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"I have a question about anointing with oil. What's your take on if we should or should not anoint with oil for sickness or any other reason?"


The New Testament actually doesn't tell us very much about anointing with oil. Mark 6:13 says that the disciples "anointed many sick people with oil and healed them," but that was before Jesus' death and resurrection. The only mention of anointing with oil after the cross is in James 5:14:
"Is 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." (James 5:14)
In both of those verses (Mark 6:13 and James 5:14), the Greek word for "anoint" is aleipho, which means:
"to rub, to cover over, besmear ... In the case of sick persons and also of the dead, they rubbed the whole body. ... In James 5:14, the word is used in the aor. part. aleipsantes which means that the rubbing with oil was the medicinal means applied prior to prayer." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.119, emphasis added)
Aleipho is the Greek word for the common, everyday first-century practice of rubbing oil in the hair or rubbing oil on the body for various reasons (including for medical purposes). For example, when we put sunscreen on our skin, when we put hand lotion on our dry hands, etc., then we are "anointing" our skin in a common, everyday manner, which is what aleipho means (and in a sense we're doing those things for medical purposes).

Here's what a well-known Bible commentary says about these two verses:
Mark 6:13:
"This is the only example in the N.T. of aleipho elaioi used in connection with healing save in James 5:14. In both cases it is possible that the use of oil (olive oil) as a medicine is the basis of the practice. See Luke 10:34 for pouring oil and wine upon the wounds. It was the best medicine of the ancients and was used internally and externally. It was employed often after bathing. The papyri give a number of examples of it. The only problem is whether aleipho in Mark and James is used wholly in a ritualistic and ceremonial sense or partly as medicine and partly as a symbol of divine healing. The very word aleipho can be translated rub or anoint without any ceremony." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)

James 5:14:
"Anointing him with oil (aleipsantes elaioi). First aorist active participle of aleipho, old verb, to anoint, and the instrumental case of elaion (oil). The aorist participle can be either simultaneous or antecedent with proseuxasthosan (pray). See the same use of aleipho elaioi in Mark 6:13. The use of olive oil was one of the best remedial agencies known to the ancients. They used it internally and externally. Some physicians prescribe it today. It is clear both in Mark 6:13 and here that medicinal value is attached to the use of the oil and emphasis is placed on the worth of prayer. There is nothing here of the pagan magic or of the later practice of "extreme unction" (after the eighth century). It is by no means certain that aleipho here and in Mark 6:13 means "anoint" in a ceremonial fashion rather than "rub" as it commonly does in medical treatises." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)
Again, aleipho is not the Greek word for the "sacred" type of anointing, it is the common, everyday type of anointing as when a person rubs oil, perfume, etc., on his or her body for any reason (including using olive oil to promote healing). To get a better understanding of this Greek word, here are all of the places it is used in the New Testament (other than Mark 6:13 and James 5:14, which we have already looked at):
"But when you fast, put oil on [aleipho] your head and wash your face" (Matthew 6:17)

"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint [aleipho] Jesus' body." (Mark 16:1)

"and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured [aleipho] perfume on them." (Luke 7:38)

"You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured [aleipho] perfume on my feet." (Luke 7:46)

"This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured [aleipho] perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair." (John 11:2)

"Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured [aleipho] it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." (John 12:3)
These are all of the places in the New Testament where the Greek word aleipho is used.

The main Greek word for the "sacred" type of anointing (in which the Holy Spirit is involved) is chrio, which is never used in connection with healing. Here are all of the places in the New Testament where this Greek word is used:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed [chrio] me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed" (Luke 4:18)

"Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed [chrio]." (Acts 4:27)

"how God anointed [chrio] Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38)

"Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed [chrio] us" (2 Corinthians 1:21)

"You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing [chrio] you with the oil of joy." (Hebrews 1:9)
Notice that this Greek word for the "sacred" type of anointing is never used in connection with healing.

