My chapter summaries of Biblical Healing for Modern Medicine, Franklin E. Payne, Jr. M.D. Covenant Books
Scripture and Biblical Wisdom
II Chronicles 16:12-13 recounts how King Asa did not find healing from the physicians of his time and died. This could quickly turn into a proof text for Christians to avoid doctors altogether. Biblical wisdom is not that simple. One must study the body of Scripture to derive principles and practice.
Though the Greek word for physician appeared four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament, none of these examples provide concrete commandments regarding medical care. Beyond this many principles of health appear in the Old Testament. Many health experts have expressed amazement at the wisdom of Old Testament laws such as quarantines and hand washing. Bypasssing the debate over whether these laws were only ceremonial and no longer in effect after Christ, we can still appreciate and apply them for our benefit. They do not contribute to spiritual health or salvation, but may benefit our physical bodies.
A New Testament Perspective
In the New Testament, James 5:14 instructs the elders to anoint with oil the heads of those who are ill. This is likely a ceremonial action rather than a medicinal one however. Paul, not a physician, directed Timothy to take some wine for his stomach in I Timothy 5:23. The Good Samaritan applied wine and oil to the wounds in Luke 10:34, but neither was he a physician as far as we are told. Again, not much to go on when looking directly at healthcare.
The likely reason that the Bible does not direct Christians to see physicians for care is that medicine is “inherently religious”. The physicians of that day (and ours) have worldviews which shape their care. Many anti-Christian worldviews today can produce false cures and lead people away from God.
Ideal vs Reality
Therefore, Christian patients should only seek care from Christian physicians according to Dr. Payne. I agree that this is the ideal, but would add that we should seek that care from Christian physicians who are living out their faith and not following the world. Many Christian physicians are no different than their non-christian colleagues. Dr. Payne also emphasizes the importance of incorporating Biblical counseling either by the physician or in conjunction with trained counselors. For Christian physicians they must unlearn much of what they have been taught in their years of socialization.
Patients are not limited to physicians though in seeking care. “I (Payne) am saying that physicians do not have a monopoly on the treatment of disease and disability.” Alternative therapies should be provided by physicians and meet other requirements as well. These include their having little danger, having solid foundations, being grounded in formal training, and having a reasonable cost.
The Church’s Role
Next, the church should be involved in this care. Elders should be involved in church members lives in a way that they can discern where spiritual issues are contributing or causing health problems. From there the elders should address the spiritual aspects of the health issue.
No Single Answer
Considering all of this, should patients accept all health care? Does faith in God mean that parents can forgo care for their children? There is a basic duty for patients or their families to accept care that is “clearly effective” based on the sanctity of the body. Still, financial considerations may play a part such that the patient might refuse a therapy that incurred greater debt than they or their family could bear. For therapies which carried severe side effects, one might rightfully refuse a therapy. A patient is free to choose for or against therapies whose effectiveness is questionable or marginal. Finally, ineffective therapies may be freely refused.