamation Of it. “Ihey are a demonstration of Christ’s authority and that authority
is part of the good news. In that sense, as in Matthew and Luke, they are part of the gospel
without being directly linked to the atonement.
3. Why atonement terminology is not the best way to present
our belief in divine healing
So far we have considered five ways of understanding that healing is in the atonement.
Although I have rejected the view that Christ died for our sicknesses injust the same way that
He died for our sins (Section 2A), I have argued that healing should be understood to be ‘in
the atonement’ both indirectly (2B) and ultimately (2C). I have also suggested that it is
possible to understand healing to be in the atonement because Christ’s atoning death was a
triumphant victory over Satan and his forces (2D) and that the proclamation of the gospel
should be accompanied with signs and wonders and miracles of healing (2E).
So why should we not retain the present wording of our Statement of Faith? If there are valid
ways of understanding healing to be in the atonement, why not leave things as they are? This,
of course, brings us to the very heart of the matter. The fact is that although 2B, C, D, and E
may be legitimate ways Of understanding healing to be in the atonement, the majority of
teachers and writers on the subject present it in terms of 2A. Indeed that is how the
doctrine was originally propounded by those who first advocated it. And there are very real
pastoral and practical problems with this version Of the doctrine13. These we will now
The doctrine that healing is in the atonement as originally expressed is so dogmatic with
regard to the provision of healing for Christians who are physically sick that it leaves little or
no room for those who remain unhealed. Because it offers no ‘theology for the unhealed’
12 For my rejection of the widely held view that ‘falfilling the gospel’ means that Paul had preached it in all the
vinces between Jerusalem and Illyricum, sce Thesis p.220.
We briefly considered some of the doctrinal problems in section 2A.
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Christians who do not find healing through the doctrine face doubts about the reality of their
faith and the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed a sense of guilt about not being healed is by no
means uncommon. In addition to these psychological problems produced by the doctrines
problems which clearly create difficulties for those attempting to help such Christians
pastorally, very serious practical difficulties also arise when the doctrine leads to the rejection
of medical means. In this final section, therefore, I shall briefly demonstrate why the doctrine
makes no room for the unhealed and illustrate by way of example the pastoral and practical
difficulties the doctrine has caused.
The doctrine as originally expressed makes no room for the unhealed precisely because it is
so positive and dogmatic about what Christ is thought already to have done upon the cross. A
Christian has no need to be sick because Christ has carried his sickness substitutionally on the
cross. A.B. Simpson’s understanding of I Peter 2:24 is sufficient illustration of this:
“That one cruel stripe of His – for the word is singular -summed up in it all the
aches and pains Of a suffering world; and there is no longer need that we
should suffer what He has sufficiently borne (my italics). Thus our healing
becomes a great redemption right, which we simply claim as our purchased
inheritance through the blood of His cross
Gloria Copeland’s more recent statement is to the same effect:
“A Christian may continue to be sick…. but he does not have to
Such an approach clearly leaves no room for those who are sick. If they believe the doctrine
they have been taught they perceive themselves to be, and understand that others perceive
them to be, sick, but unnecessarily sick! The difficulty of living with the sickness is thus
compounded by the frustration of not understanding why one is sick when one ought not to
be and, according to the doctrine, need not be. It is to these psychological difficulties that we
must now turn our attention.
The psychological and resultant pastoral problems which arise in this connection fall into
three main areas: (l) doubt about one’s faith, (2) doubt about one’s salvation, and (3) a very
real sense of guilt. According to the doctrine, healing is readily available to the Christian and
must simply be appropriated by faith. If healing does not come the sick Christian is thus led
to the inescapable conclusion that his faith is in some way deficient. He consequently faces
not only the problem of his physical sickness but also the spiritual battle of wondering why
he does not have enough faith. This in turn may lead to a questioning as to whether his sins
have been forgiven and, coupled with it, a very real sense of guilt.
