James 5:14
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:
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(14) The elders of the churchi.e., literally, the presbyters. The identity of “bishop” (episcopus) and “presbyter” in the language of the apostolic age seems conclusive. Such is the opinion of Lightfoot (Epistle to the Philippians, 93-97; see also his Dissertation on the Christian Ministry, ibid., 180-267), and few may hope to gainsay it. In fact, the organisation of the early Church was much more elastic than theologians always suppose; and names and terms were applied less rigidly than the schoolmen of the Middle Ages have so stoutly declared. But, on the other hand, no man who has read the Patres Apostolici can deny the reality of Church government as enforced by them, nor base on their authority any defence of Congregationalism or the rule of a mere presbytery. The theory of development must be maintained, though not on the lines of Dr. Newman.

(14, 15) Anointing him with oil.—Or, unction. The use of some precious and mysterious ointment, on solemn occasions, obtained in most of the ancient nations, specially the Eastern. The Jews themselves were by no means originators of the habit, although they carried it to its highest ceremonial and significance. Apart, too, from the regular performances of the rite, as upon the accession of a king, or the consecration of a high priest, it often occurred in private cases, and some striking instances are recorded in the Gospels:—the spikenard, costly and fragrant (Luke 7:36-50), wherewith the Saviour’s feet were anointed by “a woman which was a sinner;” and that, again, which Mary, of her grateful love, poured upon Him six days before His death (John 12:3-9). These were not unusual acts, but chiefly worthy of note because of the persons concerned. It was not remarkable for women to make such offerings to a famous rabbi, but that our Lord should be so treated, carried a deeper meaning. Nor, again, was it a new ordinance with which the Apostles were first commissioned, in pursuance whereof they “anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6:13). “Here,” observes Bishop Harold Browne, “unction was evidently an outward sign, similar to that used by our Saviour, when He made clay, and put it to the blind man’s eyes. It was connected with the miraculous power of healing.” This connection only, this use of a known form with a diviner import, was the cause of astonishment; and clearly it was to such a practice, with simply its common intention, that St. James refers. Nor can we refrain from saying, however undesirous of controversy, that all which unction now implies to the Romanist is quite opposed to whatever force and value are given it in Holy Writ. There unction is enjoined “with the special object of recovery;” its purport was a present bodily one, and in no way applicable to the future of the soul. “The prayer of faith shall save the sick”—i.e., shall heal him: the faithful prayer shall be that which God will answer, and so “raise up” the sufferer. But, it is urged, the next clause has a different force: “If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” Such is only apparent in our own version, and not in the original. The grammatical sense infers that the sick man is abiding under the consequence of some committed sin, which is “presumed to have been the working cause of his present sickness.” So Alford, and Bede similarly: “Many by reason of sins done in the soul are compassed by weakness: nay, even death of the body.” And the former theologian again: “Among all the daring perversions of Scripture, by which the Church of Rome has defended her superstitions, there is none more patent than that of the present passage. Not without reason has the Council of Trent defended its misinterpretation with anathema; for indeed it needed that, and every other recommendation, to support it, and give it any kind of acceptance. The Apostle is treating of a matter totally distinct from the occasion and the object of extreme unction. He is enforcing the efficacy of the prayer of faith in afflictions (James 5:13). Of such efficacy he adduces one special instance. In sickness let the sick man inform the elders of the church. Let them, representing the congregation of the faithful, pray over the sick man, accompanying that prayer with the symbolic and sacramental act of anointing with oil in the name of our Lord. Then the prayer of faith shall save (heal) the sick man, and the Lord shall bring him up out of his sickness; and even if it were occasioned by some sin, that sin shall be forgiven him. Such is the simple and undeniable sense of the Apostle, arguing for the efficacy of prayer; and such the perversion of that sense by the Church of Rome.” Not that we should think this and other like cases are wholly intentional twistings of God’s word. The Latin Bible is in many places a faulty—though not deliberately unfaithful—rendering of the Hebrew and Greek; and half our differences with Rome arise from such misinterpretations. Allowing the beginning of mischief to have been oftentimes a wrong translation, religious opinions engendered from it, we can understand, would be hardly cast aside, more especially when advantageous to their possessors. Little by little the change of doctrine drew on, and most probably thus:—The aim of the apostolic anointing was bodily recovery, and (again we quote Bishop Browne) “this exactly corresponds with the miraculous cures of early ages; . . . so long as such . . . powers remained in the Church, it was reasonable that anointing of the sick should be retained.” But these powers ceased, in the wisdom of God, after awhile; not so, however, the ceremony to which men’s minds in distress had been accustomed. It was retained in affection when its true force had departed. But since no outward result remained visible, fervent and mystical teachers could not well avoid searching for the invisible; and thus the area of operations was removed from the flesh to the spirit. The words of Holy Scripture would, with a little straining, bear such a colourable translation: and so was laid the foundation of that belief now current in a great part of Christendom. The Greek Church still practices unction, but rather in memory of a venerated custom, wherein God’s mercy was aforetime present; the Latin, unfortunately, is bound by its Council of Trent (Sessio xiv.) to believe “extreme unction to be a sacrament, instituted by Christ, conferring good, remitting sins, and comforting the infirm.” Its authorised manual of devotion—The Crown of Jesus (p. 710)—says, “Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in His tender solicitude for those whom He has redeemed by His precious blood, has been pleased to institute another sacrament, to help us at that most important hour on which eternity depends—the hour of death. This sacrament is called Extreme Unction, or the last anointing.” And further explains, “The priest, in administering this sacrament, anoints the five principal senses of the body—the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the lips, the hands and the feet—because these have been employed during life in offending God. At each anointing he pronounces these words: ‘May the Lord by this holy anointing, and by His own most tender mercy, pardon thee whatever sin thou hast committed, by thy sight, hearing,’ &c. . . .” Notwithstanding this lamentable departure from right exegesis, some divines think it wise and well to reflect how far with profit the ancient ceremony could be revived; while others would rather let it slumber with the past. “When miraculous powers ceased, it was reasonable that the unction should cease also.” Still more reasonable is it that even the form or memorial, however touching and beautiful, should be abandoned, rather than we should seem by it to be at one with the changed—alas! the false—teaching of that Church of man’s tradition, Rome.

