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James 5

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Warning to the Rich Rich Oppressors Will be Judged The Contrast Between Godliness and Worldliness Warning to the Rich A Warning for the Rich and Self-confident
    4:1-5:6   4:13-5:6
5:1-6 5:1-6   5:1-6  
Patience and Prayer Be Patient and Persevere Concluding Encouragement Patience and Prayer The Coming of the Lord
5:7-11 5:7-12 5:7-11 5:7-8 5:7-11
      5:9-11  
5:12 Meeting Specific Needs 5:12 5:12 5:12
5:13-18 5:13-18 5:13-18 5:13-18 5:13-18
  Bring Back the Erring One      
5:19-20 5:19-20 5:19-20 5:19-20 5:19-20

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 5:1-6

A. James' discussion of the inappropriate emphasis on wealth starts in 4:13 and continues through 5:6.

 

B. The topic of wealth issued from James' comparison of mankind's desires (yetzers) for things and self instead of God (cf. 4:1-5:6).

 

C. This paragraph has many terms and forms unique to this context. This causes one to wonder if it might be a quote or catechism possibly taken from unknown Jewish inter-biblical sources.

 

The context sounds so much like Amos. The illustration is obviously OT.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 5:1-6
  1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

5:1 "Come now" This is parallel to 4:13. It is the literary technique of diatribe. James presents truth by making a statement and then showing how some will react to this stated truth.

▣ "you rich" This refers either to (1) rich believers as in 1:10 or (2) exploiting unbelievers (cf. 2:1-13). Wealth has its unique temptations and problems (cf. Matt. 6:2-4,19-34; Luke 6:24; I Tim. 6:9-10,17).

▣ "weep" This is an aorist active imperative, which speaks of urgency. It refers to eschatological judgment. In 4:9-10 these commands are related to a call to repentance and humility like Matt. 5:3-9; but this section, 5:1-12, relates to the Second Coming and Judgment Day.

▣ "howl" This is a present active participle used in an imperatival sense. This term is used in the OT to describe the pain of certain judgment (cf. Isa. 13:6; 14:31; 15:2,3; 16:7; 23:1,14; 65:14).

▣ "miseries" This is a very strong term (cf. Rom. 7:24; Rev. 3:17).

▣ "which are coming upon you" This is a present middle participle. This shows the certainty of God bringing mankind to account for their plans as well as their actions! This judgment is not only the future (eschatological) but also present (temporal). We reap what we sow (cf. Gal. 6:7-8).

To fully understand this text two aspects of wealth must be understood: (1) the Jews considered wealth to be an evidence of God's acceptance and blessing (cf. Deut. 28:1-13), but they ignored the contextual covenantal responsibilities and warnings (cf. Deut. 27: 28:15-68), and (2) the wealthy Jews were often the very ones who persecuted the early Christians.

It is uncertain whether the ones referred to are wealthy Jews or worldly believers. They were expecting God's blessing, but not so, judgment (cf. Isa. 13:6). They had fattened themselves for judgment (cf. v. 5; Jer. 12:3; 25:34).

5:2-3 "Your gold and your silver" There were three sources of wealth in the ancient world: (1) stored food; (2) clothing; and (3) precious metals. All three types of wealth are described by the perfect tense verbal forms denoting their complete and ongoing destruction: "rotted," "moth-eaten," and "rusted" (cf. Matt. 6:19-20).

▣ "consume your flesh like fire" Fire is often used as a symbol of God's judgment. Here it is related to the form of destruction that can happen to accumulated earthly wealth. Humans think that wealth will protect them and help them, but it may well cause their destruction (cf. Luke 12:15-21; 16:19-31). See Special Topic at 3:6.

▣ "the last days" This refers to the Jewish concept of two ages, one evil and one righteous. For Christians it relates to the period from the birth of Jesus until His Second Coming. In God's plan (cf. Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28; 13:29) the Messiah comes twice, once as Savior (cf. John 3:14-15,16-21) and later as Judge (cf. John 5:22,27; 9:39; Acts 10:42; 17:31). The last days refer to this period between the incarnation (God becoming a human) and the Parousia (Second Coming).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THIS AGE AND THE AGE TO COME

▣ "that you have stored up your treasures" This reflects Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 6). James often alludes to Jesus' words in this sermon. See Intro., Content, B. One wonders if he was present or if the early church used Matthew's Gospel in their training of new believers (catechism).

