1 Peter 2:24: What Does It Mean “To Be Healed”?
By Dr. Kelly Osborne
1. Context is Vital
The context of words is vital for human beings to understand their proper meaning.
Here are a couple of examples. First, the sentence “you killed it!” would mean very different things if it were spoken as an exclamation of approval after a basketball game in which a player scored on five out of five shots from 3-point range to help her team win the game, or, by contrast, if it were said accusingly to someone who, while driving at night on a country road, had just accidentally run over an animal.
Another example is the phrase “throw out a line.” It could mean to help rescue a stranded swimmer, or to proceed with an effort to catch a fish, or, in a theater situation, it could mean to eliminate a particularly troublesome line from the script for one of the actors.
The same principle of a given context controlling the meaning of the words and phrases in it is true for virtually all written works, and it is just as true of the book we know as the Bible.
Christians understand that the God Who created the heavens and the earth (and the human race that inhabits our earth) has spoken, and much of what God has said to human beings over the centuries has been preserved for us in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.
So, if we are going to understand properly what God has said and preserved for us in the Bible, we must consider the context of any given word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph.
Remember the phrases we started with? Put them in a different context and they may mean something entirely different. This is what happens sometimes with words or phrases in the Bible. Used in one context, they mean one thing, but, used in a different context, they have not only a different shade of meaning, but can even have a quite different meaning, even though the two passages may retain a related meaning, a shared idea or an underlying concept that links the use of the word or phrase in both contexts.
One such example is the word “faith” which is used by the apostle Paul when he says in his letter to the Ephesians “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8) to mean “believing God and His free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.” But when James uses the word “faith” in his letter to say, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), he is saying “genuine belief in God’s offer of salvation will clearly demonstrate its reality in ‘works,’ and living a life that is pleasing to God.”
2. Guaranteed Healing for Physical Illness or Disease?
Another phrase often used in a way that completely ignores its context is found in the New Testament at 1 Peter 2:24, “by His (Jesus’) wounding you were healed.”
Anyone can easily access several popular websites where well-known and lesser-known teachers, pastors, and/or counselors readily proclaim this verse to mean that Christians can count on being physically healed by God, because healing of physical sickness or disease is part of what God has guaranteed for the believer through Jesus’ atonement, that is, through His death
and resurrection. 1
Before the internet came along, books by authors such as John Wimber & Kevin Springer, Jack Deere, and Benny Hinn, brought to an earlier generation the same message, that believers are guaranteed healing through the Atonement. 2
3. The Context of 1 Peter 2:24: Servants Suffering Wrongfully and Christ’s Example?
But what do we find in the context leading up to 1 Peter 2:24? The apostle says nothing at all about physical healing. The paragraph begins in verse 18 with Peter’s instructions to servants or slaves and how they should relate to their masters, whether they (the servants) are treated reasonably and kindly, or unreasonably and harshly: “Servants be subject with all fear to your
masters, not only to the good and kind ones but also to the harsh. 19 For this is grace if, because of conscience before God, someone endures griefs as he [or she] suffers wrongfully” (2:18–19). 3
Writing in the context of the first century Roman empire, Peter continues by saying that it is better for Christian servants or slaves to suffer wrongfully and find favor from God, than to do wrong and then be punished for it (2:20). In fact, he says to his readers, Christian servants and slaves are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ, because Jesus Himself suffered
wrongfully, but He committed no sin in any of His responses: “Christ suffered on your behalf, and He left behind an example for you, in order that you should follow in His steps, 22 Who did not sin nor was deceit found in His mouth, 23 Who, when being insulted, did not give insult in return, when He was suffering, He did not threaten, but was committing (Himself) to the One
Who judges righteously” (2:21–23).
4. Two Things to Notice in the Context: Moral/Spiritual Issues and “on Your Behalf.”
We need to notice two things in the context leading up to 2:24. First, Peter says nothing about physical illness or disease, nor even the physical suffering that Christ endured throughout His arrest and trials before He was led out to be crucified. Of course, if we know anything about Jesus from all four Gospels it is that He suffered such terrible physical abuse, that we are justified in saying it went to the limits of human endurance. And Peter’s readers would have known at least something about what Jesus suffered.
The emphasis up to this point is on the moral or spiritual aspects of Jesus experience, “did not sin,” “nor was deceit found in His mouth,” “did not give insult,” “did not threaten,” and “was committing [Himself/His cause] to the One Who judges righteously.” There is no language of physical illness or disease, only the spiritual issues of sin, deceit, insults, and threat (vv. 22–23).
Second, this was not simply an individual personal experience that Jesus had, but He undertook it “on your [the Christian readers of Peter’s letter] behalf” (v. 21). This leads to the momentous statements found in v. 24, where the apostle emphasizes that Jesus did something which He alone could do, namely, He suffered in the place of sinners, indeed, for the very sins those same sinners deserved to be punished for by a righteous God.