James 5:14-15. Is any sick? let him call for the elders of the church — Those ministers of Christ whose office it is to oversee and feed the flock; and let them pray over him — For his recovery, persuaded that what two or three of the Lord’s true disciples shall agree to ask, it shall be done for them; anointing him with oil — “This single conspicuous gift, (healing the sick by anointing them with oil,) which Christ committed to his apostles, (Mark 6:13,) remained in the church long after the other miraculous gifts were withdrawn. Indeed it seems to have been designed to remain always, and St. James directs the elders, who were the most, if not the only gifted men, to administer it. This was the whole process of physic in the Christian Church till it was lost through unbelief. That novel invention among the Romans, extreme unction, practised not for cure, but where life is despaired of, bears no manner of resemblance to this.” See Bengelius and Wesley. And the prayer offered in faith shall save, or heal, the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up — From his sickness; and if he have committed sins — That is, any special sins, for which this sickness has been laid upon him; they shall be forgiven him — Upon his repentance the punishment shall be taken off.

5:12-18 The sin of swearing is condemned; but how many make light of common profane swearing! Such swearing expressly throws contempt upon God's name and authority. This sin brings neither gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, but is showing enmity to God without occasion and without advantage It shows a man to be an enemy to God, however he pretends to call himself by his name, or sometimes joins in acts of worship. But the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer. The spirit is then most humble, and the heart is broken and tender. It is necessary to exercise faith and hope under afflictions; and prayer is the appointed means for obtaining and increasing these graces. Observe, that the saving of the sick is not ascribed to the anointing with oil, but to prayer. In a time of sickness it is not cold and formal prayer that is effectual, but the prayer of faith. The great thing we should beg of God for ourselves and others in the time of sickness is, the pardon of sin. Let nothing be done to encourage any to delay, under the mistaken fancy that a confession, a prayer, a minister's absolution and exhortation, or the sacrament, will set all right at last, where the duties of a godly life have been disregarded. To acknowledge our faults to each other, will tend greatly to peace and brotherly love. And when a righteous person, a true believer, justified in Christ, and by his grace walking before God in holy obedience, presents an effectual fervent prayer, wrought in his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, raising holy affections and believing expectations and so leading earnestly to plead the promises of God at his mercy-seat, it avails much. The power of prayer is proved from the history of Elijah. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Thoughts must be fixed, desires must be firm and ardent, and graces exercised. This instance of the power of prayer, encourages every Christian to be earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek my face in vain. Where there may not be so much of miracle in God's answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.Is any sick among you? - In the previous verse the reference was to affliction in general, and the duty there urged was one that was applicable to all forms of trial. The subject of sickness, however, is so important, since it so often occurs, that a specific direction was desirable. That direction is to call in the aid of others to lead our thoughts, and to aid us in our devotions, because one who is sick is less able to direct his own reflections and to pray for himself than he is in other form of trial. Nothing is said here respecting the degree of sickness, whether it is that which would be fatal if these means were used or not; but the direction pertains to any kind of illness.

Let him call for the elders of the church - Greek "presbyters." See the notes at Acts 15:2; Acts 11:30. It cannot be supposed that this refers to the apostles, for it could not be that they would be always accessible; besides, instructions like this were designed to have a permanent character, and to be applicable to the church at all times and in all places. The reference, therefore, is doubtless to the ordinary religious teachers of the congregation; the officers of the church intrusted with its spiritual interests. The spirit of the command would embrace those who are pastors, and any others to whom the spiritual interests of the congregation are confided - ruling elders, deacons, etc. If the allusion is to the ordinary officers of the church, it is evident that the cure to be hoped for James 5:15 was not miraculous, but was that to be expected in the use of appropriate means accompanied by prayer.

