James 5:16: Reclaiming the Erring, Part 1

Verse 16:[1] Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. (Gen. 20:17; Num. 11:2; Deut. 9:18-20; Josh. 10:12; 1 Sam. 12:18; 1 Kings 13:6; 2 Kings 4:33; 19:15, 20; 20:2, 4, etc.; Ps. 10:17; 34:15; 145:18; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; John 9:31; 1 John 3:22) The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

[Confess, etc., ἐξομολογεῖσθε ἀλλήλοις τὰ παραπτώματα] In a Manuscript οὖν/therefore is added,[2] by which this is connected with what precedes, not without some propriety. Thus the Latin reads (Grotius, thus Hammond). Confess one to another (or, mutually [Valla], among yourselves by turns [Erasmus], one to another by turns [Erasmus]) lapses (Piscator, Estius), or, offenses (Beza), errors (Erasmus, Vatablus, Estius), faults (Vatablus). He treats here, either, 1. Of the mutual confession of offenses and profession of repentance, for reconciliation of an offended brother, concerning which is that word in Matthew 5:25 (Gomar, certain interpreters in Estius, similarly Erasmus, Zegers); Luke 17:4; Colossians 3:13 (Gomar). And, because the injuries of many are mutual, he commands that they mutually and freely confess them and forgive (certain interpreters in Estius). Or, 2. Concerning the confession of sins made to brethren (Estius out of Augustine, thus Calvin), or, for the sake of Counsel, that they might treat sins and shun them for the future; or, for the sake of Help (Estius out of Augustine), so that by their intercession they might find favor (Estius, Calvin). He teaches, therefore, that this Confession is useful for us, because those that are aware of our necessity are incited to pray for us (Calvin). The Church effectually prays for the sins known to it, at the same time applying suitable remedies to the hurt, lest one fall back into it. See what things are on Matthew 3:6; Acts 19:18; and what things Maimonides[3] has in “Concerning Repentance”[4] (Grotius). Or, 3. Concerning the Confession of the sick, general at least, or concerning every category of his faults, to be made to the Elders, so that he might approve himself to them, and receive Absolution from them (Hammond). Or, 4. Concerning the sacramental Confession of sins (Estius), or auricular and secret, whereby all are bound under the Papacy once each year to enumerate secretly in their own Priest’s ear particular sins exactly with all circumstances, and that necessarily, and by Divine law, as the Papists determine (Laurentius). To which it is objected, 1. that he says ἀλλήλοις, that is, among yourselves mutually; not to Priests (Erasmus, thus Cajetan), but one to another (Laurentius). But this does not denote in this place mutually (certain interpreters in Gomar), but, that is to say, not to God alone, but men to men, etc. Thus the word, ἀλλήλοις, is taken elsewhere, as in Ephesians 5:21, being subject mutually, that is, each to his superiors:[5] and in 1 Peter 4:9, 10, be hospitable mutually; that is, ye that have houses receive those in need of shelter (Estius); each one…unto another, etc., yet the ignorant are not able to teach the learned[6] (certain interpreters in Gomar). And such words ought to be explained in a manner suited to the subject matter (Tirinus). But those gifts were able to be mutual, either specifically, like hospitality, or, at least generally, that thanks might be rendered for preaching, according to Romans 12:5, 6; Galatians 6:6. And, even if the word is thus to be taken elsewhere, nevertheless, the following words and the analogy of Scripture teach that it is to be taken properly here (Gomar). 2. That this is followed by pray for one another (Laurentius, Gomar). Finally, that this Confession either is of Divine right, or is understood in this place, some Papists deny, as Gregory of Valencia[7] and Lorinus testify (Laurentius).

[And pray (both privately, and publicly [Menochius]) for one another] That is, Some for others (Estius), the Elders for the infirm (certain interpreters in Estius); or, it is to be understood more generally (most interpreters in Estius), the healthy for the infirm, the righteous for those that have confessed sins (Estius), those standing for the lapsed (Grotius).

Confess your faults; some copies have the illative particle, therefore, in the text, but even without that here seems to be a connexion between this and the former verse: he had said, the sick man’s sins should be forgiven upon the elders’ praying; and here he adds, that they must be confessed. One to another; either, that ye may be reconciled to one another when offended, or rather, confess when admonished or reproved for sin, or wounded in your consciences with the sense of it: and so this is not meant of auricular confession made to a priest, but such as should be made, though especially to ministers, yet, when need is, even to godly, experienced Christians, for the easing and disburdening men’s consciences, and getting the help of others’ prayers. And pray one for another; both in other ordinary cases, and chiefly upon occasion of your mutual confessions, and those soul-troubles that prompted you to them.

