Reading John Wilkinson’s The Bible and Healing: A Medical and Theological Commentary (The Handsel Press Limited, Great Britain, 1998) was like having a conversation I have been waiting to have for a long time. I am very grateful to have found the book. And although the author is no longer living, that didn’t stop me from having a conversation with his book, some of which I will share here.
I found the book fascinating as well as sensible. I appreciated its combination of scholarship (especially with regard to Greek terms and biblical history, without being too much) with a common sense approach to understanding and applying Scripture on important topics related to healing.
Wilkinson’s discussion of James 5:13-16 was especially welcome to me. I personally struggled with this passage over a period of years, finally reaching certain conclusions—all of which I plan to include in an upcoming book I’m writing about faith and the wait for healing. It was refreshing (and frankly, a relief) to learn that Wilkinson, by his more scholarly route, had reached similar conclusions about the passage. The way he pulled no punches in this discussion was also a breath of fresh air.
On another topic, the precise identification of Paul’s physical thorn in the flesh, Wilkinson’s book changed my mind. Wilkinson made a decent case against the thorn’s having been an eye problem (page 220-221). Blindness had been my previous assumption of the nature of Paul’s thorn, and on first reading of Wilkinson’s evidence against the eye theory, I was not quite as ready to throw out the diagnosis as Wilkinson was. However, upon closer examination of Wilkinson’s chapter 18, I came to understand that his case really hinges on a point about the tense of two Greek verbs Paul used in 2 Corinthians 12:7 (huperairo and kolaphizo). Wilkinson wrote (page 223) that the present tense verbs used by Paul in this verse implied that his thorn was a recurrent physical problem that returned at intervals. Therefore, my former idea that Paul suffered blindness would be out, since that condition would be a permanent, not intermittent, one. Wilkinson seemed quite fond of the malaria theory of identification of Paul’s thorn, and he did make a good argument—interesting and plausible—for that diagnosis’s fitting the facts of Paul’s situation (pages 222-226).
Wilkinson and I agree, however, that it doesn’t matter now what the thorn was, but that the lesson is in the principles of Paul’s situation. And Wilkinson gave an excellent discussion of those principles.
On that and every other fascinating topic addressed, it seems to me that Wilkinson majored on majors in this book. He included topics that are important to individuals and the church today, in a very readable way, with good depth of understanding and scholarship (and with a welcome dose of debunking of unhelpful commentary).
As much as I appreciated the book and feel I can recommend it as an excellent read and resource, there were a few topics (representing only a handful of pages of the whole) on which I couldn’t agree with the author. I would love to have conversed with him further to gain a deeper understanding of his positions on those points. I’ll cite three examples here.
Wilkinson wrote, “…there is no reference to Elijah’s prayer for the end of the drought in the Old Testament narrative, although it may be assumed that such a prayer was offered by Elijah” (page 242). However, it seems plain to me that 1 Kings 18:41-45 is precisely the account of Elijah’s prayer for the rain that ended the years-long drought.
Another example (page 185), is Wilkinson’s statement, “There is no specific instruction about healing in the Old Testament.” This assertion seems to overlook the instruction of God to Moses about healing of poisonous snake bites among the Israelites, recorded in Numbers 21:8-9.
A third example—and one about which I dearly wish I could converse with Wilkinson, since he gave no supporting citations or arguments for his statements—is his brief discourse on page 185 about the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. Wilkinson’s position is that the post-resurrection body was already Jesus’ glorified one and that it contained no blood. I can think of so many Scriptural points that seem to me to contravene this theory that I truly wish I had insight into what caused Wilkinson to take this position. I’m sure it would be fascinating.
A scan of the topics in this book’s table of contents is like a who’s who of many of the topics I most care about when it comes to the Bible and healing. I read the book voraciously and sincerely wished I could set up a meeting with Wilkinson to discuss many of the points he made. I found the book very helpful and encouraging, and recommend it.
The Center for Health in Mission offers Wilkinson’s book as a free PDF. For details, visit https://centerforhim.org/the-bible-and-healing-a-medical-and-theological-commentary-available-as-pdf/
AmyLu Riley is the author of Jesus as Healer: Miracles and Meditations in Luke. Her upcoming book for people who are not yet healed is designed to build faith and dissolve spiritual discouragement. To get book updates, sign up for her email list.