The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:14–16

Byz V S TR Nes

14 Is anyone among you sick?

He should summon

Vbring in the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him,

anointing him with oil in the name of the

Sour Lord.

14d anointing him with oil Mk 6:13

15 And the prayer of faith will save

Sheal the sick person,

and the

Sour Lord will raise him up.

And if has committed any sins, it

V Sthey will be forgiven him.

15b raising the sick Mk 5:41 15c–16 Sin, illness and healing Mt 9:1–8 ‖; Ps 103:3 15a faith will heal Mk 2:5; 5:34,36; 6:5–6; 9:23–29

16 Confess, V S Nesthen, Vyour sins to one another

and pray for one another so that you may be healed.

Powerful indeed is the effective

Vpersistent prayer of a righteous person.

Suggestions for Reading

13–18 The passage focuses on prayer (Literary Devices Jas 5:13–18). After warning the reader that he must ask God in faith, not doubting (Jas 1:5–8) and that he must not ask wrongly (Jas 4:2–3), James here gives examples of proper, effective prayer.

The passage also relates to James' concern with proper speech: after giving many admonitions against improper speech (e.g., Jas 5:9; 5:12), James here gives example of the proper use of speech in praying and singing. See also →James: Speech in James.

The passage presents a holistic view of illness and healing: here, these two elements are closely associated: physical illness and “spiritual illness” (sin) on the one hand, and physical healing and forgiveness of sin, on the other, are closely linked. There is also a strong link between understanding the anointing ritual as providing healing (both spiritual and physical) in this life, and understanding the anointing and prayer as preparation for ultimate healing in the resurrection and eternal life. This holistic emphasis reflects the theme of wholeness and integrity found throughout the letter. See further →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James.

Catholic tradition has drawn out the meaning of Jas 5:14-15 in various ways, primarily through the development of the teaching on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. The tradition has at various times emphasized the different aspects of James’ integral vision: spiritual healing (Origen, Chrysostom, Council of Trent), physical healing (an early tradition of anointing among the laity, Vatican II’s emphasis on a broader understanding of healing), and the eschatological dimension (the traditional emphasis on “extreme unction” as preparation for eternal life). See also Christian Tradition Jas 5:14f and Theology Jas 5:14f.

This section, and the letter, ends with James' exhortation to community members to turn back a straying fellow-believer (Jas 5:19-20). James thus reinterates his characteristic concern for harmony within the community. The history of interpretation generally interpreted the ambiguous passage to mean that a person who converted another from sin would in turn receive pardon of his own sins; this took its place in a traditional list of ways in which one could seek pardon for sins. See also Christian Tradition Jas 5:19f.


Literary Devices

13f Rhetorical Question James frequently uses questions, and here the rapid series of three questions and responses gives the flavor of an oral give-and-take (cf. Jas 3:13 for the same construction; see also Grammar Jas 5:13f).

Textual Criticism

14c anointing Variants B om. "him" after "anointing"; B. om. “of the Lord”.


14c anointing Related Terms The verb for anointing with oil (aleiphô) is commonly used for physical healing (Mk 6:13) or as a sign of good health (Mk 6:17) in contrast with chriô, the usual Greek term for the ritual anointing of the kings or the prophets in the OT. See also Ancient Texts Jas 5:14c and  Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:14c.


14b over him An Unusual Preposition The use of the preposition epi (ep' auton) with pray (proseuchomai) is unusual. It may have the sense of the presbyters standing over a sick person who is lying down, or it may allude to the sense of invoking God's name over the person (cf. Jas 2:7). It may also allude to the sense of laying hands on the sick person during prayer;

  • Origen Hom. Lev. 2.4.5 translates "and they will place their hands on him" (imponant ei manus) instead of "they should pray over him."

14c in the name of the Lord Instrumental or Circumstantial? The relationship of this phrase to the action of anointing may be understood as:

  • attendant circumstances: anointing while invoking the Lord’s name (cf. Jn 14:13-14; Eph 5:20);
  • in an instrumental sense, anointing by the power and authority ("name") of the Lord  (cf. Mt 7:22; Acts 4:10).

See also Christian Tradition Jas 5:14c.


Ancient Texts

14c–15 anointing  + save: Link between Anointing and Eschatological Salvation Two passages from the Iliad echo James’ allusions to eschatological salvation:

  • Homer Il. 16.677–680 “Immediately then he [Apollo] lifted up noble Sarpedon out of the range of the missiles, and carrying him far away, bathed him in the streams of the river, and anointed him with ambrosia (chrisen t' ambrosiêᵢ), and clothed him with immortal raiment (ambrota eimata), and gave him to swift conveyors, to the twin brothers, Sleep and Death, to bring with them, and they set him down speedily in the rich land of wide Lycia” (Murray 1925, 2:212-13).
  • Homer Il. 23.184-87 “So he [Achilles] spoke threatening, but no dogs were busy with Hector [i.e., his body], but the daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite, kept dogs from him by day and by night alike, and with oil she anointed him (chrien elaiôᵢ), rose-sweet, ambrosial, so that Achilles might not tear him as he dragged him” (Murray 1925, 2:507).



14c anointing him with oil Sacramentology: Matter of the Anointing of the Sick

  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo (DzH 1324) and Conc. Trid. Unc. 1 (DzH 1695) teach that the matter (materia) of the sacrament is olive oil (oleum olivae) blessed by a bishop.
  • CCC 1504 links Jesus’ use of “signs of healing” (use of saliva and touch) with the physical aspect of the sacraments: “And so in the sacraments Christ continues to ‘touch’ us in order to heal us.”


14c anointing him with oil Olives and Olive Oil in the Islamic Tradition The Qur'an and subsequent Islamic tradition continue biblical traditions that recognize both the everyday health benefits of olives and olive oil and employ them as eschatological symbols (see Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:14c; Peritestamental Literature Jas 5:14c; Jewish Tradition Jas 5:14c).

  • Qur’an 23:20 "And We send down water...With it We grow for you Gardens of date-palms and vines...Also a tree springing out of Mount Sinai, which produces oil, and relish for those who use it for food."
  • Qur’an 24:35 “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp; the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is well-nigh Luminous, though fire scarce touch it: light upon light!" Al-Ghazali Mish. comments on this verse, identifying the olive tree with logical, discursive thinking, and olive oil with the transcendental prophetic spirit of prophets and saints.
  • Qur’an 95:1-3 associates the fig, the olive, Mount Sinai, and "this city of security" (a reference to Mecca).
  • In the hadith collection ibn Majah Sun. Maj. 4.29.3319:  "It was narrated from 'Umar that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: 'Season (your food) with olive oil and anoint yourselves with it, for it comes from a blessed tree" (4:351).


14c anointing him with oil Literary References to Anointing of the Sick

  • Shakespeare Hamlet 1.5.77: The Ghost of Hamlet's father laments that his sudden murder left him, "cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled." The Ghost refers to his lack of opportunity to prepare for death with the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, and Extreme Unction (55).
  • Sigrid Undset's trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter includes several scenes involving the dying confessing their sins and receiving last rites and the viaticum, including the deaths of Kristin's father and her own death (Undset Krist. Lav.).



15b raise The G verb egeirô has two possible meanings:


Biblical Intertextuality

15f Association of Sin and Illness Different scriptures witness to the various ways in which sin and illness are associated. 

  • Illness, suffering, and death can be seen as the result of human sin (Gn 3:14-19Rom 5:12)
  • Disease is understood as a punishment for breaking God’s covenant law in many OT books: Ex 15:26; Dt 7:15; 28:15–22. A connection between sin and disease is also evident in some NT passages: 1Cor 11:30, and Jn 9:2: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" See also Ps 38:2: "There is no wholesomeness in my flesh because of your anger; there is no health in my bones because of my sin." Cf. Peritestamental Literature Jas 5:15f.
  • The causal connection between sin and illness is questioned in the Book of Job (Jb 4:7-9; 7:20; 9:22-23). Jesus also questions the connection: "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (Jn 9:3), although Jesus assumes there is still some connection between the two (see Mk 2:1-12 and Lk 13:1-5).
  • Illness is at times associated with demonic activity, see Mk 9:17—a boy possessed by a mute spirit; Lk 13:11: a woman "crippled by a spirit."
  • Other passages also do not relate illness to sin, but instead promise salvation for the sick, e.g., Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who finds his eternal reward (Lk 16:19-31). See below Theology Jas 5:15b; Theology Jas 5:15c.

James says significantly in Jas 5:15, "If he happens to have committed any sins," those sins will be forgiven to the sick person. Thus James sees no necessary, causal connection between sin and sickness.


Textual Criticism

16a sins  Nes (א BA) have tas hamartias, usually rendered in English as "sins." Some miniscules (e.g., 307, 442), Byz, and thus the TR read ta paraptômata, traditionally rendered in English as "trespasses." See comments of Erasmus below at Christian Tradition Jas 5:16a.



16–20 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : Rogation Days (Monday and Wednesday before Ascension).

10–20 Use in Lectionary BL : Special and General Feasts: Prophets; 1 of 3 reading options.


Peritestamental Literature

14c oil Medicinal Uses of Oil in Second Temple Judaism The use of olive oil for medicinal and healing purposes was very common among Second Temple Jews:

Oil was used to drive out spirits who caused illness:

  • T. Sol. 18:33 "I am called Rhyx Anoster. I unleash hysteria and cause pains in the bladder. If anyone mashes up the seeds of laurel into pure oil (elaion katharon) and massages (the body with it), saying, 'I adjure you by Marmaraoth, I retreat immediately" (OTP 1:981, McCown 1922, 57-58*); cf. T. Sol. 18:34.


