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A Review of Thurman Scrivner’s Teaching

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Several people in our area (Dallas) have begun attending “healing services” from a local ministry headed by Thurman Scrivner. I’ve been told that the services are mostly teaching about healing with extended prayer for the sick. Thurman Scrivner is not claiming to have the gift of healing. Instead, he is teaching people that Christians do not have to be sick. God does not will that we be sick, and if we understood that, then we would never be sick.

Scrivner claims that he discovered this “truth” a few years ago from studying the Bible and has been healthy ever since. He may have discovered it on his own, but it is unlikely because what he is teaching is exactly the same as what has been taught for 100 years in various sects of the Pentecostal movement and the Word-Faith movement. For example, Albert Benjamin Simpson (1844-1919) founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and Essik William Kenyon (1867-1948) considered the founder of the Word-Faith movement1, both taught that healing is just as much a part of the atonement as forgiveness of sins, that God does not will that any Christians be sick, that Christians should never be sick. Like Scrivner, they used Isa 53:4-5; Matt 8:16-17 and 1 Pet 2:24 as support for their doctrine. These teachings have continued today through the ministries of Kenneth Hagan, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton and others. So, Scrivner’s teaching is nothing new.

Basically Scrivner’s is a health and wealth gospel. He doesn’t seem personally interested in money. He has a “good ol’ country boy” appearance, speech, etc. So, it makes him more believable. People might be turned off by the flashy, money-centric ministry of a Robert Tilton, but they wouldn’t dream that Scrivner is teaching the same message, but he is.

First I want to deal with the main passages used by all the health and wealth teachers. And then I’ll look specifically at some of Scrivner’s comments. I’ve been given several audio tapes and a video tape so that I could examine his teaching. So, what follows are some notes I took and my comments on his teaching. Hopefully these comments will give you some information to help evaluate similar teachings. For more in-depth study of the health and wealth gospel, you might checkout, The Word-Faith Controversy by Robert M. Bowman Jr. (Baker, 2001) and The Health and Wealth Gospel, by Bruce Barron (IVP, 1987).

Favorite Passages of Faith/Healing Teachers

For the past 100 years, the faith healers have used the same passages to support their theology: Isa 53:4-5; Mat 8:17 and 1 Pet 2:24. They claim that these passages teach that the atonement provided not only for the forgiveness of sins, but also for physical healing. In fact, the gospel message is incomplete if you only teach forgiveness of sins. In practice, the faith healers spend the majority of their time on the healing part and neglect the important part. So, let us look at the passages and see if the Bible “clearly” teaches that Christ died so that we never have to be sick.

Isa 53 is about the Suffering Servant who died for our sins (vs 11) so that we might be saved.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our peace fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

Note the parallelism. In Hebrew they usually said things twice. In the first two lines we see two synonyms for our sins (transgressions and iniquities). In the second pair of lines we see that “healed” is synonymous with the word “peace.” So, the word “healed” is really referring to our spiritual reconciliation to God. “Healed” is a metaphor for forgiveness, which is part of the reconciliation (peace) process. The last two lines are referring to deliverance from sin just like the first pair of lines. The whole verse is referring to our spiritual sickness and healing, not physical sickness and healing.

1 Pet 2:24 confirms this interpretation. Peter is writing about Christians suffering and their proper response to suffering. Christ is given as an example of one who submitted to suffering and how God was able to use his submission with the good result that we can have eternal life.

2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may leave sin behind and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed . 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Peter says nothing about diseases. The focus of the whole section (vss 18-25) is on how we should be willing to physically suffer in this life just like Christ did because we have the promise of eternal salvation. Christ is our example. So, the passage is not at all about physical healing. It is about physical suffering and only secondarily about spiritual healing.

Mat 8:17 is most likely just Matthew pointing out that Jesus, while he was here on earth, healed diseases and fulfilled the prophesies/signs that he was indeed the Messiah. It is not a promise nor proof that He continues to heal “all” our diseases here on earth.

