MIRACULOUS HEALING IN THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
Much has been written and discussed about miraculous healing in the dispensation of the mystery. I believe that God can and does heal in this present dispensation. Whether the Holy Spirit gives the gift of healing in the present dispensation as He did in the Acts period is something which I do not believe can be proved either way. The healings in the Acts period was a sign to Israel, and because Israel has been set aside, many believe that those signs have ceased. But I do not believe that we can say positively that those gifts have been withdrawn because to do so would limit God’s power.
There are two things concerning healing that are so obvious as to not require the Scriptural evidence to be quoted here. One, that God can heal in the dispensation of the mystery, and two, there were many events of miraculous healing during the Acts period that were accomplished through the gift given by the Holy Spirit. That is to say, these healings were done by God, the Holy Spirit, through men, to whom He had given the gift of healing. So let us go on from there.
In this study I will address four questions. 1) Was the gift of healing withdrawn? 2) If it was, when was it withdrawn? 3) Why was it withdrawn? 4) Does God heal today through the gift given to men by the Holy Spirit?
WAS THE GIFT OF HEALING WITHDRAWN AND IF SO, WHEN WAS IT WITHDRAWN?
The answer to our first two questions are inter-linked. That is to say, by answering the first question we, at the same time, answer the second. These questions are answered by comparing the gift of healing in the Acts period, with the gift of healing after the end of the Acts period.
The last miracle of healing we read about in the Acts period is in Acts 28:8-9. This passage tells of the sick father of Paul’s host. We read in verse 8b-9, “Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured”. We learn from this passage that, as late as Acts 28, Paul had, and used, the gift of healing by the laying on of hands.
The answers to our questions as to if and when the gift of healing was withdrawn is found in the epistles of Paul written after Acts 28. As we shall see as we examine Scripture, Paul no longer had the gift of healing after Acts 28. We read, for example in II Tim. 4:20, “…..and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus”. If Paul had the gift of healing he would certainly not have left his co-worker sick.
Another passage that tells us that Paul did not have the gift of healing after Acts 28 is Phil. 2:25-30 where we read of Epaphroditus who was sick unto death (verse 30). But Epaphroditus did not die. Was that because Paul had healed him through the gift of healing, as he had done in the passage we read in Acts 28:8-9? I believe not. Paul writes in verse 27b, “But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.” God cured Epaphroditus directly. To say that Paul cured him by the gift given him by the Holy Spirit is to read something into God’s Word that is simply not there. Furthermore, the fact that Trophimus (II Tim. 4:20) was not healed by Paul’s gift, adds strength to the conclusion that neither was Epaphroditus cured through the gift of the holy spirit.
Let us look also at I Tim. 5:23, where Paul advised Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses”. In my opinion, this proves that indeed no one had the gift of healing after Acts 28. If they had, Paul would have told Timothy to go to that person. Instead, Paul told Timothy to drink some wine.
II Tim. 1:6. Can lead to confusion in this matter if not taken in context. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands”. What was this gift? What did Timothy receive from Paul with the laying on of hands? Let us examine the context to answer that question.
Verse 7 tells us why Timothy received this gift. “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love and of a sound mind”. In verse 8 we read of the hoped for consequence of the gift to which Paul referred in verse 6. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner”. It seems obvious that Timothy, for some reason, was fearful about testifying about the Lord. Paul had laid hands on Timothy to give him a gift that would give him the power and the love and the courage to testify for the Lord.
This brings to mind Eph. 4:11-12, “And He gave some apostles: and some prophets: some evangelists, and some to be pastors and some to be teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up“. I believe that Timothy was given a gift that would enable him to build up the body of Christ. He did not have the gift of healing, as that gift was no longer in evidence after Acts 28.
Let us consider another passage which, unless taken in context, can be problematic. I Tim. 4:14, “Do not neglect your gift which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on you”. This was not, evidently, the same gift we read of II Tim. 1:6 because that gift was given by the laying on of Paul’s hands. What was this gift? We are not told specifically, but again I believe that the context will give us a hint. In verse 13 we read, “….devote yourself to public reading, to preaching and to teaching”.
