The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:15c

Suggestions for Reading

13–18 The passage focuses on prayer (Literary Devices 5:13-18). After warning the reader that he must ask God in faith, not doubting (Jas 1:5–8) and that he must not ask wrongly (Jas 4:2–3), James here gives examples of proper, effective prayer.

The passage also relates to James' concern with proper speech: after giving many admonitions against improper speech (e.g., Jas 5:9; 5:12), James here gives example of the proper use of speech in praying and singing. See also →James: Speech in James.

The passage presents a holistic view of illness and healing: here, these two elements are closely associated: physical illness and “spiritual illness” (sin) on the one hand, and physical healing and forgiveness of sin, on the other, are closely linked. There is also a strong link between understanding the anointing ritual as providing healing (both spiritual and physical) in this life, and understanding the anointing and prayer as preparation for ultimate healing in the resurrection and eternal life. This holistic emphasis reflects the theme of wholeness and integrity found throughout the letter. See further →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James.

Catholic tradition has drawn out the meaning of Jas 5:14-15 in various ways, primarily through the development of the teaching on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. The tradition has at various times emphasized the different aspects of James’ integral vision: spiritual healing (Origen, Chrysostom, Council of Trent), physical healing (an early tradition of anointing among the laity, Vatican II’s emphasis on a broader understanding of healing), and the eschatological dimension (the traditional emphasis on “extreme unction” as preparation for eternal life). See also Christian Tradition 5:14-15 and Theology 5:14-15.

This section, and the letter, ends with James' exhortation to community members to turn back a straying fellow-believer (Jas 5:19-20). James thus reinterates his characteristic concern for harmony within the community. The history of interpretation generally interpreted the ambiguous passage to mean that a person who converted another from sin would in turn receive pardon of his own sins; this took its place in a traditional list of ways in which one could seek pardon for sins. See also Christian Tradition 5:19-20.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

15f Association of Sin and Illness Different scriptures witness to the various ways in which sin and illness are associated. 

  • Illness, suffering, and death can be seen as the result of human sin (Gn 3:14-19Rom 5:12)
  • Disease is understood as a punishment for breaking God’s covenant law in many OT books: Ex 15:26; Dt 7:15; 28:15–22. A connection between sin and disease is also evident in some NT passages: 1Cor 11:30, and Jn 9:2: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" See also Ps 38:2: "There is no wholesomeness in my flesh because of your anger; there is no health in my bones because of my sin." Cf. Peritestamental Literature 5:15-16.
  • The causal connection between sin and illness is questioned in the Book of Job (Jb 4:7-9; 7:20; 9:22-23). Jesus also questions the connection: "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (Jn 9:3), although Jesus assumes there is still some connection between the two (see Mk 2:1-12 and Lk 13:1-5).
  • Illness is at times associated with demonic activity, see Mk 9:17—a boy possessed by a mute spirit; Lk 13:11: a woman "crippled by a spirit."
  • Other passages also do not relate illness to sin, but instead promise salvation for the sick, e.g., Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who finds his eternal reward (Lk 16:19-31). See below Theology 5:15b; Theology 5:15c.

James says significantly in Jas 5:15, "If he happens to have committed any sins," those sins will be forgiven to the sick person. Thus James sees no necessary, causal connection between sin and sickness.

Reception

Liturgies

10–20 Use in Lectionary BL : Special and General Feasts: Prophets; 1 of 3 reading options.

Visual Arts

14ff anointing him with oil Depictions of Anointing  The sacrament of the anointing of the sick ("extreme unction"), which the Catholic Church considers to be defined in Jas 5:14-15, has been depicted artistically in many ways:

Paintings

  • Rogier van der Weyden, "Extreme Unction", part of The Seven Sacraments altarpiece (1445-50). Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp. Accessed here→
  • Hieronymus Bosch (?), "Four Last Things," part of "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things," c. 1500. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Accessed here→
  • Dutch School, "Last rites," c. 1600. Accessed here→
  • Nicolas Poussin, "L'extrême-onction," c. 1636-40, part of a Seven Sacraments series. Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Accessed here→. Set in ancient times, a priest anoints the dying man's eyes.
  • Nicolas Poussin, "L'extrême-onction," 1644, part of a Seven Sacrament series. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Accessed here→. Set in ancient times, Poussin portrays a dying Christian soldier; a priest anoints his hands.
  • Giuseppe Crespi, "Extreme Unction," part of a Seven Sacraments series (c. 1712). Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany.  Accessed here→.

Etching

  • Pietro Longhi, "Extremae Unctionis Sacramentum," part of a Seven Sacraments series (c. 1755). Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Accessed here→.

Tapestries

  • "Seven Sacraments." South Netherlandish, c. 1435-50. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed here→.

Text

Literary Devices

13–18 pray prayer...plea: Isotopy of Prayer Every verse in this passage refers to prayer; however, the words used are not simple synonyms. The noun euchê (prayer, v. 15) and the corresponding verb euchomai (to pray, v. 16) are generic terms. The verb expressing the prayer of petition is proseuchomai (v. 13, 14, 17,18) or proseuchê (v. 17). More concretely, the noun deêsis (v. 16) stands for a supplication or a particular request. As for psallô ("to sing a hymn," v. 13), it applies to prayer in the form of a hymn, in particular in the liturgical context.

