Is Healing in the Atonement?

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from 40 Questions About Pentecostalism
by Jonathan Black

The World Assemblies of God Fellowship includes in its statement of faith the expression that “deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement and is the privilege of all believers.”[1] Likewise, the Church of God believes, “Divine healing is provided for all in the atonement.”[2] These are strong statements. But what do they mean? As we shall see presently, there are differing understandings of the idea of healing in the atonement. However, before examining these, let’s look at the scriptural basis of the concept.

Does Scripture Teach Healing in the Atonement?

This teaching of healing in the atonement essentially comes from two major proof texts: Matthew 8:16–17 and 1 Peter 2:24. In the former, Matthew states that Jesus’s casting out evil spirits and healing the sick “was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’” (Matt. 8:17). The quotation is from Isaiah 53:4, in the suffering servant prophecy of the cross. Therefore, some Pentecostals have read Matthew’s text in light of the full prophecy in Isaiah. French Arrington, an American Church of God theologian, argues, “Matthew placed Isaiah 53:4 in the context of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and others (vv. 14–16), making it obvious that he had a profound grasp of the connection between the healing ministry of Jesus and the Cross. The physical healings done by Jesus fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah. The fact that Christ ‘took our infirmities [astheneias: sicknesses] and bore our sicknesses [nosous: diseases]’ clearly teaches that there is healing in the Atonement. . . . Healing should not be severed from the death of Christ.”[3]

However, Matthew is describing events that took place about three years before Christ’s death, and nowhere in the context does he mention the cross. Instead, Matthew writes that this prophecy was fulfilled in the healing ministry of Jesus throughout his life. As the mid-twentieth century British Assemblies of God writer L. W. F. Woodford puts it, “Matthew was not referring to our Lord’s coming passion when he drew upon this quotation, but he was referring to the actual events he was then describing.”[4] David Petts, a British Assemblies of God theologian, concludes, “Since Matthew does not apply this Scripture to Jesus’s death on the cross but to his healing the sick in Galilee, there is really no basis for saying that he is teaching us that Jesus died for our sicknesses as well as our sins.”[5] Yet, the American Assemblies of God New Testament scholar Robert Menzies counters this argument from the immediate context with one drawn from the wider context: “If we place Matthew 8:17 in the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel, we can see its full significance. It is more than simply a description of Jesus’ earthly ministry in terms of healing; rather, it is Matthew’s summary of the significance of Jesus’ messianic mission, which culminates on the cross. . . . The salvation the Messiah-King brings includes physical wholeness; and healing now, as during the ministry of Jesus, is a testimony to this fact.”[6] The question then is, in which context should we read Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah? Does the second text (1 Peter 2:24) help answer this question?

Arrington thinks it does. He sees 1 Peter 2:24 as providing enough evidence to make the connection between healing and the cross, and thus between Matthew’s quote of Isaiah and healing in the atonement. Here Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). According to Arrington the first half of the verse refers to “our spiritual deliverance,” while the second half ties “physical healing to the death of Christ.”[7] In the Gospels and Acts, Arrington writes that often “this word heal (iaomai) has the meaning of physical healing, but it is also used in a spiritual sense (Matt. 13:15). So it is clear in the New Testament that the salvation brought by Jesus includes healing for the body.”[8] Yet, the fact that a word can have such a meaning elsewhere does not mean that this is how Peter is using the word in context here.

Peter does not mention sickness or healing anywhere else in this letter. So, if this half verse is about divine healing, it is a sudden interruption in a context where that is not an issue under discussion. In fact, Peter’s theme in this letter is that believers will face suffering in this life. Peter is encouraging his readers to persevere through suffering; a sudden interruption to promise healing would go against the whole tenor of the letter. However, if the “healing” is the spiritual healing of salvation (which, as Arrington admits, is a New Testament use of the word), then this makes complete sense in context. There is nothing in the context to suggest that Peter is changing subjects to write about physical healing, which is otherwise entirely absent from his letter. Therefore, there is no sufficient reason to read this verse as teaching healing in the atonement. “The passage is, in fact,” as Petts puts it, “an encouragement to Christians to endure suffering, not a means of escape from it.”[9] 

Thus, 1 Peter 2:24 does not teach healing in the atonement. While that does not rule out the possibility of such a reading of Matthew 8:17, a single disputed proof text does not seem to give much support for a doctrine.

