Biblical View on Medicine

Are there any biblical references to medical treatments?

The Bible makes mention of medical treatments prevalent during those days. Oil is applied to wounds to aid healing.

Isa 1: 6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.

Wine is used as a disinfectant during those days.

Luke 10: 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine… 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Balm is a type of ointment used for medicinal purposes.

Jer 51: 8 Babylon will suddenly fall and be broken. Wail over her! Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed.

Jer 46: 11 “Go up to Gilead and get balm, Virgin Daughter Egypt. But you try many medicines in vain; there is no healing for you.

Bandaging and use of splinter is mentioned here.

Ezek 50: 20 In the eleventh year, in the first month on the seventh day, the word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt. It has not been bound up to be healed or put in a splint so that it may become strong enough to hold a sword.

The implication is that Pharaoh’s arm could have been healed if it had gone through some medical procedure of being bound up and put in a splint.

 
What is the Bible’s view on physicians and medicine?

Physicians are not rebuked for practising medicine and causing people not to trust in God. See how Paul refers to the physician Luke.

Col 4: 14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

Surely God Himself did not see Luke as unworthy of His service because Luke’s profession causes people not to trust Him. Instead, Luke was used by God powerfully to write the majority of the New Testament. (Luke wrote both the gospel of Luke and Acts, which is larger than all of Paul’s writings combined.)

Jesus says that those who are sick need a physician.

Matt 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
Jesus also quoted from the proverb, "Physician, heal yourself!," (Luke 4:23) indicating that physicians of the time were healing people.
Prov 17: 22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

If medicine is all bad, why does the verse above speak about medicine in a positive light? Medicine here is described as “good”.

Ezek 47: 2 And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.

In the verse above, medicine is also spoken of as a blessing given by God.

 
Does the Bible tell us not to seek physicians?

2 Chronicles 16:12. “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians.”

The issue was not that Asa consulted physicians, but that “he did not seek help from the LORD.” He consulted only physicians.

Jer 17: 5 This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

The mistake of seeking only man and not God can also be found in this famous miracle of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood. Up to that point she had sought the help of physicians only and not God. But when she sought Jesus, she was instantly healed.

Mark 5: 5 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

James 5: 13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

Do the verses above teach that all we need to do when we are sick is to pray? No, the verses say that we should pray when we are sick but it does not say that we are to pray and do nothing else. No one would interpret the verses to mean that if he is in trouble, all he should do is pray and not to try to resolve his troubles by say looking for a job, seeking help from a friend or the police, etc.
 
What about Bible verses that teach that God is our healer?

Exod 15: 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

There are also many instances that God can heal without any medical treatment. For example, Jesus went about healing many people using God’s power alone.

Matt 8:1-4 Healing the leper in Galilee.  In verse 3, Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing.  Be cleansed.  Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 

Matt 9:2-8 Healing of the paralytic in Capernaum.  In verse 2, The behold they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven. In verse 6b, the He said to the paralytic "Arise, take up your bed and go to your house." 

Jesus’ disciples also had the power to heal instantly without resorting to medical treatment.

Matt 10:1 And when He called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.

It is definitely true that God can heal us miraculously if He chooses to do so. However, that does not mean that any natural means of seeking healing has to be ruled out. The Bible teaches that God is our Provider – Jehovah Jireh. Does that mean that because God is our Provider, we don’t do anything in the natural to provide for ourselves? Of course not. In fact the Bible says that if a person does not work he should not eat.

In the past God had provided food to the Israelites in the form of manna from the sky. Does that mean that we don’t need to work for food and just trust God to provide miraculously? God provided water to the Israelites miraculously from a rock. So no need to dig wells?


Does relying on medicine reflect our lack of trust in God?

Paul told Timothy to use wine to cure his stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23).

Can we accuse Paul or Timothy of lack of faith and not trusting in God alone to heal?

Does going to a doctor to get medical help reflect our trust in God any more than going to a recruitment agency to get help to find a job?
 
Why is relying on medicine only and not seeking the Lord’s intervention wrong?

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus healed a boy subject to episodes that sound like epilepsy. But instead of seeing it as a physical ailment, Jesus simply says, "You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again" (verse 25). In verse 29, He restates that the condition was caused by a spirit.

Therefore, we cannot rely on medicine alone as not all illnesses have natural causes. This is not to say that every disease is spiritual as Jesus healed many other medical conditions without attributing the illness to demonic influence.

Another reason why we need to pray besides going to the doctors is that there are illnesses that are beyond medical science e.g. the woman with the issue of blood.

Mark 5: 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.
 

