What does James 5:15 mean?
ESV: And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
NIV: And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
NASB: and the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
CSB: The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
NLT: Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
KJV: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
NKJV: And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Verse Commentary:
Verse 15 must be read in context with verse 14 to be fully understood. Grasping that verse, and its meaning, is crucial to understanding what James is and is not saying in this passage. In verse 14, James instructed those who are "weak"—probably spiritually but possibly physically—to call for the elders or spiritual leaders of their local church. Those elders should both pray over that person and anoint that person with oil.

Here, in verse 15, James describes the expected result to that "prayer offered in faith" by the elders: The Lord will raise the person up. Any sins he has committed will be forgiven. If these two verses are describing a person who is physically ill, the promise is of a physical healing. If they are describing a person struggling with a weak faith, the promise is for a restored trust in God. In either case, if the cause of the problem is because of sin in that person's life, that sin will be forgiven.

Any verse that seems to be offering an unconditional promise of physical healing, even in response to a prayer of faith, may well cause confusion. Will every person who follows these specific steps in this specific order be healed of any illness at any time?

It's a delicate question, but the promise of the verse requires us to look at the language closely. When the elders of the church pray on behalf of this person with sincere faith, while anointing him or her with oil, the Lord will raise this person up. The promise doesn't seem to suggest when or how God will raise him up. Perhaps it will be immediate. Perhaps it will be in eternity, which is certainly a less satisfying answer. In any case, the believer in Christ will always be raised eventually and forever, we can be assured.

James's larger point is that Christians should not suffer in private. We should pray, yes, but we should also get others to pray for us. And we should expect God to answer.
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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