James 5:14 - Prayer of Faith - Elders and Miracles

Dear Ken

Greetings. How are you? I am in my mid 30's and continually learning more about the Bible. In the past you have helped me with a few e-mail questions so I try to limit my questions to once a month.

I've been having difficulty coming to a clear interpretation of James 5:14-18. Could you tell me if you are familiar with this passage and possibly shed some light and simplify these seemingly difficult verses?



Good to hear from you, Jonathan. I get rolling about 6 after I feed the animals and make a pot of coffee and continue off and on (mostly on) until 10 or later at night. Nothing is more refreshing than to look at troubling passages and try to fill in the blanks left by all of those Bible classes which, when I was a kid, always ended with: "Well, it means what it says." After half a century many of us haven't tried to move on to maturity.

Most of your questions require some research and, being lazy, I will again post my response on my web pages. As I have noted, I am not into "does" and "don'ts" or "cans" or "can'ts" but just try to research the issue and see what it means to me without trying to cut and paste it into a "topic" or try to force it on others.

What is an Elder

Most of us are honest enough to understand that the connections with the first century church are stretched often to the breaking point. Outside observers see most of us as a "distinctly American church." For instance, elders or bishops in the historical church were either appointed by friends or bought their offices. Many who were sacrificial were often highly trained scholars who accepted no office but traveled throughout the area teaching and writing. In time people assumed the role of "apostle" or "prophet" and began to spread their influence through political power.

Contemporary organizations in distinction to the church as an organism fits this corporate pattern and the task is not the same as the first century church.

Therefore, most of the elders I have known were always uneasy about James. They knew that they didn't have the power and didn't feel comfortable with trying to anoint and pray someone well. The problem diminishes somewhat if we see that James is speaking of two types of sickness, and that the first level elders were associated with first level apostles to set the church in order. This should remove the pressure from those who feel guilty because they don't want to be faith healers.

The first mention of the word "elder" for the church period is in the prophecy of Joel. He prophesied of various phenomena which would accompany the establishment of the church as the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God. Various people performed various tasks and some were judgmental, others were supernatural signs and others were gifted people who would record revelation after it had been validated by "signs following" the apostles.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old (aged) men shall dream dreams: Acts 2:17

Some want apostles to continue, others prophesying and still others supernaturally equipped elders to rule over in a command sense and heal their sickness or solve all of their problems. The elders in this prophecy were:

Presbuteros (g4245) pres-boo'-ter-os; (elderly); older; as noun, a senior; spec. an Isr. Sanhedrist (also fig. member of the celestial council) or Chr. "presbyter": - elder (- est), old

Next, in the first century church while Christ was "filling full" or fully equipping the church for the ministry, the pastor-teachers were placed on a level very close to the Apostles under whose touch all of those who spoke in tongues performed the sign to prove the apostle's authority.

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Ephesians 4:7

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Ephesians 4:8

(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? Ephesians 4:9

He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) (i.e. furnish or fill up his work) Ephesians 4:10

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; Ephesians 4:11KJV

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors (shepherds) and teachers (master teachers), Ephesians 4:11NKJV, NIV

Many scholars believe that the word pastors and teachers is really a hyphenated word or pastor-teachers.

Paul agreed that there was a level of pastor-teachers or elders who were given as a direct gift of Christ to help the Apostles and prophets fill up or bring the church to maturity because the Scriptures had not yet been delivered in a once-for-all sense:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Acts 20:29

Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:30

Modern elders appropriate this to themselves claiming that when you 'follow the rules" of the Holy Spirit then the Holy Spirit makes you into an inspired elder with command authority. They, therefore, almost always disdain the opinions and spiritual needs of their "flock." Furthermore, they are not "filled with the Spirit" or do not "hold the mysteries of the faith with a clear conscience" but are commercial or political figures.

The elders or bishops worked hand in hand in ordaining and equipping evangelists such as Timothy:

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy (prediction and teaching), with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 1 Timothy 4:14

Wherefore I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. 2 Timothy 1:6

While the Apostles were operative primarily within Jerusalem the elders handled problems along with the Apostles.

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. Acts 15:2

And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. Acts 15:6

And Peter was both an apostle and an elder (or just an older man):

THE elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 1 Peter 5:1

Titus was an evangelist but he was probably gifted as was Timothy. Paul told Timothy the qualifications of the senior males within each new church as they were organizing and then reminds him:

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order (arrange) the things that are wanting, and ordain (designate) elders in every city,

as I had appointed thee: Titus 1:5

And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. Acts 14:23

Lenski notes that this is not an ordination but pointing out those who "were already laboring to the point of exhausting in preaching and teaching." These men were simply commended to the church as worthy of being followed "like guides into grizzly bear country." Lenski also points out that if they are not able teachers then they are not qualified in any sense.

