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Let the healing waters flow

30 September 2016

The Church doesn’t emphasise Jesus’s pastoral work enough, says Dominic Walker


Desperate for help: this dramatic representation of the paralytic man brought to Jesus is James Reid’s cover illustration for the book reviewed

Desperate for help: this dramatic representation of the paralytic man brought to Jesus is James Reid’s cover illustration for the book reviewed

Jesus as Healer: A gospel for the body
Jan-Olav Henriksen and Karl Olav Sandnes
Eerdmans £26.99
Church Times Bookshop £24.30



THIS is a scholarly book written by two theologians from different disciplines, but both at the Norwegian School of Theology. Jan-Olav Henriksen is professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion, and Karl Olav Sandnes is professor of New Testament. They ask why the New Testament clearly portrays Jesus as a healer, and yet this emphasis tends to be lacking in the development of the Western Christian tradition. They seek to question and address this trend, and evaluate its significance for contemporary theology.

Some scholars have simply viewed the healing miracles as pointing towards the divine nature of Jesus. Others have written that Jesus did not cure disease: he healed illness; or that the sufferers had psychosomatic disorders, were misdiagnosed, or recovered as a result of a placebo effect. Others still have viewed the healings as a cultural phenomenon, or as being no longer significant after the establishment of the Church.

It is sometimes said that theologians, philosophers, and lawyers keep one another in business, and much of the book consists of examining critically what other theologians, as well as philosophers and psychologists, have written. Theologians from the Fathers to the Reformers, liberal, conservative, and Charismatic, are considered, along with Anglican scholars such as Keith Ward, Rowan Williams, and John Polkinghorne. Old and New Testament texts are examined, and there are references to Apocryphal writings and other ancient sources. In addition, attention is given to recent studies in healing, within both Christian and other traditions. The footnotes are extensive and informative. It feels as if no stone has been left unturned.

This book provides much food for thought. I was particularly moved to consider that Jesus healed because he responded to the sick with mercy, which lies at the heart of pastoral ministry and the life of the Church.

The authors see the work of Jesus as healer as directly linked with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and examine the incarnational, Christological, and eschatological implications. The book concludes by drawing together the historical findings, and the findings from the viewpoint of contemporary systematic theology. The overall conclusion is that “healing links past, present, and future, and signifies that all times are in the hands of God, the Almighty.”

About 40 years ago, meetings were planned between theologians and bishops, and were aptly called “Caps & Mitres” in an attempt to bridge the gap between academic theologians and pastors. Alas, this gap still exists, but, as far as the ministry of healing is concerned, this book goes some way towards bridging it, and provides a scholarly commendation for the appropriateness of continuing Jesus’s healing ministry today.


The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.

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