Medical Ministry Before the Church

The Old Testament shows medical ministry in some diverse ways. A short list of references of medical ministry in the Old Testament include:nehushtan-plaque

  • Ezekiel 34

  • Numbers 21:8-9

  • Leviticus 13 & 14

  • I Kings 17

Ezekiel 34 is the parable of the bad shepherd. If you are not familiar with it, don’t be afraid that it is in the challenging middle section of the Bible. Take time to read it. It refers to political and religious leaders in Israel. These leaders failed, in part, because they neither healed the sick nor bound the broken. Although this passage is written as a parable, it seems reasonable to assume that physical care is part of their responsibility. This point is supported with the other listed passages. Leaders (religious and political) were responsible for both the physical and overall well-being of their people. Numbers 21 describes Moses, a political leader, addressing the problem of people who have been bitten by poisonous snakes. The Leviticus passage describes the responsibility of priests to diagnose, quarantine, and evaluate the cure of various skin diseases. The passage in Kings is one of the passages where prophets do miraculous physical healing. Political and religious leaders in Israel were to be involved in addressing the medical concerns of the people.

The Old Testament references share a common concern for the well-being of the people. However, different methods are used. They include miraculous healing, common medical or first aid care, public health policy and quarantine. There appears to be no one single “blessed” form of medical care.

The Gospels refer to the life of Christ prior to the formation of the church. Since Jesus provides the basis for Christian faith and living, Jesus’ relationship to medical/physical ministry (as well as that of his disciples) is highly relevant.

Jesus did healing as part of His ministry. Luke 4:18-19 gives Jesus’ self-understanding of His ministry. He stated that among other things, He was to give healing and sight to the blind. This cannot simply be taken as figurative language since Jesus did in fact heal as part of His ministry. Additionally, Luke 7:20-23 states more explicitly that caring for the blind, deaf, lame, and leprous was part of His work. These passages show that healing was not a trivial part of His ministry. They also show that Jesus understood that healing was a sign of His being the fulfillment of prophecies since the two passages refer back to prophecies in Isaiah 61 and Isaiah 35 respectively.

One might still argue that medical ministry within a Christian context is not validated by Christ, if Jesus saw healing only as a sign of His divine role. Others might draw a strong separation between “miraculous healing” and “medical healing.” I have come across some people who have argued that standard medical care is demonic, since it utilizes the modern equivalent of herbalism (“pharmacia”), which was commonly tied to pagan practices in the time of Christ. For them, one is from God and the other is not (or at least is less so). However, since medical healing utilizes what God has created and designed to aid in healing, it seems flawed to assume it as being of a lesser origin than “miracles.” Nevertheless, it is wise to look for additional evidence as to whether medical ministry is Biblically sound.

An important passage that speaks of medical ministry is Luke 10:25-37. This passage involves the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, a Samaritan discovers a man who had been robbed and brutalized by highwaymen. The Samaritan applied oil as a salve, wine as a disinfectant, and bandages to protect the wounds and promote healing. Then he transported the injured man to a place for healing, nursed him for one day, and paid the innkeeper money to continue medical. The purpose and application of the parable demonstrate that this story describes a sound Christian ministry. The purpose of the parable was to explain the meaning of the phrase, “and love your neighbor as yourself” as well as add insight to the question of who is one’s neighbor. The application is, perhaps, even more direct since in verse 37 Jesus tells those listening that they are to “go and do likewise.” This passage demonstrates that non-miraculous healing care to minister to someone in need is good, consistent with, and, indeed, commanded by our call to love our neighbor.

Another important passage is Matthew 25:31-46. This passage contrasts those people that please God and those that displease Him at the final judgment. Those who please God and are welcomed by God include those who care for the sick, along with those who minister to other physical and social problems such as hunger, thirst, homelessness, exposure, and imprisonment. Jesus states, in verse 40 that,“inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

The Luke 10 and Matthew 25 passages together close a logical loop. Matthew 25 states that loving God/Jesus compels one to care for the sick. The Luke 10 passage states that loving one’s neighbor also compels one to care for the sick. Therefore, while Luke 10:27, known as the Great Commandment, may have two components, they are inseparable. Medical care is a normal and necessary application of the Great Commandment.

This excerpt is from my book: “Christian Medical Missions”

This was originally modified from my dissertation on Medical Missions. I did some research on medical ministry historically, even though the main part of the research was medical mission work in the presence. Part of the reason for the historical research was because of the range of (in my mind) misunderstandings of medical ministry. Some people, for example reject medical ministry because they believe that only “miraculous” healing is from God or “God ordained.” On the other hand, there are people who are suspicious of any medical work on the presumption that only “spiritual ministry” (evangelism, discipleship, church-planting) is real ministry, and anything else is a distraction– unless it is used as ‘bait’ for real ministry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s