Does God use “earthly” means to heal?

(Ps 103: 2-3) Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases…

It is true that God is our Healer but does He use “earthly” means when He heals?

2 Kings 20 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” 7 Then Isaiah said, “Prepare a poultice of figs.” They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.

It does not mean that if God chooses to heal you, He will not use “earthly” means. God could have healed King Hezekiah instantly with His word but He chose to use “earthly” means. Likewise, if God chooses to bless you financially, He could do that through “earthly” means such as by providing you with a good job. No one would expect money to just fall down from heaven.
 

Did God promise to heal everyone who asks for healing?

Not everyone who prays for healing will be healed. The verses that talk about healing are general promises of God to heal. There are specific instances in the Bible where people are not healed because it was not God’s will for them to be healed. One example that comes to mind is Paul. Though he pleaded with God to heal him several times, God’s reply was that He would like to demonstrate His power through Paul’s weakness.

2 Cor 12: 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Timothy was also someone who was not healed in a supernatural way and Paul had to ask him to take some wine for his stomach ailment (1 Tim 5:23). Wine was used in those days for medicinal and disinfectant purposes (see Luke 10:34). Timothy was not healed not because he lacked faith; he was someone who had strong faith in God according to Paul (2 Tim 1:5).
 

Does medicine originate from a Greek god?

It is true that there is a Greek god of medicine by the name of Asklepios. Does that mean that everything represented by gods is inherently bad? How about these?
Aphrodite – goddess of love and beauty
Apollo – god of music and arts
Athena – goddess of intelligence, skill, peace
Hermes – god of travel, communication, language
Ploutos – god of wealth

Can you think of anything in this world that has not been perverted by the devil? The above are all good things that God wants to bless us with. Yet the devil takes every good thing and tries to pervert it. Even the concept of God has been perverted by the devil. If we avoid everything perverted by the devil, we would have to avoid every single thing in this world.

Those who oppose medicine also say that the logo of the World Health Organization is pagan in origin because it has the symbol of the serpent on a pole, and serpent represents the devil.


The snake on a pole is actually a symbol of God’s healing. I don’t know how the devil has corrupted this logo but it got its basis from this passage.

Num 21: 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

It is further argued that the father of modern medicine is a Greek by the name of Hippocrates and ancient doctors swear by the Greek gods of Apollo, Ascelepius, Hygieia and Panacea. This is no longer valid since the Hippocratic Oath was re-written and in 1948, the General Assembly of the World Medical Association adopted the Declaration of Geneva - a physician's dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine.


What are the root words for medicine and physician?

The word translated witchcraft or sorcery in the Bible is the Greek word pharmakeia. Strong’s Concordance translates this word as “the use of medicine, drugs or spells.” HELPS Word-Studies translates it as “drug-related sorcery”.

The person who practices witchcraft or sorcery in the Bible is described using the Greek word pharmakeus. Strong’s Concordance describes this word as “sorcerer” and HELPS Word-Studies translates this word as “a person using drug-based incantations or drugging religious enchantments”.

As you can see, it is not just the simple use of drugs or medicines to heal. People practising sorcery use drugs to achieve hallucinations in order to communicate with the spirit world.

There is a difference between use and abuse of drugs. Drugs can be used to cure diseases. It can also be abused by drug addicts to get “high”. Even basic cough syrups consumed in large quantities or mixed with other drugs can be used for these purposes.

One cannot simplistically say that because the modern word for pharmacy is from the Greek word pharmakeia, therefore it has to be bad. We cannot lump words together simply because they have the same Greek or Hebrew root words. For example…

“I am the Lord your God (Hebrew word “Elohim”), who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods (Hebrew word “Elohim”) before me. (Exod 20:2-3)

The first Elohim is used to describe the true God. (God is described in the plural because of the plurality of persons in the Trinity.) The second “Elohim” is exactly the same as the first (not just same root word but exactly the same word) but used to describe pagan gods. If pharmakeia is always good or always bad, then is Elohim always good or always bad? Surely this example shows that we need to look at the context and not simply lump words together.

If we want to use root-word arguments to decide whether something is good or bad, why not use these?

Gen 50:1 Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel.

The word used for “physician” in Hebrew is “raphah”, the same word used for “heal” in the following verse.

Exod 15: 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

So is “raphah” always good or always bad?

Ezek 47: 2 And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.

The Hebrew word for “medicine” is “truphah”, also related to “raphah”.

Matt 9: 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

The root word for “doctor” is the Greek word “iaomai”, which means “to heal”, the word found in the following verse.

Luke 4: 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…

So is “iaomai” always good or always bad?