|HOME - Anointing with Oil - in the Bible and Today|
|ARTICLE:||ANOINTING WITH OIL - IN THE BIBLE AND TODAY|
|OUTLINE:||PART I - Introduction|
|PART II - Oil and Anointing in Scripture|
|PART III - Ministering and Receiving Anointing Today|
|PART IV - Conclusion|
|PART I - Introduction||(back to top)|
There are two main sorts of 'anointing':
Don't jump ahead to find out what to do, because what Christian anointing means comes first. In other words the 'What?' comes before the 'How?'. We need first to outline the uses of oil in the Bible and the meaning of anointing.
|PART II - Oil and Anointing in Scripture||(back to top)|
|1. Oil - Its everyday uses in Scripture|
Although society is nowadays very dependent on oil, we don't come across it in a very personal way.
In Bible times it was quite different. Canaan was the land of olives and oils flowed richly in the lives of those who lived there. Jesus's parable of the steward has a man who owed a hundred jugs of it!
In everyday life it was used for the following five things -
|2. Oil in Scripture - for Life!||(back to top)|
Oil was valued so much for its positive contribution to life that it became a symbol of the good life, not of sadness, but
of gladness! So in Isaiah we read -
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me...
...to comfort those who mourn in Zion -
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Oil was frequently linked with wine in Scripture, that other symbol of joy and life. Wine and oil become synonymous with pleasure
The important thing to grasp is that oil is, essentially, not about sickness or death, but about blessing and LIFE!
The Jews did not anoint mourners: oil was not for funerals, but parties! It is hardly surprising that something so basic to life joined such things as water, bread and wine, as a rich and ready symbol.
The use of oil is mentioned over 200 times in Scripture, but half of the references concern its special usages.
|3. Oil in Scripture - its Special Uses||(back to top)|
The special use of oil was to indicate that he/she/it was God's choice. It indicated primarily that God was
consecrating someone or something for his chosen use.
In the Old Testament the Israelites indicated this by anointing with special oil. The importance of this holy oil was such that it was a criminal offence to compound such oil for a common purpose.
Objects that were specially anointed were -
|4. Oil in Scripture - Anointing the King||(back to top)|
The following story comes from II Kings 9 and shows the importance and meaning of anointing.
Elisha sent one of his men with oil to Jehu to pour it on his head and anoint him King. The fellow arrived and extracted Jehu from his military staff meeting. On his return the generals asked Jehu 'Why did that madman come to you?'
Jehu stalled! 'You know the sort and how they babble.' But they persisted: 'Liar! Come on, tell us!'
So he said, 'This is what he said to me, "Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel."'
When Samuel anointed the first King, Saul, he made it quite clear that the anointing did not come from himself, but from God.
Samuel took a phial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said. 'The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel...'
As this article is first appearing in the Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth, it may be interesting to some readers to be reminded that an anointing - based on Biblical practice - forms part of the Coronation Service.
Note that first a hymn was sung for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This included the words - Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost Thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed unction from above,
Is comfort, life, and fire of love...
Then followed a prayer -
O LORD and heavenly Father, the exhalter of the humble and the strength of thy chosen, who by anointing with Oil didst of old make and consecrate kings, priests and prophets, to teach and govern thy people Israel: Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant, ...
While the choir sang Handel's musical version of I Kings 1:39-40 Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King...
Elizabeth, with her outer robes removed, knelt, and was anointed:
'Be thy Hands anointed with holy Oil.
Be thy Breast anointed with holy Oil.
Be thy Head anointed with holy Oil: as kings, priests and prophets were anointed...'
'Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who by his Father was anointed with the Oil of gladness above his fellows, by his holy Anointing pour down upon your Head and Heart the blessing of the Holy Ghost, and prosper the works of your Hands...'
My Hymn for the Jubilee contains this verse about the Queen:
Spirit, at her Coronation, through anointing you outpoured
many holy gifts and graces for her work, at home, abroad.
Day by day, inspire, equip her for her service of the Lord.
[For the full text of this hymn, see under the Hymns section.]
The close link with the coming of the Holy Spirit was nothing new: in Biblical times it was so.
So Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.
The King was seen to have a unique spiritual role for the nation was intended to be God-ruled, not King-ruled. As the King was the Anointed One par excellence, he became known simply as the Anointed. So the Psalmist sings:
Great triumphs he gives to his king
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and to his descendants forever.
|5. God's Anointed One||(back to top)|
In the Hebrew Old Testament the word for Anointed was Messiah.
When, over a century before Christ, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (into what would, later, be the language of the New Testament) the word they regularly used to translate the Hebrew word Messiah was the Greek word 'Christos'!
