Wilt Thou be Made Whole?

“Wilt Thou Be Made Whole?” Medicine and Healing in the Time of Jesus

Ann N. Madsen

Brigham Young University

Reprinted by permission from The Lord of the Gospels: The 1990 Sperry Symposium on the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 113—28.

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water . . . whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? . . . [he answered that he couldn’t get to the water.] Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked (John 5:2—9).

Sick people had flocked to the pool of Bethesda1 for centuries to be healed; it was known as a place for healing. Richard M. Mackowski, a scholar who has lived and taught extensively in Jerusalem, suggests that this pool may have been a sanctuary for the believers in Asklepios, the preeminent Greek god of medicine and healing since the days of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), ca. 175 to 164 B.C., who had, by royal decree, turned Jerusalem into a city of pagan altars and shrines.2 Augustus Caesar (27 B.C. to A.D. 14) was the first in a long line of Roman emperors to show a renewed interest in Askleplios.3 If the pool at Bethesda were, indeed, an Asklepieion, or a sanctuary to Asklepios, there would have been a statue of the god enshrined in a central area with adjacent porches open on all sides. The walls would have been lined with inscribed testimonials of past healings, and there would have been votive objects brought back to display, fulfilling vows made after healings had occurred.

In 1866, a broken marble foot was found in the debris near the pools while Bethesda was being excavated. The Greek inscription on the foot tells of a Roman lady who had visited the place and left a token of her visit to recall the healing of her own foot. Other such objects have also been unearthed there. Most have been dated to Hadrian’s reign, A.D. 117 to 138, about eighty-five years after Jesus would have been in Jerusalem.

Jesus visited Bethesda pool with the five porches or porticos. “Walking alongside one of these porticoes Jesus saw the paralytic and cured him, for he had come there to teach by example that he alone was the true source of life and the healer of the sick.”4 There were others who healed in this era. Who were the physicians in Jesus’ time? What was the environment into which the Great Physician came? What were the beliefs of the people about their health? What were their concepts of disease and its causes?

As I embarked on this study, I became aware that the layman’s understanding of his own body has changed amazingly little from 3000 B.C. Egypt to our own time. Scientifically, we know more about the mechanism of the body. The microscope and, more recently, the computer have enhanced our ability to see and compile data. Technology has made dramatic gains in diagnostic machines. X-rays, sonograms, and CAT scans allow physicians today to peer inside the human body without cutting it open. Giant pharmaceutical companies continue to discover new and more potent drugs that allay pain and kill the microorganisms that attack our bodies. Still, there is precious little that medical intervention can accomplish except to buy time to allow the miraculous human body to heal itself.5 I once heard heart surgeon Elder Russell M. Nelson exclaim over the paradox that our bodies have the power to heal themselves while at the same time they slowly wind down and die. The human body is indeed a miraculous machine.

President J. Reuben Clark described his own awe of the body in the following words: “The wonders of our majestic material universe, stretching out through space across billions of light years, with its billions of galaxies, seem to my own mind . . . no more wonderful . . . [than] the cellular (all but infinitely small) universes that build this body of ours—each organ and gland and circulatory system and bone and muscle and sinew and tendon a galaxy—all bound together in a most intimate relation that baffles the human mind to comprehend. To my own mind the majesty of the physical world is far overmatched by the yet unsolved miracles involved in the body and its operations.”6

Throughout the world’s history, people have shared this awe of their own bodies. They have sought to maintain health, but failing that, they have looked for ways to heal themselves of the illnesses to which all people fall prey. “Sicknesses emerge, proliferate, gain hold and then die out. There are both old and young diseases. Antiquity didn’t know all the diseases of modern times and similarly, not all diseases of antiquity—particularly epidemics—are extant today.”7 AIDS is an example of a new disease. This study will examine some of the medical practices inherited by those living at the time of Jesus, thus contributing to our understanding of the environment in which Jesus lived and ministered.