Is There a Wider Biblical/Theological Basis for Teaching Healing in the Atonement?

However, there is potentially a wider theological basis in Scripture. Pavel Hejzlar argues, “The healing in the atonement doctrine . . . is not without merit. Its theological strength consists in giving the highest credit to Christ’s sacrifice by viewing it as the ultimate answer to all human ills. Where else should a Christian look for any aspect of salvation than to Calvary? The question is, however, when the benefits of the atonement can be expected in their fullness, whether in this life or the next.”[10] Likewise, William and Robert Menzies argue that “if we are to do justice to the full breadth of the biblical witness, we must broaden our view and ask: What is the full significance of Christ’s death on the cross?”[11]

Ultimately, all the benefits of salvation flow from the cross of Christ. As Jeremy Treat argues, “The establishment of [Christ’s] kingdom is dependent on the defeat of evil, forgiveness of sin, and a new exodus,” each of which “is accomplished primarily through Christ’s death on the cross.”[12] Christ’s atoning death on the cross is “central, in that it is the climactic turning point from ‘the present evil age’ to ‘the age to come.’”[13] Thus, the powers of the age to come flow to us only through the cross of Christ. As we have seen in the last chapter, healing in this present age is a foretaste of the ultimate healing in the age to come. Therefore, just as we depend wholly on Jesus and his atoning death for us in order to receive the final redemption of our bodies on the last day when he will raise us incorruptible, so too the foretastes of that healing that we may receive now must depend entirely upon Jesus and his atoning work. As Menzies and Menzies put it, “Physical healing, like all the benefits of salvation, flows from the cross.”[14] Therefore, “healing, as every good gift from God, is mediated to us by virtue of Christ’s work on the cross.”[15]


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[1] WAGSF, 5.

[2] Church of God, “Declaration of Faith,” 11.

[3] French Arrington, Christian Doctrine: A Pentecostal Perspective (Cleveland, TN: Pathway, 1993), 2:258–59. The insertion of the Greek terms and alternate translations are Arrington’s.

[4] L. W. F. Woodford, Divine Healing and the Atonement: A Restatement (London: Victoria Institute, 1956), 58; cf. Keith Warrington, Healing and Suffering: Biblical and Pastoral Reflections (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2005), 60.

[5] David Petts, Just a Taste of Heaven: A Biblical and Balanced Approach to God’s Healing Power (Mattersey: Mattersey Hall, 2006), 127.

[6] William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 167.

[7] Arrington, Christian Doctrine, 2:259.

[8] Arrington, Christian Doctrine, 2:259.

[9] Petts, Just a Taste, 133.

[10] Pavel Hejzlar, Two Paradigms for Divine Healing: Fred F. Bosworth, Kenneth.Hagin, Agnes Sandford, and Francis MacNutt in Dialogue (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 81

[11] Menzies and Menzies, Spirit and Power, 162.

[12] Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 130.

[13] Treat, Crucified King, 137.

[14] Menzies and Menzies, Spirit and Power, 162.

[15] Menzies and Menzies, Spirit and Power, 167.

This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Pentecostalism by Jonathan Black. This title is set to be released on June 18, 2024. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

How to understand the beliefs and practices of Pentecostalism

At just over a century old, the Pentecostal Movement accounts for over 500 million believers worldwide and continues to grow. Still, confusion abounds over what Pentecostals believe and teach about the Holy Spirit, worship, salvation, healing, and much more.

In 40 Questions About Pentecostalism, Jonathan Black provides an accessible overview of the historical, theological, biblical, and experiential factors that make Pentecostalism a vibrant and worldwide Christian movement. He answers questions such as these:

    • How did Pentecostalism begin?
    • How are Charismatics different from Pentecostals?
    • Do Pentecostals affirm the prosperity gospel?
    • What is the Pentecostal doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
    • What do Pentecostals believe about healing?
    • What ministries has Christ placed in his church according to Pentecostal theology?
    • What is “speaking in tongues”?

As with all the 40 Questions books, the question-and answer format offers readers targeted guidance on the questions that matter most to them, and controversial issues are addressed with robust scholarship and in a spirit of grace.


About Author

Jonathan Black (PhD, University of Chester) is a minister in the Apostolic Church and formerly taught theology at Continental Theological Seminary (Belgium) and Regents Theological College (UK). He also served as codirector of the Institute for Pentecostal Theology. His previous books include Apostolic Theology and The Lord's Supper.

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