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Faith healing is a concept that religious belief ("faith") can bring about healing—either through prayers or rituals that, according to adherents, evoke a divine presence and power toward correcting disease and disability in particular indicated individuals. Belief in divine intervention in illness or healing is related to religious belief in general. In common usage, "faith healing" refers to notably overt and ritualistic practices of communal prayer and gestures (such as laying on of hands) that are claimed to solicit divine intervention in initiating literal physical healing.

Claims that prayer, divine intervention, or the ministrations of an individual healer can cure illness have been popular throughout history. Miraculous recoveries have been attributed to myriad techniques commonly lumped together as "faith healing." It can involve prayer, a visit to a religious shrine, or simply a strong belief in a supreme being.

The term is best known in connection with Christianity. The Bible, especially the New Testament, teaches belief in, and practice of, faith healing. Advocates say that legitimate faith healings do occur today just as they did in the early Christian church—that faith healing has wide-ranging successes. There have been claims that faith can cure blindness, deafness, cancer, AIDS, developmental disorders, anemia, arthritis, corns, defective speech, multiple sclerosis, skin rashes, total body paralysis, and various injuries.

Critics say it is "not effective" and have voiced concerns that those who pursue it may depend on it instead of (or delay seeking) conventional medical care. Death, disability, and other negative outcomes have been known to occur when faith healing was elected instead of medical care for serious injuries or illnesses.

Healing of this type is also used by practitioners of other religions and beliefs, including Wicca and other forms of paganism.

The increased interest in alternative medicine at the end of the twentieth century has spawned a parallel interest among sociologists in the relationship of religion to health

Faith healing in various belief systems



The term "faith healing" is sometimes used in reference to the belief of some Christians who hold that God heals people through the power of the Holy Spirit, often involving the "laying on of hands". It is also called supernatural healing, divine healing, miracle healing, among others. In the Old Testament, Jehovah-Rapha, translated "I am the Lord your Physician" or "I am the Lord who heals you", is one of the seven redemptive names for Jehovah God. Healing in the Bible is often associated with the ministry of specific individuals including Elijah, Jesus and Paul.

Christian physician Reginald B. Cherry, MD, views faith healing as the existence of a pathway of healing in which God uses both the natural and the supernatural to heal.

Being healed has been described as a privilege of accepting Christ's redemption on the cross.p says, "This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'"

:: He was wounded for our transgressions,
:: He was bruised for our iniquities;
:: The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
:: And by His stripes we are healed.

::::: —Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

"Faith" in this context is based on biblical uses of the term. Faith has been called "the very nature of God." Pentecostal author Smith Wigglesworth has defined faith as "the personal inward flow of divine favor which moves in every fiber of our being until our whole nature is so quickened that we live by faith…."p A classic definition of faith appears in the New Testament: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…." ( )

"Charisma" magazine writer Larry Keefauver considers it important to distinguish between the faith aspect in seeking a cure and the divine source of the healing. records, "I am the Lord that heals you."

Some Christian writers believe it extremely rare that God provides a supernatural intervention that actually reverses natural laws governing the human body. Keefauver cautions against allowing enthusiasm for faith healing to stir up false hopes "so that a sufferer stakes all his or her faith on belief in miraculous healing at this level. We cannot build a water-tight theology promising physical healing, surely, for the most 'miracle-ridden' Christian will die in the end, yielding to the natural processes of senescence."

Those who actively lay hands on others and pray with them to be healed are often acutely aware that healing may not always follow. Upholding the sovereignty of God in such circumstances seems naturally to turn attention to the sufferers or to those doing the praying as possible reasons for unanswered prayer.

Some biblical examples

In the four gospels in the Christian Bible, Jesus cures physical ailments well outside the capacity of first century medicine. Most dramatic perhaps is the case of "a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was not better but rather grew worse." After healing her, Jesus tells her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace! Be cured from your illness." At least two other times Jesus credited one's faith as the means of being healed: and .

Jesus endorses the use of the medical assistance of the time (medicines of oil and wine) when he praises the unknown Good Samaritan for acting as a physician, telling his disciples to go and do the same thing that the Samaritan did in the story.

