James 5:20 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

James 5:20, NIV: remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:20, ESV: let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:20, KJV: 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.

James 5:20, NASB: let him know that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:20, NLT: you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

James 5:20, CSB: let that person know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

What does James 5:20 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Verse 20 completes a thought James began in the prior verse. In verse 19, he stated that if one of his readers would go and bring back a former member of their community who has wandered from God's truth, that rescuing Christian should understand what's at stake. Those wandering ones have walked away from truth and into sin. What they now believe is error. They are trusting a lie that is leading them away from the path of faith in God. If they can be turned back, they—or their soul—will be saved from death and their many sins will be covered over.

Reading this verse, even today, a question remains: whether these wandering ones are true Christians or people who were drawn to the Christian community, but never placed their faith in Christ. Some commentators suggest that since their souls will be saved from death, which is likely eternal death, these must be unbelievers who wandered toward Christ and then away from Him without ever crossing over into a sincere commitment of faith.

Other commentators suggest that perhaps these are genuine Christians who will be saved from actual, physical death in this life if they can be turned back to walking in faith in God. This would suggest that, for the good of themselves and others, God is willing to end the temporary, physical life of a believer who has rebelled against Him.

Still other teachers would suggest that these people wandering into sin were genuine Christians who are in danger of losing their salvation. That option does not seem to be consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture. The salvation we have in Christ is secure. For that reason, the first two options—or some combination—are the reasonable way to interpret this passage.