This sense that one’s faith is deficient is clearly an extremely serious issue, particularly in the
light of our understanding that justification is by faith. For if my faith is deficient with regard
to healing (which according to the doctrine that healing is in the atonement it clearly might be
if I am not healed) then how do I know that my faith for salvation, the forgiveness of my sins,
is not also deficient? And this is no mere academic point. After 40 years’ ministry in
Assemblies of God and after innumerable conversations with Assemblies of God pastors
during that period, I have discovered that this issue is undoubtedly the major area of pastoral
concern with regard to the doctrine.
Nor is this concern of recent origin. Almost 50 years ago Donald Gee wrote:
14 Simpson, A. B. , The Gospel of Healing, London, Morgan and Scott, 1915, p. 32.
See note 5.
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“To assert that healing for our bodies rests upon an identical authority with
healing for our souls in the atoning work of Christ our Saviour can involve
serious problems of personal faith and confidence…. where Divine Healing,
though ‘claimed’, has not been received
“Part of the unfortunate manner in which faith in Divine Healing sometimes
has been sincerely promulgated…. is this continual suggestion that failure to
get healed is rooted in some deep spiritual failure in the one who is sick. This
attitude has added mental suffering to physical suffering, and in extreme cases
turned belief in Divine Healing into a scourge rather than a privilege, and a
burden rather than a relief’ 17
The ‘mental suffering’ to which Gee refers here springs, as I have already suggested, partly
from a sense of failure that one has not had enough faith to be healed and partly from a very
real doubt as to whether one’s sins have really been forgiven. But it is further intensified by a
sense of guilt felt by the sufferer. Perhaps two recent examples from my own pastoral
experience will provide sufficient illustration.
A friend who had been experiencing nightmares which resulted from sexual abuse during
childhood was prayed for that she might be ‘healed’. When the nightmares returned she
confessed to me that she felt guilty about this. Clearly, she felt, there was some spiritual
failure on her part or the nightmares would not have returned. Those ministering to her had
heightened her expectation of healing, presumably with a view to increasing her faith, but
when the anticipated healing did not happen her faith was in fact weakened and this resulted
in an acute sense of guilt.
A similar sense of guilt had been borne for some years by a woman suffering from
spondylitis. She told me of this after a sermon I had preached on the theme of ‘The Sufferings
of this Present Time’ based on Romans 8: 18 . Taught that it was God’s will that she be healed
she had feJt guilty that she was rarely free from pain. She now felt able to bear her Dain more
gladly for she was free from the guilt that had condemned her for not being healedlC
Thus this version of the doctrine that healing is in the atonement may, for those who are not
healed, lead to a very real concern that their faith might be deficient. This in turn may
produce both a sense Of guilt and doubt concerning the forgiveness of their sins. The ultimate
outcome of this may be a rejection of the Christian faith altogether both on the part of the
unhealed and on the part of those, such as relatives, who are closely connected with them
But these are by no means the only difficulties caused by this version of the doctrine. There
are also very real practical difficulties. These include (I? the rejection of the use of all
medical means20, (2) the denial of all symptoms of disease2 , and (3) the harsh treatment and
even ostracism of those who are terminally i1122. I shall deal with each of these points briefly
Gee, Donald, Trophimusl Left Sick, London, Elim, 1952, pp.21-22.
Ibid p. 12.
18 It is noteworthy that shortly after she told me this, the Lord graciously healed her!
19 For an example of this see Barron, B. , The Health and Wealth Gospel, Downers Grove IL. , IVP, 1988, p. 130.
For examples of this and for modifications to this positm see my thesis pp. 14-18, 24,37,39,43,48-49, 262ff.
See pp. 81-82 of my thesis.
22 See McConnell, D.R., A Different Gospel. Peabody, Hendrickson, 1988, p. 166.
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Although the early proponents of the doctrine encouraged the rejection of the use Of medicine
in recent years its advocates have been more careful. This is possibly because of the legal
implications (particularly in the United States) rather than because of a change in convictions.