5:4 "the pay of the laborers. . .which has been withheld by you" The poor needed their money every day in order to feed their families, but the rich withheld it to assure that they returned to work the next day (cf. Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14-15).

There is a manuscript variant in this verse which is typical of many of the variants in the scribal tradition. One term, aphustereō, (found only here in the NT) found in MSS א and B* , means "withhold payment" while apostereō, which means "deprive one of something," is found in MSS A, B2 and most later manuscripts, As for an interpretation or understanding of the meaning of the original author, these two options make little difference. UBS4 gives the second option an "A" rating (certain).

▣ "cries out" This is literally "shrieks." The cries of the exploited believer reach God (i.e., Deut. 24:14-15)!

▣ "has reached the ears of" The Bible often describes God in human terms: (1) human body parts; (2) human feelings; or (3) human relationships. Humans have no other language than human categories to describe a personal deity. This is called "anthropomorphisms" from the two Greek words anthrōpos, meaning man, and morphē, meaning form.

This type of language helps us express the biblical world-view that

1. God is a person and that humans made in His image represent "personal" attributes and characteristics. This is why God and mankind can understand and relate to each other.

2. Humans do not ultimately understand God. He is far greater and more majestic than our earth-bound, temporal categories. God has truly revealed Himself and we can trust His revelation, but He has not exhaustively revealed Himself because of the limited capacity and sinfulness of mankind.

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS A HUMAN (anthropomorphic language)

▣ "of the Lord of Sabaoth" This is an OT title for deity (YHWH Sabaoth), which is used well over 250 times, but not in the Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy). It is used in the OT in several different senses.

1. To discuss all created things (cf. Gen. 2:1; Neh. 9:6; Isa. 45:12).

2. To describe God in ancient royal categories

a. palace guards

b. royal entourage

c. Israel as the unique people of God (cf. II Sam. 7:26-29; Ps. 46:7; 48:8)

3. To describe God's military aspect

a. the leader of Israel's army (cf. Exod. 12:41; I Sam. 17:45; 60:12; Ps. 24:8-10; Isa. 31:4).

b. the leader of the heavenly angelic army (cf. Josh. 5:14-15; Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26)

4. To describe and refute the ancient Mesopotamian and Canaanite belief that the heavenly lights represented angelic powers to be worshiped and placated (cf. Deut. 4:19; 17:3; Isa. 24:21-23; 40:26; Jer. 8:2).

It is true that angels are depicted as stars (cf. Job 38:7; Judg. 5:20 and later Jewish apocalyptic literature), but they are servants of YHWH, not independent powers.

SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY

5:5 "lived luxuriously and led a life of wanton pleasure" This is similar to Jesus' parable in Luke 16:19-31. The term denoted self-centered, extravagant lifestyle (cf. Luke 7:25; I Tim. 5:6; II Pet. 2:13).

▣ "fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter" They were acting like pampered cattle, fattened for the market. This is so reminiscent of Amos' preaching.

5:6 "You have condemned" This refers to the financial and judicial exploitation of widows, orphans, strangers, the poor, and the socially powerless and outcast. God is the defender of the needy and neglected (cf. Deut. 10:18; 24:17-21; 26:12; 27:19).

▣ "put to death" This may possibly be like 3:2 in the sense of violent acts or hateful attitudes (cf. Matt. 5:21-26).

▣ "the righteous man" Some link this to Jesus (because of the last phrase and Isa. 53:7), but the context relates it to the suffering children of God, the saints.

▣ "he does not resist you" This is possibly a question expecting a "yes" answer [see the modern translations of (1) The Twentieth Century New Testament; (2) Edgar J. Goodspeed; and (3) J. B. Rotherham]. If so, it relates to Matt. 5:39. In this age God's people should not react and retaliate, but they will testify on Judgment Day!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Is wealth a sin?

2. List the three sins of these wealthy people.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO JAMES 5:7-12

A. The imminence of the Second Coming

1. James and other NT authors seem to assume the immediacy of the Lord's return.

2. There is a tension in the words of Jesus Himself concerning His return. Most believers have been taught that Jesus is coming soon, suddenly, and unexpectedly (cf. Matt. 10:23; 24:27,34,44; Mark 9:1; 13:30). But every generation so far has been wrong! The soonness (immediacy) of Jesus' return is a powerful hope of every generation, but a reality to only one (and that one a persecuted one). Believers must live as if He is coming tomorrow, but plan and implement the Great Commission (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8) as if He tarries.