Egyptian Medicine

The earliest medical records known were written four thousand years ago in Egypt, before the time of Abraham. The physicians of Egypt were famous throughout the ancient world. Babylonian and Persian kings employed Egyptian physicians in their courts.8 But Egyptians had many misconceptions about the way the body functions.9 They believed that the main systems of the body all passed through the heart. Egyptian physicians attempted to cure both scientifically and through magic.10 Many extant medical papyri attempt to categorize diseases.11 The famous Ebers Papyrus is the longest and lists 877 prescriptions for combatting 250 illnesses.12 Another papyri contains a thorough manual of gynecology.13 The Egyptians learned the use of many herbs and fruits for drugs and “realized the importance of rest and care of the patient, as well as basic hygiene.”14 Alongside these scientific records is a large corpus of magical papyri that includes potions and spells.15

Beginning with these early Egyptian physicians and continuing to our own time I found that distinctions among the terms medicine, magic, miracles, and healing were blurred; often these words are used interchangeably. In this paper the following definitions will be used:

Healing: to restore or return to health or wholeness or “Well-being in every aspect of life.” Today we speak of healing as causing a physical body to be sound. Originally, health included the concept of well-being in every aspect of life. Perhaps there is a distinction between “cure” and “healing.” Michael Wilson suggests that cure means “a restoration to function in society” while healing involves “a restoration to purposeful living in society”—what we now call of “quality of life.”16

The three major modes of healing are as follows:

Medicine: man’s own efforts to restore health using the means at his disposal, including diet, rest, medicants and herbs, surgery, etc.

Miracle: God’s or gods’ intervention in restoring health

Magic: man’s efforts to harness supernatural powers involving soothsayers, astrologers, shaman—medicine men. Magic usually includes the use of amulets to prevent or heal illness or magic potions whose ingredients are chosen for superstitious rather than practical reasons.

Because we are considering Jesus as healer, our list must also include the delegated power of God, or priesthood, vouchsafed to chosen men to use God’s power to effect the wholeness of healing. Anciently, Jesus gave the Twelve and the Seventy the priesthood, as he has again in our own time.

Old Testament Medicine

The medical legacy that the Israelites of the Old Testament period bequeathed to their posterity living in Jesus’ time was largely composed of dietary laws and a tradition of healing. There are very few references to “physician” in the Old Testament (see Genesis 50:2; Job 13:4; Jeremiah 8:22). The Israelites looked to God as the great healer. The Law of Moses gave priests medical prerogatives to diagnose and pronounce a person healed. God also gave dietary laws, which we might call preventive medicine (cf. D&C 89). Diet has always been seen as a key to good health or the restoration of health. Old Testament diet recommendations and restrictions compare to those of Christ’s time, because the Jews still lived the Law of Moses, although perhaps the Jews had even stricter rabbinical prohibitions. “Like their neighbours, [the Hebrews’] staple diet was grain, vegetables and fruit and there was no restriction on these (Gen 1:29—30; 2:16). Meat was consumed rarely and restricted to that killed for the purpose with the life blood drained from it. Nutrition was generally adequate through a rich variety of easily obtainable foods: [specifically] barley and wheat, vegetables, fruits . . . , dairy products, figs, dates, and some meat, fish and fowl. The essential nutriments and energy intake calculated from the ancient documents compare well with modern records and the vitamin intake recommended by UNFAO today.”17 But since the people depended on local agriculture, drought, flood, or pestilence could cause famines, which were inevitably accompanied by sickness.

Although many diseases of today were unknown anciently, a few of today’s diseases have been identified from biblical accounts. “Scurvy [a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency that results in bleeding and weakness] was known in Egypt and Babylonia and Kinnier-Wilson identifies it with the ‘evil-smelling disease’ . . . described in the account of the siege of Jerusalem in 588/7 B.C. He also finds evidence for blindness following vitamin A deficiency.”18