It may be added, as worthy of note, that the apostle says they should "call" for the elders of the church; that is, they should send for them. They should not wait for them to hear of their sickness, as they might happen to, but they should cause them to be informed of it, and give them an opportunity of visiting them and praying with them. Nothing is more common than for persons - even members of the church - to be sick a long time, and to presume that their pastor must know all about it; and then they wonder that he does not come to see them, and think hard of him because he does not. A pastor cannot be supposed to know everything; nor can it be presumed that he knows when persons are sick, any more than he can know anything else, unless he is apprized of it; and many hard thoughts, and many suspicions of neglect would be avoided, if, when persons are sick, they would in some way inform their pastor of it. It should always be presumed of a minister of the gospel that he is ready to visit the sick. But how can he go unless he is in some way apprized of the illness of those who need his counsel and his prayers? The sick send for their family physician; why should they presume that their pastor will know of their illness any more than that their physician will?

And let them pray over him - With him, and for him. A man who is sick is often little capable of praying himself; and it is a privilege to have some one to lead his thoughts in devotion. Besides, the prayer of a good man may be of avail in restoring him to health, James 5:15. Prayer is always one important means of obtaining the divine favor, and there is no place where it is more appropriate than by the bed-side of sickness. That relief from pain may be granted; that the mind may be calm and submissive; that the medicines employed may be blessed to a restoration to health; that past sins may be forgiven; that he who is sick may be sanctified by his trials; that he may be restored to health, or prepared for his "last change" - all these are subjects of prayer which we feel to be appropriate in such a case, and every sick man should avail himself of the aid of those who "have an interest at the throne of grace," that they may be obtained.

Anointing him with oil - Oil, or unguents of various kinds, were much used among the ancients, both in health and in sickness. The oil which was commonly employed was olive oil. See the Isaiah 1:6 note; Luke 10:34 note. The custom of anointing the sick with oil still prevails in the East, for it is believed to have medicinal or healing properties. Niebuhr (Beschrieb. von Arabien, s. 131) says, "The southern Arabians believe that to anoint with oil strengthens the body, and secures it against the oppressive heat of the sun, as they go nearly naked. They believe that the oil closes the pores of the skin, and thus prevents the effect of the excessive heat by which the body is so much weakened; perhaps also they regard it as contributing to beauty, by giving the skin a glossy appearance. I myself frequently have observed that the sailors in the ships from Dsjidda and Loheia, as well as the common Arabs in Tehama, anointed their bodies with oil, in order to guard themselves against the heat. The Jews in Mocha assured Mr. Forskal, that the Mohammedans as well as the Jews, in Sana, when they were sick, were accustomed to anoint the body with oil." Rosenmuller, Morgenland, in loc.

In the name of the Lord - By the authority or direction of the Lord; or as an act in accordance with his will, and that will meet with his approbation. When we do anything that tends to promote virtue, to alleviate misery, to instruct ignorance, to save life, or to prepare others for heaven, it is right to feel that we are doing it in the name of the Lord Compare, for such uses of the phrase "in the name of the Lord," and "in my name," Matthew 10:22; Matthew 18:5, Matthew 18:20; Matthew 19:29; Matthew 24:9; Mark 9:41; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:12, Luke 21:17; Revelation 2:3; Colossians 3:17. There is no reason to think that the phrase is used here to denote any peculiar religious rite or "sacrament." It was to be done in the name of the Lord, as any other good deed is.

14. let him call for the elders—not some one of the elders, as Roman Catholics interpret it, to justify their usage in extreme unction. The prayers of the elders over the sick would be much the same as though the whole Church which they represent should pray [Bengel].

anointing him with oil—The usage which Christ committed to His apostles was afterwards continued with laying on of hands, as a token of the highest faculty of medicine in the Church, just as we find in 1Co 6:2 the Church's highest judicial function. Now that the miraculous gift of healing has been withdrawn for the most part, to use the sign where the reality is wanting would be unmeaning superstition. Compare other apostolic usages now discontinued rightly, 1Co 11:4-15; 16:20. "Let them use oil who can by their prayers obtain recovery for the sick: let those who cannot do this, abstain from using the empty sign" [Whitaker]. Romish extreme unction is administered to those whose life is despaired of, to heal the soul, whereas James' unction was to heal the body. Cardinal Cajetan [Commentary] admits that James cannot refer to extreme unction. Oil in the East, and especially among the Jews (see the Talmud, Jerusalem and Babylon), was much used as a curative agent. It was also a sign of the divine grace. Hence it was an appropriate sign in performing miraculous cures.

in the name of the Lord—by whom alone the miracle was performed: men were but the instruments.

Is any sick? Or infirm, though not desperately and incurably.

Let him call for the elders; especially teaching elders, they being usually best furnished with gifts who labour in the word and doctrine, 1 Timothy 5:17. It is in the plural number, either by an enallage for the singular; q.d. Let him send for some or other of the elders; or, because there were in those times usually several elders (an ecclesiastical senate) in each church.

