Does the atonement cover physical healing?

It is common to hear faith healers speak about how it is always God’s will to heal. The underlying assumption of this statement is that healing was covered for in the atonement. For instance Bill Johnson from Bethel Church writes in his blog

“How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing? Was His blood enough for all sin, or just certain sins? Were the stripes He bore only for certain illnesses, or certain seasons of time? When He bore stripes in His body He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal. You can’t decide not to buy something after you’ve already bought it.”[1]

Joyce Meyer a famous author and speaker also says:

“By His Stripes I was healed. Healing belongs to me. I was healed two thousand years ago by the stripes Jesus bore. By His stripes I was healed. I’m not trying to get healing; I’ve already got my healing, because by His stripes I was healed!”[2]

The verse that most faith healers use is Isaiah 53:5 which reads:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”

However, does this verse really speak about physical healing? I’m not sure that it does. A natural reading of this verse seems to convey the idea that what the atonement covered for was our transgressions and iniquities which in short can be also be called sin. Verse 6 reinforces this by following up with a statement that speaks of how we all like sheep have gone astray and that resulted in “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. The thing that was laid upon Jesus is clearly referring to our sins. So by his atonement we are healed from sin. This is seen more clearly in 1 Peter 2:24:

“24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”

Some may say that in Matthew 8:16-17, Jesus healed all who were sick and Isaiah 53 was quoted in reference to this physical healing. David Turner explains in his commentary that “Matthew views the healings and exorcisms performed by Jesus as evidence for the presence of God’s reign, which anticipates a future glorious reality… As indications of kingdom authority, the healings are tokens of the ultimate eschatological results of Jesus’s redemption”[3] (Emphasis mine)

In other words, in the gospel of Matthew, the author was referring to Jesus’s healing as evidence of his authority here on earth and the kingdom that was to come. Matthew’s goal then in chapter 8 was to show that Jesus’s earthly ministry in healing was pointing to something that was to happen when the fullness of God’s kingdom came rather than an immediate healing due to the atoning death. Hence Turner’s use of the words ultimate eschatology. Gordon Fee a noted Pentecostal theologian reinforces the point that Jesus’ act of healing was his earthly ministry by saying

“Matthew’s use of Isaiah 53:4 does not even refer to the cross; rather he clearly sees the text as being fulfilled in Jesus’ earthly ministry. This is made certain by both the context and by his choice of Greek verbs in his own unique translation of the Hebrew”[4]

Apart from these interpretations of scripture, other problems are also posed to those faith healers who hold to the atonement as physical healing. If spiritual healing (forgiveness of sins) is given immediately to those who believe, then it should also follow that physical healing must be given to those who repent as well. But yet within these circles of faith healing, we do not see this form of consistency. Hank Hanegraff notes this inconsistency among faith healers and remarks:

“If one does not have enough faith to make oneself well, it follows that he cannot have enough faith to be saved.”[5]

What then about passages that speaks of how we will have a perfect body? While I believe in God’s redemptive act of all things on the cross, I also understand that God’s kingdom is a here but not yet kingdom. So perhaps to address the question of whether the atonement covers physical healing, I would say yes only in the sense that the effects of the atonement for sin extends to the redemption of all things including a perfect body which is eschatological. But if you ask whether I think that physical healing was the atonement, and so those who accept Jesus ought to be healed physically now in the same way they are healed of sins, I would disagree. Some charismatics tend to focus a bit too much on the kingdom now and here theology forgetting that God’s kingdom is an inaugurated eschatology. It is here and has begun through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But it is not fully here yet. So what about my view on healing? I think my understanding is that there will come a time where we will have new bodies free from illnesses. That is not to say that all healings have stopped or ceased until the kingdom is fully ushered in. But that God will heal according to His time.

[1] http://bjm.org/qa/is-it-always-gods-will-to-heal-someone/

[2] Joyce Meyer, Healing Scriptures

[3] David Turner, Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New testament)

[4] Gordon Fee, The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels

[5] Hanegraff, Christianity in Crisis


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