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19 Brothers, if anyone among you wanders away from the truth, and anyone turns him back,
19 My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him;
19 My brothers, if anyone of you strays from the truth, and if someone converts him,
20 let him know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
20 he ought to know that whoever causes a sinner to be converted from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
16–20 Use in Lectionary →RML (1570) : Rogation Days (Monday and Wednesday before Ascension).
19a from the truth : passim | S the way of truth
19a If anyone among you A Generalized Situation James uses the indefinite pronoun tis and the aorist subjunctive in order to present a very generalized situation in the community (Literary Devices Jas 5:19f).
20c cover a multitude of sins Metaphorical Use of Covering Applied to Sin The Greek kaluptô means literally to cover (e.g., the instruments used at the altar are covered with a skin covering (G-Nm 4:12). It thus also means to hide or conceal (e.g., the Greek fighters hidden in the horse at Troy in → 8.503). , Od.
In relation to sin, the sense is to hide or cover them from the sight of God, a metaphor for God's forgiveness (e.g., →Diogn. 9:5: "the lawless deeds (anomia) of many should be hidden by the one who is upright" [sc., the Son of God]; 2003, 2:150-51).
10–20 Use in Lectionary →BL : Special and General Feasts: Prophets; 1 of 3 reading options.
This generalized example of one community member helping to turn back a fellow community member who had strayed from the faith follows naturally upon James' discussion in Jas 5:13-18 on the importance of intercessory prayer for mutual needs in the community.
After spending so much of the letter excoriating the community for its divisions (e.g., Jas 2:1-13; 4:1-2; 11-12), James ends with a vision of how members of the community should cooperate with one another.
In this passage, one member (the converter) helps another return to the faith (the converted). Verse 20 has two basic ambiguities.
Regarding (1), the reference is almost surely to the soul of the converted. The danger of eternal death applies much more naturally to the one who has wandered from the faith than from the one who has remained in the faith.
Regarding (2), it seems anti-climactic to assert that the converted's soul is saved from death and then add that a multitude of his sins are covered. The consensus of the Christian tradition takes this phrase to apply to the sins of the converter (Christian Tradition Jas 5:20c): his sins are covered as a reward for bringing a wandering sheep back into the fold.
20b save his soul from death Whose Soul? The textual tradition reflects the passage's ambiguity as to whether the soul of the converter or the converted is saved (Christian Tradition Jas 5:20b).
19f truth Truth as the Christian Way of Life James has used the word "truth" (alêtheia) twice previously:
By truth, then, James clearly understands the entire Christian way of life, centered on following the "perfect law of freedom," the Torah as interpreted by Jesus, with its emphasis on God's mercy (Jas 2:12-13).
In this sense, James is close to the "two ways" theology, where the Christian "way" (hodos), the way of life, is contrasted with the way of death (e.g., →Did. 1:1; →Barn. 18.1). Some textual traditions in fact have expanded "truth" to "way of truth" (hodos alêtheias). Cf. Textual Criticism Jas 5:19a.
19a wander from the way Imagery of Wandering and Error The Greek planaô has the sense of wandering about aimlessly: Matthew uses it to describe the one sheep who wanders away from the rest (Mt 18:12); 1 Peter applies it to the community: "For you had gone astray like sheep" (1Pt 2:25; cf. G-Is 53:6); cf. the application to false prophets (2Pt 2:15).
At Jas 1:16, James uses the passive of the same word to warn the community, "Do not be misled!" The Greek planê (error, used in v. 20a: "the error of his way") is the noun form of the verb planaô. See also Christian Tradition Jas 1:16.
20b save his soul …multitude of sins: The Converter or the Converted? The third person pronoun autou is ambiguous: it could refer to the one who converts the sinner or to the converted. Similarly, it is unclear whether "sins" refers to those of the converter or the converted. See also Textual Criticism Jas 5:20b and Christian Tradition Jas 5:20b.
19f brothers Establishing a Fraternal Tone James returns to the direct address of his audience as "brothers," last used at Jas 5:12 to introduce the prohibition of oaths. James again employs his typical phrase "among you" (en humin; e.g., Jas 4:1; Jas 5:13-14) in order to emphasize the communal setting of his audience.
20a let him know Assumption of Shared Knowledge The third person singular imperative (ginôsketô) could also be paraphrased as "he should know." Here, as before, James appeals to knowledge or values that he assumes should be shared by the community. Codex B reads the third person plural ("let him know" or "you should know") to emphasize that James' message is for the whole community (Literary Devices Jas 1:3).
