James 5:16 Commentary | + Memorization Tutorial (Video)

Verse of the Day 5.3.18: James 5:16

We read that the “prayers of faith” of the righteous accomplish much — even physical healing. But what is a “prayer of faith”? And, who are the “righteous”? Is James promising that every time we confess our sins and pray we will be healed?

  1. Text
  2. Translation
  3. Commentary
  4. Memorization

Text

16 ἐξομολογεῖσθε οὖν ἀλλήλοις τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων, ὅπως ἰαθῆτε. πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη.1

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.2





Translation

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The working prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.3

The Working Prayer

Though this translation differs from the NIV, NRSV and others, it seems to be more grammatically correct. For the participle working is describing the prayer (an attributive participle)4 like spinning describes a spinning top.

The verb translated working is ἐνεργέω (energeō) — like energy. It means to “to put one’s capabilities into operation, work, be at work, be active, operate, be effective.”5

Translating the verse this way denotes that “a righteous person’s prayers are alive, at work, energized and energizing, and ongoing.”6

Commentary

Confession

Though confession of our sins to one another seems like a radical concept, it was apparently quite among ancient Jews (e.g., Prov 28:13, etc.)7 and the early followers of the Messiah (e.g., Mt 3:6, 18:15, Lk 17:3-4, Ac 19:18, Didache 4:14, etc.).8 Such confession was to be habitual.9

However, this habitual, mutual confession did not necessarily entail reliving and publicizing private sins. It was — at least in part — to help restore relationships by confessing sins that one had committed againstanother.10 No need to glorify the misdeeds of one’s B.C. days in front of the entire congregation.11

Rather, “secret sins” (Ps 90:8) are to be confessed to God. Private sins against individuals are to be confessed to God and — privately — to the individuals to whom one sinned against. Public sins are to be confessed publicly to the group to whom one wronged.12

That You May Be Healed

The verb translated healed (ἰάομαι | iaomai) is in the subjunctive mood — “a mood of possibility and potentiality.”13 Therefore, it seems that James is expressing a probability that confession of sins and prayer can lead to healing — healing that is partially (if not primarily) physical.14

Prayer of Faith

Does that mean that every time we confess our sins and pray that we will be healed? Not likely. Though the previous verse may appear to be an absolute promise, we must remember that the prayer James is speaking of is a “prayer of faith” (Jas 5:15).

So, while such faith is confident that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or image (Eph 3:20), it always acknowledges the absolute sovereignty of God’s will in everything. And, it is not always God’s will that people will be healed from sickness — not even the faithful Apostle Paul 2 Cor 12:7-9.15“For only prayers that are offered in accordance with the will of God can truly be uttered in faith.”16 And, such faith itself, is a gift from God.17

Though we are encouraged to make our requests known to God (Php 4:6-7), we are also exhorted to pray that the LORD’s will be done (Mt 6:9-13) — as Jesus did (Mt 26:39, 42). As scholars point out, we are to be granted anything we ask — that is in His name (i.e., in accordance with His will, e.g., 1 Jn 5:14-15).18 (cf. Jn 14:13).

Is All Sickness Caused By Sin?

According to Scripture, sickness can be caused by sin (1 Cor 11:29-30), but, as Jesus makes clear, this is not necessarily always the case (Jn 9:2-3).

Righteous Person

Who is the righteous person? Is the powerful, working prayer reserved only for “super saints?” For James, the righteous person is the one who lives a life conforming to God’s will (see Jas 1:19-21, 2:21, 24). Although the example offered is none other than the great prophet, Elijah, James emphasizes that Elijah was human being — just like us (Jas 5:17).19 Biblical righteousness is not equivalent with sinlessness, but entails living “a life centered upon the word of God.”20

More specifically, the righteous are those who do the will of God by trusting in Jesus Christ as the glorious Lord (Jas 2:1). We are made righteous by being forgiven of our sins through the sacrificial blood of Jesus shed on the cross.21

Like Elijah, we are just ordinary people. But we serve and pray to extraordinary God — a God who is sovereign and always able to heal.22

The Priesthood of All Believers

Considering the mutual confession to and prayer for one another, what appears to be in view here is the doctrine of the “the priesthood of all believers (cf. 1 Pet 2:4–5)” — popularized by Luther and the other reformers.23

That is, there is no need for followers of Christ to seek out only certain people for confession and prayer. All of us who have been made righteous by grace through faith in the death and Resurrection of Christ can (and should!) engage in such priestly functions — functions that are powerful and effective.

Memorization

Memorize James 5:16 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:

Sources

  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Jas 5:16.
  2. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Jas 5:16.
  3. Translation of the second sentence from Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 448.
  4. “attributive participle: Use of a participle to attribute a characteristic or an action to another sentential element, usually a noun.” Albert L. Lukaszewski, The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary (Lexham Press, 2007).
  5. William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 335.
  6. Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 448.
  7. “(Lv. 5:5; Nu. 5:7; Pss. 32:5; 38:3–4; 40:12; 51:3–5; Pr. 20:9; 28:13; Jb. 33:26–28…Lv. 16:21; 26:40; Dn. 9:4–10; Ezk. 10:1) Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 195.
  8. Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 445.
  9. “this is suggested by the present tense of the imperative.” Douglas J. Moo, James: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 188.
  10. J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 201–202.
  11. “When confessing sin, there is no room for reliving it in the retelling. There should not be anything sensational about the mutual confessing of sin, nothing that feeds sinful desire (cf. 1:14)” Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 237.
  12. J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 201–202.
  13. “Thus, if a Greek writer wanted to put into words some ideas or thoughts that involved purpose, possibility, intention, or potentiality, he could use the Subjunctive Mood.” Fredrick J. Long, Kairos: A Beginning Greek Grammar (Mishawaka, IN: Fredrick J. Long, 2005), 204–205.
  14. Though many have alleged that more of a spiritual healing (i.e., forgiveness from sins) is in view here. Given the context, this seems unlikely. “This…interpretation, tying v. 16 closely to the discussion of physical healing in vv. 14–15, is probably best. For the verb heal (iaomai) is consistently applied to physical afflictions.” Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2000), 246. “…for except in quotations ἰάομαι always refers to physical healing in the NT.” Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 195. “…then they are ‘healed’ of their sins and the word becomes synonymous with ‘forgiven’ in 5:15, but in a way that includes physical healing.” Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 447.
  15. “A true prayer of faith, then, always includes within it a tacit acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty in all matters; that it is God’s will that must be done.” Douglas J. Moo, James: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 187.
  16. Douglas Moo, “James,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 1162.
  17. “Prayer for healing offered in the confidence that God will answer that prayer does bring healing; but only when it is God’s will to heal will that faith, itself a gift of God, be present.” Douglas J. Moo, James: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 192.
  18. Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 238.
  19. Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 449.
  20. “The essence of biblical righteousness is dependence upon God in all one’s dealings.” Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 238.
  21. Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2000), 247.
  22. Peter H. Davids, “James,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1367.
  23. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 531.
About @DannyScottonJr 168 Articles
Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student