Prayer for Healing: What Does Science Say?
by Rich Deem


Healing Miracles?

We've all seen faith healers stand in front of a crowd while members of the audience go up to be instantly healed through touch and prayer. Medical documentation of healings is usually lacking, and at least some these "healings" have been shown to have been faked. Why haven't doctors done a scientific study of these healings? Well, now they have!

Rich Deem

Healing by touch and prayer has been a characteristic of Christianity since the miracles of Jesus and the disciples1 reported in the New Testament. Most skeptics today believe that these healings were just made up and never happened. However, the skeptics of the first century never used that argument, since they knew that healings had really happened and that such an argument would have been laughed at. Instead, they attributed the healings to the power of Satan.2 Recently, a group of doctors have documented the before and after medical condition of a group of people who had received prayed for healing of vision and hearing problems.

Purpose of healing miracles

Do miracles happen today? Some Christians say "no," although I was personally healed of an "incurable" disease in 1985.3 However, as in the accounts in the Bible, miracles have a specific purpose that usually involves bringing a person to faith in Jesus Christ. My case was no exception, since I was an agnostic deist at the time I was healed. This is not to say that healing miracles don't happen for Christians. However, miracles are rare and are done with the purpose of displaying God's power. Today, these miracles tend to occur in locations where the gospel message has not been preached, in order to bring remote peoples to faith in Jesus. So, several doctors packed up their equipment to measure the effects of "proximal intercessory prayer" (involving touch and prayer) observed in a group of individuals being ministered to by two missionary groups—Western and Mozambican Iris and Global Awakening—in Pemba, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.4

Prayer results

During evangelistic meetings in rural Mozambique, leaders, reputed to have healed numerous individuals, recruited blind and deaf subjects from the meetings for proximal intercessory prayer. The doctors from the study measured auditory and visual acuity for consecutive subjects prior to proximal intercessory prayer. Hearing and vision was tested immediately after proximal intercessory prayer. Before and after results are plotted in the figures, right. The study found a significant effect of proximal intercessory prayer on auditory function across the tested population (P < 0.003). There was also a significant effect of proximal intercessory prayer on visual function across the tested population (P < 0.02).


Authors of the paper compared their results to those achieved by studies using suggestion and hypnosis. Although the other studies achieved statistical significance, they weren't close to the impact achieved through proximal intercessory prayer (see figure, right). So, it is clear from this comparison that the mechanism of proximal intercessory prayer is not a result of suggestion or some sort of religious hypnosis. Although the authors never stated the obvious, it seems likely that God answered the prayers of Christians who had prayed for the healing of others. However, the authors did say that proximal intercessory prayer might be used as an adjunct to standard medical therapies, especially in locations where medical treatment is not always available.

Conclusion Top of page

Numerous other prayer studies have shown little of no effect of distant intercessory prayer. However neither Jesus, nor the New Testament disciples, rarely, if ever, modeled such prayer as being effective in healing. Nearly always, the intercessor prayed in the context of the person being healed, usually involving direct touch of the prayer subject. So, this study used proximal intercessory prayer to test if real healing occurred in the field. The results were impressive, with significant improvement of both hearing and vision in subjects personally prayed for. Since other studies using suggestion and hypnosis were significantly less effective, it would not seem that those mechanisms were not working in this study of proximal intercessory prayer. Maybe God is alive and well and working in this world!

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15)

References Top of page

  1. Healing by the disciples in the New Testament:
    • But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!" And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. (Acts 3:6-8)
    • Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. (Acts 5:16)
    • For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. (Acts 8:7)
    • And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. (Acts 28:8)
  2. First century Jews attributed the healings of Jesus to the work of the devil:
    • Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." (Matthew 12:22-24)
    • And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." (Mark 3:22)
    • Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." (Luke 11:14-15)
    • Flavius Josephus The Antiquities of the Jews 18:63
    • Talmud P. Ta'an. 65b
    • The Sanhedrin 3a
  3. See Rich's Testimony for Jesus Christ for details.
  4. Brown, C. G., S. C. Mory, R. Williams, and M. J. McClymond. 2010. Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique. Southern Medical Journal 103: 864-869.
Last Modified January 4, 2012


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