Visual Arts

14ff anointing him with oil Depictions of Anointing  The sacrament of the anointing of the sick ("extreme unction"), which the Catholic Church considers to be defined in Jas 5:14-15, has been depicted artistically in many ways:


  • Rogier van der Weyden, "Extreme Unction", part of The Seven Sacraments altarpiece (1445-50). Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp. Accessed here→
  • Hieronymus Bosch (?), "Four Last Things," part of "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things," c. 1500. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Accessed here→
  • Dutch School, "Last rites," c. 1600. Accessed here→
  • Nicolas Poussin, "L'extrême-onction," c. 1636-40, part of a Seven Sacraments series. Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Accessed here→. Set in ancient times, a priest anoints the dying man's eyes.
  • Nicolas Poussin, "L'extrême-onction," 1644, part of a Seven Sacrament series. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Accessed here→. Set in ancient times, Poussin portrays a dying Christian soldier; a priest anoints his hands.
  • Giuseppe Crespi, "Extreme Unction," part of a Seven Sacraments series (c. 1712). Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany.  Accessed here→.


  • Pietro Longhi, "Extremae Unctionis Sacramentum," part of a Seven Sacraments series (c. 1755). Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Accessed here→.


  • "Seven Sacraments." South Netherlandish, c. 1435-50. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed here→.


Textual Criticism

16a Confess Nes (א BAC) retains oun ("then") after “confess”.


14a sick The verb astheneô (“being sick”) refers generally to physical illness or weakness (e.g., Mt 10:8; Mt 25:36), in contrast to the broader range of physical, mental, or emotional suffering denoted by the term “suffering” (kakopatheô; V-tristatur, “being gloomy, dismal”), used in v. 13. See also Christian Tradition Jas 5:14b, Christian Tradition Jas 5:14c, Liturgies Jas 5:14b, and Liturgies Jas 5:14c.


13f Declarative or Interrogative? The three opening questions may also be translated as declaratives, e.g., “Someone among you is suffering,” or (as S does) as conditionals: “If someone among you is suffering.”

Literary Devices

13–18 pray prayer...plea: Isotopy of Prayer Every verse in this passage refers to prayer; however, the words used are not simple synonyms. The noun euchê (prayer, v. 15) and the corresponding verb euchomai (to pray, v. 16) are generic terms. The verb expressing the prayer of petition is proseuchomai (v. 13, 14, 17,18) or proseuchê (v. 17). More concretely, the noun deêsis (v. 16) stands for a supplication or a particular request. As for psallô ("to sing a hymn," v. 13), it applies to prayer in the form of a hymn, in particular in the liturgical context.

15ab save the sick ...the Lord will raise him up: Syllepsis, Ambiguity between Literal and Metaphorical Meanings In Jas 5:15ab, James likely has an intentional play on the literal and metaphorical meanings of the two verbs.

  • The verb sôᵢzô can be used in freeing or saving someone from a disease, e.g., Jesus' instruction to the woman with the hemorrhage: "Your faith has saved (sôᵢzô) you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction" (Mk 5:34); see also Diodorus Siculus Bib. hist. 1.82.3 on the physicians' ability to save the patient (sôsai ton kamnonta; 1:280). In the NT, it also frequently refers to eternal salvation; e.g., 2Tm 4:18: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe (sôᵢzô) to his heavenly kingdom." Elsewhere in James, sôᵢzô always refers to eternal salvation (Jas 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20).
  • The verb egeirô refers literally to raising up a person physically (e.g. Acts 3:7). Yet in an extended sense it is applied to raising people from the dead (e.g., Mt 10:8), it is used especially in reference to Jesus’ resurrection (Mt 16:21; Acts 3:15; Rom 6:4).

James may thus suggest an intimate connection between healing from a sickness and eternal salvation: perhaps the physical saving / raising is a sign or foreshadowing of eternal salvation / raising from the dead, or perhaps the physical saving / raising already participates in eternal salvation and raising in a proleptic manner. See further Christian Tradition Jas 5:15a; Christian Tradition Jas 5:15b; Liturgies Jas 5:14f; Theology Jas 5:14f.


Peritestamental Literature

14c–15 anointing + save | Anointing and Salvation in Second Temple Judaism James' link between the anointing ritual and eschatological salvation (Literary Devices Jas 5:14f) reflects the Second Temple Jewish connection between anointing with oil and final salvation.

  • Apoc. Mos. 9.3; 13.2–3 (cf. L.A.E. Latin 36.2 [= oil of life = oleum vitae]; 40-42; 40:1: oil of mercy = oleum misericordiae): Adam, ill because of his sins, will receive a healing anointing with oil (G = elaion) from a tree in Paradise at the final resurrection (Cf. other references to an olive tree in Paradise: 2 En. 8:4 [shorter recension]; Gen. Rab. 33:6 ad Gn 8:10).
  • 2 En. 22:8–10; cf. 56:2: Enoch’s anointing with "delightful oil" marks his transition from his earthly existence into becoming “like one of the glorious ones, and there was no observable difference" (OTP, 1:138-39; Macaskill 2013, 102-3). See also 3 Bar. 15 (Greek): baskets of oil [elaion] as eschatological reward.
  • Jos. Asen. 8.5 (cf. 15.5): anointing with a “blessed ointment of incorruptibility” (chrietai chrismati eulogêmenôᵢ aphtharsias; OTP 2:212; Philonenko 1968, 154); cf. T. Adam 1.7.

15f Association of Sin and Illness

  • T. Reu. 1.7: "[God] struck me with a severe wound (plêgê megalê) in my loins for seven months [as punishment for Reuben's sexual sins]" (OTP 2:782; de Jonge 1978, 2).
  • T. Sim. 2.12-13 "for seven days my right hand became partly withered [the Lord's punishment of Simeon for his desire to kill Joseph out of jealousy]" (OTP 2:785).
  • T. Zeb. 5.3 "For the sons of my brothers were sickly (astheneô) and died on account of Joseph (dia Iôsêph), because they did not act in mercy out of their inner compassion" (OTP 2:806; de Jonge 1978, 96).
  • T. Gad. 5.9-11 "For God brought on me a disease (nosos) of the liver...For by whatever human capacity anyone transgresses, by that he is also chastised. Since my anger was merciless in opposition to Joseph, through this anger of mine I suffered mercilessly, and was brought under judgment for eleven months" (OTP 2:815; de Jonge 1978, 130-31).

16a Confess the failings to one another Confession of Sins at Qumran

  • →1QS 1.22–25 “And the levites shall recite the iniquities of the children of Israel…[And al]l those who enter the covenant shall confess after them and they shall say: 'We have acted sinfully, we have transgressed….'” (DSSSE 1:70-71).


Jewish Tradition

15f Association between Physical Healing and Forgiveness of Sin

  •  b. Ned. 41a “R. Alexander said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Abba: ‘A sick man does not recover from his sickness until all his sins are forgiven him, as it is written, ‘Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases’” (Ps 103:3). Cf. Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:15f.

Christian Tradition

15a prayer of faith will save Centrality of the Prayer

  • The earliest interpretations of Jas 5:14-18 focused on prayer and the forgiveness of sin as opposed to physical healing (cf. Christian Tradition Jas 5:14f).
  • Bonaventure Comm. IV Sent. "in the institution of the sacrament James would seem to locate the greatest power (maximam vim) in the prayer and attribute all of its efficacy (totam efficacium) to it when he says, 'the prayer of faith will save the sick.' He does not say that anointing will do this" (Hellmann 2016, et al., 371; Collegi S. Bonaventurae, 595). 
  • Luther Capt. Bab. "James made careful and diligent provision in this case by attaching the promise of healing and the forgiveness of sins not to the unction, but to the prayer of faith" (LW 36:121; WA 6:570).
  • Zwingli Iac. Expos. ad loc. attributes any regaining of health in this ritual to the prayer of faith, not to the anointing for the oil. Zwingli notes that James here refers to the ancient practice of anointing, practiced also by Christ's disciples, and comments that oil is beneficial for many ailments as a medicine (pharmacum; 49).


14f Sacramentology: Promulgation of the Anointing of the Sick. Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (traditionally known as “Extreme Unction”), and that James "promulgated" the sacrament (Jas 5:14–15).

  • Conc. Trid. Unc. “This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted (instituta est) by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament (vere et proprie sacramentum) of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed (quidem insinuatum) by Mark [cf. Mk 6:13], but it is recommended to the faithful and promulgated (fidelibus commendatum ac promulgatum) by James the apostle and brother of the Lord” (DzH 1695).
  • Rom. Inq. Lament. 48 condemns the "modernist" teaching that "In his Epistle (Ch. 5:14-15) James did not intend to promulgate a Sacrament of Christ but only commend a pious custom."
  • CCC 1510 “the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested (testatur) by St. James: [quotation of Jas 5:14-15]. Tradition has recognized in this rite (i.e., Jas 5:14–15) one of the seven sacraments” (cf. 1499–1532).


Ancient Texts

14c oil Importance and Meaning of Oil In Ancient Mediterranean culture, olive oil was a staple of daily life and was associated with strength, cleanliness, honor, and good health.

Oil in Daily Life

  • Olives and olive oil were major items of trade (cf. Rv 18:13).
  • Athletes used it for exercising (e.g., Pliny Nat. 15.19).
  • Anointing with oil after bathing was common (e.g., Homer Il. 10.577-79).
  • Olive oil was commonly used in daily life for cooking and for illumination in oil lamps (cf. Mt 25:3).
  • Pliny Nat. 15.7-8 alludes to its widespread use: "nature (natura)...did not desire us to be sparing in the use of oil, and she has made it universal even among common people" (promiscuum et volgo; Rackham 1963, 4:290-93).

Use in Worship

  • Pausanias Descr. 8.42.11 (pouring oil over sacrifices); 10.24.6 (anointing a stone near the grave of Achilles’ son).
  • Virgil Aen. 6.212–234: olive boughs and bowls of oil (fuso cratores olivo) used in a funeral ceremony (Fairclough 1918, 1:548-49).

