Is Healing A Part Of The Atonement Work?


By: Daniel Segraves

With the renewal of interest in biblical signs and wonders, the gifts of the Spirit, and the whole arena of the supernatural, there comes the question, “What relationship, if any, does divine healing for the physical body have with Christ’s atoning work?”

Some are of the opinion that the atonement included provisions for salvation and physical healing. Others believe that, while healing is available from God, it is not a provision of the atonement. The question is whether Jesus actually bore in His own body not only our sins, but also our sicknesses and diseases.


This question was debated for much of the latter half of the nineteenth century as some in the holiness movement embraced the doctrine of divine healing. One of the first to systematize the theology of healing was Otto Stockmayer, who was himself healed in 1867 and thereafter wrote the book Sickness and the
Gospel. His basic presupposition was that “deliverance from sickness could not be separated from the whole work of redemption . .” “(Stockmayer) found justification for this view in what he considered the important connection between Matthew 8:16-17 and Isaiah 53:4. Using the Matthean Scripture to interpret Isaiah 53:4, he concluded that Christ had borne humankind’s physical as well as spiritual sufferings on the cross.”

While Stockmayer represented the European influence on the divine healing movement in the i 1800’s, others on the American scene also came to believe that the atonement included provisions for physical
healing. One of these, Ethan O. Allen, “believed that Christ’s atonement provided not only for justification but also for purification of the human nature from sin.” Allen agreed with Stockmayer that “sickness was caused by sin” and “maintained that the purification of human I nature from sin by the experience of
sanctification would eliminate sickness.”

Also in America, Charles Cullis, M.D., had a profound impact on the healing movement. He taught that “full salvation included not only salvation or healing of the spirit but also the healing of the physical body.”

In 1883 a book by R. L. Stanton appeared with the title Gospel Parallelisms: Illustrated in the Healing of the Body and Soul. Stanton, who had been president of Miami University in Ohio and a moderator of the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, “set out to demonstrate that Christ’s atonement had laid a
foundation for deliverance from both sin and disease.”

The following year saw the release of the book that was to be the best known defense of the belief that the atonement provided physical healing as well as salvation. It was The Atonement of Sin and Sickness; or A Full Salvation for Soul and Body, by R. Kelso Carter. Carter believed that all provisions of the atonement were instantaneous in their applications and that the atonement provided “cleansing from all traces of inherited depravity . . .” He taught that sickness was “a trace of humankind’s inherited depravity” and was
thus “from the devil.” By implication, then, the “vicarious atonement of Christ is explicitly for all depravity, including sickness.”

Dr. Adoniram J. Gordon, a leader in the divine healing and Keswick Holiness movements, had a powerful influence in the late 1800’s. He taught, based on Matthew 8:17, “that physical healing was provided for
in the atonement of Christ. Thus Christ was both the sickness-bearer and the sin-bearer of his people.”

A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance, was one of the most influential voices in the divine healing movement at the very end of the nineteenth century. “Whenever he presented his
theological position on the doctrine of divine healing, he always asserted his basic presupposition that divine healing is part of the completeness of the redemption of Jesus Christ. He agreed with the
normative view of the divine healing movement that sickness was the result of the Fall, thus his insistence that the fundamental principle of divine healing rests on the atoning sacrifice, since the atonement
of Christ reaches as ‘far as the curse is found.’ As a result, healing, according to Simpson, became a redemption right which we simply claim as our purchased inheritance through the blood of his Cross.”

Both Carrie Judd Montgomery, who believed that “physical healing was provided through the atonement of Christ,” and Maria B. Woodworth-Etter provided links between the divine healing movements of the 1800’s and the Pentecostal movement of the twentieth century.

Although many in the holiness movement embraced the view that the atonement provides for healing as well as salvation, there were many in that movement who “did not accept healing theologically as a provision in the Atonement equal to that of salvation. But some supported it as a ministry of the church as
advanced in James 5:14-16.”


