Restoration and Church History

“Healing,” Church History Topics



During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ healed the sick and afflicted. He gave His disciples power and authority to heal and taught that the gift of healing is one of the “signs [that] shall follow them that believe.”1 Modern revelation to Joseph Smith reaffirmed these principles and identified both the “faith to be healed” and the “faith to heal” as gifts of the Spirit.2

Jesus Christ. Miracles

During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ healed the sick and afflicted.

History of Healing Practices

Early Latter-day Saints exercised the spiritual gift of healing in two overlapping ways. First, they followed counsel given in the New Testament and in revelations received by Joseph Smith that instructed them to call on “the elders of the church” to “lay their hands upon” the sick and bless them.3 In keeping with this scriptural injunction, men holding priesthood offices in the Church performed healing blessings. Second, early Latter-day Saints viewed healing as a gift of the Spirit, available to anyone who possessed sufficient faith.4 In the 19th and early 20th centuries, both men and women performed healing blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, often by laying hands on the affected part of the body but without specifically invoking priesthood authority.5

Early Mormon healing practices were diverse. The use of consecrated oil for anointing the sick was instituted after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, though the manner in which the oil was used changed over time. For example, persons who were sick or injured often applied the oil to the affected areas much like a salve.6 Rituals commonly employed for other purposes were also adapted for healing. For example, baptisms were sometimes performed for health reasons. In such cases, men and women were immersed in water, not for a remission of their sins but for their physical well-being. These baptisms were performed in temples by men holding priesthood authority until the early 20th century.7 Other healing ceremonies were performed in temples, including washing and anointing for health; both men and women were set apart to administer those blessings.8

Joseph Smith endorsed women’s participation in healing. “Respecting the female laying on hands,” Joseph said, “it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith.”9 For women, blessing the sick was a natural extension of their work as the primary nurses and caregivers in times of illness. In particular, Latter-day Saint women often anointed and blessed other women in cases of pregnancy and childbirth.10

Brigham Young and other Church leaders continued to encourage women to seek the spiritual gift of healing and approved women’s participation in healing blessings.11 In 1880, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that women performed healing blessings “not by virtue and authority of the priesthood, but by virtue of their faith in Christ.”12 Likewise, Relief Society General President Eliza R. Snow taught, “Women can administer in the name of Jesus but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”13

By the late 19th century, new generations of Latter-day Saints began to seek health and healing in different ways than their predecessors. They continued to call for the sick to be anointed with oil, but in many instances, they emphasized the efficacy of fasting and prayer without formal administration.14 Advances in scientific medicine also led them to trust doctors and hospitals more than previous generations had.15 In the early 20th century, Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant standardized priesthood procedures and ordinances, including healing blessings.16 This standardization included publishing instructions for priesthood healing blessings in handbooks for missionaries and local priesthood leaders.17 Church leaders also gave specific instructions regarding the use of consecrated oil in blessings, prescribing a simple anointing on the crown of the head.18 In the 1920s, baptisms for health were discontinued, as were temple healing blessings.19

With respect to women’s participation in healing blessings, a 1914 letter from the First Presidency affirmed that “any good sister, full of faith in God and in the efficacy of prayer” may bless the sick. But the Presidency emphasized the priority of priesthood blessings: “The command of the Lord is to call in the elders to administer to the sick, and when they can be called in, they should be asked to anoint the sick or seal the anointing.”20 Subsequent Church leaders emphasized the scriptural instruction to “call for the elders” to administer healing blessings.21 This emphasis was underscored in Church periodicals and in letters sent to and distributed by local Relief Society leaders in the 1940s and 1950s.22 The Church’s current handbook directs that “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.”23

Healing and Medical Science

While seeking healing through spiritual means, early Latter-day Saints followed the scriptural counsel that the sick should be “nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food.”24 President Brigham Young taught that it was appropriate “to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and to ask my Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus Christ, to sanctify that application to the healing of my body.”25 He advocated professional medical training for both men and women and approved financial support for several Church members to attend medical schools in the eastern United States.26

Latter-day Saints continue to seek appropriate medical treatment from qualified professionals. Church leaders have taught that “the use of medical science is not at odds with our prayers of faith and our reliance on priesthood blessings.”27 Latter-day Saints believe in preventing illness through proper diet, adequate exercise and rest, observance of the Word of Wisdom, and preventive health care. In recent decades, for example, the Church has contributed substantial resources to vaccination efforts around the world.28

The Gift of Healing Today

The gift of healing is exercised in the Church today through individual faith and prayer—on one’s own behalf or on behalf of others—and through priesthood blessings. The fulfillment of healing blessings comes by faith and according to the will of the Lord. Not all blessings result in healing. “We do all that we can for the healing of a loved one,” taught Elder Dallin H. Oaks, while serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “and then we trust in the Lord for the outcome.”29

Administration to the sick

Melchizedek Priesthood holders administer a healing blessing.

Related Topics: Gifts of the Spirit, Gift of Tongues