Sins or Faults? James 5:16

by James May[1]

 

James 5:16 in the King James Bible: Confess your faults [paraptoma] one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.

 

James 5:16 in the New American Standard Bible: Therefore, confess your sins [hamartia] to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.

 

In James 5:16, the Greek New Testament from which the King James Version was translated has the word paraptoma (number 3900 in the Strong’s numbering system), which the KJV translates as faults; the Greek New Testament from which the New American Standard Bible was translated has the word hamartia (Strong’s number 266), which the NASB translates as sins. To no one’s surprise, King James Only advocates see this as a serious corruption of the Bible, one in fact which provides justification for the Roman Catholic confessional system. Typical KJV Only thinking is reflected in the words of Wilkinson and Waite:

 

In order to make the change from “faults” to “sins” the Greek was changed. The Greek word meaning “faults” was rejected and replaced by the Greek word meaning “sins.” If man is commanded by Scripture to confess his “sins” to man, what objection is there to the auricular confession of the priests? (Benjamin Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated (1930; rpt. New York: TEACH Services, 2006), p. 206).

 

They [modern Bibles] change the word, “faults” to “sins.” Confession of “sins” is to GOD, and not to men. “Faults” should be “confessed” to one another when appropriate. (D.A. Waite, Defending the King James Bible (Collingswood, NJ: The Bible for Today Press, 1998), p. 152).

 

The manuscript evidence in favor of hamartia (the New American Standard reading) is, as KJV Only advocates are wont to say, “overwhelming.” It has the clear support of the Alexandrian manuscripts as well as partial support from the Byzantines. No one denies that most textual scholars, both conservative and otherwise, regard the Alexandrian manuscripts more highly than they do the Byzantines, and for this reason we may be confident that most scholars would favor the NASB reading. For those of us who do not consider the majority of Christian scholars to be brainwashed buffoons, this is a weighty consideration.

 

Even if we adopt the reading of the Textus Receptus/KJV, however, the faults (paraptoma) spoken of in verse 16 are still sins, and no sin in Scripture is to be considered a trifle. In other words, the Bible here is admonishing us to confess our sins to one another (regardless of which Greek word is used), and we should not imagine that the faults mentioned in the KJV somehow do not measure up to genuine sins. Those who accept the King James Bible as their “final authority” cannot deny that sin is an excellent translation of paraptoma:

 

Eph 1:7 in the King James Bible: In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins [paraptoma], according to the riches of his grace;

 

Eph 2:5 in the King James Bible: Even when we were dead in sins [paraptoma], hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

 

It should also be noted that the King James Bible in a number of references treats the words paraptoma and hamartia as identical in meaning:

 

Rom 5:20: Moreover the law entered, that the offence [paraptoma] might abound. But where sin [hamartia] abounded, grace did much more abound:

 

Eph 2:1-2: And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses [paraptoma] and sins [hamartia]; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

 

Finally, careful reflection on James 5:14-16 reveals that in this very passage paraptoma and hamartia are at the very least close synonyms:

 

James 5:14-16: 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: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins [hamartia], they shall be forgiven him. 16 Confess your faults [paraptoma] one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. KJV

 

The prayer of faith brings both healing for the sick as well as the forgiveness of sins (hamartia), and it is for this reason that we should confess those sins (paraptoma, referring back to hamartia) to one another in order that we may effectively pray for one another and thus obtain the promised healing. In this context, there is no doubt but that paraptoma = hamartia.

 

The premise of both Wilkinson and Waite is that a fault is somehow better than a sin, and whereas the Bible commands us to confess our faults to one another, to thus confess our sins would be a grave violation of Scripture. Their argument here is based upon that which they believe the Bible can or cannot say, in light of their personal theology, not upon what the Bible actually does say. It is very clear that (1) paraptoma can have the same force as hamartia, that (2) in James 5:14-16 in the Textus Receptus the two words in fact do have the same force, and that (3) King James Only advocates have committed the most basic error of ignoring the context in their analysis of James 5:16. Once we recognize that paraptoma has the same force as hamartia in this passage, the objection that King James Only accusers raise against modern Bibles in James 5:16 evaporates. 

 

 


[1] Copyright 2006, James Richard May. This paper may be reproduced in its entirety for free distribution. All other rights reserved.

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