The healing in the gospels is referred to as a "sign" to prove Jesus' divinity and to foster belief in himself as the Christ. However, when asked for other types of miracles, Jesus refuses some but grants others in consideration of the motive of the request. Some theologians' understanding is that Jesus healed all who were present every single time.p Sometimes he determines whether they had faith that he would heal them

Jesus commands his followers to heal the sick and states that signs such as healing are evidence of faith. Jesus also commands his followers to "cure sick people, raise up dead persons, make lepers clean, expel demons. You received free, give free."

Jesus sternly orders many who received healing from him: "Don't tell anyone!" Jesus did not approve of anyone asking for a sign just for the spectacle of it, describing such as coming from a "wicked and adulterous generation."

The apostle Paul considers healing one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the possibility exists that certain persons may possess this gift to an extraordinarily high degree.

In the New Testament Epistle of James, the faithful are told that to be healed, those who are sick should call upon the elders of the church to pray over [them] and anoint [them] with oil in the name of the Lord.

After Jesus’ death, Peter and Paul heal the sick and cast out demons, make a lame man walk, and raise the dead.

Research of beliefs about miraculous healing

A study of beliefs about miraculous healing among the more religiously committed has indicated that there are significant differences in belief about miraculous healing even among people within the same denomination (Anglican). Researchers found that positive belief in faith healing was mainly a characteristic of conservative Christians, most especially those with charismatic experience. Belief about miraculous healing was seen as a subset of belief about health and well-being in general. Older people had less belief in miraculous healing or the sovereignty of God over illness, while those with experience of higher education had more inclusive beliefs about miraculous healing and saw human input as less important in the healing process. The study further showed that people with degrees or post-graduate qualifications can and do believe in the possibility of miraculous healing. No significant gender differences were noted.

Pentecostalism/Charismatic movement

At the beginning of the 20th century, the new Pentecostal movement drew participants from the Holiness movement and other movements in America that already believed in divine healing. By the 1930s, several faith healers drew large crowds and established worldwide followings.

The first "Pentecostals" in the modern sense appeared in Topeka, Kansasmarker, in a Bible school conducted by Charles Fox Parham, a holiness teacher and former Methodist pastor. Pentecostalism achieved worldwide attention in 1906 through the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angelesmarker led by William Joseph Seymour.

During the Azusa Street meetings, according to witnesses who wrote about them, blind, crippled or other sick people would be healed. Some of the participants would eventually minister extensively in this area. For example, John G. Lake was present during the years of the Azusa Street revival. Lake had earned huge sums of money in the insurance business at the turn of the century but gave away his possessions with the exception of food for his children while he and his wife fasted on a trip to Africa to do missionary work. Certain people he had never met before gave him money and keys to a place to stay which were required to enter South Africa at the dock. His writings tell of numerous healing miracles he and others performed as over 500 churches were planted in South Africa. Lake returned to the U.S. and set up healing rooms in Spokane, Washingtonmarker.

Smith Wigglesworth was also a well-known figure in the early part of the 20th century. A former English plumber turned evangelist, who lived simply and read nothing but the Bible from the time his wife taught him to read, Wigglesworth traveled around the world preaching about Jesus and performing faith healings. Wigglesworth claimed to raise several people from the dead in Jesus' name in his meetings.p

During the 1920s and 1930s Aimee Semple McPherson was a controversial faith healer of growing popularity during the Great Depression. Subsequently, William Branham has been credited as being the founder of the post World War II healing revivals. By the late 1940s Oral Roberts was well known, and he continued with faith healing until the 1980s. A friend of Roberts was Kathryn Kuhlman, another popular faith healer who gained fame in the 1950s and had a television program on CBS. Also in this era, Jack Coe and A. A. Allen were faith healers who traveled with large tents for large open air crusades.

Oral Roberts' successful use of television as a medium to gain a wider audience led others to follow suit. His former pilot, Kenneth Copeland started a healing ministry. Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, and Peter Popoff became well-known televangelists who claimed to heal the sick. Richard Rossi is known for advertising his healing clinics through secular television and radio. Kuhlman influenced current popular faith healer Benny Hinn who adopted some of her techniques and wrote a book about her.


