Faith Healers and Movements

The Bible warns of false apostles (2Co 11:13), false brothers (Gal 2:4), false teachers (2Pe 2:1), false witnesses (Mat 26:60), false prophets (Act 13:6), and even false Christs (Mat 24:24) because there are genuine apostles, brothers, teachers, witnesses, prophets and, of course, only one who is the “Lord’s Christ” (Luk 2:26). Today, there are also false healers who imitate true divine healings as described in Scripture.According to the Department of Treasury, of the $70 million counterfeit bills in circulation in the USA, none are $13.00 bills. Why? Counterfeiters only duplicate what is authentic and has value.

The History of Healers

There are only about a dozen healings in all of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles performed healings during a 30-year period, and Paul mentions the “gift of healing” in the list of nine gifts given by the Spirit (1Co 12:7-10). These gifts can be grouped together as follows:

Group 1: wisdom and knowledge

Group 2: faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits

Group 3: tongues and interpretation of tongues

Knowledge represents group one, prophecies group two, and tongues group three. Thus, the next chapter states, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away” (1Co 13:8 ESV). All will no longer be operational for “when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1Co 13:10).[1] Paul is speaking about divine revelation, so the authentication of men and their message would now be by the completed canon of Scripture rather than through miraculous signs like healings. Not surprisingly then, the frequency of healings drops through the New Testament. By Ephesians and 1 Timothy, Paul does not heal Epaphroditus, and he simply directs Timothy to a medical solution for his stomach ailments.

From then until the beginning of the Charismatic Movement in the 1870s, documented miraculous healings are scarce. With the dawn of charismatic evangelistic campaigns came the start of modern healing services. Some of the most recognized healers included Smith Wigglesworth, Aimee Semple McPherson, William Branham, Oral Roberts (the first to televise healing services), Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. The Word of Faith movement officially began in the late 1900s when E.W. Kenyon combined faith healing with other errant doctrines. He impacted Kenneth Hagin who became known for faith healings and the prosperity gospel. Ironically, all these healers mock similar supposed healings performed by the Catholic appearances of the Virgin Mary and healers Ellen White and Mary Baker Eddy, the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Christian Science Church, respectively.

The Hoaxes of Healers

1. Distinct in Observability and Difficulty: Modern healings are generally unobservable, e.g., headaches, fevers and constipation, but Christ’s healings were verifiable, e.g., a man “who had a withered hand” (Mar 3:1), a man with leprosy (Mar 1:40-45), and a man with paralysis (Mat 9:1-8). Jesus healed contracted diseases such as severe edema (Luk 14:1-4), and congenital diseases such as being “blind from birth” (Joh 9:2). He healed long-term illnesses such as a personal issue lasting 12 years, (Luk 8:41-48), a severe spinal curvature lasting 18 years (Luk 13:10-13), and paralysis lasting 38 years (Joh 5:1-9).

2. Distinct in Availability: Why do modern faith healers only perform healings in religious services and not in hospitals? Jesus and the apostles healed in synagogues, houses, and in the streets. Luke says, “They departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (Luk 9:6).

3. Distinct in Immediacy: When Jesus pronounced healing, people did not “improve,” but were instantly and completely healed. For example, Jesus healed a nobleman’s son who was sick about 20 miles away. The man later confirmed that it occurred “at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’” (Joh 4:53).

4. Distinct in Proficiency: Unlike all modern healers, Jesus and His disciples never failed and there is zero record of any disease returning. Matthew says that Jesus was “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Mat 4:23 ESV).

5. Distinct in Conditionality: Modern healers attribute failed healings to the lack of faith in the sick or in those requesting the miracle. The one time Jesus’ disciples could not heal a boy with seizures, Jesus explained that it was “because of YOUR little faith” (Mat 17:20 ESV). Instead of rebuking the boy or his father, He rebuked the faith healers for their lack of faith. In fact, all five times He said, “O ye of little faith!” (Mat 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Luk 12:28), He was speaking to disciples, not the sick or their families.

The Heresies of Healers

1. Wrong teaching about sickness: Modern healers believe sickness and poverty result from demonic activity. Yes, Jesus did heal people such as “a man, mute and demon-possessed. And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke” (Mat 9:32-33). However, most biblical healings have no connection to demonic influence. Some sicknesses were caused by divine discipline, such as when Paul told errant Corinthians, “Many are weak and sick among you” (1Co 11:30). The actions of others can also cause illness (e.g., a nurse dropped young Mephibosheth, leaving him lame in 2 Samuel 4:4). Mostly, though, sickness is from living in a sin-marred world infiltrated by bacteria, viruses, cancers, etc.

2. Wrong teaching about the cross: Modern healers say that at the cross “[Jesus] Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Mat 8:17). We just need to claim the healing provided in the atonement. Incorrect! This passage refers to Jesus’ miracles during His life, not His atoning death. Peter said that “Christ suffered … that he might bring us to God” (1Pe 3:18), not that He might heal our diabetes or make us millionaires.

3. Wrong teaching about faith: Modern faith healers preach that God wants health and wealth for everyone, but Scripture says that “God … desires all men to be saved” (1Ti 2:3-4). To justify their false teaching, they twist Scriptures to say that Paul had a multi-national tent business and Jesus had a vacation home on the beach in Capernaum. Also, Word of Faith Movement adherents speak of the “faith-force.” Upon salvation, believers return to a pre-fallen state in God’s image and thus can “name-it-and-claim-it” like sovereign mini-gods. Upon their words of faith, disease, demons and even God Himself must respond with healing.

4. Wrong teaching about prayer: Modern faith healers often quote Jesus’ words, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (Joh 14:14). They see this as a blank check for us to fill in and “in my name” as a spiritual “Abracadabra” to make our wishes come true. However, in the NT, it is the basis and the controlling condition of our petitions so that we ask for what is consistent with His person, will and Word. Other texts make it clear, such as, “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1Jn 5:14).

Their favorite passage is this: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? 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. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Jas 5:13-16).

Clearly, James is not teaching that every believer will be healed if he has faith. God actually wills that some not be healed (e.g., Jacob had a life-long limp and Paul had degenerated eyesight). The sickness here is specifically due to sin. First, the believer must address his sin alone to God. Upon resolution, he can sing psalms – an expression of gratitude. If church testimony has been impacted by the sin, the believer is to call the church elders, not a doctor. They will seek available medical treatment (“anointing him with oil”) and pray to God. Therefore, this passage specifically addresses physical and psychological ailments resulting from unconfessed sin, not a televised faith-healing service to exorcise the demon of acid reflux.

Jesus recognized that miracles occur apart from His power. He said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Mat 7:22-23). The Lord never denied they did miracles, nor did He explain how they did them. Modern faith healers may employ trickery, placebo effects, demonic power, or mind-over-matter, but they are not of God. So, when facing sickness today, we should pray to Jehovah-Ropheka – “the Lord who heals” (Exo 15:26) – which, if it is His will, He can do by Himself or through medical treatment.


[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.