And as Bruce Barron has aptly commented, though the main proponents of the doctrine never
advocate abandonment of medical care, those who hear that healing is available to all who
will claim it by faith might easily infer that23 Indeed, whatever the oven position Of the
teachers of the doctrine might be, there have been tragic cases among their followers because
of the rejection of medical care.
Perhaps the best-known example of this is the case of the eleven-year-old diabetic Wesley
Parker whose parents, trusting in the doctrine that healing is in the atonement, threw away his
insulin. Refusing to return to a doctor, they watched Wesley die in agony. Even then, in their
attempt to exercise faith, they planned a ‘resurrection service’ instead of a funeral. After the
service they were arrested, found guilty of child abuse and imprisoner
And allied to the rejection of medical care is, of course, the denial of symptoms which can be
an equally risky business. McConnell points out that in diseases such as cancer, where early
detection is directly proportional to cure rates, the denial of symptoms can have tragic
consequences. He records how physicians in Tulsa have described to him the frustration of
attempting to treat serious illnesses that could have been prevented had they been diagnosed
sooner. One cancer specialist commented that on a weekly basis he encountered believers
who were denying the symptoms of cancer25,
McConnell also records how a woman described to him the results of following the teaching
to deny the reality of a sore throat. Although her sore throat persisted and worsened to a point
that she grew seriously ill, she still did not seek medical attention. When she finally did see
her doctor her sore throat turned out to be advanced rheumatic fever. Her health and mental
clarity have been permanently affected26
Finally, according to McConnell, there have been consistent bad reports with regard to the
treatment of the terminally ill on the part of some who hold the doctrine:
“Because of the belief that listening to a ‘negative confession’ can infect one’s
faith, not many in the Faith movement are willing even to be around, much
less listen to those who are seriously ill in their own churches. Basically, the
Faith churches have little or no concept of pastoral care for the chronically
and terminally ill believer. Such a believer is shunned, isolated and ostracised
as though he was an unbeliever – which by definition is precisely what he is,
or else he would not be ill in the first place…. Perhaps the moAt inhumane fact
revealed about the Faith movement is this: when its members die, they die
Clearly this criticism is not levelled against all who hold the doctrine that healing is in the
atonement, but against the Faith movement specifically. Nevertheless the danger is clear. A
doctrine which so dogmatically asserts that healing may be claimed as a right will inevitably
cause problems for those who are not healed. It may even affect the attitude of others towards
Barron, op. cit. p. 129.
24 The ffll story of Wesley’s tragic death is told by his father in:
Parker, L. , We Let Our Son Die, Eugene OR, Harvest House, 1980.
McConnell, op. cit. pp. 165 and 169,
26 Ibid, p. 169.
21 Ibid, p. 166.
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In this paper I have tried to show that although there are sound biblical grounds for the belief
that healing is provided in the atonement, some versions of the doctrine are biblically more
acceptable than others. The view with which I have found the greatest difficulty from a great
variety of perspectives — exegetical, theological, pastoral and practical — is that which insists
that Jesus carried our sicknesses on the cross in the same way that He carried our sins. This,
unfortunately, is the view most widely promulgated in the current writings of those who
embrace the doctrine and my concern is that in being identified with the doctrine at all we are
perceived to be identified with this particular version of it.
To express this more simply, it’s all very well to hold a healing in the atonement view based
on any or all of sections 2B, C, D, and E of this paper, but if we retain atonement terminology
in our Statement of Faith we will in all probability be identified with 2A, the version which I
have sought to reject.
Furthermore, as I indicated in footnote 4, there is strong evidence that 70% of our ministers
do not subscribe to the version of the doctrine outlined in 2A. I therefore consider that it
would be inappropriate (if not dishonest) to retain within our Statement of Faith terminology
which may easily be taken to mean that we do subscribe to that version.
We certainly need a positive statement about God’s power and willingness to heal the sick
today, but we should not retain terminology which by implication at least places a greater
burden on those who are not yet healed. In the letter which accompanies this paper I have
briefly given reasons as to why the proposed new wording would be more appropriate.
