6. Forgiveness and restoration, 5:13-20

The prayer of faith for the restoration of an erring brother


In his final set of sayings, James deals with the prayer of faith for the "sick" in soul. James has gone into great detail to lay out the right behavior of a child of faith. Anyone reading his words is inevitably convicted of sin. So now, in these concluding sayings, James deals with the issue of forgiveness, a forgiveness made effective through prayer, prayer which rests on the promised grace of God.


i] Context: See 1:1.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: Forgiveness and restoration:


salvation in the light of eternity.


#1. Pray in hard spells, sing songs in moments of joy, v13-16a;

#2. Prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective, v16b-18;

#3. Restore an erring brother, or sister, v19-20.


iv] Interpretation:

The subject of prayer for healing is often treated literally, rather than figuratively, and this because some translators have left little room for us to be read it any other way. As a result, the passage is often wrongly used to support faith healing. It is most unlikely that James is teaching that prayer makes a sick person well when accompanied by confession and faith. Even the topic of faith healing itself is unrelated to the subject matter of James' epistle. It is more likely that v13-20 serve as the conclusion of James letter. The sins addressed by James include misuse of the tongue, jealousy, lack of concern for the poor, worldliness, quarreling ...., all serve to lead us from gospel truth. If we have strayed from the truth it is then we need the aid of a brother to turn us from error and and enable us, through the prayer of faith, to look to the Lord to heal our sick soul / save / renew / gift wellbeing, ie., forgive our sins.

If this assessment of the concluding verses is correct, then James has followed a well-trodden path. By exposing sin, Law both leads us to grace and guides our life of faith.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 5:13

Instruction #1: Pray in hard spells and sing sacred songs in moments of joy, v13, pray in faith for the sick, v14-15, and do this with a repentant heart, v16a. The concluding words of this letter begin with a simple observation: the person who is suffering distress needs to commit their troubles to the Lord, while the person who is in good spirits needs to rejoice in the Lord. The troubles may range from inner distress to a misfortune like persecution. In the face of trouble it is easy to turn to either stoicism or righteous indignation, but James calls us to prayer.

The construction of v13 is best treated as conditional, consisting of two imperatival conditional clauses, even though ei is not present; "if anyone among you is suffering, let him pray; if anyone is cheerful, let him sing praise."

kakopaqei (kakopaqew) pres. "is [any one of you / anyone among you] in trouble?" - if, as is the case, [a certain = anyone in = among you] is suffering physical pain, hardship and distress, [then let him pray]. The phrase may be a statement rather than a question, but either way, both serve the imperative "pray". The distress is general rather than a specific. Given the wider context, the distress is possibly self-inflected, in the sense of abandonment by God, or possibly chastisement for the sins James has already identified in this letter. It should be noted that most commentators see the trouble as some form of persecution, or external suffering.

tiV "anyone" - Nominative subject of the verb "to encourage." Functioning as an indefinite pronoun, rather than an interrogative, although usually treated as setting up a series of quick fire questions.

en + dat. " - / among [you]" - in [you]. Local, expressing space, here "among", or association.

euqumei (euqumew) pres. "is [anyone] happy" - is happy, encouraged. In a state of inner cheerfulness, in good spirits. "Is anyone feeling good", Johnson.

yalletw (yallw) pres. imp. "let him sing songs of praise" - let him sing psalms. "Sing psalms", is possibly what James means, although technically it is not what the words means. Technically it means to sing with the accompaniment of a harp. "Let him sing praises to God", Phillips.


James now identifies one particular trouble, namely, sickness. Actually, the Greek word for "sick" means "weakness" or "incapacity" and so it is a word that can either be used of a physical weakness, or an inner spiritual or mental weakness. Most commentators think James is addressing the issue of physical weakness and its cure through the prayer of faith, but in the wider context of his concluding words, it is clear that James is concerned with a sickness of the soul, a soul entrapped by unconfessed sin. James' readers, having read his letter (or better, his sermon on Christian ethics), can now see their state of loss; they have been "dragged away and enticed" "to sin (and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death)". The solution to this condition of loss is provided by the ministers of the church ("elders") who through the grace of prayer can administer forgiveness. They can also anoint the brother with the oil of gladness as a sign of restitution and forgiveness.

