A Brother’s Wisdom 88

JesusJames*.jpg We come to the end: James 5:19-20:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring them back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the way of error will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The book ends on an unexpected note: wandering, if not apostasy, and the pastoral summons to bring the wandering back.

Here are my observations about this text:

First, wandering happens and the wandering can be restored. James is probably not talking about the same situation as we see in Hebrews 6:4-6. Or at least he approaches it from the pastoral summons to find the wandering and bring them back.

Second, the pastoral task of restoration leads to both covering sins and saving a sinner’s soul/life from death — and death here probably means eternal death.

James has in mind the specifics of conciliation: forgiveness
promotes personal and community holiness. The word “cover” is used often enough
of “covering sin” that it becomes an alternate form for forgiveness. Thus,
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered”

We finish as did James: we’re done.

North Park University


18 pt
18 pt



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  • Rick

    Thanks for this good, thoughtful, challenging series.
    Looking forward to the series on Acts.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Hope I’m not wearing out my welcome by my flurry of posts recently, but . . .
    1. In light of the abrupt ending of James, do you hear any inclusio with v. 1 (reference to the diaspora as those scattered to help the “wanderers”?); and
    2. The variant reading for v. 20 (“will save a man from his death”) makes an interesting case for a reference to physical death, i.e., the one who turns a wanderer from the error of his way saves him from death and covers a multitude of sins (for the rest of his life); and
    3. Do you hear echoes of the “two ways” in the Sermon on the Mount? That is, James ends with a similar theme?

  • The last clause seems to almost be a reference to a quote or popular saying. For my observation I’m assuming the “sinner” in the passage to be an unrepentant (unregenerate) person — I’ve never seen “sinner” as a noun applied to a sinning Christian in the NT. Two theories about what this text means:
    1. If one of them in their midst wanders away (i.e., leaves the faith completely), it shows that they were never saved in the first place; therefore, if you bring them back, faithfully this time, you have saved them from spiritual death.
    2. The wanderer is indeed a Christian, just one having some struggles. Then he quotes a popular saying (proceeding with, “remember this:”) about saving actual sinners that he just adapting to his point.
    Of course, it could also be some other things, e.g. about physical death (sinful people can die quicker sometimes), just a very ambiguous passage that defies proper understanding, etc.

  • I love the idea of people who are wandering from Truth…which in today’s church means SO MUCH! Truth is a dying idea in todays Post-Modern era and with the emergent church growing on the horizon (or the church of humanism or relativism), the idea that calling those who have wandered from Truth is so important!

  • Thanks, Scot.
    Always so good to get into the word like this, and I look forward to the next: Acts, as well as the James commentary from Eerdmans, to come!