Various herbs with healing properties are mentioned in the Old Testament. The best known is the “balm of Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22; see also Genesis 37:25; 43:11; Jeremiah 46:11; 51:8; Ezekiel 27:17; 47:12). In Isaiah 38:21 a “lump of figs” is laid upon Hezekiah’s boil, which heals him. The prescription comes from Isaiah (see also Revelation 22:2; Alma 46:40 for references to healing leaves, whose therapeutic effects were ascribed to God). The Israelites likely lived everyday life just as we do today, using what we would call folk remedies. “In matters of therapy the Hebrews did not differ substantially from their neighbours with whom, through local traditions, many common remedies were known.”19 “The therapeutic effect of music and of prayer were known [viz., Saul and David]. Moses’ prayer for Miriam’s recovery—’O God, heal her, please’—is the shortest recorded prayer in the Bible (Num. 12:13). Later Jews considered prayer for healing ‘to be efficacious if offered by the proper person at the proper time with proper intent under the proper circumstances’!”20

Thus we see that the healing legacy of the Old Testament Israelites centered on the concept of God as the great healer and provider of foods to nourish and herbs to soothe and heal. Any physician mentioned in the Old Testament is subordinate to God. As in every age, including our own, folk medicine was practiced, using whatever herbs or balms were available, much as today’s Jewish mothers prescribe and provide chicken soup!

Greek Medicine

During the last few centuries of the Old Testament period, Greek medicine revolutionized the world and set the stage for the New Testament era. Its influence is still felt today. The Greek Hippocrates (ca. 460—377 B.C.) is usually referred to as the father of medicine. Hippocrates founded a school of medicine that stressed the need for observation and experimentation.21 The collection of writings (much of which is available to us today) by Hippocrates and his fellow physicians contains detailed case reports of various diseases.22 Hippocrates and his followers originated a theory that was to persist in European medical circles until the eighteenth century—more than two thousand years. The human body, they taught, contained four humors, or fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. In a healthy body these were in perfect balance; too much or too little of any particular humor caused sickness.

One of Hippocrates’ prescriptions was bloodletting, performed with leeches or the process of cupping, whereby blood was extracted from a person to restore the sought-for balance. Leeches are used today in medicine but for a far different purpose. They enhance blood flow after plastic surgery.23

Hippocrates declared medicine to be a separate craft, whereas before it had been grouped with the common manual trades. His name is associated with the famous Hippocratic oath, which sets forth high principles of medical ethics. The Oath absolutely precludes abortion and any kind of euthanasia. Amazingly, nearly twenty-five hundred years later the debate over these issues continues. The Hippocratic school was limited because the physicians sought knowledge of the natural world philosophically—through logic and speculation—while lacking empirical data on which to base their hypotheses.

Early Medical Theories an Practitioners

Seven items summarize the ancient theories held by the common people to explain sickness, suffering, and pain. They will sound familiar. Sickness is caused by:

  1. A whim of God or the gods (Mesopotamians and early Egyptians 3000 B.C.).
  2. An imbalance in the body’s elements or “humors” (Greeks).
  3. The result of sin: evil caused illness—sin caused sickness (see the book of Job).
  4. Possession by demons.
  5. A curse, for which counter magic must be employed.
  6. A functional disorder of the body, which required careful diagnosis and a prescribed remedy.
  7. A poison, which had invaded the system and needed removal.

Several important historical figures practiced medicine. The following great physicians and medical writers lived before, during, or shortly after New Testament times. Noting them will give us the historical context in which to examine the window of time when Jesus healed.

Imhotep, the Egyptian, ca. 2650 B.C., vizier, architect of Step Pyramid.

Hippocrates, the Greek, ca. 460 B.C.

Celsus, the Roman, ca. 25 B.C. in Rome—died A.D. 37.

Galen, the Greek, who came to Rome, born ca. A.D. 130—died ca. A.D. 200.