While most Jews still await the coming of the Messiah, Christians believe that he came in the person of Jesus. At the start of his ministry Jesus claimed for himself Isaiah's words
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.'
...Then he began to say to them,
'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'
In other words, Jesus says - I am the Christ/Messiah/Anointed!
Simon Peter was the first to recognise who Jesus of Nazareth really was You are the Messiah/Christ (Mark 8:29) Because both titles mean exactly the same - the Anointed One - Bible translators have to opt for either Christ or Messiah.
Sometimes the New Testament writers add their own translation for their readers' benefit. Thus John writes of Andrew telling his brother 'We have found the Messiah' (which is translated Anointed) and also explains the Samaritan woman's remark to Jesus 'I know that the Messiah is coming' (who is called Christ).
Immediately after the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Simon Peter was empowered to preach to the Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10:38). He naturally saw Jesus as supremely God's Anointed One.
'...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.'
|6. God's Anointed People||(back to top)|
So St. Paul speaks (not surprisingly) of Christians sharing Christ's anointing -
But it is God who
establishes us with you in Christ (Greek: Chris-tos)
and has anointed us (Greek: chris-as),
by putting his seal on us and
giving us his Spirit in our hearts
as a first instalment.
The followers of Christ, the Anointed One, were incorporated into him by baptism. They became one with God's Anointed, and in Christ shared his anointing. So, in 1 Peter 2 there is a fine description of Christ's 'anointed' followers which brings together many Old Testament ideas surrounding God's anointing -
...you are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
God's own people...
The followers of Jesus were nicknamed 'Christ-ians' first at Antioch . King Agrippa used the term . It must have come from Gentiles (since no Jew would have dubbed them Christ's-followers believing, as they did, that Jesus was not the Christ!)
In our very name Christians, therefore, we declare our allegiance to and unity with God's Anointed One / the Messiah / the Christ.
From the 2nd century, 'Christian' was accepted as a title of honour. By A.D.180, Theophilus, a Christian leader in Antioch wrote 'We are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God'.
This reflects a very early development in the Christian church in which oil was used in initiation (e.g. baptism/confirmation), as it came also to be used later in Christian marriage, Christian ordination and (as we have seen) in the Christian coronation of a monarch.
For some readers Baptism will speak solely of water, but in many Christian churches, both east and west, past and present, oil also features and increasingly so. (The Church of England now allows the optional use of oil.)
|7. God's Anointing Spirit||(back to top)|
As the appropriate use of oil is being increasingly rediscovered, it is easy to see why.
When Jesus was
Water of Baptism symbolises God's cleansing of our past.
Oil in Baptism symbolises God's empowering for the future.
This double action is always necessary, and has been neatly expressed in the double petition of the chorus:
He [God] saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy,
I have not so far said anything about the sick because any use of oil in ministering to them must arise from the Biblical picture that I have outlined. In Scripture -
OIL IS ABOUT -
Oil is about the persons and work of God in Trinity.
It is not about sickness or dying but about empowering and new life!
Why is there less mention of oil in the New Testament?
Oil is mentioned more rarely in the New Testament because Christians did not continue the Jewish sacrifices and offerings. But there are other reasons. Oil symbolises God's Anointing.
What would it have added to Christ's ministry to the sick to use a symbol of himself, when the actual presence, prayer, word and touch of Christ himself was being experienced?
This surely explains why Christ himself did not anoint the sick, but his disciples anointed the sick and healed them when he was not visibly present (see next section).
Also, as we shall see, James teaches it as a ministry to the Christian sick . There are no cases of anointing the Christian sick in Acts. Of the eight individual 'healings' in Acts, none comes into this category.
|8. Anointing the Sick||(back to top)|
There are two main texts.
Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits...
...So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
The second passage comes in James's epistle in a section on prayer. (James 5:13-16), but first we must see a passage, written two centuries earlier, which forms the basis for the passage in James. Although the passage is not regarded by all Christians as Scripture, it gives a clear picture of how high a place a physician could be held in God's scheme of things.
Honour physicians for their services, for the Lord created them;
for their gift of healing comes from the Most High...
The Lord created medicines out of the earth,
and the sensible will not despise them...
...he gave skill to human beings
that he might be glorified in his marvellous works.
By them the physician heals and takes away pain;
The pharmacist makes a mixture for them...
My child, when you are ill, do not delay,
but pray to the Lord and he will heal you.
Give up your faults and direct your hands rightly,
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice... and pour oil on your offering as much as you can afford.
Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;...
There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians,
for they too pray to the Lord,
that he will grant them success in diagnosis
and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
James writes as follows. I shall quote from the New International Version, not the NRSV. (This Bible button tells you why!)