As with v13, this verse is best treated as conditional; "if anyone among you is sick, let him ....."

asqenei (asqenew) pres. "is [any one of you / anyone among you] sick" - if, as is the case, [anyone among you] is in a state of weakness, [then let him call the elders of the church]. As already indicated, most commentator's suggest some form of physical malady is intended here, but some commentators, eg., Donald Robinson, suggest that James has in mind a sickness of the heart, a sickness of the mind, caused by guilt. The problem James is addressing is most likely sin, not sickness. Taken figuratively, the word would mean "spiritually weak", cf., Rom.14:2, 1Cor.8:11-12. On the other hand, note how Paul reminds the Corinthians that maladies have emerged in the congregation due to their improper handling of the Lord's Supper, 1Cor.11:29-30. So, it is possible that James has in mind some physical malady flowing from the spiritual weakness of his readers, but the physical is not the issue; "if any one of you are spiritually weak?"

proskalesasqw (proskaleomai) aor. imp. "he should call" - call to oneself, summon. Urgency is implied.

touV presbuterous (oV) "the elders" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to call". Aged members are not intended, rather the term is used for mature members who minister in the congregation - bishop, overseer. No specific form of congregational eldership is demanded and so we are left to work within our own form of pastoral ministry.

thV ekklhsiaV (a) gen. "of the church" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive, such that the elders belong to the church, or partitive, the are part of the church, although possibly ablative, source, such that the elders are from the church.

proseuxaswsan (proseucomai) aor. imp. "to pray over him" - let them pray [over him]. Pray for forgiveness This passage is about restoring a brother who has gone astray. As suggested, the passage is most likely not about faith healing.

aleiyanteV (aleifw) aor. part. "anoint" - having anointed [him]. The participle is adverbial, possibly introducing a temporal clause, "after anointing." James gives us little insight into the purpose of this anointing with oil. It may be a symbol of prayer, but this is unlikely. The laying on of hands is a more common symbol of prayer. Olive oil was certainly used for medicinal purposes and so this may be the intention. There are those today who use olive oil in the healing ministry. Martin notes that "the idea of oil-anointing as a mark of honor and joy, derived from God's electing mercy, is well attested in the Jewish and NT literature, cf., Deut.28:40, Am.6:6 etc." In this sense the anointing would be an "outward tangible sign of God's covenant faithfulness", a sign of "restoration and forgiveness." It would be difficult to argue that we should use this sign today, particularly as chrism and unction are now associated with baptismal and funeral rites.

elaiw/ (on) dat. "with oil" - Instrumental dative, expressing means, or simply a dative of material. In the sense of consecrative, as above, but possibly just medicinal.

en + dat. "in [the name of the Lord]" - Often taken as instrumental, giving the sense "with / by the authority of the Lord's name", ie. under the authority of his person, but possibly temporal, "while invoking the name of the Lord", Adam.


The prayer of faith, that is, a prayer based on the promises of God, is an effective prayer. Forgiveness is promised to those who repent, and so the spiritually sick brother will be saved (made "well" through forgiveness) and raised up from the oppression of past sins.

thV pistewV (iV ewV) gen. "[the prayer] of faith" - The genitive is possibly adjectival, attributive, "faithful prayer", Adam, but it could also be taken as ablative, source / origin, "prayer that proceeds from faith", Mayor - a prayer that rests on God's revealed intentions. Biblical faith is substantially a reliance on the revealed word of God and is not an expression of wishful thinking. As there is no Word from the Lord promising physical healing for the asking, we will need to be careful how we interpret the words "make the sick person well" and "raise him up."

swsei (swzw) fut. "will make [the sick person] well" - will make whole, save, deliver. In the New Testament the word is most often used of salvation, making whole spiritually, and it is likely that this sense is intended here.

ton kamnonta (kamnw) pres. part. "the sick person" - the sick / very sick one, ill, worn-out, wasting away. The participle serves as a substantive. The word also has the meaning to lose one's motivation to accomplish some goal, to become discouraged, to become tired of*. The second meaning, in the sense of being overcome (with guilt), well suits the context.

egerei (egeirw) fut. "will raise [him] up" - [and the lord] will raise up, lift up [him]. Normally taken in this passage to mean recovery from illness, or possibly even the resurrection. Raised up from the oppression of guilt is most likely intended.