Use as a Symbol of Triumph and Honor

  • Pliny Nat. 15.20 "The majesty of Rome has bestowed great honour on the olive-tree (oleae) by decorating our calvary squadrons with wreaths of olive on July 15, and also when they are celebrating a minor triumph. Athens also crowns victorious athletes with olive wreaths (olea), and Greece the victors at Olympia with wreaths of wild olives" (oleastro; Rackham 1963, 4:300-301).

Recognition of Oil's Medicinal Value

  • Pliny Nat. 15.19 "Olive oil (oleo) has the property of imparting warmth to the body and protecting it against cold, and also that of cooling the head when heated" (Rackham 1963, 4:300-301; cf. Hippocrates Acut. 65).
  • Pliny Nat. 23.34-39: Pliny lists a great variety of medicinal remedies involving olive oil or the various parts of the olive plant, either alone or in combination with other treatments. For example: sores are healed by chewing olive leaves and applying them; headaches are treated with a liniment of olive leaves and oil; the juice of the leaves is a common ingredient in salves; the ash of olive wood, mixed with axle-grease, cures tumors; white olives are used to treat burns.
  • Columella Rust. 7.5.18: Broken legs of both humans and sheep are wrapped in wool soaked with oil and wine and then bound in splints.
  • Hippocrates Nat. mul. 7: A disease of the uterus is treated with Egyptian oil (elaion) soaked in wool (Potter 2012, 202-3).

Biblical Intertextuality

14b Presbyters Informal and Formal Community Leaders In the OT, the term can refer to the leaders of a community, e.g., Ru 4:2: "the elders (G = presbuteroi; M = zqnym) of the city." A key passage is Moses' selection of 70 elders to help him lead the Israelites.

The title "presbyters / elders" is given frequently to official Jewish leaders in the Gospels and Acts, named often alongside the chief priests and scribes (e.g., Mk 14:43; Acts 4:23). The "presbyters / elders" sent by a centurion to Jesus in Lk 7:3 may reflect a more informal use of the term.

The term is used in several NT books to designate church leaders (e.g., Acts 14:23; 15:2; Tt 1:5; 2Jn 1; 3Jn 1; see especially the same phrase “presbyters of the church” in Acts 20:17). A group of presbyters helped to lead the first Jerusalem church (e.g., Acts 15:2).  Paul and Barnabas appoint presbyters in their churches (Acts 14:23), as does Paul's co-worker (Tt 1:5).  1Tm 5:18 lists preaching (logos) and teaching as two of the duties of a presbyter; cf. the literal reference in to men older in age.

The terms "presbyter" and "bishop" (episkopos) are not always clearly distinguished: in Paul's letters, the Ephesian presbyters are also called episkopoi. Both terms have a broader literal meaning (presbyter = "elder" in terms of age; episkopos = "overseer") and it is not always clear when the term is to be taken in its broader literal sense and when it refers to a specialized office of the church. See also →Ecclesiastical vocabulary among the first christian communities: episkopoi, presbuteroi, and diakonoi.

14b let them pray Prayers for Healing The OT records several prayers for healing.

  • 1Kgs 17:20–22: Elijah prays for the life of the widow's son.
  • 2Kgs 20:2–6: Hezekiah's prayer and healing (cf. the parallel in Is 38).
  • Sir 38:1-15: Prayer for healing (vv 9, 14) are combined with praise for and recommendation of the skills of the physician.

The Psalmist often prays for healing.

  • Ps 6:2 (3): "Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak; heal (G: iaomai; M: rp’) me, Lord, for my bones are shuddering."
  •  Ps 30:2 (3) [G-29:3]: "O Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help and you healed me" (G: iaomai; M: rp’).

16a Confess the failings to one another that you may be healed: Confession of Sin in Scripture Confession of sin took place in a variety of contexts.

Old Testament

  • Confessing sin when offering a sacrifice (Lv 5:1-6).
  • Confessing a sin committed against another, Nm 5:7: "If a man or a woman commits any offense against another person...that person shall confess (G= exagoreuô; M: hitpa‘al of ydh) the wrong that has been done..."
  • The high priest confesses the sins of the people, Lv 16:21: Aaron confesses the iniquities of the Israelites on the Day of Atonment.
  • Confession to the Lord is necessary for healing, Ps 32:3-5 [G-Ps 31:3-5]: “Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away…Then I declared (G= gnôrizô; M = hip‘il of yd‘) my sin to you…and you took away the guilt of my sin."

New Testament

  • The Gospel traditions records the tradition of public confession of sins as part of John's baptism (Mt 3:6).
  • 1Jn 1:9 links confession and forgiveness of sin without specifying a context: "If we confess (homolegeô) our sins (hamartias) he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins..."



13–20 Use in Lectionary

  • RML : Saturday, Week 7, Year 2.
  • RCL : Proper 21, Year B.

Christian Tradition

14c in the name of the Lord Reference to Consecrating the Oil OR Invoking the Lord's Name

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. “For what he [James] says, ‘with oil in the name of the Lord,’ means with oil consecrated (consecrato) in the name of the Lord or at least that when they anoint the sick person they ought to invoke the name of the Lord over him (nomen domini super eum invocare) at the same time" (Hurst 1985, 62; Hurst 1983, 221).
  • Gloss. Ord. the interlinear gloss to "nomine" reads "nomen domini invocetur" (1301-2).

15b the Lord will raise him up Oil and Eschatological Salvation / Resurrection Several early Christian texts connect olive oil with the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, and thus with future eternal life:

  • Gos. Phil. 73:16-18 “The tree of life, however, is in the middle of the garden (paradeisos). It is an olive tree, and from it comes chrism, and from chrism comes resurrection" (anastasis; Meyer 2007, 178; Layton 1989, 188); cf. Origen Cels. 6.27: report of a group whose members profess, “I have been anointed with white ointment (chrismati leukôᵢ) from the tree of life” (Chadwick 1965, 342).
  • Ps.-Clem. Rec. 1.45.5 “Him [Christ] first God anointed with oil which was taken from the wood of the tree of life (hunc primum pater oleo perunxit, quod ex ligno vitae fuerat sumptum): from that anointing therefore He is called Christ. Thence, moreover, He Himself also, according to the appointment of His Father, anoints with similar oil (simili oleo perunguet) every one of the pious when they come to His kingdom, for their refreshment after their labours, as having got over the difficulties of the way; so that their light may shine, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they may be endowed with immortality" (inmortalitate donentur; ANF  8:89; Rehm and Strecker 1992, 34). Cf. Gos. Nic. 19: Adam sends Seth in search of oil from Paradise to heal him, but he will not receive it until Christ descends to the underworld . See also Peritestamental Literature Jas 5:14c–15; Theology Jas 5:15c.

16a Confess [your] failings to one another Interpretations and Applications

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. links the two admonitions of this verse: when one Christian confesses his faults to a fellow Christian, this knowledge helps the fellow Christian to pray a more specific and effective prayer of intercession for the one confessing (Owen 1849, 358; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 432).
  • A.A. 1984: Alcoholics' Anonymous practice of group members honestly sharing their failings with one another was inspired by Jas 5:16, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (128).

16a Confessing to Priests or Laity? The tradition is divided on whether James refers to confessing sins to priests or to laypeople.

Confession to a Priest

  • Peter Lombard Sent. 4.17.3 (94) "But that it is necessary to confess to priests (sacerdotibus confiteri oporteat) is proven (comprobatur) not only by the authority of James, 'Confess your sins to each other,' etc., but also by many testimonies of others" (Silano 2010, 4:99; Collegii Bonaventurae 1981, 2:348). Similarly, Hugh of St. Victor De sacr. 2.14.1.
  • Aquinas ST Supp. 8.1 also understands James' admonition to refer to priests; arguing that James presupposes Jesus' divine institution of penance when he gave priests, in the person of the apostles, the power to forgive sins (referencing Jn 20:23). ST Supp 6.6 adds that the sacrament was promulgated by James (a Iacobo promulgatum), but instituted by God (sed a Deo institutionem habuit). But see ST Supp. 8.3 (below).
  • Other authors cite Jas 5:16a as a proof-text for the sacrament of Penance: Nicholas of Lyra Post. ad loc. (col. 1303); Albert Par. an. 40  (508).

Confession to One Another

  • Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 58.5 takes this as a general admonition that Christians should pray for one another, and forgive one another's sins, following the example of Christ who humbly washed the feet of the disciples (NPNF1 7:307; Willems 1954, 475); cf. Augustine of Hippo Ep. 153.10; Bede Hom. Ev. 2.5.150.
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad. loc. "However, in this statement there ought to be made this distinction, that we confess our daily and minor sins (cotidiana leuiaque peccata) to another as peers (alterutrum coaequalibus) and believe that we are saved by their daily prayer; in turn, according to the law, let us make known the uncleanness of more serious leprosy to the priest (sacerdoti) and take care to be purified in the manner and for the length of time his judgment has decreed. (Hurst 1985, 62; Hurst 1983, 222); cf. Bede Hom. Ev. 2.14.57-61. Martin of León Exp. Jac. ad loc., uses Bede's wording, but concludes that daily and minor sins should be confessed to a priest, and graver sins to an abbot or bishop (abbati, vel episcopo; col. 212). 
  • Gloss. Ord.: Bede's teaching is quoted in an interlinear gloss (cols. 1303-4).
  • Peter Lombard Sent. (95), also quotes Bede's teaching, specifying that Bede refers to a distinction between venial and mortal sins (venialium et mortalium). "Venial sins may be confessed to an equal, but the graver ones to a priest."  Venial sins may be confessed to an equal, "even if there is an abundance of priests." He ends by qualifying, "Yet it is safer and more perfect to reveal both kinds of sins to priests and to seek medicinal counsel from those to whom the power of loosing and binding was granted." (Silano 2010, 4:103; Collegii Bontaventurae 1981, 2:353); cf. Sent. 4.16.1 (86).
  • Aquinas ST Supp. 8.3 : Referring to the authority of Bede and Peter Lombard, Thomas concludes "a man does not need to confess his venial sins to a priest," (non oportet quod venialia aliquis sacerdoti confiteatur) since a person is not separated from God or from the sacraments by venial sins. Confession to a layperson (confessio laico), nevertheless, "is a sacramental (sacramentale), although it is not a perfect sacrament, and since it proceeds from charity, it has a natural aptitude to remit sins (natum est veniale remitti; English Dominicans 1947, 5:2584).
  • Duns Scotus Quaest. Lib. Sent. ad 4.17.1  denies that Jas 5:16a refers to the sacrament of penance: it rather encourages lay Christians to confess their sins to one another (Wadding 1894, 518-19).
  • Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. ad loc. reads paraptômata,  which, he argues, should be translated as errors (errata) instead of sins (peccata, as in V); so also Estius Comm. ep. cath. ad loc. (4381). "For he refers to daily offenses  (quotidianis offensis) of Christians among themselves, which he wishes to reconcile without delay. Otherwise, if he were referring to confession, which we say is part of the sacrament of penance, he would not have added allêlois, that is, 'to one another,' but rather 'to the priests'" (sacerdotibus; van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 426).
  • Bonhoeffer Leben ch. 5 sees this passage as giving authority to all Christians to hear and forgive one anothers' sins. Humble confession to to a fellow Christian overcomes the central sin of pride and leads to true fellowship and community. True community is impossible as long Christians hide their sins from one another. Confession to another helps the Christian to avoid the self-deception that might come from confessing only to God and makes God's forgiveness more concrete (Bloesch and Burtness 1996, 108-18; Müller and Schönherr 1987, 93-102).