There is no record of a non-inspired, or Christ-gifted man nor any church outside of the arm's reach of the apostles ever ordaining elders with the authority implied by the above evidence. Furthermore, there is no procedure for selecting, ordaining or discipling less-than-Spirit qualifed men as elders, bishops or presbyters.

Is this a 'divine oversight" or did the apostles have the knowledge to set the church in order but saw no need to pass on an "election" or "selection" process?

David Lipscomb noted in his Questions and Answers that: "No elder has any more authority after his ordination than he had before his ordination." The implication in agreement with Lenski's statement is that the church should follow those senior ("aner": older married males) men who are already laboring to the point of exhaustion in preaching and teaching. People will never honor men who have not earned that honor. For instance, a good old man who almost literally "had to go to school" to learn how to make his X is boosted into authority by a totally flawed modern invention of political election or as one noble old man said to me: "Old brother Smith got me in as an elder."

It is still too-often the case that politically selected or self-selected elders cannot mak a spiritual X but usurp the authority of everyone else out of fear. They can neither heal spiritually nor physically.

However, it is clear that we have no record of ordination outside of the arm's reach of an apostle or his "agent" such as Titus as we have no record of speaking in tongues outside of their arm's reach.

There were no elders in Rome in the ecclesiastical sense. It is telling that the only use of a word translated "elder" shows that elders exercised their influence by service and had no command authority:

It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. Romans 9:12

The "organizational" elder did not exist in Rome because:

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Romans 15:13

And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Romans 15:14

Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. Romans 15:15

This may explain the end-point of the band of inspired men in Ephesians 4 whose tenure would not last past setting the church in order. Because the church continued to exist in a local sense while its head is the invisible Spirit Christ, the tradition of elders followed the pattern of senior males sitting at the gates advising and teaching the young.

The admonishing was to "call to mind" that which they had been taught. There was no room for a professional teacher to drive himself in edgewise. The same is true in the "singing" passages in Ephesians and Colossians which, as far as we know, had no ecclesiastial elders although they had older men who taught and advised.

The Corinthian church was an unholy mess but as far as we know they had no elders and when they were later chosen to be "officers" of the churches they quickly evolved into bishops and then into popes. Paul did not envision the office but claimed that if they needed instruction He would write them a letter or come to them with discipline which he uniquely had as an Apostle.

The Jewish and Greek elders were like family teachers and advisers and even assisted people in their secular affairs. They arbitrated disputes but when they took on ecclesiastical authority they developed the "traditions of the elders" which, as Paul warned, led people away from the word.

Take a look at James: Notice that two forms of "sickness" is discussed.

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: James 5:14

This sickness is from the Greek:

Astheneo (g770) as-then-eh'-o; from 772; to be feeble (in any sense): - be diseased, impotent folk (man), (be) sick, (be, be made) weak.

Other applications of the word:

And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole. Mark 6:56

Jesus did not expect people to heal but to visit:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Matthew 25:36

If the supernatural healing of a physical disease is under consideration in the following verses of James we should understand that these were not just elders in the senior male sense but they were sent with the scattered people with power they already had:

And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; Mark 6:7

And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: Mark 6:8

And they went out, and preached that men should repent. Mark 6:12

And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. Mark 6:13

These supernatural signs were not performed by the believers but by the apostles or those sent out by them:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; Mark 16:17

They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:18

The signs following were signs that the Apostles were verified as teachers of the new faith. Click Here to see that

Men like Stephen (the deacon - evangelist) had supernatural power by the hands of the apostles. However, he could not produce speaking in tongues because this was a sign performed only in the presence of an apostle. Undoubtedly a lot of the "12 tribes" which scattered had men with supernatural gifts of healing. These men, by virtue of time, would be senior or elders.

There is no other evidence that elders had this power to anoint and heal. From this verse, the sick person is left in the hands of the Lord and the elders have not miraculously head him of a physical disease.

Next, look at verse 15 which speaks of a different kind of sickness:

And the prayer of faith shall save the sick (worn out and tired), and the Lord shall raise (awaken or arouse his faculties) him up; and if he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. James 5:15

"Shall" is not used in the text but it means certainty, compulsion or necessity. There is no doubt about it. However, in all of the so-called "faith healings" there is never an unambigious case: there is always doubt and no credible documentation of such healing exist. If contemporary pastors or elders had power to heal obvious physiical sickness (missing leg or raising the dead) it would be so common and so obvious that hospitals would go out of business. If elders believed that they were part of the original "apostle, prophet, evangelistic, pastor-teacher" circle they would get their holy oil and go do it. The fact that they do not means that they are not, cannot be, elders in the original sense of the word even as they can be "apostles" in the sent out sense but not with the power of the first apostles. However, there is other sickness and clear healing value of encouragement and prayer.

