In the Old Testament olive oil was blended with spices to create an ‘anointing oil’. This was used for anointing all the items that were to be used in the worship of God, including the priests themselves. It signified a ceremonial cleansing and consecration to God. The anointing with oil marked an item, or a person, as set aside for God’s service. In the New Testament, and under the new covenant, we receive the new anointing of the Holy Spirit. Is there a need, or a requirement, for Christians to continue using anointing oil today?
What is Anointing Oil used For?
Old Testament Anointing Oil
In the Tabernacle, and later Temple, a specific fragrant blend of spices and olive oil were blended to make a sacred anointing oil. This is described in Exodus chapter thirty, using liquid myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant calamus, cassia and olive oil. This was the work of a perfumer, to get the blend and fragrance right. Everything that was to be used in the worship of God was anointed with this oil. In consecrating the items in this way, they became most holy. This was a requirement for worship – to come before God with awe and reverence, to honour His name.
Say to the Israelites, “This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come.Exodus 30:31
Just as the material items were anointed, the priests also were to be anointed with the sacred oil. They were chosen to serve. The sacred anointing oil was not to be used on anything or anyone else, only for those items and people set apart for God’s service. The priest’s priority was God’s service, and that required their total commitment, over and above everything else.
Later, when Israel requested a king to rule over them – the man selected was anointed in front of the people. As the future king was chosen by God, the prophet, the man of God, would anoint with oil in front of witnesses. This confirmed that the king was chosen by God and set apart for the task of ruling and leading His people.
For example, king David was anointed three times. First by the prophet Samuel in front of his family. Then, some years later, by the men of his tribe as they declared him king of Judah. And finally, by the elders of Israel as he was made king over the whole nation.
New Testament Holy Spirit Anointing
In the Old Testament Scriptures, the items, people, priests, and kings, specifically chosen to serve God were anointed with oil as a symbol of their consecration. They were set apart for God’s service and once ‘anointed’ they were regarded as ‘holy’ in awe and reverence of God.
The New Testament brought a new covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. As followers of Jesus, we are chosen people, set apart for God’s service. Jesus promised His disciples that after His death and resurrection, He would not leave them alone, He would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was already with them, He would then be in them – with an infilling on the Day of Pentecost.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.2 Corinthians 1:21-22
God’s Special Possession
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.1 Peter 2:9
We are now chosen and anointed by God to serve as priests, bringing our spiritual offerings to Him. Through Jesus our praise, worship, prayer, gifts, and service, are all made acceptable. We are now sons and daughters of God, we have a position, and are granted authority in Jesus’ name.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.Revelation 1:5b-6
Why do we Anoint with Oil?
Now under the new covenant Scripture teaches we are anointed by the Holy Spirit, so why would we use anointing oil? There is a growing trend, among Christians, to continue to ‘anoint with oil’ as a symbolic gesture.
In the New Testament anointing with oil is mentioned twice. Early in Jesus’ ministry, He started commissioning His disciples and sending them out in pairs, to preach a message of repentance and to heal the sick. In Mark’s gospel two verses describe the mission, that they preached repentance, drove out demons, anointed those who were ill with oil, and healed the sick. The second occasion is in the book of James, there again anointing oil is mentioned in relation to prayer for healing.
Anointing with Oil for Healing
Scripture comes in two forms descriptive, describing what happened, or prescriptive, with instructions for us to follow. In the book of James, there is a prescriptive passage for prayer for those who are seriously ill.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.James 5:14-15a
Clear direction is provided in Scripture to pray for those who are sick. We live in a broken and fallen world and are subject to the time that we are living in, which may result in illness. Not all physical sickness is healed, but we are still called to pray and to trust God with the outcome. The apostle Paul on his first missionary trip, preached in Galatia, because of illness. God is able to redeem, every situation now and we have a hope for the future. One day we will all be healed….
James prescribes praying for each other, and for the church leadership to pray for those who are sick, anointing them with oil. But he makes it clear, that it is the prayer offered in faith and the Lord who heals. Some think that the mention of anointing with oil, in Mark’s gospel and the book of James, is for the medicinal effect of the oil. It was a common practice in the ancient world to treat wounds and skin conditions with oil, for its cleansing, soothing, and healing properties.
Others believe that the anointing with oil is used as a solemn symbolic gesture, to affirm our position as chosen, consecrated, and precious to God. A gesture that builds and encourages faith. As we publicly ask for prayer, and submit to the elders of the church, we are declaring our need in front of witnesses, and our dependence on God .
Anointing with Oil for Spiritual Warfare
The use of anointing oil in ‘spiritual warfare’ is not a prescribed practice in Scripture. But the original use of marking items as consecrated to God, was a spiritual declaration of intent. It is still used by many as an aid, speaking into the spiritual realm and affirming who we are in Christ Jesus, as priests in His kingdom. We are consecrated and set apart to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to the Lord – that is our true worship.
Anointing oil may still be used intentionally to set apart items, or a place, as consecrated for God’s purpose. It may be used to anoint and bless a person, setting apart their plans and purposes for God’s service. The symbolism can be powerful to commit, or re-commit, to the Lord. For many people it is used as a declaration and still has a powerful significance.
Power of Anointing Oil
The use of anointing oil makes a spiritual declaration, although there is no power in the oil itself or the ritual used. The power that we rely and depend on comes from God alone, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Anointing with oil is an act of faith in the Lord Jesus who has become for us our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. And our righteousness is received through faith in Him alone.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.James 5:16b
The righteousness of Christ brings a spiritual authority. Scripture clearly teaches that we are in a spiritual battle, although we never engage the enemy on our own. We are called to take up a position, to take a stand, and allow the Lord to go before us. By bringing our prayers and requests to God, in line with His word and according to His will, we stand in faith. And we have an assurance that Jesus has already won the victory for us – there is nothing that is too difficult for God. We wait on the Lord, trusting in His faithfulness.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.1 Peter 3:12
It is good to remind ourselves of what Scripture says on any given topic. Whether we use anointing oil for our own prayer practices, is I feel a personal choice. There may be times when I would find it beneficial to anoint with oil, but I wouldn’t use it indiscriminately.
I come from a Pentecostal church background. At one time it was common practise to pray for the sick in our Sunday services. There would be a call to the front, and the elders would anoint the sick person with oil as they prayed. That generally does not happen anymore, the style of service has changed. We do of course continue to support each other in prayer but in different ways. That choice is mainly down to the leadership, and maybe changing expectations of the church congregation.
I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts. If you are willing to share, then drop a comment below.