What does James 5:16 mean?
ESV: Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
NIV: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
NASB: Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. A prayer of a righteous person, when it is brought about, can accomplish much.
CSB: Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.
NLT: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
KJV: Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
NKJV: Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Verse Commentary:
James continues encouraging his readers to express their dependence on God. This is done by participating in prayer. In previous verses, he has asked them to respond to trouble by praying to God, to respond to cheerfulness by singing songs of praise, and to respond to illness or spiritual weakness by calling for elders of the church pray for them.

Here in verse 16, James writes that it should be common practice for Christians to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other, so that we may be healed. As in the previous verses, some Bible scholars read the word "healed" here as a reference to healing from physical illness. Others understand it to mean healing from discouragement and spiritual weakness. In either case, this healing requires two things from Christians.

We are both to confess our sins to each other, and to pray for each other. James offers no details about what this should look like in practice. Are we to stand before the church congregation and announce all our sins from the prior week? That seems unlikely. More likely, James has in mind the idea of Christians being in close relationship with several other Christians. We need fellow believers with whom we can be vulnerable. In that setting, each could acknowledge to the other what sins are most difficult for them, and all could pray for each other to overcome those sins.

It seems likely, in the modern world, that very few Christians are practicing this in any specific way. We're just too afraid to be that vulnerable. James's command is for us, as much as it's for his original readers. The church would be far healthier if more of us prayed for each other, in family love, to overcome our specific sins. After all, James writes, prayer works. God listens and responds. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective because God hears and takes action.
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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