 

Some passages in the Gospels (cf. Mark 13:10; Luke 18:8) and I and II Thessalonians are based on a delayed Second Coming (Parousia). There are some historical events which must happen first:

a. world-wide evangelization (cf. Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10)

b. the revelation of "the man of Sin" (cf. Matt. 24:15; II Thessalonians 2)

c. the great persecution (cf. Matt. 24:21,24)

There is a purposeful ambiguity (cf. Matt. 24:42-51; Mark 13:32-36)! Live every day as if it were your last, but plan and train for future ministry.

3. The believers' proper response to the delayed Second Coming is patience. Several examples are given:

a. the farmer (cf. v. 7)

b. the prophets (cf. v. 10)

c. Job (cf. v. 11)

4. The confident assurance and expectation of the return of the Lord is an existential hope of every generation of believers. H. E. Dana's Jewish Christianity has a helpful comment:

"James believed in the imminence of Christ's Second Coming. It cannot be justly charged that we have here a ‘mistake' in the New Testament. James is faithfully recording the impression of his own religious consciousness, and though the actual extent of time was far beyond anything of which he dreamed, it was right for him to be on the watch for his returning Lord. Inspiration must keep within the verdict of Jesus that, ‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority' (Ac. 1:7). James could not know how near or distant in time was the Second Coming; he could only express its nearness in his own consciousness—and in that he was honest in his purpose and made no mistake" (pp. 124-125).

B. There is a continuing emphasis on a negative use of the tongue (James 5:9,12 as 5:13-20 is a positive use of the tongue).

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 5:7-11
 7Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

5:7 "Therefore" This shows the relationship of this paragraph to the previous one. The emphasis on the Second Coming in vv. 1-6 is continued.

▣ "be patient" This is an aorist active imperative. It is the theme and emphasis of this context (cf. 1:4). The word is used four times: v. 7 (twice), 8, and 10. Its basic meaning is "long-suffering." This term is used of God's patience with mankind (cf. Rom. 2:4; I Pet. 3:20), and is also one of the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).

"brethren" See notes at 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "until the coming of the Lord" This is literally "until the Parousia" which means "presence" and was used of a royal visit. The other NT terms used for the Second Coming are

1. epiphaneia, "face to face appearing"

2. apokalupis, "unveiling"

3. "the Day of the Lord" and the variations of this phrase

The antecedent of "Lord" in this passage is both YHWH, as in vv. 10 and 11, and Jesus in vv. 7,8, and 14. New Testament authors often used this grammatical ambiguity to assert the deity of Jesus.

The NT as a whole is written within the world-view of the OT which asserted

1. a current evil, rebellious age

2. a coming new age of righteousness

3. brought about by the Spirit's agency through the work of the Messiah (Anointed One).

The theological assumption of progressive revelation is required because the NT authors slightly modify Israel's expectation. Instead of a military, nationalistic (Israel) coming of the Messiah, there are two comings. The first coming is the incarnation of deity in the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth. He came as the non-military, non-judicial "suffering servant" fulfilling Isaiah 53 and as the mild rider on the colt of a donkey (not a war horse or kingly mule), fulfilling Zech. 9:9. The first coming inaugurated the New Messianic Age, the Kingdom of God on earth. In one sense the Kingdom is here, but of course, in another it is still far off. This tension between the two comings of the Messiah is the over-lapping of the two Jewish ages that was unseen, or at least unclear, from the OT. This dual coming emphasizes YHWH's commitment to redeem all humanity (cf. Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5 and the preaching of the prophets, especially Isaiah and Jonah).

The church is not waiting for the fulfillment of OT prophecy because most prophecies refer to the first coming (cf. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 166). What believers do anticipate is the glorious coming of the resurrected King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the expected historical fulfillment of the new age of righteousness on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Matt. 6:10). The OT presentations were not inaccurate, but incomplete. He will come again just as the prophets predicted—in the judicial power and material authority of YHWH.