A similar Greek word is chrisma, which means "anointing." Here are all of the places in the New Testament where this Greek word is used:
"But you have an anointing [chrisma] from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth." (1 John 2:20)

"As for you, the anointing [chrisma] you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing [chrisma] teaches you about all things and as that anointing [Note: There is no Greek word for "anointing" here. See for example Young's Literal Translation Offsite Link] is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him." (1 John 2:27)
This Greek word for a "sacred" type of anointing is never used in connection with healing.

To summarize, there are two types of "anointing" in the New Testament. There is a "sacred" type of anointing in which the Holy Spirit is involved, and there is a common, everyday type of anointing in which oil, perfume, etc., is rubbed on the body (or in the hair). In the only two places in the New Testament where "anointing" sick people with oil is mentioned (Mark 6:13 and James 5:14), the Greek word in those passages is the word for the common, everyday act of rubbing oil on the body. It was a standard practice to use oil (and also wine) for promoting healing in Biblical times, as in the example of the "Good Samaritan":
"But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him." (Luke 10:33-34)

So what conclusions can we draw concerning the modern use of anointing oil when praying for people?

For one thing, Jesus commanded all believers to lay hands on the sick (see my Healing Training Course), but He never commanded us to anoint anyone with oil. There is no record of Jesus ever anointing anyone with oil, and there are no descriptions of the apostles or other Christians anointing anyone with oil after the day of Pentecost. Therefore, we might say that anointing the sick (or anyone else) with oil is unnecessary. On the other hand, it is never condemned nor forbidden, so we can't dogmatically say that it would be wrong to anoint someone with oil. We also need to take into account James 5:14, which says that people can ask for some of the elders of their church to come to them and pray for them and anoint them with oil:
"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint [aleipho, "to rub, cover over, besmear"] him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14)
As we saw earlier, Bible commentators are not certain whether James was referring to the first-century practice of rubbing oil on the sick, or whether James was implying some kind of "sacred" anointing in the verse above. Two things to notice are that James used the Greek word for the common, everyday type of "anointing" (not the Greek word for a "sacred" anointing in which the Holy Spirit is involved), and he said that a sick person "should" (not "must") call for the elders. In the literal Greek, James said "let him call for the elders of the assembly" (see for example Young's Literal Translation Offsite Link). In other words, James was not giving us a command and telling us that the only way divine healing will work is if church elders anoint a sick person with oil and pray for the person. Remember, neither Jesus nor the apostles (after Pentecost) are recorded as using oil for healing, nor did they ever command anyone else to use oil for healing or for any other situation in which prayer is needed. Therefore, we should be careful not to take James 5:14 (above) as a dogmatic statement of how healing works. The best balance seems to be that anointing with oil can be helpful, but it is not a requirement for healing (nor for any other purpose).


At my church we have a time of prayer ministry at each service, and occasionally someone feels led to anoint a person with oil. Nothing in the New Testament indicates that anointing with oil is wrong, but neither is it a requirement. The only New Testament verse (after Pentecost) which mentions anointing the sick with oil is James 5:14, but we have seen that it most likely describes the common first-century practice of rubbing oil on a sick person to aid in the healing process. There is no record of Jesus ever anointing people with oil, nor did Jesus ever command us to anoint people with oil for any reason.

Notice that the New Testament demonstrates that people's faith often had some influence on receiving their miracles (for example, see my article called Healing Training Course - Part Four). Consider that when we anoint someone with oil, he might feel that we have done something "sacred" or "special," which might increase his faith for receiving his miracle. This means that anointing a person with oil (by touching a drop of ordinary olive oil onto his forehead, or the back of his hand, or near the area where he needs healing) can be helpful, because it might increase the person's faith to receive whatever miracle he needs. The New Testament never says that any special type of oil was used, and the New Testament never commands us to apply oil in any particular way. Another potential use of anointing oil is in spiritual warfare. Those who are involved in this are sometimes led to anoint houses or other places with oil while casting out demonic spirits and praying for God's protection in that place. I have used oil (in combination with prayer) to anoint the entrances into a home for a family that requested it at our church. We just need to make sure that we don't turn these things into "rituals," because that would imply that the act of anointing with oil has greater power than the Name of Jesus.

I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
  Modification History  

  • 07/11/2002 - New article.