In verse 13 Paul tells Timothy to be diligent in his preaching and teaching. In the next verse Paul tells Timothy to “not neglect your gift”. Again, I believe this passage makes it plain that it was not the gift of healing that Timothy received, it was the gift of preaching, and teaching.
I Tim. 5:22 also concerns the gifts spoken of in Eph. 4 also. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…”. I believe that Timothy’s gift was given him by the laying on of hands during the Acts period, but carried over to the dispensation of the mystery so that he might use it to build up the body of Christ. But in this verse Paul is telling Timothy about laying on of hands after the Acts period. In order to understand this seeming difficulty we must ask the question: was this laying on of hands for the purpose of imparting the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
To be sure the laying on of hands in the Acts period did result in the receiving of miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit. For example we read in Acts 8:18-19, “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands he may receive the Holy Ghost’ ” (i.e. the gifts from the Holy Ghost). There is also no doubt that the laying on of hands led to miraculous healings as in Acts 28:8, “Paul laid hands and healed him”. But the laying on of hands was not always for the purpose of receiving gifts from the Holy Spirit or in miraculous healing. For example, we read in Acts 6:2-6 of the situation in which the twelve needed to appoint some other disciples to “serve tables” (verse 2). They were told to pick “seven men of honest report, full of the holy ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”. Note that these men had already been filled with the holy ghost. But we read in verse 6, “when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them”. Why were hands laid on them if they had already received the holy ghost?
For the answer to that question let us go back to the Old Testament, i.e. Numbers 27:18-23, “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him.; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient……….and he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses”.
What exactly happened in this scene as described in Numbers 27? In verse 13 we read that God had told Moses that he would “be gathered unto thy People, as Aaron thy brother was gathered”, because Moses had rebelled in the desert of Zin. In verses 15-17 we read that Moses had asked the Lord to choose a man who would lead Israel when Moses couldn’t. That man was Joshua. Joshua was to take over from Moses the leadership of Israel. By laying hands on Joshua in the sight of the high priest and the entire congregation, Moses passed the torch, so to speak, of leadership. By the laying on of hands Moses set Joshua apart for the work that God had for him to accomplish. I am not suggesting that Joshua did not receive a gift from the Spirit because he did, as we learn in Deut. 34:9, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hand upon him……”. But, as Numbers 27 shows, Joshua’s receiving of the gift of wisdom was not the primary reason for the laying on of hands. The primary reason, as given in Numbers 27 was to present him to Israel as their leader, i.e. to separate him for the tasks that God had for him.
And that is exactly the reason for the laying on of hands in Acts 6, i.e. to set apart the seven men to “serve tables”.
In Acts 13:2-3 we read of another setting apart of men for the work that God had for them. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. and when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away”. We know for certain that Paul had already received the gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands from Acts 9:17, “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on himsaid, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord even Jesus, That appeared unto thee in the way…….sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost’ “.
Let us come back then to I Tim. 5:22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…..”. I am suggesting that Paul was telling Timothy to take plenty of time before he separated any man unto the Lord’s work. That is to say, to make sure first that that man is who and what he should be. There is no reason to assume that the laying on of hands meant miraculous healing or receiving of the gifts from the Holy Spirit in this verse. I believe the laying on of hands in I Tim. 5:22 refers to the laying on of hands for the purpose of separating one for God’s ministry.
I am suggesting therefore, that some, including Timothy, did have spiritual gifts after the Acts period, but they did not have the same gifts that were so prevalent in the Acts period. That is to say, they had the gifts of evangelism, of teaching etc., but they did not have the gift of healing.
Therefore, the answer to our questions as to if and when the signs of miraculous healing was withdrawn is; that the gift of healing was withdrawn, and it was withdrawn after Acts 28.