The Second Coming is not a biblical term, but the concept is the world-view and framework of the entire NT. God will set it all straight. Fellowship between God and mankind made in His image will be restored. Evil will be judged and removed. God's purposes will not, cannot, fail!

▣ "The farmer" This is the first of three examples of patience: (1) a farmer (v. 7); (2) the OT prophets (v 10); and (3) Job (v. 11). The farmer is totally dependent on the weather, over which he has no control, but plows and sows in faith and hope.

▣ "the early and late rains" The early rains in Palestine were in October and November and were needed for the seeds to sprout. The late rains came in April and May and were needed for the crops to mature. This may imply that the recipients of James were in or near Palestine or else they knew about its climate.

Some early Greek texts (MSS P74, B) do not have the term "rain," but it is assumed. It seems that an early scribe added it for clarification (cf. MSS A, K, L, P).

5:8 "You too be patient" This is an aorist active imperative repeated from v. 7.

▣ "strengthen your hearts" This is another aorist active imperative (cf. I Thess. 3:13). Trust and wait on God's promises. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART at 1:26.

▣ "for the coming of the Lord is near" This is perfect active indicative which implies He came once, the influence continues, and He will come again (cf. I Pet. 4:7). The NT authors (and possibly Jesus Himself, compare Matt. 16:28 with 24:36) expected the consummation of the Second Coming to happen quickly. The imminence of the Second Coming is meant to encourage every generation of believers amidst worldly pressures. The time is uncertain, but the event is sure! Believers live every day in expectation of their Lord's glorious return. The major NT word to all believers is "be ready and be active."

5:9

NASB, TEV"do not complain"
NKJV, NRSV"do not grumble"
NJB"do not make complaints"

This is a present active imperative with a negative particle which usually means to stop an act in process. This could relate to

1. the unequal existential circumstances of some believers suffering and some not

2. the unexpected persecution of faithful believers

3. the jealousy among church leaders (teachers)

 

▣ "so that you yourselves may not be judged" The following verses are shocking in their warnings (cf. Matt. 6:14-15; 7:1-5; 18:35; Luke 6:38; James 2:13). Believers are not forgiven by forgiving, but our forgiving does reveal our new heart! Do we want God to treat us as we treat others?

▣ "the Judge is standing right at the door" The emphasis is on the immediacy of the Second Coming and its related judgment (cf. Matt. 24:33; Mark 13:29).

5:10 "the prophets" Their lives were far from easy and safe (cf. Matt. 5:10-12, also note Hebrews 11).

5:11 "who endured" This is a different word from the one used in vv. 7-10 although it reflects and continues the same emphasis. This word means "voluntary, steadfast endurance" with an emphasis on "remaining under a load." Job is known proverbially for his endurance. Believers of the OT and NT have revelation from God. We understand many things about spiritual reality, but there is still much mystery in our individual experiences.

▣ "the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful" These are two rare forms of the Greek terms for "pity" and "mercy." These same concepts are descriptive titles of God (cf. Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Joel 2:13). James may have been directly alluding to Ps. 103:8 or 111:4. If God treats us this way, we should treat others the same way (cf. v. 9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 5:12
 12But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

5:12 "But above all" This is a logical connector to a new, but related, subject. It is surprising that James saw this truth as "above all" (cf. I Pet. 4:8, same idiom). It may relate to the improper use of the tongue by using the name of God which was sacred (cf. Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11).

▣ "my brethren" See notes at 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "do not swear" Many modern translations see v. 12 as an independent unit (NASB, NRSV, NJB, NIV). It is a present active imperative with a negative particle which usually means to stop an act already in process. This does not refer to profanity but to rabbinical oath-taking which asserted the truthfulness of their statement by the flippant use of God's name (this may be another allusion to the Sermon on the Mount, cf. Matt. 5:34-37). They had developed an elaborate system of binding and nonbinding oaths. This is another negative use of the tongue.

▣ "so that you may not fall under judgment" The major problem was taking God's name in vain (cf. Exod. 20:7). Our words are significant (cf. Matt. 12:34-37), and we will answer for them (cf. Ecclesiasticus 23:9-10). Believers will also stand before Jesus for evaluation of their deeds, motives, and words (cf. II Cor. 5:10). Christ's death dealt with the sin problem; His Spirit empowers and gifts believers for service; but each of us is responsible for how we have used the gifts and opportunities for ministry.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Does James emphasize a temporal or eschatological judgment?

