Anointing with Oil

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It is recorded in Mark 6:13 that the twelve apostles "anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." The Epistle of James (James 5:14-15) instructs the elder to pray over the sick man who requests help, "anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." The only known Anabaptist mention of this anointing is the denial of its identity with the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction (Martyrs Mirror, 423, 778, 779). The most careful exegetical analyses of the passage in James are those of Henry Alford in his commentary, The Greek testament, and J. A. Bengel in his Gnomon. Dwight L. Moody, the American revivalist, was anointed in his last illness at his request. The Church of the Brethren observes the anointing of the sick with oil.

In several branches of the Mennonite brotherhood, since the 19th century at least, sick members occasionally request the ministers to come to their bedside and pray for their recovery, accompanying the prayer with the symbolical anointing taught in James 5. This is true of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (later Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches), the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the Old Order Amish, the Old Order Mennonite, the Missionary Church (Evangelical Missionary Church in Canada), and occasionally within the Mennonite Brethren. It was not altogether unknown among some of the Mennonite congregations in Russia, though seldom practiced. The General Conference Mennonite Church group did not observe this practice.

The rite usually includes most or all of the following: singing of a stanza or two of a hymn; the reading of the relevant passage in James 5; an interpretation of the passage; a discussion of the meaning of prayer; opportunity for the sick person to give an expression of his faith, or to confess sin, the application of olive oil to the sick person's head; and prayer accompanied by the laying on of hands. The rite is intended to give expression to the sick Christian's faith (he himself is to call for the ceremony) and to stimulate his faith in the healing power of God. The oil is a mere symbol of this healing power. It is normally expected that the ill person has the assurance that God wishes to raise him up, though this is not universally required; it may be merely the expression of a general faith coupled with a resignation to God's will. It is never a mandate to God demanding immediate or ultimate healing. Nor is it intended as a preparation for death. The James passage applies to illness, not bone fractures, congenital abnormalities, loss of limbs or extremities, etc.

Since the Reformed Mennonites, who separated from the Lancaster Conference (Mennonite Church) in 1812, do not observe the practice, and since the Missionary Church and the Old Order Mennonite bodies, who separated from the Mennonite Church 1870-1880, do observe its practice, it is possible that the Old Order Amish and the Mennonites (MC) began to anoint with oil during the 19th century as a result of the renewed interest in Bible study which the brotherhood experienced in that era. There is no record of this practice among any of the Mennonites of Europe.

The administration of the rite in the Old Order Amish, Conservative Mennonite Conference, and Old Order Mennonite groups is usually reserved for the bishop or for the other ministers by his authorization. In such groups as the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren, and Evangelical Missionary Church, any minister may anoint.


Alford, H. The Greek Testament. Cambridge, 1903, IV: 327.

Attwater, D. A Catholic Dictionary. New York, 1942: "Anointing," "Chrism," "Extreme unction."

Bengel, J. A. Gnomon. Philadelphia and New York, 1864, II: 722.

Brunk, George R. Ready Scripture Reasons. Scottdale, 1926: 102-107.

Ferro, Vergilius. An Encyclopedia of Religion. New York, 1945: "Anointing," "Chrism," "Oils."

Kauffman, Daniel. Bible Doctrine. Scottdale, 1914: 433-438.

Kauffman, Daniel. Doctrines of the Bible. Scottdale, 1928: 424-8.

Kauffman, Daniel. Mennonite Cyclopedic Dictionary. Scottdale, 1937: 11.

Moody, W. R. The Life of Dwight L. Moody. Revell, 1900: 551.

Braght, Thieleman J. van. The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only upon Confession of Faith and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus Their Saviour . . . to the Year A.D. 1660. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1951: 423, 778, 779. Available online at:

Wenger, J. C. The Doctrines of the Mennonites. Scottdale, 1950: 28.

Author(s) John C Wenger
Date Published 1953

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Wenger, John C. "Anointing with Oil." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 17 Apr 2024.

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Wenger, John C. (1953). Anointing with Oil. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 April 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 128. All rights reserved.

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