But even if one ignores the context and claims these passages refer to physical disease, it doesn’t mean that in this life we can be exempt from sickness. In the same way that we are delivered from the penalty of sin now, are able to be delivered from the power of sin in the sanctification process and will ultimately be delivered from the presence of sin when we are in heaven, our susceptibility to disease is still present in this life and will only be gone when we are in heaven. There are many “now/not yet” examples in theology. For example, we have been raised with Christ (Col 3:1-3), but we are still here on earth in our sinful bodies. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father reigning in heaven now, but it is not to the same degree as it will be in the millennial or eternal kingdom.

Is there healing in the atonement? Yes. But does that mean that we don’t have to be sick now if we have enough faith and believe that? No.

All we have to do is look at the many examples in Scripture where believers were sick and were not healed. Paul was sick in Gal 4:13, had a thorn in the flesh which was most likely some physical problem that slowed him down. Trophemus (2 Tim 4:20), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:30), Timothy (1 Tim 5:23) and others were ill and unable to be healed by Paul. So, God does not always heal.

And, although this is an argument from silence, if there was healing in the atonement, one would think that Paul would have mentioned it somewhere, especially since he wrote more about the atonement than anyone. But his focus is exclusively on the forgiveness of sins.

Blessings and Curses Audio Tape

Thurman Scrivner says, “Many people are not living where they should be living because there is a curse placed on them. The Word of God is very clear in its teaching on blessings and cursings.”

Later on he says, “How can you have two Christians and one of them seems to always prosper in his business ventures, always make money and the other one always seems to fail, to be having problems…? How can one receive healing quickly and another not seem to get well? The Bible is clear – it is a matter of the blessings and cursings.”

To say that the Word is “very clear” is a misleading statement. It implies that his interpretation is not to be questioned because the meaning of scripture is “clear.” He then departs from the orthodox (i.e. usual) interpretation. If it was clear, then one would think that his would be the orthodox view. What we need to do is examine the passages he uses to support his claims and see if they are being interpreted correctly – i.e., in the context.

Deuteronomy 28

According to Scrivner, Deu 28: teaches us that blessings come from obedience to God’s laws. Anyone not experiencing the apparent blessings of God (health and wealth) are not experiencing it because they are not being obedient. He points to Deu 30:19 and says, “God has given ‘us’ the choice” … to obey and be blessed, etc.

Deu 28-30 was given to the nation of Israel as they were about to enter the land. It outlines the conditions upon which Israel was going to (1) either obey and be blessed and stay in the land, or (2) they would disobey, be cursed and be removed from the land. Their obedience to the law was required. For Scrivner to apply this passage to us is totally out of context. We are not Israel. We are not living in the promised land. And we are not under the law. These are not promises to believers for today. God gave Israel the choice “that day,” not us.

Elsewhere, Scrivner claims that Satan is the one who brings curses, but note in our passage that God was the one that was bringing the curses on Israel, not Satan.

Prov 26:2

Scrivner quotes Prov 26:2 – “an undeserved curse does not come to rest.” He says, “There is a cause for every curse…To be cursed, you have to have broken the laws of God.”

If his teaching is correct, then there is always a cause/effect relationship between any bad thing that happens (or any sickness) and our actions. If we can find out where we have sinned, and repent of that sin, then we can be healed. This flies in the face of John 9 where Jesus said, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents…” Jewish theology taught that if you were wealthy, you must be spiritual. If you were poor or sick, then you must be sinful. That’s why the disciples asked that question. We can see that Satan is just repackaging the same basic lies 2000 years later.

Human nature searches for certainty, so this type of theology is appealing. If we can find a cause of something bad, then we can avoid the bad by not doing whatever caused it. It is an effort to control life.

One horrible consequence of this type of teaching is that there is a tremendous amount of guilt that is laid on the individual when they do get sick. It’s bad enough to be sick, but to think that you caused it is worse.

2 Cor 4:17-18

Scrivner quotes 2 Cor 4:17-18 – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory…” He uses this verse to point out that there is a visible and an invisible realm where a battle is going on. He says that blessings and curses are part of the invisible/spiritual realm. What he misses is that there ARE “momentary troubles.” If it’s not God’s will for us to ever be sick or ever suffer financial loss, or face persecution, then what are the troubles? If the troubles are always because we have been disobedient, then how can they “achieve an eternal glory”? They are deserved and we get no glory according to 1 Peter 3-4.

Scrivner says, these are the ways to tell if you are under some kind of a curse:

  • If you have mental or emotional breakdowns, depression - Deut 28:34, 20:65
  • If you have repeated or chronic sickness – especially if they are hereditary – Deu 28:21-61
  • If you are afflicted with bareness, miscarriage or female problems – Deu 28:18
  • A breakdown of a marriage, or family problems Deu 28:41
  • Accident prone – Deu 28:29 – falling down and twisting ankles, falling down the stairs, etc.
  • Financial problems – Deu 28:17, 29
  • History of suicide or untimely death in a family.

Is he saying that if you trip and twist your ankle, you need to stay down on your knees and do some serious soul searching for the sin that caused you to trip? If you can’t have children, then it is because of sin in your life? If you are poor, it is because of sin? I can’t imagine living under this type of guilt or pressure.

Galatians 3:13

Another passage Scrivner uses is Gal 3:13ff. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law… that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith”

Scrivner says that “the Spirit promised these Abrahamic blessings to us.” He says, “How can we receive the blessings by faith if we don’t even know what the blessings are.” He points to Gen 12 and 22 and says, “A great life, salvation, success, prosperity, long life and health are the blessings of Abraham.”

He has totally turned this verse around. The “Spirit” is the promised blessing (singular). The Spirit is not the one who is promising the blessings. The issue in Galatians is justification by faith – the blessing of Abraham is justification by faith (salvation). Gal 3:26 – being sons of God is the point of the passage – not physical prosperity. Scrivner is teaching that those who don’t obey the law are under a curse. But in Gal 3 Paul is really saying that those who try to obey the law are under a curse because they will fail. Nobody can obey the law.

Word Curses

In his section on word curses he says, that Jesus spoke a word curse to the fig tree – (Mk 11). Jesus spoke negatively to the tree and the tree died. “How many times have you spoken negatively about or to someone such as your spouse, not realizing that you were putting a word curse on them.” For support he also turned to James 3:6-10 – out of the same mouth comes blessings and cursings.

He also said that when you are dealing with word curses, evil words others have spoken against us, words we’ve spoken against others and words we’ve spoken against ourselves, if you are walking holy before the Lord, then you can simply say, “I don’t receive those curses.” If however, you don’t know you have the ability to denounce curses, then you will be under a curse. So, “knowledge” is key.

Comment: Jesus, who could work miracles, cursed the tree and it died. To use this as proof that speaking negatively to someone will put a curse on them is a non- sequitur.

Comments on a Video

He begins with a discussion of Job 1, where he says, Tornadoes are really demons because it was a strong wind/tornado that killed Job’s kids and the Tornado was caused by Satan. In fact, those folks in West Texas know this because they call those little dust tornadoes “dirt devils.” Those dust devils in West Texas are really devils. He goes on to tell about a Tornado that destroyed his building but how a recently annointed equipment room was spared from Satan because having your building destroyed isn’t the Abundant life.

Comment: If the recently prayed for room was saved, that certainly shows the power of God, but what is he really saying? The abundant life = prosperity, no problems, etc. i.e. this is a health and wealth Gospel. What about Paul who experienced the abundant life while in prison (twice), and contentment when doing without things?

Scrivner says, “Job was incorrect to say ‘God gives and God takes away’ because it was really Satan who took everything away.” He then quoted Jn 10:10 “Satan comes to destroy but I come to give life abundantly.”

Comment: His logical conclusion: Since Satan gave Job sickness, our sicknesses is from Satan. Headaches in the morning are from Satan, athletes foot is from the devil, etc. (those were his examples)

Scrivner says, that because Job was faultless before the lord, (he actually said Job was sinless) Satan had to have permission. But with us he doesn’t need permission because we sin. Sin is an open door to the Devil. Prov 26:2 is his proof – no curse is without cause.