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up.
If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
16Therefore confess your sins to each other,
and pray for each other so that you may be healed
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
The influence of the Ecclesiasticus passage is obvious. But the most notable thing is that James bids Christians not, as one might expect, to send for the physician but to send for the elders of the Church.
Some feel that the elders' anointing is medical - and the positive relationship of Jesus to medicine would certainly not exclude this. Christ's relationship to medicine is outlined in the following Bible button:
In my view, had James wanted to teach that the Christian sick should be medically anointed he would most naturally have stuck closer to the passage in Ecclesiasticus and bid them summon the physician.
James is not excluding this, but in his passage on prayer he is saying that:
|PART III - Ministering and Receiving Anointing Today||(back to top)|
The early Christians anointed liberally, as one would expect from what we have seen of the use of oil and its significance
in Bible times. Early records tell of their anointing the sick all over, daily, for a week! It was generous and joyous,
and rightly so because that is what oil symbolised.
Calvin (1509-64) and others taught that the New Testament miracles were something confined to the first century. Thus it was not pagans but devout and scholarly Christians who tried to do away with miracles!
The Reformers were rightly uneasy with the then Roman Catholic emphasis on anointing for dying rather than living, but, in spite of being 'Reformers', in their Book of Common Prayer (1662) they did not 'reform' the wrong use of anointing, but abolished it altogether! [A bad principle!] They did away with both Anointing and the Laying on of Hands and axed most references to healing. They promoted, instead, the opinion that sickness should not be resisted as it was God's punishment for sin. This held-back the Church's Ministry of Healing for three centuries!
|2. The Context||(back to top)|
The context is, of course, the Church's Ministry of Healing, which cannot be summarised here, and for which some
understanding of healing, faith, prayer and sacrament is necessary.
(See my book The Question of Healing Services ).
Holy Communion and the Laying on of Hands with prayer are used mainly as sustaining ministries during illness, while Anointing is usually administered once as the passage in James seems to indicate.
Historically there were times when Christians tended to anoint daily at the beginning of an illness for perhaps a week, this seems to have been based on the clear expectancy of improvement.
|3. Essential Meaning||(back to top)|
In anointing a sick person we do not give them something abnormal and extraordinary because they are ill; it is the
illness which is to be regarded as abnormal, not the anointing!
The oil is used to re-express, reaffirm, restore, repair and renew the sick Christian's unity with God's Anointed - the Christ. It is a ministry to Christians (as James teaches). The sick might be said to be re-Christ-ed. It brings all the healing, blessing and life the Anointing Spirit wants for God's Anointed People.
The oil proclaims our unity with Christ and expresses a restoration to fullness of life in him.
Some have simply 'never bothered with anointing' (as a prominent Christian leader once admitted to me).
|4. The Church||(back to top)|
While the preparation of the patient is important, the preparation of God's people is the more urgent and more difficult
When a minister anoints one of his people -
It is largely upon the laity that the responsibility rests for the ongoing committed care, prayer and support that the patient is going to need whatever the outcome.
The attendance of laity in small numbers should be encouraged if the ministry is to take place in a home. Representatives of both family and church should be present, for both sickness and its healing are corporate.
|5. The Ministers||(back to top)|
In the Early Church, lay-folk used to anoint, but soon, some tended to regard the oil as something magical and divorced from
prayer, so the Church authorities restricted its use to priests in an attempt to check this.
Nowadays, even within the Roman Catholic communion, the use of oil by the laity is being once again encouraged.
Anointing usually takes place in the context, public or private, of a Holy Communion service, and is always closely linked with confession and absolution. This, together with the general Biblical theme of consecration, and the teaching of James's epistle, indicates that it should be done by the local priests/ministers, or at least by their chosen delegates.
James indicates that the anointing is done in the name of the Lord. This means that it is not a casual or personal act, but an authoritative action. It is best done, therefore, by those whose Christian authority is recognised both by the sufferer and the Christian community which he/she/they represent.
|6. The Sick||(back to top)|
James 5:14-16 urges the sick person to call for the elders of the church. It is the Christian sick
to whom James is giving guidance. He does not deal with the Church's ministry to non-Christians who are ill.
Like the other sacraments / sacramental acts, anointing is so related to Christ, and to God's anointed people, that it is only appropriate within God's family, the church. (In the same way that the Holy Comm-union is appropriate only to those who are 'in union with Christ'.)
If the person is a non-Christian, then usually the preparation is such that they are led to Christ before the ministry is undertaken.