kan + subj. "if" - and if. For kai an. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "and if, as may be the case, .... then ...."

h|/ pepoihkwV (poiew) perf. part. "he / they have [sinned]" - he may have been committing [sin]. The participle with the verb to-be forms a perfect periphrastic construction, probably serving to emphasize durative aspect.

afeqhsetai (afihmi) fut. pas. + dat. "[he/they will] be forgiven" - it will be forgiven [him]. The dative autw/, "to him", is a dative of direct object after the verb "to forgive". Rather than taking this phrase as a new idea, or as a linking idea (a connection between sin and sickness), James is most likely further developing the central point of this passage, v13-20, namely, that the sickness of sin for a believer is overcome through repentance and the prayer of faith leading to God's forgiveness, which may be expressed outwardly in the anointing of oil as a sign of that forgiveness. None-the-less, as noted above, sickness of the soul may be expressed outwardly in a sickness of the body. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, although sin is forgiven in the asking, not so healing.


Therefore, those convicted of sin by this letter need to confess their sins, hand the matter over to the Lord in prayer, supported by the ministers of the church, and they will be forgiven / renewed ("healed").

oun "therefore" - Inferential, drawing a logical conclusion. Omitted in some manuscripts.

exomologeisqe (exomologew) pres. imp. "confess" - Sin and suffering (sickness) are certainly linked throughout the Bible and public confession was seen as a way through suffering in Judaism and the early church. Yet, sin is the issue here; suffering is but a sign of sin (although not necessarily so, eg., Job, Jn.9:2,3.). Note also that confession is mutual in character, confessing to one another. Variants have even attempted to alter this rather unique NT instruction.

allhloiV dat. pro. "to each other" - to one another [the = your sins]. Dative of indirect object.

uJper + gen. "[pray] for" - [pray] on behalf of [one another]. Expressing advantage / benefit; "on behalf of / for the sake of."

oJpwV + subj. "so that" - Probably introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that", but possibly consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that." It may serve to introduce a dependent statement of direct speech expressing the actual content of the prayer, "may you be healed."

iaqhte (iaomai) subj. pas. "healed" - you may be made able, strong. Often, cause someone to become well again after having been sick, but the word also has a figurative meaning in the sense of cause something to change to an earlier, correct, or appropriate state, to renew*. So, here again it is quite possible that James intends a figurative sense of healing, of getting well, a healing of the soul through forgiveness.


Instruction #2 - The prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective, v16b-18. The person who trusts the Lord (the "righteous man"), will find that their prayers are effective. Elijah was just such a man; a flesh and blood person who trusted the Lord. God revealed that there would be a drought and revealed when it would end, 1Ki.18:1. So, Elijah, resting on the revealed will of God, prayed, believing, and saw his prayer answered.

The division of verse 16 is open to question, but it does seem likely that v16b introduces a separate saying supported by the Elijah illustration, which is possibly itself an independent saying.

gar "-" - for. Variant transitional connective used to stitch the two independent sayings.

dikaiou gen. adj. "a righteous man" - [the petition] of a just / righteous one. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, subjective, "a righteous person prays", Adam. In the context, the righteous person is the person who trusts the Lord, who relies on God's revealed will. He is the person who can pray the prayer of faith. Of course, a more general sense may be implied, "a just person / a good person".

energoumenh (energew) mid/pass. part. "effective" - being engaged in a particular activity [has great power]. The participle may be classified as either adjectival or adverbial, middle or passive, see Moo EGNT. In the middle voice "the prayer is very powerful in its working", or in the passive voice the "prayer is very powerful when it is energized by the Spirit." Either way, the prayer for forgiveness by the righteous person is effective for the forgiveness of sins.


oJmoiopaqhV adj. "like" - [elijah was a man] of like nature. A man with the "same limitations" as every other human person. Elijah was a person just like us, flesh and blood, and he prayed a prayer of faith and saw the prayer answered, 1 Kings 17, 18. So, Elijah serves as an example for us. The interesting feature of his prayer is that it was based on the revealed word of God. The Lord told him there would be a drought and later told him that it would rain, cf., 18:1. So, his prayer was answered because it was a prayer of faith, a prayer that rested on God's revealed will. Similarly, a prayer for forgiveness will be answered because God has promised to forgive a repentant person. Note that we are not told in first Kings that Elijah actually prayed for drought, but it is likely that he prayed for rain, cf., 1King.18:42ff.