Further Views

  • Conc. Cab. 33 recognizes that some say that sins ought to be confessed only to God, but others believe they are to be confessed to a priest. It apparently teaches that confession to priests was instituted by James: "according to the institution of the apostle"[quotation of Jas 5:15]. And so confession which is made to God cleanses sins: but that which is made to the priest, teaches us how these same sins are cleansed" (Palmer 1959, 157; Werminghoff 1906, 280). Reproduced in Burchard of Worms Decr. 20.145, with the added gloss that private confession is practiced by the Greeks, but confession to the priest is particed by the "whole holy Church" (tota sancta Ecclesia; 1011).
  • Suarez Disp. 35.1 recognizes that not all theologians are convinced that James refers to priests, but on the authority of the Conc. Cab. and theologians such as Bonavanture, he judges that the passages "is not to be despised" (contemnendum; Berton 1861, 734).
  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 67.1-2 applies the passage to the duty of his congregation to pray for those who practice public penance (paenitentia publica), including the wearing of a hairshirt (Mueller 1973, 1:318-20; Morin 1953 1:286-87); cf. also the more general discussion of the passage in Serm. 59.1 [adapted from Augustine]).
  • Estius Comm. ep. cath. ad loc. notes three different interpretations, all of them in some manner probable (aliquo modo probabiles): (1) Christians confessing their sins to those whom they have offended (he compares Mt 5:23-24); (2) Christians confessing venial sins to one another, asking for advice, and praying for one another; (3) reference to sacramental confession to priest (4382-83).

Reformed Interpretation and Catholic Response

  • Luther Beicht. 2 argues that the passsage cannot refer to confession to the clergy, since it clearly says, "confess your sins to one another"—meaning that any Christian my hear the confession of another. In particular, it means that a Christian should confess his sin to one whom he has offended (WA 8:155-56). Reformed confessions apply the verse to confessing to the person whom one has offended (WCF 15.6; Helv. Conf. II 14.7).
  • Calvin Inst. Rel. 3.4.6 insists that this passage contradicts the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession to a priest only. Rather James advises Christians to confess shortcomings to one another, receive mutual advice, and pray for one another.
  • Eck Ench. 8 holds that James "announces (annuciavit) here the command of God (praeceptum Dei) concerning the confessing of sin" (119). Responding to the Protestant argument that the passage refers to confessing sins to one another in general, he admits that James is not precise in naming the one to whom confession is due, but only because Christ had already indicated who should absolve sinners (123-24).
  • Conc. Trid. Paen. ch. 5 (DzH 1679) references Jas 5:16 in holding that the Lord instituted "complete confession of sins (integram peccatorum confessionem), but for Jesus' institution of the sacrament of penance, it references John 20:23 ( Conc. Trid. Paen. 1 [DzH 1670]; see also Conc. Trid. Paen. 6, referencing Mt 18:18 and Jn 20:23 on priests and bishops as ministers of penance).

16c Greatly prevails the prayer of a righteous [man] at work What Makes Prayer Prevail? The passage has drawn many comments on what makes prayer effective.

Encouragement to Pray for the Intercession of the Saints

  • The Orthodox Dositheos Conf. Dos. 8 teaches that one should pray for the intercession of the saints since God listens to the righteous rather than sinners (CCFCT 1:619; Karmirês 1986, 2:751); so too Eck Ench. 15 (180). See also the application of Jas 5:14-15 to the doctrine of the intercession of the saints: Cassian Coll. 20.8.4.
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. "God does not hear the ungodly (impios); nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith (fide purgatum cor habere oportet) before we can present ourselves before God" (Owen 1849, 359; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 433).

Js 5:16 and Luther's Theology of Prayer

  • Luther Tischr. no. 5565 judges Jas 5:16 as "one of the best verses in that epistle" (LW 54:454; WA TR 5:245). Here he cites Monica's prayers for her son Augustine as an example of effective prayer.
  • The prayer of the righteous can change God's mindLuther Lect. Gen. ad Gn 19:21-22 held that God commanded Christians to pray, and he promised to hear their prayers. He thus believes that an earnest prayer can change God's mind. Commenting on Lot's intercession for the town of Zoar, Luther writes, "It was God's will that the city of Zoar should be destroyed together with the others; but because Lot intercedes for it, God changes his will and does what Lot wants" (mutat voluntatem Deus, et facit, quod Loth vult). The text teaches, "Lot's prayer does this; it compels God (ea cogit Deum) not to carry out His wrathful will. God permits it to be broken and does the will of those who fear Him." If one doubts one's own worthiness in prayer, it is ineffective. Thus "you should not look at your unworthiness; you should look at God's command (mandatum Dei) and not debate whether you are worthy or not. But you should hold fast the promise that the Lord wants to do the will of those who fear Him" (Dominus velit facere voluntatem timentium se). Such examples teach that Christians should "pray boldly and with confidence (animose et confidenter oremus). If He does not give what we are asking for, He will nevertheless give something that is better; for prayer cannot be in vain (non enim oratio potest frustra esse), as James too, states, 'The prayer of a righeous man avails much if it is persistent,' that is, earnest and ardent (seria et intenta). For God cannot despise a righteous man and all his works" (contemnere iustum et universa opera eius; LW 3:290-92; WA 43:83-84).
  • Prayer must be persistent. In his comments on Mt 7:7, Luther Comm. Serm. Mt. ad Mt 7:7-11 cites Jas 5:16 as a motivation to remain persistent in prayer, even when it seems that God's answer is delayed. "For you have his Word, and He will have to say, 'All right, then, you may have what you want'" (LW 21:234; WA 32:493).
  • A prayer of faith is not always bold and confident. Luther Lect. Gen. ad Gn 43:11-14 refers to Jacob's prayer in Gn 43:14 as an example of the "prayer of faith" (Jas 5:15a) that is not always outwardly bold and confident. "His reliance on the promise is very weak (infirmiter), for he laments and mourns pitifully. But since a spark and the unutterable sobbing (Rom 8:26) of faith still remain, he does not despair (non desperat) but prays."  Luther admonishes, "we should accustom ourselves to pray, even though we are weak in faith." He supports this advice with a quotation of Jas 5:13, 'Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray....."  (LW 7:324-26; WA 44:540-41).

Fervent Prayer is Effective

  • WCF 21.3 cites this passage in support of its teaching on fervency in prayer (632).

The Moral Efforts of the One Praying Make Prayer Effective

  • The Gazan hermits Barsanuphius and John teach that the moral efforts of the one praying (e.g., wrestling with temptation, living a more ascetic life, enduring trials; e.g., Barsanuphius and John Ep. 94, 191, 198).

Both the One Praying and the One Receiving Prayer Influence its Effectiveness

  • Origen Fr. 1 Reg. fr. 5 "The Word (logos) shows that even if a prophet and a righteous person pray for one another, [the one praying] is not heard, unless that one [the person prayed for] shows repentance by his works (ergôᵢ deixêᵢ tên metanoian). For in this way "the powerful prayer of a righteous person is made effective" (Jas 5:16) through the [repentance of] the one sinning. In order for the matter to be brought to a conclusion, it is necessary for both to work together, both the prayer of the righteous one, and the work (ergon) of the one repenting (Klostermann 1901, 297).
  • Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 57.2: Maximus responds to the question, "What is the meaning of 'prevail'" in Jas 5:16c ? "I know of two ways in which the "suppliction of a righteous man" is "rendered effective." The first is whenever the one praying combines his supplication to God with the keeping of the commandments (meta tôn kat' entolên ergôn), not allowing his supplication to fall from his tongue as mere words and the empty echo of speech, lest it remain inactive (argên) and insubstantial (anupostaton), but rather as active (energon) and living, being animated by the observance of the commandments. For the substance (hupostasis) of prayer and supplication is quite clearly its fulfillment through the virtues....The second way is when the one who needs the prayer of the righteous man undertakes and performs the works of prayer (ta erga tês euchês), that is, when he corrects his former way of life and thereby gives strength to the supplication of the righteous man (tên deêsin ischuran tou dikaiou poioumenos), fortifying it through  his own upright manner of life" (Constas 2018, 399-400; Laga and Steel 1990, 2:23-25). The Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc. quotes Maximus' entire lengthy answer (Cramer 1844, 8:37-38).
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. "The prayer of the righteous prevails, when the one for whom he prays cooperates (sumprattei), through his spiritual suffering (kakôseôs pneumatikês), with the one who prays. For when others pray for us, and we devote ourselves to luxuries (spatalais), to indulgences (anesesi), and to an undisciplined life, we unloosen (ekluomen) by this the intensity (suntonon) of the prayer of the one who is exerting himself for us" (col. 508).
  • Palamas Hom. 31.17 comments similarly on Jas 5:15c, "But you must co-operate (dei de kai humas sunergein) with the prayers made on your behalf by changing your way of life, making confession, giving alms, and other works of repentance" (dia tôn allôn ergôn tês metanoias; Veniamin 2009, 250).