20b death Eschatological Death
James associates death (G= thanatos) with sin (Jas 1:15), an association made often in the biblical tradition. A passage in Ez 3:18-21 is particularly relevant, since it connects sin, the intervention of a second party, and life and death consequences. The main points of Ezekiel follow:
If a wicked person continues in his wickedness, he shall die. If he turns away from wickedness, he shall live.
If one fails to warn the wicked, he will be held responsible along with the wicked. If one does warn the wicked, he saves (G = ruomai; H= Hiph. of nṣl) his own soul.
That James refers not merely to physical death is clear from two reasons:
(1) James uses the the phrase “saving the soul,” which itself connotes more than this worldly, bodily life (Vocabulary Jas 5:20b);
(2) it is not clear how repentance from sin should lead to salvation from physical death.
Rather, James refers to an eschatological destruction, in line with Jesus’ saying, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Mt 10:28).
James’ conception also seems similar to the “second death” described in Revelation: “their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rv 21:8; cf. Rv 2:11; 19:20; 20:6,14). James too knows of the fires of Gehenna (Jas 3:6).
It is unclear, however, whether James envisions a final destruction (e.g., →Pss. Sol.3:11–12 = apôleia) or an eternal punishment (e.g., Mt 13:42: “wailing and grinding of teeth”). With James’ close connection with the Synoptic tradition, the latter is more likely.
19f turns back a sinner Fraternal Correction and Conversion in Greco-Roman Moral Tradition
For the Greeks, the mark of a true friend is his willingness to correct one’s faults. There ought to be “frankness of speech” (parrêsia) among friends.
19b turns back a sinner Conversion and Repentance The word epistrephô is commonly used in prophetic admonitions to return to the Lord:
The NT also employs the word in its calls to repentance.
The above examples are all intransitive: the people turn themselves to the Lord. For the transitive sense, used in James, of one person turning around another, see the prophecy about John the Baptist: "and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Lk 1:16). See also → 10.53, where King Josiah "turned the people away from their belief in gods to the service of God" ( A.J. 1965, 4:186-87).
1:21c; 5:20b soul Multivalent Term The Greek psuchê is a multivalent term.
James' understanding of psuchê is not philosophically precise. The parallelism of Jas 4:8 identifies the dipsuchos (literally "two-souled") person with the sinner; the opposite of the dipsuchos is the person with a purified heart. The soul here is understood as the seat of the thought and will, and thus, for James, essentially equivalent with the "heart" (G= kardia; cf. heart at Jas 1:26; 3:14; 5:5,8).
James' use of psuchê is likely similar to its use in the Gospel tradition: "For whoever wishes to save his life (psuchê) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mk 8:35). The soul here is considered as the whole life of the person, including both the earthly, bodily existence and the transcendent existence that survives bodily death. Cf. also the usage of its Hebrew analogue, nepeš, which rendered psuchê in G: e.g., 1Cor 15:45: "The first man, Adam, became a living soul," which is a quote of Gn 2:7 (wayᵉhî hā-’ādām, lᵉnefeš hayyâ = kai egeneto ho anthrôpos eis psuchên zôsan). This transcendent element is clear in a further Synoptic saying,"And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" (Mt 10:28).
Jesus' reference to destroying soul and body in Gehenna is thus equivalent to James' reference to death: a sinner who is turned away from the error of this way will save his soul from this eschatological death.
James also speaks of the "spirit" (pnuema = rûaḥ; see Vocabulary Jas 2:26a). Here pneuma is clearly the "life-force" of the physical body. James speaks further of the "the spirit which [God] made to live in us" (Jas 4:5). The relationship between pneuma and psuchê for James is not clear.
19f if anyone among you Positive Exemplum James gives a generalized, hypothetical example of one community member turning another back to the faith. The exemplum is given as part of James' paraenesis: it is an example of proper behavior that the community should imitate. Elsewhere, James uses biblical exempla of behaviors to be imitated (e.g., Jas 2:21-23; 2:25; Jas 5:10). He also gives generalized examples of behavior to be avoided (Jas 2:2-4; 2:15-16).
20a wandering from his way Nature of the Error? → ad loc. suggests that the person straying from the truth of the gospel might err "either by still clinging with excessive devotion to the law of Moses or by tenaciously cultivating the pagan traditions of his ancestors" ( Iac. Par. 1993, 169; 1997, 158).
20b turns back a sinner from straying away Aspects of Conversion
→ ad loc. and Ep. cath.→ ad loc., referring to the healing of the sick in Iac. Par.Jas 5:14, comment that while it is good to relieve a person's physical suffering, it is far greater to rescue a person from eternal death. The →Gloss. Ord. ad. loc. quotes Bede's comment (col. 1304). Cf. Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:20b.