hJmin dat. pro. "us / even as we are" - to us. Dative after a comparative adjective; "in like nature to / with us."

proseuch/ (h) dat. "[he prayed] earnestly" - [and] in prayer [he prayed]. The dative "in prayer" is instrumental, but possibly adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his prayer, "prayerfully" = "earnestly". Elijah's prayer was not answered because of his earnestness; it was answered because it was God's will. "Elijah prayed intensely, earnestly desiring."

tou mh brexai (brecw) aor. inf. "that it would not rain" - of the not to rain. This construction, the genitive article tou + an infinitive, usually serves to introduce a purpose clause; "so that it would not rain."

kai "and" - Here probably expressing result; "and as a result it did not rain ....."

epi + gen. "on [the land]" - [it did not rain] upon [the earth]. Spatial.

eniautouV treiV kai mhnaV ex "three and a half years" - years three and six months. This period possibly reflects the symbolic period of judgment, Dan.7:25, 12:7.


kai "[again he prayed] and" - [and again he prayed] and [the heavens gave rain and the earth caused the fruit of it to sprout]. Here again consecutive, expressing result; "again he prayed and as a result the heavens gave rain."


Instruction #3 - Restore an erring brother, or sister, v19-20. James rounds off his letter by restating the truth of v13-18. James' letter has covered the details of the Christian way, and in these final verses he makes the point that a brother who has turned from the way, wandered "from the truth", a brother who is soul-sick, needs to turn from their error. The ministers of the church are well positioned to lead the brother through their repentance and by the prayer of faith, declare forgiveness for "a multitude of sins." A brother who has turned to the Lord is saved.

These verses are often treated as if unrelated to v13-18. Yet, v13-18 are concerned with the sickness of sin, of going astray, and of restoration through the prayer of faith. So, it is more than likely that v13-20 is part of a thematic whole which serves to conclude the treatise.

ean + subj. "if" - [brothers of me] if. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd class, where the stated condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, ..... then [let him know that ....]". Verse 19 serves as the protasis and v20 the apodosis (the then clause).

en + dat. "of [you]" - [anyone] in [you]. Local, expressing space / association; probably with the sense "among you."

planhqh/ (planaomai) aor. pas. subj. "wander" - wanders, strays. "If any of your number strays from the gospel message", Junkins.

apo + gen. "from [the truth]" - Expressing separation; "away from."

epistreyh/ (epistrefw) aor. subj. "should bring [that person] back" - [and someone] turns back, returns [him back]. This was the function performed by the elders in v14.


oJti "-" - [let him know] that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what he / they should know.

oJ epistreyaV (epistrefw) aor. part. "whoever turns [a sinner]" - the one having turned back, turned around [a sinner]. The participle serves as a substantive.

ek + gen. "from [the error]" - from [wandering]. Expressing separation; "away from." The many evils identified by James which weigh down the brother with guilt.

oJdou (oV) gen. "of [his] ways" - of way [of him]. Compacted genitives always cause a problem with translation. The general rule is that "each succeeding genitive depends on the one that preceded it, though this is not always the case", Wallace. So here the genitive "way" is usually taken to be verbal, subjective, "the way is what strays", Adam, and the genitive "him" idiomatic / descriptive, "the way which he takes", or possessive, "the error of his ways." Yet, note McKnight who argues that the preposition ek modifies oJdou, "way" = "from the way of his error" = "from his wandering", ESV.

swsei (swzw) fut. "will save [him / them]" - will save [soul of him]. "Soul" here most likely means "eternal soul" rather than just "self", and "death" would similarly mean "eternal death" rather than just physical death. Turning a brother around, who is in a state of rebellion against the Lord, serves to save the brother from eternal damnation.

ek + gen. "from [death]" - expressing separation.

kaluyei (kaluptw) fut. "will .... cover" - [and] will cover. Some commentators suggest that the action of turning a sinner from error serves to wipe away the sins of the one ministering to the sinner. This is unlikely. The sins of the one who turns are the sins covered, or better, forgiven.

aJmartiwn (a) gen. "of sins" - [a multitude] of sins. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.


James Introduction



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