14f pray over him …in the name of the Lord, Sacramentology: Form of the Sacrament. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the prayer said during the anointing is understood as the "form" (forma) of the sacrament:

  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo "'Through this holy anointing and his most pious mercy, may the Lord pardon for whatever offenses you have committed by sight,'" [said during the anoining of the eyes; similar prayer for each of the anointings on other parts of the body] (DzH 1324; cf. Aquinas ST Suppl. 29.8 ; Conc. Trid. Unc. 1 [DzH 1695]). The traditional focus of the sacrament was thus on the pardoning of sins. 
  • Rit. Rom. An.: After Vatican II the reformed rite calls for just one prayer, said as the forehead and hands are anointed, "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up" (110). The adapted wording is closer to Jas 5:15. Paul VI Sacr. Unct. explains, "We thought fit to modify the sacramental formula in such a way that, in view of the words of Saint James, the effects of the sacrament might be better expressed (effectus sacramentales satius exprimerentur; cf.CCC 1513).

14b Presbyters Sacramentology: Ministers

  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo "The minister of this sacrament is the priest" (sacerdos; DzH 1324).
  • Conc. Trid. Unc. 3  “the proper ministers (proprii ministri) of this sacrament are the presbyters (presbyteros) of the Church" (DzH 1697). Canon 4 rejects the Reformed understanding that the presbyters are not priests (sacerdotes) but senior members of each community" (DzH 1719).
  • See also CCC 1516; CIC 1003.1.

15c they will be forgiven him Sacramentology: Effects of the Anointing of the Sick.

Traditional Teaching

  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo "The effect is the healing of the mind and, as far as it is good for the soul, of the body as well" (effectus vero est mentis sanatio et, in quantum animae expedit, ipsius enim corporis; DzH 1325).
  • Conc. Trid. Unc. 2 quotes Jas 5:15 to identify "the reality (res) and effect (effectus) of this sacrament." The Council adds the explanation, "For the reality is the grace (gratia) of the Holy Spirit, whose anointing takes away the sins, if there be any still to be expiated, and also the remains of sin (pecatti reliquas); it comforts and strengthens the soul (animam alleviat et confirmat) of the sick person by awakening in him great confidence in the divine mercy (fiduciam excitando); supported by this, the sick bears more lightly the inconveniences and trials of his illness, and resists more easily the temptations of the devil, who lies in wait for his heel [cf. Gn 3:15]; at times it also restores bodily health (sanitatem corporis), when it is expedient for the salvation of the soul" (ubi saluti animae expedierit; DzH 1696).

Vatican II Reform

Reflecting a the changed approach after Vatican II, CCC 1520-23 speaks of four effects:

  • 1520: A particular gift of the Holy Spirit: "the first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness (aegritudinis gravis) or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the tempations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will (si talis est Dei voluntas). Furthermore, "if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (Jas 5:15c).
  • 1521: Union with the passion of Christ. "By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ's Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated (consecratur) to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior's redemptive Passion. Suffering (dolor), a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation (participatio) in the saving work of Jesus." Cf. Conc. Vat. II. Lum. Gent. 11 "By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of her priests the whole Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord, asking that He may lighten their suffering and save them; she exhorts them, moreover, to contribute to the welfare of the whole people of God by associating themselves freely with the passion and death of Christ."
  • 1522: An ecclesial grace. "The sick who receive this sacrament, 'by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ,' 'contribute to the good of the people of God (Conc. Vat. II. Lum. Gent. 11.2). By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of the saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, through the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father."
  • 1533: A preparation for the final journey. "If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing; referencing Conc. Trid. Unc. 3 [DzH 1698]). The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthens us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart (firmo praesidio) for the final struggles before entering the Father's house."

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.


14b let them pray over him Prayers and Anointing of the Sick Many liturgical texts contain prayers for consecrating oil. In general, the oil for anointing the sick is pure olive oil (G: elaion; L: oleum); chrism or myron (oil mixed with perfume; G: chrisma, muron; L: unguentum) is used for post-baptismal anointings.

Prayers before Anointing (Blessing the Oil)

The Sacramentary of Sarapion is a mid-fourth century Egyptian liturgical book.

  • Sacr. Sarap. 17, Entitled: “Prayer for Oil of the Sick (elaion nosountôn) or for Bread or for Water”: “We call upon you who has all authority and power, the Saviour of all people, Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And we pray that you send forth healing power (dunamis iatikê) of the only-begotten upon this oil (elaion), that it may become for those who are anointed with it, or partake of these your created elements, for throwing off of every disease and every sickness (apobolê pasês nosou kai pasês malakias), for a remedy (alexipharmakon) against every demon, for a banishment of every unclean spirit, for a casting out of every evil spirit, for a driving out of every fever and shivering fit and every illness (astheneia; cf. ), for good grace and forgiveness of sins, for a medicine of life and salvation (pharmakon zôês kai sôterias), for health (hugeia) and wholeness of soul (holoklêria psuchês), body, and spirit, and for complete bodily health and strength. Master, let every satanic energy, every demon, every plot of the adversary, every blow, every scourge, every suffering, every pain, or slap or shaking, or evil phantom fear your holy name which we have now called upon and the name of your only-begotten. And let them depart from the inner and the outer being of these your servants, that his name may be glorified, he who was crucified and rose again for us, who has take up our diseases and our infirmities (nosoi kai astheneia), even Jesus Christ who is also coming to judge the living and the dead, because through him be to you the glory and the power in the holy Spirit both now and to all the ages of ages. Amen” (Barrett-Lenard 1993, 47-49; Wobbermin 1899, 13).

The sacramentary also has two other prayers for blessing oil:

  • Sacr. Sarap. 15: Prayer for the oils (aleimma) of those being baptized.
  • Sacr. Sarap. 16: Prayer for the chrism (chrisma) for post-baptismal anointing.
  • In addition, the sacramentary also has general prayers for the sick (Sacr. Sarap.21) and for the laying on of hands on the sick (cheirothesia nosountôn; Sacr. Sarap. 30).

The Testamentum Domini is a church order from the 4th-5th centuries, originally written in Greek and preserved in Syriac.

  • Test. Dom. 1.24 “O Christ…who is the healer of every sickness and of every suffering;  who did give the gift of healing to those who were counted worthy of this by you; send on this oil (mšḥ’), which is the type of your fatness, the delivering [power] of your good compassion, that it may deliver those who labour and heal those who are sick, and sanctify those who return, when they approaoch to your faith; for you are mighty and [to be] praised for ever and ever" (Cooper and McClean 1902, 78 trans. mod.; Rahmani 1899, 48).

The Apostolic Tradition is a church order dating to the first part of the 3rd century.

  • Hippolytus of Rome Trad. ap 5 “As, sanctifying this oil (oleum), you give, God, health (sanitatem) to those using and receiving [it], whence you have anointed (uncxisti) kings, priests, and prophets, so also may it afford strengthening (confortatio) to all tasting [it] and health to all using it" (Bradshaw, Johnson, Philips 2002, 13; Botte 1968, 54). Cf. the general prayer over oil in Can. Hipp. 3.
  • Apos. Con. 8.29.1–3: "Concerning water and oil (elaion)": “Let the bishop bless (eulogeô) the oil. But if he be not there, let the presbyter bless it, the deacon standing by. But if the bishop be present, let the presbyter and deacon (presbuteros...diakonos) stand by, and let him say thus, 'O Lord of hosts, the God of powers, the creator of the waters, and the supplier of the oil…who has given water for drink and for cleansing, and oil to give man a cheerful and joyful countenance; do You also sanctify (hagiazô) this water and this oil through your Christ, in the name of him or her that has offered them, and grant them a power to restore health (hugeia), to drive away diseases (nosoi), to banish demons, and to disperse all snares through Christ our hope, with whom glory, honour, and worship be to You, and to the Holy Ghost, for ever. Amen" (ANF 7:494; Funk 1906, 533). See Apos. Con. 27 on blessing chrism.
  • Carol. lit. "Lord God, who have spoken by your apostle James, saying [quotation of Jas 14-15] ; cure (cura), we beseech you, our Redeemer, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the weakness of this sick man; heal (sana) his wounds, and forgive (dimitte) his sins; drive out (expelle) from him all pains of body and mind, and mercifully restore him to full health, both inwardly and outwardly (plenamque ei interius exteriusque sanitatem); that recovered and healed by the help of you mercy, he may be strengthened to take up again his former duties of piety to you" (Gusmer 1990, 22; PL 78: 234).
  • Sacr. Gel. 1.40 (8th c. AD): A blessing for oil to anoint the sick (ad unguendos infirmos): "Send out, we beg you, Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, upon the richness of this oil (in hac pinguidine olei), which you deemed worthy to bring forth from the green tree for restoration of mind and body (ad refectionem mentis et corporis). And may your holy blessing be to all who anoint, taste, and touch protection for body, soul, and spirit, for getting rid of all pains, every sickness (omnem infirmatatem), every disease of mind and body. With this oil you did anoint (uncxisti) priests, kings, and prophets and martyrs; your perfect chrism (chrisma tuum perfectum), blessed by you, O Lord, remaining in our innermost parts of the body (visceribus nostris), in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you always bring forth all things as good (per quem haec omnia, domine, semper bona creas; Mohlberg 1968, 61). Cf. Sacr. Greg. (PL 78:83).
  • Rit. Rom. An. (rev.) “God of all consolation, you chose and sent your Son to heal the world. Graciously listen to our prayer of faith: send the power of your Holy Spirit, the Consoler, into this precious oil, this soothing ointment, this rich gift, this fruit of the earth. Bless this oil [sign of the cross is made] and sanctify it for our use. Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever” (93).
  • The contemporary Orthodox prayer of the oil: "O Lord, in your mercy and compassion, you heal the afflictions of our souls and bodies: sanctify now this oil, O Master, that it may bring healing to those who are anointed with it, relief from every passion, from every sicknesss of flesh and spirit, and from all evil; and so that your holy name may be glorified, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages" (Meyendorff 2009, 130).