Context

Peritestamental Literature

15f Association of Sin and Illness

  • T. Reu. 1.7: "[God] struck me with a severe wound (plêgê megalê) in my loins for seven months [as punishment for Reuben's sexual sins]" (OTP 2:782; de Jonge 1978, 2).
  • T. Sim. 2.12-13 "for seven days my right hand became partly withered [the Lord's punishment of Simeon for his desire to kill Joseph out of jealousy]" (OTP 2:785).
  • T. Zeb. 5.3 "For the sons of my brothers were sickly (astheneô) and died on account of Joseph (dia Iôsêph), because they did not act in mercy out of their inner compassion" (OTP 2:806; de Jonge 1978, 96).
  • T. Gad. 5.9-11 "For God brought on me a disease (nosos) of the liver...For by whatever human capacity anyone transgresses, by that he is also chastised. Since my anger was merciless in opposition to Joseph, through this anger of mine I suffered mercilessly, and was brought under judgment for eleven months" (OTP 2:815; de Jonge 1978, 130-31).

Reception

Jewish Tradition

15f Association between Physical Healing and Forgiveness of Sin

  •  b. Ned. 41a “R. Alexander said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Abba: ‘A sick man does not recover from his sickness until all his sins are forgiven him, as it is written, ‘Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases’” (Ps 103:3). Cf. Biblical Intertextuality 5:15-16.

Liturgies

13–20 Use in Lectionary

  • RML : Saturday, Week 7, Year 2.
  • RCL : Proper 21, Year B.

Theology

15c they will be forgiven him Sacramentology: Effects of the Anointing of the Sick.

Traditional Teaching

  • Conc. Flor. Exs. Deo "The effect is the healing of the mind and, as far as it is good for the soul, of the body as well" (effectus vero est mentis sanatio et, in quantum animae expedit, ipsius enim corporis; DzH 1325).
  • Conc. Trid. Unc. 2 quotes Jas 5:15 to identify "the reality (res) and effect (effectus) of this sacrament." The Council adds the explanation, "For the reality is the grace (gratia) of the Holy Spirit, whose anointing takes away the sins, if there be any still to be expiated, and also the remains of sin (pecatti reliquas); it comforts and strengthens the soul (animam alleviat et confirmat) of the sick person by awakening in him great confidence in the divine mercy (fiduciam excitando); supported by this, the sick bears more lightly the inconveniences and trials of his illness, and resists more easily the temptations of the devil, who lies in wait for his heel [cf. Gn 3:15]; at times it also restores bodily health (sanitatem corporis), when it is expedient for the salvation of the soul" (ubi saluti animae expedierit; DzH 1696).

Vatican II Reform

Reflecting a the changed approach after Vatican II, CCC 1520-23 speaks of four effects:

  • 1520: A particular gift of the Holy Spirit: "the first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness (aegritudinis gravis) or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the tempations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will (si talis est Dei voluntas). Furthermore, "if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (Jas 5:15c).
  • 1521: Union with the passion of Christ. "By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ's Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated (consecratur) to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior's redemptive Passion. Suffering (dolor), a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation (participatio) in the saving work of Jesus." Cf. Conc. Vat. II. Lum. Gent. 11 "By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of her priests the whole Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord, asking that He may lighten their suffering and save them; she exhorts them, moreover, to contribute to the welfare of the whole people of God by associating themselves freely with the passion and death of Christ."
  • 1522: An ecclesial grace. "The sick who receive this sacrament, 'by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ,' 'contribute to the good of the people of God (Conc. Vat. II. Lum. Gent. 11.2). By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of the saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, through the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father."
  • 1533: A preparation for the final journey. "If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing; referencing Conc. Trid. Unc. 3 [DzH 1698]). The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthens us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart (firmo praesidio) for the final struggles before entering the Father's house."

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

15f Association of Healing and Forgiveness of Sin

Old Testament View

In its holistic view of the human being, several OT passages presuppose a close connection between healing and forgiveness of sin, just as some connection between sin and illness was assumed.

  • Ps 103:2-3 (G-Ps 102:2-3):  “Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts. Who pardons all your sins, and heals (G= ioamai; M = rp’) all your ills." 
  • Ps 107:17-20 (G-Ps 106:17-20): "Some fell sick from their wicked ways, afflicted because of their sins. They loathed all manner of food; they were at the gates of death. In their distress they cried to the Lord, who saved (G= sôᵢzô; M = yš‘) them in their peril, sent forth his word to heal them, and snatched them from the grave."
  • In the eschatological age, both illness and sin will be removed: "No one who dwells there will say, 'I am sick'; the people who live there will be forgiven their guilt" (Is 33:24). See further Theology 5:14-15.

Jesus' Holistic View of Healing

Jesus presumes the connection between disability and sin in his healing of the paralytic (Mt 9:1–8). In two further passages, however, Jesus denies a causal relation: those who suffer oppression or accident are no worse sinners than those who do not (Lk 13:1–5) and disability can be an opportunity to reveal God's works (Jn 9:3).

Jesus’ own healing is holistic. His healing of the paralytic is associated with forgiveness of sin in Mt 9:1–8 (cf. Mk 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I came to call not the upright, but sinners).” His healings are regularly associated with a call for faith (cf. Mk 2:5; 5:34,36; 9:23), and are understood as signs that the Kingdom of God has come near (cf. Mt 11:5–6). See also Theology 5:15b.