James 5:19-20


Why does this verse say that whoever brings back one who strays from the truth will cover a multitude of sins; I thought that by going to confession that covered our sins?

Thank you


This verse is somewhat ambiguous in the way that it’s written; given the way it’s constructed, it’s a reasonable question to ask “whose soul is saved? whose sins are covered? The revert, or the person who brought him back?”

Clearly, sacramental absolution – that is, ‘confession’ – is a necessary part of every Catholic’s life, and the letter to James isn’t suggesting an alternate path to forgiveness. With that in mind, and given some of the textual clues in the letter, it seems reasonable to suggest that a person who brings back a person to the faith is part of the process by which that person’s soul is saved, and is part of the dynamic by which that fallen-away Christian’s sins may be wiped away – none of which would have happened if that person didn’t bring the fallen-away Christian back into the fold!


Scholars are divided to the exact meaning. What seems clear is the importance placed on the corporeal work of mercy of regaining a lost brother. “will save his soul from death” more likely refers to the lost brother’s not the re-gainer since the confession and apostacy seem to be chief concerns. “A multitude of sins”: some scholars say of the lost, some the re-gainer, some say both. The language is similar to 1 Pt 4:8 and Prov 10:12. These verses seem disconnected from the preceding ones. A practical thought might be that if your brother remained heretical, he may persuade others in his way, whereas due to your intervention, your brother returned and no longer persuaded others (that’s just a thought). But there is no question that the writers thought communally of both sin and benefit of fervent prayer.

Sorry, nothing definitive. Hope it helps.


I understand covering a multitude of sins to refer largely to the penance involved in restitution, not the forgiveness delivered via Confession. Sin can have a number of aspects with regard to our response to it, such as contrition, confession, or penance. For more, see this article under the subhead SANCTIFICATION ON THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN. :wink:


D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary.

Scroll down to verse 20 left hand side.



We aren’t saved by merely confessing our sins. We merit grace as well by our acts of love. As we respond to grace we gain even more, our justice thereby actually increasing.


The Douay-Rheims of 1609 has in its footnotes

20. to be Converted. Here we see the great reward of such as seek to convert heretics or other sinners from error and wickedness; and how necessary an office it is, especially for a priest.

**5:20 covers a multitude: **He that hath the zeal of converting sinners, procures thereby mercy and remission to himself: which is a singular grace.

**Shall save. **We see, it derogates not from God, to at tribute our salvation to any man or angel in heaven or earth as to the workers of it under God, by their prayers, preaching, correction, council, or otherwise. Yet the heretics are so foolish and captious in this kind, that they cannot hear patiently, that our blessed Lady or others should be counted means or workers of our salvation.

Bishop John McEvilly says this

Verse 19. But prayer is not the only means to be employed for their conversion. “Err from the truth,” whether practical or speculative—as regards faith or morals.

Verse 20. “Shall save his soul from death,” i.e., spiritual death here, and eternal death and torments hereafter. In most Greek copies, “his,” is wanting; shall save a soul, which is more valuable than all material creation put together. It is found in the Vatican MS. αυτου. In the Greek copies in which it is used, “his” may also mean, according to the breathing, whether smooth or rough, placed over it, his own. It is better, however, understand it of the soul of our neighbor, which is supposed to have been in danger. And the same is conformable to the words, “if your brother shall hear you you shall have gained your brother,” (Matthew 18) “And shall cover a multitude of sins,” by being instrumental in their remission; for, the covering of sins with God supposes their total remission (Rom. 4) It is disputed whose sins are referred to here, whether those of the man who is converted, or of the person who converts him. It more likely refers to the former; the idea is the same as that conveyed (1 Peter 4:8), “charity covers a multitude of sins,” i.e., of our neighbor’s defects. And there as well as here, allusion is made to (Proverbs 10:2), “hatred begets disputes—charity covers all faults.” Hence, the meaning of the passage is, that the man who is instrumental in the conversion of a sinner, performs the meritorious work of saving a soul, and covering the multitude of the sins of the person thus converted. No doubt, indirectly reference is made to the sins of the man who exercises the good work of converting his neighbor; for by this act of charity, he will obtain from God the remission of his own sins, or an increase of grace to persevere in justice, and the remission of the temporal penalties, due to his sins already remitted. From this passage we can see the great merit of laboring for the salvation of souls. By the Prophet Abdais (verse 21), such persons are called “saviors”; and justly, for, they are continuing the great work in which our Redeemer and Savior had been engaged during his mortal life, and in which he shed the last drop of his most precious blood. They are "the coadjutors of God " (1 Cor. 3:8). They resemble the angels, whose ministry is employed about such, as are to be saved—(Hebrews, 1:14). The merit of this sublime occupation can be estimated from the priceless value of immortal souls, one of which is prized more highly in the sight of God than all the riches of creation put together. It is the most sublime exercise of charity, and one of the surest proofs we can give that we sincerely love God, who is so deserving of the love of our entire hearts.— "Si amas me, pasce oves meas.” To this faithful discharge of this exalted function of saving souls is attached a special crown, a bright aureola in heaven. “Qui erudierint multos ad justitiam, fulgebunt quasi stellae in perpetuas eternitates,” —Daniel. “Qui fecerit et docucrit, hic magnus vocabitur in regno caelorum.”— St. Matthew


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