Sacraments and sacramental acts do not glorify God if administered casually, and, except in an emergency, the minister will usually guide the person to prepare for such ministry by reviewing their life with sufficient time and seriousness for the Lord to reveal hidden resentments, hurts and unconfessed sin.
In this age of instant everything, the preparation needs to be adequate and full. I knew of one person who was born blind and his eyes were totally shrivelled. He received spiritual direction for a year; he was anointed. His eyes became whole and he could see!
|7. The Situations||(back to top)|
Circumstances will dictate whether the anointing should take place in hospital, home or healing service.
Ideally it should take place in worship, and if possible at the Holy Communion service.
It makes it easier both for patient and congregation to be committed to one another if at least some of the local church family or its representatives are present. These might well include children and younger people. See my article Children and the Healing Ministry.
Oil should be available at Healing Services in case its use is appropriate for anyone present. To state the obvious: if it is not available it cannot be used, and may therefore deprive a sufferer of a ministry which God might will for them on that occasion. Its availability does not indicate that it will necessarily be used, or be used casually.
|8. The Forms||(back to top)|
An Order of Service, like any other pastoral tool, must be used with loving imagination, sensitivity and flexibility.
The style and length of the service will differ according to the patient's illness and place.
The following ought, if possible, to be included:
|9. The Oil||(back to top)|
Pure olive oil is easy enough to obtain from a local store. It is better, however, to get it from the area Christian
In episcopal churches, the bishop at his consecration is commissioned to 'heal the sick'. This ministry (for obvious practical purposes) is largely delegated to the local clergy. On Maundy Thursday the bishop traditionally blesses the oil for his clergy's use.
If anointing is thought to be a fringe activity or suspect, the fact that the oil comes from the area leader makes it clear that the ministry is central to church life.
In addition, it is an encouragement to the sick in their loneliness to feel that they and their suffering are the concern of a wider church family.
|10. The Anointing||(back to top)|
In the past, sometimes the five senses have been symbolically anointed to seal them for God's use. (This is sometimes
appropriate for those previously involved in the occult.)
The Roman Church often anoints head and hands. Just as in confirmation the head symbolises the whole person, so traditionally the head has been anointed by the minister dipping his thumb in the oil making the sign of the cross on the forehead. The link with baptism is expressed in this.
The anointing of the hands rightly emphasises recovery and service.
Traditionally, the priest then removes the oil with cotton wool. I have always regarded this as pastoral, psychological, theological and sacramental nonsense! If it is a good symbol to apply it cannot also be a good symbol to remove!
If, as is normally the case, a small amount only is used, it can stay there, and the sick person is left with the awareness of what has been given.
|11. The Prayers||(back to top)|
James sees anointing in the context of prayer, and we do right to follow him. The anointing of the sick ought to have
prayerful preparation. The wider congregation ought to be praying for such ministries that are undertaken, in part, on
As with all healing ministrations, attention must be given to preparation and after care if the occasion is to rest on a sure foundation and its result properly integrated in the life of the sufferer and the local Christian family.
|12. The Outcomes||(back to top)|
Sometimes the results may be clear, instant and glorious - as in the case of my own mother who was a cripple and was
instantly, and lastingly, healed forty years ago when anointed. Sometimes the results may not be readily apparent!
It is particularly important, therefore, to stress that when God is so specifically invited to help us, he always responds.
Those around the sufferer must be watchful to see what God's response has been. It is often in areas and at levels which we did not envisage.
The most tragic thing is so to centre on the hope of an instant physical healing that if it does not happen God is assumed to have done nothing, and his wise work missed.
If it seems clear what God did not do, then look to see what he did do and build your on-going care and prayer upon it. It may be in the area of relationships, or past hurts, or future fears, or priorities, or - as James mentions - in the areas of sin and forgiveness.
|PART IV - Conclusion||(back to top)|
Peter said to the lame man: 'I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus of Nazareth,
stand up and walk.'
Like Simon Peter, we must know and admit what we lack, but be generous with what we have!
The Church has, on sure Biblical grounds, a ministry to anoint the sick. It must be their needs, not our inclinations, that govern our local church policy regarding its availability.
We - to whom so much has been given - are not, I believe, at liberty to withhold so rich a means of blessing, hope and healing.
This 9th. century prayer, included in the Book of Common Prayer, expresses clearly for our 21st. century Church much of the spiritual reality of which anointing with oil can be both God's symbol and his instrument.
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed unction from above
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
The dullness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
With the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home:
Where thou art guide no ill can come.
Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of both, to be but One.
That through the ages all along
This may be our endless song:
Praise to thy eternal merit
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
|Copyright John Richards 2002, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk|