Religious television programming has been dominated by preachers of the Charismatic/Pentecostal persuasion since the first day satellites started beaming such programming into our homes. Consequently, because one of the tenets of Charismatic/Pentecostal doctrine is that it’s always God’s will to heal, it’s not surprising that more Americans than ever now know the closing of Isaiah 53:5:
…And by His stripes we are healed. (N.K.J.V.)
The popular line of preaching that has sprung from these words is that physical healing was provided for in Christ’s atonement. In other words, Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to ensure the Christian’s eternal, spiritual healing, He did it to also ensure the Christian’s earthly, physical healing. Therefore, if a Christian gets stricken with any kind of sickness or disease, all that Christian has to do is claim his or her healing by faith in Jesus’ name and watch God work.
And so the phrase “By His stripes we are healed” can now be found all over the place. We see it on church signs. We see it on t-shirts. It shows up in our Facebook feeds time and time again. It’s as if, at least in this one area of doctrine, the Charismatic/Pentecostal preachers have converted Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and all the other denominations to their side.
But are we right to interpret “By His stripes we are healed” to mean that the Christian is guaranteed earthly, bodily healing by Christ’s death on the cross? No, we aren’t. “Says you,” I can hear the Charismatic/Pentecostal folks replying. Well, if you will permit me, I’ll give you the Biblical reasons for my contention. Ready? Here we go:
Reason #1: The Bible wasn’t originally written with chapters and verses. Those were added in later. This means that the words that immediately follow the Isaiah 53:5 words “…by His stripes we are healed” flow naturally out of the thought and explain it. And what do the words of Isaiah 53:6 say? They say:
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (N.K.J.V.)
You see, there’s nothing there about earthly, bodily healing. To the contrary, these words are all about our spiritual condition rather than our physical condition. Isaiah doesn’t say we are all like sheep who have fallen into a ditch and become physically damaged; he says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. He doesn’t say we are all like sheep who have come down with a disease; he says we are all like sheep who have turned to our own way. The context of the passage has absolutely nothing to do with earthly, bodily healing.
Reason #2: Along the same lines, the prophet Isaiah himself uses the opening of his book to explain just exactly what type of sickness he is attributing to Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. Isaiah quotes God as saying of the people of Judah, “…they have rebelled against Me” (Isaiah 1:2). God then goes on to say they are a people “laden with iniquity” who have “forsaken the Lord” and “turned away backward” (1:4). He says, “The whole head is sick” and “the whole heart faints” (1:5). He says they have no soundness “from the soul of the foot even to the head” (1:6). He says their “wounds and bruises and putrefying sores” have not been “closed,” “bound up,” or “soothed with ointment” (1:6).
Do you see how Isaiah is quoting God and speaking of Judah’s sickness in a figurative, metaphorical sense as opposed to a literal one? He’s saying to the people of Judah, “God says that you are a people sick and diseased with sin.” In light of this, when we get to Isaiah 53:5, which deals with the healing that Judah’s coming Messiah (Jesus) will provide, the reference can’t suddenly switch and start referring to bodily healing rather than spiritual healing. That just isn’t in keeping with what Isaiah has been saying all along to those people.
Reason #3: In 1 Peter 2:24-25, the apostle Peter references the words of Isaiah 53:5-6. He says concerning Jesus:
who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (N.K.J.V.)
Here again we find that the healing provided for by Jesus’ stripes has to do with sins, not bodily sicknesses. Notice that the verses say that Jesus bore our sins, not our sicknesses, in His own body. That is an important distinction to make.
Actually, there is no mention whatsoever by Peter of physical healing either in these verses or the verses that surround them. The immediate context of the entire 1 Peter 2:18-25 passage has to do with Christian slaves submitting to their masters as a way of emulating the way Jesus submitted Himself to His unjust arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion. That’s a far cry from being a passage about bodily healing.
It is also worth noting that Peter, writing under the inspiration of God, changes the tense of the Isaiah 53:5 passage. He says of Jesus “by whose stripes you were healed” rather than “by His stripes we are healed.” This subtle change means that the healing spoken of in Isaiah 53:5 has now happened. It isn’t an ongoing thing. Peter doesn’t say of Jesus, “by whose stripes you will be continuously healed.”
Reason #4: In Romans 8:18-25, the apostle Paul says that all of creation “was subjected to futility” (by mankind’s fall into sin) and that it will one day “be delivered from the bondage of corruption” (8:20-21). He then compares this bondage of corruption to the “groans and labors” of “birth pangs” (8:22). While each Christian might rightly assume that his or her body is a part of creation, Paul leaves no doubt that this is a correct assumption when he says that each Christian is “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (v.23).
Notice that Paul specifically says that the Christian is waiting for the time when his or her body will be redeemed. This shows us that while the Christian’s soul has already been fully redeemed (bought back from sin), the body hasn’t. We’re all still waiting on that. In the meantime, our bodies are susceptible to sickness and disease. They are still adversely affected by the Fall just as creation itself is still adversely affected by it.
Reason #5: There are multiple New Testament passages that clearly show that it isn’t always God’s will to heal. Consider the following:
- Paul left Trophimus, one of his ministry companions, sick in Miletus. (2 Timothy 4:20)
- Rather than tell Timothy to claim his healing by faith, Paul advised him to drink a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent infirmities. (1 Timothy 5:23)
- Paul himself evidently suffered from some type of ailment with his eyes. (Galatians 4:13-15; 6:11)
- Even Jesus didn’t heal every sick, blind, lame, paralyzed person with whom He came into contact. In the story of Him healing at the Pool of Bethesda, He only healed one. (John 5:1-15)
- If Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was some type of physical ailment, God refused to heal him of it even though Paul asked Him to do so on three occasions. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
As you can see, these passages simply don’t fit with the whole “by His stripes we are healed” line of preaching that is going out incessantly over the airwaves. I don’t say this with any joy. After all, why wouldn’t I, as a Christian, want to claim a promise of guaranteed healing anytime I get sick? That certainly would make my life, not to mention my preaching, a lot easier. But facts are facts, and a wrong interpretation is a wrong interpretation, no matter who is preaching it.
The good news is that there is coming a day when all Christians truly will experience bodily healing in the fullest sense. That day will be the moment of the Rapture, when each and every Christian (whether alive or dead) will have his or her body changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:50-52). Jesus will step down out of heaven into earth’s sky and snatch up the bodies of all of history’s Christians to be with Him.
The dead in Christ will have their bodies resurrected first, and those bodies will be changed into glorified bodies and reunited with the souls that once inhabited them, Jesus having brought those souls with Him from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16). Next, the bodies of living Christians will be caught up and changed into glorified bodies on the way up (1 Thessalonians 4:17). And all of this will happen in a split second as our bodies of corruption at last put on incorruption and our mortality finally becomes immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).
Until then, however, we must wait for the bodily fulfillment of what Jesus did for us on the cross. This means that we are fair game for everything from colic to cancer, boils to blindness, fevers to fibromyalgia, appendicitis to arthritis, gingivitis to gangrene, and toothaches to tetanus. Someone asks, “But doesn’t God still miraculously heal?” Yes, He does, but He only does it in rare instances, which means that we have no scriptural right to expect Him to do so every time. That’s just not how us living in bodies that are still under the bondage of the Fall works. And, unfortunately, all the misinterpreting and misapplying of all the Bible verses in the book won’t change that. Sorry.