May the Lord give us wisdom and understanding in all things, and despite our inevitable
differences of interpretation, the ability to love one another with a pure heart fervently.
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Appendix 1: Healing & the Atonement – an examination of Matthew 8:17
The argument from Matthew 8:17
Those who use Matthew 8: 17 to support the doctrine that healing is in the atonement argue as
Matthew 8:16 records that Jesus healed all the sick. Matthew 8:17 tells us that he did this to
fulfil Isaiah 53:4. But the NT shows us elsewhere that Isaiah 53 is a prophecy of the
crucifixion. Therefore Jesus carried our sicknesses on the cross as well as our sins.
However, the clear difficulty with this is that Matthew does NOT use Isaiah 53 here (or
anywhere else for that matter) to refer to the cross. In the immediate context of Matthew 8
he sees Isaiah 53:4 as being fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry long before he died on the
Matthew 8:17 – its immediate context
Matthew 8: 16-17 tells us that Jesus cast out evil spirits and healed all the sick in order to
fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4, ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’.
Verse 16 may well be seen as a summary Of Jesus’ healing ministry, some specific examples
of which have been given earlier in the chapter – the leper (vv 1-4 ), the centurion’s servant
(vv 5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (vv 14-15). The most natural way to understand Matthew’s
use of Isaiah 53:4 is to take the citation as a confirmation that Jesus was fulfilling his
messianic role of healing the sick in accordance with prophecy. He was fulfilling Isaiah 53:4
by taking away people’s sicknesses there and then!
But this raises important introductory questions concerning Matthew’s purpose in writing his
gospel, and his use of ‘fulfilment quotations’ 28
Matthew’s Major Purposes in Writing his Gospel
I share the view of R. T. France that Matthew’s overall purpose is related to the needs of the
Jewish Christians of his day
This is based on Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the
fulfilment of OT hopes, to his application of OT texts to the life and ministry of Jesus, his
attitude to OT law and to the tradition of Jewish scribal teaching, his accounts of Jesus’
confrontation with the official representatives of the Jewish nation and religion, and his
understanding of the Christian church with respect to Judaism.
This understanding influences in turn our understanding of Matthew’s use of ‘formula
quotations’ (of which Matthew 8:17 is one).
Matthew’s Use of Fulfilment Quotations
There are ten ‘formula quotations’ which Matthew precedes with the formula ‘that what was
spoken bx the prophet might be fulfilled’ or ‘then was fulfilled what was spoken by the
prophet’ 3 . These must be understood with reference to Matthew’s overall emphasis on
fulfilment – to present Jesus as the fulfilment of all of Israel’s hopes and ideals.
2*For detailed discussion of this see Thesis pp. 102-140.
29France, R. T. , Matthew’, Tyndale NT Commentary, Leicester, IVP, 1985, p. 17. See also France’s article in
Themelios, vol. 14, No.2, 1989, p.42,
301:22-23, 2: 15, 2:17-18, 2:23, 4:14-16, 8:17, 12:17-21, 21:4-5, 27:9-10. (Cfalso 2:5-6).
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As LFW Woodford pointed out31 it is noteworthy that whenever Matthew uses a formula
quotation ‘he draws upon the scriptures quoted in order to relate their fulfilment to the actual
events there and then recorded, as (eg) the Virgin Birth… In this passage (8:17) Matthew was
not referring to our Lord’s coming passion when he drew upon this quotation, but he was
referring to the actual events he was then describing’.
It seems to me that the obvious way to read Matthew 8: 17 is to understand Matthew as saying
that Isaiah 53:4 was fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry long before the cross. Of course there
is just the possibility that Matthew is pointing us forward to the cross in these verses. But
there is no valid reason for us dogmatically to assert this. No NT writer applies this part of
Isaiah 53 to the cross. Why should we assume that the whole of Isaiah 53 is a prophecy of the
crucifixion? Some of it clearly is not! In fact the only time this part of Isaiah 53 is quoted in
the NT it is applied to Jesus healing ministry, not to the cross. Since the Holy Spirit inspired
Matthew to quote these words as being fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry, should we not
accept His verdict on the matter? Thus the assertion that Matthew has the cross in mind here
must at least be open to question. There is no safe ground here for the understanding that
healing is in the atonement.
