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There are a number of groups who believed that after the time of the Apostles, God withdrew miracles from the world (please correct me if that is the wrong understanding). But the book of James clearly says,

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. (James 5:14, ESV)

For those who believe miracles were limited to the times of the Apostles, then why does James say this? Why would there be an anointing if no miracles are even possible? Or do I misstate their definition of miracles?

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James is conventionally ascribed to "the brother of the Lord" and so would have been written in the time of the Apostles. –  DJClayworth Jul 13 '12 at 21:11
God has not withdrawn miracles from the world. Period. –  Byzantine Jul 14 '12 at 1:57
I don't think this is opinion based as it is scoped to those who believe miracles were limited to the times of the Apostles –  curiousdannii Nov 7 '14 at 10:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I don't believe in cessationism, but I will explain one answer used by cessationists.

The word "sick" in the passage you quoted can also be translated "weak" (i.e. in faith), and thus, the verse can be interpreted to mean that if a brother is weak in faith, he should come to those who are stronger in faith for the purpose of support, prayer, etc.

In such an interpretation, there is no reason to believe that James was promising "Spiritual gifts of miraculous healings."

I heard a sermon on this a few weeks ago at a church I was visiting.

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My reaction to the Pastor's exegesis: o_O –  Jas 3.1 Jul 13 '12 at 22:37

James does not even hint that a special spiritual gift is involved, nor that a miracle would be performed. Garden variety elders are called (not someone with the gift of healing), and answers to prayer are anticipated, that's all. And that is enough. An answer to prayer need not be a miracle nor even miraculous.

The interaction between God's sovereignty and our wills and desires is a mystery, and there is comfort in knowing that the laws of physics need not be suspended every time the Lord intervenes for us, which I believe is every moment of every day.

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I think this verse means to that we should pray for those people who are physically sick and in some ways I partially believe in a kind of limited cessation. You can see a very lengthy response to the state of all the gifts here Are the gifts still active?.

Although at the time this letter was written the healing may have commonly been extra ordinarily miraculous, however, just because we pray for someone that is sick does not mean that God will not answer by normal means such as bed rest, even at that time in history. Whether God answers miraculously, or just supporting the person under a time of temptation and giving him and his doctors wisdom to take the proper care, or whether God’s answer is to simply bring that person home into heaven the next day, of course prayer should be offered! So this verse does not relate directly to the question of cessation or not cessation. Whenever we are in distress we should seek prayer especially when we are truly sick.

Going to God in payer simply assumes that God could heal, or otherwise help us in our sickness. The answer to all of us, at some point in our prayers, will be comfort and strength to face a death we are peacefully prepared for.

Would we expect any Church not to encourage sick people to be prayed for?

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