2. Explain the title "YHWH Sabaoth" (Lord of hosts).

3. How is James like Amos?

4. How or why is James 5:1-12 related to the Second Coming?

5. Why is v. 12 thought to be a separate unit of thought?

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO JAMES 5:13-20

A. The Church's role in physical healing (James 5:13-18)

1. Physical healing is a NT fact, as certain as spiritual healing. Its reality is a sign of ultimate salvation and the New Age.

2. Physical healing is an ongoing sign of God's love and care for believers. However, not everyone in the NT was healed:

a. Paul (II Cor. 12:7-9)

b. Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-27)

c. Trophimus (II Tim. 4:20)

3. The real questions concerning physical healing are not its reality or source but

a. Who is to be the recipient?

b. Who is to be the instrument?

c. What form, formula, or guidelines are to be involved?

d. When, where, why is it to be done?

4. There is a psychological element involved in healing, as can be seen here and in Mark 8:22-26. Certain cultural actions and symbols are used to encourage faith.

a. anointing with oil

b. spitting and making mud

c. laying on of hands in prayer

5. Read Gordon Fee, The Disease of the Health, Wealth Gospel.

 

B. The Church has an active and purposeful role in reclaiming backsliders (James 5:19-20)

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 5:13-18
 13Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

5:13-17 This entire section is primarily dealing with the importance and power of prayer (as a positive use of the tongue) in all circumstances, not only in healing procedures! It contrasts v. 12 by showing the proper use of the name of God.

In this context there are three questions related to suffering, joy, and sickness, but only the last one is expanded and discussed. The three questions provide guidelines for believers dealing with life's problems: (1) pray; (2) sing praises; and (3) ask for help from mature Christians.

▣ "he must pray. . .sing praises" These verbs are a present middle imperative and a present active imperative. We get the English word "psalm" from "praises" (cf. Rom. 15:9; I Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Verse 13 may be saying that prayer and praise are always appropriate to God (cf. Rom. 12:12; I Thess. 5:16-17) in all of our circumstances (suffering or joy).

5:14 "Is anyone among you sick" This is literally "without strength." The term astheneia was used of both lack of physical strength (i.e., II Cor. 11:30; 12:5; I Tim. 5:23) and lack of spiritual strength (cf. I Cor. 8:9; II Cor. 11:29) or purity (cf. Rom. 6:19; Heb. 4:15). This ambiguity may have been purposeful in a context where sin is linked to sickness. It is grammatically uncertain whether this should be a question (cf. NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV) or a statement (cf. NJB, New Century Version).

The theological question is whether (1) v. 13's suffering is paralleled to v. 14's sickness or (2) they are two separate experiences of believers in a fallen world. James has discussed "suffering and patience"; now he discusses "prayer and sickness."

SPECIAL TOPIC: IS HEALING GOD'S PLAN FOR EVERY AGE?

▣ "call for the elders" This is an aorist middle (deponent) imperative. Notice that it is the responsibility of the sick one to request a visit from the "elders." These procedures were to be done at the home of the weak one, not necessarily the gathered church, especially if the "anointing" was a medical massage or rubdown. Also this scenario shows the need for women "deacons" or "elders" in the physical ministry to women. Notice that the term "elders" is plural, as it is so often in the NT. The context of James is a believing Jewish fellowship; therefore, "elders" is probably not used in the NT sense of "pastors," "bishops" (cf. Acts 20:17,28; Titus 1:5,7), but in the OT sense of "elders" of the synagogue. The rabbis and designated leaders of the synagogues regularly visited and anointed the sick.

▣ "of the church" This is the Greek term ekklesia, which literally meant "called out ones." It was used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term qahal or "assembly" of Israel. In secular Greek it originally meant a local town assembly (cf. Acts 19:32,39,41). It is interesting theologically that the emphasis here is on local leaders, not itinerant faith healers. Healing is a spiritual gift which is mentioned in I Cor. 12:9, 28 and was widely practiced in the NT and the early church. Notice that the elders were to go to the sick when requested, not the sick to the gathered church meeting. This was to be a private spiritual procedure.