In addition to these men, there have been gods to whom the people appealed for healing. Besides Jehovah, most pagan gods were approached to help heal, but a few emerged as “specialists” who were believed to have unique healing powers. Around these gods and goddesses cults arose and temples were built. Medical schools were established in connection with such temples in Cos (Hippocrates), Epidaurus, Pergamum (Galen), Corinth, and Alexandria. Some of these gods and goddesses in ancient Egypt were Imhotep and Isis (Isis was also borrowed later by the Greeks and Romans). The Greeks adopted Apollo, Hygieia, and Asklepios from Hippocrates’ time (460 B.C.) and thereafter. The farflung cult of Asklepios may well have included the shrine at Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic. The serpent symbol of Askleplos remains as the symbol used by physicians today. And, notably, it was a serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole eight centuries earlier. The Book of Mormon explains that the Israelites were not healed because they refused to look to that serpent.

Medicine Practiced in Christ’s Lifetime

Greek medicinal arts were the standard for professional practice at the time of Jesus. Greek medicine was introduced to the Romans in 293 B.C.24 There had been a terrible pestilence, and Roman envoys were sent to the Greek god, Asklepios, at his temple in Epidaurus. The priests of the temple directed the envoys to build a similar temple at Rome. To alleviate their plague, the priests even gave the Romans a sacred serpent to transfer sanctity to the new edifice built on an island in the Tiber River. Because the pestilence abated, the popularity of the new sanctuary was assured.

The prevailing view of medical practice at the time of Christ is described by Celsus, Pliny, and Galen—contemporaries, or near contemporaries, of Jesus.

Celsus, who was born about twenty years before Jesus and died three or four years after the Crucifixion, was an encyclopedist and collector of medical information, not a physician himself. His work, Di Medicina, was the second part of a six-part encyclopedia. (The other five subjects covered are agriculture, military art, rhetoric, philosophy, and jurisprudence.) Di Medicina follows three themes: How the healthy should act to maintain good health, description of diseases, and curing diseases. It is generally agreed that Celsus wrote during the reign of Tiberias—exactly during Jesus’ lifetime. Celsus describes the symptoms of many diseases of his time, including tuberculosis, dropsy, kidney stone disease, and bladder disorders. He also describes problems from pregnancy. His cures include bloodletting, purging, baths, heating, cooling, rubbing, rocking, vomiting, and sweating.25

Celsus often quotes an important Greek physician who came to Rome from Bithynia around 100 B.C. named Asclepiades. Pliny and Galen also wrote of him. He rejected the Hippocratic theory of the humors and with it the purgings and vomitings that were prescribed therefrom to dispose of offending materials. His cures were effected principally by diet, exercise, massage, and a bracing cold water cure. (This may explain why there were cold-water baths in Herod’s palaces.) He used few drugs with the exception of wine, which he considered the “aspinin” of his day, the universal remedy. Pliny reports that he was very popular (Pliny, xxvi 13).

Celsus agrees with Asclepiades about drugs. He categorizes diseases into those which can be helped through diet and those which require drugs. He presents a long list of drugs classified according to their uses. He describes many surgical procedures, but critics question how he obtained such knowledge, because he was not a physician himself. Nevertheless, surgeons give him high praise for his descriptions of the mechanical aspects of surgery.

Both Celsus and Pliny were wealthy landowners in Rome and near contemporaries in the first century after Christ. They came from the upper class and were well educated.26 Such men learned about medicine in order to treat their own slaves and families—likely in that order. Pliny’s counterpart to Celsus’ Di Medicina is his thirty-seven volume Natural History. Books twenty through twenty-seven are especially concerned with the uses of trees, plants, and flowers in medicine, but medical ideas are scattered throughout his entire work. His writings are as diffuse as Celsus’ work is precise. He quotes more than a hundred other authorities to buttress his ideas. Absurd theories and practices are found alongside sensible notions. For example:

