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Mental Health for Christians: Biblical Terms for Healing Include the Term for “Therapy”

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Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.
3 John 2

Mental illness brings many challenges, but perhaps the biggest challenge can be coping with the false beliefs of other Christians. Well-meaning Christians lay additional burdens on people with mental illness by telling them things like:

Let’s think about this a moment. Is psychiatric treatment any more wrong that other medical treatment? Why should we expect only miraculous healing? Doesn’t God use the medical community, too? Can’t God use modern medicine to achieve His results?

Yes, we are spiritual beings, but we are also a body and mind. When it comes to mental illness, effective treatment involves all three: body, mind, and spirit. The New Testament affirms this holistic approach.


Biblical Terms for Healing

We tend to think healing as one concept. The New Testament writers, however, used various nuances of meaning when describing healing. There are three Greek words translated as “healing” in the New Testament: sozo, iaomai, and therapeuo.


Sozo means to save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, and make whole. It occurs 120 times in the New Testament but only appears as “healed” three of those instances. Sozo focuses on the whole person and while the physical body is included, it is not the focus of sozo.


The Greek word, iaomai, refers to an instant miracle of healing involving divine power. As you might expect, Jesus generally used this approach and this is generally what comes to mind when we think of healing. Iaomai is also the miraculous power used to cast out demons, which in itself is a healing.


The third term used for healing in New Testament Greek is therapeuo. It’s the Greek root for our modern word, “therapy” or “therapeutic.” Therapeuo, according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittle), means, “to heal, serve, to care for the sick, to treat, to cure.” The idea of treating or curing someone isn’t the instant miracle of iaomai. Treatment involves a process over time, as in the case of the blind man touched by Jesus who saw people like trees but after a second touch, he saw clearly. Sometimes Jesus placed spit or mud on a person in the healing process. Therapeuo allows a wide range of therapies to be used in healing the body, not just an instant miracle of healing (iaomai).


Treatment for the Body Includes the Brain

The gospel writer, Luke, was a physician. If God only healed through spiritual means, there would be no need for physicians. I think most people find physicians acceptable until it comes to treating the mind. Somehow, these mental health issues become something spiritual rather than physical. But the mind includes the brain so just as something can go wrong with any other organ in the body, the brain can also suffer illness, disease, defect, and dysfunction. For this reason, treating the brain is just as valid as treating the heart, liver, or lungs.


A Holistic Approach to Treating Mental Illness

People with mental illness can rest assured that God has a holistic treatment plan for them. God offers them salvation (sozo) to make them whole in spirit. They may seek God’s healing touch (iaomai) and He may touch their bodies and heal their minds. But God also embraces the therapeutic approaches (therapeuo) for curing illness or disease. Psychiatric doctors, psychiatric medicine, therapy, diet, exercise, relationships, and spiritual support all play a role in treating mental illness in a holistic way. We are not one-dimensional beings. God made us as spirit, mind, and body so we must not neglect to treat the mind as well as the spirit and body.


Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit. 3 John 2


Lord, extend your love and grace to those who have been hurt and confused by Christians because of their mental illness. Grant grace to both the offended and the offenders. I release your power and love to heal those who need healing, whether through an instant work of your Holy Spirit or a longer process of therapeutic treatment in a holistic manner. Give courage to those who need treatment but feel the weight of fear, guilt, or condemnation because of the misconceptions about mental illness among Christians. There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1) so release them from these burdens and give them the freedom and strength to take the first step toward getting help. And give them a supportive Christian to walk with them on this journey. We seek your grace and glory in all things. Amen.


This post was inspired and informed by Three New Testament Words for Healing by Mark Virkler.

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