1. Royal, Kenneth D.

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As Christians, it is critical that we interpret Scripture in context. Although it may be tempting to grasp a quote to support a viewpoint, doing so could result in negative, unintended consequences. An example of a biblical quote commonly taken out of context and misused is, "Physician, heal yourself!" from Luke 4:23.

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At the time of this writing, a literature search using EBSCO, Academic Search Premiere, and other scholarly databases revealed 27,500 articles have been published in which some variation of the quote (e.g., "Oncologist, heal yourself," "Skin, heal yourself," "B cell, heal yourself," etc.) have been used. The topics of these articles varied considerably, but the majority appeared in the health sciences literature. When using the specific search terms "heal thyself" and "nursing" (as the subject), 180 articles were found.


Having reviewed many of the articles that focused specifically on healthcare providers, a common theme was discernible: healthcare professionals should practice what they preach by also caring for themselves. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with reminding and encouraging those who provide healthcare to others to also care for themselves. However, it is curious why many authors choose to use the "heal yourself" quote from the New Testament. On the surface, it would appear the Bible asserts that physicians and other providers should literally heal themselves. However, let's take a closer look at Luke 4:23. The passage reads (NIV):


Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself!' And you will tell me, 'Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'"


Although a comprehensive biblical commentary is beyond the scope of this column, it is important to provide a contextual summary of this oft-misinterpreted passage. In short, Jesus had previously conducted part of his ministry in Capernaum, performing numerous miracles there. When he returned to his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16, 24), few believed he was the Messiah (Luke 4:17-24). Thus, Luke 4:23 describes Jesus' rebuttal to those who doubted him and insisted that he prove that he was the Messiah by performing similar miracles in their presence. The biblical reference to "Physician, heal yourself!" was neither a proclamation for physicians-or anyone else-to heal themselves, nor a directive from Jesus. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is anyone instructed to heal him-or herself. Healing comes from God. And although people do experience miraculous healing, often to the bewilderment of healthcare providers, healing through medical assistance is common and acceptable.


Many Scripture references are taken out of context and misused, but this verse has the potential for greater negative, unintended consequences. The Bible makes it clear that God is our healer (Exodus 15:26; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 107:20; Matthew 4:23; 1 Peter 2:24). Bible verses taken out of context, such as this one, may encourage some to seek healing from sources other than God, or discourage others because they cannot heal themselves.


Recognizing when Scripture is used out of context is more likely when we study the Bible and learn how to apply it, often within the arena of the family and the church. Such experiential understanding provides a guard against inappropriately wielding a single verse. This is parallel to how APRNs become skillful in using nursing knowledge and evidence-based practice: Once acquired and used, the knowledge and skills are more reliably applied in patient care.


It is important as APRNs, along with others in the healthcare community, that Scripture is read and used within its appropriate context. Doing so will not only strengthen our walk with the God, but also enable Christ-followers more effectively to be salt and light.


As an advanced practice nurse, how do you describe healing? What part is God's? What role do you play in the healing process? How does this distinction make a difference? Or does it? Have any of your patients experienced healing that cannot be explained outside of a spiritual context? If so, how did you respond? How did your colleagues, who may not view healing in a spiritual manner, respond?


Healing is multifaceted. When APRNs align with God, there is room for spiritual connections with patients and the opportunity to offer something beyond medications and treatments.