And let them pray over him; as it were setting him before God, and presenting him to him, which might be a means to stir up the greater affection and warmth in prayer; see 1 Kings 17:21 2 Kings 4:33,34 Joh 11:41 Acts 20:10 9:40: or laying on their hands, as Acts 28:8, which yet seems to be for the same end.

Anointing him with oil; an outward rite used in those times, in miraculous healing sick persons, which might then be kept up, while the gift whereof it was the symbol continued; but the gift ceasing, it is vainly used. These cures were sometimes wrought only with a word, Acts 9:34 14:10 16:18: sometimes by taking by the hand, or embracing, Acts 3:7 20:10; sometimes by laying on of hands, Mark 16:18 Acts 9:17; sometimes by anointing with oil, Mark 6:13: and so this is not an institution of a sacrament, but a command, that those elders that had the gift of healing, (as many in those days had), being called by the sick to come to them, should (the Spirit of the Lord so directing them) exercise that gift, as well as pray over them.

In the name of the Lord; either, calling upon the Lord, and so joining prayer with their anointing; or, in the name, is by the authority of the Lord, from whom they had received that gift.

Is any sick among you?.... Which is often the case; the bodies of the saints, as well as others, are liable to a variety of diseases; they are sick, and sometimes nigh unto death, as Epaphroditus was: and then,

let him call for the elders of the church; in allusion to the elders of the congregation of Israel, Leviticus 4:15. By these may be meant, either the elder members of the church, men of gravity and soundness in the faith, persons of long standing and experience; who have the gift and grace of prayer, and are not only capable of performing that duty, but of giving a word of counsel and advice to the sick. It was a kind of proverbial saying of Aristophanes the grammarian;

"the works of young men, the counsels of middle aged persons, and , "the prayers of ancient men" (z):''

or rather officers of churches are meant, particularly pastors, who are so called in Scripture; these should be sent for in times of sickness, as well as physicians; and rather than they, since their prayers may be the means of healing both soul and body: so in former times, the prophets of God were sent to in times of sickness, for advice and assistance. It is a saying of R. Phinehas ben Chama (a) that

"whoever has a sick person in his house, let him go to a wise man, and he will seek mercy for him.''

And it follows here,

and let them pray over him; or for him, for the recovery of his health:

anointing him with oil, in the name of the Lord; which some think was only done in a common medicinal way, oil being used much in the eastern countries for most disorders; and so these elders used ordinary medicine, as well as prayer: or rather this refers to an extraordinary gift, which some elders had of healing diseases, as sometimes by touching, and by laying on of hands, or by expressing some words, and so by anointing with oil; see Mark 6:13 which extraordinary gifts being now ceased, the rite or ceremony of anointing with oil ceases in course: however, this passage gives no countenance to the extreme unction of the Papists; that of theirs being attended with many customs and ceremonies, which are not here made mention of; that being used, as is pretended, for the healing of the souls of men, whereas this was used for corporeal healing; that is only performed when life is despaired of, and persons are just going out of the world; whereas this was made use of to restore men to health, and that they might continue longer in it, as follows.

(z) Apud Harpocratian. Lex. p. 125. (a) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 116. 1.

{9} Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with {g} oil in the {h} name of the Lord:

{9} He shows peculiarly, to what physicians especially we must go when we are diseased, that is, to the prayers of the elders, which then also could cure the body, (for so much as the gift of healing was then in force) and take away the main cause of sickness and diseases, by obtaining healing for the sick through their prayers and exhortations.

(g) This was a sign of the gift of healing: and now seeing we have the gift no more, the sign is no longer necessary.

(h) By calling on the name of the Lord.

Jam 5:14. From the general κακοπαθεῖν a particular instance, that of sickness, is selected. ἀσθενεῖν] = aegrotare, as in Matthew 10:8, Luke 4:40, and many other passages; the opposite: ὑγιαίνειν.

By ἀσθενεῖ τις James hardly means any sick person, but only such a person who under the burden of bodily suffering also suffers spiritually, being thereby tempted in his faith.

The sick man is to call to himself the presbyters of the congregation. προσκαλεσάσθω] in the middle expresses only the reference to himself; not that the call is by others, which is here taken for granted.

τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας] the presbyters of the congregation, namely, to which the sick man belongs. It is arbitrary to explain τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους as unum ex presbyteris (Estius, Hammond, Laurentius, Wolf); the whole body is meant (Wiesinger), as the article shows; not some of its members, as Theile considers possible. The following words: καὶ προσευξάσθωσαν κ.τ.λ., express the object for which the presbyters are to come; they are to pray over him, anointing him in the name of the Lord. The prayer is the chief point, “as also Jam 5:15 teaches: ἡ εὐχὴ τ. πίστεως κ.τ.λ.” (Wiesinger); the anointing is the act accompanying the prayer. ἐπʼ αὐτόν] is generally inaccurately explained as equivalent to pro eo, pro salute ejus; ἐπί with the accusative expresses figuratively the reference to something, similarly as the German über with the accusative; thus κλαίειν ἐπί τινα, Luke 23:28. How far the author thought on a local reference, he who prayeth bending over the sick, or stretching forth his hands over him, cannot be determined; see Acts 19:13.

