Does the Bible mention asking for prayer cloths and being anointed with oil?
The Anointing of the Priests
The use of oil in worship and other practices is found throughout the Old Testament with Israel, including when Israel’s first priest Aaron, as well as his sons, were anointed with oil. This consecrated them for service as priests for God, as it says in Exodus 30:30-32 “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you,” however this came with a serious warning. The oil was not to “be poured on the body of an ordinary person” because that office was a holy office before the Lord. To be consecrated means to be declared sacred or set apart for holy use. A consecrated person has dedicated their life to the service of God. God still anoints people, but it is not with oil but by His Spirt, and that makes them no ordinary person because they are set apart or sanctified, meaning, they’re set apart by God for holy use; for His use. At the point when the Holy Spirit brings them to repentance and they trust in Christ, they become the children of God through faith in Christ (Gal 3:26).
The Kings in the Old Testament were always anointed with oil. This was God’s way of designating His chosen servant. Psalm 89:19b-21 says; “I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David, my servant with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.” Was this “holy oil” symbolic of the Holy Spirit? It may be since the only way we can be made holy is to be designated and declared holy by God. The Apostle Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1st Pet 2:9), but we know that our being deemed righteous by God is also an act of God as we read in 2nd Corinthians 5:21 where the Apostle Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
To begin with, there is no special power of God in the cloth any more than there was in the oil in which the ancients of Israel were anointed. It was the Spirit of God that makes us holy, and I think explains why the Spirit’s name is the Holy Spirit; He lives to make us holy, because there is none good but God (Mark 10:18; Rom 3:10-12), but what about prayer cloths? These are still being used today in many parts of the world, including here in America. They practice this from a passage they read in the Bible where it says, “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12), however this is not prescriptive but descriptive. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to seek or send prayer cloths to the sick, and there is nothing said in the Book of Acts or in all of Scripture where we’re told to send or ask for prayer cloths. We are told we must ask for prayer when we’re sick (James 5:13-14), but Acts 19:11-12 has nothing to do with prayer cloths at all; it has everything to do with God’s extraordinary power being displayed, so I fail to see the biblical connection between this passage and sending prayer cloths. It says “God was doing extraordinary miracles” but it was “by the hands of Paul” and not Paul himself, so even though they “carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” (Acts 5:15), it was God’s power and not theirs, and God’s power is certainly not in oil or in cloth. Bu the time Paul writes the Book of Philippians, it seems he was no longer able to heal, even his co-workers. Timothy was suffering stomach problems and frequent infirmities (1st Tim. 5:23), and “Epaphroditus was sick to the point of death” (Phil 2:27). Paul never offers to send a prayer cloth or a bottle of anointing oil for either of Timothy or Epaphroditus. Timothy was simply encouraged to “use a little wine for his stomach and frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). I can see using oil to anoint the sick because James writes; “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14), but the oil is symbolic and has no special power.
I had a lady years ago come to me and ask me to anoint her house with oil and another lady ask that the whole church building needs anointing with oil, but I can’t remember a building or house ever being anointed with oil in the Bible or where God commands us to do these things. Besides, anointing with oil is prescribed for the living, not inanimate objects. There is no power in the oil itself. It is a symbol of God’s presence, either by the Holy Spirit or by choosing someone for a specific office or ministry, and prayer cloths are purely human tradition and were not part of the practices of the primitive church of the first century. They depended on prayer, studying the apostle’s doctrine, fellowshipping, sharing their goods (Acts 2:42-46), and as a result, God increased the number of those being saved (Acts 2:47). When we begin to focus on things rather than a relationship with God, these things may become empty rituals that mean nothing to God, and I’m sure it’s not pleasing to Him. Jesus said we must worship God in both spirit and in truth (John 4:24). If you don’t have both the Holy Spirit and the truth, which is found in the Word of God, you cannot have true worship that is acceptable to God, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been anointed with oil or you’re lying in a pile of prayer cloths.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.