▣ "they are to pray over him" This is an aorist middle imperative. This is the main verb of the context. Prayer is the main subject of this entire context:

"he must pray" (v. 13)

"they are to pray" (v. 14)

"the prayer" (v. 15)

"pray for one another" (v. 16)

"effective prayer" (v. 16)

"in prayer he prayed" (v. 17)

"he prayed" (v. 18)

 

▣ "anointing" This is an aorist active participle. The word aleiphō is not the common word for ceremonial, religious anointing (chriō or chrisma), but it is the common term for rubbing on medicine. Physical touching is always emotionally significant to the sick. This may have been a culturally expected act like Mark 6:13; 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6,11.

There are several Greek terms used of anointing.

A. murizō, used in Mark 14:8 for the anointing with spices for burial. It is the Hebrew root from which we get the name Messiah (an anointed one).

B. aleiphō, also used of anointing with spices for burial (cf. Mark 16:1; John 12:3,7). In addition it was used for

1. anointing the sick (cf. Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34; James 5:14)

2. anointing oneself, apparently daily, as preparation for public activities (cf. Matt. 6:17)

3. the special anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman (cf. Luke 7:38,46)

C. chriō (chrisma), the normal term used in a religious sense often associated with the Spirit

1. anointing of Jesus (cf. Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; Heb. 1:9)

2. anointing of believers (cf. II Cor. 1:21; I John 2:20,27)

D. egchriō and epichriō, used exclusively of rubbing on salve (cf. Rev. 3:18)

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: ANOINTING IN THE BIBLE (BDB 603)

▣ "with oil" Oil had many uses in the Jewish first century.

1. as medicine (cf. Isa. 1:6; Luke 10:34)

2. as a symbol of God's giftedness and empowerment of OT prophets, priests, and kings

3. as a ceremonial symbol of God's presence

4. as preparation for daily public activities or special times of joyful events (putting it on one's face)

 

▣ "in the name of the Lord" This shows the proper use of God's name. As a footnote let me point out that healing is a gift of the Spirit given to some members of the body of Christ for the common good (cf. I Cor. 12:7,9,11,28, and 30). This context, however, does not refer to these gifted believers, but to the local church leaders. This is a procedure for local church leaders, not a special gift given by the Spirit.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NAME OF THE LORD

5:15 "the prayer offered in faith" This relates to the prayer of the "elders," not the sick believer. Healing is not always linked to the faith of the one being healed (cf. Mark 2:5; 5:35-43; John 5:5-9).

This term for prayer (euchē) can mean "oath" (cf. Acts 18:18; 21:23) and may involve a public pledge of faith on behalf of the ill person; it may also imply a pledge of availability for God's service.

▣ "will restore" The Greek term sozō is used often in the NT for spiritual salvation (cf. 1:21; 2:14; 4:12), but here it is used in its OT sense of physical deliverance (cf. 5:20; Matt. 9:22; Mark 6:56). The term literally means "to make whole" (physically and/or spiritually).

▣ "if he has committed sins" The "if" is a combination of "and" (kai) and the third class conditional (ean) with the subjunctive "to be." This then is a periphrastic perfect active participle, which does not assume that sin is the cause of illness. However, in first century Judaism, sin and sickness had a theological connection (cf. I Cor. 11:30; Mark 2:5-11; John 5:14). However, Jesus' statements in John 9:3 show that this is not always the case.

This entire context (5:13-18), which deals with the physical restoration of believers, mentions several actions which would encourage first century believers: (1) the elders of the church come; (2) they pray; (3) in Jesus' powerful name; (4) they anoint (rub down) with oil; and (5) they hear and absolve guilt. God uses a variety of methods in human physical restoration—miracles, exorcisms, prayers of friends, self-limiting illness, positive mental attitude, confession, medicine, medical procedures, and the removal of the heavy weight of sin and guilt.

5:16 "confess your sins" This is a present middle imperative. "Therefore" shows the connection of v. 16 with the preceding discussion. Confession was and is an important part in the healing process (cf. Lev. 5:5; Num. 5:7; Ps. 51). It is an effective antidote to pride, self-centeredness, and sin.

The major interpretive issue at this point is whether James has moved from a discussion of prayer for the physically ill person to prayer for the spiritually ill person, or whether the context of physical illness and physical healing continues. At issue is the concept of "save." Does it refer to the OT sense of physical deliverance as in v. 15, or has it moved to the sense of spiritual salvation?

