Is Physical Healing a Guarantee in the Atonement?

healing-quotes-from-bible-300x225by Rob Lundberg

Before I get started, let me take this quick moment to thank those who have voiced prayers for my wife and our family, as Kathy recovers from hand (right thumb) surgery.  This posting is a revisiting of a subject I wrote on back in 2009 on the Real Issue blog.  That posting and this one deal with the issue of the atonement as it relates to healing. The passage that is often misapplied , coming from Isaiah’s words in Chapter 53 and verses 3 through 5.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”

Conversations with well meaning “Christians” about terminal illness or someone having the flu, or even about a surgery, can often raise a question where this passage is referenced in one context of another.  In not too recent days, I encountered such a conversation with a well meaning believer who misused this “atonement” passage to encourage me and our family.  Were they sincere?  Yes.  Were they encouraging?  Yes.

Were they using this passage correctly?  No.

Please understand that I DO believe in the Lord’s being able to heal someone instantaneously if He so chooses.  I also believe that God is not obligated (notice my usage of wording in the question) to heal “the saints” [1] physically and still receive glory through their infirmities.   There are two misapplications that I see being used by those holding to this TBN and the Word Faith theology [2].

The first misapplication is a self-centered entitlement attitude with respect to being God’s child.  There is this idea that God is obligated to heal His children.  This is not just unrealistic of living in a fallen world, it is also unbiblical.  The problem of evil whacks us from three different perspectives, natural, moral, and illness and disease [3].  And then there is the several biblical passages like the book of Job, and John 9:1-12, with the man who was born blind.

The second misapplication of this passage is larger than this first one.  It is one that presents a categorical problem where there is a misdirection of the meaning of the terms transgressions and iniquities.  Let’s take a look.

Looking at the passage we see that there is, without a doubt, an interest toward the reader of this passage.  This interest in found in verse 5, which is central to the issue before us: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

Many folks who like TBN and the Word Faith teachers get excited about “healing” and often misapply this passage by directing it to the person who has a physical disability.  However while there is a substitution being carried out by Christ, “the Suffering Servant,” the primary purpose of that substitution is not toward a physical healing.  In fact that act of substitution is for something more important than our physical well being.  It is for our sins.

This Suffering Servant was not wounded, beaten, and battered for our physical well being.  He was crucified after those beatings and bruisings for the real reason, the sins of mankind.  That means one must look at this passage in light of the finished work of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for sin.  There are a few reasons for this.

First of all, while ultimate healing is in the atonement, it is a healing that we will enjoy ultimately in our resurrection bodies. Physical healing, while we are in our mortal body, is not always guaranteed in the atonement.  Can God heal physical ailments?  Yes.  Will He heal?  He will heal according to His will but He will also receive glory in our infirmity.

Moreover, it is a major exegetical error made by Word Faith teachers not to handle the text in its proper context. How so? It is important to note that the Hebrew word for healing (rapha) can refer not just to physical healing but also to spiritual healing.

The context of Isaiah 53:4 indicates that spiritual healing is definitely in view.   Looking at verse 5, we are clearly told that “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (v. 5).  What must be understood here is that transgressions [4] and iniquities[5] are spiritual categories.  The former deals with the action carried out that is against God’s moral law. The latter has to do more with our depraved nature being sinful and missing the mark.[6]  Therefore the context governs the view of spiritual healing; spiritual healing from the misery of man’s sin is what is what is being referenced here.

Furthermore, there are numerous passages in Scripture which substantiate the view that physical healing in this mortal life is not guaranteed in the atonement, and that it is not always God’s will to heal in this physical life in the physical here and now.  Let me share with you a few where we see this:

The Apostle Paul could not heal Timothy’s stomach problem (1 Timothy 5:23), nor could he heal Trophimus at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) nor Epaproditus (Philippians 3:25-27).

Paul spoke of “a bodily illness” that he had in Galatians 4:13-15.  He also suffered from a “thorn in the flesh” which God allowed him to retain (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God certainly allowed Job to go through a time of physical suffering (see Job 1-2).

In none of these cases is it ever stated that the sickness was caused by sin or by unbelief. Neither Paul nor any of the others acted as if they thought their healing was guaranteed in the atonement. They accepted their situations and trusted in God’s grace for sustenance in this fallen world. It is noteworthy that on one occasion, Jesus indicated that sickness could be for the glory of God (John 11:4).

Finally there are numerous passages in Scripture which reveal that our physical bodies are continuously running down and suffering from various ailments. Our present bodies are said to be perishable and weak (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Paul said that our “outer man is decaying” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Death and disease will be a part of the human condition until that time when we receive our resurrection bodies that are immune to such frailties (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).


Please understand, I am not against God’s intervening in the life of someone who has a debilitating ailment. Am I willing to admit that God can and does heal in the same manner that He has shown Himself to work? He can and sometimes He does. He also uses the God-given gift of medical science to treat and sometimes heal our physical bodies.

My concern is that when someone says to me: “you know that if you believe, God will heal you of your hypertension He will.”   That is a big bone of contention and false teaching.

When one takes the passages in their context, it is clearly seen that the Word Faith teaching turns out to be total nonsense, even heretical.  Whether we realize it or not, God has already healed the one who is redeemed. The earthly tent that we live in is passing away, but we can still glorify God in the one which we reside. He may even have a purpose for our disability, terminal illness or just the consequences of living in a fallen world.  Just ask Joni Erickson Tada [7] or Nick Vujicic [8].


[1] I am using this term “saints” referring to those who have been redeemed and have come to believe on Christ and His Christ’s finished work of atonement and redemption

[2] Word Faith theology is also known as the “name it and claim it”, “health and wealth” or “positive confession” movements, that owe their ancestry to groups like Christian Science, Swedenborgiansim, Theosophy, Science of Mind, and New Thought – not to classical Pentecostalism.  For more information about this false teaching see The Apologetics Index entry at

[3] While the problem of evil falls essentially into the categories, natural evil and moral evil, let me point you to my posting on the Real Issue blog, on “The Three Faces of Evil and a Christian Response.”

[4] A transgression the violation of a law, command, or duty. The Hebrew word most often translated as transgression in the Old Testament means “revolt” or “rebellion.” The psalmist wrote, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps 32:1). In the New Testament every occurrence of the word transgression (NKJV) is a translation of a Greek word which means “a deliberate breach of the law” (Ro 4:15; 1 Ti 2:14; Heb 2:2).  (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

[5]The definition of iniquity is about unrighteousness, lawlessness. The Bible often uses this word to describe evil and wickedness. Iniquity can suggest different types of evil, such as transgressions of spiritual law and crimes against God (2 Pe 2:16; Rev 18:5), moral or legal wrongs (1 Co 13:6) or depravity and sin in general (Ge 15:16; Ps 51:1,5,9). (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

[6] Man is not a sinner because he commits sin. He is already a sinner and the action of committing the sin is an outworking of that nature.

[7] Joni Eareckson Tada suffered a diving accident that left her as a quadriplegic.  She is glorifying the Lord with a ministry reaching out to those with disabilities and various life issues, by sharing the gospel and “the ministry of touch.”  Learn more at

[8] Learn more about Nick Vujicic at “Life Without Limbs”,


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