There is a crucial word in verse 14 which has for the most part escaped the attention of the Church. In that verse we are not told to pray “for”, but rather to pray “over” the sick believer. The preposition “over” which follows the verb “pray” in this verse is ἐπί which is pronounced “epi.”
“Pray over him” in the Greek is “Προσευξασθωσαν ἐπί αυτον”.
According to Strong’s Greek Lexicon, the preposition ἐπί involves superimposition (of time, place, order, etc.); of direction when the object of the preposition is in the accusative case. Then the meaning will be “over, upon, towards,” etc. In James 5:14 the object of the preposition ἐπί is “αυτον” which is indeed in the accusative case. Thus we have the translation “pray over.”
The word ἐπί is almost always found to describe the relative physical position between two objects. It can be translated also as “on” or “upon”, as in the phrase to “lay hands on or uponthe sick.” This is the phrase which also appears in the passage from Mark 16:18: “…they will place their hands on (or over) sick people, and they will get well.”
What is praying over the sick?
Is it possible therefore that praying over the sick as James meant was exactly what Jesus taught, which was laying hands over the sick? It is not only possible, it is probable. Why should James teach something entirely new and not consistent with what Jesus taught?
As Luke 9 teaches us, Jesus also gave a measure of authority over disease and demons to his disciples. They were to use or exercise this authority in the same way that he did. And so when we examine the ministry of Peter and Paul in Acts, we often see a similar pattern. They also spoke with authority over the infirm in Jesus’ name when giving commands for them to be healed or set free. They also laid hands over the infirm on some occasions or made physical contact with them in some way.
When we understand what Jesus taught his disciples, we will understand what James taught about ministering to the sick in his epistle.
James 5:15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.
And what is “faith”?
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Yes, we have seen countless infirm believers healed in Jesus’ name when disciples pray over them as Jesus taught and commanded his disciples in the gospels. When disciples simply pray for them according to tradition, few people are miraculously healed.
We emphasize that we are categorically not teaching that the Church should stop praying for the sick as is done traditionally today. But we hope to encourage believers to learn also to pray “over” the sick as Jesus and the early disciples did.