The textual evidence for the NT sense (spiritual salvation) is: (1) generalizing of "elder" to "one another" (v. 16) and (2) the generalized conclusion of vv. 19-20.

On the other hand, the context seems to continue in its emphasis on physical illness (OT sense of physical deliverance): (1) physical illness healed by prayer and confession; (2) Elijah is just another example of answered prayer (vv. 17-18).

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: CONFESSION

▣ "to one another" Notice that it was not specifically stated to the "elders," which one would have expected from this context, but the generalized "one another." Possibly confession is to be made to those wronged. Often the early church dealt with sin corporately and publicly (cf. I Tim. 5:19-20).

▣ "pray for one another" This is another present middle imperative.

To summarize, confession is surely first made to God, but then to (1) the elders at the home; (2) the people sinned against; and (3) the whole gathered congregation. Confession cleanses the heart and warns other believers!

In the spiritual battle for purity and wholeness, confession and prayer are the believer's major weapons along with a knowledge of the gospel and the Word of God (cf. Eph. 6:10-20).

In one sense this is similar to the modern "twelve step" movement started by Alcoholics Anonymous. As we admit wrong to God and others, we find peace and acceptance. As we help others find hope and help, we find it ourselves.

SPECIAL TOPIC: INTERCESSORY PRAYER

"so that you may be healed" This is an aorist passive subjunctive which adds an element of contingency. God is the one who heals. As there was ambiguity in the Greek term "sick" in v. 14, the same wide semantic field is found in the term "healed." It can refer to physical or spiritual healing (cf. Matt. 13:15, quoting Isa. 6:10; Heb. 12:11-13; I Pet. 2:24, quoting Isa. 53:5).

NASB"the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much"
NKJV"the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much"
NRSV"the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective"
TEV"the prayer of a good person has a powerful effect"
NJB"the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully"

This seems to denote two conditions: (1) uprightness; and (2) persistence (cf. v. 17 and Matt. 7:7-8). The effectiveness of intercessory prayer is related to the spiritual life of the intercessor (cf. Pro. 15:29) and primarily to the will and power of God.

There are many questions related to this promise of effective prayer

1. How is the term "righteous" to be understood?

a. a believer (position in Christ)

b. a church leader (position in the church)

c. a godly believer (Christlikeness)

2. How is the term "effective" to be understood?

a. all prayers are positively answered

b. if we pray in God's will, all prayers are answered

c. offer up our human hopes, dreams, and desires, but trust God is giving His "best," His will for those believers in need (physical and spiritual)

3. How is this statement related to time?

a. the truly righteous pray consistently over a period of time and many times during that period (persistence and repetition)

b. time, persistence, and repetition are not the determining factors

4. If prayer is not answered, who is to "blame"?

a. the person prayed for (lack of faith or sin)

b. the intercessor (lack of faith or sin)

c. God's will (not always God's will or the right time)

d. a combination of all three (the mystery of unanswered believing prayer)

5. Is it possible that this is a proverbial statement which was not meant to be analyzed in detail?

See Special Topic at 1:7. For "righteous" see Special Topic at 2:21.

5:17 "Elijah" He was a very important prophet because of his connection with the coming of the Messiah in Mal. 4:5. James is surely written with an eschatological setting in mind.

NASB, NKJV"with a nature like ours"
NRSV"a human being like us"
TEV"the same kind of person as we are"
NJB"a human being as frail as ourselves"

There are no super saints! We are all human (cf. Acts 14:15). Remember Elijah was not a perfect believer. Please read I Kgs. 18-19.

▣ "prayed. . .three years and six months" The time element is not recorded in I Kgs. 17:1, but was part of rabbinical speculation (cf. Luke 4:25).

5:18 Elijah is an example of a prayer for no rain and later a prayer for rain, both of which God granted. God used Elijah to accomplish His own will and agenda. Elijah was His instrument. Prayer does not move a reluctant God, but channels His will and purposes through His children.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 5:19-20
 19My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

5:19 "my brethren" See notes at 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "if" This is a third class conditional contingent on two actions: (1) one believer strays and (2) another believer is willing to help.

