Word of the Week
October 14, 2023
Therapeuō: When You Need Healing
For I, the LORD, am your healer.
Exodus 15:26 NASB
When it’s the doctor, not an assistant, who calls you at home, you know the news is not good. “The lab results are in, and it’s cancer.”
I got that call ten years ago, and I am grateful that treatment was successful, with no signs of recurrence, but I learned that nothing puts the little hassles of daily life in perspective like the discovery of a serious threat to your health.
Even Satan claimed that Job’s loyalty to God would break down if his health was touched (Job 2:4-5).
Naturally, we want to know what God has to say about healing. One way to take the first step in that investigation is to examine the Greek and Hebrew words for healing in the Bible. We are going to vary our usual pattern in this week’s word study by including both languages, because it is a big topic in both Old and New Testaments.
- The primary Hebrew word for “heal” is rapha’, which occurs 69 times in the Old Testament.
The root idea of rapha’ is to restore something to normal. It could describe the repair of a piece of pottery (Jeremiah 19:11) or the reconstruction of a broken-down altar (1 Kings 18:30). It could even be used for the “healing” that transformed a polluted spring into a source of drinkable water (2 Kings 2:22).
In most cases, however, it refers to the process of restoring a person to health. It originally had the sense of sewing up a wound – as in the case of king Joram, who had been wounded in battle (2 Kings 8:29). This usually involved healing from a physical disease. When king Hezekiah pleaded for a few more years of life, God agreed to heal him (2 Kings 20:5).
At times, rapha’ could refer to spiritual healing. God promised to heal the faithlessness of Judah in Jeremiah 3:22. Hosea similarly promised to heal the nation’s apostasy (Hosea 14:4).
The foundational truth about healing in the Old Testament appears in Exodus 15:26, where God proclaims, “I, the LORD, am your Healer.” Ancient physicians had limited resources to cure diseases, often resorting to magic or occult cures. Even though the Law included provisions for health measures like quarantines, it was clear that God was the true source of healing. Remember king Asa, who is condemned because he sought the physicians, rather than God (2 Chronicles 16:12)? Seeking help from God and doctors is fine, but we dare not depend on physicians rather than God.
- The New Testament uses two Greek words for healing, with very little distinction between the two. The first Greek word is therapeuō (occurs 43 times).
The original idea of therapeuō was “to serve, to help,”and this general meaning occurs in Acts 17:25. Most of the time, however, it means specifically “to provide physical healing, to restore one to health.”
Healing was one of the primary features of Christ’s public ministry:
- Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23).
He sent out His followers to carry out a similar ministry, including the ability to heal.
- Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness (Matthew 10:1).
The early church included those who had spiritual gifts of healing.
- To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9).
The word therapeuō was also used to describe the activities of medical professionals of the day (Luke 8:43), and Jesus acknowledged that the sick need a physician (Matthew 9:12). However, no one bothered making an appointment with a surgeon if Jesus was coming through town!
- The other New Testament for healing is iaomai [ee-AH-aw-my], which occurs 26 times.
This word was common in classical Greek for any kind of medical procedure, including the use of magic or other appeals to the gods. In the New Testament, it is generally used to describe the healing of physical ailments by Christ or His followers. However, it can also be applied to spiritual ills like willful blindness (Matthew 13:15; John 12:40; Acts 28:27; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24).
This word study is barely a beginning on the topic of Biblical teaching on health. However, one truth is clear. Human physicians provide important help when we are sick, and we should use them wisely. However, God is the only one who can actually heal, whether we are talking about a physical disease or a spiritual malady.
When you get that call from the doctor, don’t forget to go to God – first!
Do you want to go deeper on this topic? Use a concordance or Bible study software like Logos, Bible Hub, or Blue Letter Bible to get a list of all the verses where these words are used. Then look up every verse and write notes of what you learn. This will take a while because there are so many verses. A second step would be to read through your Bible looking for all the stories of people who were sick and found healing. By the time you meditate on all these passages, you’ll be ready to write the next good book on this topic!
Q – What does it mean in James 5:14 when it tells sick people to call the elders?
A – Sincere believers have different explanations for this passage, which says, “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 doesn’t explain exactly how this procedure works, but it seems clear that we should respond to sickness with prayer. If it is a serious illness, there can be great value in asking the spiritual leaders who care for you to join in prayer about your condition. This does not mean that you should refuse medical treatment, but it does remind us that the appropriate response to this is to seek God’s intervention.
What makes God happy? Let’s find out what pleases Him most as we study a fascinating Greek word next week.
©Ezra Project 2023