WHY WAS THE GIFT OF HEALING WITHDRAWN?
Our third question is “why was the gift of healing withdrawn”? Most in the Acts 28 community believe that the signs, including the gift of healing, ended because the signs were to prove the truthfulness of the gospel that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. They say that when the gospel of the kingdom was no longer preached after Acts 28, the signs also ended. I agree that one of the reasons for the signs was to prove the truthfulness of the gospel of the kingdom, but I do not agree that the signs disappeared because the message of the kingdom was not preached after Acts 28. The reason I do not agree is because some of the reasons for the signs continue to be valid reasons in the dispensation of the mystery. That means that the signs could have continued. But as we have seen they did not continue.
As mentioned above, there were several reasons for the signs. Mark 1:41, “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand and touched him, and saith unto him, ‘I will: be thou clean”. It is clear that one of the reasons for miraculous signs was that our Lord was compassionate. Our Lord is still compassionate. There is absolutely no reason to assume otherwise. Therefore, that reason for signs is still a valid one.
Consider also, Luke 7:13, “And the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her….”. He then raised the woman’s son from the dead (verse 15).
In Matt. 8:16-17 the reason for the signs was to fulfill prophecy concerning Christ. “…..and He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, ‘Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses”.
In John 2:11 the reason was to “manifest His glory”. “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Gallilee, and manifested forth His glory: and his disciples believed on Him”.
In Matthew 11:2-5 it was to prove to John the Baptist that Christ was Who He said He was. ”Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto Him ‘Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them”
There are two more passages that have to do with signs and have absolutely nothing to do with the message of “repent……” or the message of the kingdom of Heaven being near. One is Rom. 15:18-19, “To make the Gentiles obedient….through mighty signs and wonders”. Again, one might argue that God still wants Gentiles to be obedient, and therefore, that reason for the gifts are still valid today.
The other passage worthy of note is I Cor. 12:7, “But the manifestation of the spirit is given to every man to profit withal”. The Companion Bible has “for the profit of others”. This has nothing to do with Israel or repentance or the kingdom message.
My point is this: Most in the Acts 28 community believes (and so did I, until I did this study) that the signs disappeared because the signs were to prove the truthfulness of the kingdom message. They go on to say that when the kingdom message was no longer the appropriate message, there was no more reason for the signs and so the signs disappeared. If that were true, then we have to prove that that was the only reason for the signs because if not, they could have continued for the other reasons. But as I have showed above, there were other reasons for the signs, so this conclusion is, in my opinion unscriptural.
Now that we have discussed the prevailing view of the Acts 28 community, let us continue with our question as to why the signs ended.
Let us ask, what was the event that led to Paul no longer having the gift of healing? That is to say, we know that the signs ceased at Acts 28. What happened at Acts 28 that brought about this change? We read in I Cor. 1:22, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom”. Indeed we read dozens of times in the Old Testament that God gave Israel a sign. Note the contrast as to what the Jews required and what the Greeks sought. The former required a sign, the latter wisdom.
It was because Israel, who required signs, was set aside at Acts 28 that the signs were no longer in evidence.
In conclusion let us consider what can be proved from Scripture and what can not.
1) During the Acts period most believers received gifts from the Holy Spirit. Among those gifts was the gift of healing. What can be proved is that that gift of healing was not in effect after Acts 28.
2) What can also be proved is that God does heal in the present dispensation. How do we know that? As discussed above, we know that from the fact that Paul tells us in a prison epistle, i.e. Philippians, that God healed Epaphroditus. Note that we are not told that anyone laid hands on Epaphroditus. That is to say, this healing that occurred in the dispensation of the mystery was not through the gift of healing, it was directly from God apart from any gifts from the Holy Spirit.
What we cannot know is which healings in the present dispensation are directly of God. That is to say, it is not always obvious when a healing is directly from God or if it is from natural causes or from man’s medicine. And it cannot be proved either way if, for example, television “faith healers” such as Pat Robertson are being used of God to heal.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts. Please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org