Sept. 3, 2020

What Does James 5:19-20 Mean?

What Does James 5:19-20 Mean?

James 5:19–20 (NIV): 19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.


In today's Bible Study, we examine James' final words as he exhorts us to bring a wandering believer back to God.

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  • Why does James' letter end so abruptly?
  • What does James mean when he says a believer has "wandered"?
  • What does "death" mean in the original language and why has it caused so much controversy?
  • What image does "cover over a multitude of sins" convey?


In James Chapter 5, James showed us that we are to pray at all times:

  • When you're troubled, pray.
  • When you're happy, pray.
  • When you're sick, call the elders to pray over you. 
  • When you've sinned, confess your sins to God and others and pray.

But why prayer? 

James tells us that the prayers of a righteous person (i.e. a follower of Jesus Christ who is forgiven of his/her sins) are powerful and effective. And just like Elijah prayed legendary prayers that God answered in miraculous ways, so can you.  

In today's Bible Podcast, we examine the last two verses of James Chapter 5 as James teaches us what to do when a wayward believer has wandered from God.


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James 5:15 – If we have enough faith will God heal us?


James 5:16 – Why does James tell us to confess our sins to one another?


James 5:16 – A look at one of the most quoted verses on prayer and how it can be interpreted 2 different ways


James 5:17-18 – How does James say that you are like Elijah the prophet?


James 5:19-20 - What do we do when a believer leaves the faith.


Hey, welcome to The Simple Truth. I’m Julie Carruth. 

Today, we come to the end of our journey through the book of James with James’ final words in James 5:19-20. He says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” 

And…that’s it. No “goodbye.” No “have a great life. I’ll be praying for you.” Nothing. Just instructions on how to deal with a wayward believer. Am I the only one who thinks this is a strange way to end a letter? If it is even a letter. Some scholars believe it was supposed to be more like a sermon to be read aloud. 

But regardless, let’s dive deeper into James’ last words.  

He says “if any of you should wander from the truth.” So, James is referring to a believer who has either become entangle in a sinful lifestyle or they’ve wandered away from what they believed, that is that Jesus is the Son of God and He is the way to eternal life. 

And James says that if this happens, someone, maybe even you, needs to go to that person and help them return to God.  

And when you do, James says, you will save them from death. Now the original Greek word for “death” here refers to spiritual death. As in hell, to put it bluntly. Scholars disagree whether this verse indicates that we can lose our salvation. Most seem to think it means that this is a person who was within the church but never really committed their life to Christ.  

And when you save them from spiritual death, you have helped to cover a multitude of sins.  This is an Old Testament image for forgiveness. It’s the idea of the high priest covering the sins of the people by sprinkling blood on the lid of the ark. 

So your simple Truth for today:  When someone strays away from God, someone, maybe even you, needs to go to them and bring them back to God and His forgiveness. And when you do, you are saving them from spiritual death. 

And there you have it. James’s voice falls silent with these words. So, what happens to James? It’s a really fascinating story and I can’t wait to tell you in the next episode as we also recap what we’ve learned and look ahead at what’s next on The Simple Truth. 

As always, thank you for sharing this podcast. And listen on your Amazon smart speaker by saying “play Bible Study.”

God bless you. Have an awesome weekend. I’m Julie Carruth. See you very soon.