With the prayer is to be conjoined the anointing of the sick, for what purpose James does not state. According to Mark 6:13, the disciples in their miracles of healing applied it, when at the command of Jesus they traversed the Jewish land; but the reason of their doing so is not given, nor at a later period is there any mention of it in the miracles of the apostles.[240] Probably James mentions the anointing with oil only in conformity with the general custom of employing oil for the refreshing, strengthening, and healing of the body,[241] since he refers the miracle not to the anointing, but to the prayer, and, presupposing its use, directs that the presbyters should unite prayer with it, and that they should perform it ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι (τοῦ) κυρίου, that is, in a believing and trustful mention of the name of Christ (less probably of God). That ἘΝ Τῷ ὈΝ. ΚΥΡ. cannot mean jussu et auctoritate Christi is evident, because there is no express command of Christ to employ it. Gebser incorrectly unites this particular with ΠΡΟΣΕΥΞΆΣΘΩΣΑΝ; Schneckenburger with both verbs; it belongs only to ἈΛΕΊΨΑΝΤΕς (de Wette, Wiesinger). The question why the presbyters should do this is not to be answered, with Schneckenburger: quia ΤῸ ΧΆΡΙΣΜΑ ἸΑΜΆΤΩΝ (1 Corinthians 12:9) cum iis communicatum erat; for, on the one hand, it is an arbitrary supposition that the presbyters possessed that ΧΆΡΙΣΜΑ, and, on the other hand, there is here no mention of it; incorrectly also Pott: quia uti omnino prudentissimi eligebantur, sic forte etiam artis medicae peritissimi erant. Bengel has given the true explanation: qui dum orant, non multo minus est, quam si tota oraret ecclesia; and Neander: “the presbyters as organs acting in the name of the church.”[242]

[240] Meyer in loco considers this anointing, as also the application of spittle on the part of Jesus Himself, as a conductor of the supernatural healing power, analogous to the laying on of hands. But in this the distinction is too little observed, that according to general custom oil, but not spittle, and the laying on of hands, was applied to the sick.

[241] See Herzog’s Real-Encycl. on Oel, Oelung, Salbe.

[242] It is well known that the Catholic Church, besides Mark 6:13, specially appeals to this passage in support of the sacrament of extreme unction. Chemnitz, in his Examen Conc. Trid., has already thoroughly shown with what incorrectness they have done so. Even Cajetan and Baronius doubt whether James here treats of that sacrament, as he does not speak of the sick unto death, but of the sick generally. See Herzog’s Real-Encycl. on the word Oelung.