▣ "strays from the truth" The straying has both doctrinal and moral aspects (cf. Heb. 5:2; II Pet. 2:2). The term "strays" comes from a Greek word from which we get the English "planet." As the ancients watched and mapped the night sky, they saw that certain "stars" did not follow a regular orbit. We know these today as our solar system's planets. They called them "the wanderers."

The grammatical form of the verb is aorist passive subjunctive. The AORIST speaks of wandering. The passive voice is used to assert that the subject is being acted upon. Most translations translate it as a middle or active (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, and NIV). The passive idea is found in The Twentieth Century New Testament and the translation by Henry Alford. The passive voice was replacing the middle voice in Koine Greek (cf. A. T. Robertson's Studies in the Epistle of James p. 196 (footnote #6). This may explain 4:7 and 10 as well.

Believers wander (1) by willfulness; (2) by the trickery of false teachers (cf. Eph. 4:14); and (3) under the influence of the demonic (cf. Eph. 4:14). The exact cause is not the issue, but the need for confession, repentance, prayer, and the help of other believers.

▣ "one turns him back" Believers have a responsibility to help one another (cf. II Cor. 2:7;Gal. 6:1; Eph. 4:32; II Thess. 3:15).

5:20

NASB, NKJV"let him know"
NRSV"you should know"
TEV"remember this"
NJB"he may be sure"

This is a present active imperative. It is an idiom for confidence in the following statement.

▣ "turns" It is significant that the Greek word epistrephō is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term for "repentance" (shuv). Since Israel was considered the people of God, this "turning" was viewed as "turning back" to God or the renewing of a previous relationship. That same sense is reflected in this text in James.

▣ "he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death." In context this refers to (1) the supposed connection between sin and sickness in v. 15 or (2) the message of the whole book about warnings related to covenant responsibilities.

Our systematic theology tends to interpret passages like this (i.e., 5:19-20) in "acceptable" ways. The fact remains this is a shocking warning written to Christians. Sin causes death, physical death, spiritual death, eternal death. Unconfessed sin is a powerful and beguiling enemy. Flee from it. Confess it!

There is an interesting and insightful footnote in Hard Sayings of the Bible, published by IVP:

"Neither James nor the rest of the New Testament is concerned to answer the speculative question ‘How could a Christian who had eternal life lose it?' All of the theological answers given are based on various theological assumptions and either deny the meaning of the various texts (such as ‘The Christian does not really die eternally, but simply loses his or her reward') or explain the texts according to their theological beliefs (such as the Calvinist ‘They appeared to be Christian, but their lack of perseverance shows that they were not really regenerate,' or the Arminian ‘Yes, people can fall away from the faith and be lost'). James, like all New Testament writers, is not interested in theological neatness, but in pastoral concern. He simply sees the situation (a Christian on the wrong way), recognizes the danger (death) and goes to the rescue, rather than ask how it fits into his theology. So while theological responses are appropriate in their place, we ought not to expect a New Testament writer to select among them" (p. 708).

▣ "cover a multitude of sins" This refers to the forgiving of the wanderer's sins! Possibly this is related to Ps. 32:1; 85:2; Pro. 10:12; I Pet. 4:8 (a Semitic truism or proverb) or I Cor. 13:7 where love refuses to see faults in others. Christians love wounded Christians. The spiritual battle has casualties, but also reclamations.

At this point let us discuss the application of this context to today. It appears from v. 15 that James expected physical restoration. Does that imply that all of the early Jewish believers were healed? If so, how did they die? Verses 19-20 may have been the theological assurance that even those who died had their sins forgiven and possessed eternal life.

Bible-believing believers believe in God's miraculous presence, care, provision, and healing! The mystery is when, where, how, and who is to be involved and why physical healing often does not occur. Our biblical world-view asserts God's love, power, and sovereignty even amidst suffering, sickness, persecution, and death. Faith lives even when the body dies. Let us keep on praying, believing, confessing, anointing, encouraging, and loving each other.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Did the NT writers expect an immediate Second Coming in their lifetime? If so, does that mean the Bible is in error?

2. Why is patience such an important aspect of the believer's character?

3. How does one take God's name in vain?

4. Does James 5:13-20 give us a procedure to follow for healing?

5. How is confession of sin related to healing?

6. How are local elders to be involved in healing? Who are these elders?

7. Does wandering from the truth result in physical or spiritual death?