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James 5:20

Discussion in 'Bible Versions & Translations' started by Zenas, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. Zenas

    Zenas Active Member

    May 7, 2007
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    The rendering of this verse is materially different in the NIV and HCSB from its rendering in the KJV, RSV and NASB.
    The phrase in question is highlighted and I have no idea which is a correct rendering. However, either the first three are right and the last two are wrong or the first three are wrong and the last two are right. Why this difference in translation? Could it be a difference in the manuscripts used in the translations, or the theological views or the translator(s)? OK, Greek scholars, I'm waiting to read your comments.
  2. ktn4eg

    ktn4eg New Member

    Nov 19, 2004
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    DISCLAIMER: I am neither:
    1) A scholar when it comes to the various Greek texts from which the KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV, or the HCSB are derived (although I've read a little about some of them); nor am I a
    2) Greek scholar. I know a few things about koine Greek from what independent research I've done in the past, but for me to claim any significant competency that would classify me as a "Greek scholar" would be false.

    However, having made those two disclaimers, I will tell you this much: Some 33+ years ago I made what I consider to be a rather detailed independent study of James 5:19-20. As a result of my research, what follows is how I would prefer that passage be rendered:

    "Brethren, if any among you should have wandered from the truth, and one have brought him back, let him know that he, who having brought a sinner out of the error of his way, shall rescue a life from death and shall cover a multitude of sins."

    Here are some of the main reasons for this rendering:

    1. James was addressing people of a Jewish background who were living outside the bounds of Judea who had received Christ as their savior (hence James' use of the expression "my brethren" [1:2] ,"Brethren" & "you" [5:19] ). IOW James was not writing to unsaved people.

    2. The KJV's expression "do err from the truth" I believe ought to be rendered, "should have wandered from the truth" because that better conveys not only the fact that (a) This straying from the truth might happen, but also that probably (b) Such straying from the truth had already occurred on the part of some of those "brethren" with whom the original recipients of this letter were familiar. (cf. Eph. 4:11-16 & the Progigal Son in Luke 15)

    3. "Convert him" in 5:19 today usually carries with it a different connotation than from what I believe James had in mind. If you read the context of this passage, you'll find that it's not primarily referring to converting that individual from being a lost person to one who is a born-again Christian. Rather, it is referring to bringing back to practicing the truth of Christianity an already born-again Christian who has (for some reason) wandered away from practicing the truth of Christianity.

    4. "...Shall save the sinner from the error of his way" (5:20) is again referring to a born-again Christian who has been sinning due to the fact that he has been wandering from practicing the truth of Christianity.

    5. "...Shall save a soul from death" (5:20) I believe is better rendered "... shall rescue a life from death" for several reasons:
    a. Christ's atoning work guarantees that the Christian's soul would not perish (John 3:16 ff);
    b. The passage isn't referring to eternal spiritual death. It's referring to the physical life of a born-again Christian (e.g., Paul's example in I Cor. 11:28-31 [esp. 11:30] about what had happened to some of the born-again Corinthian Christians who persistently abused the Lord's Supper by continually partaking of it in an unworthy manner);
    c. By reclaiming the backsidden brother who had strayed from practicing the truth of Christianity and bringing him back to once again practicing the truth of Christianity, that erring brother's physical life was rescued from a premature death that could have occurred as a result of God's chastening hand upon one of His disobedient children (see Heb. 10:26-31 & 12:5-11).

    6. "...Shall hide a multitude of sins" (5:20) I believe is better rendered: "Shall cover a multitude of sins" because I believe there were two categories of sin that James had in mind here:
    a. The past sins that the backsliding born-again Christian already committed while in his state of wandering from practicing the truth of Christianity. (Those sins are now forgiven by the Lord and "covered" by His blood because the backsliding born-again Christian has now confessed & forsaken them [I John 1:6-9]);
    b. The sins that the backsliding born-again Christian would have potentially committed (had he remained in his state of wandering from practicing the truth of Christianity) are "covered" because now they will have never taken place since he is now restored to a condition of once again practicing the truth of Christianity (cf. Psalm 51:9, Prov. 10:12, & esp. I Pet. 4:8).
    c. James himself hints at this principle of reclaiming a wandering brother earlier in Chapter 5 (negatively in 5:9 & positively in 5:14-15). See also Paul's advise in Gal. 6:1.

    So, FWIW, there you have it! I admit to no claims of either orginality or infallibity in my understanding of this passage. However, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it! :thumbs:
    #2 ktn4eg, Oct 4, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 4, 2008
  3. Deacon

    Deacon Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Aug 23, 2002
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    LaParola.net is a good site to compare manuscript types.

    γινωσκέτω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν.
    James 5:20 NA27

    γινωσκέτω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν.
    James 5:20 Byzantine/Majority Text (Hodges/Farstad)

    This is my take on the text:
    There are a number of things going on between these versions.

    1. There is a small textual difference (noted in red in the NA27) that contributes to this difficulty in the text.

    The word is a singular masculine personal pronoun meaning “he” or “his” found in the Critical text (also known as the NA27).

    The removal of this word creates a text reading along the lines of the KJV, - - - “save a soul” rather than “save his soul”.

    The older and harder reading is the NA27 which some prefer.

    2. The second thing going on here is the use of the word, “soul”.
    This can be a matter of different theological viewpoint but it needn’t be.

    “Soul” is an easy Greek word to remember, our word “psychology” is derived from it, psychē.

    What does the text mean by using the word “soul”?
    Here in James 5, it means “whole self” or “life”.

    So there you have it, they are all right, they are all a correct rendering.

    My preferences have changed over time
    but I really like the way the HCSB renders the phrase, “save his life from death”.

  4. Ed Edwards

    Ed Edwards <img src=/Ed.gif>

    Aug 20, 2002
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    If one assumes that my trailer/signature is correct:

    All VALID English Language Bibles
    Collectively and Individually
    contain and are
    the Inerrant and Perfect
    Written Word of God
    preserved by Divine Appointment
    for the generation in which they are translated.

    Then it can be seen that all these English Translations say the same same truth but in slightly different words:

    King James Version

    Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

    Revised Standard Version

    let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

    New American Standard Bible

    let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

    New International Version

    remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

    Holman Christian Standard Bible

    he should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.

    The bold 'his' refers to the sinner.
    'Life' and 'soul' mean the same, it is the sinner's soul life that will be saved by Jesus, when he (the sinner) is turned from the error. When a sinner gets saved by Jesus many sins are covered, of the sinner.

    All these scriptures mean the same thing, as do all the scriptures in all these Valid quoted Bibles.
  5. Dr. Bob

    Dr. Bob Administrator

    Jun 30, 2000
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    Interesting study and again noting the variety of ways in OUR language one can accurately translate the original language.

    Ain't English fun?? :laugh: