Q: #116. Should we anoint people or objects with oil today like they did in the Bible?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Oil was considered very valuable in Bible times. It was so valuable that God required a tithe of it to be given (Deut 12:17)(Deut 14:22-23)(Neh 13:12), as well as the firstfruits of it (Deut 18:4)(Num 18:12)(2 Chr 31:5).
It is important to note that oil is generally considered to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit in the Bible. As such, it could not be used when making an offering for sin (Lev 5:11)(Num 5:15). People were anointed with oil in order to set them apart for service to the Lord. Mainly this was done for priests (Ex 30:30)(Lev 8:12,30)(Lev 21:10)(Ex 40:13,15)(Num 35:25), and for kings (Saul: 1 Sam 10:1)(David: 1 Sam 16:13)(Solomon: 1 Kin 1:39)(Jehu: 2 Kin 9:1-6). The Tabernacle and all of the items associated with it were also anointed with oil (Ex 30:22-29)(Ex 40:9-11)(Lev 8:10-11). This was done with a special kind of oil that was mixed with different spices and ingredients, and it was not to be used for any other purpose (Ex 30:22-33).
Anointing people to set them apart for service to the Lord appears to have ended in the Old Testament (Jehoahaz: 2 Kin 23:30 was the last example I could find). No person is shown to have been anointed with oil in the New Testament to set them apart for service to the Lord (unless you count two different ladies pouring oil on Jesus head (Mt 26:6-13)(Mk 14:3-9), and feet (Lk 7:36-50)(Jn 12:1-8). In addition, other than one place in (Gen 28:18-22) (Also see: Gen 31:13), I am unaware of oil being used to anoint any objects apart from those associated with the Tabernacle.
So, while I don't see any evidence that we need to, or should be anointing people or objects today to set them apart for the Lord, I also see no harm in doing so. Let me add, however, that we SHOULD keep in mind the reason WHY oil was used in the Bible. I know of a number of examples where people have abused this by using anointing oil for other reasons. For instance, I still remember one lady who anointed a model lighthouse she liked, because she was afraid it would be torn down. Personally, I also feel that anointing pets, as some do, is an abuse of anointing oil (pets cannot be set apart to serve God...).
These things being said, however, it is important to note that the New Testament DOES mention in several places that the sick should be anointed with oil. The most prominent verse associated with this is (James 5:14), which says, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." This is practiced in many churches today, and certainly should be. We also have examples of the sick being anointed with oil in the New Testament (Mk 6:13)(Lk 10:34), as well as the Old Testament (Isa 1:6)(2 Chr 28:15). If you have a serious sickness, I recommend taking this step.
Since we are on the subject of oil, let me add a few more things the Bible says about it. It was also used as a cosmetic (Es 2:12)(Ruth 3:3), and to light lamps (Ex 25:6)(Ex 27:20)(Lev 24:2). The Bible also associates it with joy (Isa 61:3), gladness (Ps 45:7)(Heb 1:9), and how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live in unity (Ps 133:1-2).