I strongly believe in the healing powers and the effectiveness of essential oils. Perhaps this stems from the fact that we always used essential oils in our home, and my parents always mentioned something about the oils being healing balms. At first, I didn’t understand, but as my faith grew, studying the Bible, the mention and use of oils in most parts of the Bible made sense. I’d been fascinated by the story of the wise men and the oils they presented to Jesus Christ – Myrrh and Frankincense, and this story led me into the biblical context of oils and what they meant or mean today. So, what does oil symbolize in the Bible?
In the Old Testament, oil was an important element in religious practices, where it was used for anointing by the high priest. Oil was applied to the heads of the priests to show that they had been anointed by God, while places and items would be sprinkled with oil for them to be deemed holy. Oil was also an essential part of a woman’s beauty. These uses of oil came from the belief in the oil’s sanctification or cleansing properties. As a result, oil also symbolized blessings, stability, and prosperity. Although oil wasn’t used predominantly in the New Testament, it was an essential symbol of healing, and Jesus poured oil on the sick as part of the healing process, as implied in Mark 6:13.
In this article, I’ll share more about the significance of oil in the Bible and why essential oils are held highly by Christians in both the Old and New Testaments.
How many times are oils mentioned in the Bible?
There are about 22 reference to oils in the Bible. Some of these oils mentioned include myrrh, frankincense, fresh oil, olive oil, spikenard, cedarwood, balsam, sandalwood, cinnamon, cassia, myrtle, hyssop, blackseed, hemp, rose of Sharon, and galbanum oils. These oils are mentioned across the Bible in different books, from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
How are oils used in the Bible?
Anointing Priests (and High Priests)
The most notable use of oils in the Bible could be its use in anointing priests. The first of Israel’s priests that were anointed was Aaron, and it’s suggested that his anointing was by use of oil because the oil was believed to consecrate him and his sons, making them fit to serve God and His people as Priests – Exodus 30:30-32. In this scripture, it’s further suggested that after the consecration, Aaron and his sons were required to use the holy oil to anoint other people for a generation. Though holy, the oil was meant to be poured on all ordinary people. Once anointed with the oil, an individual was believed to be consecrated, meaning they were considered sacred and dedicated to serving God in His Holy purpose.
Anointing is still a belief held by Christians today, although it is believed that God anoints his people by the Holy Spirit rather than by oil, and all that He anoints become God’s children through faith in Christ – Galatians 3:26.
Besides anointing priests, oil was also believed necessary for the anointing of kings. Psalms 89:19b-21 implied that the servant of God, David, was anointed as king with Holy oil, which was believed to be how God designated kings.
As is the case with priests, Holy oil is believed to be the same as the Holy Spirit, as is suggested by 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Presence of the Spirit of God
In Matthew 25, which covers the Parable of the 10 Virgins, it’s suggested that the virgins were asked for oil to keep their lamps from going out, and the wise is said to have answered on the contrary, refusing to offer the oil – Matthew 25:7-8. In this chapter, it is believed that oil mention represented the presence of the Holy Spirit since the virgins were waiting for the bridegroom, which is believed to represent Christ who was headed to the Church, which was his Bride. The 5 virgins that ran out of oil when the bridegroom arrived weren’t betrothed because they were too late, and it’s believed to mean that they’d missed out on the Holy Spirit.
Unification of the Spirit
Oil was also believed to be an important element in the unification of the spirit and in ensuring peace and harmony. This is implied in Psalms 133:1-3 where people living in harmony with each other are compared to precious oil on one’s head, running down Aaron’s beard and down to the collar of his robes. In this regard, it’s believed that oil symbolize a pleasant thing that brings peace and harmony in the same way that the Holy Spirit unifies believers – Ephesians 4:3.
Source of healing
It was believed that oil was not just a source of fuel and fire but also a healing balm, as implied in the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This bible scripture suggested that oil was used to protect and nourish the scalp and skin while keeping the body warm at night.
Anointing to be able to preach
Oil in the Bible is also believed to represent receiving the ability to minister to God’s people. Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit allowed him to proclaim God’s good news to the poor – Luke 4:18, which is believed to symbolize the same kind of anointing that Aaron and his sons received in the Old Testament. The anointing of Christ also gave Jesus the power to heal and overcome evil.
What is the biblical significance of oils in the Bible?
In the Old Testament, oils like olive oil were used for religious purposes primarily. In Exodus 25:6, it’s implied that the oil was used to anoint the high priest’s head and to bless or make holy places of worship and items used in worship, like the Tabernacle, specifically during Solomon’s time.
Olive oil was also meant for beautification, as implied in Esther 2:12, where it’s further noted that additional oils like myrrh were used in the 6-month-long cleansing process for ladies.
Oils also signified bountiful harvests, blessings, stability, and prosperity, as implied in Joel 1:10.
Genesis 28:18, it was implied that oil had sanctifying properties, which is why it was used throughout the Old Testament to bless or anoint inanimate objects and people. In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel anointed David, the youngest and lowliest of the sons of Jesse, using an oil bath over his head, which meant that God had selected David to be Israel’s king.
Throughout the Bible, oils were used for anointing, but in the New Testament, it’s suggested that oil became more symbolic and was linked to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The oils mainly were used as perfumes and incense, as mentioned in Zechariah 1:8/ Nehemiah 8:15 regarding myrtle oil; Frankincense was also used as perfume and incense – Matthew 2:1-12, Songs of Solomon 1:12-14 regarding spikenard oil, Psalm 92:10 regarding Fresh Oil, balsam oil, hyssop oil, cinnamon oil in Exodus 30:23, cedarwood oil used by King Solomon, Cassia Oil suggested in Exodus 30:22-25, and Psalms 45:7-9. Sandalwood was also considered an important oil used in embalming the body of Jesus, as implied in John 19:39. Other oils used in the Bible include hemp oil, Rose of Sharon, black seed oil, and galbanum oil.
3 symbolic meanings of oils in the Bible
Some of the symbolisms associated with oils in the Bible are as follows:
Anointing by the Holy Spirit
Oils mentioned in the Bible are considered symbols of receiving anointing from God through the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 25:1-13, it’s believed that the use of oil (lamps) carried by the 10 virgins represents the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, anointing was done manually, and the oil applied on an individual’s head meant that they’d received God’s gift and favor or holy spirit to become priests or kings.
Since olive oil was equated to liquid gold in ancient times and functioned as currency because it held its value, its abundance was believed to represent prosperity – Deuteronomy 32:13, Joel 2:19;24. Conversely, running out of olive oil meant famine.
Thanks to the many uses of oils and their value, oils used in the Bible also symbolize abundance, faithfulness, vitality, and richness. It’s believed that the consecration of Jacob’s pillar meant abundance and richness. Also, being anointed by the holy spirit or dwelling in the holy spirit produces faithfulness and abundance – Galatians 5:22-23.
How are oils used in the church today?
The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is where the oil is used on the sick person’s forehead, chest, or hands in the form of a cross. It’s believed that this sacrament gives the sick person strength and grace to bear infirmity or illness.
The Sacrament of Baptism, or the oil of the catechumens, is given to all Catholics preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults before Holy Communion or Mass.
Holy Chrism oil, made of olive and balsam, is also used to anoint chrisms with oil to signify strength and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit – 2 Corinthians 2:15.
Catholics also use oils for the Chrism Mass (Holy Oils) performed after the Liturgy of the Word. The oils are blessed individually by the bishop.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.