Faith healing is reported by Catholics as the result of intercessory prayer to a saint or to a person with the gift of healing. According to U.S. Catholic magazine, "Even in this skeptical, postmodern, scientific age—miracles really are possible." Three-fourths of American Catholics say they pray for miracles.According to Notre Dame theology professor John Cavadini, when healing is granted, “The miracle is not primarily for the person healed, but for all people, as a sign of God’s work in the ultimate healing called ‘salvation,’ or a sign of the kingdom that is coming,” Cavadini says. Some might view their own healing as a sign they are particularly worthy or holy, while others didn’t deserve it.

The Roman Catholic Church has a special Congregationdedicated to the careful investigation of the validity ofalleged miracles attributed to prospective saints. Since CatholicChristians believe the lives of canonized saints in thechurch will reflect Christ’s, they have come to actually expect healing miracles. While the popular conception of a miracle can be wide ranging, the Catholic Church has a specific definition for the kind of miracle formally recognized in a canonization process.

Among the best-known accounts by Catholics of faith healings are those attributed to the miraculous intercession of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto of Lourdesmarker in Francemarker, and the remissions of life-threatening disease claimed by those who have applied for aid to Saint Jude, who is known as the "patron saint of lost causes".

The Catholic Church has given official recognition to 67 miracles and 7,000 otherwise-inexplicable medical cures since the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared in Lourdes in February 1858. These cures are subjected to intense medical scrutiny and are only recognized as authentic spiritual cures after a commission of doctors and scientists, called the Lourdes Medical Bureau, has ruled out any physical mechanism for the patient's recovery.

Christian Science

Christian Science claims that healing is possible through an understanding of the underlying, spiritual perfection of God's creation. The world as humanly perceived is believed to be a distortion of the underlying spiritual reality. Christian Scientists believe that healing through prayer is possible insofar as it succeeds in correcting the distortion. This is not "intercessory" prayer but recognition of the good believed to be already present behind the illusory appearance, and gratitude for that good. Christian Scientists are free to choose either prayer or medication in the treatment of health problems, but they usually avoid using the two methods at the same time, in the belief that they tend to counteract each other.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

With claims of being the true and restored Church of Jesus Christ himself, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had a long history of faith healings. Most healings come as a result priesthood blessings. Latter-day Saints believe that the Priesthood of God, originally held by Adam, Enoch, Moses and others was restored via heavenly messengers to church founder Joseph Smith.


Spiritualism is a religion which holds as a tenet the belief that contact is possible between the living and the spirits of the dead. For this reason, death, as an outcome of disease, may not seem as frightening to Spiritualists as it does to those who practice other religions. According to the 20th century Spiritualist author Lloyd Kenyon Jones, "This does not mean that sickness is unreal. It is real enough from the mortal viewpoint. The spirit feels the pain, senses the discomfiture of the flesh-body, even though the spirit is not ill."

Spiritualism does not promote "mental" cures of the type advocated by New Thought; however, help from the "spirit world" (including advice given by the spirits of deceased physicians) is sought, and may be seen as central to the healing process. As with practitioners of New Thought, Spiritualists may combine faith healing with conventional medical therapies. As Jones explained it, "We are not taught to put the burden on our minds. We do not 'will away' illness. But – we do not fear illness. [...] When we ask the spirit-world to relieve us of a bodily ill, we have gone as far as our own understanding and diligence permit. [...] We have faith, and confidence, and belief. [...] If medicine at times will assist, we take it – not as a habit, but as a little push over the hill. If we need medical attention, we secure it."


The basic Islamic belief concerns accepting Allah (God) as the true master of all, including healing and medicine. Islamic belief encourages followers to seek the appropriate medical attention but also stresses that no medicine will work if God doesn't want it to work.

As far as spiritual healing is concerned, Islam propagates that man has been created on a delicate balance. According to Islamic teachings, this balance is disturbed and causes illness when man does not live a life in accordance with Allah's guidance. Spiritual healing thus involves restoration of that balance through submission and gratitude to Allah which is only possible through keen observation and pondering/reflection), humility, sacrifice for other creations of Allah, through doing justice, showing forgiveness and having patience.

United States law

The 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required states to grant religious exemptions to child neglect and abuse laws in order to receive federal money. The CAPTA amendments of 1996 state:

Thirty states have child abuse religious exemptions. These are Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.