In the 20th century, Anglican, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian churches have developed rituals involving the use of healing oil (Gusmer 1990, 37-40; Anglicans revived the anointing rite found in the first 1549 Book of Common Prayer, but not in later editions).  

  • Menn. Conf. 8.5 "Prayer for sick may be accompanied by a symbolic anointing with oil by the elders of the church. In response to the prayer of faith, and in accordance with his will, God heals in various ways, through the use of the healing arts, or by direct intervention. When healing does not occur, we believe that God's grace is sufficient. The full redemption of the body will come only at the return of Christ" (referencing Jas 5:14-16 and other texts; CCFCT, 3:680).

Prayers during Anointing

  • Sacr. Greg. "I anoint you with holy oil (oleo sancto) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that the unclean spirit may not remain hidden in you, nor in your members, nor in your organs, nor in any joint of your members; rather, through the working of this mystery (operantiem mysterii), may there dwell in you the power (virtus) of Christ, all-high, and of the Holy Spirit. And through this ointment of consecrated oil and our prayer, cured (medicatus) and warmed by the Holy Spirit may you merit to receive your former and even better health" (sanitas; Palmer 1959, 295; PL 78:235).
  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo: The traditional Roman Catholic anointing ritual was accompanied by the prayer, “Through this holy anointing (per istam sanctem unctionem) and his most pious mercy, may the Lord pardon you for whatever offenses you have committed by sight etc.” (DzH 1324). Aquinas ST Suppl. Q. 29 a. 8 connects the prayer with Jas 5:15.
  • →Rit. Rom. An.(rev.): The phrasing of the revised Roman Rite ritual is more directly based on Jas 5:15:  [While anointing the hands]: “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up" (110).
  • In the Roman Catholic theological tradition, the prayer during anointing is identified as the "form" (forma) of the sacrament (Theology Jas 5:14f). Bonaventure Comm. IV Sent. notes that there are different versions of the anointing prayer (he contrasts the Gregorian and the Ambrosian), and thus concludes that uniformity in the precise wording is not necessary.
  • The contemporary Orthodox prayer during anointing: "O holy Father, Physician of souls and bodies, who sent your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who heals every infirmity and delivers from death: heal also your servant (name) from the infirmities of body and soul which afflict him (her), and enliven him (her) with the grace of your Christ; through the prayers of our most-holy Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary; through the intercessions of the honorable, bodiless powers of heaven; through the power of the precious and life-giving cross [several other intercessors are named, including "the holy unmercenary physicians, Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Pateleimon and Hermolaus, Sampson and Diomedes, Photius and Anicetas"]. For you are the fountain of healing, O our God, and to you we give glory, to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen." (Meyendorff 2009, 138-39). The reading during the first anointing is Jas 5:10-16.

Prayers after Anointing

The revised Roman Rite Ritual of Anointing (→Rit. Rom. An.) offers several options for the prayer after anointing:

  • [A: General] "Father in heaven, through this holy anointing, grant N. comfort in his / her suffering. When he / she is afraid, give him / her courage, when afflicted, give him / her patience, when dejected, afford him / her hope, and when alone, assure him / her of the support of your holy people."
  • [B: General]  “Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, by the grace of your Holy Spirit cure the weakness of your servant N. Heal his / her sickness and forgive his / her sins; expel all afflictions of mind and body; mercifully restore him / her to full health, and enable him / her to resume his / her former duties, for you are Lord for ever and ever." See also Christian Tradition Jas 5:14b.
  •  [C: In extreme or terminal illness]: “Lord Jesus Christ, you chose to share our human nature, to redeem all people, and to heal the sick. Look with compassion upon your servant N., whom we have anointed in your name with this holy oil for the healing of his / her body and spirit. Support him / her with your power, comfort him / her with your protection, and give him / her the strength to fight against evil. Since you have given him / her a share in your own passion, help him / her to find hope in suffering, for you are Lord for ever and ever” (94-96).

Christian Tradition

14f Effect of the Anointing: Physical and Spiritual Healing Two major interpretations of the effect of the anointing ritual in Jas 5:14-15 are evident in the tradition (1) a holistic view, emphasizing both spiritual and physical healing or (2) an emphasis on spiritual healing (forgiveness of sin).

Reference to Both Spiritual and Physical Healing

  •  Caesarius of Arles Serm. 13.3 "he will merit to receive both bodily health (corporis sanitatem) and the remission of his sins" (peccatorum indulgentiam; Mueller 1973, 1:77; Morin 1953, 1:66).  Compare the similar discussion: Serm. 184:5: "to receive, not only bodily health, but also the forgiveness of sins" (remissionem peccatorum; Mueller 1973, 3:482; Morin 1953, 2:751). 
  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 19.5 "If he does this, he will receive not only bodily health (sanitatem corporis), but also the forgiveness of his sins" (indulgentiam peccatorum). Qualifications, however, are added:  "Bodily sickness is related to health of heart (sanitatem cordis), and God scourges (flagellat) in this world those whom he loves. Even if health returns rather slowly (tardius) to the infirm, let us not murmur against God, but give thanks to Him. He deigns so to chastise (castigare) us by sickness in this world,  in order that He may give us eternal rewards (praemia aeterna) in the future life. Many are sick without harm to themselves, for, while they are well in body (sani sunt corpore), they do not cease to think about robberies and riotous living, but as often as we are ill we do penance (paenitentiam) more, give alms (elimosinas), and attain to eternal rewards. Therefore, whether health comes to the sick quickly or slowly (aut cito aut tarde), let us always be grateful, because He knows what is necessary for us—when it is better for us to be sick and when healthy" (quando aegrotare aut sanos esse conveniat; Mueller 1973, 1:101-2; Morin 1953, 1:90-91).

All three of the above passages are in the context of Caesarius' admonishing people to attend church regularly; he closely links anointing with the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.

  • Ouen Vit. S. Elig. 2.16  “And he will not only receive health for the body but for the soul (non solum corporis, sed etiam animae sanitatem) and what the Lord promised in the Gospel will be fulfilled saying: ‘For whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith’” (Mt 21:22; McNamara 2000, 158; Krusch 1902, 707).
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "the custom of the Church (ecclesiae consuetudo) holds that those who are sick be anointed with consecrated oil by the presbyters (infirmi oleo consecrato ungantur a presbiteris), with the prayer that goes with this, and they may be cured" (sanentur). In his discussion, Bede also notes the connection between physical illness and sin, citing (Hurst 1985, 61-62; Hurst 1983, 221).
  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc.: The interlinear gloss to "will raise him up" (alleviabit) is "from the sickness of the body" (ab infirmitate corporis; col. 1303). Gloss. Ord. (V) adds marginal glosses, including Origen Hom. Lev. 2.4.5 and John Chrysostom Sac. 3.6, which focus on forgivness of sin.

Spiritual Healing / Forgiveness of Sins is Primary

  • In the earliest known quotation of our passage, Origen Hom. Lev. 2.4.5 comments only on spiritual healing (albeit using a medical allusion), referring to the passage as an example of forgiveness of sin: “And there is still a seventh remission of sins through penance (per poenitentiam remissio peccatorum)….when the sinner washes 'his couch in tears' (cf. Ps 6:7)…when he is not ashamed to make known his sin to the priest of the Lord (sacerdoti Domini indicare peccatum) and to seek a cure (et quaerere medicinam)….What the Apostle James said is fulfilled in this: [quotation of Jas 5:14–15, including the addition “they will place their hands on him”]" (Barkley 1990, 47-48; Baehrens 1920, 296-97).
  • John Chrysostom Sac. 3.6 cites the passage to support the authority of priests to forgive sins after baptism: "They have authority to remit sins" (sugchôrein echousin exousian hamartêmata), not only when they make us regenerate (hotan hêmas anagennôsi), but afterwards too (Neville 1964, 74; Malingrey 1980, 154).
  • Cassian Coll. 20.8.4 cites this passage as a witness to the belief in pardoning of sins through the intercession of the saints (intercessione sanctorum; Ramsey 1997, 699; Petschenig 1886, 562).
  • Aquinas ST Supp. 30.1 on Extreme Unction: "Each sacrament was instituted for the purpose of one principal effect (principaliter ad unum effectum). And since a sacrament causes what it signifies, the principal effect of a sacrament must be gathered from its signification (significatione). Now this sacrament is conferred by way of a kind of medicament (secundum modum cuiusdam medicationis), even as Baptism is conferred by way of washing, and the purpose of a medicament (medicina) is to expel sickness (ad pellendum infirmitatem). Hence the chief object of the institution of this sacrament is to cure the sickness of sin (principaliter hoc sacramentum est institutum ad sanandum infirmitatem peccati) Extreme Unction is a spiritual healing or cure (spiritualis sanatio vel medicatio). Therefore just as Baptism is a spiritual regeneration, and Penance, a spiritual resurrection, so Extreme Unction is a spiritual healing or cure" (extrema unctio est quaedum spiritualis sanatio vel medicatio)....Consequently, we must say that the principal effect of this sacrament is the remission of sin (principalis effectus huius sacramenti est remissio peccatorum), as to its remnants, and consequently, even as to its guilt, if it find it." Jas 5:15c is cited as a proof of the argument: "If he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him" (English Dominicans 1947, 5:2659- 2660).
  • Bonaventure Comm. IV Sent. "this sacrament is principally for the cure and alleviation of spiritual illness, namely of venial sin (principaliter est ad curationem et alleviationem infirmitatis spiritualis, scilicet peccati venialis) and per accidens for the cure of bodily illness, by strengthening the soul which directs the body" (Hellman, et al. 2016, 359-60; Collegi S. Bonaventurae 1889, 588).