The proper season to prepare elaterium [a powdered drug derived from cucumber seeds] is the autumn, and no drug keeps for a longer period. It begins to be potent when three years old . . . The older it is the better, and it has been known to keep, so Theophrastus tells us, for two hundred years, and its power to put out the flame of a lamp it retains right up to the fiftieth year. Indeed, the test of genuine elaterium is whether its application makes a flame flicker up and down before putting it out . . . The regular as purge or emetic is from half to one obolus [.66 grams], according to the idiosyncrasy of the patient, a larger dose being fatal . . . Mixed with honey or old olive oil it is used to cure quinsy and tracheal affection . . . A decoction of it in vinegar applied externally gives immediate relief to gout and to diseases of the joints . . . It is good for asthma and also for jaundice when injected in the nostrils. Smeared in the sunshine on the face, it removes freckles and spots.27

In addition to the humor theory, which persisted almost to our own time, some believed that too little or too much of one of the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) caused disease. In Roman times, there were those who worked their medicine by reasoned theory as had been done earlier, but that approach was more often combined with knowledge based on observation obtained through dissection. Repulsive as it is to us, vivisection (cutting open a living person or animal) was also allowed with a dual purpose: early physicians learned more about the human body while torturing criminals or prisoners of war.

Galen the Greek (130—200 A.D.) was born at Pergamum and lived in Rome a hundred years after Jesus. He was probably the most famous physician of antiquity. He claimed to return to the original truths of Hippocrates. His dogmatic attention to the “humor” theory has influenced and hindered the practice of medicine almost to the present day. Only within the past two hundred years have medical researchers dared to move away from the “humor” theory and discover more precisely how the body really works. In spite of that, though, he is recognized as one of the most accomplished and prolific scientific writers ever. It is estimated that his writings number five hundred volumes or more. “His great aim in medicine was to unite the conflicting sects and divergent streams of doctrine, and to frame a synthesis which should combine his own results with those of his predecessors. He succeeded so far that Greek medicine in Galen reached its highest point.”28

A person who lived in the time of Jesus and became sick had at least five options in seeking a cure.

1. He would probably have begun with current folk medicine. Through the ages man has discovered and passed along remedies which work—hot lemonade, hot bath, bed rest. We still say, “Feed a fever, starve a cold.” Most families have their favorite home remedies.

2. If he had the means, he could go to a physician. There would have been two varieties—what we would call the family practitioner, and the surgeon. “The physician was often considered a manual worker. The word for manual work is ‘ummanut which can mean manual work, a profession or a skill. An ‘umman(a) indicates a labourer, an artist, a leech, a surgeon, a bath attendant, a circumciser. So the medical profession [was] considered along with trades. According to the Talmud there were doctors in every city and in every large place . . . Josephus received medical care after a fall from his horse in Capernaum.”29

Roman generals took Greek physicians on their campaigns. Troops stationed in Rome had four physicians to each cohort. The legions also had physicians assigned to them, but the number is uncertain. This would mean that in Palestine, the Roman troops likely had physicians in their organization. “All military medical officers were Roman citizens and had the rank of principales with immunity from civic duties . . . [Eye] surgery was an important part of military medicine, since the seals of Roman oculists, attached to boxes of ointment . . . have often been found . . . in connexion with military camps.”30

There was also the temple doctor. His specific duty was to minister to the priests when they hurt themselves in performing their duties or when they fell ill. The priests were required to go barefoot on the stones in the temple complex both summer and winter and so were often ill. “Even more injurious to their health was their diet, which had a high meat content with only water to drink, as wine was forbidden to them.”31 The high meat content of their diet, of course, came from parts of the sacrificial animals they were given to eat. There are records of prescriptions for “the beneficial effect of the waters of the Gihon which the priests drank to counteract their rich meat diet.”32

3. He could go to a cultic healing place—temples of such healing gods as Asklepios or Isis—and seek a miraculous healing. He might resort to going there after the physician had failed to help. It might even be on his recommendation. In an Asklepieion, incubation, the temple sleep, was a primary treatment. There were places to lie down, because sleeping in these environs was thought to be therapeutic. Often the cure came to the person himself in a dream. Many votive offerings (representing healed parts) would be displayed as well as inscriptions thanking the god and the priests for various healings. Abundant water seemed to be a requirement. Again, the Pool of Bethesda may fit this category.