Jam 5:14. ἀσθενεῖπροσκαλεσάσθω, etc.: Cf. Sir 38:14, καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ Κυρίου δεηθήσονται, ἵνα εὐοδώσῃ αὐτοῖς ἀνάπαυσιν καὶ ἴασιν χάριν ἐμβιώσεως. In regard to the practice of primitive Christianity in the matter of caring for the sick Harnack says: “Even from the fragments of our extant literature, although that literature was not written with any such intention, we can still recognise the careful attention paid to works of mercy. At the outset we meet with directions everywhere to care for sick people, 1 Thessalonians 5:14.… In the prayer of the Church, preserved in the first epistle of Clement, supplications are expressly offered for those who are sick in soul and body (1 Clem. 59, τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς ἴασαιἐξανάστησον τοὺς ἀσθενοῦντας, παρακάλεσον τοὺς ὀλιγοψυχοῦντας).… Epistle of Polycarp, 6:1; Justin Martyr, lxvii.…”; he also quotes Lactantius, Div. Inst., vi. 12: “Aegros quoque quibus defuerit qui adsistat, curandos fovendosque suscipere summae humanitatis et magnae operationis est” (Expansion … i. 147 f. first English ed.). A like care was characteristic of the Rabbis, who declared it to be a duty incumbent upon every Jew to visit and relieve the sick whether they were Jews or Gentiles (Git., 61 a, Soṭah, 14 a); “the Ḥaberim, or Ḥasidic associations, made the performance of this duty a special obligation” (Jewish Encycl., xi. 327).—τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας: both the words “presbyters” (= “priest”) and “ecclesia” were taken over from the Jews, being the Greek equivalents for זקנים and קהל. While, however, the word πρεσβύτερος was, without question, in the Christian Church taken over from the זקן in the Jewish Church, it is well to recall the extended use which attached to it according to the evidence of the papyri. The phrase ὁ πρεσβύτερος τῆς κώμης occurs on a papyrus belonging to the time of the Ptolemies, and is evidently an official title of some kind; οἱ πρεσβύτεροι is found together with ἱερεῖς of an idolatrous worship (100:40 B.C.); and in the second century A.D. οἱ πρεσβύτεροι occurs in reference to “elders” of villages in Egypt. The Septuagint translators were therefore probably using in this case a word which had a well-known technical sense. Deissmann believes it possible, therefore, that the Christian congregations of Asia Minor got the title of πρεσβύτερος from the minor officials who were so called, and not necessarily from the Jewish prototype (Op. cit., pp. 153 f.). This might well be the case in various centres, though not all (as for example, Babylonia), of the Diaspora, but not in Palestine. It is, of course, an open question as to whether our Epistle was written from Palestine or not; see, further, Deissmann (Neue Bibelst. pp. 60 ff.). As regards ἐκκλησία, Harnack remarks that “originally it was beyond question a collective term (i.e., קהל); it was the most solemn expression of the Jews for their worship as a collective body, and as such it was taken over by the Christians. But ere long it was applied to the individual communities, and then again to the general meeting for worship.… Its acquisition rendered the capture of the term ‘synagogue’ a superfluity, and once the inner cleavage had taken place, the very neglect of the latter title served to distinguish Christians sharply from Judaism and its religious gatherings even in terminology.… Most important of all, however, was the fact that ἐκκλησία was conceived of, in the first instance, not simply as an earthly but as a heavenly and transcendental entity” (op. cit., pp. 11 ff.); “קהל (usually rendered ἐκκλησία in LXX) denotes the community in relation to God, and consequently is more sacred than the profaner עדה (regularly translated by συναγωγή in the LXX).… Among the Jews ἐκκλησία lagged far behind συναγωγή in practical use, and this was all in favour of the Christians and their adoption of the term” (ibid.). In the verse before us it is the combination of these two terms, οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τῆς ἐκκλησίας which points to a developed organisation among the communities of the Diaspora, and therefore to a late date for this part of the Epistle.—ἀλείψαντες ἐλαίῳ: a common Jewish usage, see Isaiah 1:6; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34. As oil was believed to have the effect of curing bodily sickness, so it became customary to use it preparatory to Baptism, possibly with the idea of its healing, sacramentally, the disease of sin; that it was joined to Baptism as an integral part of the sacrament is certain. Prayer was, of course, an indispensable accompaniment.—ἐν ὀνόματι …: Cf. Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 3:6; Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10; Acts 16:18; and on the formula, the note above, Jam 2:17.

14. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church] The rule is full of meaning. (1) As regards the functions of the Elders of the Church. Over and above special gifts of prophecy or teaching, they were to visit the sick, not merely for spiritual comfort and counsel, but as possessing “gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9). (2) The use of the term “Elders” exactly agrees with the account of the Jewish Church in Acts 11:30; Acts 15:6; Acts 21:18. In the Gentile Churches the Greek title of Bishop (Episcopos = overseer) came into use as a synonym for “Elder” (Acts 20:28; Php 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7), but within the limits of the New Testament the Church of Jerusalem has only “Apostles and Elders.” It may fairly be inferred from the position which he occupies in Acts 15 that St James himself was reckoned as belonging to the first of the two classes. St Paul’s way of mentioning him naturally, though not necessarily, implies the same fact (Galatians 1:19).

anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord] The context shews that this was done as a means of healing. It had been the practice of the Twelve during part, at least, of our Lord’s ministry (Mark 6:13). The Parable of the good Samaritan gives one example of the medical use of oil (Luke 10:34), another is found in Isaiah 1:6. Friction with olive oil was prescribed by Celsus for fever. Herod the Great used oil-baths (Joseph. Ant. xvii. 6. § 5). The principle implied in the use of oil instead of the direct exercise of supernatural gifts without any medium at all, was probably, in part, analogous to our Lord’s employment of like media in the case of the blind and deaf (Mark 7:33; Mark 8:23; John 9:6). It served as a help to the faith of the person healed; perhaps also, in the case of the Apostles, to that of the healer. The position of the disciples was not that of men trusting in charms or spells and boasting of their powers, but rather that of those who used simple natural means of healing in dependence on God’s blessing. A sanction was implicitly given to the use of all outward means as not inconsistent with faith in the power of prayer, to the prayer of faith as not excluding the use of any natural means. “The Lord” in whose Name this was to be done is here, without doubt, definitely the Lord Jesus. Comp. Matthew 18:5; Mark 9:39; Luke 9:49; Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10; Acts 4:18; Acts 4:30. The subsequent history of the practice is not without interest. It does not seem to have been ever entirely dropped either in the West or East. In the latter, though miraculous gifts of healing no longer accompanied it, it was, and still is, employed ostensibly as a means of healing, and the term “extreme unction” has been carefully rejected. Stress is laid on the words of St James as pointing to the collective action of the elders, not to that of a single elder, and the legitimate number ranges from three as a minimum to seven. It is evident that here the idea of united prayer working with natural means has, in theory at least, survived. In the West, on the other hand, a new theory grew up with the growth of Scholasticism. If bodily healing no longer followed, it was because the anointing had become the sign and sacrament of a spiritual healing, and the special grace which it conveyed was thought of as being specifically different from that which came through other channels, adapted to the needs of the soul in its last struggles. So the term “Extreme Unction” came into use in the twelfth century, and the Council of Trent (Catech. vi. 2. 9) limited its use to those who were manifestly drawing near unto death, and gave it the title of “sacramentum exeuntium.” In the First Prayer Book of Edward vi. the rite was retained, partly, it would seem, by way of compromise (“if the sick person desire to be anointed”), partly, as the language of the prayer that was to accompany the act seems to indicate (“our heavenly Father vouchsafe for His great mercy (if it be His blessed will) to restore to thee thy bodily health”), with a faint hope of reviving the original idea. In the Prayer Book of 1552, the “unction” disappeared, and has never since been revived.