As we shall see in Appendix 2, Peter takes Isaiah 53:5 and applies it to the cross, but NOT to
physical healing. Matthew takes 53:4 and applies it to healing, but NOT the cross. Thus
neither of these verses supports the doctrine that healing is in the atonement — although as I
have already argued, healing may be understood to be in the atonement on other grounds.
31Woodford, L,F.W. ‘Divine Healing and the Atonement – a Restatement’, London, Victoria Institute, 1956, p.
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Appendix 2: Healing & the Atonement – an examination of 1 Peter 2:24
The last part of I Peter 2:24 tells us that By his wounds you were healed.
To understand this correctly it is important to examine the context in sorne detail.
I Peter 2:24 is part of a passage which encourages Christians to be submissive to those who
are in authority (2:13-3:6). This passage falls naturally into three sections which deal in turn
• submission to rulers (2113-17)
• submission to masters (2: 18-25)
• submission to husbands (3:1-6).
I shall briefly consider the first section which in some measure serves as an introduction to
the second. The second will be dealt with in more detail as it forms the immediate context of
verse 24. However, I shall not discuss the third section as it is not critical to a correct
understanding of the verse.
Submission to rulers (2:13-17)
In this section Christians are to submit themselves to every authority instituted among men
(v. 13). Respect is to be shown to the king as the supreme authority and to governors, who
are sent by him to administer justice, so that by their good behaviour Christians may put to
silence those who accuse them (vv. 13-17). They are free, but freedom must not be used as
an excuse for wrongdoing, for despite their freedom Christians are God’s slaves as the
contrast between as free and as slaves of God makes clear (v. 16). Submission to rulers is
thus set firmly in the context of ultimate submission to God for if the king is to be honoured it
is God who is to be feared (v.17). Indeed it is ‘for the Lord’s sake’ that a Christian submits
to authority, no matter what form that authority may take (v. 13).
Submission to masters (2:18-25)
From the previous section we see that submission to human authority is an expression of the
Christian’s submission to divine authority. This enables him meekly to accept the decisions
of those who have authority over him. This is of special relevance to slaves who are
specifically addressed in verses 18-25 where they are instructed to submit to their masters
even if they are harsh. The possibility of suffering unjustly is very real (vv. 19-20) and if
this occurs Christian slaves are to remember that they are called by Christ’s own example to
endure it (vv.20 – 21)33.
It is highly significant here that there is no suggestion in these verses that Christians do not
need to suffer because Christ has already suffered for them. Quite the opposite is indicated.
The Christian who suffers for doing good must endure it patiently knowing that this is God’s
will for him, for Christ himself has set an example for him to follow (vv.20 – 21)34
Those addressed are oiketai. The word denotes household-slaves, many of whom might be well educated and
hold responsible positions in the household. They were, however, owned by their despotes (master) and did not
work for a wage. Although most masters were relatively humane, beatings were common and were the normal
unishment for the ordinary faults of the slave.
hupogrammon – ‘example’ – literally refers to the model of handwriting to be copied by a schoolboy and then
figuratively a model of conduct for imitation. Slaves who suffer unjustly are thus encouraged to follow step by
step the example of Christ delineated in the verses which follow.
“Cf. I Peter 4:12-19 where the same teaching is repeated with reference to Christians in general, not only to
slaves. The Christian who suffers is seen as participating in the sufferings of Christ (4:13) and is suffering
according to God’s will (4:19).
