What does James 5:14 mean?
ESV: Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
NIV: Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
NASB: Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
CSB: Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
NLT: Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.
KJV: Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
NKJV: Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Verse Commentary:
Verse 14 and 15 have been the source of controversy among Christians. The question James is asking is how should believers respond when we are "sick," and what result should we expect when we take action. Most translations render the Greek word asthenei here as "sick," and many Bible scholars agree that James has in mind a physical illness. Some scholars, however, suggest that James is referring to a spiritual weakness or lack of faith. The Greek word is sometimes translated in that or a similar sense (e.g., Romans 5:6). The word carries mostly a sense of weakness, or being feeble.

If James has spiritual weakness in mind, his instruction is directed at someone who does not feel firm in his faith. This might be because of ongoing suffering or some other cause. Such a person should call for the elders—the spiritual leaders—of the church to pray for him. This instruction comes with the promise that the Lord will reestablish his faith. And, that any sin responsible for his spiritual weakness will be forgiven.

The other possibility is that James simply means for someone with a physical illness to do the same, with the promise of eventual physical healing and the assurance of forgiveness of sins. Whatever the case, the elders are called to anoint this unwell person with oil in the name of the Lord.

To anoint someone with oil in the culture of the time meant to pour oil over them for one of four possible purposes. Oil was sometimes used in the ancient world as a general medicinal cure. At other times, it was used to express concern, as a physical demonstration of emotional care for a person. Or it's possible that James meant for the oil to be part of a sacrament of healing or a physical symbol that someone was being set apart for God's purposes.

Whatever the specific answers are to these questions, we can all agree on several things from this verse: First, God doesn't intend for Christians to suffer alone. Nor does He want them to pray for themselves in private without ever revealing their problems. Second, God does intend for the spiritual leaders of local churches to be ready and willing to pray together for the struggling people in their congregations.

James continues to explore this idea in verse 15.
Verse Context:
James 5:13–20 closes out the letter by encouraging those who believe in God to show it. This is most readily shown by praying in response to every circumstance. We should pray for ourselves, praise God, and invite the spiritual leaders of our churches to pray for us when we are sick, or spiritually weak. Healing will follow; sins will be forgiven. We should confess sins to each other so we can pray for strength for each other to overcome sin. Prayer works; God hears and responds. If we really believe this is true, our behavior will reflect it.
Chapter Summary:
What was causing fights and quarrels among the Christians to whom James was writing? They were living by the world's wisdom. This false perspective says human beings should do whatever it takes to get what they want in this life, even if it hurts other people. James says that to live that way is adultery, but God gives grace. Christians should repent and move close to God again. We should trust Him to provide, to be the Judge, and to lift us up in His time. In humility, we must acknowledge that all of our plans are dependent on Him, and He can change them at any moment.
Chapter Context:
Prior chapters in this letter focused on the relationship between beliefs and actions, and how to practically apply the concepts of Christianity. In chapter 4, James called his Christian readers to repent of their worldliness and turn back to closeness with God. Now in the last chapter of his letter, James addresses three things: He pronounces to the rich oppressors of the Christians that their judgment is coming on the day of the Lord. He urges those suffering under that oppression to remain patient, strong in their faith, as they wait for the day of the Lord. And he encourages all Christians to show their faith in God by praying in response to every circumstance.
Book Summary:
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
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