Jam 5:14. Πρεσβυτέρους, the elders) For while they pray, it is much the same as though the whole Church should pray.—ἀλείψαντες αὐτὸν ἐλαίῳ, anointing him with oil) That which Christ had committed to the apostles, Mark 6:13, was afterwards continued in the Church, even after the times of the apostles: and this very gift, remarkably simple, conspicuous, and serviceable, was of longer continuance than any other. See an instance in the works of Macarius, p. 272. And Ephraim Syrus has a remarkable testimony, συμβουλ. οστ.: Ἐὰν οἰκονομίαν πληρῶν ἀλείφῃς ἐλαίῳ τὸν κάμνοντα, κ.τ.λ.: If in discharge of thy office, thou anointest the sick with oil. It even seems to have been given by God with this intent, that it might always remain in the Church, as a specimen of the other gifts: just as the portion of Manna laid up in the ark was a proof of the ancient miracle. It is clear that James assigns the administration of this oil to the presbyters, who were the ordinary ministers. This was the highest Faculty of Medicine in the Church, as in 1 Corinthians 6 we have its highest Judicial order. O happy simplicity! interrupted or lost through unbelief (ἀπιστίαν). For inasmuch as the Latin Church has its extreme unction,[75] and the Greek Church its εὐχέλαιον, from the force of experience, they assign much less efficacy for the restoring of health to this mystery (μυστηρίῳ), or sacrament, as they term it, than James does to the apostolic usage. Whitaker says with great force against Duræus, Let them use oil, who are able by their prayers to obtain recovery for the sick: let those who are not able to do this, abstain from the use of the empty sign. For the only design of that anointing originally was miraculous healing: and in the failure of this result, it is nothing but an empty sign. But the laying on of hands is also a holy outward rite, although it does not by the mere act confer the Holy Spirit. For not even in the beginning was it always used with this one design.—ἐν, in) This is certainly not less connected with the verb, let them pray, than with the participle, anointing; whence there follows (Jam 5:15), the prayer of faith.—τοῦ Κυρίου, the Lord) Jesus Christ.

[75] εὐχέλαιον. This word (as its derivation shows) appears at first to have denoted the prayers which were used at the consecration of the oil with which the sick were to be anointed, but it has generally been applied to the act of extreme unction. For a full account of the word, see Suicer’s Thesaurus.

The Greek Church practises the rite of extreme unction, though its usage in this respect does not entirely correspond with that of the Church of Rome. See Riddle’s Christian Antiquities, and Willetts’ Synopsis Papismi.—T.

Verses 14, 15. - Directions in ease of sickness. Let him call for the elders of the Church. Of the original creation of the presbyterate no account is given, but elders appear as already existing in Judaea in Acts 11:30; and from Acts 14:23 we find that St. Paul and St. Barnabas "appointed elders in every Church" which they had founded on their first missionary journey. Nothing, therefore, can be concluded with regard to the date of the Epistle from this notice of elders. The elders were to be summoned for a twofold purpose:

(1) that they might pray over the sick person (on the accusative ἐπ αὐτόν, see Winer, p. 508); and

(2) that they might anoint him with oil in the Name of the Lord, The result anticipated is also twofold:

(1) "the prayer of faith shall save the sick" ("save," σώζειν, here as in other passages, e.g. Matthew 9:21, 22, etc., refers to bodily healing); and