According to the American Cancer Society:

Inefficacy and alternative explanations

While faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science, claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation. A Cochrane review of intercessory prayer found essentially no effect, and a recent study not included in the review found similar results for the effect of intercessory prayer on outcome for heart surgery. The American Medical Association considers that prayer as therapy should not be a medically reimbursable or deductible expense. Skeptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural. The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient genuinely has been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed. In both cases the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body's natural abilities.

There have been case studies of claims made. Following a Kathryn Kuhlman 1967 fellowship in Philadelphia, Dr. William A. Nolen conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have been cured during her services. Nolen's long term follow-ups concluded there were no cures in those cases. Furthermore, "one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer threw away her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman's command; her spine collapsed the next day, according to Nolen, and she died four months later." In 1976, Kuhlman died in Tulsa, Oklahomamarker, following open-heart surgery.

There are also some cases of fraud (faking the condition) or ineffective healing (believing the condition has been healed immediately after the "healing", and later finding out it has not). These are discussed in following sections.

Negative impact on public health

Reliance on faith healing to the exclusion of other forms of treatment can have a public health impact when it reduces or eliminates access to modern medical techniques. This is evident in both higher mortality rates for children and in reduced life expectancy for adults. Critics have also made note of serious injury that has resulted from falsely labelled "healings", where patients erroneously consider themselves cured and cease or withdraw from treatment. It is the stated position of the AMA that "prayer as therapy should not delay access to traditional medical care."

Christian theological criticism of faith healing

Christian theological criticism of faith healing broadly falls into two distinct levels of disagreement.

The first is widely termed the "open-but-cautious" view of the miraculous in the church today. This term is deliberately used by Robert L. Saucy in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, Don Carson is another example of a Christian teacher who has put forward what has been described as an "open-but-cautious" view. In dealing with the claims of Warfield, particularly "Warfield's insistence that miracles ceased." Carson asserts "But this argument stands up only if such miraculous gifts are theologically tied exclusively to a role of attestation; and that is demonstrably not so." However, while affirming that he does not expect healing to happen today, Carson is critical of aspects of the faith healing movement, "Another issue is that of immense abuses in healing practises.... The most common form of abuse is the view that since all illness is directly or indirectly attributable to the devil and his works, and since Christ by his cross has defeated the devil, and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him, healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith."

The second level of theological disagreement with Christian faith healing goes further. Commonly referred to as cessationism, its adherents either claim that faith healing will not happen today at all, or may happen today, but it would be unusual. Richard Gaffin argues for a form of cessationism in an essay alongside Saucy's in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? In his book Perspectives on Pentecost Gaffin states of healing and related gifts that "the conclusion to be drawn is that as listed in 1 Corinthians 12(vv. 9f., 29f.) and encountered throughout the narrative in Acts, these gifts, particularly when exercised regularly by a given individual, are part of the foundational structure of the church... and so have passed out of the life of the church." Gaffin qualifies this, however, by saying "At the same time, however, the sovereign will and power of God today to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer (see e.g. James 5:14,15), ought to be acknowledged and insisted on."


Skeptics of faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants in the audience with fake illnesses), or concurrent with the healing work supposedly taking place and claim that faith healing is a quack practice in which the "healers" use well known non-supernatural illusions to exploit credulous people in order to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money. One book, The Faith Healers, investigated Christian evangelists such as Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal sick people and to give personal details about their lives, but was receiving radio transmissions from his wife, Elizabeth, who was off-stage reading information which she and her aides had gathered from earlier conversations with members of the audience. The book also questioned how faith healers use funds that were sent to them for specific purposes. Physicist Robert L. Park and doctor and consumer advocate Stephen Barrett have called into question the ethicality of some exorbitant fees.

There have also been legal controversies. For example, in 1955 at a Jack Coe revival service in Miami, Floridamarker Coe told the parents of a three year old boy that he healed their son who had polio. Coe then told the parents to remove the boy's leg braces. However, their son was not cured of polio and removing the braces left the boy in constant pain. As a result, Coe was arrested and charged on February 6, 1956 with practicing medicine without a license, a felony in the state of Florida. A Florida Justice of the Peace dismissed the case on grounds that Florida exempts divine healing from the law. Later that year Coe was diagnosed with bulbar polio, and died a few weeks later at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on December 17, 1956.

