James 5:20
Parallel Verses
New American Standard Bible
let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

King James Bible
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Darby Bible Translation
let him know that he that brings back a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins.

World English Bible
let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.

Young's Literal Translation
let him know that he who did turn back a sinner from the straying of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:20 Parallel
Commentary
Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Let him know - Let him who converts the other know for his encouragement.

That he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way - Any sinner; anyone who has done wrong. This is a general principle, applicable to this case and to all others of the same kind. It is a universal truth that he who turns a sinner from a wicked path does a work which is acceptable to God, and which will in some way receive tokens of his approbation. Compare Deuteronomy 12:3. No work which man can perform is more acceptable to God; none will be followed with higher rewards. In the language which is used here by the apostle, it is evidently intended not to deny that success in converting a sinner, or in reclaiming one from the error of his ways, is to be traced to the grace of God; but the apostle here refers only to the divine feeling towards the individual who shall attempt it, and the rewards which he may hope to receive. The reward bestowed, the good intended and done, would be the same as if the individual were able to do the work himself. God approves and loves his aims and efforts, though the success is ultimately to be traced to himself.

Shall save a soul from death - It has been doubted whether this refers to his own soul, or to the soul of him who is converted. Several manuscripts, and the Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Coptic versions, here read: "his soul." The most natural interpretation of the passage is to refer it to the soul of the one converted, rather than of him who converts him. This accords better with the uniform teaching of the New Testament, since it is nowhere else taught that the method of saving our souls is by converting others; and this interpretation will meet all that the scope of the passage demands. The object of the apostle is to present a motive for endeavoring to convert one who has wandered away; and assuredly a sufficient motive for that is furnished in the fact, that by this means an immortal soul would be saved from eternal ruin. The word death here must refer to eternal death, or to future punishment. There is no other death which the soul is in danger of dying. The body dies and moulders away, but the soul is immortal. The apostle cannot mean that he would save the soul from annihilation, for it is in no danger of that. This passage proves, then, that there is a death which the soul may die; that there is a condition which may properly be called death as a consequence of sin; and that the soul will suffer that unless it is converted.

And shall hide a multitude of sins - Shall cover them over so that they shall not be seen; that is, they shall not be punished. This must mean either the sins which he has committed who is thus converted and saved, or the sins of him who converts him. Whichever is the meaning, a strong motive is presented for endeavoring to save a sinner from the error of his ways. It is not easy to determine which is the true sense. Expositors have been about equally divided respecting the meaning. Doddridge adopts substantially both interpretations, paraphrasing it, "not only procuring the pardon of those committed by the convert, but also engaging God to look with greater indulgence on his own character, and to be less ready to mark severely what he has done amiss." The Jews regarded it as a meritorious act to turn a sinner from the error of his ways, and it is possible that James may have had some of their maxims in his eye. Compare Clarke, in loc. Though it may not be possible to determine with certainty whether the apostle here refers to the sins of him who converts another, or of him who is converted, yet it seems to me that the reference is probably to the latter, for the following reasons:

(1) Such an interpretation will meet all that is fairly implied in the language.

(2) this interpretation will furnish a strong motive for what the apostle expects us to do. The motive presented is, according to this, that sin will not be punished. But this is always a good motive for putting forth efforts in the cause of religion, and quite as powerful when drawn from our doing good to others as when applied to ourselves.

(3) this is a safe interpretation; the other is attended with danger. According to this, the effort would be one of pure benevolence, and there would be no danger of depending on what we do as a ground of acceptance with God. The other interpretation would seem to teach that our sins might be forgiven on some other ground than that of the atonement - by virtue of some act of our own.

(4) and there might be danger, if it be supposed that this refers to the fact that our sins are to be covered up by this act, of supposing that by endeavoriug to convert others we may live in sin with impunity; that however we live, we shall be safe if we lead others to repentance and salvation.

If the motive be the simple desire to hide the sins of others - to procure their pardon - to save a soul from death, without any supposition that by that we are making an atonement for our own sins - it is a good one, a safe one. But if the idea is that by this act we are making some atonement for our own offences, and that we may thus work out a righteousness of our own, the idea is one that is every way dangerous to the great doctrine of justification by faith, and is contrary to the whole teaching of the Bible. For these reasons it seems to me that the true interpretation is, that the passage refers to the sins of others, not our own; and that the simple motive here presented is, that in this way we may save a fellow-sinner from being punished for his sins. It may be added, in the conclusion of the notes at this Epistle, that this motive is one which is sufficient to stimulate us to great and constant efforts to save others. Sin is the source of all the evil in the universe: and the great object which a benevolent heart ought to have, should be that its desolating effects may be stayed; that the sinner may be pardoned; and that the guilty soul may be saved from its consequences in the future world. This is the design of God in the plan of redemption; this was the object of the Saviour in giving himself to die; this is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in renewing and sanctifying the soul; and this is the great end of all those acts of Divine Providence by which the sinner is warned and turned to God. When we come to die, as we shall soon, it will give us more pleasure to be able to recollect that we have been the means of saying one soul from death, than to have enjoyed all the pleasures which sense can furnish, or to have gained all the honor and wealth which the world can give.

James 5:20 Parallel Commentaries

Library
Against Rash and Vain Swearing.
"But above all things, my brethren, swear not." St. James v. 12. Among other precepts of good life (directing the practice of virtue and abstinence from sin) St. James doth insert this about swearing, couched in expression denoting his great earnestness, and apt to excite our special attention. Therein he doth not mean universally to interdict the use of oaths, for that in some cases is not only lawful, but very expedient, yea, needful, and required from us as a duty; but that swearing which
Isaac Barrow—Sermons on Evil-Speaking, by Isaac Barrow

Conversion
Our text has in it, first of all, a principle involved--that of instrumentality.--"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death." Secondly, here is a general fact stated:--"He who converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." And thirdly, there is a particular application of this fact made. "Brethren, if any
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 1: 1855

Prayer for and with Each Other.
"Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."--James v. 16. Let our last article touch once more the key of love wherein the article preceding that of prayer was set. To speak of the Spirit's work in our prayers, omitting the intercession of the saints, betrays a lack of understanding concerning the Spirit of all grace. Prayer for others is quite different from prayer for ourselves. The latter
Abraham Kuyper—The Work of the Holy Spirit

On the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
To this rite of anointing the sick our theologians have made two additions well worthy of themselves. One is, that they call it a sacrament; the other, that they make it extreme, so that it cannot be administered except to those who are in extreme peril of life. Perhaps--as they are keen dialecticians--they have so made it in relation to the first unction of baptism, and the two following ones of confirmation and orders. They have this, it is true, to throw in my teeth, that, on the authority of
Martin Luther—First Principles of the Reformation

Cross References
Proverbs 10:12
Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.

Proverbs 11:30
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls.

Proverbs 17:9
He who conceals a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Romans 11:14
if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.

1 Corinthians 1:21
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

James 1:21
Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

James 5:15
and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

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