(2) "if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." (From the manner in which this last clause is introduced, it may fairly be inferred that the sins in question are presumed to have had some connection with the sickness, and to have been its cause. Vulgate, Et si in peccatis sit dimittentur cf.) Anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. By the omission of the last words, τοῦ Κυρίου, B has the striking reading, "anointing him with oil in THE NAME" (compare the use of τὸ ὄνομα absolutely in Acts 5:41 3John 7). A similar use is also found in the Epistles of Ignatius. The Vatican Manuscript, however, appears to stand quite alone in this reading here. If the words, τοῦ Κυρίου, be admitted, they must be taken as referring to the Lord Jesus (contrast ver. 10, ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Κυρίου). So also in ver. 15 the Lord (ὁ Κύριος) who shall raise him up is clearly the Lord Jesus. Had God the Father been alluded to we should probably have had the anarthrous Κύριος after the manner of the LXX. (see note on James 4:10). Unction is mentioned in connection with the sick also in Mark 6:13. The apostles "anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them;" and compare the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:34), "pouring in wine and oil." "Josephus mentions that among the remedies employed in the case of Herod, he was put into a sort of oil bath.... The medicinal use of oil is also mentioned in the Mishna, which thus exhibits the Jewish practice of that day" ('Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. it. p. 595; see Mishna, 'Shabbath,' 13:4; and compare Lightfoot, 'Horae Hebraicae,' vol. it. p. 415). According to Tertullian, "the Christian Proculus, surnamed Torpacion, the steward of Euhodus," cured with oil Severus, the father of Antonino (i.e. Caracalla), who "in gratitude kept him in his palace till the day of his death." Tertullian, 'Ad Scapulam,' c. 4. (see Oehler's notes on the passage). But in the case before us if, as in these other instances, the oil was used as an actual remedy,

(1) why was it to be administered by the elders? and

(2) why is the healing immediately afterwards attributed to "the prayer of faith"? These questions would seem to suggest that oil was enjoined by St. James rather as an outward symbol than as an actual remedy. A further question remains to which a few lines must be devoted. Is the apostle prescribing a rite for all times? On the one hand, we are told that the use of oil was connected with the miraculous powers of healing, and therefore ceased "when those powers ceased" (cf. Bishop Browne on the Articles, p. 589). On the other hand, the passage is appealed to as warranting the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction. With regard to the practice of the early Church, there is a constant stream of testimony to the use of oil for purposes of healing; e.g. the case in Tertullian already quoted, and many others in the fourth and fifth centuries (see 'Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,' pp. 1455, 2004, 2053). But

(1) as originally practiced it was administered by laymen and even by women.

(2) After the blessing of the oil was restricted to bishops it was still regarded as immaterial by whom the unction was performed. So Psalm-Innocent, 'Ep. ad Decent.,' § 8, "Being made by the bishop, it is lawful not for priests only, but for all Christians, to use it in anointing in their own need or in that of their friends."

(3) Not till the middle of the ninth century do we meet with any express injunction to the priest to perform the unction himself.

(4) "The restraint of the unction to the priest had momentous consequences. The original intention of it in relation to healing of the body was practically forgotten, and the rite came to be regarded as part of a Christian's immediate preparation for death. Hence in the twelfth century it acquired the name of 'the last unction,' unctio extrema (Peter Lombard, ' Sent.,' 4:23), i.e. as the Catechism of Trent asserts ('De Extr. Unct.,' 3), the last of those which a man received from the Church. In the thirteenth it was placed by the schoolmen among the seven rites to which they limited the application of the term sacrament" ('Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,' p. 2004). In the sixteenth century it was definitely laid down at the Council of Trent,

(1) that it is a sacrament instituted by our Lord;

(2) that by it grace is conferred, sin remitted, and the sick comforted, "sometimes also" the recovery of health is obtained;

(3) that it should be given to those in danger of death, but if they recover they may receive it again (Session 14. c. 9.). Further, the Catechism of the Council condemns as a grievous error the practice of waiting to anoint the sick "until all hope of recovery being now lost, life begins to ebb, and the sick person to sink into lifeless insensibility." In spite of this, however, the common practice in the Roman Catholic Church at the present day appears to be to administer the rite only to persons in extremis. Turning now to the Eastern Church, we notice that a rite of unction has been continued there up till the present time. The service, which is a somewhat lengthy one, may be seen in Daniel's 'Codex Liturgicus,' bk. 4. c.v.; and cf. Neale's 'Holy Eastern Church,' Introd., vol. it. p. 1035, where it is noted that it differs from the Western use in three points:

(1) the oil is not previously consecrated by the bishop, but at the time by seven priests;

(2) the unction is not conferred only in extremis, but in slighter illness, and if possible in the church;

(3) it is not usually considered valid unless at least three priests are present to officiate. It has been thought well to give this slight historical sketch, as affording the best answer to the claims of Romanists by showing how they have gradually departed from the primitive custom and changed the character of the rite. But the sketch will also have shown that it is scarcely accurate to imply that unction ceased when the miraculous powers ceased. At the Reformation, when the English Church wisely rejected the mediaeval service for extreme unction, she yet retained in the first English Prayer-book a simple form of unction, to be used "if the sick person desire it," consisting of

(1) anointing, "upon the forehead or breast only," with the sign of the cross; and

(2) prayer for the inward anointing of the soul with the Holy Ghost, and for restoration of bodily health and strength. Thus the service was entirely primitive in character, and it is hard to see what valid objection could be raised to it. It was, however, omitted from the second English Prayer-book of 1552, and has never been restored. The justification, I suppose, of this disuse of unction must be sought in the entire absence of evidence that the primitive Church understood the passage before us as instituting a religious rite to be permanently continued. All the earliest notices of unction refer simply to its use for healing purposes. James 5:14
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