Anointing with Oil in African
Christianity: An Evaluation of
By Sampson M. Nwaomah
One New Testament practice
that seems to have appealed
to many contemporary African
Christians in their quest to appropriate the providences of God in their lives, endeavors, and in
order to protect their possessions
is the practice of anointing with
oil. To anoint, as popularly understood, means “to smear, pour oil or other unctuous substance
upon” (Horn 1979:48). Historically, the practice of anointing either with oil or other substances was widespread, and it was used
for various purposes—religious
or secular (Richards 1985:54).
In the New Testament, “anoint,”
“anointing,” and “anointed” are
Nwaomah is Associate Professor
of New Testament
and Mission Studies at Babcock
University in Nigeria.
usually a translation of four
different word groups (aleiphō,
murizō, chrisma, and chriō). Generally, these words according to Richards (1985:54) express “the
same basic idea of rubbing or
spreading oil or perfume or ointment” or the bequest of the Holy Spirit on an individual or community. At least four patterns may be observed.
First, there is anointing as a
divine commission; and this is
related to chriō which appears
five times in the New Testament
(Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2
Cor 1:21 and Heb 1:9). Chriō is
used figuratively and always in
the sense of being specially appointed or commissioned by God (Heb 1:9; Luke 4:18; cf. Luke
1:9) (Richards 1985:54). Of the
five occurrences, it is used only
once (2 Cor 1:21) to refer to the
church. Significantly, the other
four refer to the empowerment
of Christ by the special bequest
of the Holy Spirit for his earthly
assignment. In those instances,
therefore, the use of oil or any
external substance as the instrument of anointing is excluded. In the case of Christ, the anointing
may have taken place at the baptism when God overtly endorsed Journal of Adventist Mission Studies
his ministry by the bestowal of
the Holy Spirit and an audible affirmation (Matt 3:16-17; cf. Mark 1:8-11 and Luke 3:21-22).
A second usage of the anointing motif in the New Testament is expressed by the word chrisma.
Chrisma, as it is used in the
Epistle of John (1 John 2:20,
27; cf. 2 Cor 1:21), is in reference to the privileges of being a Christian. The major meaning
arising from this passage is the
magnificent anointing (consecration) of the believers as a community of Christ. This anointing, as in the chriō word group, is
actualized by the dawning of the
Spirit in the life of each believer
is aleiphō. The word appears nine
times in the New Testament and
is used with various meanings.
In the Gospel of Matthew (6:17),
this pattern of anointing may
refer to the application of oil,
cream, lotion, and/or cosmetics to the body. In the Matt 6:17 passage Jesus instructs that
fasting should be done pleasantly with the continuation of
the bodily application of these
substances; thus denouncing
pretentious faith. Furthermore,
Luke (7:38, 46; cf. John 11:2;
12:3) uses anointing in the context of hospitality by recording the memorable and commendable act of the sinful woman who
The major meaning arising from this
passage is the magnificent anointing
(consecration) of the believers as a community of Christ.
and consequently, the church
(Grundmann 1964:572). John
implies that at the point of conversion believers are endowed with the indwelling presence of
the Holy Spirit. It is significant
to note that as Engelhard observes: “whereas in the OT only special persons were anointed
for office, in the NT all believers
receive the anointing by the Holy
One (1 John 2:20) . . . and this
Anointing abides in the believer”
The third word used for
anointing in the New Testament
stunned Jesus’ host by anointing
him with oil—an act expected
of the host who instead derided
the woman and...
Cited: Burdick, Donald W. 1981. James.
Easton, Burton S. 1985. The
Epistle of James
Engelhard, D. H. 1979. Anoint,
France, R. T. 1986. Oil. The new
international dictionary of the
Grundmann, Walter. 1964. χριω.
Gundry, Robert H. 1981. A survey
of the New Testament
Kiesler, Herbert. 2008. The anointing service. http://www
anointingservice.htm (accessed 18 May 2008).
Moulton, Harold K. 1956. Analytical lexicon of the New Testament Greek. Grand Rapids,
Nwogwugwu, Ngozi Abiodun. 2003.
Oyedepo, David O. 1996. The healing balm. Ota-Lagos, Nigeria:
Dominion Publishing House.
Richards, Lawrence O., ed. 1985.
Seventh-day Adventist Bible commentary. 1980. Ed. Francis
Seventh-day Adventist Bible dictionary. 1979. Ed. Siegfried H.
Stählin, Gustave. 1964. άσθένεια.
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