John Alexander Dowie, founder of Zion, Illinois and “unquestionably the apostle of healing of his day,” insisted that redemption was both for the spirit and body. When his influence was diminished due to his own physical problems and charges of financial mismanagement, Charles Parham was instrumental in bringing many of Dowie’s followers into the Pentecostal movement. “Parham discovered that in an atmosphere where divine healing was emphasized and experienced, he encountered little opposition to his doctrine of speaking in tongues as the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

From the very beginning of the Pentecostal movement in this century, “divine healing has been an integral and distinctive part.” This is one of the reasons the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (fundamentalists) rejected the Pentecostal movement in 1928. The Fundamentalists condemned as
“fanatical” the a teaching that healing was provided for in the atonement.


When oneness Pentecostals met In St. Louis to effect the merger between the Pentecostal Church, Inc. and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, the brethren adopted articles of Faith which included this statement: “The vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ paid for the healing of our bodies, the same as for the salvation of our souls . . . divine healing for the body is in the atonement. That being true, then it is for all who believe.”

Oneness Pentecostals have commonly interpreted the phrase “and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5) and “by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Peter 2:24) as referring to physical healing. Is this accurate? Or do these statements, as many denominations claim, refer to spiritual healing only?

MATTHEW 8:16-17

A key passage on this subject is Matthew 8:16-17: “When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”

Matthew’s reference is to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows . . .”

Why does Matthew render “griefs” and “sorrows” as “infirmities” and “sicknesses”?

Matthew was equally inspired with Isaiah. The New Testament is the only inspired “commentary” on the Old Testament. Leaving, for a moment, the question of whether the New Testament writers offered
“free” translations from the Hebrew scriptures or whether they quoted from the Septuagint, it should be sufficient to say that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew in his choice of words. We do not believe there is any discrepancy between a New Testament reference to an Old Testament verse and the intent of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Old Testament writer.

The issue is not the ignorance or carelessness of the New Testament writer. For example, Jesus quoted Psalm 8:2 thus: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise” (Matthew 21:16). The
Psalmist wrote, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength . . .” (Psalm 8:2). Why did Jesus say “perfected praise” when the Psalmist had written “ordained strength”?

The most common explanation of this is that Jesus was quoting the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures many assume to have been made in approximately 250 B.C. Whether or not this is
true, we know that Jesus’ use of the Old Testament is perfectly accurate and that His words are indeed the very words of God.

The technical term used to describe this kind of use of the Old Testament in the New Testament is sensus plenior (fuller meaning). In these cases, the New Testament offers additional insight into the depth of meaning of an Old Testament statement which would not readily be apparent to someone reading the Old Testament alone.

It would seem obvious that the significance of Jesus’ “perfected praise” in place of “ordained strength” is that strength comes through praise. In other words, as an individual praises God, he is made strong.

Further insight into Matthew’s use of Isaiah is provided by a closer examination of the Hebrew words behind Isaiah’s “griefs” and “sorrows.”

The Hebrew word kholee is translated “griefs” in Isaiah 53:4. The implication is grief caused by indisposition or sickness. The Hebrew makhouv is translated “sorrows.” The implication is sorrow resulting from pain.

Some translations have emphasized the more physical aspects of the griefs and sorrows of Isaiah 53:3-4 and even the “grief” of verse 10 (“. . . he hath put him to grief…”):

“He is despised, and left of men, A man of pains, and acquainted with sickness . . . Surely our sicknesses he hath borne, And our pains – he hath carried them . . . And Jehovah hath delighted to bruise him, He
hath made him sick …” (Robert is Young, Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible).

“He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men, a Man of sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness. . . Surely He has borne our griefs – sickness, weaknesses and distress – and carried our
sorrows and pain. . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief and made Him sick. . .” (The Amplified Bible).

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . . Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . . Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer. . .” (New International Version).

“He was despised and shunned by men, a man of pain, who knew what sickness was. . . And yet ours was the pain he bore, the sorrow he endured. . .” (Moffitt).

While the Revised Standard Version uses griefs and sorrows through the passage, it offers footnotes giving the alternative “pains” for sorrows and “sickness” for grief. For the statement in verse 10, “put him to grief,” the RSV offers the alternative footnote reading “made him sick.”