Comment: But that doesn’t mean it’s our fault! It could be like the man born lame (in Jn 9) – to glorify God. Jesus said that neither the man nor his parents sinned. Also, didn’t Jesus say he gave Satan permission to sift Peter? Peter must have been sinless too!

He says that Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick. Therefore he says, “See, the demons were making them sick.”

Comment: That is not what that proves. While some may have been sick because they were possessed, it just means that some were demon possessed and some were sick. I’m sure some were sick because of the demons, but not all of them.

Scrivner says, Mat 8:17 says, “Jesus bore our infirmities and took away our diseases,” therefore I can refuse to bear them in my body. We have power over disease if we just claim it and we don’t have to be sick.

Comment: We dealt with this earlier, but it bears repeating. Mat 8:17 is referring to the ministry of the Messiah when he was on earth. While Christ was on earth, He did heal many. But this is not saying that no Christian should ever get sick. Our earthly bodies are deteriorating and get sick. It’s not until we get our glorified bodies in heaven that sickness will be gone.

In discussing the demons being cast into the 2,000 pigs, he says, “A demon is a spirit being and can’t do any physical damage unless it’s in a physical body. It prefers humans, but it will indwell pigs, cats, etc.”

Question – How does he know these things? That passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. Assume he’s correct, then how could a demon cause a tornado? What body would the demon be indwelling? It seems inconsistent to me.

He asks, “Is it God’s will to heal us all, all the time? Yes, of course it is. Mt 17:17 proves it. Their problem was a lack of faith. Note: the problem was not the faith of the sick person. It was the faith of the disciples. So, if Scrivner prays for you, and you don’t get well, then logical application of the passage is that it is his fault, not yours.

During the video there was a question from the audience about Joni Eareckson Tada and about how God has used her so much since her paralysis. Couldn’t it be God’s will that she not be healed in a situation like that?

Scrivner’s answer, was that “God wants to heal her and would if she only understood his (Scrivner’s) teaching. It’s not God’s will that she be in a wheel chair. She is just in bondage to the devil.”

Bruce Barron points out in his book, The Health and Wealth Gospel, that, 5 years after her accident, Joni Erickson Tada did in fact become convinced of exactly what Scrivner is teaching. She fervently believed it, publicly confessed to people that she was going to be healed, had a special healing/prayer service, etc.2 But she wasn’t healed. We don’t know if Scrivner is aware of Tada’s brief diversion into the health and wealth teachings, but I suppose, even if he was, he could always claim that she just didn’t have enough faith.

“It’s Just Not God’s Timing”

When confronted with reality – a situation where someone really believes that God will heal them, isn’t guilty of some unrepentant sin, etc., but still is not getting well – Since it’s not God’s will that any Christian be sick, Scrivner’s answer is that it’s just not God’s timing. They need to be patient, continue to have faith and God will heal them.

Comment: If it is “not God’s timing,” then that is the same as saying that it is God’s will for the person to be sick for a while.

What about Doctors?

Scrivner and other health and wealth advocates teach that we should not go to doctors. We don’t need doctors. All we need is knowledge of the “truth” and faith. They don’t forbid that their followers go to doctors. They learned their lesson after the disaster of the Hobart Freeman ministry in the 80’s in which over ninety members of his congregation died in an 8 year period because they were told not to go to doctors. But, these days, they teach that if you go, you are weak in your faith and that if you get well, it’s “man’s healing” and not God’s.

Concluding Thoughts

It is possible that Scrivner is casting out demons and that people are being healed when he prays for them. But that doesn’t make his teachings correct.

The Scriptures he uses are taken completely out of context.

His theology doesn’t work. It doesn’t line up with reality, which is that faithful believers get sick and it’s not always their fault.

And since the focus of his ministry is almost exclusively about healing and the “abundant life,” this should be an obvious clue that Satan is using him to distract people from what is important.

Be sure to check out the article by David Jones on Prosperity Theology. It does a very good job of dealing with some of these same issues.

Related Topics: Theology