With this passage,admonishes his congregation:
Many Anabaptist communities have practiced "shunning" or excommunication of members who are public and unrepentant sinners.
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 → 23 and Hist. eccl.→ 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also Vir. ill.→James: Introduction.
Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:
The following images are noteworthy:
James holds a club.
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.
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 → 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. Leg. aur.
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.
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
The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in → 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Vir. ill.
James holds a book and club.
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.
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.
20c cover a multitude of sins Good Works Cover Sins The tradition is divided on whether James refers to the sins of the converted person or the sins of the converter.
→ ad loc. seems to take the covered sins to refer to the sins of the converted person: “but there is no better or more excellent way of covering them than when they are wholly abolished before God (in totum corum Deo aboluntur). And this is done when the sinner is brought by our admonition to the right way” ( Comm. Iac. 1849, 362; R 1896, 436); similarly → 10 (986–87). Excom.
The principle that one who brings a straying believer back to the faith receives the reward of the forgiveness of his own sins is common in the tradition; see →Poen. Big. ( 1938, 152; 1851, 444).
→ ad loc., “The one who preaches (praedicat) to sinners to make them turn from their sins, even if they do not turn, saves his own soul” (salvam suam animam fecit; col. 83). Tract. Iac.
→ 20.8.5 “The stain of vice is sometimes destroyed in virtue of mercy and faith…sometimes this occurs thanks to the conversion and salvation of those who are saved by our warnings and preaching” ( Coll. 1997, 699; 1886, 563).
→ ad loc., “And for his sake (ḥlp hw), the one who is converted by your care, you will receive a reward” ( Ep. Cath. 1910, 102; Syriac: ibid., 133).
The discussion in 2 Clement parallels James both thematically and verbally.
→2 Clem. 15.1 teaches “whoever takes my advice [sc.: on self-restraint] will have no regrets, but will instead save (sôᵢzô) both himself and me, the one who has given the advice. There is no small reward for the one who converts (apostrephô) a person who is going astray (psuchê planômenê) toward destruction, that he may be saved” (sôᵢzô; 2003, 1:188–89).
→2 Clem. 16.4 further discusses the principle of how doing good brings about forgiveness of sin for the one doing good, “Giving to charity (eleêmosunê) therefore is good as a repentance (metanoia) from sin…Love covers a multitude of sins, and prayer from a good conscience will rescue a person from death…For giving to charity lightens the load of sin” ( 2003, 1:190–91).
→2 Clem. 17.2 “we should help one another and bring those who are weak (asthenountas) back to what is good, so that we may all be saved and turn one another around (epistrephô) and admonish one another” ( 2003, 1:192–93).
→Ep. Apos. 47 (39) “But if someone should fall under the load because of the sins he has committed, (then let) his neighbor admonish him for (the good) that he has done to his neighbour. Now if his neighbour had admonished him and he returns he will be saved; (and) he who admonished him will receive a reward and live for ever” (NTApoc 2:276; 1919, 24*). This text may reflect an early dependence on the Letter of James.
Jas 5:20 took its place on a traditional list of ways in which a Christian could expiate his or her sins:
→ ad loc. takes it that both the sins of the converted and the converter are covered. “Anyone who turns a sinner back from straying, through this act of turning him back both hides (abscondit) his sins from the sight of the inward judge by the superimposition (superpositione) of a better life and by curing his neighbor conceals (contegit) as well his own misdeeds (errata), however he offends, from the gaze of him who sees all things.” The converter receives “ a sure reward (certam mercedem) in return for the salvation of his brother whom he has corrected” ( Ep. cath. 1985, 64–65; 1983, 223–24).
The closely related maxim “love covers a multitude of sins,” outside of quotations of 1Pt 4:8 and Prv 10:12 (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:20c) also seems to have become an independent proverb in early Christianity; see →1 Clem. 49.5; →2 Clem. 16.4; → 3.91.3; Paed.→Didasc. 4. In partciular, Clement and the Didascalia ( , 46; Syriac: ibid., 55) quote it as one of Jesus' sayings.
20c cover a multitude of sins What Kind of Covering?
In some OT passages, covering sins is identified with God's forgiveness, apparently in the sense of removing sins from God's sight (Vocabulary Jas 5:20c).
A consenus of the Christian tradition interprets this phrase as applying to the sins of the one converting the straying brother. This interpretation is supported by the general biblical principle that almsgiving (eleêmosunê) "covers" or atones for, one's own sins. This principle is found in the following passages:
The concept of saving oneself through saving others is witnessed in 1 Timothy: "Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save (sôᵢzô) both yourself and those who listen to you" (1Tm 4:16).