Physical Healing Only Occurs if it Aids the Spiritual Healing

  • Peter Lombard Sent. 4.23.3 (129) "We read that this sacrement of anointing of the sick was instituted by the Apostles (Hoc sacramentum unctionis infirmorum ab Apostolis institutum legitur [quotation of Jas 5:14-15 follows]. In this passage, it is shown that this sacrament was instituted for a double cause (duplici ex causa institutum), namely, for the remission of sins (ad peccatorum remissionem) and for the relief of bodily infirmity (ad corporalis infirmitatis alleviationem). And so it is established that someone who receives this anointing with faith and devotion is relieved in body and soul (et in corpore et in anima alleviari), so long as it is expedient (expedit) that he should be relieved in both. But if perhaps it is not expedient that he should have bodily health (corporis valetudinem), he acquires in this sacrament that health which pertains to the soul" ( animae sanitatim;Silano 2010, 4:136; Collegii Bonaventurae 1916, 2:391). 
  • Aquinas SCG 4.73.1 "Now the body is the instrument of the soul (corpus est animae instrumentum), and an instrument is for the use of the principal agent: therefore, the disposition of the instrument necessarily must be such as becomes the principal agent. Hence the body is disposed in harmony with the soul (corpus disponitur secundum quod congruit animae). Therefore, from the infirmity of the soul which is sin (peccatum) infirmity sometimes flows into the body (derivatur ad corpus), when the divine judgment so disposes. To be sure, this bodily infirmity is at times useful for the soundness of the soul (utilis est ad animae sanitatem): so far as a man bears bodily infirmity humbly and patiently, and so far as it is reckoned as satisfying punishment (poenam satisfactoriam computatur) for him. At times, also, it tends to hinder spiritual health: so far as bodily infirmity hinders the virtues. Therefore it was suitable to employ some spiritual medicine (spiritualis medicina) against sin, in accord with the fact that bodily infirmity flows out of sin (ex peccato derivatur infirmitas coporalis); indeed, this spiritual medicine cures the bodily infirmity at times, namely, when this is helpful to salvation (expedit ad salutem). And for this the sacrament of extreme unction was established, about which James says [quotation of Jas 5:14-15a]" (Pegis 1957).
  • Palamas Hom. 31.17 writes that anyone who turns to God and his saints is healed physically: "if this would be beneficial for him" (ei sumpherei toutôᵢ) but "always finds (tês de kata psuchên hugeias kai tês tôn hamartêmatôn apheseôs aei epitugchanei) healing for his soul and forgiveness of sin" (Veniamin 2009, 250).

Scholastic Debate on the Type of Sins Forgiven

  • In the scholastic tradition, theologians debated on whether the sacrament was oriented towards the forgiveness of venial sins (e.g., Bonaventure Comm. IV Sent. 4. 23. 1. 1 or the more general "remnants of sin" (reliquias peccati; e.g., Aquinas ST Supp. 30.1). See Suarez Disp. 41.1.1-10 (Berton 1861, 827-31).

Part of a Traditional List of Ways in Which Sins are Forgiven

  • In Origen Hom. Lev. 2.4.5, Jas 5:14-15 is cited as the seventh in a list of ways to attain remission of sins. The others are baptism, martyrdom, giving alms, forgiving those who sin against us (referencing Mt 6:14-15), turning a fellow sinner back to the right path (referencing Jas 5:20), loving much (referencing Lk 7:47 and 1Pt 4:8), and "remission of sins through penance," (per poenitentiam remissio peccatorum) citing the penitential Psalms and quoting Jas 5:14-15 (omitting Jas 5:15b; Barkley 1990, 46-47; Baehrens 1920, 295-96).

Origen's list is found in an adapted and expanded form in Cassian Coll. 20.8. Cassian's list in turn forms the basis for a list in a 7th century Irish work used in the Merovingian Empire, The Penitential of Cummean, an influential manual for confessors that details penances for various sins (cf. Poen. Big. pref.). Another list virtually identical to Cummean's is found in Ps.-Caesarius of Arles Hom. 13. All these works quote Jas 5:14-15, but cite it as an example of the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

  • Cassian Coll. 20.8.4: "Sometimes pardon of sins is also won through the intercession of the holy ones" (impetratur venia delictorum intercessione sanctorum), followed by quotations of 1Jn 5:16 and Jas 5:14-15 (Ramsey 1997, 699; Petschenig 1886, 562).
  • Poen. Com. prol. "The eighth is the intercession of the saints (intercessio sanctorum), as this text states, [quotation of Jas 5:14-15, adding Jas 5:16c: "Powerful indeed is the effective (V: persistent) prayer of a righteous person"]" (McNiell and Gamer 1938, 100; Zemminger 1902, 506).
  • Ps.-Caesarius of Arles Hom. 13 "The eighth is the intercession of the saints, as the text states [abbreviated quotation of Jas 5:14, adding Jas 5:16c]" (col. 1075).
  • A version of the traditional list appears in CCC 1434: "Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they [i.e., Scripture and the Fathers] cite the following as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity 'which covers a multitude of sins'" (1Pt 4:8; also referencing Jas 5:20).

Proof-text for the Sacrament of Penance

  • Eck Ench. 8 quotes Origen Hom. Lev. 2.4.5 (although attributing it to Cyril of Alexandria) as a testimony for the sacrament of penance (Fraenkel 1979, 122).

14c anointing him with oil Foundational Text for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick? The Council of Trent taught that James "recommended to the faithful and promulgated" (fidelibus commendatum ac promulgatum) the sacrament of "extreme unction" in Jas 5:14-15 (DzH 1695; cf. Theology Jas 5:14c). The exact relationship between this passage and the sacrament, however, has been a subject of controversy within the tradition.

Witness of the Carolingian Councils

Several decrees from the Carolingian era seek to regulate the practice of anointing the sick, perhaps as a response to the custom of lay anointing. Reference is made to Jas 5:14-15:

  • Conc. Cab. (813 AD) can. 48: "According to the example (secundum...documentum) of the blessed apostle James, with whom the decrees (decreta) of the fathers agree, the sick should be anointed by the priests (presbyteris) with oil which is blessed by the bishops (oleo, quod a episcopis benedicitur). [Quotation of Jas 5:14-15]. Medicine (medicina) of this kind, which heals the weaknesses of body and soul (quae animae corporibusque medetur languoribus) is not to be taken lightly" (283).
  • Conc. Pav. (850 AD) ch. 8 states that Jas 5:14-15 commends (commendat) the sacrament (sacramentum; 223).

An Early Reference to Anointing as a Sacrament

  • Peter Damian Serm. 69 cites Jas 5:14 when he lists the anointing of the sick (unctio infirmorum) as the third sacrament (sacramentum). Peter lists a total of 12 (col. 899). The Gloss. Ord. (V) reproduces Peter's quotation (col. 1302).

Instituted by Christ or the Apostles?

Instituted by the Apostles
  • Peter Lombard Sent. 4.23.3 (129): "We read that this sacrament of anointing of the sick was instituted by the Apostles" (Hoc sacramentum unctionis infirmorum ab Apostolis institutum legitur) [quotation of Js 5:14-15 follows] (Silano, 4:136; Collegi Bonaventurae, 2:391). So too Hugh of St. Victor De sacr. 2.15.2; Bonaventure Comm. IV Sent. Bonaventure clarifies his view that the apostles did not institute the sacrament on their own, but were led by the Holy Spirit, referring to Jn 16:12-13, "But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth."
Instituted by Christ
  • Aquinas ST Suppl. 29.3 (= Aquinas Scrip. Sent. 4. d. 23 q. 1 a. 2 qc 3 ): On the question, "Whether this sacrament was instituted by Christ (institutum a Christo)," Thomas responds that there are two opinions. "For some hold that this sacrament and Confirmation were not instituted by Christ Himself, but were left by Him to be instituted by the apostles; for the reason that these two sacraments, on account of the plenitude of grace conferred in them, could not be instituted before the mission of the Holy Ghost in perfect plenitude....others hold that Christ himself instituted all the sacraments, but that He Himself published some, which present greater difficulties to our belief, while he reserved some to be published (promulganda) by the apostles, such as Extreme Unction and Confirmation." Thomas, following his teacher Albert the Great, holds to this latter opinion, explaining, "The Master [Peter Lombard] says it was instituted by the apostles because its institution was made known to us (promulgata) by the teaching of the apostles."

Orthodox Views

  • Jeremias II Rep. Aug. Conf. 7 "The anointing of oil, perhaps, is spoken of by some other apostles, but it is clearly handed down (prodêlôs...paradedotai) by St. James the apostle in his catholic epistle where he says: [quotation of Jas 5:13-15 follows]" (CCFCT 1:415; Karmirês 1986, 1:460). Jeremias II was patriarch of Constantinople.
  • Critopoulos Conf. Faith 13.1-2 "On Holy Unction" (Peri euchelaiou): Critopoulos, later Patriarch of Alexandria, teaches that this sacramental rite (teletê mustikê) takes its origin from Jesus' commandment (Mk 6:13). "And this rite was entrusted (epetrapê) by the apostles to the whole church," quoting Jas 5:14-15. Conf. Faith 13.3 cites Jas 5:15c in support of his view that sickness is often caused by sin (CCFCT 528; Karmirês 1986, 2:543-44).
  • Moghila Orth. Conf. 117: The seventh mystery of the church is the holy oil. "This was instituted (diatetagmenon) by Christ himself [referencing Mk 6:13]....The same was afterwards received by the universal church (holê hê Ekklêsia), as a solemn custom, as appears from the Epistle of James" (referencing Jas 5:14-15; CCFCT 1:609; Karmirês 1986, 2:643).
  • Dositheos Conf. Dos. 15 "the holy oil or sacrament of unction is spoken of in Mark, and is expressly witnessed to by the Lord's brother" (625).

