Word Study – “Sick”

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-5

1Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. 

James 5:13-16a

The Greek word for sick – ασθενει – in this context is transliterated: Astheneo

Strong’s number: 770

It is used 33 times in the NT:

  • Sick (19 times): Matthew 10:8, 25:36, 39; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; John 4:46, 5:3, 7, 11:1-3, 6; Acts 9:37, 19:12, 20:35; Phil. 2:26-27; 2 Timothy 4:20; James 5:14
  • Weak (14 times): Romans 4:19, 8:3, 14:1-2; 1 Cor. 8:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:21, 29, 12:10, 13:3-4,9;

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word could as easily be translated “weak” as “sick”.  In English these two words are quite related but our understanding of the microbes that cause sickness make us more inclined to separate the meanings than would have been the case for people in James’ time.  If we use “weak” instead of “sick” in James 5:14 we have:

“Is anyone among you weak? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”

When we take the overall context of James 5:13 -16 we can see there is a connection between being weak, or sick, and sin.  The effect of the elders anointing is not just to make the person well physically but also spiritually – his sins will be forgiven.  In verse 16 the key to healing is that you confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.

In verse 15 the word translated “sick” is actually a very different word (κάμνοντα) which is only used one other time, in Hebrews 12:3, and there it is translated “weary”.  So if you feel weary confess your sins to each other and pray for each other and you will be healed.

Nowadays we are inclined to view disease and sickness differently from James.  For us there is only a tenuous connection, if any, between our personal actions and sin.  Sickness is caused often by viruses or bacteria which seem separated from our moral actions.  As a Christian in the 21st Century the connection between sin and sickness is less personal, more related to the general fallen condition of the world than anything that we personally may have done.  But if you think in terms of sickness being weakness and put yourself in the context of a 1st Century Christian who knows nothing about viruses and bacteria then you might see the connection between personal sin and weakness or sickness more easily.  This also explains Paul’s warning about taking communion in an unworthy fashion (see Thoughts on Communion: Healing and The consequences of communion).

Things can come around though.  The bible’s wisdom does not seem so archaic in this regard if you are into holistic medicine.  Lifestyle and a tendency to sickness go together.  If your lifestyle is one of abusing the body through excessive alcohol or smoking or immorality then it is easy to see how those sins can affect your health also.  Other sins such as worry and anger also have physical effects causing illness or weakness or both.

In this passage though the emphasis is not on the sin causing the illness.  The Lord is gracious and he heals first and, then, forgives your sins also.  He doesn’t place the emphasis on the sin but rather on the healing of the sickness or weakness.

Which is just like Him, isn’t it?

Loving the Greek…..

The New Testament was originally written in Greek since that was the “English” or “lingua Franca” of the the first century.  So I thought it would be a good idea to learn the NT or Koine Greek some years ago.  I must admit though that the vast range of English translations we have seem to capture most of the nuances of the Greek word meanings as far as I can tell.  But I am no expert.

There are a few things that the NT Greek does bring out:

1.  The simplicity of the language John uses compared with Paul.  It is really very easy to read John’s gospel and letters in the Greek especially in comparison to Paul’s.  It is a real and compelling miracle to see the depth of meaning and the deep subjects that John is able to explore with so few words.   I really don’t know anything equivalent in English.  However Revelation is no easier to read in Greek than it is in English even though John wrote that too.

2.  The Greek uses the continuous form of the verb “to be” far more than the English translations I have read do.  I am guessing that is because it would be being far more awkward to be reading.  But what the Greek brings out is a very important theological point or continuity rather:  You must keep on being saved to be saved.  There is no emphasis in the New Testament on point decisions or actions like the English translations seem to imply.  The examples are everywhere in the N.T. (Colossians 3:1 keep on seeking, Romans 8:1, 4 are not walking, etc., etc.).

3.  Of all the English translations I have read I have yet to come across one which brings out the distinctions in the Greek words for love in John 21:15-17. Knowing the differences significantly adds to the understanding of Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter and the qualifications for being a minister in God’s church.  Only the amplified version really brings it out but you can lose the significance in all the words.  Here is my version:

15 When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, do you agape Me more than these? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You. He said to him, Feed My lambs.

16 Again He said to him the second time, Simon, son of John, do you agape Me? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You. He said to him, Shepherd My sheep.

17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you phileo Me? Peter was grieved that He should ask him the third time, Do you phileo Me? And he said to Him, Lord, You know everything; You know that I phileo You! Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep.

Agape means love like Jesus’ love when He died for us on the Cross.  A supernatural love that comes straight from the Father.  Peter knew he didn’t love Jesus like that – not after his three denials on the night Jesus needed him most.  He wasn’t going to make the same mistake he had made before the crucifixion (John 13:37).

But he also knew that he had phileo –  a brotherly affection and natural love for Jesus.  So he had responded honestly.  He didn’t mind Jesus questioning his agape love but he was upset when he questioned even his phileo love.  He would have been devastated to discover that he didn’t even have that!

But actually Jesus was out to encourage him.  For each time He questioned Peter and each time Peter answered honestly and without pretense Jesus found in him someone He could trust.  Someone who could feed the young and tend to the needs of and even feed the more mature.

Some teachers would say that Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-4) added the agape to the phileo that Peter had.  And perhaps it did.  But for me I think I know what answer I would give to Jesus if I was asked the same questions, Pentecost or no Pentecost.

Only He knows really how qualified I am, or anyone is, to spiritually feed and tend His lambs or sheep.  But the qualifications are definitely not academic ones.  You don’t have to learn the Greek to love His people enough to feed them.