[That, etc., ὅπως ἰαθῆτε] That ye may be healed (Beza, Piscator). Both bodily (Gataker), that ye may recover health (Bede in Estius); and, principally spiritually, as in Matthew 13:15; Luke 4:18; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24 (Gataker). That God might cleanse you lapsed again (Grotius, similarly Estius). Health is Scripture is often referred to the soul (Estius). That ye may obtain the salvation of soul and body (Menochius, thus Tirinus).

That ye may be healed; not only recover bodily health when sick, but spiritual, when weakened or wounded by sin. Healing is often applied to the soul as well as the body, Matthew 13:15; Luke 4:18; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24.

[For availeth much (that is, it has great power to obtain [Estius]) the supplication of the righteous (that is, man [Piscator]: For just is used sometimes strictly, as in Ecclesiastes 7:20; Matthew 27:19; Acts 3:14; 22:14; sometimes broadly, for a good man, as in Job 1:1; Matthew 1:19; Luke 1:6: God hears the prayers of such only: See Proverbs 15:8, 29 [Gataker], and what things are on John 9:31 [Grotius]: Ὁς κε θεῷ ἐπιπείθηται μάλα ἔκλυεν αὐτοῦ, whoever obeys god, to him he gladly gives ear[8] [Gataker]: Hence it appears that the preceding part is directed principally to the just [Estius]), the assiduous supplication, ἐνεργουμένη] It is the same thing as ἐνεργής/powerful, Hebrews 4:12, and as ἐκτενὴς/fervent, Acts 12:5[9] (Gataker). Effectual (Erasmus, Tigurinus, Vatablus, Beza, Grotius, Menochius). Working, or, when it is at work (Erasmus, Vatablus). Ardent (Piscator). Energetic, or painstaking (Beza, Piscator, Menochius). Intent (Grotius, Erasmus, Vatablus). Constant, or firm (Cameron). Importunate (Gataker), that is, full of zeal and ardor, not tepid, not rash (Gataker); not perfunctory (Beza), not wavering (Gataker), of which sort is that in James 1:6 (Beza), not languid. Here, after the Hebrew manner, the Participle is in the place of the Verbal ἐνεργής/powerful/effectual, 1 Corinthians 16:9; Philemon 6; Hebrews 4:12 (Grotius). Incited, and, as it were, aroused by a certain movement and impetus, whence ἐνεργούμενοι, those that are moved by demons; that is, vehement, fervent, and diligent, which is performed with great affection of devotion (Estius), poured forth from the soul (Vatablus). Others: Inspired, that is to say, the Prayer of the man of God, incited by the Holy Spirit, as were both the Prophets when they prayed, and those in the New Testament that were strong in the gift of miracles, shall be most efficacious, and shall bring about a miraculous healing (Hammond).

The effectual fervent prayer: our translators use two words (and little enough) to express the significancy of the Greek word in this place: some translate it in-wrought; it seems to be a prayer wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit, and so may imply both the efficiency of God’s Spirit, (the Spirit of supplications, Zechariah 12:10,) and the vehemency of holy affections caused by him in prayer, Romans 8:26. Of a righteous man; one sincerely righteous, and in a gospel sense; the following instance of Elias shows that it is not to be understood of a man absolutely righteous. Availeth much; is very powerful with God for obtaining what is desired, 1 John 5:14; whereas God heareth not sinners, Proverbs 15:8, 29.

[1] Greek: ἐξομολογεῖσθε ἀλλήλοις τὰ παραπτώματα, καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων, ὅπως ἰαθῆτε. πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη.

[2] Thus Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus.

[3] Moses Maimonides, or Rambam (1135-1204), is reckoned by many to be the greatest Jewish scholar of his age.  Maimonides’ command of the Hebrew Scriptures, Rabbinic tradition, natural science, and Aristotelian philosophy is staggering.

[4] Mishneh Torah 1:5.

[5] Ephesians 5:21:  “Submitting yourselves one to another (ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις) in the fear of God.”

[6] 1 Peter 4:9, 10:  “Use hospitality one to another (φιλόξενοι εἰς ἀλλήλους) without grudging.  As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another (εἰς ἑαυτοὺς), as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

[7] Gregory of Valencia (c. 1550-1603) was a Spanish Jesuit.  He taught scholastic theology at the University of Dillingen, and later at Ingolstadt.

[8] Homer’s Iliad 1:218.

[9] Acts 12:5:  “Peter therefore was kept in prison:  but prayer was made without ceasing (ἐκτενὴς) of the church unto God for him.”

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