Does the Gospel give the believer title to good health on account of healing being part of the vicarious work of Christ?
Three Scriptures are commonly misused in support of this false doctrine: 1 Pet. 2: 24, Mark 2: 5-12 and Matt. 8: 17.
1 Pet. 2: 24 speaking of Christ, reads: “who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, in order that, being dead to sins, we may live to righteousness: by whose stripes ye have been healed”. Now the language here is either literal or figurative. If literal, then not only must the healing be physical, but the stripes that brought about that healing must be physical as well. “Stripes” refers to the marks left after scourging, and the Lord was only once literally scourged (John 19: 1)––by the Romans. Was that scourging vicarious? Of course not! Peter’s language is thus figurative––as apparent from the explanation of v24 given in v25: “For ye were going astray as sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls”. Peter has soul-sickness, not bodily healing in view. This is born out by an examination of the passage in Isaiah on which 1 Pet. 2: 24 is based.
Peter wrote to Jewish believers (see 1 Pet. 1: 1), and his quotation from Is. 53: 5 refers strictly to that nation (see Is. 1: 1). Isaiah likens the national state of “Israel ... my people” to the physical state of a man whose “ whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in him; wounds, and weals, and open sores: they have not been dressed, nor bound up, nor mollified with oil” (Is. 1: 3, 5, 6). All this was the result of God’s governmental judgement: “Why should ye be smitten any more?” (v5). Clearly, what Peter quotes from Isaiah is figurative in nature. Isaiah also speaks of both smiting and healing for Israel in Is. 30: 26; 57: 17–19, where again the language is plainly figurative. In Is. 10: 26 the figure of the scourging rod is used to signify God’s judgement. It is thus obvious that both Isaiah 53: 5 and 1 Pet. 2: 24, 25 refer to spiritual healing, not physical healing. Peter is speaking of “souls” not “bodies”, and “sins” not “infirmities”. Christ bore the rod of God’s judgement against sin at Calvary so that we might be made spiritually whole.
In Mark 2 the Lord couples the forgiveness of sins with physical healing. Why was this? When He said “Child, thy sins are forgiven [thee]” (v 5), the scribes presumed His words were blasphemous since they held (correctly) that God alone could forgive sins. However, they should have also known that the Messiah would be one “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases” (Ps. 103: 3). He who healed their physical diseases (the effects of sin) would be the selfsame one who, on account of His sacrificial death, could forgive sins (the cause of those diseases). Hence the Lord makes an identity between cause and effect in Himself by saying “But that ye may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins…” (Mark 2: 10). Thus if the man was not healed, the Lord’s claim to forgive sins would be false, but if he was healed, then the Lord could forgive sins, and must be the Messiah promised by Ps. 103.
Finally, Matt. 8: 17 where it is said that the Lord “took our infirmities and bore our diseases”. Is this part of what is called ‘the atonement’? No. When the Lord became the sin–bearer he “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2: 24) meaning that he bore the penalty due to those sins. Now such was the identity between the sinless sin–bearer and the sin that it says “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5: 21). Thus if in bearing my sins the Saviour be made sin, then if He was also to bear vicariously my diseases, He must also be made sick. Was Christ lame, deaf or blind on the cross? What He bore in my place were sins, not sicknesses.
Matt. 8: 17 also adds “so that that should be fulfilled which was spoken through Esaias the prophet”. In Matt. 1: 22 the same prophet (Isaiah) is quoted in order to show that the prediction of a virgin birth was fulfilled in Christ, and almost identical words are used: “that might be fulfilled which was spoken by [the] Lord, through the prophet”. There never will be another virgin birth––it was fully satisfied in Christ’s birth. Similarly Is. 53: 4 was fulfilled by the healing of the sick by the Lord in Matt. 8: 16. It was fulfilled then––not at the cross. Hence His bearing of diseases was not vicarious. What verse 17 refers to is His bearing in His spirit the awful effects of sin (infirmities and diseases). The cause of those effects––our sins––He would later bear in His body at Calvary. Incidentally, the one epistle (1 Cor.) that speaks of the gift of healing is the same epistle that gives the essential details of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15)––and healing is not mentioned.