James 5 16


what did James mean when he said “16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” we should confess to each other? How does this tie into confessing to a priest? What if someone tries to use this against confessing to a priest?


Well first off I would say this is not specifically talking about confession to a priest. Remember Jesus said if you have offended your brother leave your gift at the altar and seek your brother and make it right between you before offering your gift. So clearly there is priestly absolution before God which is all over the Old Testament where people brought there animals and received forgiveness, and the New Testament where Jesus commands the Church (the Priests) to forgive sins, but there is also the removal offense between ourselves and our brothers, neighbors and even enemies. We are to be at peace with all men and so let our light shine before them that they may too may glorify our Father in Heaven.

And to the one who would say, “Well James says confess to one another and not a priest.”

I would remind them that priests certainly do fall into the category of “another” for most of us, and that one verse does not a doctrine make (especially if pretty everything else in the Bible contradicts their interpretation), and finally to prove their doctrine using the rest of the Bible (because you know they probably also believe Sola Scriptura) that we are specifically NOT supposed to confess to priests since James clearly does not preclude the practice.

God Bless


I interpret that, nowadays, as confessing to a priest.

Well, I take it in light of the whole. When you look at the entire Bible, you also see how Christ was resurrected and turned to the apostles, breathed on them, and gave the apostles the gift of forgiving sin, and just them, not to all the rest of us. In light of the fact the aspostles were specifically told what sins they held bound would be held bound, what sins they loosed would be loosed, I find it reasonable to assume it was significant.

Christ did things for a reason. I really don’t think he would have bothered with giving the apostles a unique power to forgive sin that only they possessed unless they were intended to use it and us, to take advantage of this, to go through these intermediaries which had been set up by God, himself!

They were set out to the world in the sense that whomever rejected these representatives of Christ, rejected Christ. Whomever rejected Christ, rejected he who sent him, God the Father.

Now, Christ set up the Church. Some people say that we should go to God, directly (not go through the Church). However again, why would Christ have bothered to take the trouble to create a Church, ask Peter, 3 times, to shepherd it, give him the keys to the kingdom, authority …to a point what he would bind would also even be bound in heaven. What he loosed on earth would also be loosed in heaven.

Christ changed Peter’s name from Simon to mean “rock” on which the Church would be built, that it would prevail even against hell.

Now, some today say they will not bother to listen to the descendents of Peter, the pope, or the priests, the descendents of the apostles.

Both Peter’s position and the apostles’ were what we would now, today, call “offices”. Recall that when Judas committed suicide, Matthew replaced him so that his position would not remain vacant, to keep 12 apostles. In the same way, the apostles kept these offices, and Peter, through his divinely-given authority set up rules for the Church, transferred authority to others, and so on till we have the Church, today.

We believe priests have a very special position in the Church, and that it was Christ’s intention that we confess through them. I realize some prefer to try to “go it alone”, without Christ’s Church and designated representatives, but I can only assume Christ had reasons for doing it this way. I think we should heed his requests, receive the sacraments through the priests and others in accordance with Church teaching rather than rebelling against it.


We should confess our sins to one another, so that we experience each other’s love. This does not in any way make confession to a priest less beneficial or necessary.


We acknowledge and confess our sins to our brethren at mass in the Penitential Act.

Then follows the Penitential Act, to which the Priest invites the faithful, saying:

Brethren (brothers and sisters), let us acknowledge our sins,and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.

A brief pause for silence follows. Then all recite together the formula of general confession:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

And, striking their breast, they say:

through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;
Then they continue: therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters,to pray for me to the Lord our God.

The absolution by the Priest follows.


Thank you all for your insite! Very helpful. Also, who is the letter of James addressed to?