Catholic Denials that James Refers to the Sacrament

  • Cajetan Ep. Pauli et al. Ap. ad loc. "Neither from the words nor from the effect (nec ex verbis, nec ex effectu) do these words speak of the sacramental anointing (sacramentali unctione) of Extreme Unction: but rather of the anointing (unctione) which the Lord Jesus instituted (instituit) in the Gospel to be used by the disciples for the sick. For the text does not speak of one who is sick unto death (infirmatur quis ad mortem), but one who is sick absolutely, and says that the effect is the alleviation of the sick person, and speaks of the remission of sins only conditionally (conditionaliter), while Extreme Unction is given only at the moment of death (articulum mortis) and tends directly (directe tendit) (as its form implies) to the remission of sins. Besides this, James orders that many presbyters be called to pray and then to anoint one sick person, which is foreign (alienum) to the rite of Extreme Unction" (370).  

Reformation Denials that James Refers to a Sacrament

  • Luther Capt. Bab. : After noting that the apostolic authorship of James is disputed, Luther writes, "But even if the apostle James did write it, I still would say, that no apostle has the right on his own authority to institute a sacrament (sua autoritate sacramentum instituere), that is, to give a divine promise (divina promissio) with a sign (signum) attached. For this belongs to Christ alone" (LW 36:118; WA 6:568).
  • Calvin Inst. Rel. 4.19.18, while denying that this passage establishes the sacrament of extreme unction,  argues that even if James  referred to a sacramental rite in apostolic times, that rite would no longer apply after the time of the apostles. A sacrament must be "a ceremony appointed by God (caeremonia a Deo instituta), and have a promise from God" that is clearly applied to later generations. Thus extreme unction is not a sacrament (4.19.20; Beveridge, 2: 637; Baum, Cunitz, Reuss, 1080).
  • Melancthon Apol. Conf. Aug. 13.3 defines a sacrament as "rites which have the command of God (ritus, qui habent mandatum Dei) and to which the promise of grace (promissio gratiae) has been added." Apol. Conf. Aug. 13.6: "Confirmation and Extreme Unction are rites received from the Fathers which not even the Church requires as necessary to salvation, because they do not have God's command" (308-11).

Catholic Responses

  • Eck Ench. 12 "It does not seem unsuitable (non videtur absonum) for an apostle, with the authority of Christ (authoritate Christi) and the command of the Holy Spirit, to institute a sacrament. Yet even if Christ instituted it, still James published it" (At si etiam Christus illud instituit, tamen Iacobus promulgavit; 144).
  • Conc. Trid. Unc. ch. 3  "On no account, then, should any attention be paid to those who, contradicting the plain and lucid doctrine (apertam et dilucidam sententiam) of the apostle James, teach that this anointing is a human invention (figmentum humanum) or a rite received from the Fathers that has no mandate from God and no promise of grace (nec mandatum Dei nec promissionem Dei); or to those who assert that this anointing has already ceased, as if it referred only to the gift of healing in the primitive Church (primitiva Ecclesia); or to those who maintain that the rite and usage observed in the holy Roman Church in the administration of this sacrament are contrary to the doctrine of the apostle James (Iacobi Apostoli sententiae repugnare) and, therefore, must be changed" (DzH 1699).
  • Conc. Trid. Unc. can. 1 "If anyone says that extreme unction is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ our Lord (sacramentum a Christo Domino nostro institutum) and promulgated (promulgatum) by the blessed apostle James but only a rite received from the Fathers or a human invention, let him be anathema" (DzH 1716). Cf also cans. 2-3 (DzH 1717-18).


Biblical Intertextuality

14c anointing him with oil Connotations of Oil in Scripture

Uses and Connotations of Oil

The use of olive oil (H= šmn, yçhr; G= elaion) is well attested throughout the Scriptures.

It was a general sign of

  • wealth (Ez 16:13);
  • health and treating wounds (Ps 104:15 [G-103:15]: “oil to make their faces shine");
  • happiness (Is 61:3: the “oil of gladness”); cf. Ps 133:2 (G-132:2), G= muron.
  • It was used in everyday cooking (1Kgs 17:12), for lighting in homes (Mt 25:1) and in the Tabernacle (Ex 27:20).
  • Listed as an essential agricultural product (Dt 11:14).
  • Anointing with oil was associated with cleanliness (Ru 3:3: anointing after bathing) and with God’s blessing. Cf. Ps 23:5 (G-22:5): “You set a table for me in front of my enemies; you anoint (lipainô) my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
  • Sir 38:26 lists it as one of the necessities (chreiai) of human life.

Anointing in Scripture

  • Anointing with oil was also used in specifically ritual contexts: the anointing of a king (e.g., 1Sm 10:1), a priest (Ex 28:41), and a prophet (1Kgs 19:16); it also served for consecrating sacred objects (Gn 28:18; Lv 8:11). In these cultic contexts, the Hebrew verb mšḥ, is used, translated in Greek with the verb chriô, (or “pour upon” epicheô).
  • According to Mk 6:13, Jesus' disciples "anointed (aleiphô; the same verb used in Jas 5:14) with oil many who were sick and cured (therapeuô) them."

Natural Elements Combined with Supernatural Healing

Other OT passages combine prayers for supernatural healing with a use of natural remedies: the Lord promises to heal Hezekiah in response to his prayers (Is 38:5), but Isaiah also ordered: “Bring a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil for his recovery” (Is 38:21). A similar combination is found in the wisdom literature: “My son, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to God, for it is he who heals….Then give the doctor (iatros) his place lest he leave; you need him too” (Sir 38:9-12).

In his own healings, Jesus occasionally makes use of natural elements: he uses saliva (Mk 7:33; 8:23; Jn 9:6) and often physical touch (Mk 1:41; 3:10; 5:28–31,41; 6:56; Lk 6:19); his disciples employed olive oil in their healings (Mk 6:13) and also employed physical touch (Acts 3:7; 5:15; 19:11–12).

15f Association of Healing and Forgiveness of Sin

Old Testament View

In its holistic view of the human being, several OT passages presuppose a close connection between healing and forgiveness of sin, just as some connection between sin and illness was assumed.

  • Ps 103:2-3 (G-Ps 102:2-3):  “Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts. Who pardons all your sins, and heals (G= ioamai; M = rp’) all your ills." 
  • Ps 107:17-20 (G-Ps 106:17-20): "Some fell sick from their wicked ways, afflicted because of their sins. They loathed all manner of food; they were at the gates of death. In their distress they cried to the Lord, who saved (G= sôᵢzô; M = yš‘) them in their peril, sent forth his word to heal them, and snatched them from the grave."
  • In the eschatological age, both illness and sin will be removed: "No one who dwells there will say, 'I am sick'; the people who live there will be forgiven their guilt" (Is 33:24). See further Theology Jas 5:14f.

Jesus' Holistic View of Healing

Jesus presumes the connection between disability and sin in his healing of the paralytic (Mt 9:1–8). In two further passages, however, Jesus denies a causal relation: those who suffer oppression or accident are no worse sinners than those who do not (Lk 13:1–5) and disability can be an opportunity to reveal God's works (Jn 9:3).

Jesus’ own healing is holistic. His healing of the paralytic is associated with forgiveness of sin in Mt 9:1–8 (cf. Mk 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I came to call not the upright, but sinners).” His healings are regularly associated with a call for faith (cf. Mk 2:5; 5:34,36; 9:23), and are understood as signs that the Kingdom of God has come near (cf. Mt 11:5–6). See also Theology Jas 5:15b.



14c anointing him with oil Type of Oil and Method of Anointing

Type of Oil

Christian tradition distinguishes different types of oil for liturgical use.

  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. cites a canonical rule: "A priest (presbyter) in the Lord's Supper should carry with him three flasks: one for chrism, another with oil for anointing catechumens, a third for the sick according to the apostolic saying (ad infirmos iuxta Apostolicam sententiam), that whenever someone is sick, he should bring in the presbyters (Jas 5:14; col. 1303). This is incorrectly ascribed to the Council of Mieux (Concilium Meldense); the decree is found in Burchard of Worms Decr. 75  (PL 140:741). A variant of the rule is found in the Carolingian Capitula Ecclesiastica (Cap. Eccl. 17) which instructs a priest (presbyter) to carry two flasks, one for chrism and the other for anointing catechumens or the sick, citing Jas 5:14 (179).

CCC 1294 distinguishes the meaning of the oils used in the different sacramental anointings.

Method of Anointing

By medieval times, the sick were anointed on various parts of the body as representative of the various senses:

  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo "He is to be anointed on these parts: on the eyes on account of sight (propter visum), on the ears on account of hearing, on the nostrils on account of smelling, on the mouth on account of taste and speech, on the hands on account of touch (in manibus propter tactum), on the feet on account of movement, on the loins on account of the pleasure seated there"  (DzH 1324).
  • Aquinas ST Sup. Q. 32 a. 6: "Now all our knowledge has its origin in the senses. And, since the remedy for sin should be applied where sin originates in us first, for that reason the places of the fives senses (loca quinque sensuum) are anointed: the eyes, on account of the sight, the ears on account of hearing, the nostrils on account of the smell, the mouth on account of the taste, the hands on account of the touch which is keenest in the finger tips (in some places too the loins are anointed on account of the appetite), and the feet are anointed on account of the motive power of which they are the chief instrument" (English Dominicans 1947, 5:2665).
  • In the revised Roman ritual, the sick person is anointed on the forehead and hands.
  • The Byzantine rite includes anointing on the forehead, chest, hands, and feet (cf. Critopoulos Conf. Faith 13.4; CCFCT 1:529; Karmirês 1986, 2:544).