4. He might secretly go to a magician. There he would be treated with incantations, secret words, and secret herbs or other items to counteract the demons causing his illness. He might be given an amulet to ward off further disease or combat the present malady.

5. He might seek out a miracle-worker, who worked publicly to alleviate sickness. Miracle-workers gathered followers around them. They founded movements or “schools.” The much-cited Apollonius of Tyana is a typical example. We learn of Apollonius, a contemporary of Jesus, from Philastratus’ biography, written a century later. He is presented as a man of great wisdom, presumably a result of the presence of [the god] Apollo within him. According to Philastratus, he was always careful to explain that his cures were the result of natural therapy, although many stories of his healing skills sound like magic. Since magicians charged a fee for their services, Philastratus is quick to point out that Apollonius performed without a fee. His success “is the direct result of his special knowledge of the natural world and of his closeness to the gods. It is this divine wisdom which enables him to expel demons and effect cures.”33

If our afflicted person living in the time of Jesus were a Jew, he would be torn between the options. Because the Israelite faith believed that sickness and healing were the work of God, Jehovah had a healing monopoly.34 Of course, prayer and medicine could be combined effectively, just as in our day.

Jesus as a Healer

Now let us look to the Savior and how he dealt with the common event of sickness. In teaching the New Testament for the past few years, I have been struck over and over again with the image of Jesus Christ as the healer or Great Physician. Of the thirty-six miracles mentioned in the gospels, twenty-seven are classified as healings. People flocked to him “to be healed.” That could not have been unplanned. He came to reveal his Father in both word and action. The Old Testament God was the great Healer, and Jesus was the God of the Old Testament.

The record doesn’t tell us how much Jesus knew of medical practices and physicians of his day. But we do know that he used the term “physician” twice, once when he said, “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23), and again, “They that be whole need not a physician” (Matthew 9:12). The woman with the issue of blood who touched the hem of his garment is described as having “spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any” (Luke 8:43). The only other reference to a physician is Paul’s reference to “Luke, the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Some scholars have studied Luke, trying to isolate medical references to validate the assertion that he was a physician.

We have no record of Christ’s having been sick, but Alma tells us: “He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people . . . that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11—12).

Healing was itself one of the greatest lessons Jesus sought to teach. His parable of the good Samaritan describes a gentle man who gave first aid—a healer. No one was ever more long-suffering than Jesus nor more patient beyond every frustration. He healed men, women, and children, bond and free, Roman and Samaritan, as well as Israelites, “the chosen people.” He was, truly, no respecter of persons.

His healings suggest that there is a connection between sickness and sin. Sin always brings suffering eventually, but suffering is not always the result of sin. That is the lesson of Job as well as of the man born blind. One is certainly an apt metaphor for the other.

Jesus used a variety of methods in healing. He healed:

  1. By touch—taking the hand, touching the eyes or injured area sometimes with a medicant (saliva was considered a medicant in his time).
  2. By word—without touch, sometimes over great distances.
  3. By sending others to whom he gave the power to heal and bless.

On occasion he simply said, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Forgiveness works as a cure in our lives because guilt may cause or perpetuate illness.35 Repentance is a healing process. Wholeness is the goal. Un-wholeness, un-health, or disease requires healing. As Jesus said, “They that be whole need not a physician” (Matthew 9:12).

After Jesus had healed a leper, he sent him to the priest to complete the requirements for ritual cleanliness in the Law of Moses. Anyone touching a leper would be defiled, for lepers were considered unclean. In order for the leper to be readmitted to the congregation, he must be pronounced clean. That was not considered a cure for the disease but a problem of ritual impurity. The priest’s final cleansing word (see Leviticus 14:2—9) was required to allow the already-healed to return to society, no longer in a position to defile those around him.36

Today leprosy refers to a particular disease, but in Christ’s time the term likely applied to many skin disorders. True leprosy “is a chronic disease characterized by widespread defined skin swellings, ulcerated destruction of the extremities, and facial disfigurement. It is incurable in its later stages and contagious. Leprosy in the New Testament was an obvious and physical blemish in the skin of human beings; its disappearance was to be noted by patient, priest and ordinary people. It does not affect cloth or leather or the walls of houses.”37