The momentous statements? “Who Himself carried our sins in His body onto the tree [= cross], so that we, upon dying to sins, should live to righteousness” (2:24). Again, there is nothing here about physical illness or disease, only the spiritual failure of sins, noted twice, and the cure for those spiritual failures, “dying to sins, [in order to] live to righteousness.” We could
even say “the cure for the spiritual disease of sin.”
But isn’t Jesus “carrying our sins” a physical concept? On the contrary, it is rooted in the Old Testament Israelite system of sacrifices in which the person who brings the sacrifice is absolved of the guilt for his/her wrongdoing(s) because the animal sacrifice is killed as a substitute in his/her place. The animal sacrifice was regarded as “carrying the sins” of the human offer-er, and so the human offer-er’s life would not be forfeit. The physical death of the sacrificial animal addresses a moral and spiritual issue and need.
Yes, it’s true that Jesus endured physical abuse, trauma, and torture up to and including the point of His agonizing death by crucifixion. But no matter how extreme the physical aspect of these sufferings, the greater significance of His sufferings on the cross was that He was serving as a substitute (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Cor 5:21), just like the sacrificial victim in Old Testament Israel,
and He was receiving the punishment that sinful human beings, like Peter’s readers and all sinners, deserved. This was for the purpose of freeing them from the just penalty with which they should have been punished (“dying to sins”), so that they would live in a way that pleases God (“live to righteousness”).
The “wounding” and “healing” that come next in 2:24, Peter explicitly ties to this stupendous act of Jesus on the cross by the relative pronoun “by Whose [Jesus’] wounding you were healed.” The term “wounding” is another way to refer to Jesus as carrying sins and suffering the agonizing death of crucifixion. But Jesus’ death was not simply a physical deed, as can be seen in the testimony of many New Testament passages. Prior to His death, Jesus Himself said that the giving up of His life would provide a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), while the apostle Paul notes that His death issues in “the forgiveness of sins” (Eph 1:7), and “reconciliation to God” (Rom 5:10).
There is far more to Jesus’ death than the end of His physical life, although we cannot
explore that further in this article.
It must also be emphasized that Christ’s suffering in the sinner’s place is something which, though He did so voluntarily, He in no way deserved, and it is thus the ultimate and unequalled instance of undeserved suffering which we have seen to be Peter’s focus in the passage.
5. Based on Context, What Does Healing Mean in 1 Peter 2:24?
At this point we must ask: what is this passage really about? It can be summed up as focusing on two things. First, it’s about Christian servants being called to follow Jesus’ example and not responding sinfully when they suffer wrongfully, and second, it’s about Jesus experiencing suffering on the cross on behalf of sinners, both by taking their sins and their deserved punishment on Himself, and in this way also freeing them to live for God.
So, when we get to the last part of v. 24 and Peter says, “by Whose [that is, Jesus’] wounding you were healed,” everything in the context leading up to this statement focuses on moral and spiritual failures, not physical illness, or physical disease. When he uses the words “wounding” and “healing” at the end of v. 24, he is simply describing what he has said earlier in the verse in
another way. Very much like illness or disease in the physical sphere, if left untreated with the appropriate spiritual remedy, sin will ultimately lead to eternal death (Rom 6:23).
But what do Christ’s suffering and death on the cross accomplish? When a repentant sinner by faith receives for himself or herself Jesus’ sacrifice for sin, that same repentant sinner dies to sin and becomes alive to righteousness (2:24), and he or she is then “healed” from his or her previously incurable spiritual disease, the disease of sin.
Ultimately, it is the context of the whole passage that guides us to the proper meaning of what it means to be healed in 1 Peter 2:24.
Confirmation we are on the right track for understanding this healing as an issue of sin is found in the next verse where the apostle says to his readers, “For you were like sheep going astray, but you now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25).
To see precisely what Peter has in mind here with the imagery of sheep and shepherd, we need to examine with care the Old Testament passage that provides the source not only for this imagery in v. 25, but also for everything Peter has said in 2:21–23, and especially what we have focused on in v. 24.
But that will have to wait for the next installment.
1 Examples of such websites, with references to specific pages on the websites where this interpretation can be
found, are: “Joseph Prince Ministries” (https://www.josephprince.org/blog/daily-grace-inspirations-jan-2021/by-
jesus-stripes-you-are-healed), Dr. Paul Dhinakaran, “Prayer Tower Online” (https://prayertoweronline.org/todays-
word-blessing/you-are-healed-by-his-stripes), Pastor Bob Milsaps, “Fountain of Life Christian Center”
(https://folcc.org/how-jesus-suffering-declares-by-his-stripes-we-are-healed-isaiah-535/), and Lorna [no last name
given], teacher-turned-counselor, on “Grace for Healing, God Wants You Well”
(https://graceforhealing.com/include-physical-healing/). All websites accessed 12/12/2022.
2 John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Healing (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), Jack Deere,
Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1993), Benny Hinn, Lord, I Need a Miracle
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993).
3 All translations from the Greek New Testament are the author’s own.