Every so often, I read about Christian parents choosing faith healing over conventional medicine for their sick children, in some cases with lethal results. This usually results in the parents being convicted of either severe neglect or manslaughter. (Rightfully so, in my opinion)

I know there are several accounts of miraculous healing mentioned in the Bible, and I don't see a problem with prayer in addition to medicine, but what is the justification for opting to rely on prayer alone?

Is the answer different when it's an adult making the choice for themselves rather than for their child?

  • Your question reminds me of the story in this devotional. God Works In the Ordinary
    – a_hardin
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 16:39
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    In answer to your last sentence, Yes, it's very different. We do not have the right to make martyrs of other people.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 17:04
  • Link to a brief (five minute) video explanation of the counter-argument, from John Piper: "God has appointed means." The question in the video asks about anti-depressants, but Piper expands to the general case in his answer. Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 18:50
  • An interesting side note here is the fact that, if we believe that the bible is divinely inspired and the earthly authors were chosen by God, God chose to use a physician (Luke) to record one of his gospels, as well as the book of Acts. Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 18:54
  • @TRiG sounds like you don't know what a martyr is.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


DISCLAIMER: I do not agree with this justification, I am merely answering your question.

The justification for relying on faith healing over conventional medicine comes from a belief that turning to man is diametrically opposed to turning to God. In other words, you can either turn to God for help, or you can turn to man for help - but not both. One passage used to support this is found in Psalm 118:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. -Psalm 118:8

One of the main passages used to support the application of this doctrine to healing is a story in the Old Testament about a king named Asa:

In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians. So Asa slept with his fathers, having died in the forty-first year of his reign. -2 Chronicles 16:12-13

The "faith-healing" advocate would say that Asa's downfall was in turning to the doctor, and that we should turn to the Lord instead.

Of course, if you believe that turning to God can include receiving help from man, you would interpret the passage differently. But now it should make more sense where this doctrine comes from.

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    Unfortunately, as with all such examples, what we can never know is how long Asa might have lived making other choices. Less. More. The same. Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 22:02

While most, or at least many, Christians believe that healing by faith still happens today to some extent, this goes beyond that — to a belief that visiting the doctor at all is somehow wrong, or a lack of faith. So it's not just a question of "Can faith healing work", but "What prevents you from doing something else also?".

The simple answer might be that seeking other treatment is a sign of doubt, and could therefore undermine the faith portion of faith healing, but I find that explanation unsatisfying, from both a biblical perspective and from the eyes of a parent. By not visiting the doctor, I would only be denying God an agent He might use to either effect the healing or show his power.

There is a better explanation from biblical study. It comes to an interpretation of how we understand the silence of scripture (things that are not explicitly discussed), and whether silence is permissive or prohibitive. The bible never explicitly permits or prohibits visiting a doctor, so how are you to decide on this? In the general case (not just scripture), we often think of silence as permissive. However, it is easy to show that this is not always true. I'll provide an example:

Let's say you send your teenage child to the store for milk and eggs, and give him/her a $20 bill to cover the expense. The child comes back with milk, eggs, ice cream, and less change than you hoped for. You didn't tell him/her not to buy the ice cream, but you're probably not going to be happy. Here, the silence is prohibitive. You also didn't specify which store to go to. You may have expected the local grocery store, but if the child knew of a sale at a nearer convenience store they may have chosen that instead. Here, the silence is permissive.

Applied to scripture, there is a common (not universal) interpretation that when we are given instructions in an area, silence on other aspects of the area is prohibitive. For example, God told Noah to use gopher wood when building the ark. He didn't mention other kinds of wood (he was silent), but his specific instruction for gopher wood excludes/prohibited them. What if Noah wanted to use gopher wood for the hull, but thought a little bit of maple trim might have looked nice around the window and door? This interpretation system would not allow for that. Going back to the shopping example, ice cream was not on the list, and so was prohibited.

Why is all this relevant to the faith healing question? Well, it just so happens that the bible is not entirely silent on the subject. We are told to "pray for the sick and annoint them with oil." (James 5:13-16). Using the above interpretation system, this excludes the use of doctors and medicines.

It comes down to hermeneutics. Hermeneutics are the lens you use to study scripture. As an example, they are how you know what to do when you come upon "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." in one place, and "Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?" in another. Hermeneutics help ensure that you interpret scripture consistently; that you not hear only what you want to hear from the passages you want to read. A perfect hermeneutic, perfectly applied, would lead to a perfect understanding of scripture. Unfortunately, man is far from perfect.

Most good hermeneutics will at some point need to deal with the silence of scripture, in some way or another. Most fail to handle it adequately. The hermeneutic described above actually handles the subject pretty well, but hermeneutics are a creation of man, and so are not flawless or perfect. Our application of them also often leaves something to be desired. What we have in these tragic cases is a strict hermeneutic, strictly applied (neither of which is bad on it's own), and a lapse in judgement about it.

That said, if you're studying the bible without a good hermeneutic close at hand, you're probably not getting what you should out of your study. Sadly, this is all too common. It's just important to remember that the hermeneutic is a starting point or measuring rod for your interpretation. It's not the whole interpretation, but one tool you should use.

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    the Bible is not entirely "silent" on the issue of doctors: for example, we know Luke was a doctor. Also, Christ references physicians when He calls Himself the "great physician" and that "those who are healthy have no need of a doctor". The implication from those passages is that doctors are not inherently wrong
    – warren
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:11
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    Of course it's not silent. I didn't say it was. I do disagree with your implication: mentioning something does not imply a commentary on it or approve it. That said, I also don't claim to agree with the interpretation used here. I was just explaining where it comes from. Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:34

The justification for it lies in maintaining a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. Many of us christians are taught a theology of glory, a theology that God must be my benefefactor in every sense of the word in this life, it is a theology that denies or at least does not give decent ear to the fact that it may be God's will for us to suffer (and thus complete what was lacking in Christ's suffering, see Colossians 1).

However, to deny modern medicine's help is a roundabout statement that God could not also heal us through modern science. After all, who gave those scientists and doctors the mental capacity to develop such cures?

Denying modern medicine is assuming that God must listen to your demands, which can set you up for a faith crisis if He chooses not to heal you. I would just say to be careful when you make demands upon God, that might be coming close to breaking the first commandment.

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