D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 16. Confess, therefore, your sins, &c. Divers interpreters expound this of sacramental confession, though, as the authors of the annotations on the Rheims Testament observe, this is not certain. The words one to another, may signify that it is not enough to confess to God, but that we must also confess to men, and not to every man, but to those whom God appointed, and to whom he hath given the power of remitting sins in his name. I cannot but observe that no mention at all is made, “in the visitation and communion of the sick,” in the Protestant common prayer book, of this comfortable passage out of St. James, of calling in the priests of the Church, of their anointing him with oil…and that his sins shall be forgiven him. Perhaps having laid aside that sacrament, it seemed to them better to say nothing of those words. But such a confession as is practised by all Catholics, is at least there advised. “The sick person,” saith the book of common prayer, "here shall be moved to make a special confession of his sins…After which confession, the priest shall absolve him after this sort. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners, who truly repent, forgive thee…and by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, " &c. Here is a special confession, or a confession of particular sins; here is a power of forgiving sins in God’s name, acknowledged to be given to the Church, and to priests; here are the very same words used by every Catholic priest in the sacrament of penance. This is clearly ordained in their liturgy: how far it is complied with, I know not. (Witham) — One to another. That is, to the priests of the Church, whom (ver. 14.) he had ordered to be called for, and brought in to the sick: moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless. Hence the precept here means that we must confess to men whom God hath appointed, and who, by their ordination and jurisdiction, have received the power of remitting sins in his name. (Challoner) — Pray for one another. Here is recommended prayer in general, as a most necessary Christian duty. He encourages them to it by the example of Elias[Elijah]. (Witham)


That is only for venial sins, not mortal sins which should only be confessed to a priest.

Here is the comment from the great Bishop John McEivlly

**Verse 16. **“Confess, therefore, your sins one to another.” “Therefore,” is omitted in some Greek readings. It is found in the Vatican MS. The words may mean, acknowledge your offences against one another, and mutually beg pardon of each other. Similar is the precept in the Gospel (Matt, 5), “if your brother shall sin against thee,” &c. Others understand the words to have reference to the confession of our faults to our brethren, for the purpose of seeking counsel, or of obtaining the assistance of their prayers; and this latter reason is suggested by St. James, “pray one for another,” &c. This practice 01 acknowledging their faults within due limits is observed in religious communities, with great spiritual advantage. The practice of mutually confessing their sins is followed by the priest and the people at the beginning of Mass. “Confitcor Deo et tibi, pater et vobis fratres.” By others, the passage is understood of the confession of sins to a priest, in the sacrament of penance; and then, “one to another” is to be understood (as the Greek corresponding word, αλληλοις, frequently is), in accommodation to the subject matter of the precept, of such as are empowered to hear confession and bestow absolution. These are alone the priests and bishops, “whose sins you shall forgive, shall be forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain,” &c. “One to another,” has the restricted meaning assigned to it here in several passages of Scripture, thus: (Romans 15:7), “receive one another,” though it only refers to the strong supporting the weak; (1 Thes. 5:11), “comfort one another”; (Ephes. 5), “be subject to one another.” And St. James says, “confess to one another.” in order to remove the shame of confessing our sins, by showing that it is not to angels or beings of a higher nature we are confessing; but to weak mortal men like ourselves, and perhaps also to show that the priests too are bound by this precept. At all events- whether this latter interpretation be the true one or not matters but very little, as far as the warrant for absolving from sins, on the part of the priests is concerned. It is from the words of Christ to his Apostles, “receive you the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive,” &c., and from the constant tradition of the Church, that the existence of this power is clearly demonstrated. “And pray one for another.” This is specially to be understood of the just praying for sinners. “That you may be saved,” that is, obtain converts on to God, and the great gift of final perseverance. “For the continual prayer of the just,” &c. The Greek word for " continual," ενεργουμενη, means, fervent, earnest. " Availes much" with God; because, he is his favorite and friend.


There are some who think James is a collection of proverbs and that is why it seems to jump around. (I disagree) Some who think it is a sermon and it follows the same themes as Hebrews, love your brothers, live your faith, worship Christ, put no trust in the things of this world. I can see the similarities but I favor a last explanation.

That James, a leader in the Church at Jerusalem along with Peter, is writing to leaders/Bishops in other Churches reminding them of the way the Church should be. And so the admonitions about Church order (such as seating) about right living over against only right saying, reminding those who work to trust God and not their own plans, and prayer for the sick and fallen away all make much more sense.

When you include that all of Paul’s letters and Peter’s letters and John’s letters would have been delivered to Bishops and read to Churches and copied from there it seems most likely this is what James is too.

God Bless


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