Another disease known to us which Jesus healed was epilepsy. Long before Jesus’ time, “the Egyptians and Babylonians certainly knew of epilepsy, the latter described the symptoms as ‘falls with eyes wide open, head turned to the right (or left), clenched fist, averted eyes, an epileptic cry, foaming at the mouth.'”38 Although epilepsy is never named in the New Testament, scholars agree that the boy whose symptoms are described in Mark 9:14—29 may have been suffering from this disease for which modern medicine still has no cure. Jesus’ instant and final cure of the boy is thus particularly striking in medical terms.

The Savior also succored in patience and love while those around him overcame their sins and sicknesses (see Mosiah 18:8—9). Like the Lord, we must be willing to contribute patiently to the overcoming of infirmities in ourselves and others. That is the true healing process. We can save each other. We can be “Savior/healers on Mount Zion” in this way as well as kneeling in temples on behalf of our dead.

Jesus healed as the response of a loving God. His mission required it. He delegated priesthood power to exemplify the way (D&C 121:41—46), but he fulfilled his own admonition to “lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5; see also Isaiah 35:3; Hebrews 12:12). And we must as well.

As Dennis Rasmussen has written: “To hallow my life he taught me to endure sorrow rather than cause it, to restrain anger rather than heed it, to bear injustice rather than inflict it. ‘Resist not evil’ he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:39.) Evil multiplies by the response it seeks to provoke, and when I return evil for evil, I engender corruption myself. The chain of evil is broken for good when a pure and loving heart absorbs a hurt and forbears to hurt in return. The forgiveness of Christ bears no grudge. The love of Christ allows no offense to endure. The compassion of Christ embraces all things and draws them toward himself. Deep within every child of God the Light of Christ resides, guiding, comforting, purifying the heart that turns to him.”39

Even as we seek to heal others we, ourselves need the ultimate healing of the Master. His atonement can remedy our entire fallen state.

People have sought to heal themselves through medicine since the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They have met with mixed success because of their lack of knowledge of the physical body. Yet Jesus, through his power and their faith, was able to miraculously heal those he met.

Jesus asked the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, “Wilt thou be made whole?” and then challenged, “Rise and walk!” We, with the lame man, would rise. We and all mankind declare in honesty, “We are not whole, but we wish to be,” just as the leper who pleaded with Jesus, “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean,” we long for that gracious reply, “I will; Be thou clean” (Matthew 8:2—3).


1.   May mean “House of mercy.”

2.   Richard M. Mackowski, Jerusalem: City of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), p. 82.

3.   Ralph Jackson, Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), p. 149.

4.   Mackowski, Jerusalem: City of Jesus, p. 83.

5.   See Russell M. Nelson, “The Magnificence of Man” BYU Fireside, 29 Mar. 1987, and J. Reuben Clark, Jr., “Man, God’s Greatest Miracle,” J. Reuben Clark: Selected Papers, vol. 3, ed. David H. Yam, Jr. (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1984), p. 115.

6.   Clark, “Man, God’s Greatest Miracle,” Selected Papers, vol. 3, p. 115.

7.   Klaus Seybold and Ulrich B, Mueller, Sickness and Healing (Nashville, Tenn,: Abingdon, 1978), p. 10.

8.   One of the earliest and most revered among them was the vizier, Imhotep who was also the famous architect who supervised the building of the first pyramid at Sakkara, the Step Pyramid, which he built for Zoser in about 2700 B.C.

9.   Miriam Stead, Egyptian Life (London: British Museum Publications, 1986), p. 70.

10.   J. E. Manchip White, Ancient Egypt: Its Culture and History (New York: Dover Publications, 1970), p. 105. “If the trouble was external the patient stood a fair chance of recovery. Breaks and fractures were cleverly set. The practice of amputation and the use of splints, bandages and compresses were well developed. Internal disorders were an entirely different matter. Here the physician was reduced to reciting spells and prescribing such potions as woman’s milk with oil and salt or goat’s milk with honey. It was thought that life depended on a series of vessels which started from the heart. In these vessels ran air, water, blood, semen, urine and feces.”

11.   Ibid., pp. 104—6. They compare to many modern procedures, examinations, treatments, and prognoses. Most of these date to the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1900 B.C. near Abraham’s time) but claim to be copies of works written in the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700 B.C.) often credited to Imhotep.

12.   Seybold and Mueller, Sickness and Healing, p. 33. It describes the illnesses and the amount and method of administration of the drugs to treat each one. Freely interspersed among the prescriptions are magical spells and formulae. Another papyrus details treatment of wounds and fractures.

13.   White, Ancient Egypt, p. 106. “This branch of medicine was particularly well advanced, for there was ample scope for study in a country where a woman bore her first child at the age of twelve and seldom produced less than six or seven all told.”

14.   Stead, Egyptian Life, pp. 69—70.

15.   The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, ed. Hans Dieter Betz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. xli.

16.   Michael Wilson, The Church Is Healing (London: SCM Press, 1966), p. 18.

17.   Medicine and the Bible, ed. Bernard Palmer (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1986), pp. 37—38. See also Fred Rosner, M.D., Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1977).

18.   Palmer, Medicine and the Bible, p. 38.

19.   Ibid. “These included washings, ointments and herbal remedies. The Egyptians listed more than five hundred, mostly made from vegetable products, compounded from mineral drugs or from the products of thirty different animals. There, as in Palestine and Babylonia, some remedies were prepared by perfumers working either in a temple or a private establishment.”

20.   Ibid.

21.   Howard Clark Kee, Medicine, Miracle, and Magic in New Testament Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 29. “The aim was to discern through practical experience how the various parts of the body functioned, in order to assist the natural curative forces of the body itself.”

22.   An illness was diagnosed according to its symptoms. Diagnoses combined philisophical theories with practical observation. Treatment often consisted in changes in the patient’s diet, environment, or hygienic habits. Hippocrates rejected religion and magic in the treatment of disease, teaching instead that natural means could be employed to fight disease.

23.   Richard E. Hayden, John G. Phillips, and Patrick W. McLear, “Leeches: Objective Monitoring of Altered Perfusion in Congested Flaps,” Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, vol. 114, Dec. 1988.

24.   A Companion to Latin Studies, ed. Sir John Edwin Sandys (New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1968), p. 716.

25.   Kee, Medicine, Miracle and Magic, pp. 36—37.

26.   Jackson, Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire, pp. 9—10,

27.   Pliny, Natural History in Ten Volumes, Volume VI Libri XX—XXIII, trans. W. H. S. Jones (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 5—9.

28.   Sandys, A Companion to Latin Studies, p. 723. See also Rudolph S. Siegel, Galen’s System of Physiology and Medicine (Basel: S. Karger, 1968).

29.   Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, trans. F. H. and C. H. Cave (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), pp. 17—18; see footnote.

30.   Sandys, A Companion to Latin Studies, p. 727.

31.   Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, p. 26. See also F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1969).

32.   Ibid, p. 106.

33.   Kee, Medicine, Miracle and Magic, p. 86.

34.   Asklepios and Isis were not thought to be the exclusive purveyors of healing.

35.   N. Lee Smith, “Healing As the Master Healed,” The Journal of Collegium Aesculapium, Winter, 1988, pp. 17—27

36.   Kee, Medicine, Miracle and Magic, pp. 10—11.

37.   Palmer, Medicine and the Bible, pp. 116—18.

38.   Ibid., pp. 27, 71, 168. Old Testament examples: “The Midianite, Balaam who describes himself as ‘one who fell down with his eyes open’ (Numbers 24:4) and Saul, who ‘fell down every day and every night’ (1 Samuel 19:24).”

39.   Dennis Rasmussen, The Lord’s Question (Provo, Utah: Keter Foundation, 1985), pp. 63—64.