Question: "What does the Bible say about essential oils?"
Answer: Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts obtained through steam distillation, cold pressing, or resin tapping. These oils are then used for therapeutic benefit as the scent molecules enter the nose and travel through the nervous system. The results are reported to include reduced stress, improved sleep, and relief from pain (see “What are the benefits of aromatherapy?” by Brent Bauer, M.D., www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/aromatherapy/faq-20058566, accessed 6/23/21). There is no inherent spiritual aspect to the scientific process of extracting oils from plants or to the body’s physical response to olfactory stimulation. Therefore, it is the attitude of the heart and the way in which we use essential oils or aromatherapy that has spiritual significance.
The use of oils and aromatic infusions is seen in the Bible. God commanded Moses to infuse oil with aromatic spices to make a sacred anointing oil for the priests in Exodus 30:22–38. God also commanded the priests to add scented oil to certain sacrifices to make them “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (Leviticus 2:1–2, ESV). The wise men brought frankincense (an aromatic incense) and myrrh (an aromatic oil) to Jesus after His birth (Matthew 2:11). Jesus was anointed with perfumed oil several times, and twice in the week of His crucifixion (Matthew 26:7, 12; Luke 7:37–38; John 12:3). James instructed the church to use anointing oil when praying for the healing of those who are sick (James 5:14). And God gave John a vision of the new heaven and the new earth where “the leaves of the tree [of life] are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).
From these examples we see that plants and their oils have been used in God-honoring ways in worship and in seeking healing of the body. However, it is important to remember that God said, “I am the LORD, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26). So, ultimately, it is not the spices, oils, or plants themselves that heal, but God, the Creator of both plants and human bodies.
Because some false religions, including Wicca and New Age religions, use oils and incense, some people are concerned that essential oils are associated with magic or that using them may lead to nonbiblical practices. God commanded the Israelites, “Let no one be found among you who . . . practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells” (Deuteronomy 18:10–11). “Idolatry and witchcraft” are part of a list of “acts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:20–21). So essential oils should never be used as a potion or in a ritual, whether it’s to harness the “energy of Nature,” enhance psychic vibrations, attract good luck, or any other spiritual practice not directed to the glory of the one true God of the Bible. However, the misuse of essential oils does not invalidate their proper use. Because oils were used for the glory of God in the Bible, it is possible to use essential oils today in God-honoring ways that avoid unbiblical practices.
Completely shunning the use of essential oils is not the only mistake people can make. Some people chase health and longevity to the point that physical or emotional well-being becomes an idol. They turn to every new diet, supplement, exercise plan, or alternative treatment and end up forgetting God’s call on their lives and His sovereignty over their physical condition. Chasing immortality is a futile endeavor (Psalm 90:10; 1 Peter 1:24–25; Hebrews 9:27). It is always God—not plants, oils, or even pharmaceuticals or surgery—who is responsible for healing. And when He chooses not to heal us in this earthly life, we can take Paul’s perspective: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Essential oils do not have any magical powers. In His wisdom and grace, God has designed human bodies to react in certain ways to the plants He created, and He should get the glory for any benefit we may or may not receive from the use of essential oils.
Paul instructed the church, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Using essential oils should only be done in a way that acknowledges God as the perfect Creator and ultimate Healer, and we must avoid forbidden spiritual practices. Those who choose to use essential oils should do so with biblical motives and in a manner that glorifies God, with a heart of gratitude and worship, while relying on Him for health and healing.