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Verses 22 – 25, which depend heavily on Isaiah 53, set forth the sufferings of Christ as the
supreme example of the innocent suffering unjustly and may be correctly understood as an
elaboration of the principle stated in verse 21 that Christ’s sufferings are an example for the
Christian to follow. Seen this way the statement of Christ’s innocence (v. 22), his refusal to
retaliate or complain (v.23), and his committing Of himself to God (v.23) are all clearly
intended as an example and an encouragement to the Christian slave who is suffering unjust
punishment. Furthermore, such an interpretation of these verses is completely in harmony
with the teaching concerning suffering elsewhere in the epistle
But if Christ’s innocence, his non-retaliation, and his committing himself to God are intended
as an encouragement to the Christian who is suffering unjust punishment, how much more is
the reminder of the results of Christ’s suffering? The sense of purposelessness encountered
by those enduring unjustly inflicted suffering is softened for the Christian by the realisation
that Christ’s sufferings were by no means without purpose. Verses 24-25 serve as a reminder
of this. Christ’s sufferings were redemptive. The innocent slave who is unjustly beaten by
his master is reminded that Christ too was unjustly punished, but not without purpose for
Christ bore our sins that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (v.24) and as a result
the wandering sheep has returned to the shepherd (v.25). Perhaps, by implication, the slave
might understand that his suffering too is not without a purpose, hidden and unstated though
that purpose might be36.
In the light of all this it seems to me that Peter’s use of by whose wounds you were healed
will only be correctly understood when it is seen within the context of a discussion which
presents to slaves who were sometimes unjustly treated the example of Christ whose passion
provides the pattern for all who suffer unjustly. Such an understanding will also provide,
with particular reference to the subject of this course, a clear indication as to whether the
healing referred to in the phrase is intended to be interpreted as physical or spiritual.
The relevance of the phrase by whose wounds you were healed in a passage addressed to
slaves who were sometimes unjustly flogged is immediately obvious. The word molops
means a bruise, scar, or weal left by a lash and describes a physical condition with which the
slaves were all too familiar. To slaves who were unjustly beaten Peter points out that Christ
too was beaten, and because of the wounds inflicted upon him they have been ‘healed’. The
use of the second person (you were healed) in place of the first (LXX we were healed is
perhaps significant in that the first person is used in the first part of the verse (that we might
live), The switch to the second person thus highlights the fact that it is particularly the
slaves who are addressed here for it is for them that the use of molops (wound) is especially
But in what sense had the slaves been ‘healed’? Peter obviously intends them to understand
here the forgiveness of their sins, for not only does he refer in the immediately previous
clauses to Christ’s bearing of our sins that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, but
he uses the conjunction for in verse 25 thus identifying their ‘healing’ in verse 24 as what
took place when as sheep going astray they returned to the shepherd (v.25). The fact that no
such conjunction is found in Isaiah 53:6 may indicate that Peter is especially stressing this
connection and certainly suggests that the ‘healing’ referred to is spiritua137.
Cf. 3:8-18, 4:12-19.
There is, in my view, no suggestion here that the slaves’ suffering might be redemptive in the sense that
Christ’s suffering is clearly portrayed as redemptive in these verses. The suggestion might well be, however,
that by following Christ’s example in enduring unjust suffering meekly the slaves might, by their Christ-like
attitude, win others to Christ. CfPeter’s instruction to wives as to how they might win their husbands (3: 1-3).
“Forgiveness of sins also seems to be the clear sense of the ‘healing’ referred to in Isaiah 53:5 where the Servant
is pierced for transgressions and crushed for iniquities. Woodford, op.cit., p. 60, also takes this view.
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Furthermore, to seek to understand the ‘healing’ as physical seems to be totally inappropriate.
There is no reference to the healing of disease anywhere in the epistle, let alone in the
immediate context. The ‘healing’ referred to clearly means a spiritual wholeness which
results from Christ’s bearing our sins on the cross and our return, as sheep who had gone
astray, to the shepherd and guardian of our souls. The passage is, in fact, an encouragement to
Christians to endure suffering, not a means of escape from it.