12 March 2012

"Jesus Heals Every Disease and Every Sickness" - does he?

by Dr Mark Keown

The Napier Equippers Church has taken down their “Jesus Heals Cancer” sign. I recently blogged on this suggesting that the sign was too ambiguous and a potential cause of offense (http://drmarkk.blogspot.co.nz/2012/03/jesus-heals-cancer-please-take-it-down.html). I congratulate the church leaders for taking it down – it shows real humility and concern for others.

However, they have now replaced the sign with this: ""Jesus heals every sickness and every disease” – Matthew 4:23. There are some good things about this. First, it removes the word “cancer” which is especially offensive. Secondly, it is a quote from Scripture. Thirdly, the media seem satisfied. However, may I suggest that there are real issues with this new sign?

Matthew 4:23 reads: “Jesus went around the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people” (my translation). The main verb is “went around”, the aorist of periagÅ, “lead around, go about, go around” (BDAG). The aorist tense says it is a past event. The aorist is a constative aorist which summarises an activity across past time without concern for detail.

Then we have a series of participles – teaching, preaching and healing–all in present tense. They are dependent on the main aorist verb. This means that while they are present tense and on their own might support the idea “Jesus heals”, in fact the aorist tense of the main verb carries over into the participles giving them a past sense. So, what it really says is, Jesus back in the first century travelled around Galilee and he taught, preached and healed every sickness during that journey. In Matthew 9:35 the verse is repeated of Jesus all over Israel. So, it doesn’t actually say Jesus heals per se; it says Jesus healed during this period of his ministry. Indeed, no English translation I can find translates it “heals”.

The sign subtly twists Scripture in two ways. First, it moves the original meaning of “healing” (past) to the “heals” (present). This falsely suggests that Jesus does in the present exactly what he did in that time, heals every sickness and disease. A reader could easily expect this on the basis of the sign. Secondly, it deletes “around Galilee” and “among the people” which places the text among the people of Galilee on those journeys at the time. This creates a problem. First, it is not a genuine quote of Scripture. Secondly, it carries the same ambiguity as the original sign but arguably to a greater extent. Whereas in the original sign it was “cancer” now it is “every disease and every sickness.” Does Jesus today heal every sickness and disease in the same way as he did when acting directly in Galilee and Israel? Aside from the Christian hope that Jesus will ultimately heal his people of every disease, evidence suggests he doesn’t. Even in Matthew 13:58 Jesus didn’t heal every disease. More broadly, a 100% Christians all over the world since the time of Christ have ultimately died from a variety of maladies. Yes, there are many records of miracles of healing such as in Acts and in this church and indeed my own church, but there are many more times in which people have prayed with faith and not been healed.

A sign like this “markets” Jesus as the healer of every sickness and disease per se. The uninitiated would likely read it and believe that if they come to church, Jesus will heal them of every sickness and disease. Is this not setting them up with a false expectation and potential disappointment?

Theologically, the sign is what scholars call “an over-realised eschatology.” In the Bible there is what is called a “now-not yet tension.” There is the hope of complete healing, the end of all disease (e.g. Rev 21:4; 22:1–3). In the present we do not fully see this, the hope is “not yet” realised in the “now”. Indeed, the Scriptures themselves give indications that Jesus did not heal every disease and sickness in the time after Jesus’ ascension with Christians dying (e.g. 1 Cor 11:13; 15:6, 18, 20; 1 Thess 4:13–14). The miracles of Jesus are primarily signs of this ultimate hope, glimpse of the Kingdom in the present. They do give hope for present healing and so we should pray that Jesus by his Spirit will heal and he sometimes does so as he wills; but more importantly, they give certainty of complete ultimate restoration.

Can I suggest it a dangerous thing to “market Jesus” employing ambiguity and an over-realised eschatology. Do we not set people up for potential disappointment? Rather, we should preach Jesus embracing the now-not yet tension. Even more importantly, should we put signs up which reference Scripture but actually subtly distort its original meaning?

So, while on the face of it the sign seems an improvement and has got the media off the church’s back; is it? I am not sure that it demonstrates showing wisdom toward outsiders (cf. Col 4:5). Of course this raises the whole question of “marketing” Jesus, but that is another discussion. What do you think?

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