Why Do We Anoint with Oil? 


Why do Christians use oil for anointing or for healing?


I have been wanting to do some research on the subject of anointing with oil.  I grew up in a non-denominational church with Baptist roots.  We never talked about anointing with oil.  But it’s in the Word and I feel like I know next to nothing about it.  Do you have suggested reading, resources or personal thoughts on the subject?  I would love to hear your input! 


Great question!  Let me share a few thoughts: 

First of all, most of the uses of oil in the Bible (other than cosmetic or the myrrh oil) are olive. 

So the most common oil used in anointing of any sort was olive. 

Now, why did they use oil? 

  • First of all oil was used a lot in offerings to the Lord (firstfruit offerings meal-offerings were mixed with oil, tithing in oil). (Ex 22:29; St 12:17; Lv 8:26; Nu 7:19) – but not in Jealousy offerings or sin offerings (Nu 5:15; lev 5:11) 
  • Also, oil was used in the sanctuary lamp to burn before the Lord (for light). (Ex 25:6; Lv 24:2) 
  • Oil was used for consecration (ceremonial blessing and preparation for ministry and cleansing) in the Jewish priests (Ex 29:2) 
  • Oil was used to ceremonially clean lepers that were no longer leprous (Lev 14:10-18) 
  • Oil was used in the daily sacrifices (Ex 29:40) 
  • Oil was used in the ceremony to end a Nazirite vow (Nu 6:15) 
  • Of course it was also used in cooking and regular lamps, but that doesn’t play into our discussion here. 
  • It was used in the ordination of a king (1 Sam 10:1; 1 Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 9:3; 11:12) 
  • It was used as a medicine (helped bruises, wounds, used as a mild laxative, etc.) 
  • Oil was used for anointing after a bath (Ruth 3:3; 2 Sam 12:20) although that’s more for perfume, it still plays a part in what I’m going to say. 
  • It was used during festive occasions (Ps 23:5). 
  • Egyptians would anoint their guests’ heads with oil as they took their seats at a feast. 
  • But the main one for our discussion and I think the reason you are asking the question in in the first place is James 5:14 which speaks of anointing the sick. 
  • Oil many times symbolized gladness (Is 61:3; Ps 23:5), comfort, spiritual nourishment and prosperity (symbol of good crops = blessing) 
  • Oil was also used to mix with myrrh to anoint the dead (more as a perfume). 

Alright, what do we do with all of this???? 

  • The main reason that we anoint sick people is due to James 5:14 – “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” 
  • Some have argued that this is a description of rubbing oil into wounds (medicinally) by the leadership as a servant act of love. I respectfully disagree. The context seems to suggest doing it with prayer as a ritual before God for healing. That’s why the elders do it (as opposed to deacons doing it perhaps as ministry). 
  • Add to this Mark 6:13 – (speaking of the Twelve apostles sent out by Jesus) “they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. 
  • So, as you can see, sickness, prayer, oil and healing go together a couple times in the Bible. 

Why oil? 

  • I think that all along God has given us word pictures through actions (i.e. Baptism, sacrificing animals, etc.). I think that oil is a symbol of soothing. 
  • I also think that along the way oil was used with commissioning something special to happen (i.e. Anointing kings), and used before God. Put it all together and it makes sense to use it when calling upon God for something only He can do. 

That’s why we use oil in healing (we also lay on hands).

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