Sick here is:

Kamno (g2577) kam'-no; appar. a prim. verb; prop. to toil, i.e. (by impl.) to tire (fig. faint, sicken): - faint, sick, be wearied.

Paul also speaks of this form of sickness to the scattered Hebrews:

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Hebrews 12:3

The Jewish clergy and elders actually damaged the people and made them physically ill and emotionally worn out. Jesus called this the "burden" which was "anxiety produced by religious ritual." He outlawed this class of elder or pastor and came to lead the lambs all by Himself. The removal of sickness was to take away the tiredness or weariness produced by the professionals in both Judaism and the Greek world.

A part of the work of Messiah would be physical healing connected to forgiveness:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Psalm 103:3

However, Isaiah's prophecy of healing was of spiritual sickness. When Jesus told the Jewish clergy that only typical healings occurred, they were enraged enough to murder Him.

Next, James shifts to the one-another who should do the praying:

Confess your faults (unintentional slips) one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous (holy in character) man availeth much. James 5:16

Here the emphasis is not on a secular elder who has usurped the authority of the church by simply self-assertion and politics. The power of the prayer is based on the fervent prayer of a righteous or holy person.

If we had the faith of an Elias we could make it rain; if we had the faith as big as a mustard seed we could just speak and the mountain would move. I am not sure that James is telling us that we can bring on rain. Rather, because they are Jews he is probably showing them that prayer for personal slips avail or accomplish much:

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. James 5:17

And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. James 5:18

Elias, like the earliest elders, had supernatural powers bestowed on him. One point of this comparison is that the fault does not rest with God but with our lack of faith.

Remember that we noted that the Romans had been equipped for the ministry by supernaturally gifted apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers or some combination of these inspired men.

The word elder does not occur in the letter to the church in Rome or Corinth.

This was because once set in order the people were filled with knowledge and competent to teach and admonish one another.

Of course, the modern church with its "busines end" was not envisioned in Scripture so to function as a secular-religious institution it is important to have some command authority. Because two people can jointly own a boat or a condo there is no reason that a hundred cannot jointly own a building to keep them out of the rain and snow. However, it is not for God. It is not the "house of God." It is not the unique place for worship. It is for our convenience but it is tempting almost beyond resisting that "buildings and grounds" saps the body of too much of its spiritual stamina. Perhaps we need a few holy, righteous men to pray for us.

Conclusion: Well, I am not too keen on absolute conclusions. When we do that God closes our eyes and plugs up our ears so that we can no longer understand Him. However, because not many elders believe that they have any more "prayer power" than others, I believe that if physical healing did take place (and I don't think so) it was because:

1. Elders existed with the absolute supernatural power which went with their choice by Christ to be made elders by "the Holy Ghost."

2. James shows them praying for those with physical illness even as we turn our sick over to God when we have no power to heal. Any power was based on the holy or righteous character of the person praying because God does not hear the prayers of sinners wearing the crown of command authority.

3. The second level of sickness which "shall" be healed is the weariness or "burn out" usually caused by worship assemblies "doing more harm than good" (1 Corinthians 1`1:17) or just the deliberate anxiety created by commercialism dedicated to making sure that we are never at ease or satisfied with anything.

4. The example of Elijah, I believe, is to encourage all of us that he was not different from us although he was an inspired prophet. There is not a clergy or laity distinction.

5. The cessation of all supernaturally gifted men to "fill up" the measure of the church in examples, corrections and in revelation should not discourage the "ordinary" person from "comming boldly before the throne of grace" because Christ has made us a "priesthood of believers."

6. Once the faith has been once delivered to the saints it is like the water used by God's "water cycle" in Isaiah 55. It is free and must never be repackaged and sold for a profit. God's Word is that which we are to speak one to another (Ephesians 5; Colossians 3). If we honor God by honoring His words and "not speaking our own words" they will return back to Him having accomplished their purpose.

7. There are Biblical churches such as Corinth and Rome which did not, as far as we know, have ecclesiastical officers although it was common to appoint elders when inspired men were present. Paul claims that the Corinthians should have all of the gifts they needed and the Romans were fairly well established. As for teaching or feading, the members of the body were competent to teach and admonish one another. If they need anything else, Paul would supply it.

8. Only Philippians includes the bishops and deacons in the address of Paul's letters and they come after "to all the saints."

9. James assures us that outside of miraculous empowered men we have the right to pray for ourselves, as Jesus would say "in the closet," and do not need men or women to "lead us into the presence of God" or to, as in all paganism, "call Him into His house so that we can worship Him there."

10. The modern "eldership" is often forced-fit into the secular institution of programs and buildings and grounds and are almost never chosen because they are "already laboring to the point of exhaustion in preaching and teaching."

11. A spiritual eldership still exists quite outside of the secular institution.

This is rough and tentative but it will give you something to grind your teeth on.

Ken Sublett

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