Bible Knowledge Commentary, in its comments on verse 4, points out that the literal meaning of the Hebrew word translated “infirmities” by the NIV (“griefs” by the KJV) is “sickness”

It seems quite clear, then, that Matthew’s use of Isaiah was founded on the most basic and literal meaning of the passage. Isaiah 53:4-5 would then be seen as forming an inseparable unit, showing how the Messiah would, by His own suffering and death, bear in His body both the spiritual and physical consequences of sin. Thus while the statement “and with his stripes we are healed” could indeed apply to the spiritual healing available through the atonement, it would reach out to include the broader healing available to the whole man, body, soul, and spirit.


It has been objected that Matthew’s use of the word “took” in the phrase “Himself took our in “firmities” indicates that the Messiah simply “carried away” the infirmities of the people, not that He actually took them upon Himself. The Greek word translated “took” is elaben, from the simple Greek verb lambano, which means, “I take” or “I receive” in the sense of “I accept.” It would do no violence at all to the word to suggest that it implies that Jesus healed these people on the basis of the foreordained fact that He would receive or accept their infirmities in the atonement.

This objection also overlooks the context of Isaiah’s prophecy from which Matthew quoted. Isaiah wrote, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” This strongly indicates that it was in His being stricken, smitten, and afflicted that He vicariously bore the griefs and carried the sorrows. While in the prophecy the unbelieving Jews deemed His suffering to be that of a mere human justly smitten by God as the penalty for his own sins, the Messiah was in reality suffering on behalf of the people.

Another objection offered is that Matthew 8:16-17 could not represent a work of the atonement because the atonement had not yet occurred. This ignores that fact that all of the provisions of the atonement were available to those who came to God in faith from the time of creation. Few would question that the atonoment’s provision of forgiveness of sin was extended to repentant men and women throughout all the history of the human race prior to the death of Christ. Whether those people, living before the atonement was actually accomplished in time, looked ahead to it in faith, or whether we look back to it in faith, the Lord has never withheld its total provisions from believing men and women. This is possible because
Jesus Christ was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Even during the dispensation of the law of Moses, when Israel operated under a highly defined system of sacrifices, it
was not the “blood of bulls and goats which effected the remission of sins, but the faith of those who made offerings in that which their sacrifices merely symbolized (Hebrews 10:1-4).

If Christ’s work of healing could not be a provision of the atonement because His death had not yet occurred, either there is another basis than the blood of Christ upon which God forgives gin or no one was ever forgiven prior to Calvary.

Yet another objection asserts that the first part of Isaiah 53:4 (“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows”) refers to Christ’s earthly ministry prior to His crucifixion, while the latter part (“yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”) refers to what He accomplished in His death. This appears to be an arbitrary and artificial distinction. While the Messianic passage, beginning at Isaiah 52:13 and extending through Isaiah 53 certainly does discuss the Messiah’s life before His death, the context of the entire passage, beginning with Isaiah 52:14, emphasized His vicarious atoning work.

Again, it was as He bore the griefs and carried the sorrows of the people that they esteemed Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted of God. As they observed His suffering, they failed to recognize it was on their behalf; they assumed He was paying the penalty for His own sins. In reality, He was bearing their griefs and carrying their sorrows. He was wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their inequities. The chastisement necessary to bring peace was placed upon Him. All of His atoning work is summed up: “… and with his stripes we are healed.”

It is possible that a person may be healed without understanding, or even believing, that healing is provided in the atonement. If one, believes God is a good and compassionate God who sometimes heals His
people, he may receive healing. It is faith that God honors, not theological exactness.

But if one understands physical healing to be a provision of the atonement, his faith is strengthened with the assurance that the I price for healing has already been paid and that it is available to all who believe.

It is certainly not necessary to have faith for physical healing in order to be saved. God will honor one’s faith as far as it extends.

But the truth always sets men free. And those who understand and believe the truth of the atonement’s total provisions for men wounded by sin can enjoy freedom from all sin’s oppression.

(The above article appeared in an issue of First Love which is published by Christian Life College.)

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