See also


  1. Stephen Barrett, M.D. "Some Thoughts about Faith Healing." June 15, 2009.
  2. "Faith Healing." Making Treatment Decisions. American Cancer Society. June 15, 2009.
  3. "Faith Healing." ApologeticsIndex (Apologetic Research Resources). June 15, 2009.
  4. Village, Andrew. "Dimensions of belief about miraculous healing." Mental Health, Religion & Culture, June 2005; 8(2): 97-107
  5. It can be translated as "Jehovah Who Heals" (cf. ; ; ; ; .
  6. Reginald B. Cherry MD. The Bible Cure. HarperOne, 1999. ISBN 0062516159
  7. and
  8. Wigglesworth, Smith and Wayne E. Warner. The Anointing of His Spirit. Vine Books, 1994. ISBN 0830733809
  9. http://Larry Keefauver. "The Myths of Faith Healing." June 17, 2009.
  10. Bosworth, F.F. Christ the Healer. Revell, 2001. ISBN 0800757394
  11. ; ;
  12. Matt. 8:4, 9:30; Mark 5:43, 7:24 & 36, 8:30, 9:9; Luke 5:14
  13. " Faith Healing," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. June 15, 2009. Archived 2009-10-31.
  14. Synan, Vinson. "The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement." Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University. 14 Jun. 2009 .
  15. Sarah Posner, Joe Conason. God's Profits. Polipoint Press, 2008. ISBN 0979482216
  16. Dictionary of Christianity In America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990) p. 182.
  17. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988) p. 372.
  18. Anderson, A., An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge University Press, 2004) p 58.
  19. Harrell, D.E., All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978) p. 25.
  20. Hollenweger, W. J., Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide, (Hendrickson Publications, 1997) p. 229.
  21. Weaver, C.D., The Healer-Prophet: William Marrion Branham (A study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism) (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000) p. 139.
  22. Leslie Scanlon. "It's a miracle!" U.S. Catholic, June 2009 issue (Vol. 74, No. 6, page 15)
  23. Pinches, Charles, MD. "Miracles: A Christian Theological Overview." Southern Medical Journal, Dec 2007, Vol. 100 Issue 12, p1236–1242, 7p
  24. Faith healing: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  25. Lourdes: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  26. How Lourdes Cures are Recognized as Miraculous ZENIT International News Agency, 11 FEB. 2004. Retrieved December 14, 2007.
  27. Lourdes: A History of its Apparitions and Cures by Georges Bertrin (author) and Mrs. Philip Gibbs (English language translator), 1908. Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1417981237
  29. Jones, Lloyd, Kenyon. Healing Forces.1919; reprinted by Lormar Press, Chicago, 1948.
  30. "The "faith" in faith healing refers to an irrational belief, unsupported by evidence, that mysterious supernatural powers can eradicate disease. Science deals with evidence, not faith."
  31. "Benefits may result because of the natural progression of the illness, rarely but regularly occurring spontaneous remission or through the placebo effect. "
  32. "Patients who seek the assistance of a faith healer must believe strongly in the healer’s divine gifts and ability to focus them on the ill."
  33. Also see: William Nolen, Healing: a doctor in search of a miracle. New York: Random House ISBN 0394490959
  34. "Faith healing can cause patients to shun effective medical care."
  35. "It is often claimed that faith healing may not work but at least does no harm. In fact, reliance on faith healing can cause serious harm and even death."
  36. "Faith-healers take from their subjects any hope of managing on their own. And they may very well take them away from legitimate treatments that could really help them."
  37. "These [discarded medications] are substances without which those people might well die."
  38. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne Grudem, 1996. ISBN 0310201551
  39. D.A. Carson
  40. Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Richard Gaffin, 1979. ISBN 0-87552-269-6
  41. "[Some] faith-healers have been less than careful in their use of funds sent to them for specific purposes."


  • Bosworth, F.F. Christ the Healer. Revell, 2001. ISBN 0800757394
  • Wigglesworth, Smith and Wayne E. Warner. The Anointing of His Spirit. Vine Books, 1994. ISBN 0830733809

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